Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Time to Read Speculative Fiction!

Recently the library started a podcast called Time To Read. In the first episode they chose the book Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This book is among my top five all-time favorite books. The podcast made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think about why this is my favorite trilogy.

Speculative fiction is a subgenre in science fiction, and of course Margaret Atwood says it best! “I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth.” (source)

Speculative fiction makes use of dystopian, near future, and fairytales to tell their tales. Here are some of my favorites:

Oryx and Crake book coverAt the top of the list is (of course) The Maddaddam Trilogy, sometimes romance, sometimes adventure. The trilogy starts with the book Oryx and Crake. The book follows Jimmy the Snowman and a group of Crakers. We learn of Jimmy’s past through flashbacks. We learn about who he is, what the Crakers are, and what happens to Oryx and Crake. Do yourself a favor and read this book, then check out the podcast.

Never Let Me Go book coverI discovered Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro as the 2010 movie adaptation, and I fell in love. I then read the book, and while both are very well done, the book was better! They tell the story of Kathy, a caregiver and clone. Living in a boarding school, she and friends Ruth and Tommy are prepped to be donors. This is a fantastic book about the ethics and questions cloning.

The Martian book coverI read The Martian when it had just been published as an eBook on Kindle for 99 cents. This book is so scientifically accurate it is almost hard to call it speculative fiction, but I am going to include it. Mark, the unluckiest of all astronauts, encounters problem after problem after being stranded on Mars. With no real chance for escape, Mark has to find a way to stay alive and return to Earth.

Ready Player One book coverReady Player One is a dystopian novel that uses pop culture in the nerdiest of ways, and I loved every minute. I borrowed the audiobook from Overdrive, and my nerdy little heart melted just a bit more, because it was read by none other than (no shame) my high school crush, Will Wheaton! Everything is better when read by Will Wheaton.

Walkaway book coverWalkaway by Cory Doctorow is another fantastic book. Speaking of Will Wheaton, he, Amber Benson, and Amanda Palmer narrate this book. A boy meets girl story where Hubert Etc. and Natalie choose to walk away. Want to know what that means? Want to know why he is called Hubert Etc.? Read this book!

– Andrea

Canadian SF & fantasy

This weekend is not only Victoria Day, traditionally the first long weekend of the summer, but also the 34th Keycon–Manitoba’s annual science fiction & fantasy convention.

This year their Guest of Honour is Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. She’s written more than forty books: fantasy, thrillers, and horror for teen and adult readers. WPL is pleased to host her at an author talk at 2 pm today (Friday, May 19) in the Carol Shields Auditorium on the 2nd floor of Millennium Library. Come say hello to  Kelley and discover more about her fictional worlds!

If you’re interested in checking out Keycon, it takes place at the Radisson Hotel May 19 to 21. For more information on special guests, programming, and more, check out their website.

Thinking about Keycon reminded me how many great science fiction and fantasy authors are Canadian, or have strong ties to this country. Here are just a few of them:

 William Gibson–although he was born in the U.S., he’s lived in Canada since 1967– envisioned the concept of cyberspace before it even existed, in his classic debut novel Neuromancer. His work has gradually evolved into near-future stories about the influence of technology and social media on society, which are often eerily accurate. As he pointed out in 2003, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

 Silvia Moren0-Garcia is a Mexican-Canadian fantasy writer and editor whose books place unsettlingly strange events in down-to-earth settings. In her latest novel, Certain Dark Things, Mexico City is an oasis in a sea of vampires, heavily policed to keep the creatures of the night at bay.

Nalo Hopkinson is another international author–born in Jamaica, she splits her time between California and Canada. Her award-winning novel Brown Girl in the Ring is set in a post-apocalyptic Toronto.

And there are many other Canadian SF & fantasy writers to try. If you enjoy military SF, check out Tanya Huff‘s Confederation series about space marines. Guy Gavriel Kay is famous for his historical fantasy; Robert Charles Wilson‘s mind-bending science fiction often plays with timelines; and Robert Sawyer writes fast-paced, classic SF adventure.

Don’t forget one of the quintessential Canadian authors, Margaret Atwood, either! Several of her classic novels–The Handmaid’s Tale, the MaddAddam trilogy–draw heavily on speculative themes and tropes, even if she claims that she doesn’t write science fiction.

On Victoria Day, hopefully the weather will be perfect to sit out in your backyard, at the neighbourhood park, or on the beach, and crack open a refreshing Canadian read.


What’s new in Alternate History Fiction?

It has been a while since I blogged about alternate history novels and there have been quite a few great new additions to the library’s collection, challenging the reader to imagine our world if it taken divergent paths in its history.


Cover image for JudenstaatIn Judenstaatauthor Simone Zelitch imagines the consequences for the Jewish people and the rest of the world if a Jewish state had been created in central Europe, in the region of Saxony, instead of in Palestine in 1948. The story begins forty years later with a historian preparing a documentary celebrating the anniversary of Judenstaat given new evidence about the death of one if its founding fathers. Her investigation brings to light uncomfortable truths about the nation’s past. The change in the timeline brings a different Cold War, with Judenstaat building its own version of the Berlin Wall (to keep out potential “fascists”), and tackles national myths and their place in countries’ identities.


Cover image for Hystopia : a novel

Hystopia gives us a totally different 1960’s where John F. Kennedy not only survived multiple assassination attempts but is now in his third term as United States President. The Vietnam War is still ongoing but a new “Psych Corps” has been created by the government to take charge of traumatized veterans and clean their memories with drugs and therapy. One of these returned soldiers is an author trying to write the novel that will honour his brothers-in-arms (the story is told as a novel within the novel), even as some of the more psychologically-scarred ones are roaming the U.S. countryside and recreating the atrocities they lived through. This is a challenging read as it does not shy from scenes of strong violence, but it also tries the challenge of recreating the unease and paranoid feeling of being in the US in the troubled 1970’s.


bombs-awayThe ever-prolific Harry Turtledove is working on his newest trilogy – the Hot War trilogy. The first two volumes are already available: Bombs Away and Fallout. The first one is called Bombs Away. This is a tale told from multiple point of views (a characteristic of Turtledove’s storytelling) and tells of how the world became embroiled in nuclear warfare in 1951, after General Douglas MacArthur escalated the Korean War. In an age before missiles and jet bombers, the war between the Western and Eastern blocks slowly escalates and risks spinning out of anyone’s control to stop it before humanity faces extinction. Ordinary people from nations around the globe, both civilians and combatants, are shown trying to cope with unprecedented nuclear destruction in a chilling but all-too plausible scenario.


ink-and-boneThis next trilogy, The Great Library, written by Rachel Caine, includes elements of fantasy in addition to its alternate history setting.  In Ink and Bone we discover a world in the near-future where the great Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world, containing works by the greatest thinkers and writers of antiquity) was not destroyed. The Library has grown into the greatest depository of human knowledge in the world, becoming the all-powerful ruler of society through its control of access to knowledge.  Thanks to alchemy, the knowledge of its books can be transmitted to everyone instantaneously (like ebooks today), but private ownership of books is a capital offence, with a black market booming in illegal books. The main protagonist is from a family of book smugglers who joins the Library’s ranks as a spy but how will coming into contact with people worshipping knowledge over human life and their immense power change him?


Cover image for Clash of eaglesClash of Eagles, the first volume of the Esperian trilogy by Alan Smale, tells the story of a Roman general captured by Cahokians after his legion is massacred while attempting the conquest of North America. Having been spared and gradually accepted by them, he must decide if he still fits in the empire’s plans of expansion or join his adopted people whose culture he has grown to admire. It’s a story of a clash of two cultures who never met in our history but realistically imagines how such an event might have unfolded and transformed our world. This series is recommended for action/adventure fans as well as history buffs.


clockworkFinally, closer to home, Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction by Dominik Parisien is a collection of 15 stories about how steam technology might have reshaped the history of our country. You’ll read of mythical clockwork creatures that roam the landscapes of New France terrorizing the settlers in “Clochemard” and Mounties pursuing steam-powered buffalo-girl hybrids and solve a string of murders in “Buffalo Gals” (a Canadian superweapon that could change history). Many stories deal with real issues about our history like colonization, racism, and industrialisation’s impact on human society and the environment. It is quite a good read if you are in the mood for something local.


