Colleen’s Recent Reads

I’ll be blogging on my favourite fiction genres: historical fiction and mysteries, and you’ll find I prefer novels featuring strong female characters with family secrets to solve, preferably set in the British Isles and Canada. Here are my most recent reads from the NVCL collection:

OtherDaugherThe Other Daughter, by Lauren Willig

Finally I have got around to reading Lauren Willig and am I impressed! In 1928 England, Rachel has learned after her mother’s death that her family story is a lie. Seeking an explanation, and desperate to connect with family, she is determined to uncover the secrets that have kept her true identity from her. Thank you, Patricia, for steering me in Willig’s direction.

Dishing the dirt – An Agatha Raisin Mystery, by M.C. BeatonDishingDirt

This is number 26 in the delightful Agatha Raisin series (yes, I’ve read them all). A lightweight and often funny murder mystery, in which the grumpy but endearing Cotswold detective, Agatha, barely escapes a serial killer while coming to terms with middle-age and her many failed romances. I also love Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series about a Scottish policeman in a tiny village that has more murders than Midsomer. If you like series mysteries, these will keep you going for a while.

ArentWeSistersAren’t We Sisters? by Patricia Ferguson

In 1932 England, birth control was a taboo subject, although some nurses and midwives worked in secret to bring knowledge to their “sisters” who needed it. In Aren’t We Sisters, one of these nurses finds herself close to a serial killer. A gripping story, revealing the difficulties of women who faced pregnancy after pregnancy; lots of plain language concerning birth control and childbirth.

The Taming of the Queen, by Philippa GregoryTamingOfQueen

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived these were the fates of Henry VIII’s six wives. Henry’s sixth queen, Katherine or Kateryn Parr, was queen until his death. Kateryn’s safety was in question during her 3 years of marriage to a king who had sent many to their deaths, including two of his own wives, but she had the good fortune to survive him. An educated woman, she plays a key role in the development of King Henry’s new church. Philippa Gregory has written about all six of Henry’s queens and other British royals before and after the Tudors, and two of her novels have become movies or mini-series: The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen.

MartianThe Martian, by Andy Weir

I have not read much science fiction in recent years, but The Martian takes me back to the novels of Heinlein and Asimov, who wrote about both the technical challenges of going to other planets and the human responses to the utter isolation of space. In Weir’s first novel, one man must use all his ingenuity, training and resourcefulness to survive on the red planet. SF writers Larry Niven and Hugh Howey have also praised the book. The movie starring Matt Damon has just been released.

Now back to my book… presently enjoying Only a Promise, by Mary Balogh.


Closeup of candle flame.

Self Help

Closeup of candle flame.Featured on the third floor just now, is a display of books from the Self Help collection. As the daylight diminishes and our schedules shift to crazy autumn mode, who couldn’t use a bit of self-care?

10%Happier10% Happier, by Dan Harris

After an on-air panic attack, TV journalist Dan Harris knew he needed to make some changes. Eventually he realized it was the incessant voice in his head that led to his bad decisions – and attempts to quiet that voice drew him to meditation. Cynicism, network news, and neuroscience… what more could you ask for in a Self Help book?

The Power of the Heart, by Baptist De PapePowerOfHeart

Find your purpose! As a young lawyer, De Pape was full of anxiety about his future and uncertain about how to live. He embarked on a quest that took him around the world interviewing spiritual thinkers – people like Maya Angelou, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Isabel Allende, and many others. The result is an inspiring book full of life-lessons from living icons.

SwitchSwitch, by Chip and Dan Heath

How do we make the difficult changes we know are needed? Conceptualizing the mind as governed by both rationalism and emotion, the Heaths give strategies for uniting these driving forces which can lead to dramatic results. Readers of Malcolm Gladwell will enjoy the story-driven approach peppered with counterintuitive research.

Music Music Music

MusicImage“If music be the food of love, play on.” Music is the current topic for the non-fiction display in the lobby and here are a few of the books featured

RoadToWoodstockThe Road to Woodstock, by Michael Lang

Mud, music, mayhem, and the defining moment of the 60’s counterculture; author Michael Lang was the organizer of Woodstock , and this narrative deals with the events as they unfolded. The book includes comments and interviews with others who participated, making this a unique perspective.

Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera, by Johanna FiedlerMoltoAgitato

Opera plots are full of intrigue and melodrama – and life behind the scenes at the Met might just mirror that kind of art. The book covers the early years of the organization and then draws back the curtain on the outsized personalities that have dominated the stage and run the show in more recent years.

NotinToLoseNothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS, by Ken Sharp

Making use of wide-ranging interviews and including lots of illustrations, this book covers the early years of KISS, leading up to their breakthrough single “Rock and Roll All Night.” It’s a fly-on-the-wall view of their beginning, chronicling the struggles and challenges that ultimately led to their wild success.

The Everything Piano Book, by Evan A. CoppEverythingPiano

Hopefully all this reading about music will fire your creative juices. This book, written by a professional pianist, covers the basics of musical notation, posture, scales, and even techniques for playing by ear. It comes with a CD giving audio examples of all the steps along the way. Create the soundtrack to your own life!

Patricia’s Fresh Picks for September 2015

Bleak House, I’m looking at you.

As I have learned in Septembers past, September is not a great time for working moms to start doorstop-sized books.  In fact, between learning which child has soccer practice on which night at which field and planning litterless lunches for picky eaters, I find myself with much less time to read than I would like.  Much less.

So with a strong desire to read, and barely any time to do so, I turn once again to audiobooks.  They are perfect for mornings at the gym, and entirely satisfying for walks to pick up the Monster Squad.  (I’ve heard they also work for drives.)

Here are some of our newest audiobooks, the ones that I’ll be relying on to satisfy my fiction cravings until the post-Halloween calm.  (Is that even a thing?):

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Jonathan Franzen fan.  I loathed Freedom, and fell into this book kind of by accident.  I downloaded it off OneClickdigital in a hurry and became instantly smitten with the narrator, Jenna Lamia.  The stories centers around Pip Tyler a new adult who kind of randomly finds herself interning for a charasmatic whistleblower in South America.  As you do.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The story of Monsieur Perdu a literary bookseller who knows exactly what book you should read.  His recommendations help people heal through literature.  If only he could mend his own heartbreak.

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles

Despite my best intentions I didn’t read Iles’ newest Penn Cage novel this summer.  When we last saw Cage at the end of the gripping Natchez Burning, he and his fiancee had narrowly escaped from the Double Eagles (think: KKK).  Penn’s father was fleeing a murder charge.  The Bone Tree picks up exactly where Natchez left off.  It’s sure to be a wild ride.

Just like September, eh?


Literary Prize Lovers’ TBR

gillerIt’s been an exciting week for literary fiction.  First up was the announcement of The Scotiabank Giller Prize’s 2015 longlist.  The list features twelve titles, and includes fantastic authors like Heather O’Neill (who read at this year’s North Shore Writers Fest).  With the shortlist being announced on October 5, only the most dedicated Canadian fiction fans will have time to tackle all twelve titles in time.  (Is it just me who spends an inordinate amount of energy ghost judging literary awards?)  If you only read a few, here’s what I recommend:

outlineOutline by Rachel Cusk

Get to know the main character of Outline, not through her actions, but for the things people confide in her.  The novel is told in ten conversations.  If the concept doesn’t grab you, it’s worth reading for the writing alone.

trueAll True Not a Lie in it by Alix Hawley

I enjoy historical fiction about the New World.  In Hawley’s debut novel she invites us into the man (and myth) of Daniel Boone (of whom I must confess I know nothing).  Author Alexei Zentner raves, “Alix Hawley’s debut novel is audacious and bold, like an early Ondaatje, with writing that is luscious, lyrical, and bloodthirsty.” 

undermajorUndermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt*

A foreboding castle.  A colourful cast of villagers.  A dark secret.  A beguiling beauty.  Welcome to Patrick deWitt’s world.


bookerAnd then this morning the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced.  I’d read only two titles on the longlist (Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, and Lalami’s The Moor’s Account) and was really hoping to see the latter make the cut.  Sadly, it didn’t, which only makes me more interested to get to know the titles that bested it.  My husband, has already read three of the shortlist and recommends:

sevenkillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

First off, there are way more than seven killings in this violent novel about a turbulent time in Jamaican history.  Second, it clearly evokes a sense of place and character.  Third, it’s HUGE, which is always an appealing quality in a fall read, no?

A Little Life by Hana Yanagiharalittlelife

See how anguished the guy on the cover looks?  Apparently the whole book is like that.  The whole book.  All 720 excruciatingly beautifully written pages of that level of pain.

