Mikale’s Top Picks for 2016



Dear 2016, see ya later.

Like so many of us, I’m sort of ready for this year to be over. While in my personal and professional life I’ve met a number of invaluable people, and had more adventures than I can count, in general I think it’s fair to say that on a global level 2016 was a bit of a dud. As such, I find myself looking forward to 2017 with anxious trepidation… With all these feeeeeeelings it’s been a great year to  escape into the beautiful, fantastical world of fiction.

2016 was a great year for books,therefore allow me to  present my top five reads of the past year. I noticed a few patterns in my reading this year (apparently I’ve read A LOT of depressing literary fiction) so in an effort to be a little less insular, I’ve broken my list down into five of my  go-to’s.

Hope you enjoy, and good luck out there.


Best Series:  Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels brilliantfriend

I am halfway through this four-part coming-of-age series which spans the life-long friendship of two intelligent and perceptive girls growing up in the Naples region of Italy.  Although the premise may seem simple, this character-driven series is all about the complexities and nuances of  both female friendship, and more generally of women’s lives. As such, it felt like one of the more fully developed explorations of a women’s experience I’ve ever read, with feminist themes throughout. Don’t let the awful cover art fool you: I can’t recommend this one enough and have already bought copies of My Brilliant Child for a few of my favorite women this Christmas.

*Still haven’t convinced you? Read this blog post about the author’s mysterious identity! 

Best Short Story Collection: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing 

onemorethingIf I were ever to decide to track down a celebrity and woo them with every ounce of wit and charm I posses, I’m pretty sure it would be for The Office’s B.J. Novak. While he didn’t do much for me as TV star, as an author? Oh boy.

He first came into the literary spotlight with the genius children’s story  The Book With No Pictures however with his latest collection of short stories Mr. Novak has proven himself capable of captivating audiences of all ages. In short, One More Thing is hilarious and charming. I listened to the audiobook, and found myself giggling like a lunatic on the seabus listening to a fictionalized John Grisham come to grips with a monumental typo, then later tearing up over the title story of a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket draw which threatens to unravel a family.  Although I am not normally a huge short story fan, this book captivated me.


Best Dystopic Why-Bother-With-Life Fiction: The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver   mandibles

Word of advice: this is not an appropriate read when feeling down or financially pinched, during election time, or when travelling long distances on public transit.  Set in the not-too-distant future, The Mandibles is the story of one upper middle class Brooklyn  family as they struggle for survival following the crash of the US dollar in favor of an international currency called the Bancor.  Shriver’s story is less fantastical and more of an examination of how delicate our economic system really is, and thus is not only plausible but illuminating. Like a modern day Grapes of Wrath, this book  takes its readers down a seemingly endless hole of hopeless despair, and doesn’t offer a breath of air until ( thankfully unlike Grapes) the end. What I liked most about this book was how much I learned about economic theory. What I disliked? Well, it wasn’t the right choice of reading material during the US election…..


vegetarianBest Quirky and Compelling: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian is an experience. This three-part South Korean novella is  about a “previously unremarkable” young woman who decides to quit eating meat after a violent, bloody dream; a decision that sets in motion a series of events which eventually tears apart her family and social circle. Reading this book reminded me of a more guttural Murakami, with imagery so startlingly visceral and bizarre that I wish there was an accompanying graphic novel. Many of my coworkers didn’t get into this one, but the fact that I’m still thinking about this book six months later tells me it deserves to be on this list.

Overall Favourite: The Course of Love by Alain de Botton  course-of-love

I spend too much a lot of time thinking about the nature of relationships and the concept of romanticism.  As such, this book hit me right in the gut by combining both a well-written story, and the theoretical examination of a marriage.  I’ve already talked about this book so often both on this blog and to my friends that I’ll keep it short, and rather point you to this. Since first reading my library copy, I’ve purchased two copies to give out to friends, and have a few more to handout as Christmas presents.


-Mikale Fenton

Brazilian Fiction

Rio_2016_logo.svgIt’s almost impossible to believe that we are into August already — a month that heralds the arrival of the Summer Olympics (aka Rio 2016).  Whenever the Olympics are held, the book lover in me wants to get a literary taste of the host country.  Here are some works of contemporary Brazilian fiction you might enjoy:

perfectdaysPerfect Days by Raphael Montes

Teo is a loner who identifies more with his med school cadaver than he does with other humans — until he meets Clarice.  When Clarice rejects him, Teo kidnaps her and takes her on a road trip around Brazil.  Montes has been hailed as the Brazilian Stephen King.

crowblueCrow Blue by Adriana Lisboa

After her mother’s death, thirteen year old Vanja moves from Rio to Colorado to search for her biological father.  Lisboa does an exemplary job of “[documenting] the experiences of travel and interacting with other cultures, […] as a means to explore the attachment to her home country and understand its history and politics.”

silenceThe Silence of the Rain by L.A. Garcia-Roza

This police procedural is the first in a series that’s a bestseller in Brazil.  Inspector Espinosa is called in to investigate the murder-robbery of Roberto Carvalho, a businessman with million dollar life insurance policy, a missing secretary and a very attractive wife…

beardBlood-Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera

Galera’s novel whisks readers off to Garopaba in southern Brazil, where an unnamed young man arrives to start a new life and solve the decades old mystery of his grandfather’s murder.


Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelhoeleven

Maria is a young prostitute with a dim view of romantic love who goes of a voyage of self discovery as she travels from Rio to Geneva.  Coelho is internationally bestselling author of The Alchemist. 

Feliz leitura!



What is in a name?


I’m currently reading the best-selling Neapolitan book series written by the elusive and mysterious writer Elena Ferrante—the pseudonymous Italian novelist whose true identity is not publicly known, yet was recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.  The further I delve into Ferrante’s world, the more I want to know about its creator and yet I, along with millions of her readers, are left to wonder—a fact which I  find to be simultaneously enormously frustrating and

I keep asking myself why I care. Why does it matter who authored these words? As Ferrante herself said in this rare interview with Vanity Fair, ” My books increasingly demonstrate their independence, so I see no reason to change my position…..for those who love literature, the books are enough.”

I think my itching curiosity stems from the familiar intimacy of Ferrante’s writing. One of the reasons the Neapolitan series is so remarkable is because of the ruthless and brutally authentic way it depicts the challenging “terra incognita” of female friendship. Ferrante’s writing is  emotionally honest and so true-to-life that it could only be at least partially autobiographical (as confirmed in that same Vanity Fair interview). As fellow novelist Lauren Groff said,  “It’s odd, though, to imagine that a photo or biography could tell us more about Ferrante than her astonishing books.”

Is this why an author’s identity feels important to some readers…because we want to put a face to our protagonist’s voice? Or are we simply intrigued by those who are willing to toll-away and pour themselves into their work, yet insistently shirk away from the seductive pull of praise, acclaim and fame.

Of course Ferrante is by no means the first author to publish their works using a pen name. She is, however, one of the few to do so with such success—both in terms of book sales and continued anonymity. In celebration of this literary-feat, I present a shortlist of several other favorite writers who, despite their best efforts, have been “outed” for publishing their works as someone else.


(Click the hyperlink attached to each name to access NVCL’s collected works from each pseudonymous author)

Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

cuckooscallingThanks to the Harry Potter franchise  J.K. Rowling has become a household name,  however her first book aimed at an adult audience,  Casual Vacancy, wasn’t well-received  by readers and critics alike. In an effort to test her skills and release some of the pressure associated with being one of the world’s most famous authors, Rowling submitted The Cuckoos Calling, book one of the Cormorant Strike mystery series,  to publishers using the pen name Robert Galbraith. The book was accepted, however it wasn’t long before Rowling was outed as the real author and the book became an international best-seller.

Richard Bachman  a.k.a. Steven King bachmanking


Back in the 70’s, Stephen King’s publishers were worried that he was producing too much content too quickly and that it would eventually affect his reputation and subsequent book sales. Rather than slow down, the prolific author decided to begin publishing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman as a test to see if his success was earned by merit, or blind luck. It wasn’t long however before readers began to notice similarities in both authors writing style and King had to fess up.


Isak Dinensen a.k.a. Karen Blixen

outofafricaFor some authors, pseudonyms provide an opportunity is way to escape their famous reputations and write freely,  historically however many women resorted to assuming a man’s name in order to have their work taken seriously. Danish writer Karen Blixen – the author of the classic memoir Out of Africa used a number of pen names throughout her career. Blixen’s most well-known male pseudonym was Isak Dinesen. Other examples of female authors who chose male pen names include the Bronte sisters and Louisa May Alcott.

Craig Davidson aka Nick Cutter The+Deep

Referred to as “the worst-kept secret in Canadian publishing “, award-winning short story writer and novelist Craig Davidson began using the pen name Nick Cutter a few years ago as a tool to be able publish horror novels without delineating reader’s attentions from Davidson’s more “serious prose. Apparently it worked. According to this Globe and Mail article, Davidson’s Giller-nominated Cataract City lasted one week on The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list in November, 2013, however Cutter’s The Troop,  enjoyed 11 weeks on the list, spanning the spring and summer of last year. As stated by J.R. McCovney,  “although it grinds against entrenched notions of literature as a cradle of authenticity – a home for the lyrical, the personal, the truth – the notion that one human can contain different writers has long been a way to facilitate creativity or tackle the challenges of publication.”

So my question is, have you ever thought about publishing your writing using a pen name? And if so, why? What would it be?

