Category Archives: Novels

My 2020 Year in Books

Thanks to Covid, I read 70 books this year. Yes, that’s astonishing, even to me. When the pandemic first hit I found I was unable to read, I couldn’t concentrate or focus, but as the weeks crawled by and my anxiety subsided I turned to books for comfort and pleasure. Don’t ask me what’s hot on Netflix or Crave, I haven’t a clue, but I do have some great books to recommend. And this was the year my tastes turned to non-fiction. I suspect my thirst for information was also a by-product of Covid. 

Here are my favourites, divided into Young Adult, Nonfiction, Fiction, Currently Reading and books-I’m-really-looking-forward-to-reading. Let me know if you have some favourites for my 2021 list. Continue reading

Taking time for reflection

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Oh dear.  I realize how often in my daily interactions I slip into the category of discussing events and people, but I aspire to do better.

Journalist Steve Wasserman asks: “Does the ethos of acceleration prized by the internet diminish our capacity for deliberation and enfeeble our capacity for genuine reflection? Does the daily avalanche of information banish the space needed for actual wisdom?”

What would Eleanor Roosevelt think about the way social media bombards us with ‘bites’ of information, but no true analysis of events?

This is why I love bookclub. Coming together for the sole purpose of discussing the ideas presented in thoughtful books is so enriching. When the other group members share their insights I see that each person’s experience of the world allows them to interpret the story and its ideas differently. That in turn promotes clarity and then wisdom, and helps me become a more empathetic person. Books (and journals) are the antithesis of ‘fast news’, which, like ‘fast fashion’ has quantity but no quality.

One of the silver linings from the pandemic is that each of my three adult daughters has rediscovered books and reading. When the pandemic is declared over, I hope they will continue to read and, even more importantly, discuss the ideas found on the pages.

Faster Than Truth

Once again I’ve become the great auntie to a new book. Kim Denman, member of my beloved writing critique group has just launched her Y/A novel, Faster Than Truth.  As the great auntie I’m extremely attached to this story. I’ve watched it grow from infancy (Kim pondering the idea of a Y/A story about ‘fake news’) to suffering along with her through the growing pains (edits, revisions, seeking a publisher) and now I’m delighted to join in the celebration of its release. And what a story it is. Kim always creates loveable, complicated, and unique characters. Her stories are full of humour but always seek out deeper meaning, and she succeeded beautifully with this one. It is a timely story and the reader will struggle along with the protagonist as he tries to understand the nature of truth in journalism.

From the cover: Sixteen-year-old Declan dreams of becoming a professional reporter, an international correspondent who flies around the globe covering big stories. But Declan is still in high school, and as the editor of his school paper, he covers schools dances – not exactly “news”.

Declan gets his chance for a big scoop when another student shows him part of an email written by the principal that discusses an outrageous plot to track the students. Declan publishes the story without checking the source. The story goes viral. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. Will Declan find a way to make it right?

It is funny, poignant, there’s a hint of romance, and the reader will be left thinking about ‘the news’, what is real, what is fake, and how to dig deeper to find the truth.

A most enjoyable, thoughtful story and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to follow along on its journey to published book.

 

 

What Are Your Three Most Formative Books?

On my daily walks I’ve been listening to a podcast called “3 Books with Neil Pasricha”. In each episode Neil interviews an interesting, articulate, (and usually famous) person and they discuss the three books that have been the most formative in that person’s life. The book choices spark some really interesting conversations that often spiral in many directions.  And isn’t that what books are supposed to do?

Neil asks his guests to choose books that changed their lives in some significant way- steering them in a different direction or opening their eyes to new ideas.  Often a book from childhood is  cited as a formative book, as well as one from their early adult years. I’ve discovered some amazing titles by listening to these interviews. I’ve also spent  time considering what my own three most formative books would be.