What about you?  Are you excited for awards season?  Do you try and read the longlists, shortlists, or do you wait for the winner to be announced?  Sound off in the comments.

Happy Reading!


Winter Gardening


It’s time to tidy the garden up for the winter. Here are a few books to help sustain the garden bug throughout the coming months – and make your landscape pop.

wintergardenThe Winter Garden, by Val Bourne

This beautifully illustrated book focuses on creating a garden that takes advantage of evergreens, seedheads, berries, and other plants that bring a winter garden to life. Bourne also has a lot of suggestions about shapes and textures, utilizing things like pebbles, wood, and even bronze. Have fun planning your winter garden!

The Garden in Winter, by Suzy Bales gardenInWinter

Better Homes and Gardens editor, Suzy Bales, has created a lovely book focused on making your winter landscape interesting. Out with the dull dead browns and in with sculptured shapes, colours, containers, ornaments and the unexpected.

wintergardeningWinter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest, by Binda Colebrook

This small volume concentrates on cool weather vegetables and herbs not sown in winter, but harvested then – some can be planted as late as September, so you’re not too late. Colebrook also covers topics like cold frames and composting too. Become a year-round gardener – you know you want to.

Patricia’s 2015 Fall Picks

autumn2015Autumn is an invitation to walk in the woods all day and curl up with an amazing book all night.  Here’s what I’ll be reading as the days shorten while rain patters against windows:


undermajorUndermajordomo Minor* by Patrick deWitt

I would love to be able to go back in time and read The Sisters Brothers again for the first time.  It was funny, heartfelt, and relentlessly entertaining.  So it stands to reason that I have ultra high hopes for deWitt’s newest offering, a darkly comedic love story.  deWitt will be at the Vancouver Writers Fest this October.

ferranteThe Story of The Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

It’s finally here!  The final book in Ferrante’s mesmerizing series, The Neopolitan Novels.  This book continues to trace the tumultuous lives of longtime friends, Lila and Elena as Elena returns home to be with the man she’s always loved. Don’t let the cover fool you, Ferrante’s books are perfect for fall reading.

goldfamecitrusGold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Kirkus Review calls Gold Fame Citrus a “A tour-de-force first novel [that] blisters with drought, myth, and originality” and raves that “Watkins is magnificently original.”  I’m looking forward to sinking down into the novel’s post-apocalyptic desert landscape and seeing if the two main characters, Ray and Luz, have what it takes to survive.


goldenThe Golden Son* by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Gowda’s debut, Secret Daughter, was such a joy to read because of of how easy it was to become immersed in Indian culture and family drama while reading it.  The Golden Son looks to be in the same vein.  Anil is an Indian boy sent to America to become a doctor.  While he acclimatizes to American culture, his family and friends remain tied to tradition.

cityonfireCity on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

I know that Franzen’s Purity is the doorstop-of-a-novel to beat this fall, but I’m much more excited about Hallberg’s City on Fire, which takes place during New York’s 1977 blackout.  At the heart of the story is the mystery of who shot punk fan Sam and why.

cleopatraCleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman

Ever since devouring Margaret George’s The Memoirs of Cleopatra more than 15 years ago, I’ve been a fan of ancient Egyptian historical fiction.  Rather than focussing on Cleopatra herself, Holleman delves into the lives of her sisters, Berenice and Arsinoe.


japaneseThe Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende

I will read anything by Allende, and almost anything set in WWII.  In 1939, Alma’s parents send her from Poland to the safety of San Francisco.  There she meets and falls in love with Ichimei, but then he is sent to an internment camp.  The novel traces the story of their secret relationship in the decades that follow.

avenueAvenue of Mysteries by John Irving

A new John Irving novel is a truly exciting thing indeed.  From Homer to Owen, he has created some of my favourite fictional characters.  While Irving can usually be relied on to write about New England, wrestling, and unusual sexual relationships, this book the story of a Mexican man in the Philippines appears to be a departure.

calvinCalvin by Martine Leavitt

My final pick is a YA book about a schizophrenic boy born on the day the last Calvin and Hobbes comic was printed.  Calvin believes that his illness can be cured if he can persuade Watterson to write one final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.  From the author of the utterly unforgettable Keturah and Lord Death.


*As always, thank you to Edelweiss and NetGalley for ARCs of these titles.