Haliburton County Living: 2013 Haliburton County Reads

Coles’ Notes

Catherine Coles

Each summer, 100.9 Canoe FM’s Haliburton County Reads runs a special five-week series that pits community members against each other in a “friendly” battle of the books competition. On July 10th at 6pm, the 2013 edition will begin and I am curious to see which of the following five books in contention will take the prize.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, the only book of the five that I have read thus far, is a British novel in the ilk of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It follows an awkward elderly man named Harold as he walks across England to visit an old friend, Queenie, on her death bed. He has wronged Queenie and feels he must atone for his past. The reader only discovers, as the novel progresses, why exactly they were estranged.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is about the lives of Ursula Todd. Born in a snowstorm in England in 1910, Ursula dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm, however, she is born again and lives to tell the tale… over and over again. With each new life she is able to make small changes that send her on a completely different path.

The Book of Spies by Gayle Lynds centers around a legendary library that contains written works dating back to ancient Rome and Greece. The story begins with the assassination of a CIA agent. The agent’s son, Judd, learns that his father claimed to have information about the Library of Gold and joins forces with Eva, a rare-book expert, to find its location. It is more than your average ancient library, however, as it has a mysterious connection to a sinister terrorist plot.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is set at a boarding school for children. Our hero Taylor Markham resides in this school after being Jellicoe Roadabandoned by her mother at a 7-11. Now, at age seventeen, she is a school leader but she must balance this responsibility with some added turmoil in her life: her friend and mentor Hannah has suddenly disappeared…and she believes the disappearance may be connected to her mother.

Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul by David Adams Richards, the only Canadian contender on this year’s show, moves back and forth between events in 1985 and 2006/7. In 1985, Markus Paul was a young man, living with his grandfather on a reserve.  When a young Micmac man, Hector, is killed in what at first appears to be an accident, rumours start and soon fingers are pointed at white loner, Roger Savage. This novel follows the search for what really happened to Hector and how his death impacted the lives of so many.

Let us know which of these five books you will rooting for by participating in our Goodreads online book club. It is accessible through our website at www.haliburtonlibrary.ca. Reserve the Haliburton County Reads books today at your local library branch and, of course, be sure to tune in to 100.9 Canoe FM at 6pm on Wednesdays starting July 10th to see how the competition plays out.

*Originally published on July 4th in Haliburton County Living

Haliburton County Living: The Issue of Likeability

Coles’ Notes

Catherine Coles

If there is one thing I know to be true as a librarian, it is that every reader is different. Just like our unique personalities determine to a large extent how we see the world, we experience books in very different ways. As per research in readers’ advisory, readers are generally broken down into four broad categories: character-driven, setting-driven, prose-driven and story-driven. It is not as simple as matching a character-driven reader with a character-driven book, however.

A Hatred for TulipsFor example, one of the discussions that arose from our Online Book Club in May was whether or not a novel’s protagonist had to be likeable, or someone who at least inspires empathy, in order for the book to be considered “good” to a character-driven reader. Of course, the conclusion here is that it depends entirely upon the person!

The novel in question was A Hatred For Tulips by Richard Lourie. It follows a young boy, Joop, and his experience in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. While historical research tells us otherwise, in this fictional account it is Joop who turns in Anne Frank to the Nazis. Some readers in the book club didn’t love this book because they were unable to connect with the character. By and large, Joop seemed quite indifferent to the horrors that surrounded him and to the deaths his actions would ultimately cause. Therefore, because he wasn’t a particularly empathetic or sympathetic character, he was not a character that inspired empathy or sympathy in the readers that considered this most important. Personally, I really liked this novel but, then again, my protagonists don’t necessarily have to be likeable, they just need to have a certain authenticity.

A recent publication that has inspired a similar debate is The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, which The Woman Upstairsfollows a single, middle-aged, childless school teacher who is disillusioned and just plain angry. The narrative very much reminded me of that of We Need To Talk About Kevin. Both novel’s protagonists are dryly humoured, embittered by life and are brutally honest about it. In a recent interview with Publishers Weekly, Messud took issue with the question: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora (the narrator), would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.” Her response was that “likeability” is entirely beside the point.

I’ll conclude with Messud’s reaction, which I found to be true (and amusing): “Don’t go around asking the question, ‘Is this character likeable?’ and expect that to be compatible with serious literary endeavours. That’s not what it’s about. If you want self-help that’s going to make you feel good, or you want the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, fantastic, that’s a great thing to read, I have no complaints about that. But it’s not compatible with serious endeavours.”

All titles mentioned can be reserved at the Haliburton County Public Library.

