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    Book Club in a Bag

    Staff Picks - Stuart McLean's Vinyl Café

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)


    Canadian author Stuart McLean is the host of the CBC Radio show The Vinyl Cafe. I had often heard of The Vinyl Cafe, but hadn't actually listened to any of the stories until I caught the show in passing while listening to the radio one day. I immediately discovered why the show is so popular. The stories are laugh-out-loud funny, and Stuart McLean's voice is perfect for telling them.

    The stories center around Dave, the owner of the Vinyl Café, a second-hand record shop in Toronto (motto “We May Not Be Big, But We’re Small”), his wife, Morley, and their children, Stephanie and Sam. Dave is always well-meaning but inescapably prone to trouble, whether it’s accidentally changing the outgoing message on a neighbour’s answering machine, trying out a coffin, mixing up the alcoholic and non-alcoholic punch bowls at a holiday party, or testing out a neighbour’s new bicycle while it is mounted on the roof of said neighbour’s car. In the stories you will also meet Dave's friends and neighbours - Kenny Wong, owner of a Scottish Meat Pie shop, Ted and Polly Anderson, Rasheeda and Ahmeer, and Bert and Mary Turlington.

    Author Stuart McLean performs the stories live, so you can hear the reaction of the audience. The stories are also short (about 20 minutes each) and family friendly, so they are perfect for trips with children or with grandparents in the car. They are also a good way to pass the time if you happen to be at an airport, or are stuck in an RV on a rainy day. (And every family member will end up with a favourite story!)

    The Calgary Public Library has several Vinyl Café book CDs, and we also have Vinyl Café books if you prefer your short stories in print form. (The books of stories from The Vinyl Cafe have won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times.)

    Storyland (Book CD)

    Coast to Coast Story Service (Book CD)

    Home From the Vinyl Cafe: a year of stories (Book)

    Extreme Vinyl Cafe (Book)

    K. M.

    In Memoriam: Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)


    Ray Bradbury was best known for Fahrenheit 451, a dystopyan novel about about a totalitarian, anti-intellectual society where banned books are burned by 'firemen.' The title refers to the temperature at which paper ignites.

    "A giant of American literature, who helped popularize science fiction", he published more than 500 works, including The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury once said he did not want to predict the future - but sometimes wanted to prevent it.

    He was 91 years old.

    All Things Royal

    by Suzen - 2 Comment(s)

    When I was a kid, we would have to sing “God Save the Queen” every morning; along with “O Canada” and the first and last verses of the “Ode to Newfoundland” (we were a very choral and nationalistic bunch). There was a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the main foyer of the school and she’d peer down at us with those matronly royal blue eyes as if she was actually watching everything we did. There was a time when I had myself convinced her eyes actually followed me around the room, like one of those paintings on the walls of a haunted house. She was always watching…

    As Elizabeth II celebrates her 60th year of reign this month, I don’t feel like I should send her a card but I do find myself thinking about all the historical fiction I read that are set in within the varying eras of royal life in Britain. From Tudor England to the Victorian Age, the royal families are steeped in betrayals, secrets, lies and unceasingly complicated plot twists. And the best historical novels, while grounded in fact, take liberties to expose the human side of those famous historical figures.

    So, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I present to the court the following list of royally inspired novels. May you read them with a hot cup of tea and a stately sense of self!

    The Queen of Last HopesThe Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

    Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, does not want immortality. She does not need glory. All she desires is what rightfully belongs to her family – and that is the throne of England. Her husband the king cannot rule, but the enemies who doubt her will and dispute her valor underestimate the force of a mother’s love. Her son is the House of Lancaster’s heir and last hope, and her fight for him will shake the crown forever. (Back cover)

    The Flaw in the BloodA Flaw in the Blood: a novel of suspense by Stephanie Barron

    Windsor Castle, 1861. For the second time in over twenty years, Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald has been summoned by the Queen. The first time, he'd been a zealous young legal clerk, investigating what appeared to be a murderous conspiracy against her. Now he is a distinguished gentleman at the top of his profession. And the Queen is a woman in the grip of fear. For on this chilly night, her beloved husband, Prince Albert, lies dying. With her future clouded by grief, Fitzgerald can't help but notice the Queen is curiously preoccupied with the past. Yet why, and how he can help, is unclear. His bewilderment deepens when the royal coach is violently overturned, nearly killing him and his brilliant young ward, Dr. Georgiana Armistead, niece of the late Dr. Snow, a famed physician who'd attended none other than Her Majesty. Fitzgerald is sure of one thing: the Queen's carriage was not attacked at random--it was a carefully chosen target. But was it because he rode in it? Fitzgerald won't risk dying in order to find out. He'll leave London and take Georgiana with him--if they can get out alive. For soon the pair find themselves hunted. Little do they know they each carry within their past hidden clues to a devastating royal they must untangle if they are to survive. From the streets of London to the lush hills of Cannes, from the slums of St. Giles to the gilded halls of Windsor Castle, A Flaw in the Blood delivers a fascinating tale of pursuit, and the artful blend of period detail and electrifying intrigue that only the remarkable Stephanie Barron can devise. (Syndetics)

    The Bones of AvalonThe Bones of Avalon: being edited from the most private documents of Dr John Dee, astrologer and consultant to Queen Elizabeth by Phillip Rickman

    A country divided. A newly crowned, desperately vulnerable young queen. Can one man uncover the secret that will save her throne? It is 1560, and Elizabeth Tudor has been on the throne for a year. Dr. John Dee, at 32 already acclaimed throughout Europe, is her astrologer and consultant in the hidden arts... a controversial appointment in these days of superstition and religious strife. When dangerous questions of Elizabeth's legitimacy arise, the mild, bookish Dee finds himself summoned before William Cecil, who tasks him with an important mission. Along with Robert Dudley, Dee's daring friend and former student who is also rumored to be the Queen's secret lover, Dee must travel to the famously mystical town of Glastonbury to find the missing bones of King Arthur. Once these long-lost relics, the embodiment of a legacy vitally important to the Tudor line, are ensconced in London, doubts as to the Queen's supremacy as the rightful Tudor heir will be dispelled. But the quest quickly turns deadly--Dee and Dudley arrive in Glastonbury to discover the town mourning the gruesome execution of its abbot, and more death soon follows at the old abbey. Racing to uncover the secrets buried there, Dee finds himself caught in the tangled roots of English magic, unexpected violence, the breathless stirring of first love... and the cold heart of a complex plot against Elizabeth. (Syndetics)

    The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

    Briskly original and subversively funny, this novella from popular British writer Bennett (Untold Stories; Tony-winning play The History Boys) sends Queen Elizabeth II into a mobile library van in pursuit of her runaway corgis and into the reflective, observant life of an avid reader. Guided by Norman, a former kitchen boy and enthusiast of gay authors, the queen gradually loses interest in her endless succession of official duties and learns the pleasure of such a "common" activity. With "the dawn of her sensibility... mistaken for the onset of senility," plots are hatched by the prime minister and the queen's staff to dispatch Norman and discourage the queen's preoccupation with books. Ultimately, it is her own growing self-awareness that leads her away from reading and toward writing, with astonishing results. Bennett has fun with the proper behavior and protocol at the palace, and the few instances of mild coarseness seem almost scandalous. There are lessons packed in here, but Bennett doesn't wallop readers with them. It's a fun little book. (Publisher’s Weekly Review)

    Guilty Pleasure Reads

    by Suzen - 1 Comment(s)

    I could tell you that I just finished reading a superb historical Canadian fiction, Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers. The heroine of the story, a young seamstress from France struggling to survive the Canadian wilds, gives remarkable insight to filles du roi, or The King’s Daughters – the 800 women sent overseas to help settle and populate New France under the orders of Louis XIV during the 17th century.

    I could also tell you about one of my favourite books, February by Lisa Moore, whose heart wrenching story paints a portrait of Helen, a woman struggling to cope with the drowning death of her husband during the sinking of the Ocean Ranger on the coast of Newfoundland in the early 1980s.

    Kiss of Crimson by Lara AdrianThe truth of the matter is I could spend hours talking about all the insightful, thought-provoking and inspirational books I’ve read and I can make myself sound really smart in the process. However, that’s not what I’m going to do today. I’m going to be completely honest with you, dear readers, and admit to something I rarely even admit to myself…

    I read paranormal romances.

    There. I said it.

