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    Book Club in a Bag

    Author Reading: Vincent Lam

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    Calgary Public Library


    The University of Calgary Bookstore

    have the pleasure of welcoming the Scotiabank Giller Prize winning author

    Vincent Lam

    as he shares from his new book

    The Headmaster’s Wager.

    Tuesday, May 1st, 2012, 7:00 - 9:00 @ John Dutton Theatre

    Purchase tickets online at

    Ticket price includes a copy of the novel.

    From Giller Prize winner, internationally acclaimed and bestselling author Vincent Lam comes a superbly crafted, highly suspenseful, and deeply affecting novel set against the turmoil of the Vietnam War. Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English school in Saigon. He is also abon vivant, a compulsive gambler and an incorrigible womanizer. He is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of the Chen Academy. He is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, choosing instead to read the faces of his opponents at high-stakes mahjong tables. But when his only son gets in trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival faces the limits of his connections and wealth and is forced to send him away. In the loneliness that follows, Percival finds solace in Jacqueline, a beautiful woman of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage, and Laing Jai, a son born to them on the eve of the Tet offensive. Percival's new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further and further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see. Blessed with intriguingly flawed characters moving through a richly drawn historical and physical landscape,The Headmaster's Wager is a riveting story of love, betrayal and sacrifice.

    Sherlock update!!

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    For all of you who are also interested in All things Sherlock, just a quick update on Sherlock Season Two--it's in!!! (Well, listed in the Catalogue, now.) Place your hold today!

    YOUR vote for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction

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    You may have heard that the Pulitzer Prize board has decided not to award the prize this year in the fiction category. Read more from one of the jurors if you're curious about the how and why.

    In the meantime, we thought that with so many incredible fiction books out there this year, why not vote for our own unofficial winner? Or simply recommend a book you feel is worthy of a prize. We may not be able to offer the intended $10,000 cash prize (which the Pulitzer Prize awards for fiction), but we can certainly recommend "winners" for fellow readers of fiction to enjoy!

    The criteria used by the Pulitzer Prize jury to narrow down their shortlist is "distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life." Here are the three fiction finalists that were nominated for the prize (note that we ALREADY put you on to 2 of the 3 books right here on this blog!):


    Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

    Denis Johnson's Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century--an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West--its otherworldly flora and fauna, its rugged loggers and bridge builders--the new novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

    Why you should read it: We recommended it to you FIRST!

    Other good reasons: If you like Westerns. Or if you'd like to impress your friends by reading an example of great American literature... this short read is just over 100 pages.



    Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

    From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves ("How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell's . . . Run for your life. This girl is on fire"-- Los Angeles Times Book Review ) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine. The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava's mother, the park's indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava's father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family's struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.


    Why you should read it: We recommended it to you FIRST!

    Other reasons: Unforgettable. You've never read anything like it before! Just read a few pages and see if you can put it down.


    The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

    The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has. The Pale King remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace's death, but it is a deeply compelling and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions---questions of life's meaning and of the value of work and society---through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace's unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for one of the most daring writers of our time.


    Why you should read it: Think about it. This book was unfinished at the author's death. Posthumously published. Now shortlisted for a $10,000 Pulitzer prize? Must be good.



    Who would you vote for? What other books would you nominate? Tell us in the comments.

