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    Book Club in a Bag

    Off the Shelf: Longbourn by Jo Baker

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Upstairs, the almost desperate Bennet family seeks husbands for five charming daughters. Downstairs, the servants scurry through endless labour and winter mud. In Longbourn, Jo Baker successfully recreates life on the other side of the kitchen door, a life secreted from the readers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

    Young Sarah is the senior housemaid; in reality, this means she has the assistance of the dreamy eleven-year-old Polly as they hasten to fulfill the orders of the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill. Sarah’s hands are raw, both from prying mud from Miss Elizabeth’s petticoats and shoes and from using lye to restore the whiteness of the undergarments. (Lizzie does love to wander the fields whatever the weather.) And, the housemaid has the duty of carrying the full chamber pots down the stairs and across the muddy, rutted yard to deposit the contents in the “necessary”. She rises earlier than everyone else to light the fires so others will be warm, and sometimes she stays up late to help the gentry with their coats after a night out with friends. Sarah has no friends, no nights out, nothing.

    Three men come into Sarah’s constrained world. Ptolemy Bingley, assigned his employer’s name, of course, is a footman with a roving eye and plans for a smoke shop in London. His kiss has the expected effect on a completely innocent but desiring girl. James Smith (a suspect surname), new footman in the Bennet household, persuades Sarah that her efforts to decamp to London seeking Ptolemy’s dream may be misplaced. And, the charming but despicable Mr. Wickham, an upstairs man who too often invades the downstairs sphere, disturbs Sarah’s stultifying but safe world, just as he disturbs the family life of the Bennets.

    Jo Baker has written a novel not in the tradition of Jane Austen sequels but in an engaging parallel universe. The doings of the Bennets are seen from the perspective of how much work will be created for the servants and how events will affect their lives. The pressures that affect servants are much different than for the gentry: the militia, the miserable weather, the importunities of guests, and the gaining or losing of a penny. As ever with near-poverty, the servants can afford neither pride nor prejudice.

    - Judith Umbach

    Staff Picks: 47 Sorrows by Janet Kellough

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Sometimes we pick up a book and have a totally different reading experience than we expected. I checked out 47 Sorrows: a Thaddeus Lewis Mystery because it was a Canadian historical mystery written by a Canadian author. What more could one ask for? Janet Kellough certainly delivers on those expectations, but there is a whole different element to this book.

    Her story starts with a body being discovered on the beach. It is set in southern Ontario in the mid-1800s. Young Luke Lewis is travelling from his brother’s homestead near Lake Huron to Montreal to train as a doctor. This is where the book becomes much more than I expected. Luke stops in Kingston to assist the doctors, nuns and volunteer workers who are dealing with the influx of Irish immigrants. Thousands have fled the potato famine, many of them suffering from typhus. Luke and his father Thaddeus do solve the mystery of the body on the beach, but this becomes secondary to the plight of the immigrants.

    I have often heard of the potato famine and the Irish immigration of that time, but this book raised my awareness of the plight of the immigrants as their lives and families are torn apart by the epidemic. I might have guessed that this would not be a happy read by the title – 47 Sorrows – but I am glad that I read it. This look at history brings a greater understanding of the dislocation suffered by the immigrants of that time and by the experience of many in modern times.

    - Pat

    Stay Home, Relax, and Read!

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    The holidays are a great time to visit with friends and family. But it can also be an extremely busy season.

    Now that all of the holiday rush is winding down, why not take some time for yourself, and stay in? There is so much fantastic content available to you with your library card that you don't even have to leave to house to access!

    Enjoy an eBook

    Borrow an eBook from Overdrive with your library card. With more and more nonfiction available, there is truly something for everyone. And have you heard? Penguin has just recently made over fifteen thousand of their US titles available to Canadian libraries! This includes many big-name authors such as Ken Follett, Khaled Hosseini, Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, and Charlaine Harris.

    Or if you're travelling, why not borrow a travel guide in eBook format? It's so handy, and there are lots to choose from. You can even bring a phrasebook eBook to help you with the local lingo.

    If eBooks are new to you, join a library program for a demo or some hands-on troubleshooting. You can also browse the Getting Started with Overdrive page for videos and step-by-step instructions.

    Browse an eMagazine

    Maybe browsing a magazine is more your speed at the moment. Don't miss out on the fantastic database Zinio. There are over 350 titles you can borrow & download. Once you have them, you can always browse them later!

    These types of databases are increasingly popular (and expensive, through an individual subscription!), so take a look and don't miss out.

    Any questions? Contact us by email or phone or use the Info Chat link on our homepage to chat with staff (open hours only).

    Canadian Authors Honoured

    by Sonya

    Who's just been appointed to the Order of Canada? Two fantastic Canadian authors! And both have new titles on offer for your reading pleasure.

    Louise Penny

    The author of the much-loved Inspector Gamache series set in Three Pines, Quebec, has lots to celebrate! Her latest in this series, How the Light Gets In, somehow manages to surpass the already high expectations of her fans. (Well, this one, at least.)

