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    Book Club in a Bag

    Library Staff Recommends: Yasna's Picks

    by Jasna Tosic - 1 Comment(s)

    Welcome to another list of personal recommendations from our well-read staff!

    Eclectic taste is the only theme this week, with Yasna's Picks. Try an overlooked classic (or one that really should be a classic), a mystery from far-flung destinations, or an absorbing literary read filled with unforgettable characters and beautiful language. And if nothing here is just perfect for your current reading mood, drop by in person, and we can discuss what you enjoy most in a book to help make a good selection for your next great read!

    EMBERS by Shandor Marai

    Most of this 1942 Hungarian novel, debuting in English in this edition, is a conversation between the General and Konrad, fast friends from military-school days until some 24 years later, when, after a day’s hunt together and an evening’s dinner with the General’s wife, Krisztina, Konrad resigned his commission and left for the tropics. Since then, Krisztina has died, Konrad has taken British citizenship and resides in London, and the General has retreated to live in the room of his castle in which he was born. Their colloquy marks the first time the friends have met in 41 years. It is more the General’s monologue than a conversation, and the wronged man - for Konrad and Krisztina had been meeting secretly - expounds on the fateful events long ago and the characters of their three principal actors in minute detail. Finally, he asks two questions that Konrad declines to answer. The General’s performance is either the height of romantic nobility or proof positive that the aristocracy was too full of itself to survive modernity. (Ray Olson, Booklist)

    THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco

    ...This brilliant Borgesian-Nabokovian historical - part pageant, part whodunit - shines with a distinctly dry light: Eco is a professor of semiotics (at Bologna University) with a versatile style (admirably handled by translator Weaver) and an awesome knowledge of the Middle Ages The story concerns a series of murders at a mythical Benedictine abbey somewhere near the Ligurian coast in 1327. The master detective is a wise and tolerant Franciscan scholar, Brother William of Baskerville, while a young Benedictine monk, Adso of Melk, plays the part both of narrator and inevitable sidekick/apprentice-sleuth. The dense and finely spun mystery eventually revolves around the last remaining copy of Aristotle's second book of the Poetics (now lost), his writings on comedy. And this precious manuscript is not just a deadly weapon--its pages have been dusted with poison by a fanatical blind monk - but its imagined contents come to symbolize humanity's ultimate defense against the bigotry and political horror swirling around in the world outside the monastery: lethal feuds between Emperor Louis IV and Pope John XXII; the Inquisition; witchhunts; pogroms; the Albigensian crusade; Fra Dolcino's bloody uprising and its far more savage suppression. Finally, then, when the manuscript is deliberately burned, the apocalyptic conflagration suggests the triumph of a very 20th-century terrorism that aims to mangle mind and body: the insidious obscurantist, Jorge of Burgos, may have been exposed, but a once-peaceful monastic microcosm now lies in ruins. . . (Kirkus Rewievs)

    THE SEVILLE COMMUNION by Arturo Perez-Reverte

    The many readers who enjoyed the author's The Flanders Panel (1994) and Club Dumas (1997) will find this novel absolutely engrossing, and those who ordinarily do not gravitate to thrillers could begin an appreciation of the genre right here. In a wonderfully complicated, greatly atmospheric, and delectably sophisticated narrative, Perez-Reverte sees modern technology at work in an age-old institution; specifically, a hacker sends an anonymous message to Vatican authorities by breaking into the pope's personal computer system, bringing to the Holy Father's attention the curious troubles taking place at a small church in Seville, Spain. Vatican authorities dispatch Father Lorenzo Quart of the Institute of External Affairs, whose charge is to gather information concerning the scandal that is brewing around Our Lady of the Tears Church. Not only have two people associated with the church been killed recently, the church itself faces demolition. There are certainly parties in town that would profit from its condemnation. Is the little church itself responsible for the deaths, as if it were a living being? And what people in the community have a vested interest in seeing that the church remains standing? And how is an attractive man like Father Quart supposed to remember his vow of chastity in a sensuous city like Seville? The answers to these questions provide an exciting read. (Brad Hooper, Booklist)