    A Look Inside

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    The China Lover

    Ian Buruma

    A transfixing portrait of a woman and a nation eagerly burying the past to transform the future. In his enthralling novel, Ian Buruma uses the life of the starlet Yamaguchi Yoshiko as a lens through which to understand the lure of erotic fantasies in the conquest of nations. The China Lover reveals the catastrophic results when theater and politics blend in a lethal manner. In her earliest days Ri Koran, a Japanese girl born in Manchuria, who sang and acted in Japanese and Chinese, was forced to keep her Japanese identity a secret, to become a Manchurian singer and movie star playing Chinese beauties who fell in love with brave Japanese empire builders. In U.S.-occupied Tokyo, she returned to the screen as Yamaguchi Yoshiko, starring in films approved by American censors and designed to promote American-style democracy. Before long, she decided to reinvent herself yet again by moving to the United States. Three months after Japan and the United States signed a peace treaty in San Francisco, Yamaguchi rededicated herself to pursuing a career in American movies, this time as Shirley Yamaguchi, playing exotic Japanese beauties falling in love with American soldiers. But she was not just the subject of male fantasies on the cinema screen. She married the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who wanted her to be the perfect traditional Japanese woman. When her many roles, in life and in film, proved impossible to reconcile, Shirley left Noguchi, retired as an actress, and married a promising young Japanese diplomat. At the outset of the 1970’s, the life of Yamaguchi Yoshiko took another dramatic turn. As host of a Japanese television show for housewives, Yoshiko accepted an assignment in the Middle East, where she met Yassir Arafat and a prominent Palestinian terrorist. A member of her crew, affiliated with the Japanese Red Army, would return to commit a terrible crime while Yoshiko became a founding member of the Japanese- Palestinian Friendship Association, and ended her career as a politician in the right-wing ruling party of Japan. In Buruma’s reimagining of the life of Yamaguchi Yoshiko, a Japanese torn among patriotism for her parents’ homeland, wordly ambition, and sympathy for the Chinese, she would reflect almost exactly the twists and turns in the history of modern Japan.

    In Memoriam: Titanic, 1912 - 2012

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    It was in the early hours of April 15, 1912, that the RMS Titanic sank, leaving only 710 survivors from a total of 2 224 people on board. On this hundredth anniversary of the tragedy, delve into some historical fiction exploring the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic:

    The Dressmaker

    Kate Alcott

    Seamstress Tess Collins finds her way aboard the Titanic because the maid of renowned designer Lucile Duff Gordon missed the boat. Yet this is not your mother's Titanic story; the ship hits the iceberg on page 37, and the exodus of survivors happens swiftly. What ensues back in New York is an investigation instigated by a senator who wants to prove negligence on the part of the White Star line. New York Times reporter Sarah "Pinky" Wade, however, smells stories of the wealthy and privileged vs. the poor and wants to pin blame on Lucile. Meanwhile, a young sailor and an older businessman both fall in love with Tess, and her responses to them and to the woman who could help her realize her dreams are at the core of this recounting of the tragedy.

    Taking the tale of the Titanic out of the frigid sea and docking it in the courtroom and early 20th-century New York gives the familiar story a fresh feel. Tess makes a praiseworthy heroine, torn between her loyalties to the woman she so admires and her own principles, but would two men declare their love after knowing Tess for so brief a time? One fewer suitor might have been more plausible. Still, an engaging first novel in this year of everything Titanic.

    A Good Woman

    Danielle Steel

    From the glittering ballrooms of Manhattan to the fires of World War I, Danielle Steel takes us on an unforgettable journey in her new novel—a spellbinding tale of war, loss, history, and one woman’s unbreakable spirit....

    Nineteen-year-old Annabelle Worthington was born into a life of privilege, raised amid the glamour of New York society, with glorious homes on Fifth Avenue and in Newport, Rhode Island. But everything changed on a cold April day in 1912, when the sinking of the Titanic shattered her family and her privileged world forever. Finding strength within her grief, Annabelle pours herself into volunteer work, nursing the poor, igniting a passion for medicine that would shape the course of her life.

    But for Annabelle, first love, and a seemingly idyllic marriage, will soon bring more grief—this time caused by the secrets of the human heart. Betrayed, and pursued by a scandal she does not deserve, Annabelle flees New York for war-ravaged France, hoping to lose herself in a life of service. There, in the heart of the First World War, in a groundbreaking field hospital run by women, Annabelle finds her true calling, working as an ambulance medic on the front lines, studying medicine, saving lives. And when the war ends, Annabelle begins a new life in Paris—now a doctor, a mother, her past almost forgotten…until a fateful meeting opens her heart to the world she had left behind.

    Promise Me This

    Cathy Gohlke

    Taking a break from work to watch the Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage, Michael Dunnagan meets passenger Owen Allen and decides to stow away in hopes of convincing Owen to let him join his uncle's business in America. But the so-called unsinkable ship strikes an iceberg, and a dying Owen extracts a promise from Michael that he will care for Owen's relatives in America and his sister Annie, still in England. Annie can't bear the thought that Michael lived when her brother was lost, but the two develop a friendship through the letters they exchange. When World War I breaks out and Annie's letters stop, Michael drops everything to find the woman he has come to love. No matter how many times the Titanic's sinking has been depicted in film and in print, the 1912 maritime tragedy continues to fascinate us.

    If you've recently watched James Cameron's Titanic in 3D and are ready for some factual information about the tragedy, here are some new releases to satisfy your curiosity:

    RMS Titanic : gilded lives on a fatal voyage

    Hugh Brewster

    April 14, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The "unsinkable subject," the story of the giant ship that sank on its maiden voyage, has become one of our most potent modern parables and enduring metaphors. The image of the ship's plunging stern is an icon, and expressions like "rearranging the deck chairs" and "hitting the iceberg" need no explanation. Yet on a cold, clear April night the disaster happened to real people--stokers, millionaires, society ladies, parsons, parlourmaids--people who displayed a full range of all-too-human reactions as the events of the night unfolded. With new research, R.M.S. Titanic weaves the dramatic story of that fateful crossing with compelling portraits of the people on board--those who survived, and those who tragically lost their lives--allowing us to place ourselves on that sloping deck and ask, "What would we do?"

    Voyagers of the Titanic : passengers, sailors, shipbuilders, aristocrats, and the worlds they came from

    Richard Davenport-Hines

    Late in the night of April 14, 1912, the mighty Titanic , a passenger liner traveling from Southampton, England, to New York City, struck an iceberg four hundred miles south of Newfoundland. Its sinking over the next two and a half hours brought the ship--mythological in name and size--one hundred years of infamy. Of the 2,240 people aboard the ship, 1,517 perished either by drowning or by freezing to death in the frigid North Atlantic waters. What followed the disaster was tantamount to a worldwide outpouring of grief: In New York, Paris, London, and other major cities, people lined the streets and crowded around the offices of the White Star Line, the Titanic's shipping company, to inquire for news of their loved ones and for details about the lives of some of the famous people of their time. While many accounts of the Titanic's voyage focus on the technical or mechanical aspects of why the ship sank, Voyagers of the Titanic follows the stories of the men, women, and children whose lives intersected on the vessel's fateful last day, covering the full range of first, second, and third class­--from plutocrats and captains of industry to cobblers and tailors looking for a better life in America. Richard Davenport-Hines delves into the fascinating lives of those who ate, drank, reveled, dreamed, and died aboard the mythic ship: from John Jacob Astor IV, the wealthiest person on board, whose comportment that night was subject to speculation and gossip for years after the event, to Archibald Butt, the much-beloved military aide to Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, who died helping others into the Titanic's few lifeboats. With magnificent prose, Voyagers of the Titanic also brings to life the untold stories of the ship's middle and third classes--clergymen, teachers, hoteliers, engineers, shopkeepers, counterjumpers, and clerks--each of whom had a story that not only illuminates the fascinating ship but also the times in which it sailed. In addition, Davenport-Hines explores the fascinating politics behind the Titanic's creation, which involved larger-than-life figures such as J. P. Morgan, the ship's owner, and Lord Pirrie, the ship's builder. The memory of this tragedy still remains a part of the American psyche and Voyagers of the Titanic brings that clear night back to us with all of its drama and pathos.

    Titanic, first accounts

    Tim Maltin

    Fascinating firsthand accounts of the Titanic --in a deluxe package with gorgeous graphic cover art. Historic firsthand accounts and testimonies by survivors and eye- witnesses including Lawrence Beesley, Margaret Brown, Archibald Gracie, Carlos F. Hurd and many more.

    A Look Inside

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    Dracula: The Graphic Novel

    Bram Stoker

    Adapted by: Jason ColbeyJason

    Illustrations: Staz Johnson and James Offredi

    Editor: Clive Bryant

    Jonathan Harker’s business trip to Transylvania, to advise Count Dracula on the purchase of English property, soon turns into a living nightmare. Locked in Castle Dracula, Harker believes he will never return home to be with his beloved Mina. He heroically escapes, but is quickly dragged back into the Count’s evil world, as he becomes involved with Van Helsing’s plot to destroy the Prince of Darkness and his “un-dead” – for the benefit of all mankind. Bram Stoker’s classic vampire tale is one of the greatest horror stories ever written. It first appeared in 1897 and rapidly gained momentum with Victorian readers. Its popularity grew through plays, further tales and later with movies, to the extent that the story and characters have become part of our culture. Now, using powerful, dynamic and dramatic artwork by the wonderfully talented Staz Johnson, we bring you an authentic adaptation of Stoker’s masterpiece in this full color graphic novel, for a reading experience you will never forget.

