Author Archives: taramatsuzaki

Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects: A Mesmerizing Gothic Thriller

While taking a mini-break from the heavy, slow-paced books that I was supposed to read for my book club, I discovered a gritty, gothic thriller which I greedily consumed within a few days. This darkly magnificent book was Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects—her first ever published work. Flynn is mainly famous for her third novel Gone Girl, a book that had hypnotized and shocked readers around the world. I will not argue that Sharp Objects was better than Gone Girl. No—but I will say that it is brilliant in its own way.

sharpBefore I begin to excitedly ramble on about how much I enjoyed this book and how other thriller enthusiasts should read it (ASAP!), let me provide you with a synopsis of the novel:

When the murdered body of a preteen girl is found and a second girl goes missing in a small town, reporter Camille Preaker is given the task of returning to her eerie hometown and covering the troubling story. While trying to fulfill her assignment, she is forced to stay at her family’s Victorian mansion and spend time with her hypochondriac mother and strange half-sister. As Camille attempts to unravel the mystery behind the murder case, she struggles to deal with her own disturbing past and soon discovers family secrets which have been hidden for a long time.

Now that you have the summary, I am going to list my three reasons for recommending this book:

  • Sharp Objects is a good gothic thriller!

Being a huge fan of the gothic genre, I absolutely loved how Flynn incorporated elements of Southern Gothic throughout her novel—the Victorian mansion, the grotesque scenes, the eccentric and deeply flawed characters, the terrifying matriarch, the underlying madness, violence and decay. For me, these components helped to build the suspense and dark atmosphere of the narrative, which completely drew me in and left me unsettled.

  • The narrative is complex and intriguing!

Unlike other simple mystery novels, which focus on one particular puzzle throughout the narrative, this book contains multiple layers of mystery that get unraveled: first is the murder case and the disappearance of a young girl; second is questions about Camille’s past and mental state; and third is the enigma behind Camille’s cold and reserved mother. As the story progresses, Flynn gives us a few clues at a time, either through flashbacks, new discoveries or subtle dialogues. These multiple layers make the story complex and interesting, which compelled me to piece the different puzzles together. It took a lot of effort to not jump to the last page in order to figure out all the answers!

  • The main character is flawed yet realistic!

While Camille was not my favorite character (because of her frustrating choices and her passive nature), she does behave in a realistic and human manner. Suffering from the loss of her sister and lack of love from her mother, she chooses self-destructive methods to deal with her emotions—alcohol, men and self-harm (scarring her body with words). Even though she has gone to rehab and seems to have recovered from these self-destructive behaviors, it is interesting to watch Camille’s mental state unfold when she is faced with her mother and her past once more. However, despite her emotional frailty, I admired the fact that she uses her strength and love for her sister to push forward and find out the truth about her family. Unlike the majority of the characters in the small town of Wind Gap, who willfully ignore the ugliness festering beneath the society, Camille chooses to look beneath the surface even if the truth may be horrifying. This strength and resilience makes her quite the intriguing protagonist.

Before I leave you to run towards the library and grab a copy of Flynn’s Sharp Objects (don’t push anyone out of the way!), I would like to leave you with a few warnings about the book:

  • If you are looking for a simple psychological thriller with light descriptions, then this is not the book for you. Sharp Objects is a very dark novel with heavy and disturbing details that may keep you up at night.
  • If you are looking for a happy ending with everything resolved so you can sleep all satisfied at night, then, once again, this book is not for you. Flynn is well-known for her twisted endings and frustrating conclusions, so don’t read this novel if you expect the story to end on a happy note.

Lastly, if I have managed to pique your interest in this story, I do encourage you to read this book sooner rather than later because HBO is going to release a mini-series based on the book this year. The mini-series will have Amy Adams as the star of the show and Jean-Marc Vallee as the director (he is absolutely fantastic!). From my experience, it becomes impossible to get a copy of the book once the movie or mini-series gets released. So, go get your copy now!

~ Ehlam Zaminpaima, Librarian, West Vancouver Memorial Library

Biography & Memoir

Ever been asked for an award-winning biography or autobiography?  Here are some suggestions – award-winners and finalists – that will knock your readers’ socks off!

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, by Hisham Matar (2016)

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

After an absence of thirty years, acclaimed Libyan novelist Hisham Matar returns home to his native country to look into the disappearance of his father.  Leaving Libya when he was twelve, Matar’s family lived in political exile.  Matar’s father, a former diplomat turned political dissident, was kidnapped off the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government and his whereabouts remain to this day uncertain.  Most likely held in Libya’s most notorious prison, it is improbable that Matar’s father is still alive.  Nevertheless, the author makes the journey to post-Qaddafi Libya to seek answers.  A moving family memoir and a portrait of a country in the midst of change.

Mordecai: The Life and Times by Charles Foran (2010)

Winner of the 2011 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction.

A thoroughly engaging, detailed and intimate portrait of one of Canada’s most celebrated and influential writers.  Devoted husband and father of five, Mordecai Richler won numerous awards for his adult and children’s fiction.  His was a persona that was larger than life and his influence spread beyond the borders of Canada. Growing up in turbulent times, Richler participated actively and was a bohemian, a rebel, a passionate and romantic lover, an outspoken Canadian, a family man.  Foran’s is the first biography to pull from family letters and archives, making this the most complete and richest picture of Richler’s life to date.

 

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (2014)

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Now a distinguished writer and war reporter, William Finnegan began life as a surfer.  This autobiography documents his beginnings in California and Hawaii, where surfing quickly became an obsession, and follows him around the world to the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, and Africa, where he chased the big waves.  Finnegan expounds on the inner workings of the surfing culture, which is less a sport and more a way of life to the truly dedicated.  Finnegan remains enamoured of surfing and continues to chase waves wherever he can find them.  His autobiography tells the story of an adventurous, and sometimes crazy, life.  A highly skillful and entertaining read.

 

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall (2013)

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

A richly researched book that tells the fascinating story of a 19th century author, journalist, critic and pioneering advocate of women’s rights who died in a shipwreck.  Because of her untimely end, and the tragedy and scandal that surrounded it, Margaret Fuller’s unique life is often glossed over.  This biography seeks to redress that injustice and tells her story in glorious detail.  A passionate thinker ahead of her time, Fuller was the first ever female war correspondent, covering the 1849 Siege of Rome.  While in Italy, she took a secret lover and bore a son.  As a news correspondent, she became passionately concerned about the urban poor and the plight of prostitutes and she was an outspoken advocate for personal and political freedom.  Just before her 40th birthday, she, her lover and her son were drowned in a shipwreck.  Marshall’s biography brings Fuller back to life.

 

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss (2012)

Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

The remarkable tale of real-life swashbuckler Alex Dumas, the father of Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo.  The little known truth about Alexandre Dumas’ father is that he was born in Haiti, the son of a black slave.  He was sold into bondage briefly but ended up in Paris, where he was trained in sword-fighting with the French aristocracy.  He enlisted in the army and commanded troops during the French Revolution, leading campaigns across Europe and the Middle East.  A fascinating true story about an ex-slave rising to the top in a time when such things were rare.

 

Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

by Rosemary Sullivan (2015)

Winner of the 2016 RBC Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction.  Winner, BC National Non-Fiction Prize, 2016. Winner of the American Plutarch Award for Biography (First Canadian Winner).

Winner, 2015 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Meticulously researched, this is the tale of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Josef Stalin’s daughter.  Despite being protected from the physical hardships suffered by the rest of Russia during Stalin’s regime, Svetlana nevertheless knew suffering.  She lost her mother, two brothers, aunts, uncles, and a lover who was exiled by her father to Siberia.  After Stalin’s death, she learned ever more about his brutality and she could no longer stay quiet. She defected to the US in 1967, leaving her two children behind.  Her life in the US was not happy and she died poor, in 2011. Sullivan used the KGB, CIA and Soviet archives to do her research, and had the cooperation of Svetlana’s daughter. As a result, this masterful biography delves into Svetlana’s life with incredible intimacy.

 

Stephen Harper by John Ibbitson (2015)

Winner of the 2016 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

Stephen Harper is an important figure in our country’s history and has, for better or worse, helped to shape the nation Canada is today.  Stephen Harper as a person, however, has remained enigmatic despite his public life.  Bringing together years of research and in-depth interview material, Ibbitson demonstrates why he is one of this country’s most respected journalists with this intimate and detailed portrait of Harper the politician and man.

 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2007)

Finalist, 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

An intensely personal and honest work, this book catalogues a year in Didion’s life when her world fell apart.  Her daughter became ill with a mysterious malady, and was eventually put into an induced coma and put on life support.  Days later, her husband of 40 years died of a heart attack.  Her daughter recovered, only to collapse again two months later at LA airport.  After 6 hours of surgery to release a massive hematoma, she pulled through.  This book comprises Didion’s attempt to make sense of these events and explores questions of life, death, illness, and family.  Powerfully written.

 

Just Kids: From Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel: A Life of Art and Friendship by Patti Smith (2010)

National Book Award Winner.

