Lightning Book Reviews

Reviews submitted by library staff

By Gaslight cover

Book: By Gaslight

Author: Steven Price

Call Number: PS8631.R524 B92 2016

By Gaslight has everything I want in a Gothic novel: London, soot, grime, murder, theft, romance and of course, plenty of gaslight. It also crosses the globe to bring in the American civil war, Pinkertons, stage coach robberies and ostrich feathers. As you might guess, it’s epic in length as well – perfect for summer vacation reading. I loved Price’s writing style and language, especially his incorporation of Victorian gangster slang. 5 bolts!

Book: When Breath Becomes Air

Author: Paul Kalanithi

Call Number: WF658 .K35 2016

This book, written by a neurosurgeon as he was dying of cancer, is about the big things: how to live well, how to die, how to live knowing death is quite imminent. As a surgeon himself, Kalanithi looks from both sides of the doctor/patient divide at how physicians can treat people as people or can dehumanize them. This isn’t always an easy read, as Kalanithi details the effects of his cancer, but it’s an important one. 5 bolts.

The House of the Spirits cover

Book: The House of the Spirits

Author: Isabel Allende

Call Number: PQ8098.1.L54 C313 1985

Last year Anna-Marie sent around a link to a contest from a bookstore in London – the winner would receive one hardcover book, per month, for life! Heywood Hill is the bookstore. I entered the contest, but didn’t win – that would have been a great story! Anyways, to enter the contest you had to submit your favorite book, with a line about why it was your favorite. I submitted The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. In the news release of who won, the top recommended books were listed – and thus, I put The House of the Spirits on my Christmas list!

The House of the Spirits is a story of life in Chile before, and up the beginning of the reign of Pinochet. The story of the country is told through the story of a family – very similar in design to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. That is also one of my favourite titles. Why did I enjoy The House of the Spirits? All of the important stuff of life is covered – love, family, social norms and forces, power relations, gender, creativity, how meaning is created, independence, courage – and while at times brutal and harsh, it nonetheless rings true as real. Perhaps that is an odd description of a book labelled as ‘magical realism’ – but I think the ability to view family and society through many lenses at once is more real than a chronological and objective perspective.

5 out of 5 stars – or whatever the measure is for great!

Home from the Vinyl Cafe cover

Book: Home from the Vinyl Cafe: A Year of Stories

Author: Stuart McLean

Call Number: PS8575.L448 H65 1999

Stuart McLean had a gift for looking at the big things in life by writing and talking about the smaller moments. The Vinyl Cafe’s slogan says it all: “We may not be big but we’re small.” Reading his stories, you might laugh aloud one minute and come close to tears the next.

This is my favourite of his story collections, which takes readers through a year in the lives of Dave and Morley, McLean’s continuing characters, and their community. But for me, I must admit, it’s all about the Christmas stories. There’s “On the Roof,” where Dave does something that I always worried about growing up in Winnipeg: sticks his tongue to a pole. There’s “Polly Anderson’s Christmas party,” one of my family’s favourites, where Dave mixes up the kids’ and adults’ eggnog with chaotic results. And of course there’s the classic “Dave Cooks the Turkey.”

Literature often focuses on the difficulties that come with being human, but sometimes it’s important to remember to smile … and to appreciate the small things. And as a recent Vinyl Cafe Facebook post put it, “Stuart [McLean] assured us that even in difficult times, we can find things to be grateful for and ways to laugh.” 5 bolts.

The Break cover

Book: The Break

Author: Katherena Vermette

Call Number: PS8643.E74 B74 2016

In Winnipeg’s North End on a freezing winter evening, a young indigenous girl named Emily is sexually assaulted. The crime becomes the background for which the novel is set. Written in ten different voices, the story centers on both the community and Emily’s family as they look for an explanation and heal together. Through the telling of these women’s stories Katherena Vermette gives a face to the crisis of violence against urban indigenous women.

The Break is Katherena Vermette’s debut novel, nominated for the Governor General’s prize for fiction, and will be in the upcoming CBC Canada Reads debates as “the Book Canada Needs Right Now”. The Break is a powerful multigenerational family saga that is heartbreaking, honest, and deeply human. 5 bolts.

City of Bones cover

Book: City of Bones

Author: Cassandra Clare

Call Number:  PZ7.C5265 Cb 2013 (Fireside)

Clary Fray grew up thinking she was ordinary, living a typical life for a teenage girl. Suddenly her world gets turned upside down, as her mom gets kidnapped and she starts seeing things no mortal is supposed to be able to see. She discovers that she is a shadowhunter: a human with angel blood, tasked with hunting demons and gifted with special abilities. As she is drawn into this new world fraught with danger and adventure, Clary is also drawn to Jace, the shadowhunter who introduced her to this new existence. Together with the shadowhunters and her mortal best friend Simon, Clary must navigate love triangles, supernatural creatures, and tested loyalties in order to discover why her mother was abducted and find the lost treasures that the kidnapper is desperate to obtain.

The first in an excellent 6-book series, City of Bones introduces engaging characters and an absorbing plot that will leave readers eager to read the rest of the series. 5 bolts.

Nutshell cover

Book: Nutshell

Author: Ian McEwan

Call Number: PR6063.C4 N84 2016

Hamlet prequel, anyone?  The male protagonist, still in the womb, overhears his mother, Trudy, and his uncle, Claude, plotting to poison his father.  And the soon-to-be-born narrator does his best to seek revenge.  In utero, he has learned about the world through the podcasts his mother listens to when she has insomnia, and he has become quite the smart aleck.  Skillfully written and full of sly allusions to Shakespeare, the novel is a gem. 4 big bolts.
Change Your Brain cover

Book: Change Your Brain, Change Your Body: Use Your Brain to Get and Keep the Body You Have Always Wanted

Author: Daniel G. Amen

Call Number: WM140 .A429 2000 (Fireside)

I picked this book with hopes for inspiration to get back on track with weight loss and feeling healthier. Much of what is included in this book are the same recommendations your Mom or Doctor has been telling you for years. The difference is there are scientific explanations of how getting proper sleep, good nutrition and exercise affect your brain, which affect your overall health. He also offers supplement information, hormonal therapy solutions with action steps and chapter summaries. This makes is seem more useful after some lengthy explanation, it is boiled down to the essentials.
The test will be in the application of said knowledge…
Cold Girl cover

Book: Cold Girl

Author: R. M. Greenaway

Call Number:  PS8613.R4285 C65 2016 (Fireside)

Very loosely based on the missing women along the Highway of Tears, this mystery/police procedural has a strong story-line, some memorable characters, and a lot of northern BC ambiance. When a popular local singer goes missing in the Hazeltons, the local RCMP have to call in help from the other detachments around the area. Lead investigator Leith has a lot on his mind. With other women’s disappearances blamed on the Pickup Killer, was this to become another in the string of unsolved missing women? Or was the singer’s disappearance to blame on one of the locals? Juggling an odd assortment of police officers, winter weather, unusual dashes of lucky events, and the challenges of working away from home for long stretches of time, Leith eventually discovers what happened that winter day. This novel has a few little rough spots (to be expected from a first novel) but the story and the characters kept me reading long after I should have turned out the light at night. Four bolts.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cover

Book: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: Jack Thorne

Call Number: PR6120 H67 H37 2016 (Fireside)

Despite wanting to love this play (it’s not a book, don’t expect it to be a book), I spent the entire time I was reading it feeling like I was an unwelcome visitor, seeing something I was never meant to see. As an avid Harry Potter fan from when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I was thrilled when I heard a new “book” was coming out … until I realized it wasn’t actually written by J.K. Rowling (though it was done with her blessing). The play, written in two parts, is set 20 years after the Battle of Hogwarts and finds Harry dealing with fatherhood, PTSD, and a new, yet familiar, evil presence. It was nice to be reminded of that world again, however the play lacked Rowling’s distinct style and gave me the “never meet your heroes” vibe – I’d rather re-read her original work again and pretend my heroes lived happily ever after. 3/5 Harry Potter scars/bolts!

discovery

Book: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness

Call Number: PS3608.A7436 D57 2011a (Fireside)

Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted alchemical manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. Diana has spent her whole life avoiding magic, but is soon compelled to confront and embrace her powers as the discovery of the manuscript brings all manner of supernatural creatures to her doorstep trying to claim the treasure for themselves. Diana must rely on her wits and Matthew’s help to solve the puzzle the manuscript presents and elude the clutches of the other creatures.

Full of action, drama, romance, and self-discovery, this first book in the All Souls Trilogy hooks the reader and draws them in with a well-developed storyline and character set.

Ready Player One cover

Book: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Kline

Call Number: Not at UBC (yet), but can be found at ORL

The year is 2044 and human civilization is wallowing in self-created decay. However, instead of perseverating over their situation, humans have created the ultimate solution: a video game! In Ready Player One, Ernest Cline details a world where the dominant mode of human interaction has been replaced by a MMORPG (mass multiplayer online role playing game). School, work and play all take place in an immersive online three-dimensional virtual reality shared with millions of others. Imagine a socially acceptable World of Warcraft, full of adventure, loot and PVP (player-vs-player combat).

If a book about video games does not interest you, understand that this novel is likely one of the most important dystopian novels since 1984 and Brave New World. And instead of containing bleak and disheartening references to totalitarianism, it’s rife with pop cultural references from the 1980s! In short, read it before Steven Spielberg releases the movie in 2018.

Autobiography of Alice Toklas cover

Book: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Author: Gertrude Stein

Call Number: PS3537.T323 Z463 1990

Gertrude Stein’s contributions to modernist literature and twentieth century prose put her in an elite gang of word-slingers with few members and no rivals. I’ve heard many people, both Literature Majors and laypeople alike, say that much of her writing is as inaccessible as Narnia after you’ve visited three times (if you don’t get the reference, you may be beyond repair). While in certain respects this may be true, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas functions as a sort of how-to guide in interpreting Stein’s work, with various reports of the author’s thoughts about how language could/should be used, and the stylistic methods in which she experimented with to manifest these ideas into sentences.

The book is, in fact, Stein’s own autobiography, written through the view of a close relation (Ms. Toklas). Beginning with the naïve accounts of a young girl who is fearful that she’ll read all the books in the world and be left with nothing new to read, the story follows Stein through her early life in America, to the life of her infamous Parisian apartment that was the epicenter of modernist art and writing: 27 rue de Fleurus. Recalling her close relationships with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, and many other renowned artists, the book plays out as a humanizing and melodramatic form of an art history curriculum, while simultaneously maintaining the rhythmic power and repetitious audacity that is associated with Stein’s linguistic genius.

Lily and the Octopus cover

Book: Lily and the Octopus

Author: Steven Rowley

Call Number: Not at UBC (yet!), but can be found at ORL

If you’ve ever loved a pet and had to say goodbye, this book is for you. A story of a man and his dog who have been through thick and thin together, it focuses on the lengths many of us would go for the ones we love, including battling a giant sea creature in the middle of a fierce storm. Heads up, if you do have a dog (or cat), be sure to read it nearby as you’ll want to hug them repeatedly, and not on an airplane 4000km away from them. Also, have kleenex nearby as you openly weep instead of awkwardly having to ask the flight attendant for some. 5 bolts!

Thirteen Reasons Why cover

Book: Thirteen Reasons Why

Author: Jay Asher

Call Number: PZ7 A77386 Th 2007

How can a novel where you know what happens in the end be suspenseful? Asher achieves this in a dark, coming of age story that also has lighter moments. The writing pulls you back to high school days and all the angst they contained. I mostly enjoyed reading it, but the book feels a little like Asher didn’t know how to write the ending, so I’m giving it 3 bolts.

The Summer Before the War cover

Book: The Summer Before the War

Author: Helen Simonson

Call Number: PS3619.I56294 S86 2016

Remember that episode of Downtown Abbey when the Crawleys host a lawn party on that perfect August day just before WW1? This novel looks in depth at that golden moment. Agatha Nash arrives in a small village to teach Latin. The circumscribed role that this educated, independent woman must occupy shows us what a difference a century has made for the rights of women. Feisty Agatha takes on stereotypes, copes with the horrors of the war on the continent, and wins through at the end. Highly enjoyable. 4 ½ bolts.

Olive Kitteridge cover

Book: Olive Kitteridge

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Call Number: PS3569 T736 O5 2008

This “novel” of linked short stories is a powerful read.  Olive and the folks of a small town in Maine populate play a role in each other’s lives, and Olive is not always centre stage. While Olive can be a harsh woman, her strength and integrity make her a sympathetic character.  The writing by Strout is flawless.  While not a beach-read, this Pulitzer Prize winner is thought provoking and satisfying. 5 bolts!

Omens cover

Book: Omens

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Call Number: PS8551.R7637 O44 2014 (Fireside Lounge)

It’s the summer and time for fun reading! Okay, let’s be honest: most of my reading is fun. But this is one of my favourite authors and a greatly entertaining read. Filled with mysteries and folklore, the book starts with the revelation that our main character is adopted and her birth parents were convicted of a number of strange, ritualistic murders. In an effort to find out the trut,h she ends up in a Cainsville, a strange little town that has much more going on under the surface then it would like to admit. This is the first in a series but the good news is if you like it you don’t have long to wait, since books 2 and 3 are already out and 4 is coming later this year. Four bolts.

Mindfulness in Plain English cover

Book: Mindfulness in Plain English

Author: Henepola Gunaratana

Call Number: BQ5630. V5 G86 2011

Last summer I attended a mindfulness retreat in France and found this seemingly simple practice extremely challenging! My analytical, rational mind had a lot to say and I left with many questions that I was too shy to ask. This book, written by a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk, answered many of these in, yes, plain English, and it is THE best book I’ve read on meditation. It clearly lays out what mindfulness is, what it isn’t, what’s in it for you, and how to practice. Whether you’re a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist, an experienced meditator or brand new to the practice, or you’re just curious about what mindfulness is, I highly recommend this book. And it’s in the library collection! Five bolts.
[All My Puny Sorrows book cover]

Book: All My Puny Sorrows

Author: Miriam Toews

Call Number: PS8589.O6352 A44 2014 (Koerner)

Canadian author Miriam Toews’ sixth novel is a piercing tale about sisters, family, and the dark side of talent. The narrator, Yolandi, is a mother who is struggling raising two teenagers after her second divorce and her sister, Elfreida, is an incredibly talented pianist who struggles with life whenever she’s not playing. In this novel, Toews covers difficult topics of mental health and suicide, based on her own experience with both her father and sister’s suicides. This family drama is well-written, easy to get through, and tugs on the emotions – on one page i was tearing up and the next I was laughing. A Giller finalist and winner of the Writers’ Trust award. Five bolts.

[Black Diamond book cover]

Book: Black Diamond

Author: Martin Walker

Call Number: PR6073. A413 B53 2012 (Fireside Lounge)

Trouble with truffles besets Bruno, Chief of Police, in the village of St. Denis.  Walker’s murder mystery series, set in the south-west region of France, are a delight.  Bruno is charming and resourceful, the townspeople are quirky, the descriptions of food preparation are wonderful, and murder is reliably frequent.  Bruno always saves the day, gets the girl, and cooks a gourmet meal that relies on local game, wine and garden vegetables.  The book is enough to make you want to travel to the Dordogne.
4 appetizing bolts.

[Step Aside, Pops book cover]

Book: Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection

Author: Kate Beaton

Call Number: PN6733.B33 S74 2015

Flash #1: One day you read a comic book where Wonder Woman is surly and swearing, Lois Lane is aggressively avoiding Clark Kent, and Spider-Man is hiding in tiny wall crevices, and you have to wonder: has Kate Beaton been reading my diary?

Flash #2: Do you know what a good Nemesis relationship is like? (Hint: if you don’t sleep with their picture and aren’t crushed when they find another True Enemy, you’re doing it wrong). Have you ever wondered what the U.S. Founding Fathers would be like in a modern day mall? Are you fond of History jokes that only those who have suffered through the Canadian public school system would understand? If the answer to any of the above is yes, you need to be reading Kate Beaton.

Flash #3: Have you ever wished you could carry the brilliant Hermione Granger around in your pocket to get you out of messy situations? Ever wondered what’s really going on in those historical postcards? Have you forgotten that Nancy Drew was just a teenage girl?  Don’t worry, Kate Beaton is to the rescue with her hilarious collection of comics. The brilliant “Step Aside Pops” will remind you that your historical and literary heroes were deeply flawed and that women have been badasses since the beginning of time.

Consenus:  5 witty bolts

[Fifteen Dogs book cover]

Book: Fifteen Dogs

Author: André Alexis

Call Number: PS8551.L474 F53 2015 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: Winner of the 2015 Giller prize, André Alexis’ novel Fifteen Dogs is a story about what would happen if the gods had given dogs the ability to have the same thoughts, feelings, and free will as humans. Set in Toronto, it will make those of you from Ontario homesick and make everyone wonder if it’s really worth it to be aware of your own mortality. If you own a dog, you’ll probably hug them a little closer and ask them to forgive you. Five bolts!

[Girl on the Train cover]

Book: Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Call Number: PR6108. A963 G57 2014 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: I’ve seen this title recommended all over the place for fans of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and picked it up based on that recommendation.What a disappointment! Both of these books work on the premise of terrible characters doing terrible things with the mystery resolutions coming out of left field, but Girl on the Train misses the mark because the characters, simply put, are far too dumb to either solve the mystery or commit it (I’m not spoiling anything, I promise) despite what the author tries to tell you. If you’re going to give us reprehensible characters they at least need to be smart enough for us to believe that they might be able to get away with it (whatever ‘it’ is). I hated this book, and I can’t believe they are going to be making a movie.

 [The Wisdom of Donkeys book cover]

Book: The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World

Author: Andy Merrifield

Call Number: DC611. A942 M493 2008 (Koerner and online)

Flash: The title says it all … or at least most of it. There are no explosions, literal or metaphorical, in this quiet book that one critic describes as Zen and the Art of Donkey Walking. The author wanders around the Haute-Auvergne region of southern France with a donkey and meditates on life in the fast (and now slow, donkey-paced) lane, donkeys both real and fictional, and the countryside through which he travels. It’s a thoughtful, beautiful read about the joys of a slower, smaller life. 4.5 bolts.

[Strangled by Silk book cover]

Book: The Poppy Cove Mysteries – Strangled by Silk, Death of a Beauty Queen and A Nate to Remember

Author: Barbara Jean Coast

Call Number: PS3603.O163 S77 2013, PS3603.O163 D42 2014, and PS3603.O163 N37 2015 (Fireside Lounge and Special Collections)

Flash: It’s 1957 in a small California coast town. Picture Santa Barbara. Two young independent chicks, Margot and Daphne, run a dress shop. Corner of Poppy and Cove Streets. High fashion and cute accessories.Their outfits described in loving detail. Society events, handsome boyfriends, dinners at Antonio’s, strolls on the boardwalk – they live the high life. But what’s this? Murder and mayhem? Not to worry, our gals get the bad guys stitched up in no time. Barbara Jean Coast is the pen name for two local writers who have a riot penning such sunny sagas. These noir-lite murder mysteries are a hoot. 4 bolts.

[Mystic River book cover]

Book: Mystic River

Author: Dennis Lehane

Call Number: PS3562. E426 M97 2001 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: I saw the movie adaptation for this book when it was first in theatres (do not do the math), but it wasn’t until this past year that I realized Dennis Lehane is a writer I enjoy. I spent most of the book trying to remember which character Sean Penn had played, and in the end I had been imagining it all wrong. What was I thinking? Of *course* Sean Penn is the sensitive tough guy who will do whatever it takes to avenge his family. Duh. Overall this book was riveting, even if I did sort of remember how it ended, and I would heartily recommend if you are a person who enjoys crime thrillers and Sean Penn types. I am, however, deducting marks for that one time I couldn’t stop reading this book even while walking to the bus and accidentally tripped over a curb. FOUR BOLTS.

[Remains of the Day book cover]

Book: The Remains of the Day

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Call Number: PR6059.S5 R46 1989b

Flash:  Some books seem like they’re about nothing, and while you work your way through them you have the odd moment of thinking “what is happening?” because it seems like *nothing* is happening. But you keep on reading because it feels mellow, like warm cider, or a faux fur blanket: the voice is comforting and familiar and perfect for a dimly-lit room. Sometimes these books are so routine that it takes you until the end of the book, when you can look back on the story as a whole and you’re blinded by the conclusions that now seem inevitable, and you realize that sometimes these books that are about nothing are also kind of about you, and maybe that’s why you’re suddenly crying on a public park bench. 5 bolts!

[Lovers at the Chameleon Club book cover]

Book: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Author: Francine Prose

Call Number: PS3566.R68 L68 2014 (Koerner)

Flash: This novel is a glamourous account of Paris between the wars and during the Nazi occupation. While the reader gets the full picture of the bleakness one would expect, the novel diverges from the usual portrayal of this period, offering perspectives of art, free self-expression, love and Parisian charm. In its darker moments, it offers a look in the mind of the collaborators, with stories of appeasement to survive, as well as those who become heroes of the resistance. It is full of varied characters who are strong in their own way, from a queer female Olympic athlete hopeful who defies gender stereotypes, to a Hungarian club owner who acts as the matriarch for those seeing refuge in an oppressive period. Brilliant, tragic, funny, posh, full of passion and colour – a great read! 5 bolts!

[The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book cover]

Book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Call Number: PR6051. D3352 H5 2009 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: This comic science fiction classic is pure fun from the beginning, when Earth is destroyed to make room for an interstellar highway, to the end, when— Well. I probably shouldn’t mention that. Needless to say, Douglas Adams takes Arthur Dent, our not-exactly-intrepid, not-particularly-heroic hero, on a rollicking tour of the galaxy that’s bursting at the seams with crazy characters, interesting ideas, and laugh-out-loud jokes. What it lacks in actual plot, it makes up for in clever humour and sheer zaniness.

Warning: This is often one of those love-it or hate-it sort of books. If a sentence like “The ships hung in the sky in much the same that bricks don’t” doesn’t make your lips twitch, you may want to leave this one on the shelf.  5 bolts!

[Bury Your Dead book cover]

Book: Bury Your Dead

Author: Louise Penny

Call Number: PS8631.E567 B87 2010 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: The 6th book in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny was an enthralling read that told three stories in one. With two of the main characters embarking on separate journeys, the reader follows them as they also both remember and recall a prior event that played a significant role in their current situations. As a plot device it works and made for a quick read. I was eager to see what happened in all cases and couldn’t wait to get to the end. 4 bolts.

[White Girls cover]

Book: White Girls

Author: Hilton Als

Call Number: HQ76.27.A37 A47 2013 (Koerner)

Flash: White Girls is an intersectional study on the nature of modern identity, as examined through several essays. Through a series of essays that encompasses a variety of subjects that include Malcolm X, Flannery O’Connor and Richard Pryor, Hilton Als tackles the often thorny issues of race, gender and sexuality. Critically lauded upon publication, this challenging read is incredibly rewarding. 5 bolts.

[All the Light We Cannot See]

Book: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Call Number: PS3604.O34 A77 2014 (Koerner)

Flash: Anthony Doerr’s second novel is a heart wrenching story set in the eyars leading up to and during World War II. It tells the story of a talented orphan boy who is recruited into the German army and a blind girl in France whose father is guarding a valuable secret. During tumultuous wartime, their paths cross and entwine in mysterious ways. A beautifully written and well-researched novel, it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. 5 bolts.

[Vanessa and Her Sister book cover]

Book: Vanessa and Her Sister

Author: Priya Parmar

Call Number: PS3616.A757 V36 2014 

Flash: Written in diary format from the perspective of Vanessa Bell, the older and less-crazy sister of Virginia Woolf. An interesting look at the social rebels who formed the Bloomsbury Group. Story takes place in the years following 1905 and provides an insightful look at London upper-class society as it struggles to free itself from the restrictions of the Edwardian era.  4.5 bolts.

[When Everything Feels Like the Movies book jacket]

Book: When Everything Feels Like the Movies

Author: Raziel Reid

Call Number: PS8635.E435 W46 2014 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: This controversial (and somewhat racy) novel chronicles some of the struggles many LGBTQ teens face. Jude, a young gay high school student in a small town, who despite being ostracized by the “jock-dominated student body,” is determined to confidently and flamboyantly be a star. Though it’s only Reid’s first novel, it won the Governor-General’s Award last year for children’s fiction and was featured as one of the contenders for this year’s Canada Reads debates. 4 bolts.

[Good Omens book cover]

Book: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Call Number: PR6066.R34 G66 2006 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: Good Omens is a cleverly hilarious novel about the end of the world.  It’s about an angel and a demon who collaborate to stop the Apocalypse because they’ve been on Earth from the beginning and grown rather fond of it. It’s about a young witch whose family is dedicated to deciphering the cryptic prophecies of their ancestor, the only accurate prophet in human history (and the witch of the title). And it’s about the Antichrist, who, due to being switched too many times at birth, has grown up as an almost-ordinary boy who would rather have a scruffy dog named Dog than a hellhound.

But what it’s really about is what it means to be human, in all its glory and messiness. As Pratchett and Gaiman note, “It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused not by people be fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.” 5 bolts!

[Slaughterhouse Five book cover]

Book: Slaughterhouse Five

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Call Number: PS3572.O5 S52 1994

Flash: Slaughterhouse-Five is a beautiful and weird novel about life, death, aliens and time travel. It’s so beautiful that you’ll probably cry.  And it’s so weird that you may stop reading after a handful of pages and think ‘why did Sam recommend this weird book’. Vonnegut’s writing is highlighted by wit, humour, and insight.  He asks his readers to consider the horrors of human existence but provides all the necessary mechanisms to cope with it. Slaughterhouse-Five is also relatively short so you have no excuse not to follow my recommendation and give it a read. 4 bolts!

[Snow Flower and the Secret Fan book cover]

Book: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Author: Lisa See

Call Number: PS3569.E3334 S66 2006 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: This charming novel is set in a remote county in 19th century China. It tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two girls destined for two very different lives. Through infrequent meetings and correspondence on a secret fan, we witness the joys of childhood, the misery of foot binding, the pain of loss, and the triumphs and tribulations of motherhood. Due to their gender, we witness a very limited view of the physical world through their eyes. However, the emotional depth of the story is profound and honest making this a delightful read.  4.5 Bolts!

[At Swim Two Boys book cover]

Book: At Swim Two Boys

Author: Jamie O’Neill

Call Number: PR6065.N4194 A92 2001

Flash: This heart wrenching Irish love story follows two teenage boys in 1915 and 1916 as they struggle with the wishes of their families, their religious upbringing, while also dealing with the realities of the First World War and the increasing political strife in Ireland. A challenging read, due to its heavy use of Irish dialect and phonetics, as well as being laden with Gaelic, but worth the effort. Four bolts.

[Stonehenge Letters book cover]

Book: The Stonehenge Letters

Author: Harry Karlinsky

Call Number: PS8621.A6224 S76 2014

Flash: This light novel is written in a non-fiction style. Canadian author, Harry Karlinksy takes you back to the early twentieth century and the life and legacy of Alfred Nobel. If you’re interested in the partially invented history of the Nobel Prizes, including a made-up prize, and why Freud never won a Nobel, grab this book and give it a go. 4 bolts!

[The Beggar's Garden book cover]

Book: The Beggar’s Garden

Author: Michael Christie

Call Number: PS8605 H748 B44 2011

Flash: This is a great collection of nine humorously candid short stories set in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Michael Christie, a Canadian author, humanizes the neighborhood and the struggles of its diverse residents without being overly bleak or judgmental. This book won the 2011 City of Vancouver Book Award. 4 bolts!

[The Goldfinch book cover]

Book: The Goldfinch

Author: Donna Tartt

Call Number:  PS3570.A657 G65 2013

Flash: Although this novel won a Pulitzer prize, there has been a lot of negative critical response to it. Despite all the negative reviews, I would highly recommend this book. It is a commitment to be sure at close to 800 pages but the writing is exquisite and that keeps you involved in this long, coming of age story. The critics have summed it up well in saying that it is “a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.” Besides, it centers around an art masterpiece, so how can you go wrong!

[The Rosie Effect book cover]

Book: The Rosie Effect

Author: Graeme Simsion

Call Number:  PR9599.S457 R672 2014 (Fireside Lounge)

Flash: As the sequel to the Rosie Project this book delivers a sincere continuation of the characters and plot. The initial joy and surprise captured in the first novel seemed more contrived and less convincing the second time around. A good holiday/quick read, but not book club or “own your own copy” worthy.  2 bolts.

[Indian Horse book cover]

Book: Indian Horse

Author: Richard Wagamese

Call Number:  PS8595.A363 I64 2012

Flash: One of my favourite books from the last few years this book tells the story of Saul Indian Horse.  Growing up in Northern Ontario and taken away from his family to attend a residential school Saul finds some solace and direction in playing hockey. Shortlisted for multiple awards, this is a great book that broaches some difficult topics in a sensitive and approachable way.  5 bolts.

[The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie book cover]

Book: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Author: Alan Bradley

Call Number:  PS8603.R3313 S94 2009

Flash: Set in the English countryside during the 1950s, our story follows Flavia de Luce, an amateur detective. She also happens to be 11 years old. In between conducting experiments in her chemistry lab, riding out on her beloved bicycle Gladys, and harassing (and poisoning) her two older sisters, she manages to get mixed up in a murder… much to the chagrin of the local constabulary. Winner of multiple mystery awards, this is one read not to miss. 5 bolts.

[Progress book cover]

Book: Progress

Author: Michael V. Smith

Call Number: PS8637.M57 P76 2011

Flash: Told primarily through one woman’s perspective, Progress is a quick read that explores the emotions experienced when a community is forced to relocate as the result of a massive hydro-electric project. The story is captivating because this larger narrative causes old family wounds to resurface and complicate the potential for starting over. 4 bolts.

[Woefield Poultry Collective book cover]

Book: Woefield Poultry Collective

Author: Susan Juby

Call Number: PS8569.U324 W64 2011

Flash: Having grown up in a small BC town, I can attest that the ‘quirky’ characters in this novel set on Vancouver Island are just odd enough to be real! I laughed out loud reading this tale of an honest attempt to make the world a better place while finding one’s place in it. Highly recommended for a light reading escape. 5 bolt recommendation.

[The Silkworm book cover]

Book: The Silkworm

Author: Robert Galbraith

Call Number: PR6068.O93 S55 2014

Flash: Writing under a pseudonym, J. K. Rowling has created an entertaining murder mystery. One-legged but still swashbuckling private eye, Cormorant Strike, delves into London’s book publishing world to the mysterious death of an acclaimed author. Second in a series. 5-bolt recommendation.