    Join the hold list if you haven't already had the pleasure of Inspector Gamache's company in this latest installment.

    Douglas Coupland

    This inimitable author's latest novel, Worst. Person. Ever., promises to be as funny as any of his titles. Click on the title or book cover to read the summary.

    Off the Shelf: The Singularity is Near, When Humans Transcend Biology

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Perhaps three decades ago, I heard Ray Kurzweil speak at a conference and never forgot him and his messages. He was an outstanding speaker. The Singularity is Near employs the same clarity to explain rather easily the complex science of biology-based computing.

    The book was published in 2005, which is fortunate for me because many concepts are more recognizable now they have moved into the mainstream. The exponential miniaturization of the last eight years helps the reader comprehend how computing power will be woven into clothing and other everyday items. The invention and improvement of cochlear implants points the way to ubiquitous support of human functionality by computers.

    For decades computing power has been doubling every 18 months, known as Moore’s law. This could be continued indefinitely by using or mimicking biological processes for accomplishing work. Kurzweil emphasizes that we won’t need to replicate biological processes. Reverse engineering allows scientists to replace biological functions in ways that innovatively use available or invented materials. A basic example can be recognized by comparing Icarus unsuccessfully beating artificial feathered wings and our flying fixed-wing aircraft made of strong metals and polymers.

    Already we can see the use of information technologies to drastically reduce power consumption. This is why the tablet computers of today vastly outperform the desktop computers of only a decade ago. And, why today’s cars consume less fossil fuel while providing more “information content”, such as GPS and engine monitoring.

    The “singularity” is the point at which technological change is so rapid that humans will not be able to comprehend its entirety. In effect, the human mind will be able to take advantage of computing power and memory without distinction between human and machine. According to Kurzweil, this will occur about the middle of this century. When I heard him speak a long time ago, the timeframe was 2020. Both now and then, rather than absolute predictions, I consider his ideas stimuli for my own thinking; nevertheless, he has an excellent track-record for predicting the future.

    - Judith Umbach

    Staff Picks: Stoner by John Williams

    - 2 Comment(s)

    One of the great pleasures of working in a library is finding great, little known books and recommending them to friends and customers. About eight years ago I stumbled upon a reprint of a novel originally published in the mid-sixties called Stoner by John Williams. I fell in love with this story of a poor farm boy who discovers a love of literature and devotes himself to teaching English at a small university. The book was written in such a way that, before I knew it, I found myself caring more for the protagonist than I ever cared for a fictional character.

    Stoner is in many ways a sad novel, but I found inspiration in it as well. I have been recommending it to readers ever since and almost always people come back to tell me it is one of the best novels they have ever read. I have often wondered why this book is not widely known about, but have come to accept that not all great books get the attention they deserve.

    However, in the past few years something amazing has happened – Stoner has become a bestselling book right across Europe. In 2011, almost fifty years after its original publication and over fifteen years since the death of its author, Stoner became a phenomenon in France, Holland and Italy, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. This year it has become the book to read in England – being named Book of the Year by Waterstones booksellers, and last week the novelist Julian Barnes wrote an article in the Guardian outlining why Stoner was the must-read novel of 2013.

    Stoner mania has yet to catch on in North America in quite the same way, however the Globe and Mail recently did an article on the book, which has certainly stirred up a good deal of interest. I have noticed that suddenly there is a waiting list for the copies available from the Calgary Public Library, and my bookselling friends tell me they have sold numerous copies in the last couple weeks. So why not put your name down on the waiting list to read it now? I can almost guarantee that you’ll be glad you did.

    - Tyler at Louise Riley Library

    Calling All Last-Minute Christmas Shoppers

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    December is shopping season, and chances are good that you (or someone you're shopping for) is into books. There's still time! But which books should you buy? Here are a few suggestions:

    Alice Munro has had a year of iconic achievements, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature and announcing her retirement from writing. Pick up an old favourite or her latest collection, Dear Life for someone you love.

     

    Continuing on the theme of prize-winning Canadians (who write short stories), why not try 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady's Hellgoing? She's an Albertan, and her writing gets to the nitty-gritty of real life with all its dark and surprising moments.

     

    Another one for your literary friends and family: Eleanor Catton (also Canadian-born, by the way) won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries. She also happens to be the youngest-ever winner of that prize!

     

     And for everyone else on your list, I'll share a few great lists I've come across:

     

    Still can't decide? Good news! You can grab one of these titles, FREE from your local library, pick up a gift card to ______ (insert your favourite book store) and just relax with a good book. Personalize your gift-card-giving with some sure-fire suggestions, once you've finished reading them, of course!

    Canada Reads Shortlist

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    If you've ever followed Canada Reads, don't miss your chance to get in on the action with your vote on the best book! The shortlist of 10 for next March's even has just been posted, and there are some fantastic titles on the list!

    I've read five of the ten, so now I have my work cut out: five more to read before March...

