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    Book Club in a Bag

    A Look Inside

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    Curiosity: a love story

    Joan Thomas

    Ostensibly a love story about lower-class Mary Anning and upper class Henry De la Beche, this tale is based on the true story of Mary who may have been the most significant paleontologist of her day. To support herself and her family, she searched along the cliffs of Dover for fossils, or curiosities as they were called, to sell. While doing so, she made significant finds of dolphin-like creatures. However, most of her finds were taken over by the male scientific establishment and, as a woman, she was not even allowed to join the Geological Society of London, let alone publish any papers.

    This story explores many of the fascinating issues of the early 1800s – the interaction between science and religion as scientific discoveries challenged biblical creation; the attitude towards women generally, and particularly in the scientific community; and, the division between upper and lower classes. I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Mary Anning and to early paleontology in Britain. Having had my curiosity piqued by this remarkable book, I am checking out Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction about Mary Anning, Remarkable Creatures, as well as a non-fiction account of her life by Shelley Emling, The Fossil Hunter.

    This is the second book by Winnipeg author Joan Thomas. Her first book, Reading by Lightning, won both the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ prize for Best First Book and the amazon.ca first Novel Award.

    This is much more than a love story between two people; it is the story of a woman’s curiosity and her passion for scientific discovery.

    P. L.

    Off the Shelf

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    Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?

    Anita Rau Badami

    In Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? Anita Rau Badami starts off gently – a rivalry between sisters. Sharanjeet wins the suitor. To her surprise he whisks her off to Canada, land of cold and of strange customs. Still, as a resourceful woman, she transforms herself into Bibi-ji, proprietor and den mother to the many Sikhs who look for better lives in Vancouver.

    Nimmo is a child survivor of the dreadful partition of the Indian sub-continent. Always poor, she eventually creates a family of her own with the loving Satpal and three well-loved children. As the outward sign of her dedication to home and family, she keeps her tiny rooms in Delhi scrupulously clean.

    Tension builds ever so gradually, almost unnoticeable except in the gut. Humourous interludes disguise the turmoil of social interactions amongst disparate immigrants and with those in faraway homelands. Inevitably the new Canadians paint a veneer of prosperity to impress their families back home, yielding unforeseen consequences. And where is home? Where you live or where you once lived? Who is owed loyalty? Your neighbours or your “kind”?

    Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? is a history lesson for Canadians of all origins. It lulls the reader into empathy with characters who drift into or who choose undesirable actions to protect their personal identities, even while they struggle to know who they really are. Coincidentally, I was reading a biography of the Gandhi family at the same time as Badami’s novel. The story and the history converged at the point of the siege at Amritsar and the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The novel carries us on to the dreadful Air India disaster, a Canadian disgrace because of the government’s very slow recognition of the passengers as not Indian but Canadians who adhered to the Sikh faith.

    Judith Umbach

    Book launch: Marble by Tamara Itani

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    We've just heard that an 18-year-old Calgary author, Tamara Itani, will be launching her first novel, Marble, tomorrow!

    Join this upcoming young author at Cidex Design Centre, 1301 9 Avenue SW, from 3 to 6pm and hear more.

    We have Marble on order, so place your holds to get a copy when it's in.

    Here's a bit about the story:

    15 year old Penny Kensington is about to take a journey that will reshape her entire life. Bored out of her mind, helplessly in love with a school heatthrob, and lost to the world, Penny appears the average teenage girl. In reality, that’s not anywhere near the case. Pursuing an eccentric, globe-trotting lifestyle with her grandmother and groaning pet chicken (chick actually), Penny receives a mysterious letter from her long deceased grandfather. She learns her grandfather’s dying wishes are for her to safeguard a strange, bejewelled lamp. Penny wonders who would play such a cruel trick on her. (But it’s no trick.) The lamp throws Penny into an unexpected, magical adventure that will have her meet some fantastical characters and propel her a decade into her future.

