Friday, December 28, 2012

The Inn at Rose Harbor

Debbie Macomber

When I picked up The Inn at Rose Harbor I was looking forward to reading another book in Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series. I had been surprised to learn that Macomber had toyed with the idea of ending her popular thirteen-book series based in the fictional town of Cedar Cove on Puget Sound. Instead, the New York Times best-selling author listened to her readers and came up with a compromise: she started a new series involving a bed-and-breakfast set in the town. While the old characters will still drop by, the story will now revolve around the bed-and-breakfast’s owner, Jo Marie Rose, and her guests.

In this first instalment, we learn that recently-widowed Jo Marie is struggling with grief. In need of a fresh start, she quits her job in Seattle and buys a bed-and-breakfast in Cedar Cove. After settling in, she welcomes her first guests, Joshua Weaver and Abby Kincaid. Joshua is hoping to reconcile with his dying stepfather, while Abby needs to let go of the guilt she has carried for over twenty years. Using three points of view in alternating chapters, Macomber skillfully traces their healing journeys.

The book was a quick read and I was disappointed to put it down. But I was reassured by its ending: Debbie Macomber left us with the promise of another wonderful story involving two mysterious guests.

- Joanne Guidoccio

A World Elsewhere

Wayne Johnston

More than a decade ago, on a side street off St. Clair West in Toronto, I came across a box of books marked FREE. When they were all still there the next morning as I was leaving a friend’s apartment, I scooped them up. Among field guides to birds and a few dusty relics was a rather nice copy of Wayne Johnston’s Colony of Unrequited Dreams.

I didn’t know Johnston’s work back then, so it was an unexpected pleasure to find the book an erudite and delightful read. It was also my introduction to Newfoundland’s colourful history, here seen through the eyes of Joey Smallwood, the “last” father of Confederation, who is in a powerful and conflicted relationship with Sheilagh Fielding, a reporter and columnist. Later I read Johnston’s The Custodian of Paradise, in some ways a sequel and also captivating. Johnston has become one of my favourite authors, deft with language and able to create truly interesting characters and story lines with unexpected turns. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up A World Elsewhere.

This time the ferocity of Newfoundland in winter is sharply contrasted with “a world elsewhere,” a world so different that it seems fantastic. Vanderland, the setting for a large part of the book, is a massive castle in North Carolina built by Padgett Vanderluyden, a key character in the book. Van, as he is called, has befriended the main protagonist, Landish Druken, who is attending Princeton instead of staying in St. John’s and following his father’s plan for him to take over as captain of a very successful sealing ship. As over-the-top as Vanderland seems, Johnston actually bases the fairy-tale-like castle on the 250-room, 16,000-square-metre Biltmore House, created in all its eccentric glory on 125,000 acres by Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame) and Richard Morris Hunt for George Washington Vanderbilt in the late 1880s.

I once heard someone posit that literature teaches more about the world, and about more worlds, than does science. Certainly this book could have been titled “Worlds Elsewhere,” there being a veritable Venn diagram of settings and ways of life. Landish goes from his father’s comfortable house in St. John’s to Princeton, from poor student housing to Van’s plush student accommodations, with a body guard on site and champagne and caviar among the weekly deliveries, and from abject poverty in St. John’s to unheard-of opulence at Vanderland. He goes from the world of unattached men to that of fatherhood when he pays $50 to adopt a baby boy.

Although there are no repeat characters from Johnston’s other stories in this book, the acerbic wit and propensity to pun makes Landish seem to be channelling Fielding from Colony of Unrequited Dreams. It’s all very clever, if a bit tiresome in small sections. Johnston must be a hit at parties—or a brutal opponent in any conversation that gets a bit testy. And the pure, driving ambition of Smallwood shows up in this latest book as well, this time in the character of Van. Also common to both books is the odd relationship of children to parents or their equivalent. There seems to be no such thing as a “natural” parent in Johnston’s writing, nor a “normal” childhood.

Johnson’s facility with language and with his literary references can’t be overstated. Henry James and Edith Wharton make small but powerful appearances in the story. Lewis Carroll feels ever-present. And the cautionary-tale aspects of the story reminded me often of the Brothers Grimm. I won’t spoil the story by elaborating further, since it is most certainly worth a read.

-   Reg Sauvages

Reginald Sauvages, PhD, is the nom de plume of a local bibliophile (read: bookworm) who goes on building bookshelves and buying paperbacks for the beach so sand doesn’t ruin favourite clothbound books, even while owning an e-reader.

Consider the Lobster

David Foster Wallace

At times profane, often profound, and always entertaining, Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace is a veritable grab bag of essays. With pieces that range from a refreshingly personal account of 9/11 to a lengthy dictionary review to a diatribe on why sports biographies are so bad when they could be so good, to say there is something here for everyone would be an understatement.

Having already read and loved Wallace’s New Yorker short story “All That,” my expectations were high, and this brilliantly crazy collection did not disappoint. Wallace’s voice is persuasive yet honest, he resents “academese” yet blatantly flaunts his proclivity for large words, and he includes essays about both the porn industry and the McCain2000 campaign in the same book. The man is a walking paradox. And that is what makes his writing, and this collection, so much fun.

- Michelle Hunniford

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Painted Girls

By Cathy Marie Buchanan

The inspiration for Degas’s sculpture and paintings is explored through this fictional account of nineteenth-century Paris during “La Belle Époch.” Impeccable research and history provide a background for the compelling story of two sisters, their hopes, their dreams, and, harshly, their realities.

Thrust into poverty by the death of their father and the alcoholism of their mother, with yet another younger sister to support, the two girls search for work however they can find it. Modeling brings in a few extra coins, so desperately needed, but leads Marie down the path to her own devastation. Antoinette too is driven to find money to realize her dreams; this story portrays her love and loss in an all-too-real fashion.

While based in history, the fictional aspects of The Painted Girls are what bring it alive and create a lasting impression. If you appreciate texture and depth in your reading, this book will bring you inside its nineteenth-century world and captivate you.

Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

The time: summer, 2004. The Place: Northern California, in the adjoining communities of Berkeley and Oakland. In this distinctive setting, Michael Chabon once again summons his incredible gifts for electric prose and sympathetic characters to weave together an immensely entertaining and moving tale.

At the heart of Telegraph Avenue is Brokeland Records, a beloved used vinyl shop in danger of getting wiped out by an incoming big-box superstore. Its co-owners, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe (a black man and a white Jewish man, respectively), are forced to face this fresh threat along with the pains and regrets of their shortcomings as husbands, fathers, and sons. In the meantime, their wives Gwen and Aviva, themselves partners in their midwifery business, handle their own challenges and frustrations.

Fragile yet crucial stakes bound to faded hopes and broken promises are stubbornly fought for and held onto throughout a deliciously concocted ode to music, cinephilia, American race relations from the 1970s to the present, nerd culture, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Lee, teenage longing, and nostalgia. Brimming with genuine emotion, humor, and sincerity, Telegraph Avenue is one beautifully rewarding book—as one can safely expect from Chabon, who has never been anything less than generous to his readers.

- Marc Saint-Cyr

Bookshelf Home

The Raven Boys

Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys is a young adult novel full of magic and suspense. The story is set in a small town where sixteen-year-old Blue has lived all her life. She has been told by the many clairvoyant women in her family that if she kisses her true love he will die. She never really cared until April 24, Saint Mark’s eve, a night during which each year she and her mother watch the spirits of the soon-to-be dead file by in the local graveyard. That night she sees the spirit of a young boy with a raven emblem on his vest. That sight changes the course of her life and the lives of a group of students from Aglionby, a rich private school in the town. Among the students there is a group known as the Raven Boys: Ronan, tough and angry; Adam, a scholarship student; Noah, the watcher; and Gansey, a peacemaker. The Raven boys appear to have it all, or so Blue thinks until through a serious of events she is pulled into their world. By all means possible, she tries to avoid being kissed.

Blue has a strange psychic gift, and with her help the Raven Boys go on a quest to find the mythical King Glendower. They are not the only ones looking for his treasure, and someone has already been murdered because of it. The searchers have to decide if their obsession with walking the ley lines, special lines of energy that can connect the present with the past, will be worth risking their friendship and lives for.

These five teenagers are pushed beyond their limits while jumping headlong into a mystical adventure. The book is well written and fast paced, and I wanted the characters to slay both their inner and outer demons. The Raven Boys has many layers, and these teenagers deal with a lot of issues, such as death and physical abuse. I highly recommend this book.

The Lighthouse

Alison Moore

Alison Moore has written a thought-provoking novel about memories and their ability to affect us throughout our lives. The Lighthouse, which was a finalist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, follows Futh, a passive-aggressive man, as he travels through Germany on a one-week vacation. Recently divorced, his vacation is a time for him to reflect on his life and how he ended up alone with no wife, a dysfunctional family, and issues with his mother. Futh’s story intertwines with Ester’s. She is an unfaithful wife who only wants to find love, but her husband has none to offer her. Ester and her husband run a local German inn, and Futh finds himself in unexpected circumstances when he is caught between them.

This novel demonstrates how history repeats itself, involuntarily or not. Each character, by reflecting on his or her life, creates a memoir for the reader. An interesting look at life, The Lighthouse shows us how some situations are out of our control. Fate overtakes rhyme and reason in this intriguing book.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Cloister Walk

Kathleen Norris

In The Cloister Walk, Norris, a poet foremost and Benedictine oblate secondly, "walks" through a series of personal and liturgical meditations. In doing so she spins a metaphorical web around the central hub of her stay at a modern-day Benedictine monastery.

The spokes of her web are many and varied, ranging from the value of poetry in our society, the Virgin Martyrs, her marriage, the Psalms, and the monastery's liturgy schedule. Onto these radii she spins her spiral of personal anecdotes, stories and reflections.

Although grounded in the Christian faith, Norris keeps her cards on the issue close to her chest. She allows readers the latitude to contemplate their own feelings and responses to each of the issues she raises, many of which have challenged us for centuries. Although termed a "walk," Norris's book is more meandering in nature, one to savour and perhaps return to on occasion.

- Sue Warren

The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding is like a well-worn baseball glove or a well-aged Scotch: soft and familiar, rich and warm. The novel is an intimate and tragic portrait of Westish College varsity baseball stars Henry Skrimshander and Mike Shwartz, as well as of school president Guert Affenlight as he rediscovers himself with the help of the ever-charming Owen Dunne. Well-developed characters, a multiple-perspective narrative, and an exceptionally thoughtful plot make this novel a champion in its division and my personal favourite read of the year. The Art of Fielding is definitely one to add to your reading list and can be best enjoyed curled up by a fire or bundled up on the cold bleachers of a baseball stadium.

- Sasha Odesse

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How Music Works

David Byrne
Once upon a time, music was just a part of our day-to-day experience as human beings. It accompanied births, deaths, work, and play. No big deal. But in the modern world, the pre-eminence of the “expert” has meant that most people see music as something only professionals are qualified to do. As a result, the perception of what it means to be a musician has become divorced from the reality. The notion that “making it” is something to which all musicians aspire is pervasive. Many consider fame the ultimate validation, the end to which one works. The myth of the artist fuels what I call the “exploitainment” phenomenon (American Idol and other competition-based shows). These kinds of shows exploit people’s desire for fame and in doing so demean art’s meaning in society. Art is best when it’s part of our daily lives. This is its magic. But sadly, like so much else, it has become commodified, packaged, and valued only by its economic worth.

Although he’s technically famous, it’s safe to say that David Byrne’s career has genuinely been about the music: exploring it, exploding it, arguably exploiting it, pushing it, and breaking it. His years with Talking Heads produced some of the most ground-breaking and influential music of the era. As such, I thought it was pretty fitting for Byrne to write a book called How Music Works. I’ve always been a fan of Byrne and especially his work with Brian Eno (more specifically, that pioneering work of “found-sound-loop funk,” My Life in the Bush of Ghosts). He’s as much an expert as anyone else of his calibre and, having delved into the written word in previous books, has an easy and clear way with words. There are autobiographical elements to How Music Works, but his Talking Heads anecdotes and name-dropping serve to support his explanations and arguments. It’s a nice balance, a little glimpse into his experiences as a famous musician but without the hubris that accompanies so many other late-career autobiographies.

Byrne’s basic premise in How Music Works is that where and how you hear music affects what you hear. It’s simple really. Would hearing a punk band at Roy Thomson Hall change your perception of that music? Would hearing the TSO at Sneaky Dee’s do the same? The answer is probably yes.

But this idea has even more significance as we move into the digital age, when music is more and more transient, ubiquitous, and, from an economic perspective, verging on worthless. How does the way we interact with music, from MP3s to YouTube, affect how we hear it? Has the digital world changed music itself? These are some of the questions Byrne explores. And this is why I want every non-musician I know to read it.

For those who have bought the romanticized notions of what being a musician is like, this book is a myth-buster. Chapters on the often grim financial realities of making a recording (with pie-charts!), on the various, mostly exploitative, royalty agreements available, and on “How to Make a Scene” (from which Guelph could take a few pointers) make the book an invaluable document of the state of music in the modern, post-industrial world. Most important, though, is the chapter “Amateurs!” In it, Byrne reminds us that it’s OK to be bad at something—that the creative act’s real value comes from the doing, not the selling. The creative process and the gratification that comes from it are the unquantifiable things that really add value to our lives. Call it amateurism, call it local activism, call it the social economy. Whatever it is, it is not a new idea but it is a welcome one.

Besides being an enjoyable read, the book is important for making a very timely point: while many (including myself) lament the deterioration of the music industry as we knew it, we are now entering a period when all bets are off. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Professionals are now on an equal footing with amateurs. A good song can be heard by millions in minutes. This levelling of the playing field seems to hearken back to a time when music was not just something we consumed. It was part of our daily rituals, part of our lives, like the food we eat and the water we drink. And like those staples, we cannot live without it. People may bemoan the death of the music industry, but we can all rest assured we will never need to discuss the death of music.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Rachel Joyce

Recently retired Harold Fry receives a letter informing him that his old colleague Queenie Hennessy is dying of cancer in Berwick-on-Tweed. He writes a short note and sets out to mail it, but changes his mind after meeting with an unsuspecting girl who plants the idea that if he walks the entire distance of 627 miles, Queenie will keep on living.

Ill-equipped for the journey, Harold sets off with the wrong shoes, wrong clothes, no supplies, and no cell phone. As he plods along, averaging six to eight miles a day, he develops an appreciation for nature and gains insight into the lives of the people he meets. He also reflects upon his own life journey, in particular the events that led to estrangement from his wife and son.

While I could not imagine myself undertaking such a journey, I admired Harold’s determination to persevere despite the many obstacles he faced. I found myself wincing at each blister and cramp, but rejoicing as he experienced the beauty of nature and kindness of strangers. This modern-day fable is a story of transformation, one that will resonate with readers of all ages.

An award-winning writer of more than 20 radio plays, Rachel Joyce had her father, who was dying of cancer, in mind when she wrote this novel. In a recent interview, she said, “Looking back, doing the book was about trying to keep my dad alive...I thought about an ordinary man doing something extraordinary in a very ordinary way.”

- Joanne Guidoccio

Monday, December 10, 2012


David Day

Throughout history humans have had a strong fascination with extinct animals. From the vanished creatures that roamed the Earth before us to the fresh death of a species that has walked with us, we hold on to the lasting impressions that they leave us with, and to the mystery that clings to their memory.

Nevermore: A Book of Hours by David Day takes the reader through the first glimpses, the last sightings, and the wonders associated with some of the world’s extinct species. Over thirty years of research have been poured into the text, which gives detailed and gripping accounts of animals long lost and forgotten. The book is written to mirror a twenty-four hour clock, with each of the extinct species Day writes about given its own hour, which is in turn divided into four sections: Illustration, Reportage, Commentary, and Elegy. Within this structure we are able to discover, learn about, and mourn each mammal, fowl, and reptile in the book.

The organization and style of Day’s book are fascinating. Through the vivid graphics and the accounts of both first encounters and last deaths, we walk in the shoes of those who long ago experienced these animals in reality.  The extinction of each creature became much more real for me as I was taken on a journey through time, and I felt guilty for being a member of a species that killed so many of them. Our own mortality as humans became a focal point as well as I turned each page to find the death of another species not so far removed from our own.

But not every part of this journey through twenty-four hours of death is depressing. In fact, many species within the book’s pages can still be found in some way throughout the world through subspecies that bear similarities to their departed ancestors. As I turned the page on the last animal, the Heath Hen, the elegy Day included called out not just to this forgotten fowl, but to all the creatures listed through the pages and the hours of his book: “All around us nature is full of casualties, but they do not interrupt the stream of life…. We are in touch with the reality of extinction.”

The fact of extinction is not something that we can avoid or ignore. It is something that threatens every creature on this planet, and may one day claim humanity itself. I think the most important lesson within these pages is that we must never forget this, and that we should cherish every day, every hour, and every memory of those creatures that linger with us on this Earth.

- Cassie Leigh Clancy

Into the Abyss

Into the Abyss
Carol Shaben

We've received two takes on this extraordinary tale of tragedy and survival.

An Intertwining of Lives

Frequent fliers may experience apprehension when reading this story. While this tale is indeed founded on a tragic event in 1984, its subject matter extends well beyond the realm of a terrible plane crash. Of course, any such experience would be life-changing for anyone involved; however, for the four survivors of this particular accident, their lives became intertwined. How this occurred is both thought-provoking and, ironically, inspiring.

Carol Shaben’s writing draws connections that accentuate the special relationship between these four men.  The crash was a defining moment for all four, but in drastically different ways. Each individual’s experience was profoundly moving and unexpected. Two of the survivors experienced moments of brilliance after the crash, to later find themselves trapped in a rut of unfortunate events. The third survivor found new meaning in his life through his “near death” experience. He re-assessed his livelihood and created the ultimate bucket list for himself. The final survivor rediscovered the importance of family and friends, which served as a great motivator in his life, which was lived in the public eye.

Overall, Into the Abyss demonstrates the challenges faced by normal people every day. The stories can help anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with his or her own life. The lives of these four previously unrelated people are vastly different, yet they are all bound together by one crash. Despite all obstacles, these four men pressed onward with their lives, unknowingly building a great legacy. 

- Charles Bryer

A Riveting Account That Reads Like an Action Thriller

When VP Publisher Anne Collins read Carol Shaben’s proposal for Into the Abyss, she could feel every single hair on her arms rising. This riveting account of the deadly 1984 plane crash in the Canadian wilderness reads like an action thriller.

On a stormy night in northern Alberta, a young rookie pilot ignored his better judgment and flew an unsafe Piper Navajo commuter plane into the skies. Six of the nine passengers died, leaving behind the pilot and three other survivors, among them a politician, an RCMP officer, and a criminal.

After surviving a night of sub-zero temperatures and injuries, the men embarked on their own versions of the hero’s journey. The pilot took responsibility for his role in the crash and went on to become a safety compulsive. The RCMP officer continued to work with the criminal justice department, but is no longer “the black-and-white, rigid, career-driven, typical kick-down-the-door cop.” After leaving the Alberta legislature, the politician dedicated himself to philanthropic and volunteer work. The criminal was not really a bad guy, just a hard-luck guy who struggled with the hero label that followed him after the crash.

Author Carol Shaben, the politician’s daughter, devoted most of her adult life to the research and development of this book. She also wrote award-winning articles exposing the need for improved government regulations in Canada’s commuter airline industry.

- Joanne Guidoccio


Haruki Murakami

The intimate and personal folded, nestled, and hidden within an ambitious, otherworldly, and strange vision: this is a trend that has become increasingly prominent across the arts recently, manifested in certain special, often divisive works. Among them I’d count, from cinema, Terrence Malick’s TheTree of Life and the upcoming cult classics-in-the-making Cloud Atlas and Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, and from literature the novels of David Mitchell and Mark Z. Danielewski. Within this unique category, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 must surely stand out as nothing short of emblematic, so frequently does it threaten to throw off readers not used to his cool, perfected fusion of mundane everydayness with bizarre wonders.

But those who cling on tight and enjoy the ride through a parallel universe containing two moons, a secretive cult, and tiny magical beings called the Little People will probably be surprised to discover at its core a deeply moving story of two searching souls trying to find one another after a twenty-year gap. It is this unabashedly romantic narrative thread, so beautifully presented and explored by the author, that justifies and enhances all the puzzling oddities that surround and, in their discordant manner, compliment it. Relatability and emotional resonance will continue to be the crucial elements within wild and daunting epics like 1Q84 and Cloud Atlas; where the adventure lies for audiences is in the heights that brave artists like Murakami, Mitchell, and Carax will continue to strive for and the refreshing new directions from which they will approach simple human truths and experiences.

-  Marc Saint-Cyr


Emma Donoghue

Short stories intrigue me. Will I be absorbed quickly enough and my interest sufficiently engaged? Will I be willing to separate from these brief relationships to move on to the next? With Emma Donoghue’s collection, the answer is yes. She repeatedly delivers engaging stories and quirky characters.

Donoghue is a highly talented author and I was impressed with how readily she hooked me. Her stories are about transitions: departures, being in transit, arrivals, and aftermaths. All are occasions when people are vulnerable. Many of the characters were not ones I would typically seek out: “gold miner, counterfeiter, slave, dishwasher, prostitute, attorney, sculptor, mercenary, elephant, corpse,” as the book jacket highlights. Donoghue’s fertile imagination creates these characters by building on brief newspaper clippings that inspired these tales. The clippings were written between 1639 and 1967, with most from the 1800s, and include settings in London, Texas, Louisiana, the Yukon, and Newmarket, Ontario. I would encourage readers to avoid checking the newspaper reports that follow each story until after they read the tale itself. Personally, I like to remain in discovery mode during a story, so I preferred the additional enlightenment at their conclusion.

These helicopter vignettes enjoyably pass the time and prompt me to be watchful for Ms. Donoghue’s next publication.

-  Jennifer Mackie

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Firestarter Sessions

Danielle Laporte

Since I am a person who likes to think outside the box when it comes to my career, I was extremely curious to read The Firestarter Sessions: A Soulful and Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms, by Danielle Laporte. I was pleasantly surprised when this book delivered what it claimed to. It is an exciting and often therapeutic guide that helps you to focus on success in your own unique terms, to evaluate your goals and your readiness for success, and to dig deep and get at the root of your passion(s).

I found myself reading through the book quickly and then re-reading it because there were so many interesting insights that I wanted to immerse myself in. Laporte shares her personal struggles with success in her own life and writes in a very down-to-earth and relatable tone throughout the book. Even the book’s layout and use of fonts created a unique feel and flow which kept me captivated and interested from start to finish. At the end of each chapter is a “worksheet” which helps you ponder the key themes of the chapter, asking you to relate them to your own life and experiences for evaluation. 

Reading this book was so inspiring and motivating that it felt like I had my own personal business advisor, coach, and inspirational healer at my fingertips anytime I needed encouragement. I would consider this book a “must read” for people who want to find motivation, live success authentically, and feel supported while engaging in non-traditional work. Or if you want to “reinvent” yourself from a tired career—this is the book for you!

- Allisa Scott

The Measure of a Man

JJ Lee

JJ Lee’s The Measure of a Man contains three main storylines, all of which develop simultaneously throughout the book as we move back and forth between them, chapter by chapter. The first line is about Lee’s apprenticeship at the shop of a Vancouver tailor, a trade to which he has come only too late in life. Clearly, his dreams of one day becoming a tailor are as dim as the outlook for the profession, the larger (though not better) part of that market already being dominated by ready-made, off-the-rack stores. The second storyline is Lee’s reminiscences about growing up in Montreal, coming to know his father, and recognizing the harder and the flusher times of his family by the quality of his father’s garments as documented in photographs. As he grows up, Lee himself explores fashion. It is an exploration that we all engage in, one that begins with some experimentation in adolescence. But we truly never give it up—we just hope that the disastrous experiments of adolescence (see: hair, blue) are all behind us. The final storyline is about Lee adjusting an old suit of his father’s to fit himself, and is full of insights about the relationship between father and son.

Throughout the book, Lee shares many insights about fashion: not just about what to wear, but how to wear it, and more importantly about what fashion says about a person. The Measure of a Man is an enjoyable, Canadian read that will have you scrutinizing your own wardrobe, and those of others, to discover what kind of people we really are.

- David Brooke Struck

An Irish Country Christmas

Patrick Taylor

In the fictional Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo, Christmas is quickly approaching. While the hustle and bustle is all too familiar to the long-time local medical practitioner, Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, it is quite the new experience for his new junior partner, Doctor Barry Laverty. Barry has recently moved to Ballybucklebo, and as he adapts to the way of life in this little rural village, the practice becomes busier with the cold, cough, and flu season, and Barry finds himself more closely involved with his new adopted community.

