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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.

    Books about Obsession

    by Dieu - 0 Comment(s)
    Enduring Love book cover

    Ian McEwan sits high up on my long list of favourite contemporary authors. Enduring Love was the second book of his that I had read many years ago. When I was putting together this post I instantly thought of Enduring Love, one of the most disturbing and yet fascinating books on obsessive love, fate, and on how the extremes of a man’s delusions can lead to the destruction of lives.

    The novel starts off with probably one of the most memorable beginnings of any book I have read. It begins with a freak accident involving a hot-air balloon in the middle of an English field with two witnesses, Joe Rose and his girlfriend, Clarissa. This event sparks a chain of events that come to haunt and menace Joe Rose, namely in the form of a man, Jed Parry, one of the persons who was involved in the incident on that day. Jed, inexplicably, sees the chance meeting between him and Joe as divinely fated, and proceeds to stalk Joe with the intention of bringing him to God. The stalking becomes more and more intense. As the plot takes you through the perceptions of both victim and pursuer, you start to question the stalker’s true feelings. Is he merely lonely, in love with Joe, insane or just a zealous religious fanatic? McEwan’s concise, yet cinematic writing describes the horrific events and misperceptions that unfold in a way that made it impossible for me to put this book down.

    During the summer, I made it a goal of mine to finally get around to reading Anna Karenina. As is my habit, I have my own obsession of buying books and then allowing them to sit in piles unread, sometimes for years. At over 800 pages, Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel may seem like a daunting book to read, but after the long haul, I have to say it was worth it.

    A brief description of Anna Karenina may mislead you into thinking that Tolstoy’s classic novel of doomed love as something not very original: a wealthy, beautiful aristocratic woman in an unhappy marriage falls in love with a handsome, young and dashing army officer. I have read many classic and Victorian novels, many of which were great reads, however, Anna Karenina far exceeds all of them. The character of Anna, one of the most famous literary female characters of all time, fascinated me. As the novel progresses, we see Anna Karenina transform from a sympathetic and enchanting woman, to a destructive, tormented and tragic figure as her obsessive love for Count Vronsky takes its toll on her life.

    The biggest surprise for me was in the secondary plot following the character of Konstantin Levin, a young man who is obsessed with the big questions of life. Levin throughout the novel is preoccupied with what it means to live a good life. In complete contrast to Anna, Levin is a sympathetic, warm, awkward character with an unrequited love. He goes through a journey of self-actualization that I found more satisfying and deeply affecting than Anna’s story.

    Anna Karenina book cover

    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

    Before I Go to Sleep [I] Die For You, Gone Girl

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn has been in high demand since its release a couple years ago. If you haven't read it (I haven't), here's a bit of the book's summary from the catalogue to get you interested:

    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.

    If you're already a fan of the smash hit, you might enjoy:

    Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

    What would you do if you woke up each morning with no memory of the strange man in your bed, and no spark of recognition for the middle-aged face looking back at you in the mirror? This is the life of Christine Lucas. Every morning she is newly disoriented, distraught, and the man named Ben she wakes with tells her that he is her husband and that she has suffered memory loss due to a vague accident in her past. But when she receives a call from her doctor, a neurologist she is apparently seeing without Ben's knowledge, she is directed to a journal she's been keeping about her life. And inside the journal she finds the words: Don't trust Ben written in her own handwriting. The suspense builds as Christine realizes nothing is as it seems.

    NoveList* also recommends:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Before I Go to Sleep, so I will be picking up Gone Girl the next time I'm looking for a page-turner! For avid readers, there can never be too many recommended titles... Check out the 10 Dark & Twisty Books for 'Gone Girl' Fans on flavorwire, and leave us your recommendation in the comments!

    *Find NoveList Plus content, including read-alike recommendations and reviews, in the catalogue, and don't miss out on the full NoveList Plus database in your E-Library under Reading & eBooks.

    Best Historical Fiction

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    If you're a historical fiction buff, this post is for you! There are so many recent releases that are generating a lot of interest, so how do you choose? I've compiled some lists to help you narrow it down:

    Or if you like to pick your books based on a beautiful or compelling cover, have a look at this Pinterest page.

    I haven't read any recent historical fiction, but there are a few fantastic novels I've read in the past that have always stayed with me. When I find a book like that, it creates that blissful experience: reading becomes like time travel, immersing me in the time and place and lives of the characters.

    I'll leave you with three of my all-time favourites:

    Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    A graphic novel memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, this classic of the genre presents a window into a time of social and political upheaval. The bold black and white visual style is matched by the author's open portrayal of her childhood in that time and place. The story continues in Persepolis 2. If you've never picked up a graphic novel, you may surprise yourself by enjoying this as much as any other historical novel.

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    This novel is both a window into India's past and a story of enduring friendship forged in difficult circumstances. The richness and complexity of the story is a match for that of its setting. From the catalogue summary:

    A Fine Balance , Rohinton Mistry's stunning internationally acclaimed bestseller, is set in mid-1970s India. It tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a "State of Internal Emergency." Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances - and their fates - become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen. Mistry's prose is alive with enduring images and a cast of unforgettable characters. Written with compassion, humour, and insight, A Fine Balance is a vivid, richly textured, and powerful novel written by one of the most gifted writers of our time.

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak


    Set in Nazi Germany of 1939, this story is narrated by Death. Leisel is drawn to the mysterious promise of books and reading, and sometimes can't help taking books. From the catalogue summary:

    The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist-books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

    What is your favourite historical novel? Leave a comment to share your suggestion!

    All Men Are Liars

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    ...is the title of a novel by Alberto Manguel:

    Set in Madrid in the late 1970s, Manguel's novel focuses on a group of refugees from the Argentinian Dirty War. At the center is first-time novelist Alejandro -Bevilacqua, who, shortly after the publication of his acclaimed In Praise of Lying, escapes in a panic from a publication party and later falls from a balcony to his death. The book takes the form of a series of journalistic interviews with several people who knew him. (Library Journal)

    Distinguished author Alberto Manguel will be speaking at the library on March 27th! This event is co-presented by the Calgary Public Library and the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program at the University of Calgary.

    When I visit his website, the words that jump off the screen refer to the power of words and the power of reading. This promises to be a fascinating evening for fans, readers, writers and... does that leave anyone else?

    If you'd like to discover (or rediscover) this author before you meet him, here are a few of your many choices:

    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:

    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

    Fifty Shades of Summer

    by Suzen - 1 Comment(s)

    Unlike many of my colleagues, I didn't get a chance to take a traditional vacation this summer. While everyone else was jet setting to exotic locales like San Francisco, Orlando and Edmonton, I didn't even make it past the downtown core, never mind leave the city! Truth is, I didn't mean for my summer to turn out this way. I had big plans to take a road trip through the Rockies, even ride my bike through Regina, or go shopping in Montana but I unintentionally turned into one of "those people" I vowed never to be. You know the type of person that tries to juggle a million different things at once and constantly forgets to take time for herself until the entire summer has gone by and she doesn't even have a tan to show for it. You know, one of those...

    The closest I came to taking an actual vacation was to put my brain on one by reading the most popular adult fiction book of the summer: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Along with the other books of this trilogy, Fifty Shades has been on the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List for past 27 weeks and counting. The Calgary Public Library consistently has over 750 patrons on the wait list, including normal paperback, large print and electronic formats. And any retailer that sells books – be it Chapters, Costco or Walmart – has hundreds upon hundreds of the prolific but unassuming black and white covers lining the shelves.