    It's a mad, mad world

    by Suzen - 0 Comment(s)

    March is a huge month for television this year thanks to the much anticipated return of AMC’s Mad Men. About to begin its fifth season, this show has got everything I love about a good TV drama – great character-driven storylines and tons of style.

    If you’re a fan of the show then you can probably empathize with the agony I’ve been going through during its 2-year hiatus, especially since the fourth season ended with such a punch to the chest. I'm not going to lie -- it’s been tough to fill the Don Draper-sized void in my life, but thanks to DVDs from our collection my heart has had a bit of a reprieve. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked about the season premiere coming up in just a few days.

    So, in celebration of Mad Men’s return to my PVR, I present to you a list of related reads. If you love Mad Men, then there’s a strong possibility you will love these books too.

    The Last Letter from Your LoverThe Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

    It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing - not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband. Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.


    The Irresistable Henry HouseThe Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

    It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him. From his earliest days as a "practice baby" through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney's Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles' London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored-and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust. Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.

    The learnersThe Learners by Chip Kidd

    Set in the early 1960s, the Learners is the story of Happy, a young graphic designer who lands his first job at a wacky advertising firm in New Haven, Connecticut. Among his colourful co-workers is Sketch, the lovable, aging illustrator whose finely-crafted drawings of potato chips are regarded by Happy as near masterpieces; Tip, the quick-witted copy-writer who's always hunting for the next snappy slogan; and Mimi, the cold, eccentric matriarch, who treats her enormous dog as if he's her husband. Happy fits right in among these likable eccentrics, and together, they struggle to hold onto their most important client, Cringle Potato Chips, and land the new and lucrative Buckle Shoes account.

    that mad acheThat Mad Ache by Francoise Sagan

    That Mad Ache, set in high-society Paris in the mid-1960’s, recounts the emotional battle unleashed in the heart of Lucile, a sensitive but rootless young woman who finds herself caught between her carefree, tranquil love for 50-year-old Charles, a gentle, reflective, and well-off businessman, and her sudden wild passion for 30-year-old Antoine, a hot-blooded, impulsive, and struggling editor. As Lucile explores these two versions of love, she vacillates in confusion, but in the end she must choose, and her heart’s instinct is surprising and poignant. Originally published under the title La Chamade, this new translation by Douglas Hofstadter returns a forgotten classic to English.

    A Look Inside

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    School of Night

    Louis Bayard

    A new novel by Louis Bayard is always an exciting prospect. In his latest, Bayard weaves factual historical information with a modern day literary thriller. There have always been rumors that a group of Elizabethan thinkers, led by Thomas Herriot, met regularly to discuss God, the world and everything else. They were called The School of Night. There is no evidence that the School actually did exist, but mentions of it in Shakespeare’s plays have led to much research and speculation. Did they discover the secret of transforming lead into gold? In modern Washington DC, Henry Cavendish receives a message from his friend, Alonso Wax: “The School of Night is back in session”. Wax then dies in a mysterious plunge into the Potomac. This sets Henry on a quest for a stolen letter, which may lead to the location of the treasure created by the School. He is teamed with a psychic investigator who has visions that may or may not be related to the case. The story ranges through time and place, from England at the beginning of the reign of James I to Florida in the present day. Bayard is a wonderful writer who is able to create effective historical and modern characters and scenarios. This is a great title for lovers of historical fiction and for the readers of literary thrillers such as The Club Dumas and The Dante Club.

    C. H.

    Celebrating the green

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    With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, if staying in with a good book or DVD is more your style than drinking green beer (or if you’re between green pints and in the mood for a diversion), read on!

    Shadowstory by Jennifer Johnston

    A compelling novel of complicated love, from one of Ireland's greatest living writers.

    It is the Second World War, and tragedy strikes many families in Ireland. But it is also a thrilling time in which to be a child and Polly, spending months at her grandparents' house by the sea, barely notices the adults' grief and their efforts to escape the tyranny of religion and family expectation. However, in time Polly too will have a secret. No one else knows the location of her beloved uncle, Sam, barely older than Polly herself, who is meant to be in Cambridge but is dreaming of Communist Cuba, while his decimated family fears losing another son. And, as Polly shyly approaches womanhood, her love for Sam turns into something more explosive.

