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    Book Club in a Bag

    Celebrate your Freedom to Read

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    In preparation for Freedom to Read week, which runs this year from February 24 to March 2, I've been looking at lists of banned and challenged books. Have a look through Freedom to Read's list of Banned and Challenged books for more details on specific challenges in Canada and the outcomes.

    The most interesting thing I notice about these types of lists is it's often those books that receive the widest critical acclaim that are also the most often challenged or banned. Incidentally, two of YOUR chosen favourites from "Calgarians Choose a Century of Great Books" are also titles that have caused complaints, requests for banning, and even a book-burning! (Well, book-cover-burning...) Since these two titles are also two of my all-time favourites, and both by fabulous Canadian authors, I'll feature them here with a few suggestions for further reading:

    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

    This book is considered a modern classic, chilling and yet believable in its portrayal of a future in which infertility is reaching crisis proportions. And the fallout from this situation is horrifying for the average woman...

    From the book's description:

    It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now...everything has changed.

    We love dystopian fiction here in the Readers' Nook and have posted about it before. Read more from Atwood: Oryx and Crake (also a "Century" title) and The Year of the Flood both explore the same near-future world, a disturbing place in which "[t]he triple whammy of runaway social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event." (Publisher's Weekly)

    Oryx and Crake is told from the point of view of Snowman, who introduces the strange world he finds himself in, alone, starving and bewildered; the story gradually reveals how he came to survive, and what lead to the cataclysmic changes in the world. What is most fascinating to me is how Atwood builds a believable near-future in which we can recognize all the disturbing trends of our own world which have snowballed and grown until daily life is both unrecognizable and eerily familiar.

    The Year of the Flood revisits this before-and-after time again from a different perspective: a group of followers of a new religion, God's Gardeners. We are introduced to the characters in the "before" time, and then follow some of the same people years later, as they try to survive in the bleak "after" world. It's difficult to describe in detail without giving too much away... Both Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood can be read as stand-alone novels, but plot points and characters overlap, and if you read them as a pair, each one enriches the other.

    Other great dystopian visions you might enjoy:

    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Seed by Rob Ziegler

    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    Lovestar by Andri Snaer Magnason

    The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

    This riveting work of historical fiction follows the life of Aminata Diallo from her childhood, through her life as a slave, and later as an associate and speaker for slavery abolitionists in London. It is the most powerful and memorable novel I've read in a long time, and it highlights some little-known corners of Canadian history, one example being the document from which the book takes its controversial title.

    From the book's description:

    Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle--a string of slaves-- Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic Book of Negroes. This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. Aminata's eventual return to Sierra Leone--passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America--is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey. Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London,The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.


    For more from Lawrence Hill, try his novels Any Known Blood and Some Great Thing.

    If you've already read these and are looking for other epic historical fiction that transports you to a time and place, I will recommend a few more favourites:

    What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin

    The Tiger Claw by Shauna Singh Baldwin

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

    Not all Hearts and Cupids - Part II

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    There are a few famous love stories less tragic than the ones featured last week, of course. Still marked by challenges, sacrifices and obstacles of all sorts – that is, after all, what makes them timeless – these at least didn’t claim the very lives – or body parts – of the parties involved.

    Odysseus and Penelope

    Their love was put through one of the most difficult tests – waiting. After he fought in the Trojan War for 10 years, it took Odysseus as much time to return home. In the meantime, Penelope had to turn down 108 suitors, anxious to take her husband’s place. On his long voyage home, Odysseus himself was tempted by everlasting love, eternal youth, and many other hard-to-resist promises, but stayed devoted and loyal to his wife.

    Napoleon and Josephine

    They are proof that a marriage of convenience can nurture true love and passion, if only temporarily. At age 26, Napoleon married Josephine, a prominent, wealthy (and six-years-older) widow and they fell deeply in love with each other. Napoleon, as we know, wasn't a homey type - like Odysseus, he found war games way more interesting. Unfortunately, unlike Penelope, Josephine wasn’t big on waiting. While Napoleon was busy campaigning far away from home, his wife got lonely and found solace in a string of lovers, starting with a handsome Hussar lieutenant. Napoleon retaliated with the wife of his junior officer, and so on… Infidelity aside, they were unable to produce a much-needed heir for the Emperor, so they divorced. Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria and had a son with her. Josephine remained single, but stayed on good terms with her ex.


    Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler

    “Rhett, Rhett… Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?”

