The Bakka-Phoenix Books 2017 Staff Picks, Part 3: Non-Fiction!

December 23rd, 2017

We’re running out of 2017, which means it’s time for the Bakka-Phoenix annual staff picks: a shoutout to some of the books we loved this year. Between the award-winners, bestsellers, and marquee series, we found a double handful of reads that made us laugh, think, and go what if…

We’re finishing off our staff’s favourite 2017 reads today with Part 3: Our Nonfiction Picks!



Our fiction picks of the year!



Ben’s pick: Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, Grady Hendrix

A look into the boom and bust of the paperback horror market of the later 20th century. It’s both funny, as it skewers the ludicrous storylines and even more ridiculous covers, and insightful, as it looks into the social, economic, and political climates that made them relevant.

Worth checking out if you remember the glory days of pulp schlock, or want to see what old people were afraid of last century.

Chris’s picks: Everyone’s a Aliebn When ur a Aliebn Too: A Book, Jomny Sun

Sweet, poignant, funny: Everyone’s a Aliebn is part fable, part comic, with a dash of philosophical treatise on the side. No matter who you are, humabn, aliebn, or other, you’ll recognize yourself in this delightful adventure.

The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben

No, it’s not SFF. Trust us, though, it’s really interesting. The author, a forester with decades of experience, will convince you that trees are the original social network. A thoughtful, compelling read.

Leah’s picks: Sleeping With Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Liz Bourke

A collection of Bourke’s Sleeping With Monsters column, essays, and reviews, this is a slice of one of the most interesting critical perspectives in the genre today: intersectional, historically-informed, and reading across everything from queer pulps to core epic fantasy to video games. Sleeping With Monsters ends up more than the sum of its parts: putting together a picture of genre tropes in this moment, and how they’re enduring–and changing.

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults, Cheryl B. Klein

From former Scholastic and current Lee & Low editor Cheryl Klein, The Magic Words is one of the most balanced how-to books out there. Addressing craft, business, the publication process, and full of exemplars and exercises, this is a nose-to-tail view of writing and publishing fiction for young readers.

Kristen’s picks: The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson

The first translation of Homer’s epic by a woman scholar, and well worth the read.

Soonish, Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

It’s a non-fiction book by the creators of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, investigating ten emerging discoveries that will save and/or doom us all. Mwa ha ha! No, seriously, it’s eye-opening.

Rebecca’s pick: Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Outer Space, Tim Peake

A fun and in-depth look into the life of an astronaut, from training to be one, adjusting to and living in space, what-if situtations, and favourite buttons aboard the ISS.

The Bakka-Phoenix Books 2017 Staff Picks, Part 2: YA and Kids’ Fiction

December 22nd, 2017

We’re running out of 2017, which means it’s time for the Bakka-Phoenix annual staff picks: a shoutout to some of the books we loved this year. Between the award-winners, bestsellers, and marquee series, we found a double handful of reads that made us laugh, think, and go what if…

We’ll be posting our staff’s favourite 2017 reads over the next few days, and today is Part 2: Our YA and Kids’ picks.



Chris’s picks: The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse, Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

When a mouse is swallowed by a hungry wolf, it despairs. But deep inside the wolf’s belly, the mouse meets a duck. Together, they learn how to really live their lives, even given the… unusual circumstance. Funny, subversive, and appealing.

Thread War, Ian Donald Keeling

Johnny and Shabaz have returned to the Skidsphere from the Thread, and life will never be the same. Together, they try to improve the system from within, but not every Skid wants to change. Even worse, the cracks in the Skidsphere are growing. Facing enemies on all sides, it’ll take everything they have to keep the Skids safe – and that might not be enough.

Fast, fun, and moving. Thread War is an excellent follow-up to last year’s The Skids, winner of the Copper Cylinder Award.

Leah’s picks: The Devil and the Bluebird, Jennifer Mason-Black

Blue’s sister Cass promised to always call home on the anniversary of their folk-singer mother’s death. This year, she didn’t: so, armed with her mother’s guitar and the premonition that Cass is in trouble, Blue goes to the crossroads at midnight and deals with the devil to find her big sister. While the devil enchants her plain brown boots to always point to where Cass is, she takes Blue’s voice in return—and that is how Blue sets off across America to bring her sister home.

The Devil and the Bluebird is one of the most stunning, heart-breaking, heart-making books I’ve read this year. I read it until 4am, and then I hugged it and laughed and cried. Rife with grief, love, discovery, unexpected kindnesses, subtle magic, and ghosts both literal and metaphorical—Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie included—it is one of those special books that is both heart-poundingly compelling and quietly wise about what makes people be both the best and worst of themselves.

Change Places With Me, Lois Metzger

Change Places With Me is the only YA novel I have ever seen blurbed by Kim Stanley Robinson. And it doesn’t take long to realize why.

Rose wakes up one morning happy: happy enough to change her hairstyle, make friends with the classmates she’s never spoken with before, and pet the neighbour dogs who used to terrify her. And there is something absolutely off about her contentment with the world.

