About Christie

Book lover. Teacher. Writer. Mother. Canadian.

Now is the Time for Running – Michael Williams

now is thetimeIt’s amazing how sheltered I am. I remember reading The Kite Runner years ago and being shocked how little I knew about that conflict. And I know next to nothing about the conflicts in Africa. Michael Williams’ YA novel Now is the Time For Running doesn’t spend too much time talking about the politics of the conflict, but readers will soon understand the chaos and devastation it causes.

Fifteen-year-old Deo lives with his amai (mother), grandfather (Grandpa Longdrop), and older brother, Innocent. Innocent is 25, but he is ‘different’. His impairment is never specified, but it hardly matters. Deo looks out for his big brother.

Deo lives in Gutu,  Zimbabwe. He spends his spare time playing soccer with a ball his grandfather made for him.

It is no proper soccer ball. It is a pouch of cow-leather patches sewn together with twine, stuffed with tightly rolled plastic.

It’s clear that circumstances are dire for Deo and his family. When soldiers roll into their village and demand that the villagers bring them their food, Deo thinks “Does he not know we have nothing, that there is no food here?”

The situation between Deo’s village and these soldiers soon escalates and Deo and Innocent suddenly find themselves running for their lives.

Now is the Time for Running  follows Deo and Innocent as they try to make their way to the relative safety of South Africa, where they think their  father is currently living and working. It is a perilous journey and it is difficult to know who to trust. Deo is an engaging and sympathetic narrator and you will want to know that he and Innocent arrive safely, but safety is a rare commodity.

I was wholly invested in Deo and whipped through this book in record time. It would certainly appeal to anyone looking for a fast-paced story about survival, students who like soccer and anyone interested in social justice.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

liarsCadence Sinclair, the narrator of E. Lockhart’s riveting YA novel We Were Liars, lives a seemingly charmed life. The eldest of the Sinclair grandchildren, she summers with her cousins Johnny, Mirren, Liberty, Bonnie, Will and Taft on Beechwood Island, a private island off the coast of Massachusetts, somewhere near Martha’s Vineyard. Her grandparents, Harris and Tipper, have a created a sort of kingdom on Beechwood. Each of their three daughters has their own house on the island, but everything revolves around the patriarch. There is a lot of drinking and in-fighting, all of it held together by Tipper. When she dies, the daughters and their children, who are used as pawns to secure Harris’s favour, go a little off the rails.

The summer that Cadence is eight, Johnny brings his friend Gat to the island.

His nose was dramatic, his mouth sweet. Skin deep brown, hair black and waving. Body wired with energy. Gat seemed spring-loaded. Like he was searching for something. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.

Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat, the Liars,  become an inseparable foursome. Gat is invited back every summer and by the time they are fourteen, Cadence and Gat have begun tentative steps towards crossing the friendship line. Cadence feels “the love rush from me to Gat and from Gat to me.”

But then summer fifteen happens. That’s the summer Tipper dies. It’s also the summer that Cadence goes swimming alone at the little beach. She doesn’t remember much of what happened

“I only remember this: I plunged down into this ocean,                                                          down to rocky rocky bottom, and                                                                                                      I could see the base of Beechwood Island and                                                                            my arms and legs felt numb but my fingers were cold.                                                        Slices of seaweed went past as I fell.”

It’s a summer that changes everything. Cadence is taken home to Vermont to recover and she doesn’t return to Beechwood until summer seventeen. Her memory is suspect, making her a terrifically unreliable narrator. She suffers from debilitating migraines; she starts to give away her possession. Her island has changed and so have the Liars. One thing remains unchanged though: the way she and Gat feel about each other.

I loved pretty much everything about We Were Liars. I loved the jagged edges of Cadence’s memory as she tries to piece together the mystery of her accident. I loved the dysfunctional nature of the Sinclair family. As Cadence admits in the beginning, “I am the eldest Sinclair grandchild. Heiress to the island, the fortune, and the expectations.”  And I loved the Liars.

Lockhart’s book has a big plot twist. Some might see it coming; I did not. I am not a teenage reader so while the twist wasn’t exactly shocking to me, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective. We Were Liars is a page-turning puzzle of a book. I read it in one breathless gulp.

Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel tackles some compelling and timely questions in her widely-praised novel This is How It Always Is. It’s one of those “issues” novels that makes it, as the Globe and Mail suggests, “a must for your next book club discussion.”

Penn and Rosie live a somewhat charmed life in rural Wisconsin. Rosie is an ER doctor; this is how Penn is a writer-cum-stay-at-home- dad. They have five sons: Roo, Ben, the unfortunately named twins, Rigel and Orion, and finally, Claude. In almost every way the Walsh-Adamses seem to have life figured out.

As almost everyone with children knows, parenting is hard. Harder still when life throws you a curve ball and the curve ball for this family comes when, at three, Claude announces that along with being

a chef, a cat, a vet, a dinosaur, a train, a farmer, a record player, a scientist, an ice-cream cone, a first baseman, or maybe the inventor of a new kind of food that tasted like chocolate ice cream but nourished like something his mother would say yes to for breakfast. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a girl.

Rosie tries to put Claude’s proclamation into context. He is, after all, only three; precocious, sure, but still only three. As time goes on, though,  Rosie and Penn discover that his playing ‘dress-up’ is not a passing phase. Claude tells his parents “I’m not usually.”

Like any good parents, Rosie and Penn want their son to be happy and it turns out that what would make Claude happy is not to be Claude, but to be Poppy. Eventually that necessitates a move (to Seattle), some secret-keeping and the first real bump in the matrimonial road for the couple.

I had a few little issues with this book. Not with Claude/Poppy’s story, really. And not with the writing, which was excellent, (although I did find that the book was over-written and often bogged the story down).

I really wished that Frankel had spent a little bit more time demonstrating how Poppy’s reality impacted her brothers. Clearly, Roo struggled a little, but somehow it seemed as though we were expected to believe that all his issues were resolved…by magic? good parenting? I dunno.

I also took issue with the end of the book. Rosie runs away with Poppy to a place where ladymen are no big deal, and somehow this experience rights everyone’s ship. By the time they return to the States, people who had been mean to Poppy have seen the error of their ways in a manner far beyond what might be expected of ten-year-olds.

It’s all a little too happily-ever-after for me.

All of this aside, though, I think This Is How It Always Is  is a big-hearted book about a topic that is both timely and important. It’s worth a look.

 

 

I Stop Somewhere – TE Carter

Ellie Frias, the narrator in TE Carter’s YA novel I Stop Somewhere,  is an awkward First autumn frost on Stinging Nettle leaves - France  -  -  -teenager who wants to make a good impression when she starts high school. Ellie understands that “Pretty is power.” She’s never really fit in, but she is determined that when she starts high school, things will be different.

Ellie lives with her single father on the wrong side of town. Her mother took off when she was just a baby and although she and her father have always been close, Ellie feels herself drifting away from him. She understands that he tries, but it isn’t enough, so Ellie turns to Kate, an older girl who lives in the house behind her. She needs guidance and she has no friends.

I started school with the right clothes. My curves showed where they were supposed to but nowhere else, and Kate had helped me with my hair. We’d bleached two strips down the front and dyed them blue so the color framed my face. With my new T-shirts that were a testament to my apathy, I fit in by not caring about fitting in.

Ellie does get the attention of Caleb Breward, a popular boy at school, whose father is an important figure in their town, Hollow Oaks. He tells her she’s cute and names her “Elusive Ellie.” Ellie is so desperate to be accepted and loved, that she doesn’t realize what a shark Caleb is. Or maybe she actually does know, but she finds a way to rationalize it.

…I knew very little about Caleb Breward, and most of what I did know wasn’t great. It tried to show me all the days he’d passed me in the hall and wouldn’t look at me. My brain had a long list of amazing reasons I should have walked away, but Caleb’s closeness did things inside of me I didn’t know how to process.

Carter manages to capture what it is to be an insecure girl with remarkable accuracy.  What makes Caleb such a chilling character – and trust me, he’s way more awful than just being some douche who breaks a girl’s heart – is that he plays on Ellie’s insecurities. He hasn’t really got very much going for him other than an oily charm and a seemingly bullet-proof family.

