Winter Picks

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

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?


Kat’s 2016 Winter Reads


The Inheritance Trilogy… coming in at 2 1/4″ thick

It’s going to be a busy winter! Before I can get to the titles on this list, I’ve got to get through this monster-sized book:

It’s awesome so far (every bit as good as I expected it to be after reading Jemisin’s more recent novel, The Fifth Season) Also, to be fair, it’s three books and one novella in one edition… I just hadn’t anticipated how big that would be when I ordered it.

But as soon as I’ve worked my way through that, these are next up:

Thiscensus Census-Taker by China Mieville

From the master weird-fiction writer, this story is narrated by a young boy who has witnessed a deeply traumatic event; trapped, he dreams of escape, and thinks he might have found the help he’s been looking for in a stranger who knocks at the door. But apparently the man may not be what he appears. Knowing Mieville, I’m intrigued as to why this novella is called “This” census-taker rather than “The” or “A”…

lucybartonMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The Pulitzer Prize winner of Olive Kitteridge turns her eye to the complex mother-daughter relationship in her latest novel.  In it, Lucy is recalling the time she spent recovering in hospital and her Mother, with whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, came to visit. Strout’s characters are always so fully realized, and I’m excited to meet a new set of them.

whywecameWhy We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma

About a group of tight-knit twentysomething New Yorkers, this is a story about friendship, loss, and how we grow together and grow apart. It’s described as “warm, funny, and heartfelt,” with an engaging ensemble cast.  And I can never turn down ensemble casts.


nobaggageNo Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen

A travelogue with an engaging premise; Clara and Jeff barely know each other, but set out on a 21-day trip from Istanbul to London with no plan and (they think) no baggage. Of course ‘baggage’ has that double meaning here, but I’m honestly interested in the literal meaning, and how one can do without it on a trip of this scale.

portableveblenThe Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie

The story of a soon-to-be-married couple, whose engagement is threatened by their dysfunctional families, career aspirations, and other things/people that come between them.  Called “Quirky,” with appendices and squirrels, so I’m sold.


heartisamuscleYour Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Yapa’s debut novel, set during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, is the story of how one afternoon will change the lives of seven people forever.  It promises to be a beautiful and emotionally powerful  – albeit potentially gritty – read.





New Books Published in January & February

Here are a few new titles I’m looking forward to that are scheduled for release in the next two months. What’s on your reading list?

WalkingNileWalking the Nile, by Levison Wood

This one is for all you armchair travellers out there. Ex-army officer, Levison Wood, is the first person to have walked the entire length of the Nile (4,250 miles), crossing seven countries, foraging, camping, and defending himself against multiple dangers. It’s also an exploration of modern Africa, with reviewers commenting on the depth of the political and historical content. Sign me up!

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East, by Richard HellBrokeLooseEngel

At twenty-three, Engel set off for Cairo to be a reporter. In the decades since, he has witnessed the Arab Spring, seen Mubarak and Morsi arrested and condemned, been taken hostage, shot at, and blown out of his hotel bed. He interviewed Libyan rebels, witnessed the arrival of Al-Qaeda in Syria, and saw the rise of ISIS. This promises to be a page-turning account of a region we all need to understand more.

IntoMagicShopInto the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart, by James R. Doty, MD

At twelve years old, Doty wandered into a magic shop to buy a plastic thumb (as one does). But instead of getting a fake appendage, he met a woman who taught him exercises to ease suffering and achieve his potential. Part memoir, part science, part inspiration, and part practical instruction, this book is being described as a guide for changing our lives, by first changing our hearts.

100 Million Years of Food: What our Ancestors Ate and Why it Matters Today, by 100MillionYearsStephen Le

Interest in Paleo diets and the like has sparked much curiosity about the evolution of nourishment. This book, by biological anthropologist Stephen Le, promises to explain how cuisines of different cultures came about through centuries of adjustments to biology and environment. He argues that ancestral diets present the best defense in protecting health. Looks fascinating.

RaisingRylandRaising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached, by Hillary Whittington

Moving stories about unconditional love are always high on the reading list agenda. When Jeff and Hillary Whittington realized they were parenting a transgendered child, they posted a YouTube video chronicling the transition, and it has been viewed 7 million times. This book is the account of their journey and it illuminates a very timely subject.

UngentlemanlyA Most Ungentlemanly Way of War: The SOE and the Canadian Connection, by Colonel Bernd Horn

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was created by Churchill to sabotage Nazi interests and support partisan uprisings behind their lines. It was a unique organization focused on innovation and adventure, and many of its members were trained at Camp X in Ontario. This book looks at the Canadian contributions to this little-known aspect of the Allied fight.

IndustriesFutureThe Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross

It seems the only constant in our world, is change, change, change. This book promises to give a perspective on what’s coming in robotics, cybersecurity, genomics, and big data. Ross also covers the evolution of what work means, and addresses other global trends that affect the way we live. Looks like a must-read for all of us.

Put these on hold now!

Patricia’s Highly Anticipated Reads 2016

I have been counting down to 2016 for three long years.  In April I will finally graduate from grad school and be free to read more often and more widely (FYI, I’ve been showing great reading restraint these past three years.)  Here are the books I’m most looking forward to by some of my favourite authors:


firemanThe Fireman by Joe Hill (April 2016)

I do love a well done fictional pandemic.  In Hill’s version the new plague causes people to spontaneously combust.  When a pregnant nurse becomes infected she becomes determined to live long enough to see her baby born.

