Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for April

Worst winter ever, right? Well, spring is finally here – I spotted my first robin and the snowbells are peeking out in my front garden.

It’s the season of renewal – and if you’re considering a little well-deserved rejuvenation yourself, then grab a good book and head to the park. What to pop into your backpack? One of these 5 are the best books you’ll read this April, 2019 – trust me.

The Ecology Book by DK Publishing.
The Ecology Book by DK Publishing.

The Ecology Book

Monday, April 22 is Earth Day, so pick up a copy of The Ecology Book (DK Publishing, 2019) and you’ll know what you’re talking about when the conversation turns to what we’re doing to our planet. And it will.

The Ecology Book, part of the awesome Big Ideas Simply Explained series, takes a look at more than 90 ground breaking concepts that have shaped our understanding of the world we live in – and why we’re in the opening phase of mass extinction, according to British conservationist Norman Myers, if we don’t get our act together.

Like all the Big Ideas books, Ecology explains, in plain English, the stuff you need to know to make sense of why we’re in such a big mess and what we can do about it before it’s too late.

Each of the nine chapters – starting at the beginning with evolution and ending with conversations with some of the world’s leading environmentalists and conservationists – opens with a big picture overview and then breaks down the issues using spectacular photos, clever illustrations, expert bios, and sidebars and boxes that drive home the point.

Here’s the sorta fascinating stuff I learned.

Know why penguins’ feet don’t freeze? The undersides are insulated with a thick layer of fat.

Nature can be cruel. Blue-footed Boobies lay two eggs; the second hatches about five days after the first. If food is scarce, the first-born pecks its sibling to death, not because he or she is a psychobird but because the eldest will get what food there is – otherwise both chicks would starve.

Space isn’t too friendly either. In 1980, a team of scientists working in Italy discovered a clay layer that contained iridium, a mineral rare on earth but common in asteroids. They hypothesized that earth was hit by a ginormous meteor – 11 years later they found the point of impact: a massive crater in the Yucatan Peninsula.

First came a blast of radiation and then a mega-tsunami with waves more than 100 meters high. A vast cloud of soot and dust spread through the atmosphere blocking out sunlight for years and disrupting food chains worldwide. Sulphuric acid released into the atmosphere produced acid rain killing off marine life. All non-flying dinosaurs died. So did pretty much every four-legged animal that weighed more than 25 kg. Except for crocodiles because they’re cold-blooded and can go without eating for a very long time. Figures, right?

Black Panther fans will love Marvel Encyclopedia by DK Publishing.
Black Panther fans will love Marvel Encyclopedia by DK Publishing.

Marvel Encyclopedia New Edition

“ . . . (A) book that mankind has been hungering for, a book that is – now and forever – a shining beacon of wonder, a titanic tribute to talent unleashed.” Stan Lee

OK, comic icon Stan Lee should know what he’s talking about, right? And he does.

Updated and expanded, the Marvel Encyclopedia New Edition (DK. Publishing 2019) promises to be the definitive A to Z guide to more than 1200 of the Marvel Universe’s most memorable heroes and villains, and it delivers.

Each character gets a bio – who he or she is, where they came from, what their powers are, who their arch nemesis is, plus vital stats including first appearance. And stunning comic book art brings each character to life.

Take Alpha Flight, for example, who first appeared in Uncanny X-Men, April 1979. Conceived as the Canadian government’s answer to a recent spate of superhuman activity in the U.S., Alpha Flight was the brainchild of James MacDonald Hudson, soon to be known as Vindicator then as Guardian. Hudson and his wife Heather were tasked with assembling a team of Great White North superheroes. Hudson wanted Wolverine to lead the team but Professor X got to him first so Hudson had to take the lead himself. There’s death, resurrections, transformations . . . but the eight Alpha Flighters reunite to defeat Master of the World, who’d taken over the Canadian government. Hmmmmmm . . .

Top tier, cult status super heroes and villains like the X-Men, Wolverine and Green Goblin get a spread, sometimes two, plus a guide to their essential storylines.

And special sections offer the lowdown on recent key events including Civil War 2, Secret Empire, and Infinity Countdown.

If you grew up on Marvel comics and are looking to reacquaint yourself with your heroes, you want this book. If you’re new to the Marvel Universe, you need this book.