    SAMARKAND by Amin Maalouf

    Lebanese-born Maalouf, a respected journalist who now lives and writes in France, was awarded the Prix des Maisons de la Presse for Samarkand, a rich historical romance that recounts the adventurous life of 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam and the subsequent fate of the much-prized manuscript of his famous poem The Rubaiyaat. In a fast-moving narrative that exudes a distinct Arabian Nights flavor, Maalouf explores the intertwined fates of three protagonists: the embattled Omar, the crafty vizier who means to appropriate the poet's talents, and the enigmatic leader of the infamous Order of the Assassins, who has his own dark designs on Omar's masterpiece. Nor does the story end there, for we continue to trace the manuscript's peregrinations, until it is eventually secured by an American scholar who takes it with him aboard a certain luxury liner for an ocean crossing in the year 1912. Mysteries and their solutions are deployed with masterly authority in this accomplished novel by one of the best known European writers. (Kirkus Reviews)

    THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY by Alexander McCall Smith

    The African-born author of more than 50 books, from children's stories (The Perfect Hamburger) to scholarly works (Forensic Aspects of Sleep), turns his talents to detection in this artful, pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious) Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective. A series of vignettes linked to the establishment and growth of Mma Ramotswe's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" serve not only to entertain but to explore conditions in Botswana in a way that is both penetrating and light thanks to Smith's deft touch. Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first: women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine. The desultory pace is fine, since she has only a detective manual, the frequently cited example of Agatha Christie and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages as she shines her own light on the problems that vex her clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case linger pleasantly. General audiences will welcome this little gem of a book just as much if not more than mystery readers. (Publishers Weekly)

    Library Staff Recommends: Sonya's Picks

    by Patti Nouri - 1 Comment(s)

    Our staff picks feature continues this week with Sonya's Picks, and the common element is variety! Whether you are in the mood for literary fiction or something light and humorous, try one of the books on this week's list. Drop by in person to tell us what you've enjoyed (or not enjoyed) in the past, we can suggest a great book for you. If you're staying inside, try logging on to Novelist, in the E-Library's "Books, Authors & E-books" section, for more great reading suggestions.

    THE FENG SHUI DETECTIVE

    Nurry Vittachi

    Every single investigator - either professional or amateur - has his own approach to a crime. Being a feng shui master, C. F. Wong specializes in applying the principles of this discipline to a crime scene. Nothing pleases him more than sniffing out the clues based on how they feel, smell or look. The only distraction from his detective work is a book that he is writing, Some Gleanings of Oriental Wisdom. Borrowing greatly from this 'capital work', this reluctant sleuth effectively helps the clients, even when they are, according to any known occult science, totally doomed. If you decide to read The Feng-Shui Detective by Nury Vittachi, we can guarantee you plenty of laughs and giggling.

    THE TIGER CLAW

    Shauna Singh Baldwin

    This is an extraordinary story of love and espionage, cultural tension and displacement, inspired by the life of Noor Inayat Khan (code name “Madeleine”), who worked against the Occupation after the Nazi invasion of France.
    When Noor Khan’s father, a teacher of mystical Sufism, dies, Noor is forced to bow, along with her mother, sister and brother, to her uncle’s religious literalism and ideas on feminine propriety. While at the Sorbonne, Noor falls in love with Armand, a Jewish musician.

    Though her uncle forbids her to see him, they continue meeting in secret.
    When the Germans invade in 1940, Armand persuades Noor to leave him for her own safety. She flees with her family to England, but volunteers to serve in a special intelligence agency and is sent back to occupied France. Unwavering courage is what Noor requires for her assignment and her deeply personal mission — to re-unite with Armand. As her talisman, she carries her grandmother’s gift, an heirloom tiger claw encased in gold.

