Fiction

I Want All the Books!

The weather might be terribly treacherous, and driving might be dangerous, and I might not be able to be on social media or the Internet much these days because too much negativity is just plain bad for me; but THIS IS THE BEST BOOK WEEK in a very long time!  I’m pretty sure many of us could read only books that were published this week and be happy little bookworms for quite some time to come.  There’s something for everyone.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a selection of this week’s choicest goodies:

impossibleThe Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak*
Until May 1987, fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin of Wetbridge, New Jersey, is a nerd, but a decidedly happy nerd.  Afternoons are spent with his buddies, watching copious amounts of television, gorging on Pop-Tarts, debating who would win in a brawl (Rocky Balboa or Freddy Krueger? Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel? Magnum P.I. Or T.J. Hooker?), and programming video games on his Commodore 64 late into the night. Then Playboy magazine publishes photos of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White, Billy meets expert programmer Mary Zelinsky, and everything changes.**

norseNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman*
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.  In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki–son of a giant–blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.**

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee*
A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone. PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.**

possessionsThe Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy*
In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances. […] A tale of desire and obsession, deceit and dark secrets that defies easy categorization, The Possessions is a seductive, absorbing page-turner that builds to a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.**

refugeesThe Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen*
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer was one of the most widely and highly praised novels of 2015, the winner not only of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but also the Center for Fiction Debut Novel Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the California Book Award for First Fiction. Nguyen’s next fiction book, The Refugees , is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.**

 

Happy reading!

-Patricia

*Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for advanced readers’ copies of these titles.

**Blurbs provided by publishers.

 

 

Patricia’s Top 10 Reads of 2016

2016 is well-acknowledged to have been a pretty terrible year.  You know why.  On the plus side, 2016 has been a very very good year for books.  Here are my ten favourites:

hatchingBest Horror – The Hatching
I cannot imagine anything more terrifying than alien spiders that do what the spiders in this novel can do (and I’ve had six month’s worth of delicious fun trying.)  Let me say it again:  alien spiders.  (Also, they chew.) I pride myself on liking epically violent horror and yet could only read this book — the first in a series — with the lights on in the daytime when other people were around.  Warning: You will want to read the sequel immediately after finishing this book.  Also: alien spiders.

weepingwoman

Best Fiction for Art Lovers – The Weeping Woman
I feel deeply in love with this novel about a Cuban woman living in Paris and writing a biography of Picasso’s one-time lover Dora Maar, and have been mulling it over in my mind for the better part of this year.  Its release was timed near perfectly with the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Picasso: The Artist and his Muses.  I’m very much looking forward to a re-read in 2017.

exitBest Teen Read – Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Hermione Winters is a high school head cheerleader who gets raped at cheerleading camp.  The way that she copes and heals in the aftermath makes for compelling reading.  Hermione’s powerful relationship with her best friend Polly and the strength she draws from her make this book my favourite YA read of the year.

blizzardBest Post-Apocalyptic Red – The Blizzard
In nineteenth-century Russia. Garin, a district doctor, is desperately trying to reach the village of Dolgoye, where a mysterious epidemic is turning people into zombies. He carries with him a vaccine that will prevent the spread of this terrible disease but is stymied in his travels by an all-consuming snowstorm.*

prettyfastBest Quick Read – Life Moves Pretty Fast:  The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Anymore)
It’s okay to be authentically awkward in 80s films, and to dress badly, and to grapple with difficult problems.  Hadley Freeman celebrates many of our favourite 1980s films while examining them with a critical (often feminist) eye.  This book would make a perfect Christmas present for anyone nostalgic for the 1980s, or for those interested in feminist takes on pop culture.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

paxBest Book to Share with the Family – Pax
Pax is the story of a boy and his pet fox, Pax.  Peter’s father forces him to abandon his beloved companion in the woods.  Unable to be apart Pax and Peter each go on journeys to get back to one another.  The story is told alternates between Pax and Peter’s perceptions.  Pennypacker does a marvellous job of writing a page-turning adventure that still leaves room for quiet beautiful moments. (And Jon Klassen should illustrate everything.)

