A blog about books. Oh, and some other stuff too.

It’s beginning to look a lot like [insert your holiday here]!!!

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My niece’s homemade Christmas log. Please note: There is no social redeeming value to be had anywhere from this log. It is pure sugar. Also – delicious.

I’ve held out as long as I can.

I’ve refused to play a single holiday song, haven’t done any kind of decorating around the house, denied myself the yumminess that is the holiday rice krispie treat and have otherwise tried to pretend that it wasn’t happening.

However, it’s now officially December 1st, so all bets are off! We’ve noticed an upswing in holiday shoppers in store, and there are some incredible selections out there for every reader on your shopping list. Settle in, for here, then, are my top picks and even some wishes from my staff (Santa, are you listening?)!

For the teeny tinies…

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

A small fish swims away after stealing a hat from a larger fish, confident that he won’t be caught – or will he? This slyly subversive and very clever story is written and illustrated by Klassen, a former movie animator, and is a follow-up to “I Want My Hat Back”.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer

Olivia is having an identity crisis! There are too many ruffly, sparkly princesses around these days, and Olivia has had quite enough. She needs to stand out! She has to be special! Written in Falconer’s trademark humour, this story with a message manages not to be preachy, and is sure to become an instant classic.

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black

A young girl is bored, and the only thing around her is a potato. Trouble is, the potato finds her boring, and doesn’t want anything to do with her! It’s up to the girl to convince the potato that kids are interesting – and she may just convince herself in the process. Witty and fun for both parents and kids, it’s a great solution to that plaintive moan so often heard – “Mom, I’m bored!”.

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Simple, clean and endless fun, Press Here invites the reader to participate in the creation of the book – “Now tap five times on the red dot!”. Young readers will delight in seeing how the pages change after their “actions”, and parents will love to see the look on their child’s face after producing ‘magic’.

Childrens books

For your young reader…

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

While many would think this to be just a British interpretation of the wildly popular “Wimpy Kid” series, we prefer Tom Gates! Tom gets into all kinds of trouble, but his intentions are good and he’s actually just a goofy kid. He teases his sister, and desperately wants to talk to his crush but doesn’t know how. A great read for both boys and girls.

Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket returns! In this first book of a new series, tween Lemony recounts his secret-society apprenticeship. Filled with the same subversive humour as the originals, this is a not-to-be-missed book of the season.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

This award-winning novel introduces us to Augie, a Grade Five boy with a facial deformity who begins regular school for the first time after being home-schooled all his life. Told in multiple perspectives, it is a compelling, funny and touching story.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

Ever wonder about all those Princes from the Princess fairy tales? The ones who saved the girls, but are only known as Prince Charming? This hilarious story tells what happens when the boys band together after discovering an evil plot to take over their kingdoms.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate & Patricia Castelao

Ivan is a gentle gorilla on display at the mall zoo. He loves his friends and his art, and is quietly happy with his life, until the arrival of Ruby. Ruby is a baby elephant who shows Ivan a different point of view, and Ivan is determined to make a change for the better. A beautiful and touching story of friendship, art and hope.

Special Note: The Seven Series from Orca is a brilliant contained set of seven novels filled with mystery and adventure. Seven boys are left to carry out the tasks left by their recently deceased grandfather. Each story is written by a notable Canadian children’s author – Eric Walters, John Wilson, Norah McClintock, Sigmund Brouwer, Shane Peacock, Ted Staunton and Richard Scrimger – and takes readers from the top of Kilimanjaro to the bottom of the Med. Fantastic, well-written and an absolute joy to read. MG books

For the YA reader…

Beautiful Creatures (The Caster Chronicles) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Much has been said about the wildly popular Mortal Instruments series that has been filming in Toronto lately, but this series is also a ‘can’t miss’. The story of Lena Duchannes, a girl who struggles to conceal her power, it is a Southern Gothic tale with its own film adaptation (with Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson!). Lena is drawn to Ethan Wate, and they must work together to fight a curse that has haunted her family for generations.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Just as adult fiction has noticed a rise in stories set in the 1920’s, so too has the lucrative YA market. Evie O’Neill is new to New York City and she couldn’t be more excited. She quickly becomes friends with Ziegfield girls and pickpockets, and lives with her Uncle Will, the curator at an odd museum, when she is caught up in a rash of occult-based murders. Fast-paced and suspenseful, with a liberal dose of humour, this is a fabulous start to a new series.

Starling by Lesley Livingston

Mason Starling is a champion fencer at Gosforth Academy, but now she’s caught up in a fight for her life. Aided by a handsome amnesiac stranger named Fennrys Wolf, they discover the secrets relating to strange supernatural beings, including Norse gods. The story is adventurous and witty with a capable and clever heroine (who fences!), and a wonderful beginning to a new series.

The Vindico by Wesley King

A Red Maple nomination this year, this first novel about a group of supervillains who capture five teens in order to train them to be their protégés is filled with great dialogue and sarcastic humour. The teen voices are honest and funny, and they quickly realize that they must work together to escape … until they discover that escape may not be entirely what they want.

YA Books

For the gourmand in your life…

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Sequel to the smash hit Plenty, the two authors explore the food of their home city. With 120 new recipes and more stunning photographs, the book is a personal love letter to their city. This beautiful cookbook extends the all-vegetable theme to include proteins.