– Louis-Philippe

Top 10 fantasy & science fiction

Earlier this year, to mark Valentine’s Day, I posted a list of the most popular romance reads at Winnipeg Public Library. This month, I thought it might be interesting to discover what local readers of speculative fiction – i.e. fantasy and science fiction in all their many genres – are checking out from the Library.

Like romance, science fiction & fantasy authors tend to write sequels and series. Several of the books below are part of complicated, multi-volume series, so you may not want to jump in at those titles; where that’s the case, I’ve also linked to the first book in the series.

On the other hand, science fiction & fantasy lends itself equally well to the short story format, so this list also features some collections of short fiction – the perfect tasting menu to help you decide whether you want a big feast of “spec fic.”

1. Trigger Warning
If you know speculative fiction, you probably know Neil Gaiman. He’s written in every style & format, from quest fantasy to graphic novels to horror to books for children – and has won awards in every one of those categories too. If you don’t know him, this sampler of some of his recent short fiction is a good place to start. (Already read this? Try Kelly Link’s collection Get in Trouble, which is every bit as mind-bendingly weird, dark, and beautiful as Gaiman’s work.)

2. Forsaken
Kelley Armstrong’s “Women of the Otherworld” series of books about the hidden societies of werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings are hugely popular. This story features the child of one of her most popular characters, so if you’re not already up to speed on this series, start with Bitten – the adventures of Elena, lone werewolf in Toronto.


3. Dead Heat
Patricia Briggs writes two urban fantasy series; this one has been praised as the “perfect blend of action, romance, suspense and paranormal.” If that sounds up your alley, start with Cry Wolf. If you’ve already read all of Anna & Charles’ stories, Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older might satisfy your need for more supernatural adventure.


4. Empire
“Earth has been conquered and occupied… The Resistance still fights the invaders, but they are nothing more than an annoyance to the Illyri, an alien race of superior technology and military strength.” This second novel in a series (after Conquest) follows two young rebels who are captured, conscripted, and sent to fight offworld at the edges of the growing Illyri Empire.


5. The Long Mars
This intriguing collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett (best known for his humourous Discworld fantasy series) and Stephen Baxter (best known for “hard” science fiction) started with The Long Earth, in which humanity discovers a way to access a potentially infinite series of parallel Earths. If you enjoyed this series, you might like Robert Charles Wilson‘s tales of alternate worlds too.


6. Ready Player One
This standalone book is “part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera” set in a universe where most of humanity escapes their grim surroundings by spending every waking hour jacked into a sprawling virtual utopia.



7. Severed Souls
Another installment in the adventures of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell (which began in Wizard’s First Rule) as they must defend themselves and their followers from a series of terrifying threats, despite a magical sickness that depletes their strength and which, if not cured, will take their lives… sooner rather than later.


8. Madness In Solidar
In Book 9 of the Imager Portfolio, Alastar finds himself in the middle of a power struggle after taking the helm of the declining Solidar’s Collegium of Imagers.

If long, complex fantasy series like those written by Goodkind and Modesitt are your choice, Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series is another excellent example.


9. Shifting Shadows
A collection of short stories featuring Mercy Thompson, Patricia Briggs’ other urban fantasy heroine, and her friends.

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews focuses on a similar tight-knit group of characters brought together by shared danger.


10. Golden Son
Pierce Brown’s fast-paced first novel Red Rising  quickly became a best-selling sensation. In Golden Son he continues the saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, who has infiltrated the privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within…
Book 3 (Morning Star) is set to come out in January 2016, and I know readers from 15 to 55 who are eagerly waiting for it.

Did this list whet your appetite for more? Check out the Library’s collection of Hugo Award or Prix Aurora winners too!


The Undiscovered Country


“The sun will come out, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun” (Annie). As of late, there hasn’t been too much sun going around or nice temperatures for that matter; but there is the hope, as Annie says, that things will improve tomorrow. In and of itself, this is hardly a new concept, yet the idea of what tomorrow could bring has led to the creation of some of the finest pieces of literature, including the genre of science fiction. With the film Tomorrowland opening on May 22nd, I began to wonder, what does tomorrow/future hold? If you have the same thought, here are some books that run with this idea.

20,00020,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is not the sort of tale that most associate with the future. A tale of high seas adventure, it more closely resembles the classic Moby Dick than sci-fi. Yet one aspect allows it to enter the sci-fi lexicon: the Nautilus. Captain Nemo’s famous submersible housed state-of-the-art technology that allowed it to become a terror of the deep. Long before submarines made an appearance, Verne predicted that one day we could travel to the depths of the ocean into a world as unknown as the stars. It is for this reason that Disney included the vessel as part of Tomorrowland’s park. And for the record, the film version with Kirk Douglas is not to be missed.

handmaidThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and vV for Vendetta by Alan Moore both take a darker look at the future. A future where a class system becomes enforced and women become trapped into roles dictated by their biology and status, Handmaid presents tomorrow as something to feared, while futuristic V’s Britain becomes so concerned with safety that its citizens give up their rights and their futures for a feeling of security that is as illusionary as the TV shows they all watch.

braveBoth have elements that Aldous Huxley touched upon in 1984Brave New World (regimented society) and George Orwell in 1984 (Big Brother is watching you). Yet for all the dread and anxiety, there is still the hope that a single individual, whether in a large dramatic fashion, or in small innocuous ways, has the power to subvert the system and create a better tomorrow.

A better world can mean different things to different people. enderTomorrowland presents the idea that a better world can only be created if the brightest minds in the world are sequestered away and given the means and the freedom to redesign the world. Take Ender’s Game, for instance. The children are taken from their homes, trained, and then let loose in a war that redefines the future. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy has a similar notion that by planting a colony elsewhere, new innovations can lead to a better world back home. Yet Asimov has a tendency to point out that technology has a dark side like any other creation. foundationI, Robot examines the importance of connection between robots and humans, and the fear that lies therein. The film takes things a step further by implying that only technology can see the world objectively enough to make decisions regarding our future and act accordingly; the same theme also appears in Marvel’s new film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films imply that technology is not the answer to the problems of tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what direction Tomorrowland chooses to take on this matter. (Though from the clip I saw, androids are the enemy, yet technology itself appears to go either way.)

According to Walt Disney, “Tomorrowland [is] a vista into a world of wondrous ideas signifying [humanity’s] achievements. A step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come.” (Featurette) When Tomorrowland was built, Disney was presenting his idea on how the world was moving into the future. Now Disney’s view of the future has certainly changed since his time and I’m sure that our current ideas of the future will alter as time moves on. Books and film take the pulse of the current world and project its dreams, fears and goals for the future. Some ideas work out, others fail; but no matter what tomorrow we face, we can always be sure, that this undiscovered country always has something new to show us (Hamlet 3.1.79 / Star Trek VI).

– Katherine

What’s new in Science Fiction?

Cover image for Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy's greatest science fiction

Even though I grew up assiduously reading and watching science-fiction, I am more a reader of non-fiction these days.  But every now and then, it’s pleasant to go back to one’s “roots” and discover what you have missed.

An excellent title to discover or re-explore the genre in all its shapes and forms is Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy’s greatest science fiction.  This comprehensive volume provides examples of the greatest works from every country in the world, from the 19th century to the present, citing the important classics and their influence on culture and society through books and their adaptations in movies and television, followed by comics and even video games.  There are articles about famous writers (of every media), descriptions of the popular themes that were explored by science-fiction throughout history and lots of great illustrations and photographs.  Overall this is an excellent reference book accessible to everyone.

Cover image for Year zero : a novel  Cover image for Redshirts

Dystopian fiction is a very popular theme in science-fiction, and for good reasons, but it is refreshing to find titles that can include comedy.

In Rob Reid’s Year Zero, an everyman entertainment lawyer discovers that we are not alone in the universe. It is in fact filled with alien civilizations and earth songs have been smash hits with them for decades.  That’s the good news; the bad news is that earth copyright laws would bankrupt the entire inhabited universe and many see the destruction of humanity as the most expedient (and cheapest) solution.  It is up to our hero and two extraterrestrial visitors (disguised as a nun and a mullah) to find a solution while avoiding being eliminated by less-friendly alien agents.  For those who are thinking Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is definitely a resemblance but with a lot more pop culture humor.

Likewise, the pleasure of reading Redshirts by John Scalzi is the self-aware humor based on the concept of expendable “extras” that start to realize their true role and try to escape their pre-assigned fate.  An ensign newly posted on the starship Intrepid realizes the high mortality rate of low-level crew members that accompany the higher officers on away missions (who always manage to survive – sound familiar?).  His fellow crewmates all suspect something fishy is going on, but when Ensign Dahl uncovers the truth, it threatens to unravel everything he believes about his existence.  The story makes fun of a lot of classic shows and their conventions, and if you are fan of Star Trek, you will nod more than once at the inside jokes and commentaries.

Cover image for Influx

On a more serious note, Influx  by Daniel Suarez mixes conspiracy and futuristic element.  The book’s premise is that our current civilization is far more advanced technologically than we suspect.  A group called the Bureau of Technology Control has been working in the shadows to keep revolutionary inventions from being publically revealed and made available to humanity “for its own good”, thus keeping humanity artificially stunted by decades.  The main hero the book, a physicist who is on the cusp of inventing something revolutionary is “eliminated” under the guise of a terrorist plot.  In fact, he is given the choice of working for the Bureau and join the conspiracy, or live the rest of his life imprisoned in a secret facility.  But he has no intention to take either options and set about changing humanity’s future.

Cover image for SecondWorld

In SecondWorld, it is an old enemy that threatens to rise again and set about the destruction of humanity as we know it.  Lincoln Miller, an NCIS agent sent to an underwater facility near Miami returns to the surface to an horrifying reality: his city, and others around the globe have been covered with a film of red particles that has killed all life by absorbing the oxygen from the air.  As the apparent sole survivor to look for an explanation to the disaster he comes to learn that it is merely the beginning of a doomsday plan set in motion in 1945 to bring about a new world order.  This is for fans of quick-paced action and high-stakes thrillers.

Cover image for Blindsight

Blindsight by Peter Watts offers a scenario resembling first contact with extraterrestrial life, but with a very unique terrestrial crew.  In the late 21st century, the earth is briefly approached by what seems to be alien probes which leads humanity to a signal originating from the edge of the solar system.  A ship is sent to investigate equipped with an advanced artificial intelligence, crewed by individuals with unique gifts and traits including a “vampire” linguistic officer, a cyborg biologist, a man with only half a brain but with an amazing gift for predicting the behavior of others and another with multiple personalities.  Will they be able to contact and understand what is truly alien?  The novel explores the concept of transhumans (augmented or altered humanity) and consciousness (human and otherwise) and how one can define these things.  This is a more challenging read but explores fascinating questions.

Cover image for Fiddlehead : a novel of the Clockwork Century

As a long-time fan of both the steampunk and alternate history genres, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series of novels come as a treat that I highly recommend.  The stories take place in a United States still in the throes of civil war well into the 1880’s, where retro-futuristic inventions have spread both progress and carnage.  In Fiddlehead, Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd must help the inventor of a prototype computer to find allies on both sides of the conflict in order to stop a zombie plague from spreading to the entire continent while war profiteers are determined to extend the conflict for as long as they can.  The mixing of historical settings and characters (including here ex-president Lincoln, still very much alive) with futuristic machines is always a joy to read.

What would you like to recommend for good sci-fi reading?


What’s New This March?

New library materials arrive every day, and it can sometimes seem overwhelming when you’re looking for something new to read. I thought I would help by putting together a list of the books I’m most looking forward to this month. Hopefully you will too.

Dark rooms Secret History meets Sharp Objects in Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik, a stunning debut about murder and glamour set in the ambiguous and claustrophobic world of an exclusive New England prep school. Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only 16. The crime is solved, and quickly – a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession – but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed. Working at the private high school from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer.

17 carnations17 Carnations: The royals, the Nazis and the biggest cover-up in history, by Andrew Morton, is the story of the feckless Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor, and his wife Wallis Simpson, whose affair with Joachim von Ribbentrop embroiled the duke in a German plot to use him as a puppet king during their takeover of the British Empire. The Duke’s collaboration with Hitler had resulted in piles of correspondence between them; this damning correspondence could forever tarnish the reputation of the royal family. For the first time in history, the story of the cover-up of those letters, starting with a daring heist–by order of Churchill and the King–to bring the letters back safely to England, out of American hands is revealed.