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter (release TBA)

I first discovered Cutter (aka successful litfic author Craig Davidson) this month with The Deep, and fell for his old school horror vibe.  He describes his upcoming work as “the story of three mercenaries—gunfighters, almost—who take a job rescuing a boy from a backwoods religious settlement in the woods of New Mexico”


eligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (April 2016) &  Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (June 2016)

Literary heavyweights take on the classics:  Sittenfeld tackles perennial fav Pride and Prejudice, while Tyler takes on Shakespeare with her telling of Taming of the Shrew.


romanovsThe Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore (May 2016)

There can simply never be enough books about the Romanovs.  Now preeminent Russian historian Montefiore gives us an examination of the over 300 years the Romanovs ruled Russia.

backtomoscowBack to Moscow by Guillermo Erades (May 2016)

A Russian literature major from America comes of age in 2000s Moscow.  For fans of “the whiskey sour satire of Bret Easton Ellis” and “the neurotic openness of Ben Lerner.”

Debut Fiction

translationThe Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake (April 2016)

I remember reading Obasan in high school and being shocked that internment camps were part of Canadian history.  Aya Shimamura lost her mother in the camps before being repatriated to Japan with her mourning father.  Her classmate Fumi wants Aya to use her English language skills to help find her missing sister.

Books By Writers Who Excite Me Whatever The Topic

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (February 2016)portugal

The Life of Pi remains one of my favourite books of all time.  While there are no tigers in this novel, which intertwines three narratives, I can promise you a chimpanzee… and a lot of heart.

forgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (May 2016)

The story of a love triangle in WWII London

End of Watch by Stephen King (June 2016)

The concluding volume in the Mr. Mercedes detective trilogy

mandiblesThe Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (June 2016)

An ultra rich American family struggles with newfound poverty in 2029.

What 2016 releases are you most looking forward to? Sound off in the comments below. Happy Holidays!


Holiday Gift Suggestions: Children’s

giftbookIt is so satisfying to give a child a book that they truly love.  Here are my recommendations for children of all ages.

Middle Graders

sunnySunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

If the child in your life has read their copies of Smile and El Deafo to tatters, you’ll want to pick up Sunny Side Up, a big-hearted graphic novel about a girl sent to visit her grandfather at his retirement community.

Absolutely any novel by David Walliamswalliams

It’s too much of a challenge to pick just one David Walliams book to recommend.  His books are very funny and read aloud well.  They are perfect for families who’ve read everything by Roald Dahl and still want more.

nestThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Even as a child, I was drawn to the darker side of life.  Sentient wasps are pretty darn dark.  This tale of a boy dealing with his anxieties over a very sick baby brother is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline without being derivative.  It’s probably the best book I’ve read this year.


For The Picture Book Crowd

The Princess and The Pony by Kate Beatonprincesspony

Don’t be fooled by the title — this book isn’t just for pink-frilled Frozen fans.  My 5-year old loves this tale of a would-be battle ready princess and her “cutey-wootey” [his words] farting pony.

waitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes

Perfect for quiet cuddles before bed, Henkes’ Waiting is the quiet story of a collection of treasured toys sitting on a windowsill.  It’s destined to be a classic.

I Will Chomp You by Jory Johnchomp

As much for parents who remember the delights of There’s A Monter At the End of this Book as it is for kids, I Will Chomp You is the utterly interactive story of a monster who desperately doesn’t want young readers to turn the page.

Board Books for Babies and Toddlers

minimythWhile you can’t go wrong with the classics, like Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You?, I would buy one of Joan Holub’s Mini Myths titles and Herve Tullet’s The Game of Finger Worms for the babies on my list.  The Mini Myths are a mix of moral and good humour, while Tullet’s Finger Worms encourage young ones to see books as a kind of play.

Happy shopping!


The Search for 2015’s The Book

no-peekingOver the years, choosing one book to gift our adult relatives has become a bit of a thing in our household.  That’s why this weekend when my husband and I found ourselves temporarily childless, we settled in for a marathon browsing session on all our favourite book sites.  [If you are my parents or in-laws, now is a good time to stop reading and close your browser.  No peeking.]

We had thought that choosing this years Book would be a no-brainer — undermajorPatrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is still mentioned as the best book we’ve ever given, and deWitt had a new book out this year.  What we didn’t bank on is that our Irish relatives actively sought out a copy of Undermajordomo Minor upon its publication.

Which left us a bit stumped.

littlelifeWe tossed around some big titles from 2015 — Hana Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Booker-prize winner Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, my husband’s favourite reads of the year, were mentioned and then discarded as not being upbeat enough for holiday gift giving.

I was all for giving out Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a Lost Child, but wasn’t sure that everyone in the family had kept up with the Neopolitan novels.  (I’m purposefully deferring reading Ferrante’s latest because I really really really like delayed reading gratification.)

In the end, it was this CBC piece from January  that captured our emmaottoimaginations and decided the matter for us.

Though neither of us have read it, we’ve decided that Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James is The Book for gift giving in 2015.

The novel begins with a letter from 82-year old Saskatchewan native Emma to her husband, Otto:

“I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.”

The water Emma refers to is the Atlantic Ocean and she embarks on the 3232 km journey alone and on foot — the last great adventure of her life.  As Emma walks and Otto waits old memories resurface revealing a past full of hunger, war, passion and hope.