Summer Reading

NVCL Reads: Canadian Classic

There are so many Canadian classics you could use for the #NVCLreads Canada 150 Bingo contest, how do you choose? Fortunately our Web Specialist David has shared his picks for this category with a great mix of older and modern classics:

twosolitudesTwo Solitudes, by Hugh Maclennan (1945)

Two Solitudes is a multi-generational novel set in Montreal and rural Quebec between World Wars I and II. The story focuses primarily on the fortunes of the French Tallard family. Athanase, the family patriarch, is comfortable in his culture, but his younger English wife struggles to feel accepted in the small town in which they live. Their eldest son, Marius, blames all his problems on the English while Paul, the youngest son, falls in love with an English woman, Heather, and moves back and forth uncomfortably and yet with optimism for a better future, between the two cultures. Hugh Maclennan’s classic masterpiece won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-Language Fiction in 1945, and offers insights into the Canadian psyche that remain relevant today.



Who Has Seen the Wind, by W.O. Mitchell (1947)

Brian O’Connall lives in Saskatchewan with his parents, younger brother, strict Scottish grandmother, and the family dog. Described by one reviewer as an “Anne of Green Gables of the prairies”, the book doesn’t have a traditional narrative plot. Instead it’s a series of vignettes from young Brian’s life, and we see him at age four, then six, then eight, and finally at age eleven.  The main theme running through the book is a special feeling that Brian has, one associated with large themes like God and death, and often brought on by the prairie wind: “when it washed through poplar leaves, when it set telephone wires humming and twanging down an empty prairie road, when it ruffled the feather on one of Sherry’s roosters standing forlorn in a bare yard […] always, he noted, the feeling was most exquisite upon the prairie or when the wind blew”.


stoneangelThe Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence (1964)

The Stone Angel tells the story of Hagar Shipley. Set in fictional Manawaka, Manitoba, the novel contains a present-day (i.e. 1960’s) narrative in which Hagar – now 90 and full of regret over her joyless and difficult life – is fighting with her son, who wishes to put her in a nursing home. The remainder of the novel looks back into the past and tells Hagar’s story. Toronto Review of Books describes Hagar as “one of the few great and fully realized characters of Canadian literature”. Laurence’s prose is exquisite: a book to read slowly and savour.


fifthbusinessFifth Business, by Robertson Davies (1970)

The first novel of the Deptford Trilogy, Fifth Business is considered by some to be the witty and erudite Davies’ finest novel. Dunstan Ramsay has recently retired from a career as a schoolteacher, and is insulted by the lukewarm send-off he has been given. He writes a letter to the head in which he demonstrates that he has in fact led a full and interesting life; that letter is the novel. Why did Davies call it ‘Fifth Business’? Davies seemed to enjoy pranks and he at first claimed that he had taken the term from an obscure Norwegian literary work, and even added a quote from it at the beginning of his novel. When pressed, he later admitted that his story of the title’s origin was as fictional as the novel itself. This is a rich, delightful and moving work.


acomplicatedkindnessA Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews (2004)

To finish up, here’s a modern classic, Miriam Toews’ fine second novel, set in the fictional town of East Village, Manitoba. It’s a very small town, mainly Mennonite, with two industries: a chicken slaughterhouse and an artificial ‘heritage’ village at which Toews’ protagonist, 16-year old Nomi Nickel, churns butter for the tourists. Nomi’s mother and sister have both escaped town, unable to bear their lives in East Village, and when he’s not selling off their remaining furniture, her father spends his days sitting by the roadside watching the cars go by. The mood of the town is largely governed by ‘The Mouth’, Nomi’s pastor and uncle. This novel is a rather bleak but powerful exploration of the life of a teenager in a tight-knit and oppressive community. It won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-Language Fiction in 2004.


So there’s our top 5 – what would be the one Canadian Classic that you think everyone should read?

NVCL Reads: Written by a Margaret

Margaret_Atwood_2015Whether you love her or loathe her, there’s no denying that when many of us think of Canadian literature, we think of Margaret Atwood.  And with a hit TV show — and the Trump administration in full (golf) swing — there’s no denying our Margaret’s work is enjoying a renaissance.  If you’re planning to read #NVCLreadsMargaret this summer, you may look no further than The Handmaid’s Tale, or you may want to get your hands on Atwood’s Angel Catbird graphic novels, or her books for children.  However, if you decide you’d like to branch out from Atwood, Canada has several awesome Margarets for you to choose from.

