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Thursday 20 June 2019
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Commentary

Starting the year right

I BEGIN EACH new year by celebrating some of my favourite books from the previous year. This year’s list is an eclectic collection of extraordinary reads, which include children’s picture and chapter books, young adult (YA) literature, nonfiction and literary fiction.

1. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – Sri Lankan/Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje’s post World War II novel about two children in England left in the care of a strange and mysterious man nicknamed Moth, captures the secret and dangerous time just after the war.

With his usual flare for beautiful language, Ondaatje evokes memories of stories my mother told me of the chaos in post-war Germany and reminds us all that wars do not magically end on some official date recorded in history.

Warlight sparked my interest in reading more about post-World War II Germany and led me to Savage Continent by Keith Lowe and Germany 1945: From War to Peace by Nicholas Stargardt.

2. Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo – This children’s chapter book, which can be enjoyed by young readers from nine to 14, tells the story of a girl named Louisiana who is on a mysterious trip with her grandmother. There’s an invaluable lesson and a shocking revelation for anyone who enjoys a good story.

DiCamillo, the popular children’s author, who penned The Tale of Despereaux, seems to be taking a new turn in her writing because, unlike her other novels, there are no animals featured in this book.

3. Failing Up by Leslie Odom Jr – Known for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton, Odom Jr offers an inspirational read filled with advice about taking chances to achieve happiness, fulfilment, and a higher level of creativity in life.

4. De Rightest Place by Barbara Jenkins – A cast of colourful characters surround heroine Indira Gabriel, who reinvents herself by refurbishing a bar her lover had once owned and run with his friend.

Jenkins’ ability to evoke a sense of community through the bar and instill a new purpose in Indira’s life make this a compelling read. Indira walks a literary tightrope between past and present. This is a delicate balance and difficult space for most writers to cover, but Jenkins meets the challenge admirably well.

5. Bolivar by Maria Arana – Vivid descriptions of the South American liberator make this biography, which reads like a novel, come alive. This book provides an interesting background for understanding the current situation in Venezuela.

6. Fascism by Madeline Albright – An amazingly light read about a heavy subject from a former US secretary of state, Fascism is a cautionary tale filled with personal anecdotes, which help readers understand a political term that is thrown around far too loosely.

7. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte – I am not a huge fan of dinosaurs, but the descriptions of this book are so vivid I felt like I could see those giants and the world they lived in. This is the new science writing meant for the average reader at its best.

8. Sterling, Best Dog Ever by Aidan Cassie – My favourite picture book of the year features a homeless dog that struggles to find his own identity when he unexpectedly comes to live with an East Indian immigrant family. Funny and beautifully illustrated, this picture book offers many lessons about individuality and acceptance.

9. We Should Hang Out Some Time: An Embarrassing True Story by Josh Sundquist – This is the most popular book in my school library right now. Secondary school students identify with the main character who is trying to figure out why he never had a successful relationship with a girl.

Josh had cancer and had a leg amputated. He lives with overly strict and protective parents so there are many possible reasons for his disastrous social life and they all make this book a mystery of the social kind.

10. Port of Spain: The Construction of a Caribbean City, 1888-1962 by Stephen Stuempfle – There’s a wealth of information and important research in this important book that shows how our capital city grew. Consider this a guided tour through the city streets and an invaluable reference book, which we are quite lucky to have.

Last year I realised once again that science writing and history books keep getting better. Thanks to the Bocas Lit Festival, there are many more good Caribbean novels to discover. So, dear readers, my advice is to start the year right and find a good book to read.

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