Bailey’s Prize Shortlist Announced!

For some reason, I thought I had another week to make my Baileys Women’s Prize shortlist predictions and so I had only a vague impression of which novels I’d like to see on there other than two standouts:  Laline Paull’s The Bees and Rachel Cusk’s Outline; both of which made the grade.

beesPaull’s The Bees is one of those reads that is so original that when someone asks you to recommend what they should read after it, it’s almost impossible to answer.  For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s a book with almost no human characters; it’s about bees.  It’s an animal narrated fantasy, a dystopian work, and a wildly creative piece of environmental fiction.  Flora is born into the hive (which should conjure up images of oppressive totalitarian regimes) and doesn’t fit in.  She rebels, as we would expect, and finds herself answering to a higher calling than that of the rest of the hive who live to accept, obey, and serve.

outlineLike The Bees, Outline is based on an unusual idea:  the protagonist is a novelist who has gone to Athens to teach a creative writing course.  While this is not strange in itself, what is unique is how Cusk approaches that material.  As readers we only learn the haziest of details about our protagonist; she exists only in outline.  Instead it is those she interacts with that jump off the page:  a fellow passenger on the flight to Athens, another teacher, her students.  There isn’t a story in the way we traditionally think of story, and yet the novel is mesmerizing.  I almost didn’t read Outline because the cover and blurb didn’t enticingly convey how wonderfully this concept is executed.  I would have missed out.

–Patricia

Book News Roundup — April 9, 2015

DisneyTeaCupsA children’s book written by the young Queen Victoria will soon be published.

The Oyster Review picked the 100 best books of the decade so far.

The best literary references in Mad Men.

The literary version of the New York Times’ 36 Questions to fall in love.

VIDA study finds male reviewers continue to dominate literary criticism.

Adult colouring books are hot right now. (I want one).

The Sesame Street parody of Game of Thrones.

The Hugo Awards (sci-fi and fantasy) shortlist was announced this week.

Happy weekend!

-Heidi

Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist: Battle of the Unreliable Narrators

When the Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist was announced back in March, I was surprised at how few of them I’d read given how interesting the titles all looked.  (True confession:  I hadn’t read a single one.)  I’m determined to read ten of the titles before the winner is announced on June 3rd.

Some of the titles on the list have obvious competition from other titles on the list:  Station Eleven vs. The Country of Ice Cream Star would be an epic battle of dystopian narratives, for example.  (Though I’m not sure which title should take on The Bees.)

It just so happens that two of the first titles I read both feature a particular favourite of mine:  the unreliable narrator.  Let the battle begin!

missingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Our narrator:   80-year old Maud is convinced her best friend Elizabeth is missing.  Nevermind that her daughter and caregiver don’t believe her.

Why she is unreliable:  Bit by bit Maud is losing her memory.  She holds onto information the best she can on scraps of paper, but the past — in which Maud’s sister Sukey disappeared and was never found — looms larger than the present.

What keeps you reading:  Sure we all want to find out what happened to Elizabeth and Sukey,  but the true allure of the book lies in the narration.  Maud is perceptive enough to know she can’t trust herself, and enough of a spitfire to keep trying to make sense of the world.

VS

offeringThe Offering by Grace McCleen

Our narrator:  Madeline is an adult who was raised in a very religious Christian family.  She is also the longtime resident of Lentham Park:  a psychiatric facility.

Why she is unreliable:  Madeline had a mental breakdown when she turned fourteen.  She has amnesia surrounding the events the lead up to her breakdown.

What keeps you reading:  The story jumps back and forth in time between the year before Madeline’s breakdown, and her life in Lentham Park.  A new doctor assigned to Madeline’s case believes that he can cure her amnesia, and that she could possibly be released.  Can he?  What will he discover?

The Winner

I have to say that I really enjoyed both books, and look forward to reading McCleen’s other titles, but Elizabeth is Missing wins this battle.  In Maud’s world everyday life becomes noir because of her failing memory, making this book much stronger than its big reveal.

–Patricia

Patricia’s 2015 Spring Picks

Though I still can’t watch news from out east without a cardigan and blanket on, spring has arrived here in North Van.  With it, comes plenty of rain (and plenty of good excuses to curl up with a pot of tea and a brand new book) and some warm dry days (and some good excuses to sprawl out on a picnic blanket with a brand new book).

Right now I’m craving hearty non-fiction that sucks me into other people’s lives, and absorbing literary fiction.  The latter is no doubt inspired by the recent announcement of the Bailey’s Prize Longlist, which every year sends me into a frenzy of reading.

Here’s what are my Spring Picks:

March 2015

unicornThe last unicorn: a search for one of Earth’s rarest creatures by William deBuys

If I tell you I’m excited to read a book about a saola, you would look at me blankly.  What is a saola anyway?  But if I told you the book is about the hunt for a mammal so rare that it wasn’t discovered until 1992, you might be just as excited as I am.

americanAmerican Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus

An award winning journalist discovers that her great-great-grandmother Julia  is a ghost that haunts an upscale Santa Fe hotel and sets out to learn more about her.

April 2015

afterbeforeAfter Before by Jemma Wayne* (Bailey’s Prize Longlisted)

Three strangers living in London find their lives intersect in unexpected ways.  Emily has survived the Rwandan genocide and is trying to make a life in a new country; Vera is a recent convert to Christianity trying to reconcile with her past; Lynn has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is bitter and full of regret.

dearthiefDear Thief by Samantha Harvey* (Bailey’s Prize Longlisted)

This novel of female friendship is getting rave reviews.  I have to confess though, it’s the premise that draws me in.  Dear Thief is a novelization of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” — the story of a love triangle told as a letter.

May 2015

shoreThe Shore by Sara Taylor* (Bailey’s Prize Longlisted)

The Shore is thirteen chapters about the lives of residents of The Shore. It spans across time from 1876 to 2143, and blurs the lines between realism and fantasy. The Guardian raves, “This debut is a testament to an exuberant talent and an original, fearless sensibility. It’s also enormous fun to read.”

greenroadThe Green Road by Ann Enright*

If you haven’t read Ann Enright before, I urge you to do so.  The way she describes relationships is both poignant and devastating.  I am utterly looking forward to this Irish family saga.

–Patricia

*Thank you to Edelweiss and Net Galley for providing ARCs of these titles.

Canada Reads is on!

canadareadsIt’s Day Two of Canada Reads and I for one, can’t wait to see which book wins.  This year’s theme is all about breaking barriers — which means that there’s quite the range of subject matter being covered in both fiction and non-fiction.  In today’s debate, Craig Kielburger and Lainey Gossip engaged in a heated debate about whether When Everything Feels Like the Movies is too graphically sexual for it to engage meaningful debate about homophobia and bullying.  Craig argued passionately that it is, while Lainey countered that the language and preoccupations of the book were merely representative of teenage reality.

moviesNot to sound like a prude, but I tried and failed to engage with the story for precisely the reasons Craig described.  To me, the writing felt deliberately provocative — to the point that I couldn’t get into the story.  Is this what it means to break barriers though?  Is the reason I decided not to finish the book precisely the reason it’s a good candidate for this year’s Canada Reads winner?

Which book do you think should win?

–Patricia

Book News Roundup: March 13, 2015

Elephants

The longlist of my favourite literary award — the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction — was announced this week.

Check out the Canada Reads nominees’ book trailers.

And the BC Book Prize nominees, too!

And also the National Book Critics Circle Award Winners.

Inside the search for the new Q host: Shad.

21 debut authors of 2015 to check out.

RIP Terry Pratchett.

George R. R. Martin on Station Eleven and the Genre Wars.

Vancouver’s Literary Landmarks.

Is anyone else as excited for this documentary as I am?

Happy weekend!

-Heidi

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