Thursday, 27 December 2012

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.

Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adventurous aunt and her more conventional mother, she revisits Connie’s past and her mother’s broken childhood. In the process, she unravels the enigma of Parley Burns and the mysterious (and unrelated) deaths of two young girls. As the novel moves deeper into their lives, the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles – aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter – until a sudden, capsizing love thrusts Anne herself into a newly independent life.

This spellbinding tale – set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valleycrosses generations and cuts to the bone. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood. It lays bare the urgency of discovering what we were never told about the past. And it celebrates the process of becoming who we are in a world full of startling connections that lie just out of sight.

About the Author
Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario. Hay has worked as a CBC broadcaster in Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and Toronto, and as an author writing in Mexico, New York, and Ottawa. She is the 2002 recipient of the Marian Engel Award in recognition of her illustrious body of work, has twice been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and is the winner of the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel Late Nights on Air.
Author Website: 


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters,
Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story" ( 

Moloka'i is one of the three books selected for the 2012 One Book, One San Diego event.

About the Author

Alan Brennert was born in Englewood, New Jersey, to Herbert E. Brennert (an aviation writer who contributed to such magazines as Skyways and American Helicopter) and Almyra E. Brennert.  Since 1973 he has lived in Southern California.  He holds a Bachelor's degree in English from California State University at Long Beach, and also did graduate work in screenwriting at UCLA.
In addition to novels, he has written short stories, teleplays, screenplays, and the libretto of a stage musical, Weird Romance, with music by Alan Men Ken and lyrics by David Spencer. 

His work as a writer-producer for the television series L.A. Law earned him an Emmy Award in 1991.  He has been nominated for an Emmy on two other occasions, once for a Golden Globe Award, and (three times) for the Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Teleplay of the Year.  He received a People's Choice Award for L.A. Law, and his short story "Ma Qui" was honored with a Nebula Award in 1992.
He has developed screenplays for major studios, as well as miniseries, pilots, and television movies.  Other series to which he has contributed include China Beach, Simon & Simon, and the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone.  "But in television and film," he says, "sometimes your best work is never seen."  In 1999 he spent six months writing a four-hour miniseries for NBC and Kevin Costner's Tig Productions, based on David Marion Wilkinson's epic novel Not Between Brothers, about the founding of Texas.  When the network opted not to produce it, Alan decided he needed to write something that people would get to see, and the result was Moloka'i. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

Generations after their forebears went into exile, the MacDonalds still face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. Alexander, orphaned as a child by a horrific tragedy, has nevertheless gained some success in the world. Even his older brother, Calum, a nearly destitute alcoholic living on Toronto's skid row, has been scarred by another tragedy. But, like all his clansman, Alexander is sustained by a family history that seems to run through his veins. And through these lovingly recounted stories-wildly comic or heartbreakingly tragic-we discover the hope against hope upon which every family must sometimes rely.

About the Author

Alistair MacLeod was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. When he was ten his family moved to a farm in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. After completing high school, MacLeod attended teacher's college in Truro and then taught school. He studied at St. Francis Xavier University between 1957 and 1960 and graduated with a BA and B.Ed. He then went on to receive his MA in 1961 from the University of New Brunswick and his PhD in 1968 from the University of Notre Dame.

A specialist in British literature of the nineteenth century, Alistair MacLeod taught English for three years at the University of Indiana before accepting a post in 1969 at the University of Windsor as professor of English and Creative Writing. He and his family return to Cape Breton every summer, however, where he spends part of his time "writing in a cliff-top cabin looking west towards Prince Edward Island."

Alistair MacLeod's writing career has been quite remarkable in earning him a great critical reputation on the basis of only fourteen short stories, collected in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986).

In 1999, he published his first novel, No Great Mischief, which follows the lives of several generations of a family that emigrates from Scotland to Cape Breton Island the setting of many of MacLeod's short stories. Written over the course of thirteen years, No Great Mischief was published to great critical acclaim and has been translated into a number of different languages. Nominated for all of Canada's major literary awards, the novel was awarded the Trillium Award, the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Dartmouth Book & Writing Award for Fiction, the Atlantic Provinces Booksellers Choice Award, the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

All of his published short stories, plus one new piece, were collected in Island, published in 2000.

His works are considered among the very best Canada has produced in the twentieth century.

The Quill and Quire 
The Observer

McClelland Publishing

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

When piano prodigy Norma Herr was healthy, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After Norma attacked her, Mira Bartok and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe. For the next seventeen years Mira’s only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living.
At the age of forty, Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that left her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira learned Norma was dying in a hospital, and she and her sister traveled to their mother’s deathbed to reconcile one last time.
Through stunning prose and gorgeous original art, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.
About the Author

  New York Times bestselling author and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, Mira Bartók is an artist, NPR commentator and author of twenty-eight books for children. Her writing has appeared in literary journals, magazines and anthologies and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and noted in The Best American Essays series. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she mentors other writers and runs Mira’s List, a blog that helps artists find funding and residencies all over the world. Along with her drummer and music producer Doug Plavin, she is also co-founder of North of Radio, a multi-media collaborative.


New York Times
National Book Critics Circle

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them --- in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul --- they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

A stunning accomplishment,
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.

About the Author

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In September of 1980, Hosseini's family moved to San Jose, California. Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor's degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California-San Diego's School of Medicine, where he earned a Medical Degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004.
While in medical practice, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001. In 2003, The Kite Runner, was published and has since become an international bestseller, published in 70 countries. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.  His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns was published in May of 2007. Currently, A Thousand Splendid Suns is published in 60 countries. Khaled has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. The concept for The Khaled Hosseini Foundation was inspired by a trip to Afghanistan Khaled made in 2007 with the UNHCR. He lives in northern California.

Title Source: Kabul by Saib-e-Tabrizi


New York Times 
The Guardian

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Our Best Book of 2011-2012

At our last meeting before a two-month summer break, we select the books that we will read next year and pick out our 'best read' for the closing book club season.  Fireside Readers'  Best Book for 2011-2012 is Room by Emma Donoghue.

Fireside Readers were divided about this book – some loved it, some hated it, some liked the first half but not the second; the others preferred the reverse. In other words, Room was a great book club choice. Whether we loved or hated it, Room will remain in our minds and hearts for a long time to come.

“The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it's going to be the next      minute.”

Fireside Readers return on September 20th - our first book of the season, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.