I was afraid Redshirts was going to be generic FanFic writing when I started reading, but it quickly proved to be much more. A really fun, tongue-in cheek send-up of all things Star Trek—with a little Galaxy Quest thrown in— it's a nice departure for a genre that often takes itself way too seriously. You don't have to be a fan of Star Trek to enjoy Redshirts, but it helps to be a fan of science fiction in general. I hope there is a sequel!
I've been reading Stephen King for over 35 years and he still manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Doctor Sleep, sequel to The Shining, is no exception. If you have not read The Shining or seen the movie, King supplies just enough back story to convey the importance of the events happening now. The book takes place many years after the ghost infested Overlook Hotel was destroyed. But Dan Torrence, now a recovering alcoholic, is slowly drawn back to it by a young girl, Abra, who also posesses "the shining". She believes there is a sinister reason behind a number of missing children. Dan and Abra discover that even though the hotel is gone there remains an evil gathering of vampires who call themselves the True Knot and make their home base on the grounds where the Overlook Hotel used to stand. Disguised as vacationers roaming the highways in RVs they kidnap and prey on children who have "the shining". They call it "steam".
King's main strength is his character development and he doesn't disappoint in this story. The leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat, is as creepy and as eccentric as any of his previous characters. He manages to bring Dan's struggle with alcohol into the mix without overshadowing Dan's quest. Nothing preachy here, Dan's just a guy doing the best he can. King's 13-year-old heroine, Abra, who is even stronger at "shining" than Dan (she predicted the 9/11 disaster from her crib) is a believable mix of edgy and nice. She bounces back and forth between psychic threat and just plain kid.
The book starts off slowly but manages to pick up speed as it rolls along. It's a nice creepy tale. It's Stephen King.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series
I first became aware of these marvelous characters through the HBO series and ran to find the books. The various stories are as much about the adventures and everyday lives of the different people as they are about solving mysteries. And "mystery" is a loose definition in some cases. The three main characters are, the deceptively named Mma Precious Ramotswe who is the first female private investigator in Botswana, her eager and capable assistant Mma Grace Makutsi, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni mechanic and eventual husband of Mma Precious Ramotswe. Charming, funny, heart breaking, insightful and sometimes alarming tales of rural life in modern day South Africa.
Lynne Fahnestalk, Inventory Coordinator
2013 was a GREAT year for comics. If you like fantasy, adventure, and superhero comics, there was Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples excellent space opera Saga, Matt Fraction and David Aja's erstwhile Avenger Hawkeye, and Kelly Sue Deconnick's Captain Marvel.
The latest Batwoman by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman delivered more exquisitely drawn gothic horror, and The Joker returned in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's nightmare-inducing run on Batman. And—speaking of nightmares—H. P. Lovecraft met Jules Verne in Nemo: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (I'm looking forward to next year's sequel, The Roses of Berlin, a lot).
Then there was the epic, Moebius-meets-Jack Kirby Battling Boy by Paul Pope, and the deliciously pulpy The Black Beetle by Francesco Francavilla.
The luscious historical fantasy adventure Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Vancouver's very own Tony Cliff was just a joy from beginning to end. Not only did it look beautiful (Tony is also an animator), but the dialogue was sharp and snappy.
Online, I have been quietly addicted to the post-Harry Potter fantasy adventure Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. But that won't be out as a book until 2015! (You can, however, find one of Noelle's illustrations on the cover of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell).
Affectionately making fun of tight pants and all that heroic stuff was The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Halifax-based cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks (which I loved, loved, loved), and the brilliant You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld. While Superhero Girl dealt with the daily trials and tribulations of a novice superheroine, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack mashed up literary classics with robots, astronauts, dinosaurs, sea monsters, Victoriana, and masked men (where else would you see a Batman-inspired steampunk Dickens?!).
Also somewhat affectionately deconstructing pop culture (but in an oh-so different way) was the bonkers and acidic My Dirty Dumb Eyes by illustrator Lisa Hanawalt. I'm not sure I'd describe it as comics exactly, but it was sure as hell funny (where else would you see Anna Wintour riding an ostrich?!).
For kids, the pair of eccentrics in Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon were lots of fun (the book's been a popular birthday gift), and I really liked Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson. Luke also contributed a really great story, 'The Boy Who Drew Cats', to the charming Fairy Tale Comics collection edited by Chris Duffy. (You can read my interview with Luke here).
My kids are still a bit young for them, but I fully expect My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Adventure Time Fionna & Cake will soon be in required reading in our house...