    The novel opens in December 1943. Noor has been imprisoned and begins writing in secret, tracing the events that led to her capture. When Germany surrenders in 1945, her brother Kabir begins his search through the chaos of Europe’s Displaced Persons camps to find her.

    THREE BAGS FULL


    Leonie Swann

    A witty philosophical murder mystery with a charming twist: the crack detectives are sheep determined to discover who killed their beloved shepherd. On a hillside near the cozy Irish village of Glennkill, a flock of sheep gathers around their shepherd, George, whose body lies pinned to the ground with a spade. George has cared devotedly for the flock, even reading them books every night. Led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the world), they set out to find George’s killer. The A-team of investigators includes Othello, the “bad-boy” black ram; Mopple the Whale, a Merino who eats a lot and remembers everything; and Zora, a pensive black-faced ewe with a weakness for abysses. Joined by other members of the richly talented flock, they engage in nightlong discussions about the crime, wild metaphysical speculations, and embark on reconnaissance missions into the village, where they encounter some likely suspects. Along the way, the sheep confront their own all-too-human struggles with guilt, misdeeds, and unrequited love.

    THE SPELLMAN FILES

    Lisa Lutz

    Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted toGet Smartreruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors -- but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman.Part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry, Izzy walks an indistinguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee.

    DOG ON IT

    Spencer Quinn

    At last, a dog lover's mystery that portrays dogs as they really are. Chet, the canine narrator, forgets he isn't supposed to bark. He doesn't remember the choker chain is around his neck. He wonders what the noise is when he finds himself growling and questions where the breeze is coming from when his tail is wagging. Although ideas may not remain in his head for long, his loyalty to and love for his owner, Bernie, a divorced, financially strapped PI, are forever in his heart. A teenage girl, Madison, goes missing and might have been kidnapped, and Bernie takes the case. Bernie, Chet, and Suzie, a newspaper investigative reporter, follow the clues to an abandoned ghost town and mine. Quinn's characters are endearing, and his narrative is intriguing, fast-moving, and well written. Even cat lovers will find it entertaining. This first in a projected series by newcomer Quinn is highly recommended.

    A Second Opinion: Ultimate Western

    by Jasna Tosic - 1 Comment(s)

    Tyler Los-Jones

    Westerns, like Romance novels, have a reputation for following predictable and simplistic plot formulas and as such are often shunned by those who consider the genre “low-brow”. Well, let me say, as someone who has been called a book snob more than once, that many of my favourite novels are westerns. With the recent popularity of the new movie version of True Grit, I can only hope that the Western is coming back into favour. Here are a few novels (and even a book of poetry!) that are not only some of the best Westerns you are likely to read, but some of the best books period. Many of these books are a little hard to come by - the time I write this I see that there are long waiting lists for several of these titles - and somehow that seems fitting. In the world of the western, good things don’t come easy.

    BLOOD MERIDIAN

    Cormac McCarthy

    Any look at the great Werstern novels should start with the book Harold Bloom called “the ultimate Western”*, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. This is a very, very violent book and should only be read by those who are prepared to face unrelenting carnage.

    A great part of the American Myth revolves around the western expansion - the lawless time when the west first began to be settled - and the stories that have arisen are those of good vs. evil; the white-hatted sheriff against the evil outlaw; the innocent settlers against the savage natives. McCarthy obliterates the myth by presenting a version of the violent expansion that had no regard for good or evil at all. There is simply violence on all sides - appalling in scope and seemingly without end. The story follows an un-named young man, referred to only as “the Kid”, who at a young age has developed a taste for meaningless violence and leaves his family to travel to New Orleans and then out to Texas. Eventually the Kid falls into the gang of John Joel Glanton as the gang is hired by the Mexican government to kill Apaches. From this point the story spirals into an almost unending series of atrocities told in an almost biblical manner. What is most disturbing is that many of the events and characters in the book, including Glanton, are based on reality. Glanton’s second in command, Judge Holden, is less a man than the embodiment of an idea - Holden is like the God of War, walking the earth in the form of a man. Many readers of the book have reported that for weeks afterward Judge Holden frequented their nightmares.