This is a novel about rape, victim-shaming and what it means to survive. I found I Stop Somewhere compelling and heart-breaking in equal measure.

In Real Life – Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

in_real_lifeAlthough I really don’t know very much about gaming (my gaming experiences consist of playing PacMan and Asteroids at the local pin ball joint, and then a few years later staying up all night to play Scorched Earth), I do understand the appeal of an on-line persona. During my years in fandom, I had a fake name for all the fanfiction I wrote, and I met loads of other people (mostly women) who wrote fic in their spare time: mothers and teachers and lawyers and even a judge. While my persona was very much me, having met some of these ladies in real life, I know that many of them were more daring, outgoing, over-the-top online compared to the way they were in their every day lives. That aspect of Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s graphic novel In Real Life was familiar to me.

Anda has recently moved from California to Arizona with her parents. She hasn’t really settled in, except with the boys who play D & D, and so when Liza McCombs shows up in her computer class to invite girls to play Coarsegold, a first person game for girls only, Anda jumps at the chance. (This is the point where I admit that I don’t really know much of anything about this sort of thing.)

Anda creates an avatar, Kalidestroyer,  befriends another player, Sarge. Sarge recruits Anda to “kill some guys.” (Virtually, of course.) The guys Sarge wants Kalidestroyer/Anda to kill are gold miners, players who “collect items for gold and sell the gold to other players for cash.” Someone who actually games will probably understand the mechanics of this better than I did, but eventually Anda comes across one of these gold farmers and instead of killing him, she starts to talk to him. Turns out, he’s a boy from China.

irl2

Doctorow says in In Real Life ‘s Introduction that he hopes readers will “be inspired to dig deeper into the subject of behavioral economics and to start asking hard questions about how we end up with the stuff we own, what it costs our human brothers and sisters to make those goods, and why we think we need them.”  Doctorow believes that while the Internet doesn’t necessarily solve the injustices of the world – which we can all agree are many – it “solves the first hard problem of righting wrongs: getting everyone together and keeping them together.”

As Anda’s gaming life spills over into her real life, it’s easy to see the point Doctorow is making. This is a worthwhile book for gamers and anyone interested in justice.

Off the shelf – Love stories

Listen here

Not all love stories are created equal. Sure, sometimes we want a squishy, feel-good tale of two people who can’t live without each other. But then, other times, we want something less happily-ever-after and more dangerous. So, I thought I’d offer up some Valentine’s Day reading suggestions both sweet and bitter – kind of like chocolate, really.

What makes a good love story? The answers are varied, of course, but there are some classics qualities that turn up over and over. A really skilled writer can steer couples away from the clichés and into the sunset.

PASSION – no one likes a wishy-washy love story. We want to read about characters that are ALL IN. Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre.

MEANT TO BE – That sense of the inevitable, there’s just no way they can’t be together. It’s written in the stars. Fated. Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

MEANT TO BE, BUT CAN’T BE/ FORBIDDEN LOVE – This is one of my favourites. I love angst. Couples that are meant to be with each other, who are passionate, but – for a variety of reasons, just CAN’T be together. That’s my total jam. Buffy and Angel.

MEET CUTE – some unusual way to throw our lovers together.

Really great – okay, maybe I shouldn’t say ‘great’  – love stories find a way to hook our characters up, tug at their emotions (and hopefully ours) and make us feel all swoony or  – heartbroken, I like that too – at the end.

So here are a handful of LOVE stories, some traditional, some not so much, for your reading pleasure.

YOU – Carolyn Kepnes

EC4364B5-CF87-4ACD-9942-7867FDAC012ARead this book if you like a side of psycho with your roses and chocolates. This first person narrative tells the story of NYC book store manager, Joe, who falls in love with a beautiful wannabe writer, Beck. This is an interesting thriller because Joe isn’t your garden variety psycho. He’s crazy, for sure, but he’s also crazy smart. He’s instantly smitten with Beck and he finds a way to insinuate himself into her life. He wants her and he won’t let anything prevent him from having her. This is a page turner that’s actually really well-written. You can watch the series on Netflix, too. It’s a pretty true-to-the-book adaptation.