    “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…”


    Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester

    She is plain in appearance, poor, and lonely. He is also not easy on the eyes, rich and lonely. They grow closer, revealing a tender heart beneath his rough exterior (Edward) and budding self-confidence (Jane). The roadblock this time is no less than polygamy, not an easy stunt to pull off, even in the times of more flexible morality that was England at the turn of the nineteenth century: on her wedding day, Jane discovered Edward was already married to a mentally incapacitated wife. Jane ran away, only to return later to find Edward’s mansion destroyed by fire, and Edward himself blind yet conveniently widowed... This time there were no barriers for their love to triumph.


    Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy

    Finally, here is one happy love story: the end of the novel found Miss Pride and Mr. Prejudice alive, in love and in possession of all their body parts. We were left to believe they married and lived happily ever after... or did they? (wink)

    On the 200th anniversary of this novel (a couple weeks ago), it's the perfect time to revisit the classic love story.

    ...And if you find you're in the mood now for some sugar-coated romance and a box of chocolates, have a browse through our Next Reads newsletters for recommended Romance titles!

    Happy Valentine's!

    Not all Hearts and Cupids

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    If you're unhappy, lonely, or heartbroken this Valentine's season, never fear... there are many famous lovers who ended up miserable. Abandoned. Dead. Even castrated. So, if you're in the mood to immerse yourself in a novel of love gone wrong rather than read another sugar-coated happily-ever-after, read on for epic tales of love and tragedy.

    In fact, consider St. Valentine himself: far from flowers and lace, although very little is known about his life, the namesake of our February 14th chocolates-and-sweethearts extravaganza suffered a martyr's death.

    Romeo and Juliet

    Shakespeare’s famous pair, who've become synonymous with young lovers and doomed love, seem to be a logical choice to begin a list of timeless couples.

    Whether is was fate or a series of unlucky chances that got them both killed, one wonders what would have become of their love if they hadn’t been teenagers, and therefore crazy by design. We know Juliet was 13. Romeo’s age is not stated, but his often heated thoughts and impulsive actions suggest he wasn’t much older.

    Antony and Cleopatra

    The last Pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra is the one of the most famous women in history. It is said that she was an accomplished mathematician, fluent in nine languages, a skilled politician and popular among her subjects.

    She married her brother Ptolemy, became Julius Caesar’s mistress, and, upon his death, started an affair with Marcus Antonius, which scandalized Rome and deeply worried its politicians.

    Mark Antony and Cleopatra married in 36 B. C. Egypt seemed not large enough for the ambitious lovers to rule, so they plotted to conquer Rome. It didn’t turn out too well, though. After a disastrous defeat in Aricum in 31 B. C. and a false report of Cleopatra’s death, Antony killed himself. Cleopatra died shortly after, inducing a snake to bite her.

    Lancelot and Guinevere

    A crushing love story is the central theme of one of the best known Arthurian legends. Guinevere was the legendary Queen consort of King Arthur. She was said to have fallen in love with her husband’s knight Sir Lancelot. Their betrayal of the king ultimately led to the downfall of the kingdom.

    This famous love triangle has been the theme of many literary, music and film adaptations.

    Tristan and Isolde

    The sad story of Tristan and Isolde, also set in Arthurian times, has been retold countless times. Isolde was a daughter of the king of Ireland, betrothed to the King of Cornwall, who sent his cousin Tristan to escort Isolde to Cornwall. During the voyage, Tristan and Isolde fell in love. She did go on to marry the king, but it didn’t do either of them any good, and of course, they both died of a broken heart.

    Abelard and Heloise

    They are famous for their letters, the apotheosis of their great love. Abelard was an outstanding scholar in twelfth-century France and Heloise’s tutor, appointed by her uncle. They fell in love, conceived a child and secretly married. The enraged uncle sent Heloise to a convent and had Abelard castrated. Abelard became a monk, Heloise a nun, but they remained in (platonic) love.

    Next week: Cupid's (slightly) better attempts and one stellar example...

    Pages for Book Lovers

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Today we treat you to a mish-mash of things strange, wonderful, and amusing that caught our eyes this week. Enjoy a few fun book links we've come across recently, along with timely reading suggestions.

    Book vs. movie?

    I'm one of those people who often enjoys the book more than the movie adaptation... If you're like me, you'll want to hurry up and read these titles before the movie versions are released in 2013:

    See a longer list here:

    Books to read before the movie comes out (on Shine).

    Judging by the cover?

