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    Book Club in a Bag

    Wintery Reads

    by Dieu - 0 Comment(s)

    Winter has always appealed to the secret hermit in me. Although I complain about the snow and ice just as much as anybody, I do love having even more good reasons to stay inside with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and a good book. Winter allows you to be a homebody with no guilt. While you’re not shopping for gifts or planning your holidays, here are some great wintery books to cozy up with.

    The Left Hand of Darkness book cover Snow Falling on Cedars book cover

    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

    A science fiction classic about a human emissary, Genly Ai, who travels to “Winter,” an alien planet named for its extremely cold climate. Genly’s mission is to convince the alien race to share ideas and technology with the rest of the human intergalactic civilization. Things are complicated by the fact that the alien race is essentially genderless, and Genly must navigate this completely different culture.

    Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

    A Japanese American, Kabuo Miyamoto, is charged with murder after the suspicious death of a fisherman on San Piedro Island. As the trial ensues we are pulled into a love story that goes back to World War II. Through flashbacks, we discover that the journalist covering the trial, and the wife of Miyamoto were once childhood lovers, but were separated by the internment of Japanese citizens. Evocative and beautifully written, Snow Falling on Cedars is a suspenseful mystery and love story in one.

    Blankets book cover In Cold Blood book cover

    Blankets: an illustrated novel by Craig Thompson

    One of my absolute favourite graphic novels, Blankets is an autobiographical story about the author’s coming of age. Craig Thompson’s illustrations are full of movement and brushwork, realistic while also retaining a cartoon-like appearance. His story of growing up in an isolated part of Wisconsin, his search for love, and his doubts about his faith is heartbreaking, poignant and sentimental.

    In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences by Truman Capote

    In 1959 in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family are murdered in their home. Truman Capote decides to travel to Holcomb with his friend and fellow author, Harper Lee, who will later publish To Kill a Mockingbird, to write about the crime. Taking thousands of notes, they interview the killers, towns-people, and investigators to reconstruct the events. Considered by many critics to be the first non-fiction novel, and the second biggest selling true crime book ever written, In Cold Blood is a riveting account of the psychology of the killers and the effect of the mass-murders on the small community.

    Great Science Fiction Reads

    by Dieu - 3 Comment(s)

    I must confess that for a very long time I had a prejudice against science fiction. I thought of science fiction books as all the same with their usual spaceships and aliens. Science fiction just didn’t seem like real literature to me until I discovered books that, yes, involved aliens and space travel and other common elements of the genre, but were as moving, fascinating, thought provoking and compelling as anything I’ve ever read.

    Expand your summer reading list and your mind by including some great science fiction reads. If you have never read science fiction, I recommend trying out these outstanding books to give you a sense of what you’ve been missing, and hopefully have you wanting more.

    The Sparrow book cover

    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

    Set in 2019, the novel is about humanity’s first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization and the ethical, moral, religious and philosophical complications that can arise with such an encounter.

    When an observatory picks up radio broadcasts of music coming from Alpha Centauri, the nearest star in our solar system, a Jesuit missionary order decides to organize an expedition to the alien planet. A crew made up of agnostics, believers, and scientists is formed. Led by Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest and linguist, they embark on their journey with idealistic hopes of meeting intelligent life beyond their own world. Upon their arrival on the planet, which will come to be known as Rakhat, the travelers discover that the planet is occupied by two different alien races that are hostile to each other, the Runa and the Jana’ata. The humans settle among the Runa, learn their language, study their customs, and over time become friends with them. However, through seemingly harmless and well intentioned actions, such as introducing to the aliens the growing of coffee beans, the humans set off a series of disastrous events which will cause them to question their own morality and humanity.

    Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award, The Sparrow is a powerful, suspenseful and provocative read.

    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    Depressingly beautiful, devastating, and emotional, Never Let Me Go is one of my all time favourite novels. The novel starts off as a female coming-of-age story, but turns out to be something so much more profound and unsettling. Set in 1990s England, the story is told from the point of view of Kathy H., who is now 31 and recalling her times at Hailsham, the boarding school where she, along with her fellow classmates, grew up and were "told and not told" about their secret conditions.

    I hesitate to say more about the plot of the novel, so as to not spoil the secret hidden at the center of the story. Without saying more about what happens, I can say that Ishiguro's descriptions of Kathy H.'s memories of her childhood and coming of age into adulthood are restrained, taut, and dream-like. Never Let Me Go is a novel that raises controversial questions about what makes us human, what are the limits of scientific progress, and the value of human life.

    Never Let Me Go book cover

    Einstein

    I consider Alan Lightman’s slim novel, Einstein's Dreams, as made up of a little bit of magic realism and science fiction all dashed together. The story begins with the young Einstein as a patent clerk who is secretly working on his theory of relativity. When Einstein heads to bed, we take part in his dreams. These dreams make up a collection of stories of different worlds where the nature of time changes. For example in one story, time is circular and people are destined to repeat the same events and actions over and over again. The stories are imaginative, poetic, philosophical and whimsical. After reading Einstein’s Dreams I found myself going back to certain phrases and ideas that were like little poems:

    “Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but is noble to live life and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.”