 

sadie

Sadie – Courtney Summers

Okay, this is not a romance novel by ANY STRETCH, but I have to include it on this list because I think everyone should read Courtney Summers and this book is getting a ton of buzz.

It’s the story of Sadie, a teen whose younger sister is murdered and the culprit is never caught. Sadie is pretty sure she knows who did it, and so she sets off to find him. Running parallel to her story is a true crime podcast about the crime. This is not a traditional love story, like it’s not boy meets girl, but it is about love…because Sadie puts her own life in jeopardy out of love for her sister.

Starry Eyes – Jenn Bennett

94B71DCC-2A46-44E4-90BF-CABC55A86A33Of all the books on this list, Starry Eyes is likely the most traditional. It concerns 17-year-olds Zorie and Lennon. They’ve been in each other’s lives forever and things were just starting to heat up when it all fell apart. When the story starts, the two are barely speaking to each other. Then they end up on a hiking trip together and things between to thaw between them. As teenage love stories go, this one is well-written, with believable, imperfect characters that it’s almost impossible not the fall in love with…as they fall in love with each other.

 

Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli simon

This novel won lots of awards and praise and it is delightful in every possible way. Simon is 17. He’s amazing in every category: bright, self-aware and gay. He isn’t really out yet, but he has confided in Blue, a guy he’s met online. When another student stumbles upon Simon’s emails to Blue – too complicated to explain how that happens – and starts to blackmail Simon, life gets complicated. Watching Blue and Simon fall in love without meeting is pretty much the best thing ever. All the feels.

 Book Love by Debbie Tung

bookloveThis is an adorable book of comics all about the ways in which bibliophiles love their books. Tung is a writer/illustrator from Birmingham, England, and she has totally captured what it means to be in love with all things bookish. Never mind the candy, give your book-loving sweetheart this as a gift instead. Marie Kondo would definitely not endorse this book about buying/owning more books. That makes Ms. Kondo wrong, imho.

 

Starry Eyes – Jenn Bennett

Although it took the story a little while to get going, Jenn Bennett’s YA romance 94B71DCC-2A46-44E4-90BF-CABC55A86A33Starry Eyes ended up being a sweet love story with believable main characters.

Seventeen-year-old Zorie lives with her father and stepmother in Melita Hills, California. Her parents own a health clinic, acupuncture and massage and the like. Sharing the building with them is Toys in the Attic, a sex shop owned by Sunny and Jane, married mothers to Lennon. Lennon and Zorie used to be besties. Childhood friends whose feelings for each other had crossed the line into something more complicated before Lennon ditched Zorie, without explanation, Before the homecoming dance. Now the two are barely speaking to each other. And Zorie’s father seems to have a total hate-on for Lennon and his moms now, too.

It’s the summer before senior year and Zorie is in hard-core planning mode. She’s a planner because “Spontaneity is overrated.” When she is invited on a glamping trip (high end camping) with her “kind of, sort of friend” Reagan, she really doesn’t want to go. Her mother thinks it would be good for Zorie to go, though, and when Zorie finds out that Brett, “a minor celebrity in our school” will be going, Zorie agrees to go with.  Zorie has been “nursing a crush on him since elementary school” and the two had exchanged one kiss at a party. There’s also the problem that Zorie has recently discovered that her father has been cheating on her mom and she needs some time to decide how to handle the discovery.

Things get complicated when it turns out that Lennon is also going on the trip.

The first third of the book sets up this premise, and it’s the part of the book that moved the most slowly for me. When I was done reading, I did understand why some of this set up was important, but for the me, the best part of the book was when Zorie and Lennon suddenly find themselves on their own in the woods.

Being alone gives them a chance to talk, something the two hadn’t really done for a long time. There’s real energy between the pair, sexual energy, for sure, but also something more powerful: Zorie and Lennon clearly care very deeply for each other. As they walk through the woods, they talk. They are not distracted by the outside world and the solitude gives them time to reveal long-held wounds.

Readers will root for Zorie and Lennon. These are imperfect teens, but they also felt real to me. There’s a beating heart at the centre of this romance.