    Sometimes you'll find a book with a cover that just perfectly introduces the story inside... and sometimes, you'll find one that is so completely and incomprehensibly mismatched to the story or content of a book that you would never believe the publisher had read the book!

    First, here are three that I think fit well and beautifully introduce the contents:

    ...and now for some egregious examples of the opposite effect, have a look at:

    Inappropriate book covers at Jezebel.com

    Just for fun...

    To round things off, here's another link to make you smile:

    Hilariously weird books at AbeBooks.

    Debut Novels

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    I've always enjoyed reading debut novels, if only for the reason that it's not easy to get published and promoted unless you really have something special in your writing. It can be unpredictable, reading something from a new author, but if you discover your next favourite up-and-coming literary star, think about the rewards! You can look forward to whatever they come out with in years to come with the confidence of knowing it will be a worthwhile read.

    Without giving away any of the plot details, here is a list of debut novels that have been gaining accolades. Just click on a book cover to read a summary or place a hold.

    Off the Shelf - "Gwen" by Carolyn Pogue

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    At ten years old, Gwen is happy living with her father, albeit in dire poverty. At eleven years old, she is destitute. Author Carolyn Pogue wrote Gwen as a tribute to her grandmother, a “Home Child”, one of a hundred thousand children sent to Canada as indentured labourers.

    Gwen has an adventurous attitude that makes the best of all circumstances. Her vision of Canada comes from the poetry of Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk princess, poet and dramatic performer. Gwen had seen Johnson perform on her tenth birthday when her father smuggled her backstage in a London theatre. As a consequence, Gwen’s most precious possession is a book of Johnson’s haunting poems of the Canadian landscape. For her, a chance to go to Canada seems to be a dream come true.

    In Ontario, Gwen’s assignment as a maid in an upper-middle class family turns her dream to ashes – for a while at least. She is treated as an inferior servant, and finally provoked beyond bearing by male expectations, Gwen runs away through the countryside. In a surreal journey by foot, she sees herself experiencing first-hand the poetic visions painted by Pauline Johnson’s words. As she returns to “civilization”, the town, she finds the strength of character to be her own advocate, and she eventually wins the family she deserves. All is well.

    This novel was written for young adults, thus Carolyn Pogue has treated many difficult issues that confronted Home Children with a light touch. Nevertheless, the narrative is a good one for parents to share with young teenagers. The gentle history lessons could inform both generations while they marvel at the resilience of the adventurous Gwen.

    Just released in the fall was the sequel, West Wind Calling, set in Calgary.

    Judith Umbach

    Book Review: Habibi by Craig Thompson

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Habibi by Craig Thompson

    Whether you're a regular reader of graphic novels or someone who has never picked one up before, Habibi by Craig Thompson will draw you in, and the gorgeous illustrations will stick with you long after putting the book down... I had read a number of good reviews of this title, then placed my hold (at that time it was still on order) and waited. Finally, long after I had forgotten why I wanted to read this and what it was about, it showed up for me, like a surprise gift showing up in the mail. It was worth the wait!

    From the book's description:

    From the internationally acclaimed author of Blankets ("A triumph for the genre." -- Library Journal), a highly anticipated new graphic novel. Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth--and frailty--of their connection. At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

    The graphic novels I enjoy the most are usually memoirs or those that recreate the magic of fairytales and highlight the joy of a beautiful page or a wonderful storyteller. These are a few of my favourites:

    Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    The Arrival by Shaun Tan

    Maus by Art Spiegelman

    Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

    The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar

    Zahra's Paradise by Amir & Khalil

    From Tolkien’s Cauldron

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    “The truth is that in this book a number of good things, never before united, have come together: a fund of humour, an understanding of children, and a happy fusion of the scholar's with the poet's grasp of mythology... The professor has the air of inventing nothing. He has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity that is worth oceans of glib ‘originality’".

    C. S. Lewis, friend of Tolkien and author of The Chronicles of Narnia

    Before you go to the theatre to see Peter Jackson's Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, stop by your local library and borrow The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, one of the most beloved children’s (and adult's) books about coming-of-age and unusual heroes.

    Get your mind in shape, the gyms are too busy.

    by Luke - 0 Comment(s)

    As we all start a new year with new resolutions that we may or may not have already broken, I got to thinking about books I've read in the past that have inspired me to change or at least attempt change. I've never read any books that are specifically classified as "self-help", but I've been inspired by characters in some of my favourite novels. Whether it's Yossarian escaping from the absurdity of the army by attempting to float home on a rubber raft in the end of Catch-22 or Josef Kavalier jumping off of the Empire state building in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I'm always impressed when characters take bold risks and buck the system.

