Staff Pick: Judith on The Secret History of Jane Eyre by John Pfordresher

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The title page of Jane Eyre claims that it is an autobiography, edited by “Currer Bell” the pen name of Charlotte Bronte.

Though Bronte disavowed the novel being about her own life, there are too many parallels to ignore. Charlotte also attended school and was cruelly treated (and the school may have hastened the deaths of her younger sisters Maria and Elizabeth). Charlotte also worked as a governess and fell in love with a married man.

Pfordresher recounts Bronte’s life through the lens of her best known work. This biography would make an excellent pairing with the novel that inspired it.

Staff Pick: Tina on The Great Alone by Kirstin Hannah

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In The Great Alone, PTSD suffering Vietnam vet Ernt Allbright drags his family to a remote corner of Alaska, believing living fresh off the land, with few people around, will cure him of his nightmares and violent outbreaks. However, as winter approaches and the dark sets in, his wife and daughter find themselves in an increasingly dangerous situation.

Alaska itself comes alive in what is essentially a coming-of-age story for the protagonist, Leni. The descriptions are so vivid that you feel as though you are there - which is at times exhilarating and at times terrifying. With a wonderful set of characters, as thoughtful and serious as they are quirky and kind, this book will keep you turning page after page wanting to know what happens to them all. This book, about what it means to belong somewhere, and to someone, will break your heart and lift you up.

Staff Pick: Irene on The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

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We meet Fran Stubbs, a seventy something woman who is “…already too old to die young and too old to avoid bunions and arthritis, moles and blebs, weakening writs, incipient but not yet treatable cataracts, and encroaching weariness.” This novel is a very skilled mediation on old age but Fran is feisty and continues to enjoy her job with a charitable trust that involves driving to various sites of sheltered housing for the elderly throughout England.

This low-key story with well-drawn characters has its share of tragedy and humour, with a few surprises along the way. The book title was drawn from a D.H. Lawrence poem - “Love on the Farm”.

Staff Pick: Sue on Galore by Michael Crummey

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This novel is part multi-generational saga, part historical fiction, part magical realism. It is set in 18th century Newfoundland and follows two families over the course of two centuries.

Crummey has an amazing facility in capturing the language and atmosphere of the world in the fictional outport of Paradise Deep. From the outset, when a man emerges alive from inside a beached whale the tale only gets more intriguing, compelling and fantastical.

Staff Pick: Kristi on Jade City by Fonda Lee

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The Godfather meets Asia meets magic. Jade City takes us to Kekon, a small island nation struggling to make its way into the 21st century and take its place in the world after years of war and invasion. Run by powerful Green Bone families, Kekon has one thing everyone wants: Jade and the ability to wield its magic. With a new drug making the rounds that allows anyone, even foreigners, to use jade magic and political strife between the Kaul and Ayt families, Kekon is about to be shaken to its very core.

Fonda Lee makes her debut into adult fantasy fiction with this fresh and exciting new world. And don’t forget to watch for book 2 of the Green Bones Saga: Jade War out in hardcover May 2019!

Staff Pick: Sarah on The Power by Naomi Alderman

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How often does a book thrill you? I mean electrify, frighten, excite, and confuse you from the sole of your feet to the top of your head?

Imagine a genetic mutation suddenly activated in every woman and girl, giving them the kind of physical primacy over men that men have always had over women? How would that change the world?

currently available in hardcover. The paperback edition is available for pre-order now, available in stores January 2019.

Staff Pick: Tina on Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson

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Tina says:

In this wonderful memoir, Craig Davidson is a writer who has reached rock bottom. After a brief glimpse of what life could have held for him as a successful novelist, his book bombs and he falls into self-pity and doubt.

Eventually he runs out of money and, in desperation, takes a job driving a school bus: a 'short bus', at that. What begins as an impulsive decision, a way simply to make some money, ends up being an experience that will help Davidson grown, like none other. Davidson becomes these kids' driver, their defender and champion; however, it is these kids that are the true heroes. This book will keep you laughing, grinning, crying and growing. Without ever being condescending, or sappy, without being depressing, despite its sometimes serious subject matter, Davidson has hit every mark right with his wonderful book.

Craig Davidson's latest novel, Cataract City was short-listed for the Giller Prize and Trillium Book Prize, while his book of stories, Rust and Bone, became a Golden Globe-nominated film. Precious Cargo was short-listed for Canada Reads 2018. He also writes thrillers under the pseudonym Nick Cutter.

Reserve your copy of Precious Cargo here.

Staff Pick: Michelle on Woolly by Ben Mezrich

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Michelle says:

A fascinating look at the world of cutting-edge geneticist George Church and his team of Harvard researchers.

Known for their work on the Human Genome Project, the Church lab is at the forefront of genetics research and technology. The Woolly Project is just one of the many. In this case, the Woolly Project seeks to clone and reintroduce the Woolly Mammoth into the world (kind of like Jurassic Park, but without the man-eating parts). It is hoped that the mammoths can help stabilize the melting of the polar ice caps and reduce the effects of global warming.

A very readable modern science book that raises lots of great discussion questions. A perfect non-fiction read for book clubs.

Reserve your copy here.

Staff Pick: Sarah on Autumn by Ali Smith

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Sarah says:

In the UK's first post-Brexit novel, Ali Smith conjures a literary stream of consciousness through Elizabeth Demand, a thirty-something sessional college instructor struggling with economic, emotional, and existential insecurity in an England very different from that of her childhood. The story hinges on her relationship with her mother, and daily visits to Daniel Gluck, an elderly gentleman sleeping away his final days.

The first in a seasonal quartet, and finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, Autumn is an exquisite study of fleeting things.

Reserve your copy here.

Book 2: Winter will be available in paperback on November 6, 2018. Preorder your copy here.

Book 3: Spring will be available in hardcover on March 12, 2019. Preorder your copy here.

Staff Pick: Celebrating Wordfest

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This week we wanted to celebrate Calgary’s largest literary festival with reviews of a couple of the books by authors speaking at this years event. Tina has graciously provided commentary on some of her favorites this year:

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

This is an excellent book! I liked it even more than Half Blood Blues by this author.

Washington Black is born a slave on a plantation in Barbados. Mistreated and only ever knowing a life of work and fear, Wash is even more terrified when two brothers come to take over the plantation. He is moved away from the fields and all he’s known and put into the home of Christopher Wilde, the younger brother. To his surprise, he has been given to a scientist. He is taught to read, write, measure, and look at the world in a way that makes him the perfect assistant to Wilde. Wash also discovers a talent he has for drawing and it is through their shared passion for the natural world that the two form a bond. However, these were terrible times, and when a white man ends up dead with Wash as a witness, the two have to decide how far they are willing to run for each other. It indeed takes them to the very ends of the earth, pulling them together and wrenching them apart. This novel explores ideas of freedom, intention, systemic racism, and of the lengths we will go to try to rebuild broken lives.

Washington Black has been shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize (to be awarded October 16th) and shortlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize (to be awarded November 19th).

Flawed by Andrea Dorfmann

This is a great memoir in an appealing, easy to digest, graphic novel style. It is ultimately an adorable love story: a love story between the author and her husband and also the author and herself. Andrea one day meets and falls in love with a plastic surgeon. This sends her back to her teenage self and the all of the insecurities she has over her large nose. She struggles with loving him and not loving the message that she feels his profession gives to women everywhere. She revisits her own experiences in adolescence of being teased for her appearance and her battle between wanting to change how she looks and accepting herself as she is. The ultimate lesson is that often what makes us stand out is what makes us unique.

Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding

In this mystery book, two women, who don’t really fit in to the community of their sons’ private school, become the best of friends very quickly. However, both of them harbor terrible secrets about their pasts. What can be forgiven and what is completely unforgivable?

 This book was a quick, easy read with an interesting enough story line that kept me trying to piece together who was going to be who in the end. The chapters flipped from the point-of-view of one of the women, to the other woman’s daughter, to a character just named “DJ” who seemed, at first, to have nothing to do with the story taking place, but added to you trying to guess things about each woman. Anyone interested in the Karla Holmolka story would probably be interested in this.

Staff Pick / Local Author Launch: Murder by the Book by Lauren Elliott

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Judith says:

A few months ago, Owl’s Nest received an advertisement postcard and bookmark in the mail, along with a letter.  It was from the Calgary-based author, Lauren Elliott, letting us know of her forthcoming cozy mystery.  Since Owl’s Nest specializes in mysteries, I immediately emailed asking if we could host the launch and I was so pleased when the author not only said yes, but offered to get me an advanced copy.  

(Owl’s Nest will have the pleasure of hosting the hometown launch of Murder by the Book. Join us on Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 at 7pm and/or reserve your copies in advance.)   

I finally got a chance to dip into Murder by the Book over the last few weeks and found myself always eager to go back.  

It feels like a long time since I was able read a true cozy mystery.  So much of the mystery genre these days is dark and violent.  It was lovely to sit down with the characters of Murder by the Book.  Of course, being a bookseller, the fact that the setting involved a second-hand book store only added to my pleasure.  

Murder by the Book centers around Addison “Addie” Greyborne, who has just moved into her inherited family house in a cozy New England town and opened her second-hand book shop.  She is holding back the trauma of the recent deaths of her fiancé and father (ruled an unsolved burglary-turned-wrong and an accident respectively) but her emotions still break through every now and then.  

The day her shop opens, Addie make a friend of one business-neighbour and an enemy of another.  When a prominent businessman is killed and Addie’s new friend is accused of the murder, Addie is determined to use her sleuthing skills (honed from tracking the provenance of rare books) to solve the mystery.  

With Murder by the Book, you get exactly what it says on the tin.  A cozy small town with its usual small town politics, an intriguing puzzle that keeps you guessing, and the bonus of just a little romantic tension with the local police chief.  When I got to the end, I immediately read the blurb for the second book in the series, something I rarely take the time to do.

I’m looking forward to recommending Murder by the Book as one of my staff picks, and I might have to see if I can pull strings for a peek at the sequel, Prologue to Murder.  

Staff Pick: Judith on The Game of Hope by Sandra Gulland

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Judith says:

The author of the fabulous Josephine Bonaparte trilogy returns to Revolutionary France and the Bonaparte family with her first book for teen readers.

Hortense de Beauharnais struggles to understand why her mother would choose for a second husband the boorish General Bonaparte. At the same time, she is riddled with guild, believing that her innocent actions may have contributed to her father's death during the final days of the Terror.

Reserve your copy here.

Staff Pick: Kristi on The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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Kristi says:

It's a good time to be a thief. Locke Lamora, thief, confidence man, and all-around scoundrel very much loves his life, working with his crew, the Gentleman Bastards, and robbing the rich of Camorr. Dubbed the Thorn of Camorr, Locke is not the unbeatable swordsman or friend to the poor the tales make him out to be, though he does have his own ethical code that he lives by (which mostly involves making lots of money...).

But the life of a scoundrel comes with risks, and when a new player steps onto the board Locke and his crew find themselves fighting for their lives in a clandestine war they never saw coming. Making deals with the unlikeliest of allies, Locke will do whatever it takes to protect himself and those he cares for the most.

Reserve your copy here.

SCOTT'S BACK! For fans of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, Book 4: The Thorn of Emberlain is due out November 12, 2018. Reserve your copy now! 

Staff Pick: Judith on Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

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Judith says:

Roxane Gay has written an open and gut-wrenching memoir looking back over her childhood and teens, including a brutal act of violence that was a turning point in her life.

In a world where the last acceptable prejudice falls onto the overweight and obese, Dr. Gay shows us what it is like to live large in a shrinking world, in a body she describes as "wildly undisciplined".

Reserve your copy here.

Staff Picks: Sandy on I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa De Los Santos

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Sandy says:

On the morning of her wedding day, Clare has a chance encounter with an old woman who gives her some very good advice.

After her wedding, Clare is notified that the old woman she spoke to for just a short time has left her a house. Intrigued by the mystery,  Clare visits this house and immediately falls in love with it. What follows is a fantastic story of mystery and discovery as Clare sets out to discover who this woman really was and what connection they really shared.

Reserve your copy here.