Although Barry wishes to be closer to his love interest, Patricia, who is currently away attending school in England, O’Reilly and their housekeeper, Mrs. Kinkaid, help to keep him distracted. From enjoying the ongoing festivities, to helping members of the community with obstacles they face this season, to competing with the new medical practice opening up in the area, Barry finds himself playing a bigger role in this small community than he had anticipated.

Patrick Taylor beautifully incorporates the Ulster dialect in his writing, even adding a glossary for reference. This, in addition to his incredible story telling, makes An Irish Country Christmas one of those books that you feel you are really a part of. Filled with invaluable lessons, this warm read is perfect for the chilly season. I see myself reading this book for many years to come. So cuddle up under your afghan in front of the fire, and you will not be able to put this book down.

- Joseph Cassidy

Friday, November 30, 2012

Out of the Blue

Jan Wong

Jan Wong’s self-published book Out of the Blue is a sobering read. Focusing on the tragic circumstances of her descent into the hell of depression and anxiety following vitriolic criticism of her Dawson shooting coverage, Wong provides an incredible overview of the research and the lived experience of this debilitating condition. The dragging, all-encompassing ability of depression to snuff out hope and true rational thought is brilliantly described and analysed in Wong’s work.

Her chaotic fear of a possible sniper—a sobbing mess, she races from her own garage to the doorstep of her home, screaming to be let in—is a tipping point. And Wong’s brilliant but tragic recounting of her journey accompanying her son on a Scandinavian hockey tour is one of her many reflections on the destructiveness of the disease on family life.

Wong’s horror at not being able to write as a result of her illness, her skewed logic, and her uncharacteristic memory lapses are painstakingly described. I found Wong’s descriptions all the more vivid, having also suffered a major depressive episode; however, I was lucky to have an employer who supported me and my recovery. Wong unveils the shocking cut-throat corporate culture of the Globe and Mail and its grossly unsympathetic handling of mental illness.

Out of the Blue celebrates the fighting spirit of a journalist whose curiosity and critical thinking skills never fully desert her, but it is also a call to demand more humane work environments where recovery is possible and, even more crucially, where prevention is considered an essential  part of productivity.

- Rossyln Bentley

The Dog Stars

Peter Heller

Peter Heller’s fiction debut removes any doubt about his writing ability. Already well known for his non-fiction adventure writing, Heller’s background makes The Dog Stars stand out in a sea of dystopian literature. Set in the distant future after a renegade virus has decimated humanity, the novel follows Big Hig as he spends his days patrolling the skies surrounding the airplane hangar in which he has been squatting for the past nine years. Days and nights blur together until he discovers signs of friendly contact from an air traffic station at Grand Junction. With nothing left to lose, he embarks in his faithful 1956 Cessna to try to find some semblance of human connection, only to uncover much more than he bargained for. The Dog Stars focuses less on the shock of humanity’s demise and more on the psychological warfare survivors must endure each day. It’s also a surprisingly poetic book, reading more like a diary than a straightforward narrative. If you’re into post-apocalyptic scenarios, you’ll definitely be hooked. And if you’re not, I’d still recommend it for the fact that it’s very well-written and researched.

- Dallas Dunstan

Friday, November 23, 2012

I've Got Your Number

Sophie Kinsella

Shopaholic fans will be pleased to know that Kinsella has performed chick lit magic yet again. Poppy, our sweet (if slightly misguided) heroine, has just lost her heirloom engagement ring at a hotel and had her phone stolen. In a blind panic—How will the hotel staff contact her?!—she finds a cellphone in the garbage and claims it. Of course, when the owner, Sam, realizes his cell phone is in someone else’s hands and Poppy begins to read his emails, take his messages, and stick her nose into his life, the real hijinks begin.  I’ve Got Your Number is an amusing love story for our tech-obsessed times. What happens when two people are forced to share the intimacy of a phone? The fun is in finding out.

- Lindsay Rainingbird

Life Is About Losing Everything

Lynn Crosbie

Well known for her blunt sardonic prose, Lynn Crosbie does not disappoint in this semi-autobiographical assemblage of vibrant vignettes. Her minimalist, pithy style resonates throughout this novel, offering both humour and sentiment.  With superb craftsmanship Crosbie creates a portrait of herself that aptly captures the meaning behind her title.  Recounting experiences of loss, bereavement, everyday disappointments, and the rediscovery of herself in the process, Crosbie manages to sneak in small snippets of hope and contentment, so that her overall message is not one of loss, but of the formation of our identity that occurs through the experience of loss. Crosbie creates a collage of these vital snippets from life, sometimes messy, and most of the time jagged, but always infallibly honest in their delivery.

- Sarah Walker

Assholes: A Theory

Aaron James

Aaron James is a political philosopher at UC-Irvine, and despite its eye-catching title and mass appeal, Assholes: A Theory is indeed a piece of philosophy. I expected this going into the book, but I still thought I would find James’s tongue planted firmly (or at least gently) in cheek. But this is sincere work, and contains some genuinely valuable philosophy. It does lack some of the rigour associated with contemporary analytic philosophy, and in the acknowledgements James admits to having “relaxed” his standards to some extent. But James also shares, like me, the skepticism most professional philosophers feel about “pop philosophy,” and I must say that his book fares extremely well in this regard, compared with some of the lay philosophy churned out over the last decade or so.

James’s subject is the asshole, the person who (wrongly) believes himself—assholes are almost invariably male—to be worthy of special treatment due to an entrenched sense of entitlement. Entire chapters are spent discussing this definition itself, and there are also chapters on how assholes differ from mere “jerks” or “pricks,” assholes and gender, and how assholes can negatively impact capitalism, including a game-theoretic appendix on the subject. What we are not given is much useful advice about what to do about assholes. This is partly because James is a bit despairing on the matter, but I can’t help but think that more productive work on “asshole management” is indeed possible, at least on a philosophical level.

- Bill Cameron

Quiet: The Power of Introverts

Susan Cain

Susan Cain spent five years officially—and her entire life unofficially—researching Quiet. This self-proclaimed introvert set out to write a book that would empower the quieter half of the population and increase awareness among parents, teachers, and employers.

As part of her extensive research, Cain visited an evangelical mega church, Harvard Business School, and a Tony Robbins seminar. While visiting the church, Cain discovered that “evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership.” Some parishes even check Myers-Briggs scores and think twice “if the first letter isn’t an ‘E’ (for extrovert).” At Harvard, one of the students commented, “Good luck finding an introvert around here.” After watching Tony Robbins perform, Cain concluded that he has a “hyperthymic temperament, a kind of extroversion-on-steroids.”

I put on my teacher hat and paid particular attention to the interviews Cain conducted with Asian-American students living near Cupertino, California. While they excelled academically, many of these introverted students struggled with class participation and hit a brick wall in workplaces where “loudness and speaking out are the keys to popularity and financial success.”

Cain also interviewed successful introverts who have learned to survive and thrive in highly-charged workplaces. In fact, Susan Cain herself is a great example of an introvert who has managed to adapt, since she would never have be able to publish Quiet if she hadn’t convinced her publisher she was enough of a pseudo-extrovert to promote it. Cain helps us to understand the unique things introverts have to offer, and helps introverts to better understand themselves.

- Joanne Guidoccio

Shadow of Night

Deborah Harkness

With Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness continues the complex tale she began in A Discovery of Witches, the first book of her All Souls trilogy, tracing the search of Matthew Clairmont, a centuries-old vampire, and Diane Bishop, a witch, for the magical manuscript Ashmole 782 throughout the continent of Europe, and through time itself.  Time-walking back through history to the Elizabethan period, when Matthew was a very different man (and vampire), Diana must learn how to control her burgeoning powers without destroying herself or those around her as she searches for the elusive manuscript.

Matthew’s personal experience of the past and Diana’s historical expertise allow them to navigate the tumultuous time period they walk into.  Through England, France, and Czechoslovakia, they interact with historical friends and foes, trying to keep Diana’s cover and gain the information that they need.

There’s much less tea-drinking in this book than the first, but more historical fact and action.  Matthew and Diana must learn (and relearn in Matthew’s case) how to act in a very different time.  Their relationship is pushed to the limit as they become accustomed to their new roles in society and the danger they face as a married witch and vampire.

If you loved A Discovery of Witches, you’ll eat up this second book of the trilogy. Following Matthew and Diana on their journey, you become caught up in their lives together as husband and wife, watching Diana as she struggles with her unpredictable and potentially dangerous powers and Matthew as he meets old friends.

- Lindsay Ly