But comics continued to explore new territory beyond the typical genres associated with the medium. Lucy Knisley's Relish was a tender food memoir with recipes; Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, a colourful look at the work of primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg was a series of strange, funny, and magical stories. Gilbert Hernandez had two remarkable books out this year: Marble Season, a heartfelt, semi-autobiographical comic about childhood in 1960s southern California, and the haunting Julio's Day, a fictional account of man's life from his birth in 1900 to his death 2000. Peter Bagge returned with Woman Rebel, a surprising and fascinating biography of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.
(I actually had the pleasure of meeting both Beto and Peter this year. Peter was terrific at this year's IFOA—smart and disarmingly funny—but sight of Elvira Kurt sprinting from one side of a CBC studio to the other to meet Beto was something else entirely!)
Rutu Modan's The Property was an extraordinary follow-up to her debut graphic novel Exit Wounds. Lovingly observed, it told the story of an Israeli woman accompanying her elderly grandmother to Warsaw, ostensibly to reclaim property lost during World War II. It was funny, heartbreaking, beautiful and poignant. Literary in the best sense, it was still criminally overlooked by the critics.
And I didn't even get to Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh, The Great War by Joe Sacco...
2013 was the 10th anniversary of Chester Brown's monumental Louis Riel—a book that changed how we thought about comics and, I think, profoundly expanded the possibilities of the medium. Would a book like Rebel Woman have been possible without it? I don't think so. Nor would my favourite comic of the year, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, which shared some of its sensibility.
The result of 5 years work, Boxers and Saints is a remarkable achievement. The two volume graphic novel told the intertwined stories of two young people on opposites of the Boxer Rebellion in 19th century China. While Boxers was a brightly coloured adventure story inspired by Chinese opera and superhero comics, Saints delivered an introspective story of identity and faith, drawing more from the personal narratives found in independent comics. Both books were beautifully coloured by Lark Pien (a cartoonist in her own right) and they are visually stunning. But it was the complex storytelling—in turn funny and tragic—and Gene's unique magical realism that made the books truly extraordinary.
Shortly after the release of Boxers and Saints, Gene came to Toronto and delivered two brilliant presentations about becoming a cartoonist and his career from self-published indie comics to the present day. If you ever get chance to hear Gene talk about his work you should definitely take it. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with him just talking comics and superheroes. It was one of the highlights of my year.
Dan, Online Marketing Manager
Let me preface this by saying that I adore YA novels, dystopian in particular. Yes, YA dystopia—fiction for teens. Which I suppose makes my choice of The Unwinding as my favourite book of the year an odd one.
But the current spate of Young Adult dystopia is a reflection of some deep and troubling undercurrents that run through our social fabric and show little sign of abating. To truly understand fiction, you need on some level to understand its contemporary roots; right now that lies in a suffocating sense of anomie, and a need to examine catalysts of that fragmentation of social values and identity. It’s easy to forget that the roots of the seemingly far-fetched dystopias readers like me devour often lead right back to our own feet.
There are so many books this year that I loved, but none has so unsettled and challenged me as The Unwinding. It sits in the corner of my bedroom in a pile of its own, as if relegated to the corner for the bad behavior of hitting where it hurts, cast out from the teetering stacks of ARCs that have made my apartment a fire hazard.
The Unwinding is an immensely personal and unflinching look at the unravelling of the so-called American Dream: the need for constant growth and improvement, development without reflection, and money without a soul. If you feel that the American flag on the cover of the book and its American overtones make it exclusionary, think again.
This is not a story about Democrats versus Republicans, but rather a story about the nostalgic myth of the small community, the small business, and the reality of more and more people living separate from wealth and purpose, the chasm yawning ever wider between reality and representation.
The son of a born-again, failed tobacco farmer; a young black woman, daughter to a heroin addict, growing up in the rust belt; an idealistic aide to then Senator Joe Biden, who discovers that the purpose and sense of belonging he’s always sought lies not in politics but in lobbying. The billionaire founder of PayPal, who by all means has snared a version of this elusive dream, but with it the sharp edges of a life with hidden shrapnel—nothing overt, but an uncomfortable whiplash and constant motion. I vividly recall dreams where I’m behind the wheel in a car without brakes, always going faster and faster, my insides calcifying into solid clumps of fear, then dissolving from the speed. These are the people Packer allows to tell their stories. Their successes and their failures, the loneliness that comes with individualism’s victories as well as its losses.
There is an unsettling loneliness inherent in the stories Packer tells—the feeling that each of his characters is fighting to emerge from a shadow into a startlingly bright dream that has been promised but remains out of reach, the way a recent dream flickers on the edge of consciousness, just beyond the edges of rational thought.
