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STAFF PICKS

September 2021

Jo's Picks

At Night All Blood is Black

By David Diop
(Picador)

This short novel of a Sengalese soldier's descent into madness is a bloody journey into war, brotherhood, guilt, obligation, racism and ultimately insanity. Told in rhythmic, repetitive phrases and brief chapters that mimic erratic thought processes and hearken to the rich culture of oral story-telling, we follow 20 year old Alfa Ndiaye as he fights from the French trenches during WW1. When his closest friend is mortally wounded, he begs Alfa to put him out of his misery but Alfa is unable to do this. Wracked by guilt, he embarks on solo raids into No Man's Land, torturing and killing - after they beg for mercy - German soldiers and returning to the trenches with their guns and severed hands. At first revered as a hero, his companions soon turn against him. Reading this is a physical experience. Powerful and unforgettable and not for the faint of heart.

 

Care Of: Letters, Connections, and Cures

By Ivan Coyote
(McClelland & Stewart)

Writer, performer, and raconteur Ivan Coyote has spent most of their life on the road. During that time they have received and saved countless letters from people all over the world but until the Covid-19 pandemic there was no time to answer most of them. This is a collection of some of those precious letters paired with Coyote's responses, and they are raw, heartwarming and human. Many of them are deeply personal stories of coming out and interacting with the world as members of the LGBTQIA+ community and Coyote's beautifully written replies are thoughtful, funny and engaging. There is so much love and joy in this book.

 

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream

By Dean Jobb
(HarperCollins)

An in-depth, meticulously researched, thoroughly engrossing and readable true-crime exploration of one of Canada's first serial murderers. Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth poisoner, was an 19th century doctor who preyed on women for almost twenty years in Canada, the US and England before finally being apprehended in 1892. Overshadowed by Jack the Ripper whose bloody crimes were more gruesome, Cream was nonetheless a ruthless hunter. Combining newspaper articles, photographs, archival documentation and court papers, this is a fascinating portrait of not only the man and his capture but also the investigative processes, social mores, and gender inequalities of the time.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

By Dan Gemeinhart
(Square Fish)

In the vein of stellar, unforgettable middle-grade reads like The One and Only Ivan and Ms. Bixby's Last Day, this warm-hearted, poignant, and funny tale follows 12-year old Coyote Sunrise and her father Rodeo as they traverse the United States of America in an old school bus. It's been five years. The same length of time since Coyote's mother and two sisters died in a car crash. When Coyote learns that the hometown park where she and her siblings buried a memory box is going to be levelled, she tricks Rodeo into driving home. Along the way, they meet a cast of other lost souls. A lovely book about grief and family.

Anne-Marie's Picks

The Capybaras

Written & Illustrated by Alfredo Soderguit
(Greystone Kids)

Notwithstanding their furry cuteness, the capybaras’ arrival at the red-roofed hen house is met with hostility. The chickens have a comfortable, predictable life, where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens (even if that includes the occasional loss of one of their members to what readers must assume is the farmer’s table). The chickens try to banish them, but when the capybaras refuse to leave because it is hunting season, the chickens lay down ground rules as a condition of their taking refuge. The rules are strict and unyielding - when a chick dares to fraternize with a young capybara it is sanctioned harshly. But everything changes when that same chick is saved from certain death by the capybara pack. The illustrations that follow, all expressively rendered in graphite with splashes of red and brown, depict hens and capybaras eating and sheltering side-by-side. When hunting season ends, the capybaras are full of gratitude and return home - with the hens on their backs. The forlorn farmer is left inspecting an empty chicken coop and readers are left musing on a subtle but clever message about refuge and reciprocity, community and connection.

 

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess

Written & Illustrated by Tom Gauld
(Neal Porter Books)

Best known for his graphic novels, cartoons and New Yorker covers, author-illustrator Tom Gauld here lends his impressive storytelling talents (both visual and textual) to a quirky new fairy tale for the under-8 set. A king and queen rule a pleasant land but long for children of their own. They consult an ingenious inventor and a clever old witch and soon their wishes are granted in the form of a wooden robot and a log princess. The little robot is kind, so kind, in fact, he lets a family of beetles nest in his cogs. The log princess is clever but has a secret: once asleep she turns back into a log until she is awoken by a magic incantation. The children are inseparable, until one day the robot, distracted by a traveling circus, forgets to wake his sister with the magic words. A maid discovers a log in the princess’s bed and tosses it out the window where it rolls down a hill and fetches up against a goblin with a wheelbarrow. So begins a tale filled with magic and misadventure, danger and daring rescues - where bravery, loyalty and kindness bring the story to a satisfying happy ending. Gauld’s humorous panel art expertly illustrates the text while simultaneously hinting at events and characters beyond what he could fit in one book, encouraging young readers to imagine a world.

 

 

Jo's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations