The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

The Magicians Trilogy Boxed SetThe Magicians Trilogy Boxed Set by Lev Grossman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you remember how you felt at the end of the Harry Potter books…you couldn’t believe it was all over? Lev Grossman’s world renderings have left me feeling like I have been to another world and back again. Truthfully, I didn’t start enjoying Harry Potter as an adult until we got to #3 The Prisoner of Azkaban and things took a turn to the darker. Well, Grossman starts you with that delicious darkness right away by following the angsty college-age characters into the pits of their binge-drinking, malaise, and their general feelings of invincibility. It took me awhile to get Quentin Coldwater, our protagonist, as he begins as such an unlikeable character: weak, needy, low self-esteem and perpetually whinging. Hanging in there with Quentin means you get to enjoy Grossman’s foils: Julia, Eliot, Alice, Janet, Penny and Plum. Each of his friends is suprisingly complex and I looked forward to every encounter. Grossman isn’t gentle with his readers…he expects you to have a well-versed lexicon of pop culture and regularly twists icons of the fantasy world to his will. This is a reader’s book. There may even be an encyclopedia on The Magicians’ Lore and Easter Eggs out there somewhere….and if not then someone needs to conjure one. Of course I loved the Neitherlands’ library most and I’d like to spend some real time there if I just had the right button.

I think Grossman may be ahead of his time, combining this almost dystopian and back again version of the typical fantasy quest with very real struggles with mental health themes, the continuous search for identity and enough modern slang to quickly date this book. I will recommend it to everyone but I’m not sure it will suit everyone’s taste as it breaks all sorts of archetypal rules. And readers like their archetypes.

On a side note: I am not particularly enjoying the casting of Quentin Coldwater in the TV series and actually my favourite actor is the one playing Penny, who is grossly underused in Grossman’s The Magicians. Maybe Mr. Grossman will reward my loyalty by writing a spin-off series just about Penny? Or Plum…she’s awesome too.

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Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships (Baltimore, #1)Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s dark and dingy but it has this throwback, homage feeling to it that really appealed to my sense of design. The story uses many archetypes and predictable twists and turns as there is a plague, and zombie-esque creatures and vampires, but really our hunter is fighting evil, and that never really goes out of style, does it? My favourite part is when the pretty sidekick (who just can’t seem to keep her blouse on her shoulders) escapes the onslaught of the zombies by hiding inside a submarine full of corpses. I’ll have to see what my secondary school readers think of it as they are always craving more brains….errr, zombies. More zombies! More zombies!

Baltimore reminds me more of something about the same age as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde then a modern day graphic novel. If you like fog and death, you’re going to love it.

Image result for baltimore the plague ships

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The inauguration in my school library learning commons

“Our approach to freedom need not be identical, but it must be intersectional and inclusive.” – Janet Mock, writer, TV host, transgender rights activist

Today I feel compelled to put into words my choice to broadcast the inauguration of the 45th U.S. President in my school library yesterday.

Living on the other side of the U.S. border has its challenges for a small town teacher-librarian.  While we dance around the idea of Canadian identity and what that means when our culture is represented, Canadian publishers in all media forms are still driven by American markets and American values.  So populating a library with well-loved material of  CanCon isn’t always what pleases the staff and students because we’ve been  gorging ourselves on the fire hose of American content.  But the direction of Trump’s politics is certainly affecting my library just 150 km from our border.  It is our mandate to give equal weight to the voices in my school respectfully, responsibly and compassionately.

When my principal put forward the idea of livestreaming the inauguration in our school, I was all for it from the beginning.  Generally, when I’m faced with a situation that feels precarious in the library I have to resist that flight feeling and instead push through.  I gather my community for support and so we put it to the staff that we were going to livestream the inauguration throughout the halls and in the learning commons.  We received the full spectrum of reactions…some who thought it was important and some who thought it was giving support to the wrong values. After some discussion back and forth we decided to show it in the library only and I think now it was the right decision because of the wide range of opinions and emotions in the school around this momentous occasion.   The dilemma seemed to be whether or not we should be giving hateful politics any space at all in our school community. Better to have staff on hand and nearby for students who are wrestling with the same strong emotions we’re having. I side with providing information openly first and then we can work through our disparate reactions together.  That’s my job and it gets me out of bed every morning.

We didn’t make any announcements at all, but I started to set up about an hour before Trump’s speech and the students just started pouring in. We have simply not had the technology before now to do this before and it was surprisingly easy.  I put up a question trying to focus on a critical thinking aspect of whatever we were about to see.  “What words does he use to persuade the audience?”  That was as neutral as I could manage.   I also made sure that the students knew they didn’t have to stay and that there was a quieter area in the lower library.  As the speech began I estimate that we had 150 students and 7 staff members watching.  We spoke quietly with the students asking what they thought of the words being used.  The end of his speech really enflamed some passionate responses but everyone was in control and respectful.  Just before the end of lunch, the videostream ended.