    Fifty Shades of Grey by EL JamesFifty Shades has saturated the adult reading market, grabbing the attention of avid readers and occasional readers alike. I picked up the trilogy in ePUB format after weeks of fielding requests for the novel at the information desk. I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it up and at page 150, I still had no idea what it was about. Even now, after finishing it, my comprehension of the plot is still quite hazy. Here's what I know:

    Fifty Shades of Grey introduces our socially awkward heroine, Anastasia Steele, a recent university graduate who is as hopeless with computers as she is in love. Ana meets a man that completely turns her world upside down, Christian Grey - a mysterious 20-something billionaire who, despite his designer clothes, aloof demeanour and casual use of the company helicopter, has noble philanthropic inclinations. As the story meanders along, Ana and Christian become tied together in a predictable "opposites attract" dynamic. Ana, annoyingly insecure in her appearance and sexual prowess, channels her "inner goddess" to crack Christian's painfully constrained outer shell. As their relationship slowly progresses, Ana falls in love while Christian remains at an arm's length, expressing his affection through aggressive and controlling behaviour. The constant push and pull between Ana and Christian goes nowhere pretty quickly, the emotional tension lifting only by the barest of measures during their sexual encounters which are, at times, long winded and emotionally tiresome.

    From what I can figure, Fifty Shades of Grey has a character-driven plot but the characters are so devoid of depth that it is impossible to decipher any plot at all. It's my opinion that the driving force behind this otherwise plotless romantic story is sex. Like many books in the contemporary romance genre, steamy love scenes are integral to the progression of the story and often the primary reason we're drawn to such escapism. What makes Fifty Shades different from the majority of popular contemporary romance is the taboo nature of such steamy love scenes which are less about "lovemaking" and longing glances from across the room and much more about sadomasochistic desires and being flogged for pleasure. Christian, an emotionally unavailable man, expresses his (un)affection with Anastasia by controlling everything she does - including what clothing she wears, what she eats, how she acts in public and her role in the bedroom. Granted, Ana doesn't take to the submissive role easily and repeatedly questions Christian's actions; but she ultimately resigns to the predictable romantic but ultimately self-destructive adage "If I love him hard enough maybe I can change him!". And we all know how that age-old story ends....

    While I pride myself in being very liberal minded and open to all sorts of subjects when it comes to my reading, I was put off not by the taboo nature of the story but how the book was written. I know I am not alone in my opinion when I say that Fifty Shades is not the most scholarly or poetic book ever written. All over the Internet you will find extensive reviews that center on this aspect alone. E.L. James, herself, admits to not being a writer and is genuinely surprised about how well this book (and it's sequels) are doing. There's an excellent interview on CBC Radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi where James speaks candidly about her literary beginnings and the inspiration behind the trilogy. The author, a former television producer, caught the writing bug after reading Stephanie Myer's Twilight series and decided to write her own version of the vampire saga but with non-supernatural characters. The book, first self-published online as fan fiction, received a cult-like readership and eventually garnered attention from publishers before catching on like wildfire across the world. Yet, despite it's unprecedented popularity, Fifty Shades of Grey is meandering and repetitive, and would have benefited greatly from a critical once-over by more than one editor. James' lack of experience as a fiction writer is so evident that the story feels as if it is just a vehicle for describing, in provocative and explicit detail, sexual encounters that are meant to shock readers as much as it is supposed to enrapture them. However, I suppose that is what erotic fiction essentially is, in which case E.L. James totally hits the mark.

    Now for all the criticism I've been giving this book, I should be completely honest with you: I read Fifty Shades from cover to cover in a matter of days. Sure, it may have been out of sheer stubbornness and the naive belief that maybe, just maybe, this book would get better as I read on, but I read it just the same. It is the epitome of a guilty pleasure read: guilty because I took so much pleasure in reading something I genuinely disliked from beginning to end. The experience can be equated to the cult-classic television show, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, where a man and his robot companions spend every episode watching terrible B-grade movies and make hilarious commentary about what they are seeing throughout the entire screening of the film. I received more enjoyment talking, criticizing, philosophizing, pondering and making fun of this book than I ever did reading it and I think that is where Fifty Shades of Grey gets its strength.

    This book has an uncanny ability to engage readers. Whether you loved it, despised it or couldn't care less, you probably have an opinion about it. So, I'll leave this forum open: What do you think about E.L. James trilogy Fifty Shades? What number are you on the wait list? Who should play Ana and Christian in the movie slated for production in the next few years? Give us all Fifty Shades of your opinion in the comments!

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