Happy sleuthing everyone!


Mikale’s Spring 2016 Picks

Oh boy, here we go. Spring is undeniably here and so begins my serious season of reading. As a fair-weather cyclist and wannabee-marathoner, this is my season for audiobooks coupled with languid days of sitting in the sun trying desperately to inhale all the Fiction. All of it. Here’s a list of what I’m most excited for this season:



March has been my month of guilty pleasures.  For whatever reason, my new policy is that celestengif I want to read something non-fiction, classic or not-in-season, I have to do it via the library’s collection of downloadable audiobooks, hence the following list of 2015 titles that slipped by during the fall and winter.

This month I listened to Celeste Ng’s haunting yet beautiful novel, ‘Everything I Never Told You’, as well as J.K Rowling Robert Galbraith’s ‘Career of Evil’. Career_of_Evil_Oct_2015I’ve never been a huge mystery-reader, however this is the third Cormoran Strike mystery I’ve listened to and can’t get enough of Robert Glenister’s narration style and voice.  Finally, I also listened to Aziz Anzari’s modernromanceModern Romance, a funny and insightful sociological examination at the often baffling world of modern heterosexual dating, which admittedly resonated a bit too eerily for this twenty-something-reader. Added bonus: Anzari narrates the audio-version and includes lots of bonus commentary. Plus, he is hilarious.


Morning Star by Pierce Brown

mornignstarSpeaking of guilty pleasures…. I just finished the final installment of Pierce Brown’s ‘Red Rising’ Trilogy and was not disappointed. While Brown’s writing style is a bit too sci-fi  “Bro-talk” for me, he is an undeniably gifted story teller and I’d recommend the trilogy for anyone looking for a page-turning action thriller.


This is Happy by Camilla Gibb

In anticipation of the upcoming North Shore Writer’s Festival, I just picked up a copy and this is happyam already enthralled by Camilla Gibb’s new memoir ‘This is Happy.’ The book reveals the intensity of the grief that besieged her as the happiness of a longed-for family was shattered when Gibb was eight-weeks pregnant and her wife announced she was leaving.  Reflecting on tangled moments of past sadness and joy, alienation and belonging, Gibb revisits her stories now in relation to the happy daughter who will inherit them, and she finds there new meaning and beauty.


Moving forward, here are the new spring titles I’m most excited to read this April.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang 

Celebrated by critics around the world, and  longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, The Vegetarian is darkly allegorical, Korean Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her. A beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul
Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled vegetarianlife. But the dreams–invasive images of blood and brutality–torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It’s a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law and sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that’s become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, and then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her, but also from herself. .


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah nightingale

Viann and Isabelle have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Viann and Isabelle’s father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it’s not only the sisters’ relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My Brilliant Friend by Ella Ferrante

Admittedly, I need to start this series from the beginning, but with the release of the final installment, I’ve decided to listen to the first three, then read the final book next month, brilliantfriendwish me luck!

Here’s a synopsis from the publisher: ” A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists.”



The Bad Mother by Marguerite Andersen (on order at NVCL)

Translated from the award-winning French novel La mauvaise mère, prolific author Marguerite Andersen fictionalizes the important moments of her life resulting in this unflinching account of her relationship with her three children and her years spent following her caprices and lovers, trying to regain the agency she lost when she became a mother.Born in Germany, Marguerite was just into her twenties when she moved to Tunisia with her French lover. She thought she was choosing a life of adventure and badmotherfreedom, but what she got was children and a marriage that quickly became abusive. Constrained by the minutiae of everyday life, Marguerite longs for the agency to make her own choices. Eventually she flees, leaving her children behind for a year and a half.
As the world labels her a wife, a mother, and eventually a bad mother, Marguerite wrestles with her own definition of personhood. Can you love your children and want your own life at the same time? A half-century later, this fictionalized account of Andersen’s life is written with brutal honesty, in spare, pithy, and often poetic prose, as she expresses her own conflicted feelings concerning a difficult time and the impact it had on her sense of self. Andersen confronts the large and small choices that she made—the times she stayed and the times she didn’t—all the while asking, “What kind of mother am I?”

Barkskins by Annie Proulx barkskins

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a ” seigneur ,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters–barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years–their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions–the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

The Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler 

Could the taming of Shakespeare’s shrew, Katherina, happen today? Find out in this funny, off-beat version from one of our most beloved novelists. ovinegargirl Anne Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew asks whether a thoroughly modern, independent woman like Kate would ever sacrifice herself for a man. Its answer is as individual, off-beat, and funny as Kate herself.




Happy reading!


