Category Archives: Our Favourite Authors

Reviews of authors we love, like or have a slight repulsion for.

New Books: FICTION

BEFORE THE POISON

By Peter Robinson

Chris Lowndes built a comfortable career composing scores for films in Hollywood. But after twenty-five years abroad, and still quietly reeling from the death of his beloved wife, he decides to return to the Yorkshire dales of his youth. To ease the move, he buys Kilnsgate House, a rambling old mansion deep in the country. Although Chris finds Kilnsgate charming, something about the house disturbs him, a vague sensation that the long-empty rooms have been waiting for him—feelings made ever stronger when he learns that the house was the scene of a murder more than fifty years before. Ignoring warnings to leave it alone, he sets out to discover what really happened over half a century ago—a quest that takes him deep into the past and into a web of secrets that lie all too close to the present.

 

DAAKU

By Ranj Dhaliwal

In the violent and ruthless world of Indo–Canadian gangs, Ruby Pandher is on his way up. A self–described daaku (Punjabi for outlaw), Ruby learns young that might, in the form of hid drunken father’s fists, is right and that money is easier to steal than earn. After his first stint in youth detention, the big–timers start to notice his potential. Soon, Ruby is doing collections for Indo–Canadian drug dealers. On the cusp of adulthood, and surrounded by Punjabi terrorists, bikers and Indo–Canadian gangsters, Ruby is drawn like a moth to the glamour of the power, money, and drugs.

A story of betrayal, cold–blooded murder and the rise and eventual fall of one gangster, Daaku is a bullet–riddled grand tour of Indo–Canadian gangland.

 

THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES

By Carrie Ryan

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister’s face when she and Elias left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the horde as they found their way to the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah’s world stopped that day and she’s been waiting for him to come home ever since. Without him, her life doesn’t feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Then she meets Catcher and everything feels alive again.

 

MY NAME IS MINA

By David Almond

Mina loves the night. While everyone else is in a deep slumber, she gazes out the window, witness to the moon’s silvery light. In the stillness, she can even hear her own heart beating. This is when Mina feels that anything is possible and her imagination is set free.

A blank notebook lies on the table. It has been there for what seems like forever. Mina has proclaimed in the past that she will use it as a journal, and one night, at last, she begins to do just that. As she writes, Mina makes discoveries both trivial and profound about herself and her world, her thoughts and her dreams.

 

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING

By Julian Barnes

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and girl-hungry, they would navigate their girl-less adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, but they all stayed friends for life.

Now Tony is retired. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.

 

WINTER TOWN

By Stephen Emond

Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent’s divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she’s changed. The former “girl next door” now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, “Old Lucy” still exists, and he’s determined to find her… even if it means pissing her off.

Garden State meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in this funny and poignant illustrated novel about opposites who fall in love.

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New Books: NON-FICTION

IN OTHER WORLDS

By Margaret Atwood

In Other Worlds brings together Atwood’s three heretofore unpublished Ellmann Lectures from 2010: “Flying Rabbits,” which begins with her early  rabbit superhero creations, and goes on to speculate about masks, capes, weakling alter egos, and Things with Wings; “Burning Bushes,” which follows her into Victorian otherlands and beyond; and “Dire Cartographies,” which investigates Utopias and Dystopias.  In Other Worlds also includes some of Atwood’s key reviews and thoughts about the form. She elucidates the differences (as she sees them) between “science fiction” proper, and “speculative fiction,” as well as between “sword and sorcery/fantasy” and “slipstream fiction.”

 

ROOM FOR ALL OF US

By Adrienne Clarkson

In this exciting and revealing personal inquiry, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson explores the immigrant experience through the people who have helped transform Canada.

The Canadians she befriends illustrate the changing idea of what it means to be Canadian and the kind of country we have created over the decades. Like her, many of the people who came here did not have a real choice: they often arrived friendless and with a sense of loss. Yet their struggles and successes have enriched Canada immeasurably.

 

THE MEASURE OF A MAN

By JJ Lee

Taking as its starting point a son’s decision to alter his late father’s last remaining suit for himself, this is a deeply moving and brilliantly crafted story of fathers and sons, of fitting in and standing out — and discovering what it means to be your own man.

With wit, bracing honesty, and great narrative verve, JJ takes us from the French Revolution to the Zoot Suit Riots, from the Japanese Salaryman to Mad Men, from Oscar Wilde in short pants to Marlon Brando in a T-shirt, and from the rareified rooms of Savile Row to a rundown shop in Chinatown. A book that will forever change the way you think about the maxim “the clothes make the man,” this is a universal story of love and forgiveness and breaking with the past.