In her first book of prose, Patti Smith chronicles her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late sixties and seventies.  Honest and moving, this is a beautifully written autobiography from a great artist of our time.

 

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2015)

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

At heart a tale of loss and bereavement, H is for Hawk tells the story of the author’s decision to train the deadly predator, the Goshawk, in the wake of her father’s death. Already an experienced falconer, Macdonald had never trained a Goshawk before.  Relying on T.H. White’s The Goshawk to guide her in this endeavour, Macdonald chronicles her work with the Goshawk “Mabel” and her journey through the grieving process. An unusual combination of nature writing and memoir from a master writer.

 

American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Marie Arana (2005)

National Book Award Finalist.

With a brilliant Peruvian engineer for a father and a gifted American musician for a mother, Marie Arana’s childhood was bound to be interesting. Her father’s family taught her about being a “lady” while her mother’s taught her more practical skills like shooting a gun and snapping a chicken’s neck. Upon immigrating to America, Arana soon realized that she was caught between two worlds. This is her story, filled with the colourful characters of her childhood and her journey towards the reconciliation of two disparate cultures within herself.

 

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer (2014)

Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Based on seven years of in-depth research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, Kertzer’s book tells the story of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.  Coming into power in the same year, 1922, Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini shared a hatred of Communism and a distrust of democracy.  While it is generally believed that the Vatican did all it could to fight against Fascism, Ketzer shows that “Il Duce” and the Pope worked together to support each other’s goals.  Il Duce restored many of the privileges that the Church had lost and the Pope in turn ensured that Mussolini stayed in power. Only later did the Pope regret his actions, as Mussolini got closer to Hitler, and he tried to withdraw his support.  But as always, there is a bigger cast of players in such politically charged scenarios and the Pope was not the only one to exert his influence as others in the Vatican strove to retain the solid working relationship with Fascist Italy that had benefitted them for so long.  An intriguing and dramatic tale which draws its sources from the newly opened archives covering Pius XI’s papacy.

 

Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way by Blair Stonechild (2011)

Winner of the 2013 Saskatoon Book Awards: Aboriginal Peoples’ Writing Award winner

Written in the context of the politics and world events of the time, Stonechild’s book examines the life of musician and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie. Born on an impoverished Cree reservation in Saskatchewan, Sainte-Marie nevertheless went on to take part in the international folk music/protest revolution of the 1960s with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot. Stonechild’s biography does not follow a strictly chronological timeline, but instead jumps around into different periods of Sainte-Marie’s life, as he puts together a full picture of her ambitions and achievements, and captures the essence of this international musical icon.

 

Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary by Sonja Larsen (2016)

Finalist, 2016 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Larsen tells the story of her youth, spent on the move between communes around North America. Her mother, kicked out of her home as a pregnant teenager by her evangelistic father, joins in the communist movement, attracted by its idealism and radical ideas, and she drags her daughter Sonja along with her.  Larsen moves to Brooklyn at the age of 16 and joins the Communist Party of America, known publicly as the National Labor Federation, where she works hard to impress the party leaders.  She attracts the attention of the “Old Man,” the party’s charismatic leader, who takes her under his wing and makes her one of his “special” girls.  Can one survive a childhood such as this?  Rootless, without reliable adult guidance or protection, full of abuse and loss?  Larsen’s story is a remarkable one.

~ Fiona Hunt, Casual Librarian, West Vancouver Memorial Library

Reading for Running Inspiration

Will you be joining me and over 40,000 other runners at Vancouver’s 2017 Sun Run on April 23rd?

If you’re training for the Sun Run or another run this Spring, you may need a bit of inspiration to stick with your program every now and again. Find motivation in a great runner’s memoir or enjoy a novel with a running theme for a creative look at the runner’s psyche. Many of the titles I recommend are available on audio – listen while you run!

Alternatively, if you join Richmond Public Library with the Running/Walking Book Club idea floated by Meghan Savage on this blog last month, these titles could be useful fodder for accompanying booklists.

  1. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
  2. Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
  3. The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
  4. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
  5. Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run by Kristin Armstrong
  6. Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports by Kathrine Switzer
  7. The Oatmeal’s The Great and Terrible Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman
  8. Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr.
  9. Paula My Story So Far by Paula Radcliffe
  10. Run or Die by Kilian Jornet
  11. Runner: A Short Story About a Long Run by Lizzy Hawker
  12. Running Like a Girl: Notes on Learning to Run by Alexandra Heminsley
  13. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
  14. Running Uphill by Fil Fraser
  15. Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream by Meb Keflezighi
  16. Tales from Another Mother Runner by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
  17. Terry by Douglas Coupland
  18. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  19. What I Talk About When I talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
  20. Why We Run A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich

 

PS The Barkley Marathons finished yesterday with a heartbreaker of an outcome  for North Vancouver’s Gary Robbins. If you haven’t already watched the documentary, The Barkley Marathons, it is a highly bizarre yet incredibly compelling slice of the running life in which books are involved in the race.

