Tag Archives: top picks

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!

Danielle

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A blog post 65 Million Years in the Making

“Now, eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?”
– Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

rex_paddock[1]

It’s cool to talk about dinosaurs again, you guys! On June 12th, Universal Pictures will be releasing Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a direct sequel to 1993’s original Jurassic Park, pretty much ignoring the events of Jurassic Parks 2 and 3. This is probably a smart move, as I tend to remember those second and third movies being sad echoes of Spielberg’s brilliant original masterpiece. I still remember seeing the original Jurassic Park at the Grant Park cinemas. It was the first movie I saw after those theatres converted to digital sound, and I’ll never forget the scene when the T-Rex attacks and the first sign of it was when those cups of water started to shake. The sound was so crisp and clear in the theatre that our seats actually rumbled a bit.

But enough about me and my sudden geeking out about Jurassic Park. Did I mention I was at opening night when they re-released the movie in 3D a couple of years back? And I don’t even LIKE 3D. I even have a Jurassic Park coffee mug.

So to celebrate the 12 year old in all of us, let’s take a quick look at some of WPL’s dinosaur related fiction in preparation for Jurassic World. See you opening night!

Jurassicpark[1]

Jurassic Park: Michael Crichton

Well it’s probably best to start with the original novel. Arguably Crichton’s most famous novel, it tells the story of a mysterious theme park on an island off of Costa Rica on the eve of it’s opening. I’m trying to stay spoiler free, but is there such a thing as spoiling something that’s 25 years old and has had movies and book sequels spun off of it? Okay, let’s just say there are dinosaurs on the island and stuff happens.

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The Lost World: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Best known for creating Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Conan Doyle also wrote a series of fantasy novels. The first one in this series was called The Lost World and followed the adventures of Professor Challenger as he led an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon Basin where prehistoric creatures have somehow survived. This series of books became very influential for other 20th century fantasy writers including Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury.  J.J. Abrams said that The Lost World was one of the inspirations for his TV Series Lost, and Michael Crichton himself paid tribute to it by calling his 1995 Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World.

Dinosaur Summer: Greg Bear

Another homage to Conan Doyle, Greg Bear sets this novel in Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” universe. Dinosaurs are real and have been “domesticated” to the point where they are a part of “dinosaur circuses.” The plot of this novel concerns an expedition to return the remaining dinosaurs from the last dinosaur circus to the plateau in the Amazon Basin where they came from. I’m sure it all goes fine.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth: Jules Verne

Another scientifically questionable tale ( I guess that’s why they call it FANTASY), this novel is about an expedition to the centre of the Earth that starts through an Icelandic volcano. Now I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure going into a volcano, especially one of those disruptive Icelandic ones, is a bad idea. But guess what? They are okay and there are all kinds of prehistoric things living down there. It’s a pretty fun tale if you just decide to go with it.

Dinosaur Thunder: James F. David

Speaking of “going with it,” Dinosaur Thunder makes Jurassic Park look like a PBS documentary. This book has so many temporal disturbances and alternative timelines it even has a T-Rex living on the Moon, you guys. It’s a pretty high concept thriller, but if dinosaurs are your thing, check it out.

Kamandi Archives: Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby was a giant in the world of 20th century comics, creating (or co-creating) most of the original Marvel lineup including Captain America, The Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. He also worked for DC comics where he created Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. Kamandi actually takes place in the distant future, after “The Great Disaster” reduces the Earth to a prehistoric state. Granted, there aren’t dinosaurs as much as super-intelligent mutated animals in this series, but it was an excuse to mention Jack Kirby.

Anonymous Rex: Eric Garcia

It seems like I’ve been listing these titles in order of “most plausible” to “least plausible.” If this is the case then let’s finish up with Anonymous Rex, possibly the least plausible of the whole bunch. The idea in this story is that the dinosaurs only faked their extinction and live among humans in latex costumes. Vincent Rubio is one of these disguised Dinos ( a Velociraptor, no less!) who also happens to work as a Los Angeles P.I. The story itself is quite funny and fast-paced, and might be just the thing for a quick backyard read this summer. It even hatched a sequel called Hot and Sweaty Rex. If you read the first one, you might as well keep going.

-Trevor

Top 10 romances

At roughly a quarter of the overall popular fiction market, by both number of titles and amount sold, romance is the single biggest category of popular fiction – nearly double that of the next genre, mysteries. So the old saying is pretty true: (almost) everyone loves a love story.

Here are the top 10 most-loved romance novels at WPL right now:

fast1. Fast track by Julie Garwood. If you like Garwood’s fast-paced contemporary romances, try books by Lori Foster or Suzanne Brockmann too.

grey2. Fifty shades of Grey by E.L. James. Now that the movie adaptation’s been released, this recent bestseller is seeing another jump in popularity. Mainstream romance novels have been getting steamier for years, but the fad for this book definitely heated things up as publishers realized there was such a huge market for explicit romance.

whisper3. Her last whisper by Karen Robards, a classic writer of romantic suspense. Try Heather Graham if you like this one.

love4. Love Letters : a Rose Harbor novel by Debbie Macomber. There are still lots of sweet romances for readers who aren’t looking for super-sexy love scenes. These books tend to focus on family ties and small-town setting; writers like Debbie Macomber and Donna Kauffman from this list are perfect examples.

blood5. Blood magick by Nora Roberts. Roberts is the Wayne Gretzky of romance writers. In her decades-spanning career, she’s written hundreds of titles in every sub-genre – including four of the titles on this list! This one is the final volume in the Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy.

collector6.  The collector by Nora Roberts. A big-city tale of suspense and romance inspired by the classic film Rear Window.

sandpiper7. Sandpiper Island by Donna Kauffman. For a similar reading experience, try Robyn Carr.

darkDark witch andshadow Shadow spell by Nora Roberts. Eight and nine on the list are books one and two of the Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy. For a while, witches, vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural beings – think of the TV series True Blood (based on the hugely popular series by Charlaine Harris) – were all the rage in romance. Lately, readers seem to be turning away from this trend, but trust Nora to revive it.

swan10. Swan Point by Sherryl Woods. Another small town romance, part of the Sweet Magnolias series. You might also enjoy visiting Genell Dellin’s Honey Grove.

Looking for other popular romances? Try the Romance Writers’ of America’s annual RITA Award winners for a broad range of moving love stories, from inspirational (Christian) stories to romantic suspense and historical tales.

Danielle

Read Local! The Best Brand New Made in Manitoba Books

Ever heard of the 100 Mile Book Diet?

The other day I spent some time (maybe too much time) playing with the interactive Read Local map at 49th Shelf (a site devoted to Canadian books). It plots Canadian books not just within provinces or cities, but right down to exact addresses! I ended up finding a book set in my neighborhood, so I borrowed it for my weekend reading. Can you find one set near you?

I’ve been thinking about local books because last week I attended a Book Blitz with the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers (AMBP). This is where a series of speakers has just a few minutes to talk about top picks for the best new Manitoba books being published in several categories. I really enjoyed hearing about these local books so much that I thought I’d share a selection with you!  For more of their choices, feel free to contact the AMBP.

*Many items are quite new therefore descriptions are adapted from book cover summaries or the Book Blitz booklet.

Kraken BakeKraken Bake, by Karen Dudley

It was a great day when Perseus slew the mighty Kraken. But what do you do with a 100 tonne sea monster on your shores? You eat it of course. Now, after months of Kraken cakes and kabobs the people of Greece are getting a little sick of Kraken and have decided they need to find a Bronze Chef with the skill to tackle the “Kraken crisis”. When Chef Pelops (who can’t cook any food from the sea having offended Poseidon) learns he has been chosen as a Bronze Chef candidate, he faces humiliation or worse, such as the end of his cooking career. Add to that the wedding of his beloved to his best friend as well as the need to dispose of a Gorgon’s head, and Pelops’s plate is full. This sequel to the critically acclaimed Food for the Gods mirthfully re-imagines the world of ancient Greece with a modern spin.

The WittenbergsThe Wittenbergs, by Sarah Klassen

All is not well with the Wittenbergs. Alice has given birth to her second child with a genetic disorder. Millicent has withdrawn into a depression. Joseph must choose between becoming principal of George Sutton Collegiate and the new English teacher. Mia finds herself at the mercy of an unsympathetic teacher while the attractive athletic neighbour ignores her. Only the oldest Wittenberg, the matriarch who holds the key to the family’s Mennonite past, can lead the Wittenbergs along the Dnieper River and toward a better tomorrow.

Tombstone BluesTombstone Blues, by Chadwick Ginther

After beating back the might of Surtur, Ted Callan is getting used to his immortal powers. The man who would stop at nothing to rid himself of his tattoos and their power seems to be enjoying his new-found abilities. However, not everyone is happy the glory of Valhalla has risen from the ashes of Ragnarӧk. Thor, former God of Thunder, rages in the land of the dead, and now that Ted’s woken the dead, there’s going to be trouble.

North End Love SongsNorth End Love Songs, by Katherena Vermette

For Katherena Vermette, Winnipeg’s North End is a neighborhood of colourful birds, stately elms, and wily rivers. It is where a brother’s disappearance is trivialized by local media and the police because he is young and Aboriginal. It is also a place that young girls share secrets, movies, cigarettes, Big Gulps and stories of love—where a young mother full of both maternal trepidation and joy watches her small daughters as they play in the park.
*Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

Rain on a Distant RoofRain on a Distant Roof: A Personal Journey Through Lyme Disease in Canada, by Vanessa Farnsworth

More than the story of one woman’s battle with Lyme disease, Rain on a Distant Roof: A Personal Journey Through Lyme Disease in Canada is also the story of an organism likened to a creature from outer space, and a medical system that continues to have no idea how to deal with it. Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, shares features with a parasite, but can switch from looking like an invading bacterium to being indistinguishable from a heart or neural cell. With many areas of Canada experiencing an increase in infected ticks, more and more of the population is at risk of contracting this tick-borne illness.

Indians Wear Red“Indians Wear Red”: Colonialism, Resistance, and Aboriginal Street Gangs, by Elizabeth Comack

With the advent of Aboriginal street gangs such as the Indian Posse, Manitoba Warriors, and Native Syndicate, Winnipeg garnered a reputation as the “gang capital of Canada”.  Yet beyond the stereotypes, little is known about these street gangs and the conditions that have produced them. Drawing upon extensive interviews with Aboriginal street gang members as well as with Aboriginal women and elders, the authors develop an understanding from “inside” the inner city and through the voices of Aboriginal people — especially street gang members themselves. Solutions do not lie in quick fixes or getting tough on crime, but in decolonization, re-connecting Aboriginal people with their cultures, and building communities in which they can safely live and work. *Winner of the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction at the Manitoba Book Awards.

Another great way to stay up to date on great local reads is with the Manitoba Book Awards held every spring. I love that there’s so much great writing going on in our own backyard!  I want to ask – do you have a favourite book about, or published in, Manitoba?

– Erica

“Three shots were fired…”

“What is past is prologue.” William Shakespeare

“There has to be more to it.” Senator Edward Kennedy

Today marks the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in Dallas. This was one the defining moments of my parent’s generation and, arguably, changed the course of world history. Most people who lived through this time can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news. This “flashbulb memory” effect has, sadly, been repeated many times since, as with the deaths of John Lennon and Princess Diana, The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and 9/11, to name a few. The debate continues, to this day, as to what exactly happened in Dealey Plaza on that fateful afternoon, and it is questionable whether we will ever get the full story. I know that 250-300 words is not enough to even scratch the surface of this topic, but to mark the anniversary of this terrible day, the library has a number of resources to help.

Dallas 1963

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis.

Rather than focus on the events of November 22, as most accounts do, this book takes a longer view, and examines the political and social climate of Dallas in the years leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. It looks at the various political, religious, and social leaders, why so many of them were “Anti-Kennedy,” and why Dallas was such a ripe spot for a possible assassination attempt. It’s well-researched and thought-provoking; and unapologetically honest about the mood of that city in the early 1960’s.

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The Day Kennedy Died: 50 Years Later. LIFE Remembers the Man and the Moment.

LIFE magazine was front and centre of the Kennedy story. It featured JFK and Jackie, yachting, on its cover even before they were married. The magazine covered the personal and family side of the Kennedys during the presidency, as well as the tense thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis. LIFE also contributed to the aftermath of the assassination, and the ensuing investigation, with the famous (possibly doctored) photo of Lee Harvey Oswald on the cover, and was the first to publish stills from the infamous Zapruder film. So, it only makes sense that LIFE would produce a commemorative book on the 50th anniversary of the assassination. This collection includes all 486 frames of the Zapruder film, plus an essay on how LIFE obtained exclusive rights to it. It also includes a ton of photos and remembrances from famous people as to where they were when they heard the news, and a look back at 50 years worth of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination.