After Making a Murderer

makingamurdererWhen it comes to true crime, I am a sensitive viewer.  As a general rule, I stay away from media portrayals of real life violence as much as I can.  So it came as a complete surprise when I — like many many other people — got hooked on the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer.  In less than a week I’ve watched seven episodes of the ten episode series (a working mom’s version of binge watching) and already know I’ll be resistant to pull back from that constant state of wondering, “Is Steven Avery guilty?

What follows is kind of an exploration for me about what I’ll read and watch in the weeks to come that will be provoking and uncomfortable (and yet compulsively watchable or readable) in the way that Making a Murder has proven to be.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

innocentkillerAbout Steven Avery’s Case

My first stop will be Michael Griesbach’s book The Innocent KillerThe documentary left me with the feeling that this case (like all cases) is more complex than can be shown in 10 hours.  And there’s no denying the prosecution didn’t give the filmmakers the same access as the the defense.  Griesbach is a prosecuting attorney Manitowoc County, so I’m keen to hear his take on the case.

Wrongful Convictionscentralpark

Whatever your opinion about Avery’s guilt with regards to the Halbach murder, it’s difficult to get over the fact that Avery lost years of his life because of a wrongful conviction — years that likely cost him a relationship with his children.  I can see myself watching The Central Park Five out of a desire to understand how those who are wrongfully convicted function after society has treated them unjustly.

Police Corruption

changelingHaving already watched (and been stunned by) The Changeling, a film in which Angelina Jolie plays a mother who knows that the kidnapped boy returned to her is not her son at all, I’ll probably watch it again.  Jolie enduring the horrific effects of public slander by corrupt police shares a certain kinship with Avery.

I can also see myself picking up Jo Nesbo’s thriller, The Son, a fast-paced read about a web of corruption. 

Conspiracy Theoriesvoodoo

Voodoo Histories is a non-fiction work that examines the psychology behind what makes conspiracy theories addictive.  It does so through the lens of twelve real life cases including JFK’s assassination, the first moon landing, and 9/11.  Also, awesome cover.

frozenRural Wisconsin

In many ways, I think it is the landscape of Making a Murderer that will stay with me.  All those lingering shots of Avery Auto Salvage through the changing seasons seem somehow haunted and foreboding.  I’ve put a hold on Frozen, the first book in Kate Watterson’s Detective Ellie MacIntosh series, which takes place partly in the rural backwoods of Wisconsin.

Something Bleakmercy

I have to say I find Making a Murderer depressing as hell.  There’s every possibility that I’ll want stay in that pocket of bleakness after the show is done.  In that case, I’ll reach for Canadian author David Richard Adam’s Mercy Among The Children a novel that dwells in rural poverty and relentless tragedy.

How to you cope with the end of Making a Murderer?  What did you watch or read next?


JJ Lee and Karen Dodd on Feb. 5th

I am so excited for our next author reading on February 5th! JJ Lee, the sartorial superstar memoirist behind The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit, will be joining us, as will Karen Dodd, one of our most delightful North Shore Writers’ Association members.

JJLeeSmJJ’s book was shortlisted for the 2011 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction, the 2012 BC Book Prizes Hubert Evans Prize for Non-Fiction, and the 2012 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize. Whew. Our NVCL Book Club read The Measure of  Man this past Fall and loved it.

KarenDoddKaren is a first-time novelist, who has recently published Deadly Switch: A Stone Suspense. She has also published hundreds of articles, and teaches new and emerging fiction authors how to build their author platform while writing their books. She calls it “building the plane while flying it.”

I hope to see you all there!


Date: Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Time: 7pm, doors open at 6:30 for wine and refreshments

Location: Singh Room, NVCL, 120 W. 14th St.

Free. Register online through our Programs and Events page by clicking on “Sign up.”

Patricia’s Fresh Picks for December

Ahhhhh…December.  That time of year when we all reflect on what the past year has held for us  in-between running around to end-of-year concerts, and holiday get-togethers, and the like.  With all the hustle bustle it can be hard to carve out time to read.  And when you do, you want to lose yourself completely in a wintery landscape — it’s chill contrasting just enough with the coziness you feel all tucked up to make you all the cozier.  Here are my picks for a snug December:

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

You had me at Dan Simmons; his books are each so different.  In The Abominable, he brings us back to a frozen world; this time it’s Everest.  Lady Bromley lost her son to Everest in 1924.  She finances three hikers’ attempt to get to the summit.  The hikers are being pursued as they climb.  But by what?


Road Ends by Mary Lawsonroad

If Simmons snowy landscapes are too ominous, Lawson’s might suit.  Her winter takes us to Northern Ontario in the early 1900s, where the Cartwright family struggles to reconcile responsibilities and desires.


dinosaurThe Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan

In recent years it has become difficult to face the harshness of December without the brutality of a Scandanavian mystery.  This year, I urge you to set your sights on Copenhagen where a murdered university professor’s autopsy results are perplexing to say the least.