    Some non-fiction titles have also helped make sense of the world around me and provide clarity on subjects I was unfamiliar with. All of Malcolm Gladwell's books have been incredibly informative and uplifting in their directness. (It also helps to know that I can master anything with 10 000 hours of practice.) Freakanomics showed me that applying some economic principles to things outside of their general usage, can lead to some wonderful and enlightening results.

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was first published in 1974 and it tells the story of a middle aged man travelling by motorcycle with his son Chris and some friends from Minnesota to California. The story starts off like a travelogue, with the main character musing about the joys of travelling by motorcycle and how important it is to appreciate your natural surroundings. It's no surprise that the main character brings a copy of Walden with him on his trip. At first glance it appears as if Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will simply talk on and on about returning to a simpler time and how we're merely slaves to our go go lifestyle, but Pirsig has a lot more to say. Eventually, the main character starts to have some mechanical problems and he's forced to do some work on his bike. Based on his work on the motorcycle, the author puts forth a philosophy for better living based on his definition of "quality". According to Pirsig, a thoughtful and methodical approach to the work you do can result in a greater sense of ownership and accomplishment. This idea doesn't only apply to mechanical work but all work we take the time to do well.

    Some critics have referred to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as being hokey and slightly dated but to me it has never felt more timely. We all strive to find meaning in our jobs and this can be especially difficult if your current career doesn't have any visible results at the end of each day. So if you're looking for a deeper read this new year, you should pick up a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    On my reading list: 2012

    by Sonya - 1 Comment(s)

    If you're like me, you'll have a big list of books from 2012 that you'd like to read, but haven't gotten around to. Maybe you've been reading reviews, or you were waiting to see what Santa brought you... Well, now is the perfect time to catch up on the best 2012 books that you haven't yet read. Here's a sampling of what's on MY list:

    The Red House by Mark Haddon

    I've enjoyed everything I've read from this author, so this one makes my list. Here are a few lines from the Summary (Hint: look for the Summary tab in the detailed view in our Catalogue--most fiction titles come with a Summary and Reviews!) to get you interested:

    "A dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family, from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt."

    Y by Marjorie Celona

    Canadian author. Debut novel. These words almost always pique my interest. And the clincher? Read on:

    "In her stunning debut, the sometimes sad, sometimes comic picaresque tale of a foundling raised in foster care on Vancouver Island, Marjorie Celona has greated a world so rich and full that every line seems to confirm something that has already happened. Her prose has an inevitable, ineluctable quality, cohesion twinned with the unexpected and amazing." Sara O'Leary for the Globe & Mail

    The Magic of Saida by M. G. Vassanji

    This Canadian author is on my "don't miss" list, and has been for a while. I'm just waiting for my hold to arrive!

    "The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal's journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood--mysteries compounded by the fact that Kamal is the son of an absent Indian father from a well-to-do family and a Swahili African mother of slave ancestry... This complex, revelatory, sweeping and shocking book, is a towering testament to the magical literary powers of M.G. Vassanji."

    Everybody has Everything by Katrina Onstad

    This Canadian author's name is familiar although I haven't read her work before:

    "Combining a pitch-perfect, whip-smart dissection of contemporary urban life with a fresh and perceptive examination of our individual and collective ambivalence towards parenthood, [this novel] balances tragedy and comedy with verve and flair, and is destined to be one of Canada's most talked-about novels of 2012. After a car crash leaves their friend Marcus dead and his wife Sarah in a coma, Ana and James are shocked to discover that they have become the legal guardians of a 2½-year-old, Finn. Finn's crash-landing in their lives throws into high relief deeply rooted, and sometimes long-hidden, truths about themselves, both individually and as a couple."

    Are you my Mother by Alison Bechdel

    Another of my favourites, this time a graphic novelist:

    "A brilliantly told graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel becoming the artist her mother wanted to be. Fun Home was a pop culture & literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale...this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel's childhood...& who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was 7. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers about the mother-daughter gulf."

    Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

    If you have time to wait for a thriller, join the hold list! Voted best Mystery/Thriller of the year in the GoodReads Choice Awards 2012:

    "Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work 'draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.' Gone Girl's toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn."

    What's on YOUR list? Leave us a few titles in the comments.

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