Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

molokaiIf you’ve ever been a member of a book club, you would know that it’s rare when everyone gets to like the same book. Usually,  there are opposing opinions. Not with this book! A dozen of people gave it 4 stars out of 5. Impressive! We thought it was well written, easy to read, interesting, based on historical facts which allowed us all to learn something new or expand what bits and pieces we already knew.

The novel focuses on the leprosy epidemic of late 19th and early 20th century  in Hawaii. The disease was little understood at the time and was spreading so much that the government naturally decided to quarantine the sick. However, the quarantine part was rather radical. People with disease were sent away to an island and that was their doomed, last destination since there were no effective treatments available. Even more disheartening is that children were treated the same as adults – they were sent away too, torn away from their families. The main character in the book is Rachel Kalama. She gets to be sent away when she is 6 years old. The story follows her life, as she grows up, and faces various challenges. The ending is not all ‘cakes and roses’, but it’s not bad at all and you are left in a positive mood regardless of a heavy subject. (Submitted by Mariya)

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Mink River by Brian Doyle

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Sadly, I only learned of author Brian Doyle, when reading his obituary recently. A writer of adult and young adult fiction, of novels, short stories, poetry and essays, Doyle lived in Portland, Oregon, where he was also the editor of Portland Magazine. Finding out that Surrey Libraries owns a number of his books, I checked out the novel Mink River.

I loved his writing style – he brings the lyricism of a poet to his fiction. His trademark is long flowing sentences without punctuation. This takes some getting used to at first, but I came to love the style and his use of words.

Normally the magic realism genre is associated with Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others, but Doyle’s style is a kind of magic realism set in the Pacific Northwest. There are many great characters that you fall in love with, from a crow who talks (and philosophizes), to two old guys who make up the local Department of Public Works (which doesn’t limit itself to roads and drains, but haircuts and counting insects and generally watching out for the welfare of everyone in their little community). Doyle weaves in aboriginal lore, as well as Irish language and myth (one character is a transplanted Irishman). While Mink River has a large assortment of fascinating characters, really the main character of this book is the town of Neawanaka, with Doyle weaving various storylines together in his portrayal of this fictional town on the Oregon coast.

The affection and off-beat humour of Doyle’s writing reminds me of classic writers that I’ve enjoyed such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Tom Robbins. I’d recommend reading this book, and other fiction, essays and writing from this author. (Submitted by David)

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Dear Fahrenheit 451: Book Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks : A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

dear-fahrenheit451Loving books should never been seen as a competition; but, if it was, Annie Spence would win gold. This book is made up of two great parts: letters to her favourite (or not so favourite) books, and book lists that include a wide range of topics and familiar titles from part one thrown in the mix, like any awesome librarian would do if they wrote a book about books. It’s a short read (like The Book of Awesome), but deeply engrossing. Each letter feels like a mini book club, with Spence’s heart and humour leading the discussion. As someone who works in a library, this almost seems like the easiest book to write a review on. It has many of my favourite things: books, library stories, humour. But as an avid reader, I feel like I’ve met a new friend, who gives pretty awesome recommendations for what to read next! Give this book a try, even if you aren’t sure about reading a book about books. (Submitted by Mara)

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

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As she approaches her sixteenth birthday, Sabrina Spellman faces an impossible choice: accept her birthright and become a witch, or choose to live her life as a mortal and experience real love with her sweetheart, Harvey. A simple enough premise, but throw in two deranged aunts, an undead demoness bent on blood revenge, a talking cat with his own agenda, and a visiting cousin who may not be as innocent as he appears, the approach here is wildly thrilling.  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina isn’t for everyone. For starters, it is incredibly dark: it deals with witchcraft, and not your run of the mill, Bewitched, wart on the nose, riding a broom kind of witchcraft, either: it’s more ‘bride of Satan,’ human sacrificing, end of the world inducing, demon unleashing, ancient ritual invoking kind of witchcraft, the kind that really spooks you through and through. The writing is incredible, the drawings are atmospheric and chilling, and as a super fan of the new CW show Riverdale, I was elated to see that there is a connection between Sabrina’s Greendale and Archie’s Riverdale universes. I couldn’t put this graphic novel down, and that’s saying a lot for someone who doesn’t particularly like graphic novels! I was so engrossed in this that I pre-ordered the next book. I can’t wait to follow this scary story even further! (Submitted by Mandi)

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A Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

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A new pleasure I have recently discovered is reading books by different gender life partners writing together.  I’ve explored books in Speculative Fiction, which includes Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Writing soft Sci-Fi are my new all-time favourites, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  Having discovered their Liaden Universe stories last spring, I’m on my third read of my favourites of their books now, and most of my Christmas presents were their books! The intricate world building adds layers to stories which are coming of age stories, romances, space operas, and adventures. Fledgling, Necessity’s Child, Dragon in Exile, and Alliance of Equals are books available at Surrey Libraries which you can use to enter the series. The first book they wrote begins The Agent Gambit, which is available through Inter Library Loan.

On the Urban Fantasy side, Ilona Andrews is a pseudonym for another female-male writing partnership. Kate Daniels is a hard core merc with magic in her blood and a past to run from. World-building and adventure are again fantastic, and the romance is balanced with self-discovery and an appealing cast of secondary characters. Magic Bites is the first book in this series. (Submitted by Rebecca O.)

 

Christodora by Timothy Murphy

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I confess that I am in love with New York City, which is why this book initially appealed to me, as it revolves around NYC’s Lower East Side and more specifically, at the Christodora, a historic apartment building that still stands today in the heart of Alphabet City. We are introduced chapter by chapter to a core group of residents that call the Christodora home, jumping from the 70s, 80s, 90s, right through until the present and into the near future as their lives and stories intertwine in an epic tale of fate and circumstance.

We meet a new couple deep in love, a doctor dealing with depression, and an AIDS activist coming into his own. The themes take us from the AIDS crisis to drug addiction to the art world and beyond. The characters in Tim Murphy’s Christodora will win you over and have you rooting for them all the way to the final page. This was my favourite book of 2017! (Submitted by Alan)

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If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay

if you hold a seedI came across this picture book by chance and I am grateful for this wonderful encounter. To me, a picture book, no matter how good the written content is, also has to have a very strong visual component. If You Hold a Seed kept my eyes drawn to every detail in the illustrations and I was savouring the beauty of the artist’s vision and how well it manifested in simple, yet warm and touching images. We need more picture books like this! – where pictures really do the narration. As for the story itself – it’s full of hope, patience, believing, and succeeding. I give a solid ‘A’ to Elly MacKay for writing and illustrating this gorgeous children’s book. (Submitted by Mariya)

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