Burma: Rivers of Flavour by Naomi Duguid

Culinary adventurer began visiting Burma in the 1980’s and never knew if each visa issued for entry into this amazing country might be her last. She was determined to write a book about it and began in 2009 – before the totalitarian regime was removed and freedom came to the people. Her obvious affection for the people and their food is clear, and the photographs and history included makes this an absorbing book of recipes.

My Canada Includes Foie Gras by Jacob Richler

From his discussions about the family AGA, brought over from the UK to reside in their cottage to heated debates with well-known Toronto chefs on the best versions of international classics, Richler talks about how we as a nation view food and how our views are changing. Interspersed with familial anecdotes, this is a must read for any foodie.

Quinoa Revolution by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming

The authors of the standout sensation, Quinoa 365 are back with another great book about this supergrain. Using tips and tricks for preparation and how to add it to your everyday diet, they encourage the reader to explore and use more of this amazing grain in all kinds of healthy eating plans.

Cookbook pictures

For the history professor…

The History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotten

Throughout history, maps have been fundamental in shaping our view of the world, and our place in it. This book examines the significance of twelve different maps, taken from the mystical representations of ancient history to the satellite-derived imagery of today.

No Easy Day by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer

An account of the planning and execution of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, by a former member of the Navy SEALs. This book caused a big controversy when Owen revealed his SEAL status, breaking the code of silence by these military professionals.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

In May, 1943, an Allied plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Only one – the bombardier – survived, pulling himself onto a life raft as he began the journey of his life. Ahead of him lay thousands of miles of open ocean, sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and capture by the Japanese. He would have to rely on his wits and his own abilities in order to survive, both on the raft and in a POW internment camp. This is an incredible story of survival.

The Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape by Candace Savage

This recent winner of the Writer’s Trust Prize for Non-Fiction outlines the hidden history of Cypress Hills in the prairies of Western Canada. When Savage and her partner first moved there, they were unaware of the hardships endured by the First Nations peoples, and of the injustices they faced due to government interference throughout history. A moving and necessary read about Canada’s history.

History Books

For the adult fiction fan…

The Emperor of Paris by C. S. Richardson

A young baker and a young art-restorer are destined to meet – but only after the lyrical and absorbing story of each of their histories is told first. A beautiful and lyrical novel that’s set in Paris and that is about much more than bread and art.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

It’s 1972 and the Cold War is in full force. Serena Frome has entered into an affair with an older man, and ended up as a newly recruited spy for British Intelligence. Sent undercover to interact with author Tom Healey, she finds herself drawn into the literary world she has also desired – and into a relationship with the mysterious Tom.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia Turnbow climbs a mountain and sees a vision. Instead of a flaming bush she sees a flaming forest, alive with millions of Monarch butterflies. This leads to a great revelation in her life, and she changes the course of her life. The latest from Kingsolver, this book discusses issues of poverty, climate change and social class.

The Deception of Livvy Higgs by Donna Morrisey

Livvy Higgs is an elderly woman, reflecting back to her life in Newfoundland, when she was young during the early 1930’s. A beautifully written Maritime tale that will break your heart more than once, this is a must-read for Morrisey fans both new and established.

Fiction Books

For the award winner in your life….

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

One afternoon in North Dakota, Geraldine Coutts is attacked, leaving her too traumatized to share the details with her husband, son and police. Her son and his friends decide to take matters into their own hands, investigating a trail that will take them to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. Haunting and difficult, this is one of Erdrich’s best novels. Winner: National Book Award, 2012

Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy

This linked collection of short stories deals with the Soviet Army invasion of Budapest in 1944. Siege 13 traces the long-term effect of this time on characters directly involved, and on their friends, associates, sons, daughters, grandchildren, and adoptive countries. Winner: Writer’s Trust Award for Fiction, 2012

419 by Will Ferguson

When Laura’s father gets caught up in the famous Nigerian email scam and pays with his life, she is forced to leave the comfort of North America to make a journey deep into the dangerous back streets and alleyways of the Lagos underworld to confront her father’s killer. What she finds there will change her life forever Winner: Giller Fiction Award, 2012

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

The behind-the-scenes story of what happened when Leonardo was commissioned to create the magnificent Last Supper work, this book breaks down the history and significance of various aspects of the painting, as well as giving the reader an incredible insight into the life of Leonardo. Winner: Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction 2012

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantell

Sequel to the Man Booker Winner “Wolf Hall”, this continues the story of Cromwell and Henry VIII, focusing on life with Anne Boleyn and beyond. This next installment follows the events of the trial, and of Jane Seymour who is waiting in the wings. Winner: Man Booker Award for Fiction 2012

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Written by an Iraq war veteran, this is a heartbreaking, haunting, and often difficult story about one soldier’s experience in the war, and his attempts to reconcile what happened with his new reality when he returns home. Winner: Guardian Prize for New Fiction 2012

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt

The Taiping Rebellion was likely the bloodiest civil war ever fought, with over 20 million people dying over the course of the campaign, yet little is known about it. This extremely well-researched and anecdotal account is absorbing and fascination. Winner: Cundill Prize for History (McGill) 2012

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