Zadie Smith

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

Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Announced!

Women's Prize for Fiction 2013The 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist is out today!  You can see Heidi and Patricia‘s predictions here and here. We did pretty well, all things considered.

There’s a lot of “Will she…?” surrounding this list, so without further ado:

Will Barbara Kingsolver be the first woman to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) twice? Up this year for Flight Behaviour, Kingsolver won the Orange Prize in 2010 for her historical novel The Lacuna.  To take home the Bessie, she beat out Hilary Mantel (nominated for Wolf Hall).

Will Zadie Smith be the first woman to win the Women’s Fiction Prize twice? Smith first won the Orange Prize in 2006 for On Beauty.  Like Kingsolver, she had to beat Hilary Mantel (nominated for Beyond Black) to do so. This year, she’s up for her experimental novel, NW.

Will Bring Up The Bodies score the literary equivalent of an EGOT? In 2012, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies won both the Man Booker prize and the Costa (formerly the Whitbread).  Mantel has been nominated twice before and both times she was beaten out by authors who are also shortlisted this year.  Could this be her year?

Will A.M. Homes win and become more of a household name? May We Be Forgiven is the sixth novel by American novelist A.M. Homes.  Homes is also the author of The Safety of Objects (which was made into a film in 2003) and The End of Alice. She’s known for being both darkly comic and emotionally effecting.  I think May We Be Forgiven is a great read; it would be nice if this competition brings Homes more recognition.

Will this be the first Women’s Prize to go to a former Arrested Development producer? (Okay, I may be reaching here…) Before Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple was known as a TV producer.  She worked on Arrested Development (in my books this means she doesn’t have to do anything else in her life ever for her life to be considered well-lived.)  Heidi will be thrilled if she wins.

Or… will Kate Atkinson win? Kate Atkinson is already a household name thanks to her Jackson Brodie series.  She’s also celebrated – she’s been given the Whitbread Award for her 1995 book Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  The NYT Book Review called her nominated novel, Life After Life,  “a big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author’s fully untethered imagination.” I’m all about that.  How about you?

Which book do you predict will win? Answer in the comments below, and if your pick wins, we’ll enter you into a drawing for a super sweet NVCL Book Bag!

–Patricia

 

Heidi’s Picks for the Women’s Prize Shortlist

My picks for the Women’s Prize shortlist, out tomorrow, are proof positive that Patricia and I have divergent tastes when it comes to fiction.

Her first two picks — The Innocents and Flight Behavior — are two of my least favourites on the long list. I thought The Innocents was maudlin and overwraught, and I was so disappointed with Barbara Kingsolver’s pedantic turn with the heavy-handed Flight Behavior.

I’ll also add that, unlike Patricia, I will probably tear my hair out if Bring Up the Bodies and The Marlowe Papers land the shortlist tomorrow. There is nothing I’d like to read less than dense historical English fiction with thick colloquial language, or, even worse, actual verse. Ew.

Instead, these are the titles I’d like to see on the shortlist tomorrow:

 

BernadetteWhere’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple: I can’t help but evangelize this smart, heart-warming and laugh-out-loud hilarious send-up of Seattle upper-middle-classdom. I also met Maria Semple at the King County Library System’s Literary Lions Gala, and she was delightful, charming and super friendly.

 

 

How Should a Person BeHow Should a Person Be?, by Sheila Heti, is not for everyone. Many have called it shallow and pretentious. I can understand how the psuedo-novel/memoir might be perceived as such. But if you assume Heti’s affectations are self-aware and tongue-in-cheek, the book offers a dimensional, funny and honest look at identity, art and friendship in contemporary 20/30s-something culture.

 

 

Alif the UnseenThe only book Patricia and I agree with for the shortlist is Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson. I would never have picked up this techno thriller-meets-mystic Middle Eastern fable if it hadn’t been on the longlist. But I’m so glad I did. I’ve never read anything like it, and couldn’t put it down. What a wonderful story!

 

 

Red BookI have yet to read The Red Book, by Deborah Copaken Kogan, but the story of a group of Harvard College roommates 20 years post-graduation sounds right up my alley.

 

 

 

NWNW, by Zadie Smith, is not necessarily my favourite Zadie Smith novel, but what a novel it is.

 

 

 

 

Gone GirlAnd how cool would it be for Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, to end up on the shortlist? I’m not saying it should win, and yes it is quite mainstream, commercial fiction. But damn, Flynn is an amazing writer and storyteller. And honestly, I haven’t met a single person who read Gone Girl who didn’t love it.

 

 

Stay tuned for the shortlist announcement tomorrow morning. We’ll post something about it ASAP.

–Heidi

Women’s Fiction Prize 2013

Women's Prize for Fiction 2013It was March 2011.  I was up several times a night with the kids and then again a time or two with my constant companion, insomnia.  Tired of reading and re-reading Fancy Nancy and sure that my adult brain would thrive if I could just pick up a book with chapters, I began reading the 20 books that made up the 2011 Orange Prize Longlist, finishing the soon-to-be-winning novel, Tea Obrecht’s fabulous The Tiger’s Wife just hours before the winner was announced.  For two glorious months, I didn’t think about what to read, I just read and read and read.

I’m looking forward to doing the same this year with the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist (same prize, new name).  There is such a wide range of experiences covered by the books on this list — from women’s experience in the Israeli army (The People of Forever Are Not Afraid) to hackers in the Arabian Gulf (Alif the Unseen) — that readers can read this list straight through and hopefully feel excited anew with each read.

It’d be great to have company on the journey on the way.  Please post your comments about any of the longlisted titles you’ve read or plan to read below.

Let’s have a look at what we’ll be reading:

First Time Lucky

Marlowe PapersThere are six debut novelists on this list:  Ros Barber for The Marlowe Papers, a novel in verse about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays; Shani Boianjiu for The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, Bonnie Nadzam for Lamb, a modern day Lolita tale; Francesca Segal for The Innocents, one of my favourite reads of 2012; M.L. Stedman for The Light Between Oceans, about the moral quandary a lighthouse keeper faces when he finds an infant washed ashore; and G. Willow Wilson for Alif the Unseen.

 

Close to Home

How Should a Person BeSheila Heti’s novel, How Should a Person Be?, about, well, Sheila Heti, is the sole Canadian author to make the list.  It was panned by The Telegraph and  in Entertainment Weekly, and named in the 100 Notable Books of the Year in the New York Times. If nothing else, it’ll be a good one to talk about with friends.

 

The Usual Suspects

Bring Up the BodiesThis year no literary award longlist seems complete without Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, a sequel to her award winning Wolf Hall.  Perennial favourite (and winner for The Lacuna) Barbara Kingsolver has been nominated for Flight Behavior, her novel about global warming.  One of Heidi’s and my favourite novelists, Zadie Smith is up for NW*, about life in northwest London.

 

Pleasant Surprises

Gone GirlIt seems Heidi and I have another reason to rave about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the only thriller to receive a nod this year.  Popular mystery writer Kate Atkinson is up for Life After Life, a novel about a woman who lives and relives different versions of her own life.  And former Arrested Development writer Maria Semple has been nominated for her comic novel, Where’d You Go Bernadette.

 

Under the Radar

HonourOne of the best parts about reading through a longlist is the number of books that you quite simply weren’t aware of.  In this case, I’m looking forward to  Elif Shafak’s Honour, about Turkish immigrants living in 1970s London; Michele Robert’s Ignorance*, a WWII drama; Emily Perkin’s family saga The Forrests; A.M Holmes’ tragicomedy May We Be Forgiven and Deborah Copaken Kogan’s The Red Book.

 

Coming Soon?

A Trick I Learned From Dead MenTwo from the list are currently out of print in Canada:  Kitty Aldridge’s A Trick I Learned from Dead Men and Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds.

 

 

I’ll keep you posted as I read.  Please do the same.  For a photo gallery of the longlist, visit The Guardian.  The shortlist of six will be announced on April 16, and the winner on June 5.

–Patricia

*Thank you, as always, to NetGalley for providing e-galleys of these titles.

Heidi’s Best Books of 2012

Heidi and Patricia pick their best books of the year, just in time for last-minute holiday shopping! Here are Heidi’s picks…

In a recent post on The Millions, Sheila Heti wrote “It’s a weird and tremulous thing to look at a list of the books you loved in a year — you see the inside of your mind and heart: what you were coping with in January, what mattered most in February and March, what you hope to be thinking about next year.”

As I put the finishing touches on this post, it struck me that my slate of best books of 2012 almost all center around characters facing pivotal life decisions. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it was a big year of big life decisions for me, as well. It’s strange to realize, after the fact, that your reading choices say a lot about who you are and what you’re going through. And so here they are, in no particular order:

 

The Yellow BirdsBest Debut: The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

War fiction at its best – poetic, personal, elegiac. Written by an Iraq War Vet who will be on many literati’s radar from now on.

 

 

This is How You Lose HerBest short stories: This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

It’s not an easy feat, but Junot manages to portray his philandering, doltish male characters as endearingly sympathetic.

 

WildMost deserving of its hype:

Janet Potter recently pronounced Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, this year’s Strongest Confirmation of Public Opinion, saying “Everyone is right. This book is great.” Patricia also praised this book in a similar fashion. I heartily second their endorsements. Just read it, already.

 

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBest nearly plotless novel: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain is set at a bombastic Dallas Cowboys game where Billy Lynn and his army comrades are worshipped as war victors. Nothing much happens, but it will wrench your gut all the same.

 

 

Gone GirlMost appealing book to fans of both literary and thriller fiction: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn is tautly plotted and tightly written. Twisty and turny, with deplorable characters you can’t help but root for.

 

 

Tiny Beautiful ThingsMost likely to make you cry while vowing to make momentous life changes: Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

There she is again! Who needs a therapist when you’ve got two books by Cheryl? This one is a collection of her Dear Sugar columns, originally published anonymously on the therumpus.net.

 

NWYou either love it or hate it award: NW, by Zadie Smith

I fell into the former camp, obviously. Yes, it was experimental and slightly uneven, but I was ultimately impressed by Smith’s ability to illustrate four characters’ struggles with identity and class in contemporary Northwest London.

 

Above All ThingsBest historical fiction: Above All Things, by Tanis Rideout

Based on the true story of British mountaineer, George Mallory – the first Westerner to scale Mount Everest in the early 1900s — and his wife, Ruth. The book simultaneously inspired me to start backpacking and also to vow never to set foot on a mountain again – it is that inspiring and that terrifying. Bonus: Tanis Rideout will be at the North Shore Writers Fest next April!

 

The Age of MiraclesBook that left me ruminating days after I put it down: The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

Subtle and poignant, the story of a future tween who must cope with the increasing drama of adolescence while the world around her literally slows to a stop. A coming of age story set in a scarily realistic speculative future.

 

The LifeboatMost harrowing book of the year: The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan

A tense and morally questioning tale of shipwreck survivors on the open sea. A perfect book club selection.

 

 

Beautiful RuinsBest narrative construction: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Quite possibly the most perfectly constructed novel I’ve read in a long time. Walter dazzles with a kaleidoscope of stories – a love triangle between a young Italian dreamer, a Hollywood ingénue, and a smarmily charismatic fictional Richard Burton; a despondent musician and his playwright girlfriend; and a jaded Hollywood agent whose life takes a turn for the bizarre when her boss – a fossilized has-been movie producer – options a young hipster’s screenplay about the Donner Party. Yes, it’s funny. It’s romantic. It sounds and looks like a beach read. But underneath its many layers, this book illustrates how decay and suffering weather life and love into things of beauty. 

 

The Dog StarsBest Book of the Year: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

Very rarely does a book meet my extremely high expectations. This one exceeded them. I fell in love with The Dog Stars, which could be described as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if written by John Krakauer, with a slightly more optimistic take on the aftermath of apocalypse. 

 

Okay, people, what were your favourite books of 2012??

–Heidi

 

Heidi’s Fall Picks

This fall presents a bevy of novels from literary heavyweights. Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, and Junot Diaz all have novels/story collections out in the next few months that I’m super excited about. In addition to these sure bets, here are a few other titles I’m really looking forward to:

(Click on titles to place a hold in the library catalog)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan, is the story of a San Francisco web designer who lands a job at a mysterious book store after the Great Recession of 2008.  Clay’s investigation into the inner workings of the shop unveil more than he could have imagined — global conspiracy,  complex code-breaking, romance and adventure.

I can’t wait for The Twelve, by Justin Cronin, the follow-up to his 2009 zombie/vampire apocalypse tale, The Passage.

 

 

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin, is set in the rugged American West in the early twentieth century. At the foot of the Cascade Mountains, a solitary orchardist haphazardly adopts two destitute girls, only to encounter a brutal tragedy that changes the course of all their lives.

 

Eight Girls Taking Pictures, by Whitney Otto, chronicles the lives of eight female photographers throughout the 20th Century, from the author of How to Make an American Quilt. Though the stories span a diverse array of settings and times, from New York to Buenos Aires to Rome, the women’s lives share surprisingly similar themes of independence and love.

Murder Mystery fans should consider placing a hold on The Cutting Season, by Attica Locke. It’s the story of a modern-day plantation manager, Caren, who discovers a dead girl buried on the property she has overseen for four years. An investigation ensues and Caren’s revelations about the girl and the deceptively beautiful plantation shed light on a contemporary Deep South where some things never change.

What books are you looking forward to reading this fall?

–Heidi