pocket wifeSusan Crawford makes her debut with The Pocket Wife, a stylish psychological thriller. Dana Catrell is shocked when her neighbor Celia is brutally murdered. To Dana’s horror, she was the last person to see Celia alive. Dana’s mind is rapidly deteriorating. Suffering from a debilitating mania, the by-product of her bipolar disorder, she has holes in her memory, including what happened when she saw Celia the day of the murder. As evidence starts to point in her direction, Dana struggles to clear her name before she descends into madness. Dana couldn’t be the killer. Or could she?

life from scratchLife from Scratch: A memoir of food, family, and forgiveness is a culinary journey like no other. Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook – and eat–a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. Martin’s heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal – and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

clash of eaglesClash of Eagles by Alan Smale is perfect for fans of military and historical fiction–including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove. This stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. A legion under the command of general Gaius Marcellinus invades the newly-discovered North American continent. But Marcellinus and his troops have woefully underestimated the fighting prowess of the Native American inhabitants. When Gaius is caught behind enemy lines and spared, he must re-evaluate his allegiances and find a new place in this strange land.

better on toastBetter On Toast: Full meals on a slice of bread—with a little room for dessert, by Jill A. Donenfeld, features delicious, quick, easy-to-follow recipes for toasts with every possible topping – from hot to cold and savoury to sweet. Anyone can make delicious toasts, no matter his or her level of experience or kitchen size. Whether you use thick-cut French bread, slices of whole wheat, or her gluten-free bread recipe, Jill puts emphasis on flavour, using quality, wholesome ingredients to make each recipe stand out. You can enjoy these elegant yet simple meals anytime and for any occasion, using classic ingredients in new ways and playing with interesting ingredients you’ve always wondered about.

girl underwaterGirl Underwater, by Claire Kells, sees college student Avery is on her way home to Boston for the holidays with some fellow members of her swim team. When their plane goes down in a Colorado mountain lake, she and the other four survivors fight to stay alive in an icy wilderness. Following their rescue, Avery must come to terms with the crash, the secret she is keeping, and some specific new phobias, such as airports and water. She is also torn between two men: boyfriend Lee, who wasn’t aboard the plane and doesn’t know how to help her; and teammate and fellow survivor Colin, who understands the trauma she endured. Skillfully interspersing flashbacks with current events, debut novelist Kells has written an absorbing tale that will grip anyone who enjoys survival stories or psychological dramas. It is also a great choice for readers looking for new adult fiction with a bit more adventure.

strangler vineThe Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter was longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. This dazzling historical thriller is set in the untamed wilds of 19th-century colonial India. William Avery is a young soldier with few prospects; Jeremiah Blake is a secret political agent gone native, a genius at languages and disguises, disenchanted with the whole ethos of British rule, but who cannot resist the challenge of an unresolved mystery. What starts as a wild goose chase for this unlikely pair – trying to track down a missing writer who lifts the lid on Calcutta society – becomes very much more sinister.

reluctant midwifeThe Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman is the heartfelt sequel to Midwife of Hope River. The Great Depression has hit West Virginia hard. Men are out of work; women struggle to feed hungry children. Luckily, Nurse Becky Myers has returned to care for them. While she can handle most situations, Becky is still uneasy helping women deliver their babies. For these mothers-to-be, she relies on an experienced midwife, her dear friend Patience Murphy. But becoming a midwife and ushering precious new life into the world is not Becky’s only challenge. Her skills and courage will be tested when a calamitous forest fire blazes through a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

mademoiselle chanelFor readers of Paris Wife and Z comes Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner,  a vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel. Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood. Transforming herself into Coco, the petite brunette burns with ambition, and an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life.


Reading the Summer Away

As an avid reader, it’s not unusual for me to maintain piles of books around the house, all waiting to be read. Thanks to eBooks, my iPad is always stocked, too. Summer is my time to get through all these books, and nothing brings me more pleasure than to sit on the deck with a few books and spend an entire afternoon reading (with snacks, beverages and sunscreen, of course). So far this summer, I’ve been extremely lucky. It goes without saying that I enjoy almost every book I read. I’m a librarian, it’s what we do. But so far this month I’ve discovered four books that I’ve fallen in love with, and that have touched me deeply. 

I read Jo Walton’s Among Others a few weeks ago, on a friend’s recommendation. Reading this book was like reading a love letter to science fiction and fantasy. This is the story of Mori Phelps, raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled and her twin sister dead. Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England, a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off.

One quote in particular spoke to me – actually sent shivers down my spine. Early in the book Mori writes, “It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” So true! I felt that the author had written those lines just for me. In fact, I loved this book so much I even wrote the author to thank her for writing it. Best part? She emailed me back! (Insert fan girl squeeling here.)

If Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul isn’t on your reading list, it really should be. I can honestly say I’ve never laughed and cried so much while reading a book than I have with this one. The titular hero, Westlake Soul, is a 23 year-old former surfing champion, as well as a loving son and brother. After a horrific accident, Westlake is left in a permanent vegetative state. He can’t move, has no response to stimuli, and can only communicate with Hub, the faithful family dog. And like all superheroes, Westlake has an archenemy: Dr. Quietus, a nightmarish embodiment of Death itself. Westlake dreams of a normal life, of surfing and loving again. But time is running out. Dr. Quietus is getting closer, and stronger. Can Westlake use his superbrain to recover… to slip his enemy’s cold embrace before it’s too late?

I could write my own gushing review of the book, but I’d rather quote from Tim Baker’s Goodreads review, as it sums up my thoughts exactly: “Westlake Soul is like nothing I’ve ever read. Not horror, but at times horrific, it’s fantasy in its most human form. It can be funny and charming, with language so simple and poetic, it sometimes slipped by me, affecting me in a deep way. So much heart, it almost bleeds. I sat in the back yard, finishing the last chapters, with tears.” Seriously, read this book.

Julia Stuart’s The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is the story of Balthazar Jones, who has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London. Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens erotica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens. When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

This book made me laugh out loud so many times that I stopped reading it on the bus, mostly because I got tired of the strange looks from my fellow passengers. This isn’t to say that the whole book is a comedy, as it also explores the breakdown of a marriage following the death of an only child. It’s an interesting exploration of the different ways we deal with grief. I can’t wait to read more of the author’s works.

I was very lucky to receive an advance reading copy of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. The best way to describe it is as a Swedish Forest Gump. Allan Karlsson, the titular man, decides on his 100th birthday that he’s tired of living in a senior’s home. Climbing out the window wearing only slippers, Allan not only manages to escape, but finds himself in various situations involving drug money, kidnapping, the occasional murder, and true love. Allan himself shares his life story, and we find that he’s been involved in, if not responsible for, all sorts of world changing events during the last half of the 20th century. His impressions of Stalin left me shaking with laughter. It’s not surprising that this book has sold more than 750,000 copies in Sweden. Get your name on the holds list now!

What books have you fallen in love with this summer? Let us know!


A Salute to Ray Bradbury


The world lost one if its pioneers of science-fiction/fantasy literature on June 5,  and one whose body of work helped spark this blogger’s love of science-fiction -Ray Bradbury!  For those who never had a chance to sample his work, or who wish to re-acquaint themselves with his classics, the Winnipeg Public Library has a good selection to choose from. 

  The Martian Chronicles was Ray Bradbury’s first major title and it received widespread acclaim. It is epic in scope, with multiple characters and spanning many decades in time.  Written in the late 1940’s-1950’s, it envisioned humanity’s attempt to reach and colonize Mars to escape an Earth seemingly doomed to self-destruction.  But it soon turns out that the red planet is already occupied by natives wary of those “aliens”.  The Chronicles are structured as a series of short stories with different protagonists sharing a larger narrative of humanity’s decades-long efforts in colonizing and surviving on Mars.  Like any good work of science-fiction, the Chronicles are a reflection not only of future possibilities, but of (then-) current world issues (fear of nuclear warfare, debating views of colonization’s effects on societies, xenophobia) as well as being exciting and fun in its own right.  Though fantastic (sometimes fantastical) technology is part of the tales, the humans are very much its central element.  I find that is true in all of Bradbudy’s writing that I have read.  A graphic novel adaptation is also available. 

Fahrenheit 451, a classic that I remember seeing on television as a child years before reading the novel (the movie version also available at the library).  The dystopian world where the story takes place resonates to our modern world: Bradbury writing the novel in 1953-anticipates reality television, human libraries (in this case people memorizing entire books in order to preserve them), new forms of media gaining prominence over books and being used to dull and manipulate people into apathy and compliance.  In this future world, “firemen” are tasked with finding and burning books with flamethrowers, as all book have been deemed dangerous and offensive, and the population is kept in a state of apathy through junk virtual entertainment.  The hero of the novel is one of these firemen, who comes to recognize the value of books and  changes his views of his society through key encounters with other people struggling to change it.  

An equally good, but far less well known title is Dandelion Wine.  Contrary to what most may assume, a large quantiy of Bradbury’s stories were not set in space or in the future, but in ordinary everyday settings, where fantastical events would be introduced.  This collection of short stories is a work of nostalgia set in rural america over one summer in 1928. It  is about the lives and adventures of a young boy, Douglas, his family and friends, and the lessons learned while growing up.  Bradbury wrote a sequel to this story entitled Farewell Summer, which is set one year after Dandelion Wine at the end of Summer of 1929.  This time Douglas and his friends decide to wage “war” against growing up, time (symbolized by the courthouse clock) and the elderly, who then respond in kind against the rebelling youngsters.  Both tales strike the right balance bewtween levity and profound meditation on the trials of growing out of childhood and are quite uplifting. 

Something Wicked This Way Comes made me think of alot of Stephen King’s work: like It, The Stand or Christine, in the way that he embodied supernaturally dark forces in deceptively ordinary forms.  In this coming-of-age tale, malevolent forces start affecting the inhabitants of a midwestern town when a traveling carnival arrives, and two young boys must try to uncover the nature of what they are facing and try to save their friends and families.  This being Bradbury, the tale never goes too far into dark territories and the story overall is not as bleak, but there are definitely a few resemblances with some King’s work.  The movie version of this tale is also available at the library.

Some of Bradbury’s short stories have also been adapted to graphic novel, and in The Best of Ray Bradbury: the Graphic Novel, one can find some of his more notable ones, including A Sound of Thunder, which deals with time-traveling safari hunters going after the ultimate predator of the jurassic era.  Of course, as in any good time-travel fiction, things go wrong. 

Of course, this still represents a small fraction of Bradbury’s work, and I would be interested by your own suggestions of other great reads by him.


Under the Big Top

“The  circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

These are the opening lines to Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus. In this story, magic is real but it is often disguised as illusion when presented to the general public. As you get into this story, you are introduced and surrounded by a rich world and memorable characters, each one instrumental to the running of this mysterious night circus that arrives without warning in your home town and is only open between the hours of dusk and dawn. The lavish descriptions of the attractions one finds at this circus is reason enough to pick up this book, but there is so much more. The story opens with a deal between two older magicians. Each has a protegé that is being groomed, and the old magicians set up a duel between the two young rivals. This duel doesn’t involve magic wands and rabbits out of top hats. In fact, it takes years to play out and neither side is entirely sure how to follow the rules. All that is known is that the night circus plays a central role in the resolution of the duel and the story. I can already see Tim Burton getting ahold of the rights to this story and casting, you guessed it, Johnny Depp and Helena Bohnam Carter as the two leads.

If stories involving circuses are your game, why not check out some of these other titles?

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The reminiscences of a 93-year-old former circus vet are told through a series of flashbacks. It was made into a well received movie in 2011 starring everyone’s favourite vampire, Rob Pattinson.

Carnivàle (HBO series, 2003-05)

This ambitious series about a travelling carnival in the 1930’s dust bowl America was supposed to last six seasons, but due to falling viewership it was cancelled after only two. Despite this, it is still well worth checking out. The story focuses on two main characters. Ben Hawkins, who has odd healing powers, joins a travelling carnival in the 1930’s and soon afterwards begins to have strange dreams about the future and his destiny; Brother Justin Crowe, a Methodist minister living with his sister in California, has similar dreams and visions as Ben Hawkins and also has the disturbing ability to bend people to his will. As the show progresses over two seasons, both storylines eventually converge.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A mysterious carnival comes to town just before Halloween. Its ringleader is “Mr. Dark,” who is able to gain control of the townsfolk one by one. The story is told through the eyes of Jim and Will, two thirteen year old boys who see through the carnival’s allure for the horror that it truly is. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and should not be left off of any “freaky carnival stories” list. Oh, and I also love it because Will’s dad is the town librarian and plays a crucial role in the final battle between good and evil. It was also made into a movie and a graphic novel.