* Originally published on June 13th in Haliburton County Living

Haliburton County Living: Pride and Prejudice

Coles’ Notes

Catherine Coles

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. In the past decade it seems like the P&P spinoff/pastiche/adaptation has almost become a genre in its own right. In a bizarre twist of fate, Austen fans can now choose to read their favourite classic regency romance in a seemingly limitless number of forms: mystery (Death Comes to Pemberley), erotica (Pride & Prejudice: The Wild & Wanton edition), horror (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies), YA (Prom & Prejudice) or chick-lit (Bridget Jones Diary). Sometimes, as a reader, it is nice to have a safe, predictable story wrapped up in a shiny new package. The following are a few P&P knock-offs that I have recently enjoyed, in spite of the fact that Austen is probably rolling in her grave.

AAustenlandustenland by Shannon Hale finds Jane, a 30-something woman, struggling in the romance department. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy has ruined her for other men – no one has ever measured up. When Jane’s wealthy great aunt passes away and bequeaths her an exclusive, all-expenses paid vacation to an English resort which caters to Austen-crazed women, Jane is skeptical. How will this trip into fantasy land (complete regency-era costumes and actors who never break character) bring her back to reality?

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual by Kim Izzo, a Canadian writer, features another modern-day Austen Jane Austen Marriage Manualobsessed heroine. Kate Shaw is a magazine writer who is generally quite happy with her life. That is, until her beloved grandmother dies and their family home goes into foreclosure. Friends rally around Kate and present her with a gift of limitless possibilities: a title to land in Scotland. It is a miniscule parcel, of course, but no one needs to know that. Lady Kate, as she becomes, sets off across the globe seeing if her newfound title will attract a wealthy man who might see her through these tough economic times.

EdenbookeEdenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson is a silly, regency romance that follows a young woman named Marianne Daventry as she embarks upon the adventure of her life. She has just been invited to stay at a sprawling country estate with her sister Cecily, who has her sights set on the Lord of the Manor. Before Marianne even makes it to the estate, however, she meets a handsome stranger who will have her questioning everything.

If you are in the mood for mindless, Austen-esque fluff, you can reserve any of the titles mentioned here from your branch of the Haliburton County Public Library.

* Originally published on May 2nd in Haliburton County Living

Haliburton County Living: Mount Pleasant

Coles’ Notes

Catherine Coles

Mount Pleasant

Who ever thought a book about debt, marriage breakdown, and death in the family could be funny?  Mount Pleasant, a new novel by Torontonian Don Gillmor, manages tackle these dark issues with just the right kind of wit. So effective, it has been my favourite read in recent months.

Harry Salter is crippled by debt and undergoing a bit of a mid-life crisis. His father Dale, who was a partner at an elite wealth management agency (and who was himself quite wealthy), is suffering from dementia and been on death’s door for some time. When Dale dies, Harry is in many way relieved. He expects a modest inheritance, enough to put him back on the right track. What he receives, however, is a very modest inheritance. His father, as it turns out, did not have much of an inheritance to give. What exactly happened to Dale’s estate?

Desperate, Harry delves into his father’s financial situation to determine where the money went, even going as far as hiring a forensic accountant – a service which he cannot afford. Meanwhile, his marriage is crumbling, his son has become distant and his mother appears to be in the midst of her own crisis. Worst of all, Harry is losing his sense of self. His family belonged to Rosedale’s WASP-y elite; this is something he has associated with his entire life. He is beginning to realize, however, that his social status has long been a façade – Toronto, his family, and their wealth have moved on without him.

This book is a thoughtful and cleverly-observed look at status consciousness, addiction to spending and how these factors impact one’s identity. It is darkly witty but has also has depth and, of course, its detailed Toronto setting (the title Mount Pleasant refers to Mount Pleasant cemetery) lends the characters a great deal of familiarity.

If you enjoy biting Canadian literary fiction, then Mount Pleasant is definitely one to add to your to-read list. Reserve it at the Haliburton County Public Library.

* Originally published on April 11th in Haliburton County Living

Haliburton County Living: Hoppy Easter!

Coles’ Notes

Catherine Coles

If you enjoyed John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, then When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman may be worth adding to your to-read list this spring. When God Was A Rabbit follows the coming of age story of Elly, a young British girl growing up in the 1960s/70s. Her beloved When God Was A Rabbitchildhood pet was a rabbit named God who, incidentally, could speak to her. When Elly looks back upon her youth she remembers the days, “when candy was a penny and God was a rabbit.”

