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Penguin Shop Opens in Toronto

 

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If you are a #BookNerd like me, this might be some pretty exciting news for you!

Penguin Random House Canada has opened a Penguin Shop at their Front Street headquarters.

From the press release:

 The shop features limited and special editions of reader favourites, book-related merchandise, and sought-after branded swag, including Penguin Classics mugs, notebooks, and tote bags. Penguin Shop also provides access to the people who create its books: it will launch with a robust Penguin Picks program that features favourite titles from authors and from the company’s editors, designers, and other staff.  Moreover, the store’s unique location also offers customers the chance to cross paths with their favourite authors, who may be passing by en-route to the company’s office. Visit us at 320 Front Street West, Toronto or visit www.penguinshop.ca for more information.

Here are some wonderful photos, to give you a glimpse of this great new space:

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You can find the Penguin Shop on these social media channels, and by email:

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | @penguinshopTO

hello@penguinshop.ca | www.penguinshop.ca

To visit in person:

Monday – Friday
11 – 7
The Atrium, 320 Front Street West, Toronto, Canada, M5V 3B6

 

 

Let me know if you visit!! I hope to get there very soon, to acquire a few small goodies.

Happy reading!

 

 

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

“You must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story, too.”

Half-sisters Effia and Esi are born in (what is today) Ghana, in the 18th century. The half-sisters are unknown to one another. Their lives create the two divergent paths we follow, as debut author Yaa Gyasi navigates between Africa and the US, and from the mid-18th C. through to present day. Effia’s family line remains in Africa (until the 2000s) and endures tribal wars, colonialism, missionaries trying to bring Christianity to the continent, and the struggle for independence. Esi’s family line is in America, the consequence of her capture by slavers in the mid-1700s. Esi’s descendants struggle and fight through slavery, the Jim Crow south, the civil rights movement, and the war on drugs. Along with the epic historical sweep of the story, the social commentary is an important part of the book, and Gyasi viscerally presents the deeply rooted damages and vileness that has continued for hundreds of years because of slavery. In any discussions or work on race, class, and reparations in the US, this book is a strong and important statement.

2117741Gyasi is quite clever with how she has structured this book – it is an interesting approach to an epic story. Though it did cause me a bit of frustration while reading – because this is such an emotional book and we are not always given conclusions for characters to whom we have become attached. (Not that I need tidy endings at all… I just felt like I was missing out on some of the arcs as characters from the next generation came up to take over from their predecessors.) While I suppose it shouldn’t matter, I feel as though I would have fared a bit better with the structure coming into this book thinking of it as connected stories, over a novel. As we move through the generations, reading the chapters felt very much like experiencing vignettes, moments captured in time. Gyasi’s writing is so strong and evocative; I was left with very vivid images and feelings as I read. So this vignette approach worked for me even though I felt I floundered a bit with the continuity. Honestly, I would have read a meaty 800-page epic from Gyasi quite contentedly, and I would have appreciated a bit more time with each of her characters.🙂

Concerning tidy endings…  this was a (very) small issue for me in Homegoing as it did feel a bit too neat. I just didn’t love how it ended, after such a strong and affecting experience with the rest of the story. But Gyasi’s talent is hugely evident, this is a truly impressive and powerful debut, and I will definitely read whatever she publishes next. I highly recommend this wonderful book.

 

Many thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for an e-pub review copy through NetGalley.

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx

barkskins-9780743288781_hrBarkskins, the big, new novel from Annie Proulx, is possibly my most anticipated new release for 2016.  It is out today (14th June), and I hope you will find this as exciting as I do.

Simon & Schuster Canada was incredible enough to provide me with an advanced copy of this novel – I am very, very appreciative.  Since receiving the book, I have been saving it, and the reason will perhaps sound a bit silly: my birthday is coming up this week. Knowing Barkskins was happening (seriously – it’s an event, this book) around the same time, it’s been in my mind as a special birthday treat and I have been fantasizing about completely unplugging and becoming a temporary recluse (though really that’s not much of a stretch) with this book! SO, THANKS, ANNIE PROULX!😀  (The fact I love a chunky novel, and this one clocks in at 736 pages, has really helped amp up my excitement even further!! Nothing like a great epic read in the summer!)

About the book:

From the Simon & Schuster Canada website:

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

Proulx’s inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid—in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope—that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable and compelling American writers, and Barkskins is her greatest novel, a magnificent marriage of history and imagination.

Okay, I know that book cover descriptions can sometimes dabble in the realm of hyperbole, but did you catch the bit at the end “…her greatest novel…” ?  If you already know and love Proulx from her earlier works, like Shipping NewsAccordion Crimes, or Bird Cloud, then you are probably also drooling in anticipation of her new work being touted as her greatest!  (I am working so hard to keep my expectations in check!)

In a terrific interview with The Guardian, Proulx says this about Barkskins:

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“It’s kind of an old-fashioned book,” Proulx says. “It’s long; it has a lot of characters; it takes a big theme. It isn’t a navel-staring, dysfunctional-family thing that’s so beloved of most American writers. It’s different, but I think people probably miss those books that were written some time ago – the big book that was written with care.”

Do let me know if this book is on your radar for the summer, or if you have already read it – I would love to hear your thoughts!  To me, and Proulx seems to be touching on this in the quote I excerpted, this book may have broad appeal to fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, and classic literature. Certainly Proulx’s quote called Charles Dickens and his epic works to mind in me.

Happy publication day to Annie Proulx, and happy reading to you all!

Nightfall, by Richard B. Wright

From the the publisher’s website (many thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the review copy of this new novel):

nightfall-9781476785370_hrFrom the acclaimed writer of the beloved Clara Callan comes a memorable new novel about first loves, love-after-love, and the end of things, set during summer in Quebec City.

James Hillyer, a retired university professor whose life was evocatively described in Wright’s novel October, is now barely existing after the death of his beloved daughter in her forties. On a whim, he tries to locate the woman he fell in love with so many years ago on a summer trip to Quebec and through the magic of the Internet he is able to find her. But Odette’s present existence seems to be haunted by ghosts from her own past, in particular, the tough ex-con Raoul, with his long-standing grievances and the beginnings of dementia. The collision of past and present leads to violence nobody could have predicted and alters the lives of James and Odette forever.

Nightfall skillfully captures the way in which our past is ever-present in our minds as we grow older, casting its spell of lost loves and the innocent joys of youth over the realities of aging and death. The novel is skillfully grounded in observation, propelled by unforgettable characters, and filled with wisdom about young love and old love. Drawing on the author’s profound understanding of the intimate bonds between men and women, Nightfall is classic Richard B. Wright. 

I found Nightfall to be a very thoughtful and contemplative novel.  I enjoyed the exploration of memory, and the perspective on life offered by both James’ and Odette’s arcs, and the idea that our past and present are never really that far away from one another.   I also found strength in Richard B. Wright‘s portrayal of starting over (and second chances) for his two characters, both who are in their 70s. They have come to their renewed relationship with a lifetime of experiences and hurts (so much baggage!), but also with a hope and optimism for love and happiness at a time when it had not really seemed possible.  (If you have ever experienced the joy of a wonderful summer crush/love, and wondered about that person years later, you might really enjoy the vicarious experience offered by this novel!)

5966127I would love to make one suggestion: if it is not fresh in your mind, or you have not previously read it,  check out Wright’s earlier book October first. It’s a terrific read and very connected to Nightfall!

While Nightfall does totally work as a stand alone read, thanks to the many excerpts from October, I feel I would have had a far deeper appreciation for Wright’s new novel had October been more fresh in my mind. Good intentions, and all that – I had planned a re-read of October, but things didn’t work out to allow me that time near enough to the publication of the new book.