‘Nuff said. 

Normal People by Sally Rooney.
Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Normal People

Sally Rooney’s latest, longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, is a slow and powerful tale of the joy and pain in coming of age.

High school friends Connell and Marianne – he’s poor but popular, she’s rich but a social pariah – become secret lovers during their senior year. Connell doesn’t want anyone to know and Marianne is good with that. Either she really doesn’t care, which is possible, or this is the only kind of relationship she thinks she deserves.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College but the tables have turned. Marianne has come into her own, the sought-after girl now, and Connell is circling the sidelines.

The two become on again/off again lovers: they explore other relationships, trying to be just friends without benefits, but like metal shavings to a magnet, they’re drawn back to each other by some force they don’t understand and for sure can’t control.

Like most of us, all Marianne and Connell want to be is “normal”. The challenge, of course is, figuring out what that means. Is normal who our parents want us to be? Who our friends think we are? Who we are stripped naked in the throes of authentic intimacy?

Normal People is a can’t-put-down exploration of the murky depths we plumb when it comes to love, passion, sex and self-discovery.

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Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for March

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Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for January

Cape May by Chip Cheek.
Cape May by Chip Cheek.

Cape May

Chip Cheek’s debut novel is a steamy story about love and betrayal with a twisty ending you won’t see coming.

It’s September 1957, and Henry and Effie, way young newly weds from a small town outside Macon, Georgia, arrive at Cape May, New Jersey, for their honeymoon.

They’re staying in Effie’s uncle’s cottage where she vacationed as a child and they’re both anxious – losing their virginity – and excited – Effie has fond summer memories and Henry has never been north of Atlanta.

The couple didn’t grasp “off season” though; the town is pretty much deserted and looks sad and down-at-the-heels.

They decide to cut their honeymoon short, until they see a light on in a cottage just down the road, and bored, knock on the door. Turns out, Effie knows Clara, the glamorous woman who answers the door, from her Cape May summers; she was her older cousin’s best friend. Clara and Max, her wealthy playboy lover, are hosting a party and insist they join the celebration. Alma, Max’s will-o’-the-wisp half sister, is there, too.

Effie and Henry change their plans to leave early – in fact they stay an extra week.

The foursome – with Alma floating around the perimeter – make the most of the off season, breaking into abandoned summer homes, sailing, walking naked under the stars and drinking gin. Cases of it.

Henry is irresistibly drawn to Alma and begins a passionate and destructive affair.

Then, one really boozy evening turns into an X-rated bacchanalia and the consequences last a lifetime.

Cape May is The Great Gatsby reprised: glamorous, sexy and ripe with decadence and careless abandon. It’s also a deft exploration of love, lust and the fallout of innocence lost.

Mistakes To Run With by Yasuko Thanh.
Mistakes To Run With by Yasuko Thanh.

Mistakes to Run With

Yasuko Thanh’s memoir is a remarkable story of how the past informs the present and the choices we make dictate the people we will become.

The child of new Canadians – her mom is German, her dad Vietnamese – Thanh was a smart but troubled child. She talks about an article published in the local paper in Victoria, British Columbia, where she grew up, when she was 12, about her academic, athletic and civic achievements.

Five years later, she was sitting on an overturned milk crate outside the Korner Kitchen coffee shop in Vancouver, wearing a hot pink tube top and miniskirt – she’d tossed her six-inch heels aside – waiting for a date. She’s already made $300.

She ran away from home when she was 15 and within a few months, went from losing her virginity to performing half and halfs for $200.

At 17, Thanh tells us, “I was convinced of the righteousness of my behavior, which showed what a person could do when not intimidated. I ate lobster, drove a Camaro. I wasn’t a victim.”

In the following decades Thanh, endured beatings, arrests, substance addiction and a string of abusive relationships.

Writing became her refuge.

In1998, pregnant with her first child, Thanh took stock of where she had been and where she wanted to go. She cleaned up. She got into university with only a grade 9 education.

She became an award-winning author. And while she writes in hope of finding answers, she tells us, she has discovered that what she couldn’t let go of, and what couldn’t let go of her, continues to haunt.

Mistakes to Run With is a study in resilience, courage and the triumph of the human spirit when we land on who we are, and finally believe we are valuable.

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by Mark Scheibmayr.

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