    Sexy vampires, time-traveling highlanders and feisty quick-talking witches, even the odd sensual spiritual encounter - I like ‘em unpredictable, juicy and audaciously over the top. Right now I am obsessed with the Midnight Breed novels by Lara Adrian, an epic series that is filled with great action, suspense and seductive love stories. The series follows the men of the Order, a vigilante group of vampires who kill Rogues (vampires who have succumbed to a bloodlust addiction) and relentlessly fight to preserve the safety of vampire and mankind alike. The warriors of the Order are sexy and brutish men who love their women as fiercely as they fight their enemies. These books are dangerously addictive because of the fast-paced central storyline that threads through the series and the romantic side stories that flesh out all the characters. Think of it as a soap opera…a sexy vampire laden soap opera.

    I will admit that my proclaimed guilty pleasure reads don’t rate super high on my personal list of intellectually-stimulating books but isn’t that the point? I read paranormal romances because they are the literary equivalent to eating potato chips – they may not be the best thing for me but holy smokes are they deliciously addictive!

    I’m sure there are some of you out there laughing at me right now but I know that even if you won’t admit it, you have your own guilty pleasure reads too! Sure, they may not involve a 900 year old vampire living in an underground compound in present-day Boston who seems to spend his time either methodically killing rogue vampires or ravenously loving women with supernatural powers…but you know what I mean.

    I hope you’ll all stay tuned to the Readers’ Nook blog throughout the summer because there are more guilty pleasure reads on the way. If you have your own books that you hate to love, leave the titles in the comments so we can add them to our lists. Remember, there’s no such thing as a “bad” book!

    A Look Inside

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)


    The Murderer's Daughters

    Randy Susan Meyers


    Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father propels them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girls' self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly. Lulu had been warned not let her father in, but when he shows up drunk, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past Lulu, who then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help, but discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her five-year-old sister, Merry, and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill himself.

    Lulu and Merry are effectively orphaned by their mother's death and father's imprisonment. The girls' relatives refuse to care for them and abandon them to a terrifying group home. Even as they plot to be taken in by a well-to-do family, they come to learn they'll never really belong anywhere or to anyone - that all they have to hold onto is each other.

    For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. One spends her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled - by fear, by duty - to keep him close. Both dread the day his attempts to win parole may meet with success.

    A beautifully written, compulsively readable debut, The Murderer's Daughters is a testament to the power of family and the ties that bind us together and tear us apart.



    A Look Inside

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    Luka and the Fire of Life

    Salman Rushdie


    In early reviews of this new Rushdie novel readers were warned not to approach Luka and the Fire of Life as Rushdie’s next ‘important’ work. This was merely another book written for his children, as 1990’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories was. For those of us who think 'Sea of Stories is one of the best novels ever, the arrival of Luka and the Fire of Life is incredibly exciting.

    Rushdie delivers a fast-paced adventure through a magic land that bursts with color, mythology and philosophy. Luka must steal fire from the 9th level of his father’s imagination to save the great storyteller’s draining life. Impossible as the mission seems, the hero-boy is accompanied by a cast of impressive and helpful friends, including a dog named Bear and a bear named Dog.

    Any other writer would need at least a thousand pages to tell this story. ‘Fire of Life comes in under 220. A reader has to suspend their disbelief to follow such deep, intricate imagination, but amidst the chaos it’s easy to have faith in Rushdie’s masterful prose. And the ride is definitely worth it.

    P. R.




    May is Asian Heritage Month...

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    ... so what better time to read a great book by an author of Asian descent, or set in Asia.

    With such a vast and rich tapestry of countries, cultures and languages, this is only the tiniest sampling of the compelling fiction available.

    The World we Found by Thrity Umrigar


    The acclaimed author of The Space Between Us and The Weight of Heaven returns with a breathtaking, skillfully wrought story of four women and the unbreakable ties they share. As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But much has changed over the past thirty years. Following different paths, the quartet drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared. Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms even if her ex-husband and daughter do not understand her choices. In the course of their journey to reconnect, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta must confront the truths of their lives'acknowledge long-held regrets, face painful secrets and hidden desires, and reconcile their idealistic past and their compromised present. And they will have to decide what matters most, a choice that may just help them reclaim the extraordinary world they once found. Exploring the enduring bonds of friendship and the power of love to change lives, and offering an unforgettable portrait of modern India's nation struggling to bridge economic, religious, gender, and generational divides, The World We Found is a dazzling masterwork from the remarkable Thrity Umrigar.



    Custody by Manju Kapur

    When Shagun leaves Raman for another man, a bitter legal battle ensues. The custody of their two young children is thrown into question and Shagun must decide what price she will pay for freedom. Meanwhile, Ishita, a failed marriage behind her, finds another chance at happiness with Raman. But when the courts threaten the security of her new family, she decides to fight for it – whatever the cost. From prize-winning author Manju Kapur, Custody is an intimate portrait of marriages that disintegrate and intertwine, with heart-rending consequences.





    Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid


    At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting . . .

    Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

    But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.



    After Dark by Haruki Murakami

    A short, sleek novel of encounters set in the witching hours of Tokyo between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami's masterworks: The Wind-Up Bird, Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. At its center are two sisters: Yuri, a fashion model sleeping her way into oblivion; and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny's into lives radically alien to her own: those of a jazz trombonist who claims they've met before; a burly female "love hotel" manager and her maidstaff; and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These "night people" are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Yuri's slumber-mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime - will either restore or annihilate her. After Dark moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency - the interplay between self-expression and understanding, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami's trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery.



    My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk


    From Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel Prize laureat and one of the most important and acclaimed writers at work today, comes a thrilling new novel — part murder mystery, part love story — set amid the perils of religious repression in sixteenth-century Istanbul.

    When the Sultan commissions a great book to celebrate his royal self and his extensive dominion, he directs Enishte Effendi to assemble a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed, and no one in the elite circle can know the full scope or nature of the project.

    Panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears, and the Sultan demands answers within three days. The only clue to the mystery—or crime?—lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Has an avenging angel discovered the blasphemous work? Or is a jealous contender for the hand of Enishte’s ravishing daughter, the incomparable Shekure, somehow to blame?

    Orhan Pamuk’sMy Name Is Red is at once a fantasy and a philosophical puzzle, a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.



    The Feng Shui Detective Goes West by Nury Vittachi


    Feng shui master C.F. Wong has never been to the West, but he knows he doesn't like it. It is unquestionably full of Westerners, with their large noses and their disgusting food and their habit-he has seen it many times in movies-of fighting with each other on top of speeding trains. And yet C.F. is going to England. The Family has been having a bad time. The Family needs a feng shui master. Only Wong can bring balance to Buckingham Palace.





    If you've read your fill and are looking for more cultural experiences,

    have a look at the ImaginASIAN 2012 events calendar for some great ideas!




    Spring is in the air

    by Suzen - 0 Comment(s)

    I don’t know how it happened but this winter I accumulated so many books you’d swear I was trying to insulate my house with adult fiction. Faced with the reality that there is no way I can read 50 books in a three week period, I have to weed my pile of great reads. So, in the throes of spring cleaning, I am airing out the “To Read” pile that keeps growing on my bookshelf to leave room for fresh, new-to-me reads that take me out of my literary comfort zone. Spring is all about fresh beginnings, after all…

    Thematically linked by their titles and not necessarily by content, here are a few great reads that made it through my rigorous spring clean. Who knows, maybe they’ll find a home on your “To Read” shelf, too!

    little bird by camilla way Little Bird by Camilla Way

    Three identities, no known name - and an obsessed pursuer from the past. Elodie grew up in the forest in France without speech. Snatched at the age of three by a troubled mute man, all she learns is bird song. When she is found as a teenager, the media frenzy brings ‘Little Bird' to a famous American linguist. So Elodie grows up in another country, with a new identity in a household sometimes more hostile than the forest she left. When violence strikes, Elodie flees again, to London. She is determined to put the past behind her and lead a normal life. But what happens if someone from her past won't let her go? What happens if someone falls in love with her? Little Bird is an extraordinary rich, wholly absorbing, psychological novel about identity, language and love.

