Sunday, February 7, 2016
Do you ever long for the halcyon days of your bygone Liberal Arts degree? Would you rather have a Symposium than a party? Do the words “Plato fanfiction” perk your attention? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then The Just City is the book for you. In Jo Walton’s unique work of speculative fantasy, Platonists throughout history come together on an unknown Mediterranean island. With the help of the goddess Athena, their goal is to enact and follow Plato’s Republic.
The Just City is told through three equally compelling perspectives. First, the god Apollo decides on a whim to temporarily give up his power to become a resident of the City. After the nymph Daphne turns into a tree to escape his advances, Apollo decides that only by becoming human can he truly answer his questions about desire and equal significance. Simmea, the second narrator, comes to the City as a 10-year-old child; she was rescued from the slavers who captured her and killed her family, but she wonders that if by seeking to buy children from the slave markets, City denizens inadvertently created the demand. Finally, Maia grows up in Victorian England, where as a woman, her options for education and opportunity are severely limited. After reading Plato, who seemed to alone place men and women as equals in their philosophical capacities, she prays to Athena that she could live in his Republic.
Walton engages with Plato both critically and gleefully, as she examines the humorous logistics of constructing his ideal city. As is clear to any reader of her works, Walton is a passionate and knowledgeable bibliophile; her pokes and jabs at the Republic seem to come from a place of love and longtime fandom. Her most intriguing trick is to use Plato’s ideas of the Just City to advance her own picture of justice, which itself is very wrapped up in Apollo’s questions about consent and equal significance. When Socrates shows up in the flesh and starts interrogating the citizenry, the question ultimately becomes not whether the City is Just but whether it should be a City at all.
If you’d like to read more overtly philosophical fiction, try T. H. White’s take on the Arthurian legend, The Once and Future King. In particular, The Book of Merlyn engages White’s post-war anarchist sympathies to ask if “might makes right” and what the alternatives could be. And make sure to check out Walton’s other work; The Philosopher Kings is the sequel to The Just City, and Necessity, the third book in the series, comes out in July.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
January and February may technically be a part of winter, but to me and many others they comprise a totally different season: awards season! The Golden Globes and the Academy Awards are two of the most exciting nights in Hollywood, and there's nothing I like more than joining in on that excitement from the comfort of my own living room. In order to do that, I like to try and watch as many nominated movies as I possibly can. This includes a little bit of guess work before the nominations actually come out, but when you're as involved as I am, you can smell an Oscar-bait film from a mile away. So far this year, my money is on The Revenant for Best Picture (though my favourite was The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio for best picture (it could finally be his year!), and Cate Blanchett for Carol.
One thing that I found especially interesting about this years nominees - so many of them came from books! Adaptations comprise seven of the eight Best Picture Nominations, and many others are nominated in categories for acting, music, screenwriting, and more. Check out the list below for a sample of awards season appropriate reading material!
The Martian by Andy Weir
Nominated for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, and Adapted Screenplay.
"Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive - and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue would arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills - and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit - he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?" publisher
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (Movie has been renamed to "Carol")
Nominated for Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay.
"A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover." publisher
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
Nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Costume Design, and Production Design.
"Loosely inspired by a true story, and a New York Times Notable Book, this tender portrait of marriage and identity asks: What do you do when the person you love has to change? It starts with a question, a simple favor asked by a wife of her husband while both are painting in their studio, setting off a transformation neither can anticipate. Uniting fact and fiction into an original romantic vision, The Danish Girl eloquently portrays the unique intimacy that defines every marriage and the heroic story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between loyalty to her marriage and her own ambitions and desires. The Danish Girl’s lush prose and generous emotional insight make it, after the last page is turned, a deeply moving first novel about one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the 20th century." publisher
The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke
Nominated for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects.
"The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is among the Company's finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive. Two Company men are dispatched to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies. When the men abandon him instead, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out crawling inch by inch across more than three thousand miles of uncharted American frontier. The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession, the human will stretched to its limits, and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution." publisher
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Nominated for Actor in a Leading Role, and Actress in a Supporting Role.
"Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing." publisher
Room by Emma Donoghue
Nominated for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Directing, and Adapted Screenplay.
"To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world... It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child." publisher
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
Nominated for Best Picture, Actress in a Supporting Role, Directing, Film Editing, and Adapted Screenplay.
"When the crash of the U. S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news. The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine, and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower- and middle-class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking." publisher
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Nominated for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, and Adapted Screenplay.
“'One of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature' (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future." publisher
Friday, February 5, 2016
The PEN Literary Awards is the most comprehensive awards program in the country, offering over $100,000 each year to fiction writers, poets, translators, children’s authors, biographers, nonfiction writers, and playwrights. Each prize is conferred by a panel of PEN members who bring to the task a familiarity with the solitary task of creating great literature.
Here are some of the titles that have been nominated for this prestigious award. The full list can be found on the PEN Literary Awards website.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Rain: a natural and cultural history by Cynthia Barnett
The Boy Who Played with Fusion: extreme science, extreme parenting, and how to make a star by Tom Clynes
Not a Game: the incredible rise and unthinkable fall of Allen Iverson by Kent Babb
The Domino Diaries: my decade boxing with Olympic champions and chasing Hemingway's ghost in the last days of Castro's Cuba by Brin-Jonathan Butler
The Secret Game: a wartime story of courage, change and basketball's lost triumph by Scott Ellsworth
Molina: the story of the father who raised an unlikely baseball dynasty by Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan
Thursday, February 4, 2016
African Heritage Month is celebrated at Halifax Public Libraries with an incredible array of programs and events - you can enjoy drumming, dance, fashion, films, panel discussions, story telling, poetry, and the much anticipated reading by George Elliott Clarke from his new novel The Motocyclist.
Enjoy as well some new African Canadian writing, including:
'Membering by Austin Clarke
"Austin Clarke is a distinguished and celebrated novelist and short-story writer. His works often centre around the immigrant experience, of which he writes with humour and compassion, happiness and sorrow. In 'Membering, Clarke shares his own experiences growing up in Barbados and moving to Toronto to attend university in 1955 before becoming a journalist. With vivid realism he describes Harlem of the '60s, meeting and interviewing Malcolm X and writers Chinua Achebe and LeRoi Jones. Clarke went on to become a pioneering instructor of Afro-American Literature at Yale University and inspired a new generation of Afro-American writers." publisher
The Illegal: a novel by Lawrence Hill
"A literary thriller that addresses the fate of undocumented refugees who struggle to survive in nations that do not want them. Keita Ali is on the run. He is desperate to flee Zantoroland, a mountainous black island that produces the fastest marathoners in the world. Keita signs on with notorious marathon agent, Anton Hamm, who provides Keita with a chance to run the Boston marathon. But when Keita fails to place among the top finishers, rather than being sent back to his own country, he goes into hiding." discover
Pain Tree by Olive Senior
"The stories range over almost a hundred years, from around the time of the second world war to the present. Like her earlier stories, Jamaica is the setting but the range of characters presented are universally recognizable as people in crisis or on the cusp of transformation." discover
Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
"In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders." publisher
What's Done in Darkness by Kayla Perrin
"Jade Blackwin feels like she's losing her mind. After burying both her parents--and being left by her boyfriend for her scheming best friend--she totally loses it. At college graduation, she confronts her man, slaps her BFF, then crashes her car. Now everyone thinks she's crazy. Even her sister, who convinces Jade to take a job in beautiful, restful Key West. At first, Key West is everything Jade could hope for. The lime margaritas are heaven on earth. Her boss at the coffee shop, Katrina, is friendly as can be. And a gorgeous stranger named Brian is just the thing to help Jade forget her ex. But why is a crime writer asking so many questions? Why does Katrina explode into fits of rage? And why is a killer lurking in the shadows, ready to kill again? No one knows what's done in darkness. But Jade knows she's not crazy. She's next..." discover
For lots more reading suggestions and activities, go to our African Heritage Month resource page.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
This February is not going to be like last February. This February is not going to be like last February. As we look at the weather forecast, I'm pretty sure most of us have this refrain in our heads. Let's remain hopeful that it's a prediction that will come true, but just in case, you might want to stock up on some books for snowbound days at home. Here are a few being released this month.
Motorcyclist by George Elliott Clarke (Feburary 2): I could not be more excited about the first novel on this month's list: a new title from Nova Scotia poet and recent appointee to the role of Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke. Clarke's quick witted word play makes for great reading, whether you pick up one of his books of verse or one of his novels. He's a writer who can tackle the serious, the light-hearted, the bawdy and the refined -- often all in the same piece. "Carl Black is an intellectual and artist, a traveller, a reader and an unapologetic womanizer. A motorcyclist. He burns for the bohemian life, but is trapped in a railway porter’s prosaic--at times humiliating--existence. Taking place over one dramatic year in Halifax, Nova Scotia, The Motorcyclist vividly recounts Carl’s travels and romantic exploits as he tours the backroads of the east coast and the bedrooms of a series of beautiful women. Inspired by the life of George Elliott Clarke’s father, the novel tells the story of a black working-class man caught between the expectations of his times and gleaming possibilities of the open road." George Elliott Clarke is taking part in several programs at Halifax Public Libraries during the month of February. He is reading from the Motorcyclist at the Keshen Goodman Library (with a simultaneous webcast at our Musquodoboit Valley Community Office) and he is moderating a program called Behind the Scenes at Studio Black! at Halifax Central. Check the program pages on the library website for more details.
The Killing Forest by Sara Blaedel (February 2): Danish author Blaedel has been gaining a growing following for her Louise Rick crime thrillers. Novelist describes them this way: "The crimes are as dark and chilling as the weather in these bleak and gritty Scandinavian crime novels. The fast-paced and skillfully wrought stories are enhanced by taut suspense and eerie realism, and feature Copenhagen Detective Louise Rick -- aggressive, tough-talking, and with a tendency to challenge authority -- and her best friend Camilla Lind -- a smart, assertive journalist."
Good Liar by Nicholas Searle (February 2): This debut is getting a fair bit of early buzz and strong pre-release blog reviews: it could be one we're all talking about in a few months. "Roy is a conman living in a small English town, about to pull off his final con. He is going to meet and woo a beautiful woman and slip away with her life savings. But who is the man behind the con? What has he had to do to survive a life of lies? And who has had to pay the price?"
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (Feburary 2): I love to talk up a good fiction debut--this one caught my eye why reading some recent reviews. "Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane." Mimi, her young son Frank, and Alice, the assistant the publisher sends their way form a trio that makes for great reading. Compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Where’d You Go, Bernadette, this seems like a great book for getting through the dark days of February
Leonard: my fifty-year friendship with a remarkable man by William Shatner (February 16): Our one non-fiction entry this month needs little explanation: it's a biography of Mr. Spock by Captain James T. Kirk, what more do you need to know?
Tender by Belinda McKeon (February 16): "When they meet in Dublin in the late nineties, Catherine and James become close friends. She is a sheltered college student, he an adventurous, charismatic young artist. In a city brimming with possibilities, he spurs her to take life on with gusto. But as Catherine opens herself to new experiences, James's life becomes a prison, walled off by a truth he feels unable to share. When crisis hits, Catherine finds herself at the mercy of uncontrollable feelings, leading her to jeopardize everything. By turns exhilarating and devastating, Tender is an exploration of human relationships, of the lies we tell ourselves and others. A high-wire act with psychological insights, this daring novel confirms McKeon as a major voice in Irish fiction, alongside the masterful Edna O'Brien and Anne Enright."
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Happy Groundhog Day! As many people know, today is the day we wait to see whether or not the groundhog sees its shadow. Tradition says winter will continue for six more weeks if so. If you want to keep track here in Nova Scotia, you'll be happy to know that Shubenacadie Sam has his own Twitter account AND a live webcam.
You're probably familiar with the classic movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. In the film, he is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over again. The comedy has become a cult classic - and here are three great books that also use the concept of being caught in a time loop to great effect.
All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is sci-fi graphic novel adapation of his original Japanese novel by the same name. The book's English translation was re-titled Edge of Tomorrow to accompany the successful film adaptation starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. In the original story, soldier Keiji Kiriya dies during battle only to wake up again and again on the same fateful day. During a seemingly endless war, he eventually notices a fellow soldier Rita who understands the situation he's in. Together they must figure out how to survive the alien attacks. The book is darker and grittier than the movie.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North is about a man named Harry who is reborn over and over again in the same time and place, and is able to remember his past lives in incredible detail. Although he finds it difficult for the first few lives, Harry eventually comes to terms with his condition and even finds others like him - until one day, he receives a warning on his deathbed. A girl appears and tells him the end of the world is near. The author hits on some big themes about the meaning of life and the consequences of of altering the course of events. This is a great and twisty read.
Replay by Ken Grimwood won the 1988 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It follows a man named Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack only to awake as his 18-year-old self. He lives his adult life over and over again, and discovers that making difference choices has deep consequences for his life. How would you navigate a world where you know what's going to happen? Would you make the same choices you made in the past? And how much control do we really have? This book will make you consider your life in a new light.
Happy (time) travels!
Monday, February 1, 2016
February is a good month to snuggle up and read the newest title in your favorite mystery series. Or, if you are lucky enough to travel south, take one to the beach with you!
Death of a Nurse by M.C. Beaton is the thirty-first title in the Hamish MacBeth mystery series, following Death of a Liar. James Harrison has recently moved to a restored hunting lodge in Sutherland with his gorgeous private nurse Gloria Dainty. When Hamish visits Mr. Harrison to welcome him to the neighborhood, the old man treats him very rudely. Gloria apologizes for her employer's behavior, and Hamish takes the plunge and invites her out for dinner. On the appointed evening, Hamish waits for Gloria at the restaurant. And waits. Gloria never shows up. Four days later, Gloria's body washes up on the beach near Braikie. Now without a date and without his former policeman Dick Fraser (who left the force to buy a bakery), Hamish must find out who killed the beautiful new resident of Sutherland, and why, before the murderer strikes again.
The nineteenth title in the Hannah Swenson mystery series by Joanne Fluke is Wedding Cake Murder. It follows Double Fudge Brownie Murder. Hannah Swenson is thrilled to be marrying Ross Barton, her college crush. And her excitement only grows when she learns he’ll be able to join her on her trip to New York City for the Food Channel’s dessert chef contest. They get a taste of the Big Apple before Hannah wins the Hometown Challenge and the producers bring all the contestants to Lake Eden to tape the remainder of the show. It’s nerve-wracking enough being judged by Alain Duquesne, a celebrity chef with a nasty reputation. But it’s even more chilling to find him stabbed to death in the Lake Eden Inn’s walk-in cooler—before he’s even had a chance to taste Hannah’s Butterscotch Sugar Cookies! Now Hannah has not only lost her advantage, she’ll have to solve a mystery with more layers than a five-tiered wedding cake.
A Whisker of Trouble by Sofie Ryan is the third title in the Second Chance Cat mystery series, following Buy a Whisker. Spring has come to charming North Harbor, Maine, and with the new season comes a new haul for Second Chance, the shop where Sarah Grayson sells lovingly refurbished and repurposed items. Sarah is turning her keen eye to the estate of collector Edison Hall, hoping for fabulous finds for Second Chance—but when her rescue cat Elvis discovers a body in the kitchen, everything goes paws up. The body belongs to an appraiser who had been hired to check out Edison’s wine collection. When Edison’s sister shows up at Second Chance, she hires Sarah’s friends—the kooky and charismatic trio of ladies who call themselves Charlotte’s Angels and work out of the shop—to solve the murder, Sarah knows she and Elvis are only going to get deeper into the case.
The fourth title in the County Cork mystery series is A Turn for the Bad by Sheila Connolly. It follows An Early Wake. After calling Ireland home for six months, Boston expat Maura Donovan still has a lot to learn about Irish ways—and Sullivan’s Pub is her classroom. Maura didn’t only inherit a business, she inherited a tight-knit community. And when a tragedy strikes, it’s the talk of the pub. A local farmer, out for a stroll on the beach with his young son, has mysteriously disappeared. Did he drown? Kill himself? The child can say only that he saw a boat. Everyone from the local gardai to the Coast Guard is scouring the Cork coast, but when a body is finally brought ashore, it’s the wrong man. An accidental drowning or something more sinister? Trusting the words of the boy and listening to the suspicions of her employee Mick that the missing farmer might have run afoul of smugglers, Maura decides to investigate the deserted coves and isolated inlets for herself. But this time she may be getting in over her head.
The Lavender Lane Lothario is the eleventh title in the Berger and Mitry mystery series by David Handler. It follows The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb. Every year, the Gant family performs an annual ritual desecrating the tomb of Aurora Bing. The Gants have held a grudge against the legendary silent film star for almost eighty years, but for Sherm Gant and his son, things have become personal. Aurora's only grandchild, Hubie Swope, has shut down Sherm's notoriously rowdy beachfront bar, and refuses to allow The Pit to reopen until Shem undertakes expensive upgrades. This means war. And when The Pit catches fire and Hubie Swope's charred remains are found in the rubble, it also means murder. Who killed Hubie Swope? Crime-fighting duo Mitch and Des have no idea. Not only are Sherm and his son prime suspects, but so are the women in Hubie's life. To their surprise, Mitch and Des discover that Dorset's building inspector, a quiet widower who repaired cuckoo clocks in his little house on Lavender Lane, was secretly juggling four girlfriends at once. And then there's Gaylord Holland, a builder who had a beef of his own with Hubie. Dorset is in turmoil, and only New York City film critic Mitch Berger and Connecticut State Police Resident Trooper Des Mitry can put it back together.
Book seven in the Candy Halliday mystery series is Town in a Cinnamon Toast" by B.B. Haywood. It follows "Town in a Sweet Pickle". The much-anticipated wedding of local resident Maggie Tremont and popular baker Herr Georg has stirred up the usually quiet coastal town of Cape Willington. To make sure the wedding of the year goes off without a hitch, the participants gather at a pre-wedding dinner—everyone, that is, except the best man. Worried, Candy, the maid of honor, goes looking for him, finally tracking him down to the upstairs archive rooms at the English Point Lighthouse and Museum. There’s only one problem: he’s dead, struck over the head with a bottle of champagne, the same exclusive brand that was ordered for the dinner. Before the wedding plans fall flat, Candy rushes to find the murderer, unearthing a conspiracy that could spill over into the whole town.
"Fogged In" by Barbara Ross the fourth in the Maine Clambake mystery series following "Musseled Out". An autumn chill has settled over Busman's Harbor, Maine, but Julia Snowden is warming up the town by offering lobster stew at the local diner. When her landlord discovers a dead body in the walk-in refrigerator, Julia must figure out who ordered up a side of murder. Nothing's colder than a corpse--especially one stashed inside a sub-zero fridge. The victim spent his last night on earth dining at the restaurant bar, so naturally Julia finds herself at the center of the ensuing investigation. Lost in the November fog, however, is who'd want to kill the unidentified stranger--and why. It might have something to do with a suspicious group of retirees and a decades-old tragedy to which they're all connected. One thing's for sure: Julia's going to make solving this mystery her early bird special.