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    Book Club in a Bag

    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

    Staff Picks: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

    by Sonya - 2 Comment(s)

    Halloween has come and gone, and for many, that means it will be a whole year before you have to think about witches or vampires again. If you enjoy reading historical fiction, though, let the season last a little longer by immersing yourself if this richly detailed debut novel by historian Deborah Harkness.

    Although populated by witches, vampires and other supernatural beings, this novel is not a typical fantasy tale. The vivid historical detail and complex plot, part fantasy, part romance, sets this novel (part of a trilogy) apart.

    Diana Bishop is a young historian who has rejected her magical inheritance and always tried to distance herself and her scholarly life from the Bishop family legacy. While studying in Oxford, Diana stumbles across a manuscript that seems to have magic imbued in it. Scholarship and research is her calling, and she wants nothing to do with magic, so of course she examines the manuscript, takes notes, and returns it to the archives. But unknown to Diana, her contact with the manuscript has caused wide ripples in the supernatural world. With mysterious events set in motion, she will no longer be able to avoid her magical heritage. From our catalogue summary: "Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense."

    A word of warning: once you start, you won't want to put this down! And while the second book of the trilogy, Shadow of Night, was published in 2012, the third book is yet to come, so you may be waiting in suspense until the third volume appears. And if you start reading and wonder when the "historical" part will begin... just keep reading! You won't be disappointed.

    Trick or Treat!

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    If books are what you prefer for a "treat" at this time of year (or if you need something to do while you work your way through the candy bowl), pick up a horror novel or a collection of classic ghost stories!

    It's been a long while since I've intentionally picked up something scary to read... but I still remember not being able to sleep after finishing Stephen King's The Shining in the middle of the night!

    If you're in the mood for something spooky and seasonal, check out some of these sites:

    Calgary Public Library

    Start with us! Browse Horror fiction search results in our Catalogue and try using Novelist Plus in the E-Library to find your favourite type of spooky reading material. Sign in to Novelist using your library card number.

    Flavorwire

    Flavorwire has some fun lists, including both the 50 Scariest Books of All Time and, my favourite, A Highbrow Halloween Reading List. Who knew Halloween could be highbrow?

    Boston.com

    This site has a nice varied list of Season's readings, including a selection of classic and contemporary horror stories and a non-fiction tome on all things to do with chocolate candy!

    Goodreads

    See what people of all ages list as the most Popular Halloween Reads.

     

    What is your favourite horror story? Leave a suggestion in the comments.

    Off the Shelf: The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Grief is inevitable and for some unbearable. In The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse, grief is both old and ever present. Freddie Watson’s brother George was lost at the Somme; his parents, unable to bear their grief for their beloved son, forgot to comfort or love the younger child.

    A decade later, still mired in regret and sorrow, Freddie seeks relief through a change of scene, motoring through the Pyrenees in the late fall. Crashing his car on a lonely, icy road, he has to walk through the woods to a small village, Nulle, where a reserved hotelier takes him in.

    Is the rest of the story in Freddie’s mind or is it real? And what is reality? Can Freddie and others struggling with the will to live balance on the boundary of the real world and the world of spirits? Undoubtedly, some of Freddie’s actions are real, because evidence exists. Equally without doubt, he suffers from a severe fever brought on by his injuries and subsequent exposure to the cold and the exhaustion of his walk through the woods.

    Grief is almost a way of life in Nulle. The townsfolk are quiet people who mind their own business, yet care for this solitary soul who so obviously needs help. They feel little need to talk about the ghosts, but they all know that their village and their environment are haunted by voices and apparitions. The Winter Ghosts are part of their own existence.

    Freddie sees their ghosts and hears their mysterious words. In fever and as he recovers, he threads the wishes of the all-too-real into his own decisions. Growing in faith, and away from his own crippling emotions, he tears the fabric of silence and inaction. His embracing of being alive restores the vitality of both himself and the villagers.

    -Judith Umbach

    Discover Alice Munro

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    I first discovered Alice Munro through her classic short story collection The Lives of Girls and Women. Several stories from this collection were on my assigned reading list for English class in high school, and I remember being drawn in by the perfect portrayal of the characters' inner lives. Although I have always preferred full length novels, Alice Munro is an exception. It is so exciting to see a Canadian winner of the Nobel prize, and one so deserving!

    Throughout her long career, Alice Munro has produced numerous brilliant stories and never stagnated as a writer. Even though she has announced her retirement from writing at the age of 82, her work continues to dazzle readers and critics alike. If you're new to Munro, or haven't read her work since high school, take the opportunity to celebrate her achievement by reading one of her many short story collections. Her latest title, Dear Life, was published in 2012—add your name to the hold list today. Will it be her last collection? We can only hope not.

    More from Alice Munro:

    If the waiting lists for Alice Munro's collections are too long for you just now, try some of these other authors whose short stories I love:

    In Memoriam: Tom Clancy (1947-2013)

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Tom Clancy, one of the most popular spy and military-themed novelists, died on October 1st at the age of 66.

    Clancy’s first bestseller was The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984, and it was followed by a long string of hits, including Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and many more. Several of his novels have been made into blockbuster movies, and his page on the Internet Movie Database features an interesting anecdote about how his novels became bestsellers:

    A woman in Washington, DC, read his novel "The Hunt For Red October" when it was first published by the Naval Press Institute in the 1980s, and loved it so much that she gave a copy to all her friends. One of those friends was President Ronald Reagan, who stepped off Marine One with the book tucked under his arm. A reporter saw the book and asked Reagan, "What are you reading?" Reagan then held up the book so everybody could see the cover and replied, "It's a really a good yarn." After Reagan's compliment, Tom Clancy's first novel became a best seller. (Internet Movie Database)

    His last novel, Command Authority, is slated for release in December 2013.

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