This is a book whose stories will sneak beneath your skin and settle in; the most unsettling element that the fears and disquiet expressed by the characters are our own, which we seek to hold in check just beneath the surface, lest they unwind and coil around us.
Megan Radford, Sales & Marketing Assistant
In her forthcoming book The Trip to Echo Spring (published later this month by Picador), Olivia Laing examines the link between writing and drinking through the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.
All six of these writers were alcoholics and not only did they drink together, the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work.
Having grown up in an alcoholic family herself, Laing travelled from Cheever's New York to Williams's New Orleans, and from Hemingway's Key West to Carver's Port Angeles, trying to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, and to unravel the high price of creativity:
I have fallen prey to a fascination with the ‘20s, and if the number of Pinterest boards devoted to this era is any indication, I am definitely not alone. Here are a few of my favourite ‘20s-themed titles from 2013:
Z depicts all the glitz, glam, and debauchery of the Roaring Twenties, as well as the romance, scandal, and ultimate demise of the infamous Fitzgeralds. Told from the point of view of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s spunky wife and muse—the quintessential flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald—Z follows the literary couple’s romantic start to their notorious ruin. Inspired by letters exchanged between the two, as well as correspondence between Scott and his editor, agent, and friends (notably, Ernest Hemingway), Z offers a glimpse into the Jazz Age and features glamorous members of the Lost Generation, including Gertrude Stein, Gerald and Sara Murphy, and Ezra Pound (to name a few). From smoky speakeasies in New York to glitzy hotels in Paris and bootleg champagne in Hollywood, I was transported to an era in which everything was new and possible but success—particularly for the ambitious wife of a successful but doomed novelist—was ultimately fleeting.
If Z gets you in the mood for some Gatsby, look no further than Samantha Hahn’s Well-Read Women. This stunning book features portraits of literature’s most iconic heroines—including Daisy Buchanan—in pen and watercolour. Paired with hand-lettered quotations from the characters’ dialogue, each spread evokes the spirit and sensibility of its heroine as she was written. It’s unique, it’s gorgeous, and I can’t get enough of it.
If you’re feeling the flapper fashion, turn your attention to Victoria & Albert Museum 1920s Fashion Timeline Notecards from Chronicle Books. These retro-glam notecards capture the essence of 1920s fashion and make me want to chop my hair into a bob, don a headpiece, and rock a drop-waisted, beaded dress.
Alisha Whitley, Marketing Coordinator
Almost everything we own and use travels to us by container ship through a vast network of ocean routes and ports that most of us know almost nothing about. Speaking at a recent TED conference in Singapore, Journalist Rose George, author of Ninety Percent of Everything, tours us through the world of shipping, the underpinning of consumer civilization:
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why I love Well-Read Women so much, because it draws from the many reasons why certain books become important to me: liveliness, nostalgia, sadness, beauty, and memorable characters. Samantha Hahn's ethereal watercolour portraits of literature's leading ladies are juxtaposed against one of their signature quotes, and it makes for a gorgeous read. Anne Shirley is my absolute favourite ("Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?")
There is a special place in my heart for the Burgoo restaurant. I have memories of being there with friends, family, and even right after I graduated from college. Half-starved after the long ceremonial affair that is a UBC English Department graduation ceremony (there were many of us), my parents asked where I wanted to get lunch. Easy answer: "Burgoo!" No one does comfort food better, and thanks to their cookbook now everyone can bring it home. We're in Raincouver after all, and sometimes the only cure for the grey sky blues is cheesy biscuits and a hearty stew.
Chelsea Newcombe, Sales Associate
I want to provide perspective to kids and to the whole world that if I can choose to forgive Adam, then you can certainly look into your own life and choose to forgive.
On December 14, 2012, Scarlett Lewis lost her six year old son Jesse at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Following Jesse's death, Scarlett went on an unexpected journey, inspired by a simple three-word message her son had scrawled on their kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died: ‘Norurting Helin Love’ (Nurturing Healing Love).
Even in her unimaginable grief, Scarlett drew courage from Jesse’s words and came to understand the power of forgiveness, even for Adam Lanza, the man who killed her son. Scarlett founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to develop programs to teach children about the power each of us has to change our thoughts and choose a life without fear and hate. She also now works with the Seeds of Empathy program, which is well known in Canadian schools.
On the day of the massacre, everyone had the same two questions: How could something like this happen? What can we do to keep it from happening again?
In an extended interview last week by telephone, Scarlett answered these essential questions and more.
It's been incredibly difficult nearing the anniversary, but being able to talk to people because they actually care—I've seen and felt the compassion from day one—is an amazing gift.
