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    Book Club in a Bag

    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.