    It's a Cat's World

    by Dieu - 2 Comment(s)

    It seems to me that in recent times cats have become the internet celebrities of the animal kingdom. Obvious examples like the famous Grumpy Cat, aka, Tardar Sauce, with his own line of books, t-shirts and plush toys, the video of a cat saving a little boy from a dog attack that quickly went viral, and whole blogs devoted to the weird and cute world of cats have proven that most of us have gone officially cat crazy.

    I admit, I am also one of those guilty of ailurophilia (a love of cats). If like me, you can’t get enough of anything cat related, why not peel yourself away from the infnite scroll of the internet and dip into some literary fiction about these lovely creatures?

    I Am a Cat book cover

    I always think of cats as mysterious creatures who tend to treat us humans with some aloofness. Soseki Natsume’s novel, I Am a Cat, hilariously imagines what exactly cats think about us. Set in Meiji era Japan, the novel follows a cat who spends most of his time observing human nature, making wisecracks on what he sees as the clear inferiority and silliness of humans, and in general providing amusing stories of the activities going on around him. One of the more humorous bits in the novel:

    This must have been the very first time that ever I set eyes on a human being. The impression of oddity, which I then received, still remains today. First of all, the face that should be decorated with hair is as bald as a kettle. Since that day I have met many a cat but never have I come across such deformity.

    I consider The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, a book recently added to the Library’s collection, as a little gem of a novel. A New York Times bestseller, and a bestseller in France, The Guest Cat is about two writers, a young couple, who become friends with a neighbor’s cat. One day, the cat they name Chibi, visits them. Eventually, she makes their little cottage a second home and over time Chibi tints their lives with happiness and light. Like a cat, Hiraide’s novel has a relaxing charm and grace to it in its quietness. A novel about love and loss, and the everyday brief lovely moments of life, The Guest Cat is one of those rare books that stay with you over time.

    Other great reads for cat lovers:

    The Guest Cat book cover

    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.

    Your Fall Reading List is Here

    by Sonya - 1 Comment(s)

    Now that the "September rush" is over—Yikes! October already!—are you looking for something new to read? Find out which books are the most talked about, read reviews, and see what will go on your own reading list. I've compiled a few links to various recommended reading lists, and for once, I've also finished reading one of the hot new titles that appears on several of the lists! So, I'll start with my own recommendations and go from there.

    Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam completes her dystopian trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. [Spoiler alert: if you haven't read them, stop reading this right now and go read Oryx and Crake!] The first two novels presented alternate, and interwoven, viewpoints of the same timeline of events in a chillingly believable future version of our world. Genetically modified organisms and genetic-enhancement cosmetic procedures abound; powerful "Corps" control money, media, politics, and the lives and deaths of the nameless masses trying to survive the toxic pleeblands. Various secret groups and splinter cults try to undermine or avoid the influence of the Corps... and one young scientific genius, Crake, either madman or visionary, has had enough. Crake engineers both the mass extinction of humanity and the birth of a new type of human. MaddAddam continues the story as a handful of humans, together with the "Crakers," try to survive in the aftermath.

    If, like me, you are fascinated by the complex world and characters Atwood created in the first two novels, you have to read the third. What I loved about this novel is it allows us to discover the Crakers both as individuals and as a new culture, as this culture develops. There is also the thread of storytelling, and how it is linked to our legends and beliefs. Atwood is a master storyteller and weaves her magic once again in this novel. Along with the feeling of completion and melancholy having just finished reading MaddAddam, I also feel anticipation—time to go back to Oryx and Crake and read them all again.

    CBC Fall Reading List:

    On this list, you'll find both Atwood's latest and Lawrence Hill's Massey Lecture, Blood: the Stuff of Life. If you haven't read anything from Lawrence Hill, now is the perfect time! His fantastic novel The Book of Negroes, which I've blogged about before, is the chosen book for this year's One Book, One Calgary events.

     

    Quill & Quire Canadian:

    More notable Canadian fiction, including both new and familiar names.

    Quill & Quire International:

    Among new efforts from several big names, including Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Chuck Palanhiuk, the one that caught my eye is The Guts by Roddy Doyle, described as a sequel to his breakout novel The Commitments. This time around, the characters first introduced as young musicians in a band are middle aged family guys, and dealing with cancer. With Doyle's signature warmth and humour, it should be a good one.

     

    Publisher's Weekly Fall Books Preview:

    This extensive list (with reminders to check back as more titles are added) includes material for all ages, with links to more in-depth listings. One that caught my eye is a debut fiction novel from a True Crime writer. If that sounds interesting, check out The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton. The plot involves the kidnapping of a 13-year old girl.

    Oprah's Books into Movies:

    One of my all-time favourite novels, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, appears on this list. Personally, I always read the book first (and, truthfully, am often disappointed by movie adaptations), so if this one's slipped under your radar, now is the time to read it before the movie is released. Although categorized as a young adult novel, this one transcends age boundaries and has wide appeal. To paraphrase the summary in our catalogue: "[i]n superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time." This unforgettable novel, narrated by Death, is the story of a young girl living in a small German town in 1939.

     

    What's on your reading list this fall? Let us know in the comments.