Jamie: First of all, I just wanted to say all of our hearts and prayers go out to you and to the other families of Sandy Hook. The events of last year are still so vivid in our minds. I wanted to offer our condolences.
Scarlett: Thank you. I very much appreciate that.
Jamie: I was wondering if this attention around the anniversary causes you more pain, or do you actually find solace in the fact that the world will be focusing on it?
Scarlett: December 14th was the third worst mass shooting in America's history, but it was actually the greatest day of compassion that the world has ever seen, in my eyes. And that's true authentic compassion, which is when someone feels someone's pain, empathizes with someone. The world came together to support us, and I can say that because I was the recipient of that compassion. I started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to keep that momentum going.
It's been incredibly difficult nearing the anniversary, but being able to talk to people because they actually care—I've seen and felt the compassion from day one—is an amazing gift and I want to spread Jesse's message of nurturing, healing, love, so I appreciate any opportunity that I get.
Jamie: I think one of the most powerful moments in book is actually your description about survivors of the genocide in Rwanda reaching out to you.
Scarlett: It was a profoundly life changing experience to have someone from another country, another culture, reach out to express their condolences. Their message was so incredibly powerful because we weren't in touch personally with anyone who really understood what we were going through, except for the other families, and early on we weren't really in touch with them. For someone who had suffered something similar, actually even greater, to take the time and effort to reach out to us was a huge gift, and it was life changing. I mean, that really started our healing process.
Jamie: I was thinking about your own faith and something that Dr. Laura Asher writes in the book: "Grieving is a sacred act, you must respect it and treat it as such." Are there ways to deepen the sacred aspect of grieving as a culture? Are there things that you've learned that you could pass on to our readers?
Scarlett: Well first of all, we don't acknowledge death and dying in our culture. I mean it happens, but we don’t talk about it unless it happens. We don’t teach anything about it in school; we don't prepare ourselves in any way for death and dying. And of course everyone is going to die and it's a natural part of life. There's so much shrouded mystery around it, and it's really not a mysterious thing. I really think that it would be helpful if we talked about it. But it's difficult. Loss of any kind is difficult.
I do believe that grieving is sacred. It's a time when personally I felt very close to Jesse. Of course I wanted his physical body here with me, but I did feel very close spiritually to him. I had to work on my trauma before I could actually grieve. And even the fact that Dr. Laura framed it like that to me—you know, “grieving is a sacred act”—her just setting out that intention, and me being open minded, just being bewildered and not having any expectation of what it would be like, I accepted what she said and it became a sacred act for me. And of course when you don't think that there is an end to your spirit and you believe that your spirit goes on—that you will be reunited at one point with your loved one—that is definitely a comforting feeling.
I feel so connected with the world because I know that they are grieving with me. I know that because countless people have told me in the most beautiful ways. They're mourning with me.
Jamie: One of the things that touched me was how generous you were with family pictures in the book—the image of Jesse in the bathtub will speak to the heart of anyone who has a six-year-old boy. Like when you talk about his scent and keeping his clothes close to you, the photos allow us to enter a little bit into your grieving process.
Scarlett: Well you know, I feel so connected with the world because I know that they are grieving with me. I know that because countless people have told me in the most beautiful ways. They're mourning with me. They're supporting, they're sending their love and they've created these beautiful handmade gifts.
I wanted to give them insight into his life—to offer them a glimpse of this beautiful, precious young boy… to offer a glimpse into his life. I wanted them to know him, because they're grieving him but they never had the pleasure of knowing him. I wanted to give the reader that as well.
Jamie: You’ve said you ask yourself the same two questions that everyone asked that day: "How could something like this have happened?" And "what can I do to keep it from happening again?"
Scarlett: Some parents thought that it was guns. I personally saw the situation and thought that the whole tragedy started at some point with an angry thought in Adam Lanza's head. I pictured him as a young boy with an angry thought at some point, and I pictured him kind of stewing in this anger because he didn't have the tools nor the nurturing environment to be able to handle this emotion—which is totally normal when you have the tools to deal with it, but he didn't. And so at some point he tried to get relief from this horrible feeling of anger by blaming someone else. He blamed his parents, he blamed his classmates, he blamed his brother, he blamed someone. And when he did that, he became a victim. When he blamed somebody else for what he was feeling, he gave away all of his personal power—he's a victim and powerless to change his situation. Prolonged victimization leads to rage, and rage creates these acts of violence.
On December 14th the world came together in the greatest show of compassion in my mind that mankind has ever known.
I've gone in recently and talked to schools about forgiveness, and kids raise their hands and say, "What is forgiveness?" Well that's a great question. You know, we don't talk about all the aspects of forgiveness. "How long does forgiveness take?" What a great question, you know?
I think what I'm trying to do also is provide perspective—like the Rwandans provided perspective to me. If I can choose to forgive Adam, then you can look into your own life and choose to forgive—whatever's holding you back, whatever person or thing has caused you pain and is leaching your personal power from you.
We are all on planet Earth together, and our reason for being here and the way that we are going to survive is if we help each other. We're all in this together; we're all one. There is no separateness and we just need to realize that. On December 14th the world came together in the greatest show of compassion in my mind that mankind has ever known. I want to keep that momentum moving forward with the foundation.
Jamie: You mentioned in the book how proud you are of Jesse. I just want to end here by saying he must be extremely proud of you.
Scarlett: I feel so blessed to carry on the torch that Jesse has passed to me and to be able to teach through his example of bravery. A lot of his actions in his final moments saved his friends’ lives—nine of them. I use that example because it takes bravery to make the right choices. Choosing gratitude, choosing forgiveness, choosing compassion—it takes bravery to do that. It's not always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes it takes bravery to be kind to someone. Sometimes it takes bravery to be truthful and honest. If a six-year-old can stand up to a mentally deranged shooter at the other end of a semi-automatic weapon and choose that moment to save his friends’ lives, then we can make the right choices in our lives. We can choose truth and honesty. We can choose gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. And we can all have a role in making this a better world.
Jamie: Thank you.
Scarlett: Thank you very much Jamie. I appreciate the opportunity.
Jamie: It’s been a great honour.
This is simply a beautiful and gentle book. In its text and its lovely pen and ink illustrations it explains how Einstein was an imaginary thinker… always questioning how things worked and why things were the way they were. What an inspiring story to get kids thinking about science and wonder about big magical ideas. Every parent, Grandparent and teacher will love this book.
I am not a sci-fi fan at all… but from the first book with Cinder (I loved her spunk and street smart intelligence), I became a fan. I eagerly anticipated and then devoured this second book in the Lunar Chronicle series. Fairy tales mixed with sci-fi. Who knew? Scarlet is so feisty and such a survivor. The way the author brings these two character’s lives together is brilliant. I can’t wait until the third one.
Flora and the Flamingo
This book is such a delight. An unlikely friendship between a little ballerina (in her bathing cap), and a pink Flamingo… the little girl trying to mirror the dance moves of the Flamingo. Their relationship grows with each leap and lunge. I love this wordless picture book with interactive flaps… silent, beautiful and oh so graceful.
A fun and inspiring read. We are energy… and you can use that energy. Rather than take it on faith, you are invited to conduct nine 48-hour experiments to prove there really is a positive, totally loving force in the universe. Pam Grout is a funny and intelligent person so the book was an enjoyable read. I took this information with a grain of salt and am keeping an open mind. But it has certainly changed the way I think.. and focus my energy!
E-Squared proves the following:
- There is an invisible energy force or field of infinite possibilities.
- You impact the field and draw from it according to your beliefs and expectations.
- You, too, are a field of energy.
- Whatever you focus on expands.
- Your connection to the field provides accurate and unlimited guidance.
- Your thoughts and consciousness impact matter.
- Your thoughts and consciousness provide the scaffolding for your physical body.
- You are connected to everything and everyone else in the universe.
- The universe is limitless, abundant, and strangely accommodating.
Sandy Cooper, Director of Field Sales
You think you know who you are. You have a degree or two. You have a job and a family. Perhaps you even have an expensive car, a house and a dog. Imagine one day finding yourself not having any of the above. You are thousands of miles away from what you thought was your home and you have nothing. Who are you? An alien.
The ingenious German social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm said: "If I am what I have and if I lose what I have who then am I?” A collection of essays written by Aleksandar Hemon, an American writer of Bosnian descent, The Book of my Lives is about who we are, how we become what we think we are and how we lose ourselves by losing what we had. This book caught me off-guard. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me suffer. I didn't read it—I lived through it.
Hemon writes about his childhood in socialist Yugoslavia, and I have a feeling that I played on the same playground. “… we were all Pioneers and we all loved socialism, our country, and it’s greatest son…”. He remembers his family's borscht and I can feel the taste of it in my mouth. “… the food needs to be prepared on the low but steady fire of love and consumed in a ritual of indelible togetherness.” He tells about his first months in America, “… my displacement was metaphysical to the precisely same extent to which it was physical.”—Still is for me.
What if you lose someone you truly love? Suddenly all you have is solely pain.
My favorite book of the year, The Book of my Lives written by Alexandar Hemon.
Larisa Sviridova, Data Specialist