preciousBest Memoir – Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077
Craig Davidson is now a well-known writer of Canadian literary fiction.  He’s also a successful writer of horror under the pseudonym Nick Cutter.  And he used to be a bus driver. “For readers of Kristine Barnett’s The Spark , Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree and Ian Brown’s The Boy in the Moon, here is a heartfelt, funny and surprising memoir about one year spent driving a bus full of children with special needs.”*

breathBest Tearjerker – When Breath Becomes Air

Confession: Even the title makes me teary.  I cried so much reading this book that my eyes hurt for a whole day.  After nearly a decade of training to be a neurosurgeon, 36-year old Paul is on the cusp of the career of his dreams when he learns that he has an aggressive form of cancer.  I cannot highly recommend this memoir enough: it’s questioning, moving, and wise.  Nor can I warn you enough against reading it in public.  It should come with a warning: for home use only.

everyheartBest Fantasy – Every Heart a Doorway
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those people who still half believes in magical lands like Narnia or Fillory.  I can clearly imagine how privileged I would feel to belong in a place so precious that few people know it’s really real.  I can imagine how desperate I would be to get back ‘home’ to such a place if I left.  This book tells of children who have found their ‘home’ in magical places and are desperate to get back there.  It feels raw and true and beautiful.

homegoingBest Book of 2016 – Homegoing

The concept of Homegoing is simple and rich: it traces the lives of the descendants of two half-sisters born in 18th century Ghana.  One sister marries an Englishman an lives in a castle; the other is captured into slavery.  Each chapter jumps forward one generation.  There is longlasting evidence of the damage done by colonization and slavery in these very personal feeling stories.  Best of all, the ending is note perfect.

I’m super keen to know what other people’s favourite reads of 2016 are — Please share in the comments!

-Patricia

*Description from Bibliocommons

Patricia’s 2016 Fall Picks

Hurray!  The weather has turned!  Not feeling it?  Hear me out… Now that summer has fled we can all succumb to the urge to curl up with our favourite blanket, a cute cat (or dog, or…), and a hot cup of tea and read until our hearts content.  (Or until someone needs help finding the soccer cleats; whatever comes first.)  Here’s what I’ll be reading this fall:

The ConjoinedSeptember

September is an embarrassment of riches.  Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow* takes us to 1920s Moscow, where Count Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the luxurious Metropol Hotel.  Closer to home, Jen Sookfong Lee’s The Conjoined* tells the story of Vancouverite social Dear Mr. Mworker who finds the bodies of her two missing foster sisters while cleaning out her recently deceased mother’s freezer.  In Dear Mr. MHerman Koch, author of The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool, promises to keep us guessing once again.  This time around Koch writes about a novelist who’s obsessed with his neighbour.   My last pick for September is Alain Gillot’s The Penalty Area*, a heartwarming story about an Under 16 soccer team and their downtrodden coach.

The NextOctober

October is usually all about horror.  This year I’ll be making an exception for three books by women writers:  Stephanie Gangi’s The Next tells the story of a Joanna’s search for a happy ending from beyond the grave.  The Comet Seekers* is an ambitious offering from debut novelist Helen Sedgwick; the two main character’s lives are linked via comets.  Finally, Francine Prose’s Mister Monkey* looks like a whole helluva lot of fun. It tells the story of the cast of an off-off-off Broadway children’s musical.

Swing TimeNovember

Plan to make time for the heavy hitters this November.  Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon both have new fiction coming out.  At its heart Smith’s Swing Time* revolves around friendship and music to tell the story of two dancer friends only one of whom has talent. Meanwhile in Chabon’s Moonglow* a grandfather (who may or may not be Chabon’s own) reveals his deathbed confessions to his grandson.

More Big Name AuthorsHag-Seed

 

Several amazing big name authors have titles coming out this fall — so many that I could have spent a whole post just on them:   Emma Donoghue has The Wonder*, a story based on history about an Irish girl who fasts for four months (September).  Not to be outdone, Margaret Atwood has two offerings this fall:  Hag-Seed* is  a retelling of JerusalemShakespeare’s The Tempest and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series (October) and Angel Catbird* a comic book about a hybrid man-cat-owl (September).  Maria Semple‘s follow up to Where’d You Go Bernadette, Today Will Be Different* is a big-hearted story of a modern woman whose life is a mess (October). And finally, Alan Moore has that last word on what we should all be reading this fall: his doorstopper Jerusalem* (September).

Happy reading!

-Patricia

You and I are Going to Live Forever…

This week my Facebook feed was ablaze with findings from research done by Yale University suggesting that book lovers live longer (sometimes, not always, accompanied by YouTube clips of Oasis singing “Live Forever“).  In the interest of living a long long long long life, I decided to do some ‘science’ of my own.  If reading books makes you live longer, which book on my TBR pile would boost a readers’ longevity most?  Here’s how things panned out:

LiveForever1The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

This re-issued classic measures in at a paltry number — so small it barely registers on my tape measure unless I squint.  It does, however, pack a big wallop: a dense novella about a poor girl in Rio de Janeiro.

LiveForever3A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

More promising is Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety — a 872-page door stopper that tackles the French Revolution.  It shadows three men Robespierre, Desmoulins, and Danton, from their childhood, and charts the rise of the Reign of Terror.  As a longtime fan of A Tale of Two Cities, I feel like this book would make a good entry into Mantel’s fiction while adding years to your life.

longevityThe Dying Grass by William T. Vollmann

Now we’re getting places.  Vollmann’s 1300+ page account of the Nez Perce War (not to be confused with pince nez) is sure to aid readers questing for immortality.  It also offers an immersive look at the conflict between Native Americans and European colonials.  Washington Post called it,”the reading experience of a lifetime.”

The Familiar LiveForever4by Mark Danielewski

When the books are best measured vertically, you know you are on the right track.  Danielewski’s The Familiar is not only HUGE, it’s a wildly experimental novel that centres around a 12-year old epileptic girl named Xanther.

What can I say? I like big books! Which big books will you use to read yourself into old age?

-Patricia

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2016

As fun as it was to predict the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, I did an utterly terrible job of it.  Zero of my thirteen predictions made the actual longlist (which fills me with optimism that I’ll be able to do better next year).  Without further ado, here are the nominees:

From Canada

thienI couldn’t be more excited to see Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien on the longlist.  It’s an intergenerational saga that stretches from present day Vancouver back to 1940s China.  The Globe and Mail raves that this novel “will cement Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists”, and I can’t wait to read it.

The other Canadian nominee we share with the UK.  David Szalay’s novel in stories All That Man Is gives us glimpses into the lives of nine males at various stages of their lives.

From the US

selloutThe US has a strong presence on the longlist with five nominees:  The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a laugh out loud satire of race in America; acclaimed short story writer David Means’ Hystopiaan alternate history novel-within-a-novel;  Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, which the Guardian called “a courageous, masterful evocation of physical and psychological squalor”;  Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves, a debut novel set to be published in Canada in January 2017, and Elizabeth Strout’s acclaimed My Name Is Lucy Barton.

From the UK

northwaterThere are also five contenders from the UK:  A.L. Kennedy for Serious Sweet, a love story that will be published in Canada in October 2016; Deborah Levy for Hot Milk, the story of a mother and daughter who travel to Spain in search of a cure for the mother’s illness; Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, a historical courtroom drama set in Scotland that will be available in Canada in March 2017 (and looks amazing!); Ian McGuire’s The North Water, a tale about a 19th century Arctic whaling expedition; and The Many by Wyl Menmuir, a haunting novel about the effect a newcomer has on a small fishing village.

From South Africa/Australia

coetzeeThe Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

This sequel to The Childhood of Jesus will be published in Canada in October 2016.  If Coetzee wins the Booker this year, he’ll be the first person to ever win the award three times.  His previous wins are for The Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace. 

Anyone want to predict the shortlist*?  Odds are your predictions will best mine.

-Patricia

*The shortlist will be announced on September 13, 2016. The winner will be announced on October 25, 2016. (Go, Madeleine Thien, go!)

Booker Prize Longlist Predictions 2016

The Booker Prize Longlist (aka The Booker’s Dozen) is out tomorrow.  It’s one of the literary highlights of the year.  To be nominated a book must be published in the UK between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016, and have been originally published in English.  That’s a pretty wide open field (as you can see from this Goodreads list of eligible nominees). So who will make the cut?  Here are my predictions:

Which books would make your dream longlist?  Tune in tomorrow to find details of the actual longlist.

-Patricia

 

Wedding Season Survival Guide

cheers

Up until recently I didn’t really realize that “wedding season” is a thing. Then my late-twenties arrived. Gone are the halcyon days of impromptu weekend summer getaways in favor of  a regimented event schedule filled with uncomfortable footwear,  bubbly, and hopefully some earnest romance.

Some people claim to love wedding season, others claim to hate it–although I suspect most find themselves somewhere in the middle.  Regardless of where you stand in the nuptial spectrum, as Jen Doll, author of   Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest states in her article for Flavour Wire , “weddings make for great scenes, unforgettable moments of high expectation, emotion, and drama — in fiction as well as in nonfiction.” Whether you’re tying the knot, or deciding on how to fill that plus-one RSVP, consider this a survival guide full of practical tips, and literary inspiration.

Tips and Tricks

The Worst-case Scenario Survival Handbook worstcasewedding

by Joshua Piven

Not to be a pessimist, but really who knew that so much could go wrong on such a happy day? This  step-by-step instruction guide is designed to help the bride and groom–and everyone else–survive the nuptials, from trimming the guest list all the way through to re-purposing unwanted presents. This manual teaches how to charm nightmare in-laws,  combat floral allergies, stop a disastrous toast, and enjoy the day.

Pocket Guide to Wedding Speeches & Toasts by Darren Noel pocketguidewedding.jpg

I’m one of those people who thinks that they’re skilled at public-speaking, until of course I actually step up to the mic.  Thankfully, the library has several copies of how-to manuals and guides to help sweaty-palmed orators float from our seats to the podium and back with some semblance of poise, and hopefully at least one laugh (or tear)  from the audience.

 

weddingetiquette.jpgThe Everything Wedding Etiquette Book; From Invites to Thank-you Notes–all You Need to Handle Even the Stickiest Situations With Ease by Holly Lefevre 

I think that one of the biggest sources of wedding-related anxiety results from the complex, awkward, and often contentious interrelationships that develop when two independent people and their associated families, friends, and distant cousins are brought together under one roof, fed a pile of alcohol and told to get along.   Alas, this guide is designed to help wedding planners navigate the art of seating charts, thank-you cards, and tricky in-law dramas with ease.

 

Literature for for the hopeless romantics….

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead seatingarrangements.jpg

A romantic comedy set over three days of a WASP-y wedding on an island off the coast of New England, this novel allows the complex interrelationships to fully blossom into hilarious, preppy depravity.  A social satire which explores themes of status, family, love and its obligations, this novel is a perfect precursor to the upcoming wedding in your calendar.

prideandpredPride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

From the classic opening line, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”,  Austen sets the tone for this classic novel which cements advantageous marriage as a fundamental social value, and the central ambition for its main characters. Even a cynic like me was swept up in  this genteel turn-of-the-century story.

 

The Princess Bride   By William Goldman princessbride

“Mawidge, it’s a dweam wiffin a dweam” Enough said.

(P.S. The audiobook version narrated by Rob Reiner is particularly hilarious)

 

Literature for the wedding-tolerant….

janeeyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Sure, they may get married in the end…however, with Mr. Briggs’ interruption “I declare the existence of an impediment,” readers everywhere were forever doomed to wince upon hearing the words “speak now or forever hold your peace”.  This broody classic is arguably the ultimate botched-wedding.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens  greatexpec

As Jen Doll states,  “is there a more tragic and memorable jilted at the altar figure than poor, dear Miss Havisham? ” Twenty minutes before her wedding is set commence, she gets a letter from her betrothed,  Compeyson, who has defrauded her and won’t be showing up. Thus begins the rest of her life, frozen in time as a hermit in her spoiling mansion, wearing her wedding dress and one shoe, and her wedding cake left uneaten on the table.  Yeesh.

 

 

If all else fails, there’s also this awesome Wedding Season Bingo game card  from Swimmingly which is worth a good giggle.

wedding season bingo

(image source: http://www.swimmingly.com/relationships/weddings/keep-track-of-all-the-hottest-wedding-trends-with-summer-wedding-bingo/)

 

Cheers!

-Mikale