    In Blood Meridian, McCarthy was attempting to write a novel that could be compared with Moby Dick in its vision and scope and to a very large degree he has succeeded.

    * By “ultimate western” bloom meant that “It culminates all the aesthetic potential that Western fiction can have. I don’t think anyone can hope to improve on it, that it essentially closes out the tradition.” http://www.avclub.com/articles/harold-bloom-on-blood-meridian,29214/


    WARLOCK

    Oakley Hall

    Like Blood Meridian, Warlock is based around true events - in this case the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral. The town of Warlock is under siege by a gang of local cowboys who bully and steal from the citizenry. What lawmen that have come up against this gang have been killed. At the end of their rope, the citizens decide to bring in a gunfighter to clean up the town. Sound familiar? The Marshal arrives with his drinking, gambling and gun-fighting friend, and the similarity between these two characters to the real life Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday is deliberate, as the story closely mimics the events that happened at Tombstone. The story unfolds true to reader’s expectations, but it doesn’t end with the famous shootout where the villainous gang is defeated - this happens only halfway through the novel. From that point on Warlock turns into a much darker and more complicated book. Having gotten a taste for vigilante justice the town now has other jobs for the Marshal to perform, such as putting down a group of miners who are protesting their working conditions. The line between good and evil is erased completely and by the novels end we see that the townspeople and its Marshal are about as bad as the gang they got rid of. In short it is a brilliant tale of the corrupting influence of power.


    THE TRADE

    Fred Stenson

    If the myth of the American West is that of violence and good vs. evil, then the myth of the Canadian West is that our own westward expansion was peaceful and without violence. Alberta writer Fred Stenson’s novel The Trade hints at what was a more likely case - a Canadian west fraught with conflict and tension. Centered on the time the merger between the Hudson’s Bay and the Northwest companies, Many of the main characters are ruthless and brutal men - perhaps the only men who could survive the harsh climate that always is ready to claim the weak. Stenson paints a bleak and harsh picture of the early days of western settlement, one that is very well researched and grounded in fact. Short listed for the Giller Prize and winner of the first Grant MacEwan Writer’s Award, any historical fiction lover should thoroughly enjoy this tale.

    THE COLLECTED WORKS OF BILLY THE KID

    Michael Ondaatje

    An early, experimental work by one of Canada’s literary giants, this book is a amalgam of poetry, prose and reportage. The narrative point of view is always shifting: from William Bonny himself to those who knew him, to various third parties of various points of view. This is really a book that should be read and savored by all who treasure great writing. There are certain passages where the images are so powerful that they were burned into my memory for fifteen years after my first reading, and when I read the book again it was as if only a few days had passed. I believe one sign of a great book is how it can become part of the consciousness of its readers, and everyone I know who has read this book has been similarly affected. I am not a poetry expert, but if there is a greater work of Canadian Poetry than this, I’d like to know what it is.



    TRUE GRIT

    Charles Portis

    If you have seen and enjoyed either film versions of this story, then you are sure to love the original novel written by Charles Portis in 1968. While the plot itself is very entertaining, what makes this book so wonderful is its characters. Mattie Ross, the steel-willed fourteen-year-old girl determined to avenge her father’s murder, is a character unlike any I have come across in fiction before or since. Her stubborn willfulness is typical of any teenager from any era and her belief in moral absolutes is also typical of the very young. Annoying and admirable in almost equal measure, Mattie also possesses an intellect that makes adults seem foolish. The there is Rooster Cogburn, the Marshal Mattie employs to track down her father’s killer. A man whose morals shift to fit the situation and who has weakness for the bottle, if the Cogburn character does not seem quite so original it is perhaps because it has been copied so often in the last forty years.

    Rest assured the book is better than the movie (or movies).