At moments while I was reading Nightfall, I found myself thinking about Elena Ferrante, and her wonderful 4-book series, the Neapolitan Novels, which examines life in various stages, from childhood though adulthood.  It may seem an unusual comparison to some readers, but I feel Wright has the same keen observational skills and heightened sensitivity to the world around him. There are some truly beautiful moments in Nightfall.

Happy reading!

 

Amazing Female Novelists to Read for #IWD2016

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March is Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day (#IWD2016) is recognized on March 8th each year.

In support of #IWD2016, I am taking a bookish approach, of course, and sharing with you book recommendations from some of my favourite female novelists. I have included a fairly international roster of awesome women who have all opened the world to me through their writing. All are incredibly gifted storytellers – their settings and characters truly come to life when you read their stories, and their work has far-reaching appeal.

 

  1. Italy:  Elena Ferrante – The Neapolitan Novels

From the book’s description (of book #1): My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

So this is a bit of a cheat, because I am endorsing four books for Ferrante, right off the top. It cannot be helped. #FerranteFever is real, and it hit me hard in 2015. This series is the most incredible collection of fiction I have ever read concerning women’s lives, female friendships, coming of age, and feminism. These books are raw and rich, and they have taken up a large chunk of space in my heart.

 

2. France: Anna Gavalda – Hunting and Gathering 

From the book’s description:   Gorgeously original, full of wry humour and razor-sharp observation, redolent of Paris, its foibles, its food and its neglected corners, Hunting and Gathering is a universal story about despair, love and the virtues of ensemble-playing in a naughty world. It’s a big novel that you will not want to put down. 

I found this non-traditional love story so wonderful. Gavalda has an eye for nuance and a gift with language. Spending time in Paris, through literature, is never a bad idea.

 

3. Nigeria:  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah 

From the book’s descriptionIfemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

My favourite of Adichie’s novels, her examination of race, identity and belonging felt so vivid and real.

 

4. Haiti – USA: Edwidge Danticat –  Breath, Eyes, Memory 

From the book’s descriptionAt the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti–to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

Danticat is a wonderful and evocative writer, and this is definitely an emotionally challenging story. Sophie’s strength and resiliency have stuck with me for so many years, as has Danticat’s talent.

 

5. Sri Lanka: Ru Freeman – On Sal Mal Lane 

From the book’s description: A tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

On the day the Herath family moves in, Sal Mal Lane is still a quiet street, disturbed only by the cries of the children whose triumphs and tragedies sustain the families that live there. As the neighbors adapt to the newcomers in different ways, the children fill their days with cricket matches, romantic crushes, and small rivalries. But the tremors of civil war are mounting, and the conflict threatens to engulf them all. 

In a heartrending novel poised between the past and the future, the innocence of the children—a beloved sister and her overprotective siblings, a rejected son and his twin sisters, two very different brothers—contrasts sharply with the petty prejudices of the adults charged with their care. In Ru Freeman’s masterful hands, On Sal Mal Lane, a story of what was lost to a country and her people, becomes a resounding cry for reconciliation.

 

6. Australia: Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

From the book’s descriptionA brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

 

7. Mexico: Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate

From the book’s descriptionA sumptuous feast of a novel, Like Water for Chocolate relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds. Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit.

 

8. Egypt: Ahdaf Soueif – The Map of Love

From the book’s description: [Soueif] combines the romantic skill of the nineteenth-century novelists with a very modern sense of culture and politics–both sexual and international.  At either end of the twentieth century, two women fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, leaves England for Egypt, an outpost of the Empire roiling with nationalist sentiment. Far from the comfort of the British colony, she finds herself enraptured by the real Egypt and in love with Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi. Nearly a hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist and descendant of Anna and Sharif has fallen in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi, a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor with his own passionate politics. In an attempt to understand her conflicting emotions and to discover the truth behind her heritage, Isabel, too, travels to Egypt, and enlists Omar’s sister’s help in unravelling the story of Anna and Sharif’s love. Joining the romance and intricate storytelling of A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Ahdaf Soueif has once again created a mesmerizing tale of genuine eloquence and lasting importance.