    It may be unfair to offer a "preliminary" opinion based on the five I've already read, but here are a couple of thoughts in any case:

    If you only ever read one young adult novel, make it Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. This novels follows the story of a group of teens in a version of modern-day San Francisco reeling from a terrorist attack. Scooped up and illegally held as suspects by an overzealous government agency, Marcus and his friends must decide how to deal with their situation.

    This is a fast-paced and fascinating look at computer hacking, surveillance and civil liberties, with a believable plot that makes you look at the world around us from a new perspective. It could happen. And if it did, what would you do?

    More from our catalogue summary:

    In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they're mercilessly interrogated for days. When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

    San Francisco Public Library chose this title for their "One City, One Book" program this year, and the sequel to this novel, Homeland, just came out.

    The other four titles that I've read from the list, all of which I would recommend, are:

    If you're just interested in what people are recommending and looking for your next book to read, don't miss the top 40 list. Also lots of great Christmas shopping ideas here!

    Off the Shelf: Maya's Notebook by Isabelle Allende

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    At first the dual settings of Maya’s Notebook seem to engender culture clash. Maya, recovering drug addict, has been sent to remote Chiloé, the southern island area of Chile from Los Vegas, the place of her willful captivity in the drug culture. Gradually, author Isabel Allende draws out the nuances of the two societies, showing us the modern world’s cultural symbiosis.

    Maya’s grandparents are her bedrock. Emotionally and often physically abandoned by her parents, she grows up spoiled (as she admits) by her eccentric Chilean grandmother and her warmly loving American grandfather. Rules are loose, when they exist, in favour of creativity and spontaneity. The family is so passionate that they collapse when struck with tragedy.

    Sent to Chile in a protective exile by her grandmother, Maya has been instructed to keep a notebook of everything she does, thinks and feels. In exile, her home is made with a friend of her grandmother, a taciturn professor who is writing a book about the myths and anthropology of Chiloé. Modern Maya, banned from using the internet and without most of her electronics, drops into an eighteenth century village. After she learns to stop chattering and rebelling, she begins to appreciate the genuine strength and friendship of a self-sufficient community.

    Maya’s Notebook moves ahead and backwards in a well-modulated rhythm. The joy of her early life helps her make friends in the village. Her knowledge of the wider world helps her see that the village is not so very isolated. Committed to sobriety, she takes full responsibility for her rehabilitation, while recognizing that she needs the emotional support of others. As she becomes sensitive to the troubles of other people in the community, she begins to assess her own period of self-destruction and sheer danger. Her evident healing encourages her friends and neighbours to include her in their traditions and beliefs.

    With great skill, Isabel Allende offers the reader the opportunity to join Maya on a journey of self discovery and cultural exploration.

    Judith Umbach

    Calgary: Between the Pages

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Did you know we are in the middle of National Novel Writing Month? For the non-writers out there, myself included, we can still participate as readers--this presents the perfect opportunity to "read local"! There is a splendid array of writing across all genres that takes place, either physically or fictionally, in Calgary.

    Novels:

    Venous Hum by Suzette Mayr

    A few years ago I read this truly unique and hilarious novel set in our fair city, and I still remember some of the highlights: a 20-year high school reunion; friendship and infidelity; picky eaters with very particular appetites... From our catalogue summary:

    "A satire on race, gender, sexual preference and vegetarianism, this is a magic-realist novel that will throw your assumptions of the world and the people who inhabit it out the window. It's the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence that announces the end of literary fiction as we know it and the beginning of something entirely new."

    The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

    "The bestselling author of the Blood Books delivers a masterful new urban fantasy. Alysha Gale is a member of a family capable of changing the world with the charms they cast. Then she receives word that she's inherited her grandmother's junk shop in Calgary, only to discover upon arriving that she'll be serving the fey community. And when Alysha learns just how much trouble is brewing in Calgary, even calling in the family to help may not be enough to save the day."

    Foxed: a Detective Lane mystery by Garry Ryan

    This sixth title in the Detective Lane series has just been released, and it sounds like a page-turner!

    "After a long series of professional and personal upheavals, Detective Lane begins his latest adventure happy, at peace, and enjoying life with his partner Arthur, their children Christine and Matt, and his able new partner, RCMP officer Keely Saliba. But when the body of a young boy is unearthed ten years after he was reported missing, Lane's investigation into the crime puts him in conflict with a powerful and charismatic Calgary real estate developer and restaurateur-a cunning sociopath whose desire to suppress any threat to his empire will endanger the safety of Lane's own family."

    Poetry:

    Tender Cracks: poems & other writings by Dieu Dinh

    This volume of poetry by Calgary poet Dieu Dinh is hot off the press! If a novel is not your speed just now, spend some quality time with Dinh's poems. At times tender, melancholy and open-hearted, these are poems to enjoy in the quiet spaces between the rush of daily life.

    More from Calgary poets:

    Whirr and Click by Micheline Maylor

    Yes: poems by Rosemary Griebel

    Young love: poems for the young in love by Amir Hassanali

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