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by Neal Shusterman
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Humanity has conquered death in this dystopian thriller, the first of a trilogy, by a master story-teller. A benevolent A.I., the Thunderhead, manages everything and life is free from misery, disease, and war (also goals and meaning). In order to control population, specialists called Scythes are taught how to 'glean' random people. They also hand out the occasional immunity to gleaning. Because of this they are both highly respected and feared, the 'influencers' of their age. Rowan and Citra are chosen as apprentices, a role they are unwilling to play but one they must each come to terms with. Perfectly plotted, fast-paced adventure. A Printz Honor Book.
15-year old Sarah is a blond, blue-eyed Jewish girl in the Germany of 1939. After her mother is shot while trying to escape to Switzerland, Sarah goes on the run meeting up with a taciturn and secretive man, The Captain, who is a member of the resistance. Sarah is a brilliant con artist, trained as an actress by her mother, and agrees to infiltrate a private boarding school for the daughters of the Nazi elite. Her mission is to befriend the child of a pre-eminent German scientist who is working on an atomic bomb, and retrieve the blueprints. Can Sarah avoid becoming a monster herself? Can she get her revenge. This has been compared to Inglourious Basterds meets Mean Girls (with less cursing). Certainly it is a chilling, smart, poignant nail-biter of a novel..
This is another utterly charming, inventive, funny, imaginative, and philosophical book from André Alexis, the wonderful author of Fifteen Dogs. It is written from the point of view of Alfred Homer, a botanist who has recently suffered a heartbreak, and who is invited to accompany Professor Morgan Bruno on a road trip through Southwestern Ontario to uncover the story of a disappearing poet, John Skennen. The countryside wavers between what might be real and what might be not, and includes descriptions of ritual house burnings, Indigenous Parades, towns where Black residents only speak in sign language, and a Museum of Canadian Sexuality, amongst other things. There were many moments when I really did laugh out loud while reading this book, and shook my head in wonder at its inventiveness. The characters are wonderfully well-drawn, and there are excellent explorations of the many aspects of love, hope, and mythology. A highly enjoyable and satisfying read!
Woah. Vita Nostra by the husband and wife team Marina and Sergey Dyachenko grabbed me from the first paragraph. Originally published in Ukrainian in 2007, and now in English, this is one of the best fantasy novels I've read. There are obvious comparisons to Lev Grossman's The Magicians (and I've read that Vita Nostra was an influence on him) as a lot of it happens in what might seem to be a school for magic, but it is far better, and it is more a school of metaphysics - the Institute of Special Technologies. The tone of the book is very eery and straightforward, philosophical and disturbing. Very Russian in feel, that combination of melancholy and existentialism. We follow Sasha Samokhina from an irreversible meeting on the beach with a strange man who gives her directions to follow. Relationships between Sasha and her family, school friends, and lovers, are beautifully described along with the more far-out descriptions of the nature of her education. This book will appeal to fans of speculative fiction, dark fantasy, and those who just appreciate really great literature. Sometimes the best descriptions of "reality" come from "fantasy".
Written by Ryan Miller
Illustrated by Hatem Aly
(Sterling Children's Books)
For anyone with small picky eaters in their lives - and those picky eaters themselves - this picture book’s topsy-turvy premise is sure to amuse. Little Matilda is saddled with two parents who will only eat a few types of food, which include chicken (only in nugget form), macaroni (only mixed with orange powder) and grilled cheese (only on white bread in triangles). When Grandma arrives with homemade jambalaya, Matilda’s parents recoil in horror. “Yuck!” her dad exclaims. “No Way!” says her mom. While they sulk, curious Matilda takes a bite. She finds it delicious and resolves to try new foods whenever she can. At home, she realizes she has to take matters into her own hands if she wants relief from pizza and nuggets. Author Ryan Miller keeps the narrative humorous and playful, while incorporating a nod to kitchen safety, as his protagonist embarks upon her adventure in culinary self-empowerment. Ultimately Matilda convinces her parents to try a homemade burger and although they complain about green bits and initially try to beat a retreat to leftovers, they eventually eat tiny bites under duress. To their surprise they find they like it, and in the days that follow - as Matilda guides them on more tasty discoveries - they begin to come around, especially when they are permitted to assist her in the kitchen. Illustrator Hatem Aly’s expressive, cartoon-like style makes for a perfectly hilarious concoction.