It inspired wonder!  Curiosity!  I heard:

“I wonder why they chose January 20th to begin his presidency?”

“I wonder how Trump’s changes will affect our economic relationship with the U.S.?”

“Is that racist?” “Are those all of Trump’s children?”  “Are there any black people in the audience?

I know it was the right thing to do.  This is why civic places exist in democracy.  It may be difficult to work through the issues we all feel are most important, but on my watch my library will continue to be a place where issues and voices can co-exist.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde, African American writer, feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

They Left Us Everything: A MemoirThey Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became interested in Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything as it has won the Ontario Library Association’s 2016 Evergreen award for best in Canadian adult fiction. This book is my surprise read of the year. Aging parents and all their stuff? The topic doesn’t really sell itself, does it? But then I engaged with Plum’s story as it speaks to the changing nature of family dynamics. Her family is challenged by her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, her brother’s cancer and the general decline of her mother. As her parents age and pass away, she is left with a monument to their time on Earth that seems psychologically insurmountable to deal with. Each item that Plum touches resonates with a history sometimes obvious but more likely it’s true meaning isn’t revealed until Plum has a series of serendipitous moments. This book spans the time it took Plum to deal with each item, the family disagreements about how to deal, and the time of putting it all to rest. This book is filled with the things that we think and don’t say and in joining Plum in her memoir, I feel better about the future challenges in my own life. It is descriptive and concise, and a true tribute to family dysfunction in all its glories. If I could, I’d buy a copy for each family member with a card attached that says “Fair warning.”

As I was searching, I found this article about the home itself filled with marvellous descriptive pictures that match the ones in my head: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/a-lakeside-home-well-stocked-with-history/article622715/

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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being a librarian, I rarely buy books anymore just for me but every now and then one leaps out at me, circulates through my family, and then makes its new home in my library where I recommend it to my secondary school readers. The Library at Mount Char reminds me of….American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips and The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric….with the style of Tom Robbins in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Is it just me or is there an emerging genre of gods living among us?

I can barely tell you about the book without spoilers but let me say something about the most enticing bits ….the library is THE library containing all the knowledge in the world (including resurrections, for example. …there us unspeakable violence and the threat of an approaching apocalypse and our antihero Carolyn has to learn all this while living with her 11 adopted brothers and sisters who are each mastering their own catalogue and experimenting on each other. It takes sibling pranks to a whole new level.

I will recommend this book to any student in my library who I suspect lives a double-life or has their sights on anarchy.

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Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret DaughterSecret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m gradually working my way through the Amnesty International Book Club recommendations and this book This book is written in a simple style, at times, overstating the emotion involved in this heartwrenching tale of gendercide and survival as Asha searches to find the meaning of family.

I once took a class on culture and literature and my insight was that fighting for gender equity isn’t going to go away until we tackle class disparity. This is very much represented in Secret Daughter. I was very relieved to see that there are no simple answers in this book, and there is a lot of grey area between culture and human rights as these are complex issues. I will recommend this book to anyone interested in the plight of female children in poverty and it will fit nicely into many of the literature studies in my secondary school library.

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Punishment by Linden MacIntyre

PunishmentPunishment by Linden MacIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MacIntyre masterfully combines a serene small town setting with the incestuous secrets of the past. Tony, a retired guard from the nearby penitentiary, returns home to create some space between himself and the drama of his former employment only to discover that his past won’t let him alone. White lies and half-truths abound in the community around a murder, a drug ring and the ex-convict living nearby. Tony is compelled to get further involved than he ever imagined. MacIntyre combines clues and red herrings so skillfully that the reader will never see what’s coming. Nominated for the 2016 Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen award, this gem is sure to thrill readers of all types.

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The Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

The entire Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is just delicious. For anyone new to fantasy it gently eases the reader into the world that author Laini Taylor builds by starting us with our protagonist, Karou who is an art student in Prague with a mysterious past and an unusual upbringing. She has untapped magical powers and only realizes her potential when she is threatened. Once everything about Karou’s ultra-cool life is under attack, she has to make some very difficult decisions about what is important to her. In the truest nature of a modern fantasy, she chooses a forbidden lover, above all else. The differences between good and evil are constantly blurred which I found very satisfying as it adds layers upon layers to the character development and the age-old feud unfolding. As with any trilogy, the action gets much darker before we see light at the end of the tunnel so teachers need to be aware of mild sexuality and violence throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong female characters in this book that value their identities and families as much as the action of fighting for their lives. I just loved this book and the students who are picking it up based on my recommendation are whispering about it everywhere!

picmonkeycollage

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A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee

A Spy in the House (The Agency, #1)A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Quinn finds herself in a bit of a Nikita situation….as she reforms her life, she is given a proposal to give up her traditional woman’s destiny and become part of The Agency. The really interesting part happens though when Mary is forced to acknowledge her past and there are some surprises there for the reader. This book just tripped along and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the next one in the series. I would recommend this book for anyone in grade 7 and up…Mary does have to fend off unwanted male attention and there is some violence.