stoneangelThe next most obvious choice is Margaret Laurence, best-known for writing books you have been forced to read in high school (The Diviners, The Stone Angel) and loved anyway.     Her earlier works, like This Side Jordan, are set in Ghana, where the Laurences lived for a few years.

mr jonesMargaret Sweatman is yet another solid choice.  She’s even won the Margaret Laurence Award for fiction (thus effectively doubling her Margaret-ness).  We recommend Mr. Jones. “Set in a time of rampant paranoia, Mr. Jones peels back the veneer of Canadian politics to reveal a nation willing to sacrifice its own. It is a fearful time, a time of “peace” at the onset of the nuclear age.” (description from publisher)

Sweatman’s works also work for #NVCLreadsHistorical or #NVCLreadsWinner

momentary darkIf poetry (#NVCLreadsPoetry) is more your speed, try Margaret Avison’s Momentary Dark, “a celebration of the world, but not without edge and a quiet challenge to care for a damaged earth and all its citizens equally, including a veritable populace of city trees graciously and beautifully linking the earth and the sky” (description taken from the publisher).

This would also work for #NVCLreads200 and  #NVCLreadsPoetry

cougar annieAnd finally, if you like your Margarets with a healthy dose of non-fiction, you might want to check out Margaret Visser, Margaret Horsfield, or Margaret Macmillan.  In her Massey Lecture, Beyond Fate, Visser “investigates what fate means to us, and where the propensity to believe in it and accept it comes from.”  Horsfield meanwhile takes local history as her muse, writing extensively about Tofino and Clayoquot Sound.  Like Horsfield, Macmillan is inspired by history.  She focuses mainly on the late 19th and early 20th century, and is best known for her book 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.


Whatever your reading tastes, we’ll bet there’s a Canadian Margaret for you.


**For those of you just joining us for NVCL Reads: Canada 150 bingo, please download your bingo card from our website.  Five lucky winners will each receive a $25 gift card to a local bookstore!

Our Favourite Canadian Reads

We asked staff to share their favourite Canadian read with you.  If you’re taking part in our NVCL Reads: Canada 150 bingo game, you can use these reads for Five Star Reads (#NVCLreadsFiveStar) or use your own favourite (we’d love it if you shared it with us).

Fereshteh 22Our Multicultural Services Librarian, Fereshteh, raves about Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance.   Why? “After so many years,  I can still remember the story  vividly, this book transports the reader to a  world filled with colour , taste, smell and unforgettable characters challenged by their human condition and unpredictable destiny.”

Audrey AdminAudrey, our Administrative Assistant’s all-time favourite Canadian book is The Diviners by Margaret Laurence.  “This classic book, part of the Manawaka series, is not only well written and engrossing, it also accurately depicts small town Canadian life which is familiar to me, being from a small town myself.  I have also visited her homestead in Neepawa, Manitoba!”

Timothy StewartOne of our Auxiliary Public Service Assistants, Timothy, chose a non-fic pick: “My most recent favourite is The NHL: A Centennial History by D’Arcy Jenish. It is well written book with plenty of stories of  how the NHL grew from a struggling league based out of Montreal and Toronto into the predominant hockey league of the modern era.”

Wiedmann, Margaret1As did Margarete, our Special Services Coordinator, who chose 52 best day trips from Vancouver by Jack Christie as her pick. “Jump in your car and go out and explore this great area.  It has so much to offer.  Many of these places can be reached by bus too.  Jack gives some great short adventures usually within ½ hour of the North Shore.  Once you are at you location, you can walk or hike the location, and see its many sight or just sit and enjoy your surroundings.  The book also allows you to plan side trips on the way to your destination.

Why not a new location every day for the summer, or at least a weekend getaway, without the coast of lodging.  Staycation at its best.”

Bear 150And finally our beloved Bear wanted to share his favourite book, Winston of Churchill, though he was pretty quiet on what made it a favourite.  (I wonder why…)

Have a 5-star Canadian read you’d like to share?  Sound off in the comments below!



Happy Canada Day 2016!

Oh, Canada!

Happy birthday to the most beautiful place on Earth! Here are some great reads that are set in our wonderful country.

British Columbia

curveoftimeM Wylie Blanchet – The Curve of Time

Set in the 1920s and 30s, The Curve of Time tells the true story of a widowed woman who put her five children on a 25 foot boat and sailed through the islands and coastline of BC, summer after summer. This memoir is full of natural history tidbits of the Pacific Northwest, information on the Haida culture, and beautiful prose which celebrates nature and the sea.

timebeingRuth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being

A Hello Kitty lunchbox washes up on the shores of Cortez Island, and thus begins A Tale for the Time Being. Half set in Japan and half in BC, Ozeki fills the pages with the story of a young girl who is bullied and lonely, and draws on themes such as Zen Buddhism to create an emotionally stirring and beautiful novel.

The Territories

citylostKelley Armstrong – City of the Lost

There is a town in the Yukon where people hide from their pasts, and Casey and Diana need to find it. The thrilling story of two women on the run, City of the Lost is the first book in a 6 part series by Armstrong. Full of mystery and suspense, City of the Lost is sure to keep you captivated!



beneathLorna Crozier – Small Beneath the Sky

Are small town stories and character-driven plot lines your thing? Set in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Crozier’s memoir captures what life was like in a small town with one street, and the poverty and alcoholism ingrained in the town where she was raised. Funny and heartbreaking at the same time, this book deals with family issues and growing up in rural Canada.


ondaatjeMichael Ondaatje –  In the Skin of a Lion

Many months of research went into this incredible depiction of immigrant life in Toronto in the 1930s. Ondaatje read through the city’s archives and old newspapers to ensure he accurately portrayed the true events worked into this story line. In the Skin of a Lion is the story of the brutally difficult work immigrants did of tunneling under Lake Ontario, building bridges, and logging which created the foundation of the city of Toronto. Ondaatje’s masterpiece has been called ‘mesmeric’ and ‘hallucinatory’ by readers, and is sure to give a new perspective on one of Canada’s most famous cities.


ruKim Thuy –  Ru

Ru is autobiographical fiction, and the story of a Canadian woman of Vietnamese origin whose family settled in Quebec as refugees. Moving back and forth through time and memory,  Ru documents snapshots of their sometimes beautiful and sometimes horrible journey and the lives they built at the end.


mischiefAlistair McLeod – No Great Mischief

Toronto, Cape Breton Island, and the mines of Northern Ontario are important locales for the characters in MacLeod’s novel. Dealing with family, from the present day all the way back to Scottish clans in the 1700s, No Great Mischief is a great work by one of Canada’s best novelists.


Happy reading, and an even happier Canada Day!

By Jen Streckmann, NVCL Practicum Student

Kat’s Summer Picks, 2016

I think I’m in the minority when it comes to my idea of what summer reads should be. This is actually the time of year when I seem to want to start looking for some big epic books. Winter’s when I tend to need the lighter reads. It must have something to do with my aversion to heat and beaches…  But I’ve tried for a mix this time around, so there’s certainly some lighter stuff in here. But it’s the big ones I’m really looking forward to.

lastcallnightshadeLast Call at the Nightshade Lounge, by Paul Krueger*

Of course cocktails have a certain type of magic to them, but Krueger’s novel takes that much more literally, featuring bartenders whose cocktails pack an actual magical punch, allowing them to be the front line in humanity’s defense against demon incursions. Sounds silly? Ok, maybe. A bit. But it’s lots of fun.  I particularly liked that each chapter featured a cocktail recipe with the magical, and often very funny, “history” of the drink and its ingredients. Very entertaining! (June)

magicbitterMagic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie M. Holmberg

Another on consumable magic, although this one is baked goods. The protagonist, Marie, is a baker who can infuse her confections with emotion, which then get passed on to whoever eats them. She’s also an amnesiac, and can only remember her own name. The story is of her journey, being captured and sold during a war, and of re-discovering some of her past, and the consequences of that past. There are some light elements to it, but it also delivers on the bitter and sweet promises from its title too.  (June)

ageofmythAge of Myth, by Michael J. Sullivan

One of my favourite fantasy themes is the interaction between the world’s Gods and mortals. Age of Myth is the first in a new series, and its premise begins with a god dying by human hands for the first time, and as a result, humanity is on the brink of annihilation. I haven’t read Sullivan before, but his previous series, The Riyria Chronicles gets great reviews, so I have high hopes for a new series I can obsess over. (June)

barkskinsBarkskins, by Annie Proulx

I may have mentioned on a few occasions that I like big books, and while Barkskins isn’t a fantasy novel, it sounds like Annie Proulx’s long-awaited new title fits big book bill! Coming in at over 700 pages long, it begins with two penniless Frenchmen in New France, and then covers 300 years of their descendants as they each work to seize all of the resources they can get, leaving the modern-day generation to face the ecological consequences.  I’ll forgive it for being historical fiction rather than fantasy on the grounds that it sounds pretty awesome. (June)

greenancientlightA Green and Ancient Light, by Frederic S. A. Durbin

While I keep hearing buzz about this book, I’m honestly having some trouble getting a solid description of its plot, other than it taking place during a war – apparently a parallel (world?) to WWII – and about a boy sent to live with his Grandmother.  But it’s being praised with words like timeless, gorgeous, beautiful, and classic, and described as Fairy-tale like, and full of myth, and mystery.  So even though I still don’t really know what it’s about, that’s just making me want to read it more!  (June)

penricsdemonPenric’s Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Bujold’s The Paladin of Souls, second book in the World of the 5 Gods series and 2004 Hugo winner, was really the novel that re-kindled my love affair with Fantasy. I’ve always been intrigued by the systems of magic that fantasy authors create, and at that time I hadn’t come across one before used solely divine magic. Coupled with a middle-aged, female protagonist only recently recovered from a madness-inducing curse, and of course Bujold’s fantastic writing, I was hooked once again. So I’m just a *little* excited that she’s returning to that world with this novella (and another one in the works!), which takes place between the first and second books of the original series. (July)

Anaturalhistoryhell Natural History of Hell, by Jeffrey Ford

This is a collection of short stories, in a range of genres ranging through literary, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and mixed. While thematically the stories all explore wickedness,  Kirkus reviews promises it still has a great mix of creepy-ness, humour, and heart-breaking poignancy. So as far as a summer read goes, it will fit the bill in terms of a short (or at least segmented) read, but only for those of you who still like a little darkness in the summer. (August)

obelisk… and now the one I’m waiting for with barely restrained impatience: 
The Obelisk Gate
, by N.K. Jemisin

The sequel to my (tied for) #1 pick from 2015, The Fifth Season, this second installment in the Broken Earth trilogy picks up where the last one left off. In an Earth so regularly inflicted with natural disasters that its survivors have come to tell the seasons by whatever environmental catastrophe began them, it seems as if this latest event may trigger the end. While Essun continues to search for her missing daughter, she must also now contend with her world-destroying returned former mentor, who wishes to train her as his successor. I’m intrigued as to how (or whether) Jemisin will continue to pull off the three vastly different POV narrators in this book as she did in the first. (August)

Well, that should keep me busy all summer! What about you? What’s on your list?
* Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced read copy!

Happy summer reading, whether it be light or heavy!

Mikale’s Summer Picks

It seems fitting that one of the last tasks I’ve left myself to do before going on vacation is to assemble my top literary picks for summer.  Let me begin by stating that I take my summer reads very seriously, in the way that under no circumstances should summer reads be too serious. While I always love a good dystopic-fantasy,  as stated in this hilarious New Yorker “think-piece” from 2014, “my ideal summer novel is delicately balanced on the edge of frivolity….The drama should feel VERY real to the characters but be very silly in contrast to anything you read in the world-news section of the New York Times.” In those dark, brooding rainy West Coast winter nights I love to curl up and be challenged by a serious piece of literature, but…. poolside? Not so much.

And so, here we go… Summer 2016.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro Notaro

Ok so maybe this one is going to be a bit too dark for my aforementioned “Summer Reads Rules of Conduct”, however I recently heard Tig Notaro tell a story about repeatedly meeting 80’s pop star Taylor Dayne on This American Life  and found myself laughing so hard on my run that I had to pull over to breathe properly, so I have faith there will be balance.

Her new book talks about a span of only four months in 2012 where Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. She then took her grief onstage to become one of the most intimate, and startling stand-ups out there today. For more information on her story, and the way her comedy has changed since that fateful period of time, I highly recommend checking out this great interview she recently gave with The Guardian. 

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

A beach-read of a different sort of variety…..Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Dennis- Benn uncovers a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. Set at an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.

Heroes From The Frontier by David Eggers heroeofthefrontier

I’m an unabashed Dave Eggers fan and will basically read anything he publishes. While his storylines may not always be as tight as they could be, Egger’s breezy writing-style is both punchy and compelling, and his novels (The Circle, and A Hologram for the King) consistently tackle complex ideas like online privacy and economic collapse in an accesible, and entertaining fashion . His new novel is about a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness that is plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.


mandiblesThe Mandibles; A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

Set in a not-too distant future Brooklyn, The Mandibles breaks down the struggles of one upper-middle class family as they cope with extreme water and food shortage, and general societal meltdown. Blending satire and parable with today’s headlines, Shriver creates a terrifying look into the not to distance future.