JFK-poster[1]

Speaking of conspiracy theories, you really need to watch Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991). The movie depicts the attempts of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) to secure an arrest and conviction for Kennedy’s murder. It is riveting, and also showcases the various conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Was it the mafia? Or maybe Cuban ex-patriots? A rogue element in the government? CIA? FBI? The movie addresses each theory in turn and, rather than debunk any of them, raises more questions than it is able to answer. You may disagree with it, but you can’t deny that it is a masterfully made film that deserves to be remembered.

Profiles in courage[1]

When we think of the Kennedy assassination, we tend to get bogged down in the details of the day and its aftermath, which is only normal. But I’d like to leave you with a link to JFK’s 1955 book, Profiles in Courage. It was written when Kennedy was still a junior senator from Massachusettes, and contains the stories of eight unsung patriots in American history. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and became an instant “must read” title. It still moving and powerful by today’s standards, and serves as a celebration of courage; that human virtue of which we sometimes need to be reminded.

We Recommend These Books: Random Staff Picks from Our Department

On the first floor of the Millennium Library there is a department called Reader Services. This is not, perhaps, the most descriptive name, but that’s because our department handles many different things. We look after the new books, bestsellers, paperbacks, and magazines found in the TD New and Noted room. We take care of the fiction collection (including Graphic Novels, romance, mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and western). We also plan a lot of programs with authors, publishers and community organizations.

We are the first information desk people encounter and as such perform a sort of triage for all sorts of questions. We get to try to answer anything from “I’m lost” to “which bus should I take?” to “I need to repair my car.”

Sometimes, we get asked questions like “I love Sue Grafton, but I’ve read all her books, what should I do?” or simply “can you suggest a good book?” We call answering these questions ‘Readers Advisory’, and though it can be fun trying to find good suggestions for someone’s next read, it can also be tough, because reading taste is so very personal. To help with this, we’ve started thinking about our own favourite reads, and have created a very eclectic list, representing the varied tastes of the personalities in our section.

We’d like to share a random selection of these with you here. Each of the books below is recommended by a different staff member who works in Reader Services. Enjoy!

Sometimes a Great NotionSometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

This novel may be overshadowed by Kesey’s first – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – but it may well be the work of his lifetime. Many critics consider it his magnum opus and compare it to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!. Kesey took the title from the lyrics of the song Goodnight Irene popularized by Lead Belly:

Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I haves a great notion
To jump into the river an’ drown

The novel centers on the Stamper clan, a family of loggers in Kesey’s native Oregon, whose motto is Never give an inch. Vast, multi-layered and brawling, Sometimes a Great Notion is widely considered one of the masterpieces of Western American Literature.

Redemption in IndigoRedemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Like some of the best fiction, this little book packs a lot into a small space. One way to describe it might be as a contemporary fairy tale based on Senegalese folklore, full of wry humour and told in a vivid conversational tone.

“There are people who inspire others to reach lofty goals. Ansige was one of these. People got to know him, and it came to them in a flash of revelation that whatever it was that they wanted to be, it was not a man like Ansige, and they scrambled to occupy the opposite end of the accomplishment spectrum.”

Stone AngelThe Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

The first word that comes to my mind when I think of this novel is miserable. It follows the life of Hagar Shipley, who lives in the small town of Manawaka, Manitoba. Hagar’s father, a farmer, is cold and distant, two traits she inherits as she grows older and has a family of her own. There is nothing happy about this book. It’s heart wrenching, it’s depressing, and it made me bawl my eyes out the first time I read it. And yet, this is still one of my favourite novels. Why would I love a book that made me feel so terrible, you ask? Despite the very depressing content, it makes you look at yourself in the mirror and ask: is this me? When I’m 90 years old, and on my death bed, will I have the same amount of fight in me as this woman? Will I be as stubborn as her? Will I be as cruel as her? Will I be as lonely as her? “Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear.” The Stone Angel is the novel that will give you a swift kick in the rear end and make you look at your own life and how you live it, making it a very worthwhile read.