This is a book that is equally funny and poignant. Elly, always getting herself into trouble with unintentionally blasphemous comments, is a truly endearing character. There are many aspects of this novel that are quite dark, but in the way that A Prayer For Owen Meany and The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time portrayed childhood innocence against darker themes, this literary style makes for a very heart-felt read.Watership Down

Another book that involves talking rabbits is, of course, Watership Down by Richard Adams. This classic novel, classified as juvenile fiction but relevant for all readers, follows a band of rabbits travelling in exile through a small stretch of the English countryside. This is a great example of how sometimes the best literature is the most accessible literature.

With Easter fast approaching it felt appropriate as ever to suggest these “bunny books” and use them as a platform for discussing the treatment of pet rabbits. Domestic rabbits are loveable creatures with real personalities and, like your dog or cat, they can be a 10+ year commitment. Unfortunately, pet rabbits are all too often discarded and end up succumbing to the elements or euthanized in shelters. This is an especially common occurrence post-Easter.

If you are interested in getting a pet rabbit, please adopt. Rabbit Rescue (http://rabbitrescue.ca/) is an organization based right here in Ontario and they do a great job matching humans with their ideal bunny counterpart. For obvious reasons, they will not adopt out during Easter.

Hoppy Easter reading from the library!

Rabbit Rescue

* Originally published on March 28 in Haliburton County Living

Haliburton County Living: Books by Gillian Flynn

Coles’ Notes

Catherine Coles

Ever since Gone Girl surged in popularity last summer, Gillian Flynn’s thrillers have found the literary spotlight. Flynn definitely has a knack for writing about terrible people doing terrible things in the grittiest corners of America. In fact, I don’t remember there being a single likeable character is any of her three books; however, as a character-driven reader, this certainly did not take away from my enjoyment. Her novels are dark, no doubt, but the characters are compelling, complex and completely unexpected – and this ensures that the reader is left guessing until the very end.

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects, Flynn’s debut, is told from the perspective of a troubled reporter named Camille. She has just been sent on an assignment to her hometown – a place which she has been avoiding throughout her adulthood – in order to investigate the murders of two preteen girls. The case is peculiar, this is for certain, and the police are at a dead-end. Meanwhile, forced to stay at her neurotic mother’s Victorian mansion, Camille’s memories of her tragic childhood begin to resurface. It’s not long before Camille finds herself starting to identify with the young victims in ways that are seemingly impossible to explain.

Dark Places is mostly told from the Dark Placesperspective of Libby, the only survivor of her family’s mass-murder. As a young child, she testified that her brother was responsible for what the press dubbed “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas” – but now she is not so sure. Reluctantly prompted into investigating the murders for the sake of Ben, her incarcerated brother, Libby stumbles upon some strange, seedy people with clues into what really happened that night.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl, Flynn’s latest novel, follows Nick Dunne on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary. His wife Amy, he discovers, has gone missing. Foul play is certain and all clues point to Nick – and he quickly becomes the number one suspect from the vantage of the police and the overzealous public. Amy’s diary reveals that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him, and that she even felt the need to purchase a gun for protection. Nick swears it isn’t true and yet the evidence keeps piling up against him. What really happened to Amy? This novel is so full of unreliable narrators that you won’t know who to believe.

If you like your mysteries dark and gritty, give Gillian Flynn a try. All three novels have been acquired for film so expect them to become even more popular in the coming months and years. They are each available in print and e-book formats from the Haliburton County Public Library.

*Originally published on February 21st in Haliburton County Living

Haliburton County Living: Evergreen Award 2013

Coles Notes

Catherine Coles

The Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award shortlist has just been announced for 2013. The Evergreen Award, best described as the “readers’ choice” of Canadian literary awards, features a good mix of genre and literary fiction, non-fiction, and both debut and established authors.

The Winter PalacePrevious winners have included Linwood Barclay for The Accident (2012), Emma Donoghue for Room (2011), Jessica Grant for Come, Thou Tortoise (2010), Steven Galloway for The Cellist of Sarajevo (2009), Ami McKay for The Birth House (2008), Lawrence Hill for The Book of Negroes (2007) and Joseph Boyden for Three Day Road (2006). All of these books, in my mind, have become contemporary Canadian classics and I expect they will stand the test of time.

The 2013 shortlist, as expected, includes something for everyone: historical fiction (The Winter Palace), memoir (Intolerable: A Indian Horse Memoir of Extremes), sci-fi (Triggers), creepy domestic drama (Tell It To The Trees) and even satire (Up & Down). The complete list is as follows:

Up and DownThe Haliburton County Public Library has multiple copies of all of these books available for you to borrow, however, titles marked with an asterix are available in e-book format in addition to print. I hope you enjoy this year’s list and stay tuned for information on how to vote for your favourite in October.

*Originally published on January 31st in Haliburton County Living