Lean on Pete – Willy Vlautin

I was completely charmed by this book.  Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home, food on the table, and a high school he can attend for more than part of a year. But as the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, Charley’s been pretty much on his own. When tragic events leave him homeless, weeks after their move to Portland, Oregon, Charley seeks refuge in the tack room of a run-down horse track. Charley’s only comforts are his friendship with a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete and a photograph of his only known relative. Due to increasingly desperate circumstances, Charley heads east, hoping to find his aunt —but the journey to find her will be a perilous one.  It is easy to care about Charley and his journey – it’s an easy book to love. (submitted by SB)

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The True Meaning of Smekday – Adam Rex

What happens when aliens arrive and claim ownership of Earth? After her mother is kidnapped by the alien Boov, eleven-year-old Gratuity decides to drive to the humans’ relocation area in Florida, by herself along with her cat, Pig. Along the way, she meets a Boov named J-Lo, who turns her car into a hovering vehicle. Things get even weirder when another alien race comes along. I read this book alone the first time, then to my family over the summer holidays. I was reading it aloud on one of the BC Ferries when a stranger came up and asked about the book.  Fantastic and fun! (submitted by SB)

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Food Rules: an eater’s manual

I can just imagine the response to Michael Pollan’s excellent book, In Defense of Food – people probably said to him: Ok, that’s great, but what exactly should I be eating?  This very short book is his response.  He gathered food wisdom from a wide variety of sources and distilled it into 64 rules about what to eat.  A quick read, excellent advice, and I highly recommend it! (submitted by JF)

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Crash Course: the American auto industry’s road from glory to disaster

If you’ve wondered how US car manufacturers (and their Canadian branch plants) went so wrong, you can find out why here.  Paul Ingrassia is a former Wall Street Journal bureau chief in Detroit who knows the industry and the players. He outlines the huge costs and risks of designing, manufacturing and marketing millions of vehicles.  The United Auto Workers union figures as antagonistic partner in a dysfunctional relationship.  The decline from complete industry leadership to imitation and nostalgia has been slow but steady, in spite of brilliant engineering.  I found it a powerful cautionary tale for any business – don’t get stuck in short-term thinking or entitlement.  (submitted by DC)

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

One of my favorite books from this year.  The story of an unlikely friendship between retired Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper, in rural England.  They are brought together by a shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses – first, with friendship, and then perhaps moving toward something more. Although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, he is treated as the local, while she is seen as the foreigner.  A wonderful and heartwarming book. (submitted by SB)

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The Attack – Yasmina Khadra

This politically charged novel, set in Tel Aviv, was spellbinding. Despite being an extremely successful surgeon, the main character is subject to prejudice from the Jewish population for being an Arab and also from the Islamic population for not  being a devout Muslim. When his beautiful, happy wife is suspected of being a suicide bomber, all the prejudices come to the fore and we watch his life spiral out of control.  The writing is flawless and I highly recommend it. (submitted by EW)

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