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The Art of Getting Stared at by Laura Langston

The Art of Getting Stared AtThe Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as it is nomineed for an Ontario Library Association White Pine Award. I have been criticized for praising books too highly but honestly, the White Pine selection committee does such great work. I loved this book and I was surprised when it brought me to tears a number of times. The way the Langston interweaves Sloane’s discovery of her onsetting alopecia with the calls from her mother’s volunteerism in the Sudan and Sloane’s own volunteerism at the local child hospice unit speaks to the complete spectrum of mental health stresses that humans deal with. Sloane authentically struggles not only with the onset of her immune disorder but how to weigh her grief for her hair with the grief she feels for the patients that she visits. As a teacher-librarian, I would recommend this book for anyone grade 7 and up.

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Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Medicine WalkMedicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Masterfully written. This is my first encounter with Wagamese but certainly not my last. I admire his ability to weave the novel as the background stories reveal themselves. This is a must-read in the Canadian canon. I think anyone would like this book but especially someone who feels connected to our home and native land or anyone who has had to make personal sacrifices for family members or anyone who has defined their own family outside of the traditional norm. As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will recommend this book to the senior students in my building for the adult choices that our characters have to make.

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Delusion Road by Don Aker

Delusion RoadDelusion Road by Don Aker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is nominated this year for an Ontario Library Association White Pine award and It is hopping off the shelves in my secondary school library. At first I found the book to feel very abrupt as the chapters interchange between the two essential plots and subplots of the novel. This contrived double-narrative improves towards the midway point as the plots begin to come together. The characters of Willa and Keegan are very believable and well-developed so that we really care about what’s happening as the plot thickens. Ayer even makes me feel sorry for Wynn at one point! This book, with its predictable structure, and it’s classic themes of good vs. Evil….vs. Evil will surely appeal to teens from grade 7 and up.

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The 5th Wave and The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The 5th Wave because it was yet another young adult dystopian fiction novel and I’m always looking for ‘sure things’ for the teens in my secondary school library. So I fully expected it to be predictable and smug about it. But it wasn’t! The twists and turns in the plot were unexpected and juicy! Our main character Cassie’s own biases and anxiety cloud her reliability as a narrator. From the start to the finish, I had a beautiful visual movie playing in my head so I can’t wait to see it come to the screen in 2016. I’ll be sure to pick the sequel as well.

The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)    The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Infinite Sea begins in media res as Cassie and her band of friends must pick themselves up from their last good deed in The 5th Wave. Having loved and lost Evan, Cassie’s emotions seem to be still divided between her brother and this new found will she has to see through the survival of the human race. Like the first book, The Infinite Sea keeps the reader guessing about the true ambitions of the invading alien race and there is a lot of action and many of the characters waffle between wanting to survive, and also making giant sacrifices to save each other.

Yancey never lets the reader forget that this group of hardened soldiers are actually brainwashed children who are living a nightmare. He mingles strategy with really human moments and I could not stop turning pages. I found both books to be very accessible despite the science fiction elements which require a leap of acceptance. The lexile count for both books is low enough for grade 6, and the characters are all school ages. I expect that these books will have wide appeal for most intermediate and senior students in my secondary school library.

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Rush by Eve Silver

Rush (The Game, #1)Rush by Eve Silver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eve Silver‘s book Rush is a sure fire winner with the strong young adult readers in my secondary school library. It begins with the life of an otherwise ordinary girl who gets pulled through dimensions into a ‘game’ but it turns out that she actually has to really kill the enemy Drau that she is up against. Miki ‘levels up’ as she becomes less afraid to hunt the Drau. There are hints at deeper issues as Miki deals with her own shock to the intensity of her situation, and as she tries to make a connection with the elusive leader Jackson, who has put up emotional walls to deal with his responsibility to the game. Because of the twists and turns in world-building and planar leaps, I don’t recommend this to weaker readers, but for those into science fiction, I do. I really enjoyed the game culture and also how Miki and her friends have to maintain all ‘normal’ appearances when they’re not fighting for their lives.

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Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTrillium by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeff Lemire ‘s graphic novel reminds me of this version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. As Nika and William come together through time and space and then are separated again, Lemire presents this as happening on two separate planes of existence. He uses the mythology of Mayan temples and an alien race to hint that these two people need to meet. The message is not explicit, but Lemire hints that these disparate people are meant to be together. The layout of the novel, which switches voices and combines the two planes of existence in unusual but effective ways is another convention-breaking strategy of Lemire’s to build the story. Although Trillium is rated by Vertigo as “Suggested for Mature Readers” there is no content or visualization that is beyond the capability of the adolescent readers in my secondary school library. More so what will challenge them are the style of the layout, and the topics of time, space and spirituality. Personally, I can’t wait for them to read it so we can have those great conversations.

weirdest-burp-ever

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