    creationCreation: a novel by Katherine Govier

    In mesmerizing prose, novelist Katherine Govier explores this fateful summer in the life of a man as untamed as his subjects. Running two steps ahead of the bailiff, alternately praised and reviled by critics, John James Audubon set himself the audacious task of drawing, from nature, every bird in North America. The result was his masterpiece, The Birds of America, which he and his family published and sold to subscribers on both sides of the Atlantic. In June 1833, he enlisted his son and a party of young gentlemen to set sail for nesting grounds no ornithologist had ever seen, in the treacherous passage between Newfoundland and Labrador. Fogbound at Little Natashquan, he encounters Captain Henry Wolsey Bayfield of the Royal Navy, whose mission is to chart the labyrinthine coast to make it safe for sea traffic. Bayfield is an exacting and duty-bound aristocrat; the charismatic Audubon spins tales to disguise his dubious parentage and lack of training. Bayfield is a confirmed bachelor; Audubon is a married man in love with his young assistant. But the captain becomes the artist's foil and his measuring stick, his judge and, oddly, the recipient of his long-held secrets. In this atmospheric and enthralling novel, Katherine Govier recreates the summer in which "the world's greatest living bird artist" finally understood the paradox embedded in his art: that the act of creation was also an act of destruction.

    spring Spring by David Szalay

    James is a man with a checkered past – sporadic entrepreneur, one-time film producer, almost a dot-com millionaire – now alone in a flat in Bloomsbury, running a shady horse-racing tips operation. Katherine is a manager at a luxury hotel, a job she’d intended to leave years ago, and is separated from her husband. In 2006, at the end of the money-for-nothing years, their chance meeting leads to an awkward tryst, and James tries to make sense of a relationship where “no” means “maybe” and a “yes” can never be taken for granted. (Summary from back cover)

    birds in fall Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler

    One fall night off the coast of a remote island in Nova Scotia, an airplane plummets to the sea as an innkeeper watches from the shore. Miles away in New York City, ornithologist Ana Gathreaux works in a darkened room full of sparrows, testing their migratory instincts. Soon, Ana will be bound for Trachis Island, along with other relatives of victims who converge on the site of the tragedy. As the search for survivors envelops the island, the mourning families gather at the inn, waiting for news of those they have lost. Here among strangers, and watched over by innkeeper Kevin Gearns, they form an unusual community, struggling for comfort and consolation. A Taiwanese couple sets out fruit for their daughter's ghost. A Bulgarian man plays piano in the dark, sending the music to his lost wife, a cellist. Two Dutch teenagers, a brother and sister, rage against their parents' death. An Iranian exile, mourning his niece, recites the Persian tales that carry the wisdom of centuries. At the center of Birds in Fall lies Ana Gathreaux, whose story Brad Kessler tells with deep compassion: from her days in the field with her husband, observing and banding migratory birds, to her enduring grief and gradual reengagement with life. Kessler's knowledge of the natural world, music, and myth enriches every page of this hauntingly beautiful and moving novel about solitude, love, losing your way, and finding something like home.

    Maurice Sendak (1928 - 2012)

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)


















    Off the Shelf: The Ghost Brush

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    A few months ago, I reviewed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell, a novel about the Dutch enclave off the coast of Japan. The Shogun restricted the foreign concession to an island near Nagasaki in the eighteenth century. To my surprise, The Ghost Brush by Katherine Govier is a sort of literary twin because it describes the lives of the Japanese, with the Dutch making highly regulated visits to the mainland at the discretion of the Shogun. Although The Ghost Brush takes place over a hundred years later, the extreme control over the lives of the population is, if anything, more onerous.

    Oei is the daughter of a master Japanese painter, Hokusai, who gains international fame via the despised Dutch. However, in Japan art is a family craft.Oei and his apprentices all participate in the painting of Hokusai’s masterpieces. As Hokusai ages, Oei takes a greater role in her father’s painting, until in his very old age she paints new artworks in his style to raise funds to keep the household solvent. Oei is a ghost in the official records, barely seen behind the reputation of her father.

    Over the years, Oei develops her own style and gradually gains commissions for her own paintings. In a time when women were virtually obliged to be subservient and to marry, Oei stays on the dangerous path of artist. The Shogun’s officers declare and enforce sweeping laws against artists and publishers, correctly discerning that paintings and books contain barely disguised criticism of establishment figures. But even the officials need entertainment, so they hypocritically patronize the district of prostitutes, nightclubs and restaurants. Oei straddles this night-world and the slums where she and her father so often relocated his studio to hide from the officials.

    Katherine Govier entertains us with a magical story of historical importance, gleaned from ghostly records. Her beautiful language paints scenes in the seething city as well as in the forested countryside. The details that build the action convey how Japanese painting is done and why it is universally admired.

    Judith Umbach

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