    A Look Inside

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    Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir

    Clint Hill

    For four years, from the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in November 1960 until after the election of Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Clint Hill was the Secret Service agent assigned to guard the glamorous and intensely private Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. During those four years, he went from being a reluctant guardian to a fiercely loyal watchdog and, in many ways, her closest friend. Now, looking back fifty years, Clint Hill tells his story for the first time, offering a tender, enthralling, and tragic portrayal of how a Secret Service agent who started life in a North Dakota orphanage became the most trusted man in the life of the First Lady who captivated first the nation and then the world. When he was initially assigned to the new First Lady, Agent Hill envisioned tea parties and gray-haired matrons. But as soon as he met her, he was swept up in the whirlwind of her beauty, her grace, her intelligence, her coy humor, her magnificent composure, and her extraordinary spirit. From the start, the job was like no other, and Clint was by her side through the early days of JFK's presidency; the birth of sons John and Patrick and Patrick's sudden death; Kennedy-family holidays in Hyannis Port and Palm Beach; Jackie's trips to Europe, Asia, and South America; Jackie's intriguing meetings with men like Aristotle Onassis, Gianni Agnelli, and André Malraux; the dark days of the year that followed the assassination to the farewell party she threw for Clint when he left her protective detail after four years. All she wanted was the one thing he could not give her: a private life for her and her children. Filled with unforgettable details, startling revelations, and sparkling, intimate moments, this is the once-in-a-lifetime story of a man doing the most exciting job in the world, with a woman all the world loved, and the tragedy that ended it all too soon — a tragedy that haunted him for fifty years.

    All things Sherlock

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    Lately I’ve been in a Sherlock mood! Although I’m not a Sherlock Holmes ‘purist’, I’ve enjoyed listening to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories on Book CD or MP3, especially on long night-time drives. Many of the older BBC TV or other movie dramatizations of various Sherlock Holmes stories are excellent, and available at the library as well.

    Recently, however, after enjoying the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie, and having just had the pleasure of watching the second installment, I’ve stumbled across a wealth of Holmes spinoffs, remakes and tributes that I haven’t been able to resist.

    The Sherlockian is Graham Moore’s debut novel, and tells two stories set in different time periods. It alternates between a fictionalized glimpse into Arthur Conan Doyle’s life and the life of Harold White, a modern-day ‘Sherlockian,’ and member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a kind of scholarly fan club dedicated to the Sherlock Holmes stories.

    One of the long-standing questions about Conan Doyle is why he killed off his famous detective, only to bring him back to life in new stories 8 years later. Although the author kept a meticulous record of his life and work, the key diary that should explain this mystery has been missing for over 80 years. To keep the action rolling, Moore gives the reader (and his characters) several mysteries to be solved: in Arthur’s story, it appears someone may be trying to kill him, and he suspects there is a connection with the recent murder of a young woman. In Harold’s story, a man who claimed to have found Conan Doyle’s missing diary has been murdered at the Baker Street Irregulars’ convention. Both Harold and Arthur must try to apply Sherlock’s methods to solve the crimes, and stay one step ahead of the killers. The irony of basing their investigations on the exploits of a fictional detective (even by Arthur, Sherlock’s creator) is not lost on the characters, and even Bram Stoker makes an appearance as Conan Doyle’s mocking friend and sidekick. All in all, an enjoyable mystery with a bit of historic interest.

    For a different perspective, or for one to read with your children, try the excellent series by Nancy Springer featuring a feisty and irresistible young heroine: Enola Holmes, the younger sister of the famous fictional detective. When her mother disappears, Enola must make her own way in a world determined to bind her in corsets and imprison her in a young ladies’ boarding school… luckily for us, she has other plans! Springer not only introduces a great character and involves her in page-turning plots, but also provides the modern reader a fascinating look at what life was really like for young women in late 19th century England. The first book in the series is The Case of the Missing Marquess.

    If movies and TV are more suited to your mood, don’t miss the newer BBC TV series Sherlock, a modern-day incarnation featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the brilliant and antisocial detective. Be warned: there are only two seasons (so far season one is available at the library) and it will leave you waiting breathlessly for more! The next installment is scheduled for Fall 2012, so keep an eye out.