I’ve always been an avid reader. In my childhood home we could choose to read or do chores. It was a no-brainer for me. (Thanks mom, for turning me into a reader.) But selecting just three books over my lifetime is hard. The following are the first ones that jump to mind. By tomorrow it might be an entirely different list. Continue reading

Novels

Lost Boy

Lost Boy

Raised in a polygamous community, Jon starts to question the rules of his faith. After he is caught kissing a girl, he is forced to flee his town and the only life he knows. He finds a community of other Lost Boys, or “polygs,” but is utterly unprepared for life outside his community of Unity. He spirals into a life of numbing booze, drugs and homelessness. When he hits rock bottom, someone from his past enters his new life and helps him find his way.

Jon and several of the novel’s other characters were introduced in Shelley Hrdlitschka’s earlier novel Sister Wife.

Available October, 2018

Orca Book Publishers 

Awards and Recognitions:

Included on the CCBC’s BEST BOOKS for Kids & Teens list

Reviews:

Well written and thoroughly researched, Lost Boy offers a brief but thorough look into religious polygamy and cult dynamics in a realistic and matter-of-fact way. While it is technically a sequel to Hrdlitschka’s novel Sister Wife, Lost Boy works well as a stand-alone. Hrdlitschka provides a satisfying conclusion that is hopeful yet realistic and leaves readers with no doubt that Jon still has a lot of work ahead of him. (Quill & Quire)

Lost Boy is a compelling coming-of-age novel that offers some insight into the polygamist lifestyle. Hrdlitschka provides relatable, intriguing conflict. In a a sting of events that leads the protagonist in a downward spiral, readers can’t help but be mindful of how the choices we make affect more than just ourselves; they also impact those we care most about.

Though Unity represents an atypical experience, the lessons the protagonist learns are universal. Jon must take ownership for his choices rather than lay victim to the past. Lost Boy also provides very real examples of loving kindness from strangers who help Jon along his path; we see exemplary behaviour pitted against self-destructive attitudes for a coming-of-age story that will appeal to both males and females. (Canadian Children’s Booknews)

What sets it apart from much of the teen literature available is its sensitive nature…Lost Boy can be used as a tool to understanding other ways of life and the practice of polygamy…Themes of poverty, perseverance, new beginnings and family are all overarching themes present in this novel. Recommended.  (CM Magazine)

The companion novel to Sister Wife (2008) ends on a hopeful note for the young people of Unity struggling to make sense of the world beyond. (Kirkus)

BC Bookworld Review: https://bcbooklook.com/2019/05/04/543-in-unity-is-not-strength/

Reader Reactions:

I just finished Lost Boy this morning and I think it is wonderful!I loved it so much. You’ve done an amazing job telling that story and the struggles that teens face in those repressive communities. I loved the new community that Jon eventually finds and is part of in his post-polygamous life. Such a hopeful story in the end. (Debbie Hodge, author)

I have just finished reading your latest book and couldn’t put it down! I love how you create such vivid images in my mind as I read the words you have written. I feel like I’m watching the story unfold in front of me, not just words being read. Thank you for another great read! (Sue Gordon, former employee of Kidsbooks.)

Oh, this book was gut wrenching and so lovely! Wasn’t prepared to be as immersed in the story as I instantly became. It’s a great read, eye opening and touching. The ending was an amazing conclusion to the story, not only was everything ‘tied’ together, but it felt real and worthwhile. (Elizabeth Hunter, Goodreads)

Once again, a winner!  I really appreciate how you manage to avoid the good/bad and find the complexity in the situations, in your characters and their feelings.  I did hope that Jon would find purpose and hope in his life and he did with Hope as well as the support and caring of some others too.  Thank you!  Even Jon’s father became a sympathetic character for me.  Not the Prophet though, that would not have been credible.
The immense challenges of leaving one culture and trying to survive in another one fundamentally different became increasingly understandable as Jon’s struggles evolved.  The school teacher’s comment about not having the foundations to support the new information was like a metaphor for the various dimensions of his situation.  I can imagine your book being useful with teens from different cultures just as Catcher in the Rye and The Absolutely True Diary…was for Jon. (Dr. Nonie Lyon)

That whole Polygamist way of life is fascinating isn’t it?  So interesting to think there are still children being raised in these communities, so very different from our lives. And what an extreme adjustment for those who leave after a lifetime of being raised with those beliefs. You handled that so beautifully, I could just feel how challenging it was for those kids through your writing. (And I still can’t get over Celeste being married off to Jon’s Dad! That horrible Prophet!) (Susan Chubb)

I found your book, Lost Boy, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I teach students who feel weighed down by their parents’ religious beliefs and their main complaint is not having control over who they get to be.  I will definitely be recommending this book to all my students.  Thank you for creating this story and sharing it with young readers.  (High School English teacher)

 

 

 

Allegra

AllegraAllegra hopes that being at a performing-arts high school will change her life and make her a better dancer. But high school is still high school, complete with cliques, competition and cruelty. And home isn’t much better. Forced to take a class in music theory, Allegra takes refuge in writing music with her young teacher who nurtures and appreciates her talent. But when her feelings for him become more intense and he seems to reciprocate, Allegra sets in motion a chain of events that could destroy everything and everyone she loves.

Orca Book Publishers 2014

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Awards and Recognitions

Nominated: Yalsa’s Best Fiction for Young Adults 2014 List

Reviews

“You can’t hear the music, but you can feel it in this fresh, engrossing story.” Quill and Quire

“Hrdlitschka is known for having her pulse on hot-button issues for teens, and her latest novel, which exams a teacher-student attraction, is no exception. Hrdlitschka does an excellent job of illustrating the subtle, gradual and easily understandable shift in their relationship.” Canadian Children’s Book News

“Hrdlitschka allows Allegra to tell her own story, and her fine ear for teen emotion is well displayed in scenes that reveal Allegra’s social anxiety and panic attacks, her sorrow and disbelief over her parents’ crumbling marriage, and her resistance to unfamiliar feelings of love as handsome, young Mr. Rocchelli begins to fill the emptiness in her life….Teens with a passion for the arts will see themselves in Allegra, whose intensity and flaws make her perfectly relatable.”

“The musical creations  – whether through a rock-band jam session, playing a classical harp, or composing with a digital program – are described with loving detail but a light touch, appealing to both veteran musicians and neophytes, who will relish this opportunity to better appreciate the power of music. Allegra’s artistic pursuits – and intense commitment – will resonate particularly with equally passionate teens, while her social anxiety and strained home life might be familiar, albeit painfully so, to a broader audience.” School Library Journal

“As with all the other characters you have created, I thought you really captured the feelings, struggles, thoughts and actions of the adolescent girl. I could feel her gradual experience of her new sexual feelings…You really know how to portray anxiety and depression and the devastating effects they can have. Another great contribution to teen literature and for adults too!”  Dr. Nonie Lyon

“In her absorbing exploration of contemporary teen life…   Hrdlitschka realistically depicts teenage emotional turmoil as Allegra’s growing obsession with Mr. Rocchelli combines with despair at her parents’ separation and the ups and downs of her new friendships.”Publisher’s Weekly

“Shelley Hrdlitschka could have made Mr. Rocchelli the “bad guy” by having him lead Allegra on but she charitably creates no good guys and bad guys, just characters who are human, trying to do the best they can.  Their way of doing things, including their reactions and interpretations, may be right or they may be wrong, but they don’t seem to have any hidden agendas.  Allegra herself recognizes that she “should” be lively, or that she would at least benefit from being more extroverted, but it’s not always possible to be what others want of us, no matter how beneficial.  But, like her parents, her friends, Mr. Rocchelli and others, Allegra takes what she’s been given and works with it.  Sometimes it’s flat but sometimes it’s a superb orchestral piece with layers of harmonies and melodies that inspire and elevate.” See entire review at http://canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca/2013/05/allegra.html