 

9. China: Xiaolu Guo – I Am China

From the book’s descriptionIn her flat in north London, Iona Kirkpatrick sets to work on a new project translating a collection of letters and diaries by a Chinese musician. With each letter and journal entry, Iona becomes more and more intrigued with the unfolding story of two lovers: Jian, a punk rocker who believes there is no art without political commitment, and Mu, the young woman he loves as fiercely as his ideals.
 
Iona cannot possibly know that Jian is mere miles away in Dover, awaiting the uncertain fate of a political exile. Mu is still in Beijing, writing letters to London and desperately trying to track Jian down. As Iona charts the course of their twenty-year relationship, from its early beginnings at Beijing University to Jian’s defiant march in the Jasmine Revolution, her own empty life takes on an urgent purpose: to bring Jian and Mu together again before it’s too late.

 

10. Finland – Estonia: Sofi Oksanen – Purge

From the book’s description: Purge is a chilling drama of two generations of women, set in wartime 1940’s Estonia during the Soviet occupation, and in the same country in the 90’s as it grapples with the realities of a new Europe. Purge tells the suspenseful and dramatic story of Aliide Truu, an old Estonian woman whose hands are soiled with the crimes she committed during the Soviet era, and Zara, a young trafficking victim who in the present has managed to escape and has come to seek shelter at Aliide’s countryside home. As the two women start to approach each other and the links between them are revealed, a tragic and complex family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss that plays out during the worst years of the Soviet occupation of Estonia unfolds. In this way, Purge becomes an investigation into the cost of survival in a repressive system.

 

11. Iran – USA: Sahar Delijani – Children of the Jacaranda Tree

From the book’s descriptionBased on the harrowing experiences of Sahar Delijani, her family and friends, Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a stunningly evocative look at the intimate side of revolution. Told from alternating perspectives that connect to Iran’s current political stirrings while vividly recounting a past that must never be forgotten, it is a moving, timely drama about three generations of men and women moved by love, inspired by poetry, and motivated by dreams of justice and freedom.

 

 

12. South Africa: Marlene van Niekerk – Agaat

From the book’s descriptionSet in apartheid South Africa, Agaat portrays the unique relationship between Milla, a 67-year-old white woman, and her black maidservant turned caretaker, Agaat. Through flashbacks and diary entries, the reader learns about Milla’s past. Life for white farmers in 1950s South Africa was full of promise — young and newly married, Milla raised a son and created her own farm out of a swathe of Cape mountainside. Forty years later her family has fallen apart, the country she knew is on the brink of huge change, and all she has left are memories and her proud, contrary, yet affectionate guardian. With haunting, lyrical prose, Marlene Van Niekerk creates a story of love and family loyalty. Winner of the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2007, Agaat was translated by Michiel Heyns, who received the Sol Plaatje Award for his translation. 

 

13. England: Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist

From the book’s descriptionOn a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin. But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . . Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

 

14. Trinidad: Monique Coffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

From the book’s descriptionAn unforgettable love story, brimming with passion and politics, set over fifty years in Trinidad – a place at times enchanting, and at times highly dangerous . . .  This novel tells the story of Sabine and George Harwood, a French woman and a British man who arrive as newly-weds in Trinidad at the end of the colonial era. It is 1956 and Trinidad’s new and enigmatic leader Eric Williams has set up the PNM, the first popular people’s party, and is canvassing for votes and for change. Sabine listens to Williams’ speeches at the University of Woodford Square, hears him proclaim Massa Day Done, and knows it is time to leave. George, on the other hand, plans to stay in Trinidad, forever. As Sabine recounts her early years, and confesses her secret letter writing habit to Eric Williams, the reader is drawn into her personal feelings of disillusionment about the many political failures of the island’s independence era. 

 

I hope that some of these novels catch your fancy! Reading is truly a wonderful way to travel the world, and these female novelists make the journeys unforgettable!

Who are your favourite women novelists? Do you like to read beyond your own borders? I would love to hear your recommendations!

 

Happy reading!