    The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney

    A "New York Times"-bestselling author weaves an absorbing tale of lasting love, dangerous risk, and the healing power of redemption. Brimming with fascinating Irish history, daring intrigue, and the drama of legendary love, "The Last Storyteller" is an unforgettable novel as richly textured and inspiring as Ireland itself.

    Now & Then by Jacqueline Sheehan

    In Sheehan's spellbinding latest (after Lost Found), former lawyer Anna O'Shea becomes a time-traveling ex-wife when she returns from a vacation in Ireland and is enlisted to pick up her brother Patrick's son from jail in Newark after Patrick is severely injured in a car accident. Anna retrieves troublesome 16-year-old Joe and sets him up at her home, then wakes in the middle of the night to find him rummaging through her luggage. Joe's intrigued by a mysterious swath of cloth Anna picked up at a tourist trap, and when she tries to take it from him, the two are zapped back 164 years to prepotato famine Ireland. Sheehan vividly depicts Irish-British conflicts as Anna becomes involved with an Irish smuggler's group and falls for a rebel cartographer. Equally compelling is Joe's experience as a wrestling champ and his romance with sparky lass Taleen. Throw in loyal Irish wolfhound Madigan, and you've got an altogether enjoyable romantic adventure yarn with a heavy helping of magic.

    The Story of the Leprechaun by Katherine Tegen

    In this original tale about a shoemaking leprechaun and a greedy man named Tim, the reason behind why Leprechauns hide their pot of gold at the end of rainbows is revealed. Full color

    Celebrating the green [videorecording (DVD)] : the history of St. Patrick's Day

    A Look Inside

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    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

    Helen Simonson

    "You are a most astonishing man,” she said, and he realized he had inspired a sense of trust and indebtedness that would make it entirely impossible for an honorable man to attempt to kiss her anytime soon. He cursed himself for a fool.”

    New York Times bestseller Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Helen Simonson's charming debut novel, set in the Sussex village of Edgecombe St. Mary. This book is a love story between retired Major Ernest Pettigrew, a very proper 68-year-old widowed Englishman and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a 58-year-old village shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, also widowed. The sudden death of the Major's younger brother, Bertie, sets the friendship in motion, and in spite of their differences the couple bonds over tea and their shared love of literature. However, all is not easy as the couple has to navigate difficulties caused by a shallow son, an American fiancee, a culturally bound nephew, an illegitimate child, an over-zealous group of country club ladies, an uncertain inheritance, and old-fashioned opinions toward foreigners. Can Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali's relationship withstand the attitudes of their self-centered family members and the expectations of their socialite neighbors, or will they abandon their second chance at love? This book will appeal to those who enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and is the perfect read to go along with a comfy chair and a cup of tea.

    (Also available at the Calgary Public Library as a Book CD and an e-book, and as part of the Book Club Bag collection.)

    K.M.

    Did The Hunger Games leave you a bit peckish?

    by Suzen - 0 Comment(s)

    America Pacifica by Anna NorthSo I’ve been on this pretty major dystopian fiction kick. It’s an on-going theme – storylines beginning in the not too distant future when the environment has crumbled under the weight of humankind, the government has become a totalitarian regime and the protagonists are hell-bent on revolution. My recent obsession started with The Hunger Games, a wildly popular trilogy by YA author Suzanne Collins that’s presently being developed into a series of huge blockbuster films. I devoured (ha, ha) the books in a matter of days and became so invested in the characters’ fight for survival that I felt a little lost when the story ended. Immediately, I began scavenging for more books within the genre and found America Pacifica, the debut novel from author Anna North.

