The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

smekday

Gratuity, or Tip for short, is a terrified, angry, badass eleven-year-old. Ordinarily, Tip is used to handling all sorts of situations, having grown up managing her absent-minded mother. But these aren’t ordinary circumstances. The main reason she’s terrified is because an alien race, the Boov, have taken control of Earth and are forcing all humans in the United States to relocate to Florida, and no one knows what fate awaits them there. The main reason she’s angry is because her mother was abducted by the Boov last Christmas Eve, and Tip hasn’t seen or heard from her since.

And as for the badass part? Tip has decided that instead of boarding the Boov rocketpods to Florida along with everyone else, she is going to drive the family car across the country herself.

Adam Rex creates that great mixture of page-turning, immersive action and wry, self-aware humour that I loved so much in Douglas Adams’ writing. (When I finished, I felt like I needed to read it over again to catch all the satire and social commentary that I missed while I was barreling through to find out what would happen to Tip.) The True Meaning of Smekday is peppered with laugh-out-loud scenes and earworm phrases that I found myself chuckling at days after I had finished reading. Whether you read the book, which has accompanying illustrations by Adam Rex, or – like I did – listen to the audiobook narrated by the incomparable Bahni Turpin (you will be thinking in a Boov accent for weeks), you really cannot go wrong with this quirky, irreverent, giddy romp of a book. (Submitted by T. Thomas)

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The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

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 “There are strange things done/in the midnight sun/By the men who moil for gold/The Arctic trails have their secret tales/That would make your blood run cold/The Northern Lights/ have seen queer sights/But the queerest they ever did see/Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge/I cremated Sam McGee.”

Robert Service was a mild-mannered bank clerk in real life, but the way this poem makes the Arctic come alive, you’d think the man was a veteran of the Klondike. It’s funny; the version of Sam McGee I remember from my childhood conjures up images of grinning corpses, lonely cold, and complete silence, save for the sound of a lone sled’s runners slicing eerily through the snow. Bleak, strange, wildness…all surrounded by devastating, enveloping cold. When I pulled it off the shelves today and gave it a quick re-read, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that not only does it still have all that wildness, it’s funny, too. There is definite humour in these pages – the unnamed speaker of the poem lends some definite snark to the situation.

What a great tale. Each time I read this poem, I get chills. There are poems that have the ability to completely transport us to a specific time and place, and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee remains one of the best. Brrrrrrr!

P.S. Bonus Canadian points go to this edition because it’s illustrated by Ted Harrison. (Submitted by Veronica)

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The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby

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I have loved the humour in Nanaimo based Susan Juby’s other young adult and adult novels, so I eagerly looked forward to reading her newest title, The Fashion Committee.  The book did not disappoint.  On the surface the plot line might sound like it’s a light or superficial story, as two teens are competing in the same fashion competition, to get a spot in a coveted art school.  However, there is a depth to the writing and the characters that draws you into the many challenges each individual faces.  This is excellent realistic fiction for teens or adults.  References to local spots in BC are fun too. (Submitted by Kristen)

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Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Image result for today will be different book coverToday will be Different by Maria Semple is a fast-paced, adventurous, fun read. It is full of strong characters, edgy humour, crazy plot twists and delightfully descriptive text that immerse you in Seattle, New Orleans, and Aspen. In the story, Eleanor Flood, a middle-aged animator and mom of a precocious eight-year-old boy living in Seattle wakes up one day deciding that today is the day she will get out of her rut and insists that today will be different. In fact, it turns into one misadventure after another as she tries to solve the mystery of her absent husband and in the search reflects on her life and her troubled relationship with her estranged sister. Although a quick, fast paced read, Semple is able to explore the relationships between this flawed, yet immensely likeable character and her significant others to a satisfying depth. (Submitted by Michelle).

 

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Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

Many of us in our `middle ages` are dealing with aging parents in various stages of decline.  Roz Chast, the writer and New Yorker cartoonist, uses the graphic novel format to document her journey through this challenging time in her memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

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From first noticing that things seem to be `falling apart`, to realizing that she must take control of the uncontrollable, and then on through moving her parents into care, and experiencing their passing, Chast weaves her story with humour, grace, and brutal honesty.

The most important messages I took from this endearing memoir are that:

  • we are not alone,
  • having a sense of humour is a survival skill, and,
  • in the midst of complicated family relationships and challenging situations there is still, always, love.

(Submitted by KS).

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Furiously Happy: a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson

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I listened to this book as an audiobook. The subtitle describes the book perfectly – it is both very funny and very sad. Lawson suffers from depression and various other mental and physical issues. The title comes from her deciding to be “furiously happy” and live life to the fullest during the times when she’s able. I found the funny and horrible to be mixed very well–a serious chapter about depression followed by something bizarre about taxidermy raccoons.

Lawson isn’t for everyone; she has a very odd sense of humour and a rather foul mouth and is very frank about depression. But if you enjoy quirky humour and live with depression yourself or in a loved one, this is a great listen. Lawson is a true advocate for mental illness and she provides a very real look at depression – I was particularly interested in her description of how people with mental illness just don’t have the same amount of energy as “normal” people (she calls it the “spoon theory”) and how it is not treated like a disease–sufferers are told to get over it or just be happy while we would never say such things to people with physical ailments.  I laughed a lot and I really admire her philosophy of being furiously happy, I plan to try it myself! (Submitted by Gayle).

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Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

I was excited to read this debut novel that was touted as having elements of Eloise and Where’d You Go, Bernadette, two books I love.  When reclusive novelist M. M. (Mimi) Banning needs to come out of her decades-long writing hiatus for financial reasons, her publisher sends Alice Whitley to L.A. to help her with whatever she needs in order to get her book finished. Alice’s main job is to be a companion to Mimi’s son Frank, whose IQ is “higher than 99.7% of the American public” and who dresses to fit into the old Hollywood movies he loves (top hat and tails, smoking jacket, monocle). With no friends his own age, Frank relies on his adoring but prickly mother and charming but unreliable handyman Xander for companionship. Alice is pulled into their eccentric lives and becomes part of this makeshift family full of secrets. Who is Frank’s father? Will Mimi finish the novel? What is Xander’s story?  I actually wanted to give all of the characters a good smack quite frequently, but they all – especially Frank – won my heart and I was sorry to say goodbye to them as I closed the book. The blurb from comedian Dave Foley sums it up: “it will delight both the thinky and the feely parts of your brain.”  (Submitted by Gayle).

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