Need You NowNeed You Now by James Grippando.

“Grippando grips from the first page.” If you are a fan of financial suspense, this book is for you. Patrick Lloyd, a young Wall Street advisor at the world’s largest Swiss bank, and his girlfriend, Lilly, try to uncover the conspiracy behind a $6o billion scheme. Will they succeed? You’ll have to read the book. It is a fast-paced thriller in which danger and suspense lie behind every plot.

WickedWicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

This novel turns the familiar tale from our childhood on its ear. The author creates an intriguing and funny fantasy world, full of compelling characters and satirical commentary. We follow the Wicked Witch – named Elphaba – from childhood, through college, and later into a life of underground activism as she battles forces of evil, including the Wizard of Oz and her old college headmistress Madame Morrible. A very clever and inventive journey through the Land of Oz

Painted GirlsThe Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl—by laws, regulations, and social customs.  — Le Figaro, 1880

Beneath the superficial glitz of Paris in the late 19th century, the van Goethem sisters scrape by at a time when prejudice against the “lower classes” excuses all sorts of abuses. They working their hands to the bone at any job they can find, and bodies to the brink of exhaustion in the Paris Opéra, for scant pay and a faint hope of someday rising to more. Inspired by the life of Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and his other works depicting fatigued young dancers, it is a completely captivating, sad, yet somehow heartening depiction of beauty and ugliness in many forms.

So that’s just some of what we like to read. Visit us sometime, and see what book suggestions we can come up with just for you…

Erica

Best. Reading List. Ever.

This fall publishing season promises excitement and bestsellers by some of our most popular authors. If you haven’t already, get your library card out and start placing some holds! We’ll be receiving new works from Janet Evanovich (Takedown Twenty), James Patterson (Gone, Cross My Heart), David Baldacci (King and Maxwell), Patricia Cornwell (Dust), Lisa Scottoline (Accused), Jeffrey Deaver (The October List), Iris Johansen (Silencing Eve), and Anita Shreve (Stella Bain), to name a few. Other books that will be creating big splashes include Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda (which is receiving quite favourable reviews), C.C. Benison’s Ten Lords A-Leaping, Alexander McCall Smith’s The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon and Bertie Plays the Blues, and the much-anticipated new Rebus book by Ian Rankin, Saints of the Shadow Bible.

If you still have room on your library card to place a few more holds, I’d like to share with you some of the titles I’m most looking forward to in the coming months.

AutumnBonesAutumn Bones, the second book in author Jacqueline Carey‘s Agent of Hel series, is due out October 1st.  Not only is Ms Carey one of my favourite authors (I interviewed her for a podcast back in 2007 – one of the most exciting days of my life), but I have completely fallen in love with this urban fantasy series. I remember hugging the first book, Dark Currents, when I first finished reading it. Even if urban fantasy isn’t your thing, I urge you to give this book a try! You can thank me later.
From the publisher: “Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel. Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one. He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything.”

DinosaurFeatherThankfully, Scandinavian authors are still popular in the publishing world. The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan will be released on November 5th, and has been generating quite a bit of interest. Winner of the Danish Crime Novel of the Decade, this debut novel is a classic of Scandinavian noir, from its richly imagined and deeply flawed characters to its scintillating exploration of one of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary dinosaur and avian research.
From the publisher: “Professor Lars Helland is found at his desk with his tongue lying in his lap. A violent fit has caused him to bite through it in his death throes. A sad but simple end. Until the autopsy results come through. The true cause of his death – the slow, systematic and terrible destruction of a man – leaves the police at a loss. And when a second member of Helland’s department disappears, their attention turns to a postgraduate student named Anna. She’s a single mother, angry with the world, desperate to finish her degree. Would she really jeopardise everything by killing her supervisor? As the police investigate the most brutal and calculated case they’ve ever known, Anna must fight her own demons, prove her innocence and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.”

HildDescribed as both glorious and extraordinary, Hild by Nicola Griffith will be released November 12th. Hild is born into a world in transition. As a big fan of Hilary Mantel, I’m quite looking forward to this historical work.
From the publisher: “In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief. Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.”

ReturnedReleased this past August, Jason Mott’s The Returned offers quite an interesting premise, which is what attracted me to the book (I’m #13 on the holds list). Reading this book is bound to bring up some strong feelings and hopefully challenge my way of thinking!
From the publisher: “Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep — flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.”

WhereMoonIsntOriginally released in the United Kingdom under the title The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer‘s Where the Moon Isn’t has been described as “an extraordinary portrait of one man’s journey through the spinning vortex that is mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.” Another book that is guaranteed to delightfully put me through the wringer. I can’t wait until November 5th!
From the publisher: “While on vacation with their parents, Matthew Homes and his older brother snuck out in the middle of the night. Only Matthew came home safely. Ten years later, Matthew tells us, he has found a way to bring his brother back. What begins as the story of a lost boy turns into a story of a brave man yearning to understand what happened that night, in the years since, and to his very person.”

WorstPersonEverYay, another Douglas Coupland book! Worst. Person. Ever. will be released October 3rd, and I can’t wait. I think this book will be a challenge, however, because the main character sounds so awful. Luckily, Coupland never disappoints me!
From the publisher: “Meet Raymond Gunt. A decent chap who tries to do the right thing. Or, to put it another way, the worst person ever: a foul-mouthed, misanthropic cameraman, trailing creditors, ex-wives and unhappy homeless people in his wake. Men dislike him, women flee from him. Worst. Person. Ever. is a deeply unworthy book about a dreadful human being with absolutely no redeeming social value. Gunt, in the words of the author, “is a living, walking, talking, hot steaming pile of pure id.” He’s a B-unit cameraman who enters an amusing downward failure spiral that takes him from London to Los Angeles and then on to an obscure island in the Pacific where a major American TV network is shooting a Survivor-style reality show. Along the way, Gunt suffers multiple comas and unjust imprisonment, is forced to re-enact the ‘Angry Dance’ from the movie Billy Elliot and finds himself at the centre of a nuclear war. We also meet Raymond’s upwardly failing sidekick, Neal, as well as Raymond’s ex-wife, Fiona, herself ‘an atomic bomb of pain’. Even though he really puts the ‘anti’ in anti-hero, you may find Raymond Gunt an oddly likeable character.”

ChilledBoneAnd finally, another Scandinavian title, this one coming to us via British author Quentin Bates. Chilled to the Bone is the third mystery featuring Sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir of the Reykjavik police force. You have time to read up on her first two adventures before this book is released on December 3rd.
From the publisher: “When a shipowner is found dead, tied to a bed in one of Reykjavik’s smartest hotels, sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir of the city police force sees no evidence of foul play but still suspects things are not as cut and dried as they seem. And as she investigates the shipowner’s untimely – and embarrassing – demise, she stumbles across a discreet bondage society whose members are being systematically exploited and blackmailed. But how does all this connect to a local gangster recently returned to Iceland after many years abroad, and the unfortunate loss of a government laptop containing sensitive data about various members of the ruling party? What begins as a straightforward case for Gunnhildur soon explodes into a dangerous investigation, uncovering secrets that ruthless men are ready to go to violent extremes to keep.”

Barbara

Beach Books

KingEdward

I spend my summer vacation at Victoria Beach, an idyllic resort on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Its beaches are named after British royalty — Alexandra, King Edward and Connaught — and its leafy lanes are reminiscent of the English countryside. The pace is slow, as cars are restricted, so it is a biker’s and walker’s paradise. The biggest decision of the day is what cookie to buy at the bakery – the legendary “Dream” or “Happy  Face”.  A charming little library on the  “village green” hosts an annual sale of cheap but excellent books. Yoga classes are held at the lakefront clubhouse, where the breeze caresses your face as you sink into corpse pose on the ancient wooden floor.

The local newsletter, the  Victoria Beach Herald,  has published a weekly summer issues since 1925. It features  a local gossip column, “Beach Banter,” yacht club and tennis news, recipes for cocktails and book reviews.

Although not a fan of frothy beach reading, I make exception for the suggestions by the brainy and well read  Jeff Swystun who is also a top reviewer for Amazon Canada. This summer he has stuck to a theme. All books reviewed involve “lakes, cottages, beaches and some randiness” with some astute parallels to Victoria Beach thrown in. With thanks to Mr. Swystun, here are excerpts from a couple of his  “VB Summer Reads” reviews, borrowed from The Herald:

100summers   A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

“The story of deception and unrequited love toggles back and forth between 1931 and 1938 … at a very tony summer community in Rhode Island. (P)arallels with Victoria Beach abound… husbands only appear on weekends…cottages have been in the family for generations and a clubhouse offer(s) bridge, dances, dinners and boatloads of gin.   A Hundred Summers is a surprising pleasure like an MLCC sale on Tanqueray. ”

Summerland   Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand

“Lies and secrets lead to a horrible incident impacting the sensitive balance within and between three families…. The characters start out as stereotypes but these damaged parents and their troubled teens are revealed to be much deeper indeed. Nantucket is a ‘fantasy of American summertime’ a place of lunches, parties, tournaments and fundraisers based on social currency. … This is not your average beach read so perhaps save it for the fall (to) consume along with several scotches.”

And here are my own beach reads:

Beautifulruins  Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

A Hollywood starlet visits an Italian coastal resort town and the ramifications of her clandestine encounter with Richard Burton are not resolved for decades. This novel tranported me to a Portofino-like hotel, where I sipped iced limoncello while sunning on the cliffs above the Adriatic.

interestigns  The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Five kids meet at a summer camp for artsy teenagers in 1974. A coming of age tale that follows the characters through early adulthood to late middle age and contemplates how fame and  fortune affect friendship.

Make summer last into September with a sizzling beach read. Surf’s up!

Jane

Your Guide to Binge Viewing

TV A couple of weeks ago, Netflix released 15 new episodes of the cult hit Arrested Development. This was a remarkable achievement in many ways, considering that the show was broadcast on Fox for three seasons a decade ago and then was cancelled. The show slowly built up a loyal following based on syndicated reruns  and DVD sales. There were always rumours that an Arrested Development movie was in the works, but nobody expected that we would get over eight hours of new material all at once. This left the fans with a conundrum: Do you sensibly watch one or two episodes at a time and space it out over a week? Do you treat it like a network TV show and just watch one a week? Or do you get together with a group of friends and watch them all at once? There is a word for the third option.

Binge viewing.

Binge viewing is a fairly recent phenomenon, isn’t it? Back in the day, you would faithfully record your weekly installment of Friends or Seinfeld and pretty much watch them within a couple of days. You did this because everyone else did it and if you wanted to talk about it with your friends or co-workers you had to keep up.

Nowadays, entire series are available on streaming sites like Netflix or are available on DVD to buy or to borrow from your library. You tend to want to binge view these shows, either because they become addictive or, in the case of a library DVD, you need to get them back in a week.

So to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of a few of our favourite shows to binge view. Enjoy (in moderation if you can – we dare you!).

When it comes to approaching a new series, I tend to look at how many seasons have already happened. My rule of thumb is, if it is four or less, I will probably try to watch it. Anything more than four, and I’ll probably give it a pass. For example, I’ve heard great things about the show House M.D., but I’ve never seen an episode, and at eight seasons, it feels a bit daunting. I’m sure there are some who wouldn’t mind the challenge, but for my time, shorter is sweeter.

Here are a few series that you may want to sit down and spend a weekend with:

Veronica Mars

vmars[1]Veronica Mars is your typical high school kid, with the exception that her dad used to be the sheriff and now runs a detective agency. The first season revolves around solving the murder of her best friend, and most episodes end on a cliff-hanger, so you’ll probably have a hard time watching just one at a time. The show lasted for three seasons, but then a unprecidented kickstarter campaign raised enough money to reunite the cast for a Veronica Mars reunion movie, being filmed this month. You have a year to get caught up!

Downton Abbey

downton-abbey-castBritish series tend to run only six or seven episodes at a time, so even though there are three seasons so far, you can easily get caught up. I don’t usually go for the whole “costume drama” thing, but after watching the first episode of series one, I had to find out more about the Granville clan and their household.

Homeland

homelandMy wife and I watched all of season one over a weekend.The thrust of the first season is answering the question, “is this guy a terrorist or what?” and there are enough twists and turns and cliffhangers that I couldn’t imagine trying to watch one a week, as it originally aired.

Firefly

firefly11There was only one season of Joss Whedon’s follow-up to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a huge hit on DVD. There is a dedicated following of “Browncoats” who often call for a reunion, or another movie, or a web series, or anything. With the success of the Veronica Mars kickstarter, is a Firefly kickstarter-funded project far off?

Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and GeeksAnother “One and Done” series with a dedicated fan base. Freaks and Geeks, produced and written by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, follows a group of high schoolers, circa. 1980. Throughout the total of 18 episodes, you get to see early performances from Seth Rogen, James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Busy Phillips, Jason Segal, and the wonderful inclusion of SCTV’s Joe Flaherty as a dad.

So those are our picks. What are your favourite shows to binge view? -Trevor

These books were borrowed a lot last year!

2012 was a great year for reading library books! The library loaned out well over 5 million items – books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, eBooks – to thousands upon thousands of Winnipeg Public Library members. That’s a lot of borrowing, and reading, and listening! But which books were enjoyed the most by you, the reading public? If the “top circulating adult books” list is any indication, you really, really like thrillers, mysteries, and historical dramas.

Here is a quick survey of the most borrowed adult books. (The top children’s books borrowed in 2012 may be highlighted in a later blog post; stay tuned.)

thehungergames

1. Taking the top spot is Suzanne Collins’ 2008 gripping, dystopian young adult novel The Hunger Games, which inspired the popular movie. It’s written in the voice of a brave 16-year-old girl who gets entangled in the deadliest reality TV show of the future. Hold onto your seats.

2. UnknownSecuring second place is John Grisham’s 2011 legal thriller The Litigators. (Grisham really is getting the hang of it; this is his 25th novel.) This one is about a tiny Chicago law firm attempting to strike it rich with a class action lawsuit against a major drug company.

help3. Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 The Help is in third place. Originally a summer sleeper hit, the book is a fascinating historical novel portraying the lives of African-American maids working in upper class white households in Mississippi during the 1960s. (The movie is excellent too.)

explosiveeighteen4. Janet Evanovich’s bestseller Explosive Eighteen is next in fourth place. The premise: “Before bounty hunter Stephanie Plum can even step foot off Flight 127, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare. Her seat mate never returned to the plane after a layover. Now he’s dead and everybody is looking for a photograph he was supposed to be carrying. Only one person has seen the missing photo: Stephanie Plum. Now she’s the target.” A tale of murder and intrigue; pour yourself a drink.

visforvengeance5. Sue Grafton’s V is for Vengeance settles for fifth (or Vth?) place. A dangerous story featuring a dead woman with a murky past, a professional shoplifting ring working for the mob, a ruthless wandering husband, a dirty cop, a lonely widower, and a single determined private detective.

zeroday6. David Baldacci’s Zero Day is in sixth. This is apparently a “wild ride,” a “nifty, paranoid thriller disguised as a murder mystery.” A lone American army special agent takes on the toughest crimes facing the country.

thedrop7.  Michael Connelly’s The Drop holds the seventh position. I enjoy Connelly’s wry and raw take on crime stories from the Los Angeles basin featuring clever detective Harry Bosch. This one features a serial killer case and a political conspiracy that goes way back into the dark history of the venerable LAPD.

killalexcross8 & 9. Prolific writer James Patterson takes both eighth and ninth places! Kill Alex Cross is a thriller with detective Alex Cross hoping to solve two troublesome crimes – the poisoning of the water supply and the president’s kidnapped 10830444children. Guilty Wives seems downright light in comparison, at first. Four women friends go on vacation and have a good time… until they’re arrested and forced to fight for their own survival.

index.aspx10. Nicholas Sparks’ The Best of Me rounds out the top 10 borrowed books at Winnipeg Public Library in 2012. The book spins out the story of two small-town former high school sweethearts who meet in mid-life, and have to confront the choices they’ve made. So crime stories have finally given way to one about love and growing older? Hmm, what does that say about us readers…?

Places 11 – 50 on the list, briefly speaking, contain more thrillers by James Patterson, John Grisham and David Baldacci; the Stieg Larsson ‘Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy; and biographical comedy by Tina Fey (Bossypants). My personal favourites on the list include Stephen King’s time travel thriller (1963-11-22), the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and the latest novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (The Marriage Plot). What seems most surprising is the book at #49: Harper Lee’s enduring tale of justice and loyalty first published back in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird. We seem to love classics amidst our crime thrillers and historical dramas too. That’s classy.

Lyle