The Girls by Emma Cline girls.jpg

In this remarkable debut novel , the obsession with 1960s California cults comes to horrifying and electrifying life. While cults usually orbit charismatic men, Cline’s protagonist is teenage Evie, whose attraction to impossible-to-resist cool girls leads to her fate. An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong.

modernloversModern Lovers by Emma Straub

For fans of The Vacationers, comes Straub’s latest hit which promises to deliver sympathetic, well-developed characters and a story filled with humour and heartache.

Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.

Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.

Happy reading!







Patricia’s 2016 Summer Picks

wantallthebooksThis summer I want to read all the books, don’t you?  ‘Spoiled for choice’ doesn’t even begin to describe the new releases out this season (…which is how a list of 6 titles turned blossomed into the 8 10 12-strong list you see before you). Whether you are looking for something heart warming or spine chilling, summer 2016 has you covered.  Here’s a small fraction of the books I’ll be devouring:

Cuddled Up With the Kids

harrypotterAt the risk of stating the obvious the book of summer 2016 is a script for a play: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and IIPicking up nineteen years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the play focuses on Harry’s son, Albus.  I know the risk of disappointment is always great when expectations run this high, but it’s Harry Potter, so it’s bound to be lifechanging, right? (July)

furthermoreAlice in Wonderland fans will want to check out Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore.  In this re-vision of the Alice narrative, Alice is a 12-year old girl whose father has mysteriously disappeared.  She enlists the help of her frenemy Oliver to venture into the land of Furthermore and bring her father home. (August)

With a Flashlight Under the Covers

watchYou’re never too old to stay up too late eagerly turning pages to find out how the story ends.  For years Stephen King has been my go to late night reading buddy.  This summer he offers us End of Watch, the conclusion to the Bill Hodges trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes.  Hodges once again faces off against Brady Hartsfield who has developed unforeseen powers thanks to an experimental drug.  (June)

devilsrockI was so blown away by Paul Tremblay’s Stoker award-winning A Head Full of Ghosts that I can’t wait to get my hands on his latest, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock*Ghosts did a marvellous job of walking the line between realistic drama and supernatural thriller partly because Tremblay revels in his characters’ unreliability.  Devil’s Rock promises more of the same with the missing of a teenage boy Tommy, and the promise of finding him relying on the lies and half-truths told by the friends he was with before he disappeared. (June)

With a Box of Tissues

lilyHere’s one that’s perfect for fans of Garth Stein’s heartwarming The Art of Racing in the Rain.  And perfect for dog lovers.  And fans of quirky fiction like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry or The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  Lily and the Octopus* by Steven Rowley tells the story of singleton Ted Flask, and his furbaby Lily.  As for the octopus, you’ll have to read it to find out more…   (June)

With a Highlighter

homegoingThese days my Litsy account is non-stop quotes from Yaa Gyasi’s  Homegoing*, a sprawling family story that starts in 18th century Ghana with two sisters: one who marries a British governor and lives in a castle, and one who is forced into slavery.  It’s the kind of book you put down every few pages just to savour the writing properly.  My favourite quote so far: “Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you.  Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.” Literary tattoo anyone? (June)

With a Fruity Drink in the Sun

nineSooner or later we all need something frivolous and fun.  I’m looking forward to dipping into Nine Women, One Dress*a novel about an LBD in NYC and the women who buy, return, and borrow it from Bloomingdale’s (July)– and Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies* — because I quite simply am still not over Molly Ringwald, Baby, or Buttercup (June).  If I’m blessed enough to need a third fruity drink book, I choose Danika Stone’s All The Feels, a YA title that celebrates geek fandom. (June)

 With a Fan (When It’s Just Too Hot)

sunlightWhen it’s too hot to move, I recommend reading about the cold.  This summer I’ll be heading to Clachan Falls, November 2020.  Jenni Fagan’s post-apocalyptic The Sunlight Pilgrims* tells the story of an Earth with three suns, melting polar ice caps, and a temperature of -40C (in England!?!).  Trust me, when it’s scorching out, this one will hit the spot.  It’s a joyful novel about how we adapt and survive.  (July)

Wherever, Whenever

spellsMy final two picks are books I’m so excited to read that I’ll dive right in wherever, whenever.  Emma Cline’s debut The Girls* is a coming-of-age story that will get under your skin with its examination of the intensity of female friendships framed by a Manson-like cult.

Toronto! Witches! Russian folklore!  Family relationships!  Shapeshifters!  Claire Humphrey’s debut The Spells of Blood and Kin has it all, and I want in. Now, please.

What are you planning to read this summer?


*Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for ARCs of the starred titles — much appreciated!