New(ish) Tool for Librarians & Readers: #askalibrarian

Here is a new tool for RA-minded librarians to participate in.  #AskaLibrarian is a Twitter chat project launched by Penguin Random House and Crown Publishing Group’s Read It Forward on November 11, 2015.  It occurs each Thursday from noon to 1:00 EST.

CbgnuGzW8AAzU6uThe main players are librarians, library patrons, library marketing reps, publishers and bookish people on Twitter. The basic concept is people seeking book recommendations post a message and one or more librarian(s) reply immediately with suggestions for titles.

What I love about this project is the large-scale combined with localized knowledge.  This is a great example of a successful collaboration between many geographically diverse librarians who are embedded in their local communities.  It is also interesting that publishers noticed the potential for librarians to provide this service on Twitter.

On its first time out, AskaLibrarian reached over one million people on Twitter, over 200 contributors joined in to generate over 600 tweets. The Twitter staffers behind the account @twitterbooks (which has over four million followers) has lent their support which will likely build momentum for this project.  Also supporting the project are the Library Journal book review editors who are encouraging librarians to participate.

All you need to join in is a Twitter handle and an hour of free time on Thursdays between noon and 1:00 EST.

RA Trend: Mortality

25614898Have you noticed the rising popularity of books addressing death?  At the very top of bestseller and library holds lists is Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. 

The poignancy of Kalanithi’s memoir is affecting readers internationally.  At thirty-six, nearly at the end of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is his contemplation of his profession, his experience as a patient, marriage, new fatherhood and death.

Ann Patchett wrote “Thanks to When Breath Becomes Air, those of us who never met Paul Kalanithi will both mourn his death and benefit from his life. This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor—I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.” However, if your library has long holds lists on this title, here are a few other titles to recommend:

 

The Doctors:

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

The Writers:

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

M Train by Patti Smith

Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes

Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

 

Graphic Memoirists:

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chasts

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen

Shadow Life written by Hiromi Goto and illustrated by Celine Loup [forthcoming]

RAIG is Reaching Out

Glyph_Logo_pngImages are a powerful means of communication. Somewhat ironically, pictures are increasingly used to connect fans of 1000s of words (books). Instagram is an popular platform for bookish images as Jennifer Streckmann discussed previously on this blog. The Readers’ Advisory Interest Group (RAIG) began posting images on Instagram at the end of 2015. You can find us @bclaraig.

Join us by tagging your library’s bookish photos on Instagram with #WhatAreYouReadingBC. Or use this hashtag to share what you are reading now.

RAIG aims to connect with our colleagues across BC in the Library profession. To reach out, RAIG will contribute to each issue of the BCLA Perspectives quarterly publication.

Our regular feature will be called “Titles to Talk About” and will promote three titles library staff can talk about with their patrons, friend, families and communities. We will promote a BC author in each feature. The intent is to pool our collective knowledge and give library staff across BC a chance to learn about titles to recommend in a brief, easy to use format.  Library staff will be able to broaden their knowledge regardless of their own reading interests or geographic location.

We are starting with the first-ever RAIG: titles to talk about piece by Shelley Wilson-Roberts published on February 1, 2016 in Volume 8 Issue 1.

 

Is 2015 the Year of the RA Makeover?

RAMakeover-Header

Here is a makeover project that I can get behind! Library Journal and NoveList are partnering to offer a webinar called The Year of the RA Makeover.* Join this session if you believe that your library could benefit from a fresh look at readers’ advisory service. The webinar will cover how to update this foundational service, including:

    • What do readers want most from your library?
    • How do you measure your RA service?
    • What are the most important things to consider in designing and delivering RA services?

In preparation, the NoveList blog is offering 15 Ways to Makeover your RA.  Here’s Part 1.

Panelists Robin Nesbitt – Manager, Columbus Metropolitan Library

Jackie Parker – Lead Librarian for Readers’ Services, Sno-Isle Libraries

Becky Spratford – Readers’ Advisory Librarian, Berwyn Public Library

Moderator

Duncan Smith – Vice President, NoveList

Details

Tuesday, February 10, 12:00 – 1:00 PST.  Register here.

* Hat tip to Tim McMillan of VPL for bringing this webinar to my attention.