    America Pacifica is one of many in a genre of dystopian futures. In this book, North introduces us to Darcy, a young woman who lives in the grim replica of North America located on a small island in the South Pacific Ocean called “America Pacifica”. Overcrowded and divided by the unequal distribution of wealth, the island is dissolving into the sea from toxic pollution and on the verge of civil war. Our heroine, Darcy, works as a cook and nurse’s aide at World Experiences, a retirement residence for the island’s first inhabitants, and is completely ambivalent to the problems of the island. That is, until her mother disappears and Darcy’s safe and private world is thrown into a tailspin.

    The novel follows Darcy’s desperate search for her mother through the island’s most troubled districts where she is acutely suspicious of everyone she meets. The small world she had come to know as a child dangerously expands to include mute nuns with talking parrots, circus folk with missing limbs, bug-eyed solvent addicts and rich kids with too much free time. There are very few acts of kindness in this world and Darcy quickly learns that everything comes at a severe emotional, financial and physical cost. As the secrets of her mother’s past and disappearance come to light, Darcy finds herself the unwitting heroine of a revolution set to overturn everything she has ever known.

    Like The Hunger Games, this book shares a similar character-driven storyline set in a future not terribly far off from our own, where the struggle for freedom is a matter of life or death and survival tests our most vulnerable of human virtues. America Pacifica is a fast-paced and a very quick read, and if you can forgive the author’s often long-winded use of dialogue, this novel is a great compliment to other dystopian reads. While some readers may think the genre a bit morbid, I’ve always appreciated the perspective it gives to our current political, social and environmental climate. If things are bad now, how much worse could it get? While America Pacifica does take a fantastical approach to the imagined fate of North America, at its core I found myself relating to Darcy and her plight, contemplating how I would respond in similar situations. Would I run or would I stay and fight?

    I would recommend this book to anyone fascinated by the end of the world. If you enjoyed similar titles such as The Hunger Games, A Handmaid’s Tale or 1984, you’ll definitely quench your dystopian appetite with America Pacifica.

    Similar titles:

    When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

    Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

    Children of Men by PD James

    A Look Inside

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    Ghost Light

    Joseph O' Connor

    I love Irish writers. They have an innate sense of story that comes through even when the story is not told in typical narrative style. This is a strength of Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light. Ostensibly, this is the story of a promising actress in the days of the Irish Literary Revival. She worked alongside her much more accomplished sister in the Abbey Theatre and fell in love with the playwright J.M. Synge. Ghost Light tells their story. But the story does not follow a standard narrative arc. Rather, it begins with the actress, Molly Allgood, alcoholic and broken-down; collecting empties for her daily shot, charming the publicans with her (as she believes) undiminished beauty and grace. The ghost light of the title is both the stage light left burning in the theatre and the memory she carries of her affair with the odd and emotionally distant Synge. As she tells her story, the action moves between the golden days of their love affair and the dark and shabby life Molly leads after John‘s death. How much of Molly’s life is real and how much imagined, is left up to the reader – Molly is not particularly reliable when retelling her story, but her wit is keen and her language evocative. The emotions she evinces are true and the descriptions of the bright season of their love is lush and lovely, populated with the great characters of the Irish theatre such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. Molly is a winning character and the story she tells is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

    C. H.

    A Look Inside

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    The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai

    by Ruyian Xu

    “When I immigrated to the US,” Ruyian Xu, the author of The Lost and Forgotten languages of Shanghai reveals, “I was ten years old and did not speak any English… Eight years later, when I returned to China… English had become the only language I was fluent in. I could no longer read or write in Chinese, and I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or not being understood all over again. Those experiences made me interested in how absence in a language can isolate people and inspired me to write this novel…”

    The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai is a story of Li Jing, a successful, happily married businessman, who suddenly, as a consequence of an explosion that shattered the building where he was dining, losses his ability to speak his native language, Chinese. The only words than emerge from his mouth are the English phrases he learned as a child growing up in Virginia.

    He finds himself unable to communicate with his son and wife, whom he once courted with beautiful words. He turns to Rosalyn Neil, an American neurologist, and two of them soon develop a relationship that his wife doesn’t need a translator to understand …

    J. F.