January 1, 2021 at 12:33 am #304542
I’m not stating anything original when I say 2020 was a weird year, stressful and filled with distractions. My goal for 2021 is admittedly ambitious: I aim to start a new book every Monday (except November when NaNoWriMo takes my time). I’m curious to see how this goes. With more than 200 books on my shelf, I have no shortage of options!January 2, 2021 at 7:59 pm #304548
1. The Mirror & the Light – Hilary Mantel (2020)
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.January 8, 2021 at 11:33 pm #304568
2. The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner (2018)
TIME’S #1 FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
FINALIST for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE and the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
LONGLISTED for the ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
An instant New York Times bestseller from two-time National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room earned tweets from Margaret Atwood—“gritty, empathic, finely rendered, no sugar toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled”—and from Stephen King—“The Mars Room is the real deal, jarring, horrible, compassionate, funny.”
It’s 2003 and Romy Hall, named after a German actress, is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: her young son, Jackson, and the San Francisco of her youth. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, portrayed with great humor and precision.
Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room is “wholly authentic…profound…luminous” (The Wall Street Journal), “one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart” (The New York Times Book Review, cover review)—a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined and “affirms Rachel Kushner as one of our best novelists” (Entertainment Weekly).January 17, 2021 at 7:58 pm #304594
3. Us Conductors – Sean Michaels
Winner of the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize
A beautiful, haunting novel inspired by the true life and loves of the famed Russian scientist, inventor and spy Lev Termen – creator of the theremin.
Us Conductors takes us from the glamour of Jazz Age New York to the gulags and science prisons of the Soviet Union. On a ship steaming its way from Manhattan back to Leningrad, Lev Termen writes a letter to his “one true love”, Clara Rockmore, telling her the story of his life. Imprisoned in his cabin, he recalls his early years as a scientist, inventing the theremin and other electric marvels, and the Kremlin’s dream that these inventions could be used to infiltrate capitalism itself. Instead, New York infiltrated Termen – he fell in love with the city’s dance clubs and speakeasies, with the students learning his strange instrument, and with Clara, a beautiful young violinist. Amid ghostly sonatas, kung-fu tussles, brushes with Chaplin and Rockefeller, a mission to Alcatraz, the novel builds to a crescendo: Termen’s spy games fall apart and he is forced to return home, where he’s soon consigned to a Siberian gulag. Only his wits can save him, but they will also plunge him even deeper toward the dark heart of Stalin’s Russia.
Us Conductors is a book of longing and electricity. Like Termen’s own life, it is steeped in beauty, wonder and looping heartbreak. How strong is unrequited love? What does it mean when it is the only thing keeping you alive? This sublime debut inhabits the idea of invention on every level, no more so than in its depiction of Termen’s endless feelings for Clara – against every realistic odd. For what else is love, but the greatest invention of all?
“Michaels’ book is based on the life of Lev Termen, the Russian-born inventor of the Theremin, the most ethereal of musical instruments. As the narrative shifts countries and climates, from the glittery brightness of New York in the 1920s to the leaden cold of the Soviet Union under Stalin, the grace of Michaels’s style makes these times and places seem entirely new. He succeeds at one of the hardest things a writer can do: he makes music seem to sing from the pages of a novel.”
—Giller Prize Jury Citation
January 19, 2021 at 11:09 pm #304610
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4. Moon of the Crusted Snow – Waubgeshig Rice (2018)
A daring post-apocalyptic novel from a powerful rising literary voice.
With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.
The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.
Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.January 24, 2021 at 11:16 pm #304629
5. Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor(1949)
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his inborn, desperate fate. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Sabbath Lily. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Motes founds the Church Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Motes’s existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdom gives us one of the most riveting characters in American fiction.January 31, 2021 at 2:10 pm #304664
6. Who By Fire – Fred Stenson (2014)
Who by Fire is a powerful, passionate novel about the march of “progress” and the environments, families, and ways of life destroyed in its wake.
The heart of this moving story belongs to Tom Ryder–a man whose expectations for the future and assumptions about his own strength and power are persistently and devastatingly undermined by the arrival of a sour gas plant on the border of his southern Alberta farm in the early 1960s. The emissions from the plant poison not only his livestock but the relationships he has with his family, most especially with his wife, Ella. The family is left without viable legal recourse against the plant, and Tom must watch his farm dwindle away, his sense of himself dwindling away with it.
The novel moves into the present with the story of Tom’s son, Bill, who reacts to his father’s disappointments by rising through the managerial ranks of an oil company in Fort McMurray, hiding from his guilt in the local casino. Bill pushes himself towards a crisis in conscience through a relationship he has with a Native woman whose community is threatened by the actions of his company.February 6, 2021 at 11:04 pm #304698
7. The Intuitionist – Colson Whitehead (1999)
This debut novel by the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad wowed critics and readers everywhere and marked the debut of an important American writer.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
It is a time of calamity in a major metropolitan city’s Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. There are two warring factions within the department: the Empiricists, who work by the book and dutifully check for striations on the winch cable and such; and the Intuitionists, who are simply able to enter the elevator cab in question, meditate, and intuit any defects.
Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae’s watch, chaos ensues. It’s an election year in the Elevator Guild, and the good-old-boy Empiricists would love nothing more than to assign the blame to an Intuitionist. But Lila Mae is never wrong.
The sudden appearance of excerpts from the lost notebooks of Intuitionism’s founder, James Fulton, has also caused quite a stir. The notebooks describe Fulton’s work on the “black box,” a perfect elevator that could reinvent the city as radically as the first passenger elevator did when patented by Elisha Otis in the nineteenth century. When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the portions of the notebooks that are still missing and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever.February 12, 2021 at 11:56 am #304718
8. LOST Encyclopedia – Tara Bennett and Paul Terry (2010)
Featuring more than 400 pages and over 1500 images, the LOST Encyclopedia will be a comprehensive guide to the characters, items, locations, plotlines, relationships, and mythologies from all six seasons of the landmark series aired on ABC-TV and produced by ABC Studios. Created in full collaboration with ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios, this will be the first and only fully licensed and comprehensive reference to all things LOST, and it includes a foreword by executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.February 14, 2021 at 3:26 pm #304732
9. The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir – Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter (2017)
Named the fourth most important “Book of the Year” by the National Post in 2015 and voted “One Book/One Province” in Saskatchewan for 2017, The Education of Augie Merasty launched on the front page of The Globe and Mail to become a national bestseller and an instant classic.
A courageous and intimate memoir, The Education of Augie Merasty is the story of a child who faced the dark heart of humanity, let loose by the cruel policies of a bigoted nation.
A retired fisherman and trapper who sometimes lived rough on the streets, Augie Merasty was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children who were taken from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of aggressive assimilation.
As Augie recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mould children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse.
But even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty’s sense of humour and warm voice shine through.
“In this book I have seen horror through eyes of a child.” – James Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains
“A story in which our entire nation has an obscure and dark complicity.” – David Carpenter, co-author of The Education of Augie Merasty and author of The Gold and other books.February 21, 2021 at 11:52 pm #304771
10. The Betrayers – David Bezmozgis (2014)
Finalist for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize
A disgraced Israeli politician comes face to face with the man who denounced him to the KGB and sent him to the Gulag.
These incandescent pages give us one momentous day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a disgraced Israeli politician. When he refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the West Bank settlements, his political opponents expose his affair with a mistress decades his junior. He and the fierce young Leora flee the scandal for Yalta, where he comes face to face with the former friend who denounced him to the KGB almost forty years earlier.
In a mere twenty-four hours, Kotler must face the ultimate reckoning, both with those who have betrayed him and with those whom he has betrayed, including a teenage daughter, a son facing his own ethical dilemmas in the Israeli army, and the wife who stood by his side through so much.
In prose that is elegant, sly, precise and devastating, David Bezmozgis has rendered a story for the ages, an inquest into the nature of fate and consequence, love and forgiveness.February 28, 2021 at 8:53 pm #304801
11. Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (2016)
SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016
A richly mythic, colour-saturated tale from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Swimming Home—Deborah Levy explores the violently primal bond between mother and daughter.
Two women arrive in a Spanish village—a dreamlike place caught between the desert and the ocean—seeking medical advice and salvation. One of the strangers suffers from a mysterious illness: spontaneous paralysis confines her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. The other, her daughter Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery, struggling to understand her mother’s illness.
Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and the mesmerising figures who move through it, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange programme of treatments invented by Dr. Gomez. Searching for a cure to a defiant and quite possibly imagined disease, ever more entangled in the seductive, mercurial games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile the disparate fragments of her identity.
Hot Milk is a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic. Examining female rage and sexuality, Deborah Levy’s dazzling new novel explores the strangeMarch 7, 2021 at 3:12 pm #304823
12. Heroes of the Frontier – Dave Eggers (2016)
A tremendous new novel from Dave Eggers, bestselling author of The Circle, Heroes of the Frontier is the darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.
Josie and her children’s father have split up, she’s been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she’s grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancée’s family, Josie makes a run for it, figuring Alaska is about as far as she can get without a passport. Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, rent a rattling old RV named the Chateau, and at first their trip feels like a vacation: They see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, past mistakes pursuing her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization. A captivating, often hilarious novel of family, loss, wilderness, and the curse of a violent America, Heroes of the Frontier is a powerful examination of our contemporary life and a rousing story of adventure.March 15, 2021 at 10:35 pm #304874
13. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (2016)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this #1 New York Times bestseller chronicles a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.
In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman’s will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.March 16, 2021 at 4:37 pm #304875
14. Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire (2016)
“A mini-masterpiece of portal fantasy — a jewel of a book that deserves to be shelved with Lewis Carroll’s and C. S. Lewis’ classics” —NPR
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.
No matter the cost.
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