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STAFF PICKS

June 2019


Jo's Picks

I am, I am, I am

by Maggie O'Farrell
(Vintage Canada)

This memoir, subtitled Seventeen Brushes with Death, reminds us how precarious life really is, but in a similar way to other dark autobiographies- Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air for instance- it also celebrates the preciousness of every day. Award-winning novelist O'Farrell paints a series of vignettes in vivid, deft strokes, by turns terrifying, miraculous, and joyous. Deeply touching and personal, her prose is taut and luminous and this is the kind of book that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.

 

Dig

by A.S. King
(Dutton Books for Young Readers)

Upper YA novelist King is known for her unique 'issue' books which are most often a tantalizing, smart concoction of realism and surrealism. In Dig we see her dig her formidable teeth into generational, toxic racism. At the center are the 5 far-flung grandchildren of two potato farmers who've turned their land into wealth. They are the epitome of white privilege. Interweaving their perspectives along with those of the teens: The Shoveler, the Freak, Can I Help You?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress and First-Class Malcolm, the book follows each of them as they are inexorably drawn together bringing resolution to an unsolved and tragic mystery. Hopeful,timely, eye-opening, galvanizing. A story of what is inherited and how our children can and will do better.

 

Amber Fang: Hunted

by Arthur Slade
(Orca Book Publishers)

This was just pure fun. A fast-paced, action-packed romp. Amber Fang is a library sciences student, an ethical vampire who only eats un-remorseful murderers who've escaped detection, and just recently an assassin for a top secret organization called the League, who pay her in food. It's all good until Amber goes from hunter to being hunted and the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are blurred. Amber is a winning protagonist, clever and witty, and mysteries abound. The first in a trilogy.


Alice's Picks

Severance

by Ling Ma
(Picador)

Severance by Ling Ma is an extraordinary debut - an apocalyptic tale told with a satirical edge, in beautiful language. Candace Chen, a recent immigrant to New York City, daughter of recently deceased Chinese immigrant parents, has landed a job at a bible publishing company. When Shen Fever starts to spread through North America, the city (and country) around her starts to fall apart, but Candace sequesters herself in the office tower and continues her work. A road trip of sorts ensues, and the book details the many human stories of people involved. Metaphors abound for contemporary work culture, global capitalism, grief, and immigrant experiences. All this is written in marvelously engaging language, and very funny and moving in equal parts. I'm looking forward to much more from Ling Ma!

 

Guestbook: Ghost Stories

by Leanne Shapton
(Riverhead Books)

Leanne Shapton has written an incredibly strange and beautiful book. Guest Book: Ghost Stories is a lovely mix of photo essays, short fictional pieces, vignettes, and archival artifacts that accumulate into an eerie, haunting work. The ghosts referred to are visitations, strange occurrences, houses, people and situations that have their echoes and mysteries. A feeling of unease but also excitement comes from this collection. It is an exquisite assemblage, both visually and linguistically, that straddles many times and places, and it is a book that will stay with you long after you close its cover.


Anne-Marie's Pick

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Sarah Jacoby 

(Balzer + Bray)

I confess that on first reading, I found this book rather disconcerting as it veered between disparate topics, perspectives and styles. On rereading, however, I understood that this was the point. As author Mac Barnett points out, “the truth is never made of straight lines. Lives are strange.” This picture book biography of famed children’s author Margaret Wise Brown is a patchwork which adds up to a strange and authentic tribute to an iconoclast who changed children’s book publishing forever. Brown comes across as a quirky, independent spirit who lived fiercely on her own terms. At a time when most children’s stories were fairytales, Brown embraced real life with all its idiosyncrasies. As is the case for most trailblazers, her efforts weren’t universally applauded. But Brown was undaunted: when the New York Public Library rejected her books and pointedly did not invite her to an author celebration, she staged a sit-in with her editor on the library steps. She went on to author over 100 titles for children, including Goodnight MoonThe Runaway Bunny and others which remain on bestseller lists over 70 years later. Fittingly, one of her best known books was called Mister Dog, about a dog who belonged to himself. Barnett and illustrator Sarah Jacoby serve up a riotous, colourful celebration of this woman who belonged to herself - who dared to be different and write unconventional stories because "every good book is at least a little bit strange."

 



Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations