Friday, July 29, 2016

We're Taking a Break!

You may have noticed it's been a while since our last post—we're taking a little break from writing to get some of our own summer reading done!

If you're looking for reading ideas, there are plenty of great posts in the archives. You can search by month or use the tag cloud to view posts by subject or by your favourite poster. Oh, better yet, ask the staff at any Halifax Public Libraries branch to help you find your next great read. You can do so in person at a branch or via our Ask-A-Librarian service.

Do you have thoughts about The Reader? We'd love to hear your feedback! Leave a comment below to let us know what you've loved about the Reader or about what you think we could do better. You can also tell us what you've been reading!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

We’re Bringing Sexy Back

With a rough tongue : femmes write porn edited by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelly.

There is a certain ick factor to borrowing erotica from a public library I know, but I’ve seen the stats on copies of 50 Shades so I gather it isn’t a complete deal-breaker for everyone. And if it is a deal-breaker for you, you may just want to buy this one; it’s that good. First, I’d like to confess my undying love for Amber Dawn. She is an amazing queer, feminist, Canadian author. Her book, How poetry saved my life : a hustler's memoir, rocked my world when it was published a few years ago. Dawn didn’t just co-compile this great collection but lent her stellar writing skills to the project as well. Yes, “femmes write porn,” but they don’t leave out a butch perspective. And as someone who doesn’t identify as either butch or femme, I found the challenging of traditional gender roles throughout the collection, to be quite inclusive overall.

Containing outstanding authors, Nalo Hopkinson, Anna Camilleri, and Zoe Whittall, to name just a few, this book of erotica comes with serious literary merit. I was shocked at how many stories were sexy, smart, engaging, and subversive. I’m a non-linear person in general so when I get a book of short stories I love to skip around. After the first three stories I read were fantastic I thought I must have just serendipitously selected the best/only good stories in the book as I’ve come to be skeptical that there isn’t much queer erotica out there worth reading. I continued my pessimistic search and with each new story assumed this was the one that would let me down, but instead, each story stood up to my scrutiny. Cover to cover this book is worth the read, regardless of your gender identity or sexual preference.

There is another queer erotica collection in our catalogue, Fist of the spider woman : tales of fear &; queer desire which is less good in my opinion, and yes my girl is also the editor. However, if you enjoy being creeped out and/or confronting, reappropriating, and reclaiming past sexual trauma this one might work for ya. In some ways it reminded me of watching old Hammer Films, with an unsettling mix of confusion, amusement, and sexuality, you’re left not quite knowing how to feel.

Trash by Dorothy Allison (another great feminist author) has some erotic gems in it as well, and like Rough Tongue it comes with proven literary excellence. “Her thighs,” and “Demon lover” are some of my personal faves from this collection. And for the love of old school lesbianism, portrayed as forbidden love, please check out the classic lesbian pulp novel , if you haven’t yet.
Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon

Monday, June 27, 2016

Staff Pick: The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt

When I got the hold notification that The Food Lab: better home cooking through science finally came in for me, I did a little dance. And then I did a big dance. I could not contain my excitement. I have been waiting for months for this hold to come in, and for what seems like years for this book to be published. is one of my all-time favorite websites and J. Kenji López-Alt, the managing culinary director and author of this book, is easily my favorite food blogger. To say I was excited would be a massive understatement.

J. Kenji López-Alt, known across the world wide web as “Kenji” is a household name at my home. Whenever we cook something new, we check how Kenji did it first. Kenji changed the way we sear steak, braise asparagus and fry bacon. If you want crispier chicken skin, he’s your go-to guy. You want a better recipe for Bolognese sauce? He’s got it. Want to know what to do with the weird cut of meat that was on sale? Kenji will have your answer. 

So, you can see why I was elated to finally get my hands on The Food Lab, Kenji’s cookbook/culinary reference guide/food bible. Just as he does online at SeriousEats, in The Food Lab Kenji offers recipes that are simple and delicious every time. The thing I like even better than the recipes, though, is the endless supply of 'how-to’s'. Kenji offers advice on how to pick the best eggplant, how to poach the perfect egg and how to properly sharpen your knives. It’s all there. He builds better cooks by teaching technique before providing the recipes. He uses ingredients that an ordinary person would have in their kitchen and just about anyone can improve their culinary skills by referencing this book. The Food Lab is also filled with nerdy food puns, anecdotes about his culinary career and (bonus!) photographs of Kenji’s official taste testers: his dogs Hambone, Dumpling and Yuba. It is 958 pages of everything I wanted and more.

Books similar to The Food Lab




Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Memento by Christy Ann Conlin

While described as a ghost story, readers of The Memento may be disappointed if they’re looking to be scared out of their wits. But if you’re looking for a story of the things that can haunt us – grief, substance abuse, difficult family relationships – this might fit the bill.

With gothic elements reminiscent of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, The Memento picks up the story of Fancy Mosher, a minor character in Conlin’s first novel Heave. As she turns twelve, she learns the secret her family has been hiding about her and what she might be capable of. Fancy is living apart from her alcoholic mother after the death of her grandfather. She works with her caregiver as a servant at Petal's End, the crumbling Parker family estate. As with any wealthy family, mystery shrouds Petal’s End and Conlin slowly spins a lyrical web while revealing their history.

Marigold, the aging Parker matriarch has survived a stroke, and decides to return to Petal’s End for the summer. She wants to organize a huge garden party that one can only imagine is doomed for disaster as tensions rise within the family. As the servants rush around getting things in order for their arrival and the party itself, I fully expected them to discover a forgotten Parker relative locked in the attic.

Beautifully written with a wide cast of characters, The Memento keeps you guessing until the very last pages as secret after secret come tumbling out.

The Memento is popular as Conlin is a local author, so while you wait you may enjoy:

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

"Haunted by his mother's mysterious death, timid, solitary Gerard Freeman lives for two things: his elusive pen pal and the secret manuscript that his mother gave her life to protect. Suspecting that something within that manuscript holds the key to his mother's terrified refusal to return to her childhood home, Gerard sets out to unveil the mystery shrouding his family. What he discovers is a sinister ghost story written by his great-grandmother that implicates his mother in a devastating family tragedy. The more he reads, the more he understands his mother's cryptic warning: "One of them came true . . . " Combining the intricate literary playfulness of Possession with the heart-racing suspense of The Others, Harwood's astonishingly assured debut simmers with spellbinding horror and dark intrigue.".

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

“Vida Winter, a bestselling yet reclusive novelist, has created many outlandish life histories for herself, all of them invention. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to biographer Margaret Lea - a woman with secrets of her own - is a summons. Vida's tale is one of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family: the beautiful and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling, but as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction and she doesn't trust Vida's account. As she begins her researches, two parallel stories unfold. Join Margaret as she begins her journey to the truth - hers, as well as Vida's”

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“A woman marries an English nobleman and returns with him to Manderley, his country estate. There, she finds herself haunted by reminders of his first wife, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident less than a year earlier. In this case, the haunting is psychological, not physical: Rebecca does not appear as a ghost, but her spirit affects nearly everything that takes place at Manderley. The narrator, whose name is never divulged, is left with a growing sense of distrust toward those who loved Rebecca, wondering just how much they resent her for taking Rebecca's place. In the final chapters, the book turns into a detective story, as the principal characters try to reveal or conceal what really happened on the night Rebecca died.”

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Staff Pick - The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I think I've mentioned this on The Reader before but I, like many Canadian readers, am a huge fan of Margaret Atwood. I am a particularly huge fan of her dystopian works, The Handmaid's Tale and the MaddAddam Trilogy. I generally have a pretty good idea of what big new books are being released, particularly those by my favourite authors. So imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I discovered The Heart Goes Last - an Atwood dystopia that had been released in September that I had never even heard of! I have no idea how that slipped under my radar, but I immediately put it on hold.

The Heart Goes Last takes place sometime in the near future, after a massive economic collapse has devastated most of the world and thrown parts of it into absolute chaos. Charmaine and Stan live on the East Coast of the United States, an area that has been hit particularly hard. They had a nice life together before the collapse, but after losing their jobs and then their house, they've been reduced to living in their car and struggling to survive. Crime is rampant, and it's not unusual for someone to try and break in while they're sleeping - necessitating constant vigilance.

This isn't the life that they signed up for. Charmaine remains ever optimistic and positive, something that begins to grate on Stan more and more as time goes on. Their relationship is deteriorating, it's becoming ever more dangerous to live on the streets, and they're basically at their wits end. And that's when Charmaine sees a commercial for the Positron Project and they finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. The Positron Project works like this: for one month, participants will live and work in the town of Consilience. Homes and jobs are provided for them, they are guaranteed a roof over their heads, food on their table, and all the creature comforts of a nice life. The catch is that for the other month, they must live in the Positron Prison, where they will live with other inmates and work different jobs particular to the Prison. While they're in prison, their alternates will live in their home, and then at the end of the month they switch - Charmaine and Stan go back home and their unknown alternates (who they are forbidden from ever knowing) go into the prison.

At first everything is great - they're happy and well taken care of, their relationship is thriving, and even life inside of the prison is comfortable and nice. And then things start to get messy when Charmaine begins an affair with one of her alternates and Stan develops an extremely sexually-charged obsession for the other. Things quickly start to fall apart as Stan and Charmaine are separated from each other and each begin to learn the truth behind what is really happening at the Positron Project.

As ever, Atwood gives us a beautifully imagined and fleshed out dystopian world. From the mean streets outside of Consilience, to the sex-robot factory inside of Positron, it is pure Atwood and almost reminiscent of MaddAddam (there's even a small mention of growing chickens with no heads). It's similar enough to our current world, and yet startlingly different in a way that makes you think "this could actually happen - but I really don't want it to." This, combined with the intricate plot that keeps you guessing until the last page, makes for a really immersive reading experience. Which is good, because the characters are definitely meh. This came as a surprise to me, but I found a lot of the characters were quite flat. They were all extremely unlikable (which I don't usually have a problem with, if done well), but more than that I just found they were underdeveloped. Stan was probably the most fleshed out and believable character, but it was to the point that I really hated him by the end of the book. I just didn't really understand their motives for doing what they did and I really wasn't rooting for any of them, even Charmaine. However, if you are a fan of Margaret Atwood dystopia, don't let this deter you! Even though I was annoyed with the characters most of the time, I still could not put this book down until I figured out what was really going on (and you don't figure it all out until the very last page!).

For similar titles, check out:
Mandibles: a Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver also takes place in an America devastated by an economic collapse. It follows the Mandibles, a once prosperous family, and looks at how each member of each generation of the family is affected by and deals with this new way of life. "The Mandibles is about money. Thus it is necessarily about bitterness, rivalry, and selfishness—but also about surreal generosity, sacrifice, and transformative adaptation to changing circumstances." - publisher

In The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, women are dying en masse and no one really knows why. "Set in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman's struggle to become independent of her parents. As the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart, Jessie begins to question her parents' publisher
attitudes, their behavior, and the very world they have bequeathed her." -

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey is more of an action-packed dystopian story, but has a similarly eerie "this could totally happen" vibe. In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billipublisher on. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind." -

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Staff Picks - Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Louisa Clark is a typical English girl in a small town.  A small town she’s never left.  Like many others in the town she’s settled for a local guy.  Hers loves his sports and triathlons more than he loves Louisa.  They have nothing much in common but everyone expects them to marry.  When Louisa loses her job at the local tea shop she knows she has to do something to earn money and get on with her life.  She lives with her parents, her sister, her young nephew, and her granddad.  Like many other close families, they are either minding her business for her or asking her about it.  Louisa answers an ad for a caregiver         at the local castle because she has no other viable prospects.

Will Traynor is a hotshot in business.  He’s young, handsome, successful, and very rich.  He has a beautiful girlfriend.   One day a routine departure from his parking garage ends in a tragic accident.  He is left to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.  His family has lots of money but nothing can take away his pain, his depression, and on many days his will to live.

Louisa enters his world and as you might imagine turns it upside down.  She has no patience for Will’s moodiness, his bossiness and she isn’t afraid to tell him.  She’s one of the few people who have stood up to him since the accident.  As these two complicated strangers get to know each other walls begin to break down and both realize how much they’ve come to care about each other.  Louisa wants to make plans and begins to see her life in a whole new light.  For Will there are no long term plans.  He has one plan and that’s the only one that matters.  His family knows about the plan and when Louisa finds out her world is turned upside down once again.
I’m sure that the Hollywood had no way of knowing that the release of Me Before You in theaters in  June would coincide with Canada’s national debate on (spoiler alert!!!!) assisted-suicide.  It’s a fictional story but one that reflects both sides to a very divisive issue.

For those left behind after a loved one opts to end their own life with assistance, it is a long road back to some semblance of normalcy.  Jojo Moyes gives us a look into the aftermath of Will’s choice in After You.  Some of the same endearing characters are back and we meet one special character no-one knew existed.