I have rarely seen YA-oriented science fiction written with such skill and subtext as this: a speculative element that seeps up like groundwater into a revelation that’s all the more impactful because of how quiet it is. Change Places With Me is magnificent: a soft, deliberate, oblique novel about coming to terms with oneself, absolutely entwined with how a standard science-fiction technology impacts the life of one girl.

And I Darken, Kiersten White

And I Darken is a straight historical political thriller—with one twist: Instead of following a young Vlad Dracul’s youth as a hostage to the Turkish Empire, Vlad becomes Lada—and adds a new dimension to the political triangle that follows.

This is not the book I thought I’d like: genderflipped historicals are not usually my wheelhouse. But White deploys an utterly absorbing mix of political maneuvering and character work, intrigue and menace, topped off with evocative prose you can’t help but fall into, and I found myself up at 4am going just one more chapter before bed.

Eliza and Her Monsters, Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters is a Book About Fandom—but it’s also so much -more-. Eliza floats through life as a weird, friendless small-town high school senior, devoting all her time to her secret life as LadyConstellation, creator of wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Until the most popular fic writer in Monstrous Sea fandom transfers to her high school, and Eliza starts cautiously navigating a life outside her creation—and what drives her relationship to art and life in the first place.

There is an incredibly astute kindness to Eliza and Her Monsters: both for the fans who love fantasy worlds and the needs of the people who create them. I’ve rarely seen a more nuanced look at what making or loving a fantasy world -is-, embedded in a story that’s fun and funny and sincerely gripping.

Tangled Planet, Kate Blair

After a 400-year journey, generation ship Venture–seventeen-year-old Ursa’s home–has finally reached its destination. But instead of the untouched paradise Beta Earth is supposed to be, Ursa’s first night there features a discovered corpse–and the glint of sharp teeth in the woods. Part mystery, part core science fiction, and part a compassionate look at change, anxiety, and what opportunity does to our hearts, Tangled Planet balances adventure, danger, safety, and the places we end up–good and bad both–in trying to keep our loved ones safe.

Michelle’s picks: Mighty Jack And The Goblin King, Ben Hatke

Jack’s sister Molly has been kidnapped by an ogre. He and his friend Lilly set out after her, but the rescue is more difficult than they could have imagined. Injured, alone, afraid, they must face monster within and without in order to survive. Like everything Hatke does, it’s both charming to look at and deeply moving.

Harriet the Invincible, Ursula Vernon

Harriet is an usual princess, and not just because she’s a hamster. She likes math, and fighting with swords. And she’s fated to fall under a curse when she’s twelve, but that news fills her with excitement instead of dread. Because Harriet realizes that until the curse lands, she’s invincible! So it’s time for this princess to set out to right some wrongs, hero-style. Truly charming.

Recommendations: Younger Readers (Part Three in an Ongoing Series)

December 22nd, 2014

Lost Sun / Strange Maid, Tessa Gratton
In Gratton’s United States of Asgard, the Norse gods walk the earth. Odin advises the President. The Valkyries oversee ceremonies and sacrifices. Lost Sun is about Soren, a young Berserker who struggles with the wildness in his soul; Strange Maid is about Signy, the youngest and wildest of the Valkyries, who revels in hers. This Norse mythology with all the blood and poetry left in. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Seraphina, Rachel Hartman
Seraphina’s mother was a dragon; her father, a human. Since human/dragon liaisons are utterly forbidden – by both species – Seraphina is used to hiding the truth. Which becomes more difficult when she is chosen to tutor the royal princess; harder still when she is thrown into the orbit of the Captain of the Guard. Politics may be a matter of course, but treason is not, and Seraphina discovers a conspiracy that could rekindle the devastating human-dragon wars.  Highly recommended; now in paperback.

Black Dog, Rachel Neumeier
Natividad is a Pure, a wielder of protective magic that can keep the terrifying transforming Black Dogs at peace. Her oldest brother is a Black Dog, so she she knows how to behave around the savage creatures, but she have never encountered anything like the Black Dogs of Dimiloc. Which is fair: Dimiloc has never met anyone like Natividad and her brothers, nor the enemy after them. Smart and emotionally real.

Middle Grade
The Wiggins Weird Series (How To Curse In Hieroglyphics / Haunting Of Heck House), Lesley Livingston & Jonathan Llyr
Cheryl and Tweed are twelve year old cousins. Raised by their grandfather in a drive-in, the girls have an appreciation for the unusual things in life. Like the strange carnival that just rolled into town, which just might be carrying a very real curse among its sideshow exhibits. It will take all of Cheryl and Tweed’s ingenuity (and love of B movies) to save their town. Delightful.

Cold Cereal Saga (Cold Cereal / Unlucky Charms / Champions of Breakfast), Adam Rex
When Scott meets an actual leprechaun, he realizes that being the new kid in town is only the beginning of his problems. And when he and his friends Emily and Arno realize that the fairies are trying to take over the world with magical breakfast cereal, he knows those problems are bigger than he could have imagined. A great series, funny and serious by turns, full of Rex’s marvellous illustrations.

Young Readers
Julia’s House For Lost Creatures, Ben Hatke
“Julia’s house came to town and settled by the sea…”  Happy with her new location, but a little lonely, Julia puts up a sign welcoming lost creatures, and soon her house is full of them. Very full. But the intrepid Julia knowns just how to handle a house full of boisterous guests, no matter how unusual. From the author of the ‘Zita’ books, with the same warm and charming art style.

The Princess Who Had No Fortune, Ursula Jones & Sarah Gibb
This particular Princess has no time for Princes. She needs to fix the leaks in her old home; keep her father the King out of trouble; and get her overgrown garden into shape in time for a party. A gardener arrives, but he’s almost as bad at gardening as she is at baking cupcakes. The story is smart and sweet, and the the colourful silhouette-style illustrations are just plain gorgeous.



December 19th, 2014

Heaven’s Queen, Rachel Bach
Everyone – personal enemies, her own government, two separate alien species – is after Devi’s head. But as long as she can charge her power-armour, Devi will follow her usual protocol: charge into action, and punch, stab, or shoot the problem until it goes away. This final installment in Bach’s ‘Paradox’ series was as much fun as the first two.

Carbide Tipped Pens, Ben Bova & Eric Choi, editors
Bova and Choi’s new hard SF anthology explores the impact of scientific breakthrough on humanity from a wide range of perspectives. From medical tattoos to missions to Mars; from ancient China to the future of baseball, these stories turn far-out ideas into stories both epic and personal.

Ancillary Justice / Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Breq was once a starship, an AI who controlled not only the ship but all the bodies it contained. Now she IS one of those bodies, and grappling with not only the burning desire to figure out how it happened (and who to destroy for it), but also the very real need to learn how to be human. Ancillary Sword, the sequel, is also available. Read them and you’ll understand why Justice won ALL THE AWARDS this year.

The Martian, Andy Weir
When a storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet, astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. He has supplies, but they won’t last for the years it will take a rescue crew to arrive. He has communication equipment, but it’s damaged. But he also has an enduring (if dark) sense of humour, top-notch engineering skills, and a serious determination to stay alive. Less a mood piece on the existential horrors of being alone in space than a book about ferociously competent people being ferociously competent, The Martian is an absorbing read.

Burning Paradise, Robert Charles Wilson
Cassie knows that the world is not what it’s supposed to be. She knows that humanity has been steered in ways both subtle and obvious to be more peaceful and benign. She knows this because of her parents, who discovered the distressing truth years ago and were murdered for it. And now the killers are back. They’re hunting Cassie and her brother. And they’re not human. (Now in paperback).

Recommendations: Fantasy (Part One in an Ongoing Series)

December 18th, 2014

These days, we spend a lot of our time making suggestions and recommendations for customers, especially those who may not be fully caught up on the genre. It’s a lot of fun — in fact, it’s our favourite thing. Over the next few days, we’ll share some of those recommendations with you. Today’s topic:  Fantasy

Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
Maia is the fourth son of the Emperor. Despised by his father, he has spent his entire life relegated to a dismal manor home in the sticks until a sudden shocking accident puts Maia on the throne. At its core, Goblin Emperor is a court fantasy, with all the factions, intrigue, and political infighting that entails. But it is also the story of a young man learning what he can and will do. Compassionate and kind, with intensive worldbuilding and absorbing prose, Goblin Emperor is one of our top picks for the year.

Daring, Elliott James
John Charming: formerly a Knight Templar, currently a werewolf. Which explains the ‘former’ part: the Knights see werewolves as monsters to be destroyed. Which makes it tricky when they want John’s help to infiltrate a werewolf pack growing in power and influence. This is the second novel in James’ ‘Pax Arcana’ series, and a good choice for those who are all caught up with the Dresden Files.

Silence For The Dead, Simone St. James
Kitty Weekes knows that there is something wrong a Portis House, the manor-turned-psych-ward for shell-shocked veterans of the Great War. Something worse than the way the patients are treated. Something… angry. And when the weather and a medical catastrophe leave them completely isolated, it will take all of Kitty’s strength and ingenuity to keep the residents safe. It’s a ghost story, but it’s also about war, loss, and pain, and the many ways we can learn to survive them.

Radiant, Karina Sumner-Smith
Magicless in a world that values power, Xhea is an outcast, using her strange ability to see ghosts to eke out a living. When she meets Shai, a ghost and a much-prized Radiant, everything about Xhea’s life begins to change. And things long dormant, like Xhea’s emotions, her thoughts of the future, and her magic, begin to stir at last. Another wonderful book by a Bakka Phoenix staff alum. Hey, we can’t help it that so many of staff members are so talented.

Girls At The Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
You know this story: it’s the one about twelve sisters who disappear from a locked room to dance all night long. But you’ve never read it like this before: set in 1927 Manhattan, complete with speakeasies, flappers, gangters, and ragtime. It’s a spectacular book about love, loss, freedom, sisterhood, and dancing. And there’s no magic in it at all, except the magic of a brilliantly told story.