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New Books: FICTION

AMERICAN DERVISH

By Ayad Akhtar

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life. Ayad Akhtar was raised in the Midwest himself, and through Hayat Shah he shows readers vividly the powerful forces at work on young men and women growing up Muslim in America. This is an intimate, personal first novel that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

CHANGO’S BEADS AND TWO-TONE SHOES

By William Kennedy

When journalist Daniel Quinn meets Ernest Hemingway at the Floridita bar in Havana, Cuba, in 1957, he has no idea that his own affinity for simple, declarative sentences will change his life radically overnight. Quinn’s epic journey carries him through the nightclubs and jungles of Cuba and into the newsrooms and racially charged streets of Albany on the day Robert Kennedy is fatally shot in 1968.

This is an unforgettably riotous story of revolution, romance, and redemption, set against the landscape of the civil rights movement as it challenges the legendary and vengeful Albany political machine.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

By Jonathan Lethem

Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn’s very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways.  Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna’s limo service cum detective agency. But when Frank is fatally stabbed, Lionel’s world is suddenly topsy-turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head.  Motherless Brooklyn is a brilliantly original homage to the classic detective novel by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation.

SUNSET PARK

By Paul Auster

Sunset Park follows the hopes and fears of a cast of unforgettable characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse: An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left behind by the evicted families; A group of young people squatting in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; The Hospital for Broken Things, which specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world; William Wyler’s 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives; A celebrated actress preparing to return to Broadway; An independent publisher desperately trying to save his business and his marriage.

These are just some of the elements Auster magically weaves together in this immensely moving novel about contemporary America and its ghosts. Sunset Park is a surprising departure that confirms Paul Auster as one of our greatest living writers.

SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY

By Gary Shteyngart

In the near future (let’s say next Tuesday), America is crushed by a financial crisis and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of a Russian immigrant janitor and ardent fan of “printed, bound media artifacts” (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?

WAR HORSE

By Michael Morpurgo

In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey’s courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer’s son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?

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New Books: Fiction

As a veterinarian, Helena had mercifully escorted thousands of animals to the other side. Now, having died herself, she finds that it is not so easy to move on. She is terrified that her 37 years of life were meaningless, error-ridden, and forgettable. So Helena haunts– and is haunted by– the life she left behind. But it is her absence from Cindy– a chimpanzee who may unlock the mystery of communication and consciousness– that will have the greatest impact on Helena and her family. When Cindy is scheduled for a research experiment that will undoubtedly take her life, all the threads of Helena’s life entwine and tear as she and her husband confront their mistakes, grief, and loss, and discover the only way to save Cindy is to understand what it really means to be human.

 

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. But there is also a hidden treasure in OASIS, a real-life fortune for anyone who can find it.

When Wade finds a secret clue, there are suddenly thousands of competitors joining in on the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize.

 

The girl who led an army, the peasant who crowned a king, the maid who became a legend. The story of Jehanne d’Arc, the visionary and saint who believed she had been chosen by God, who led an army and saved her country, has captivated our imagination for centuries. But the story of Jehanne—the girl—whose sister was murdered by the English, who sought an escape from a violent father and a forced marriage, who taught herself to ride and fight, is at once thrilling, unexpected, and heartbreaking. Rich with unspoken love and battlefield valor, The Maid is a novel about the power and uncertainty of faith, and the exhilarating and devastating consequences of fame.

 

Nineteenth-century Europe, from Turin to Prague to Paris, abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian priests are strangled with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate black masses by night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies both real and imagined, lay just one man? What if that evil genius created the most infamous document of all?

 

When ten-year-old Enaiat Akbari’s small village in Afghanistan falls prey to Taliban rule in early 2000, his mother shepherds the boy across the border into Pakistan but has to leave him there all alone to fend for himself. Thus begins Enaiat’s remarkable and often punish­ing five-year ordeal, which takes him through Iran, Turkey, and Greece before he seeks political asylum in Italy at the age of fifteen.

Based on Enaiat’s close collaboration with Italian novelist Fabio Geda and expertly rendered in English by an award- winning translator, this novel reconstructs the young boy’s memories, perfectly preserving the childlike perspective and rhythms of an intimate oral history. Told with humor and humanity, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles brilliantly captures Enaiat’s moving and engaging voice and lends urgency to an epic story of hope and survival.

 

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate—a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance—to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried—until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

 

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

 

A blockbuster masterpiece that combines breath-taking scope with narrative immediacy, this grand historical epic traces the history of New York through the lenses of a handful of very different families. Over time, the lives of these families become intertwined through the most momentous events in the fabric of America: The founding of the colonies; the Revolution; the growth of New York as a major port and trading centre; the Civil War; the Gilded Age; the explosion of immigration and the corruption of Tammany Hall; the rise of New York as a great world city in the early 20th-century; the trials of World War II, the tumult of the 1960s; the near-demise of the city in the 1970s; its roaring rebirth in the 1990s; culminating in the World Trade Center attacks at the beginning of the new century.

 

Septimus Heap, the seventh son of the seventh son, disappears the night he is born, pronounced dead by the midwife. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across an abandoned child in the snow — a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take her into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus?

 

 

It’s been a year since Septimus Heap discovered his real family and true calling to be a wizard. As Apprentice to extra-ordinary wizard Marcia Overstrand, he is learning the fine arts of conjurations, charms, and other Magyk, while Jenna is adapting to life as the Princess and enjoying the freedom of the castle. But there is something sinister at work. Marcia is constantly trailed by a menacing Darke Shadow, and Septimus’s brother Simon seems bent on a revenge no one understands.

 

When Silas Heap unseals a forgotten room in the palace, he releases the ghost of a queen who lived five hundred years earlier. Queen Etheldredda is as awful in death as she was in life, and she’s still up to no good. Her diabolical plan to give herself everlasting life requires Jenna’s compliance, Septimus’s disappearance, and the talents of her son, Marcellus Pye, a famous alchemist and physician. And if Queen Etheldredda’s plot involves Jenna and Septimus, then it will surely involve Nicko, Alther Mella, Marcia Overstrand, Beetle, Sarah, Silas, Spit Fyre, Aunt Zelda, and all of the other wacky, wonderful characters that made Magyk and Flyte so memorable.

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New Books: Fiction

Wesley Case is a former soldier and son of a Canadian lumber baron who sets out into the untamed borderlands between Canada and the United States to escape a dark secret from his past. He settles in Montana where he hopes to buy a cattle ranch, and where he begins work as a liaison between the American and Canadian militaries in an effort to contain the Native Americans’ unresolved anger in the wake of the Civil War. Amidst the brutal violence that erupts between the Sioux warriors and U.S. forces, Case’s plan for a quiet ranch life is further compromised by an unexpected dilemma: he falls in love with the beautiful, outspoken, and recently widowed Ada Tarr. It’s a budding romance that soon inflames the jealousy of Ada’s quiet and deeply disturbed admirer, Michael Dunne. When the American government unleashes its final assault on the Indians, Dunne commences his own vicious plan for vengeance in one last feverish attempt to claim Ada as his own.

The law firm of Finley & Figg is a two-bit operation always in search of a big break, ambulance chasers who’ve been in the trenches much too long making way too little. Their specialties are quickie divorces and DUIs, with the occasional jackpot of an actual car wreck thrown in.

But suddenly F&F is ready to tackle a really big case, a case that could make the partners rich without requiring them to actually practice much law. An extremely popular drug has recently come under fire after several patients taking it have suffered heart attacks. All Finley & Figg has to do is find a handful of people who have had heart attacks while taking Krayoxx, convince them to become clients, join the class action, and ride along to fame and fortune. With any luck, they won’t even have to enter a courtroom! It almost seems too good to be true…

In The Marriage Plot, Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described “incurable romantic” who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenides’ own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent.

In 1972, Richard Forthrast fled to the mountains of British Columbia to avoid the draft. As the years passed, Richard went straight and returned to the States after the U.S. government granted amnesty to draft dodgers. He parlayed his wealth into an empire and developed a remote resort in which he lives. He also created T’Rain, a multibillion-dollar, massively multiplayer online role-playing game with millions of fans around the world. But T’Rain’s success has also made it a target. Hackers have struck gold by unleashing REAMDE, a virus that encrypts all of a player’s electronic files and holds them for ransom.

Reamde is a swift-paced thriller that traverses worlds virtual and real. Filled with unexpected twists and turns in which unforgettable villains and unlikely heroes face off in a battle for survival, it is a brilliant refraction of the twenty-first century, from the global war on terror to social media, computer hackers to mobsters, entrepreneurs to religious fundamentalists.

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New Books: Non-Fiction

Can you make millions just by “visualizing yourself rich” as some business prophets suggest? Don’t buy it, says Kevin O’Leary. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur and amass wealth, you’re going to have to work for it. But the good news is: with the right guidance, focus and perseverance, you can turn entrepreneurial vision into lucrative reality and have the personal freedom that only wealth can buy.
In this compelling, candid and, above all else, brutally honest business memoir, Kevin provides engaging, practical advice and lessons that will give anyone a distinct competitive edge.

Arlene Dickinson is the co-star of the CBC TV hit Dragons’ Den, and she is one of the country’s most sought-after female entrepreneurs. The secret of her journey from poverty to the corner office? The art of persuasion, as she explains with wit and unusual candour in this, her first book. Blending her own frank and highly entertaining stories with compelling social science, she explains how to persuade both in the boardroom and in everyday life: the crucial importance of a particular kind of listening; how to get people to buy into your ideas; how to attract followers and deal with naysayers; the art of storytelling; how to turn mistakes to your advantage; and how to seize opportunities where others see only roadblocks. Using the tricks of her trade and insights from her own fascinating experiences with some of Canada’s leading companies, Dickinson explains how to master the art of persuasion, without an M.B.A., to achieve maximum success in business-and in life.

A revelatory examination of how the wildfirelike spread of new forms of social interaction enabled by technology is changing the way humans form groups and exist within them, with profound long-term economic and social effects-for good and for ill
One of the culture’s wisest observers of the transformational power of the new forms of tech-enabled social interaction is Clay Shirky, and Here Comes Everybody is his marvelous reckoning with the ramifications of all this on what we do and who we are. A revolution in social organization has commenced, and Clay Shirky is its brilliant chronicler.

William Lyon Mackenzie King, twice former Prime Minister of Canada, was a brilliant tactician, was passionately committed to Canadian unity, and was a protector of the underdog, introducing such cornerstones of Canada’s social safety net as unemployment insurance, family allowances and old-age pensions. At the same time, he was insecure, craved flattery, became upset at minor criticism, and was prone to fantasy—especially about the Tory conspiracy against him.

With animated prose and a subtle wit, Allan Levine draws a multidimensional portrait of this most compelling of politicians.

On January 24, 1943, 230 women were placed in four cattle trucks on a train in northeastern France, and the doors bolted shut for the journey to Auschwitz. They were members of the French Resistance, ranging in age from teenagers to the elderly, women who before the war had been doctors, farmers’ wives, secretaries, biochemists, schoolgirls.

In this vitally important book, Caroline Moorehead tells the whole story of the women on the train, for the first time. Based on interviews with the few remaining survivors, together with extensive research in French and Polish archives, A Train in Winter is an essential historical document told with the clarity and impact of a great novel.

Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost will be a personal book, and also a book of challenging ideas: that Wayne Gretzky, through no fault of his own, was the worst thing to happen to hockey; that CBC‘s Hockey Night in Canada has lost sight of what it is; that goaltending has become a position out of all proportion to what was intended. And who could offer a better perspective on the game than a writer who, playing as a youngster, had to face an onrushing phenom from Parry Sound named Bobby Orr, or who spent a year ghostwriting a national newspaper column for the Great One himself? When it comes to hockey, Roy MacGregor has seen (and in some cases, done) it all.

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Under The Radar Favourites

When you’re selecting the next book you want to read, how do you decide? Undoubtedly, there will be a handful of folks who will suggest a bushel full of popular bestsellers for you, but do they really know your personal taste? Do you?

Maybe books on the current hot list just aren’t for you. For every Life of Pi, Water for Elephants, and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo there’s a hundred books that your friends have never heard of. Some of my favorite books were the ones I grabbed simply because the description on the book jacket seemed to resonate with me. Take some time to peruse the shelves at the St. George’s library, your public library, or even Chapters; look over the spines and pull a book with an interesting title, a unique font or colour.

Content aside, some authors can sell a book just from having their name on the cover (Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, Maeve Binchy, James Patterson, etc.), but what about those who have zero name recognition? It doesn’t matter who the author is – – a book needs to speak for itself in order to find a reader.

Have you ever heard of Carlo Dellonte? Dan Franck? James Lasdun? Does it matter? Not really. The simple act of finding a book you’ve never heard of and discovering that you really enjoy it is the important thing.

Here are a few books that I took a chance on and they now sit proudly on my bookshelf at home, having been read a few times each:

The Coma [2004] – by Alex Garland

The Hollow House [2001] – by Carlo Dellonte

The Horned Man [2002] – by James Lasdun

My Russian Love [1997] – by Dan Franck

The Unnamed [2010] – by Joshua Ferris

It’s interesting to me to see if a connection lies between all five titles. Since none of these came my way via recommendations or popular reviews, there must have been a reason for me to want to read them. If there was a certain “something” about each book, what was it?

Each of the above novels has a single main character, a man, who is lost in his own form of solitude and looking for redemption from past sins. Each book is heartbreaking in its own way and also quite dark and unsettling in nature. We follow the protagonist as he descends into his own personal form of madness and discover profound levels of emotion. Of course, each book is very different and each author has his own specific voice, but it’s interesting when a reader can find a common theme amongst his or her own favourite titles.

Do you have any favourite novels that couldn’t be classified as “popular”? What are they? How did you discover them? Is there an underlying theme that connects them to each other?

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