Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Anglo Files: a field guide to the British by Sarah Lyall

Sarah Lyall moved to London in the mid-1990s and soon became known for amusing and sharp dispatches on her adopted country. Confronted by the eccentricities of these island people (the English husband who never turned on the lights, the legislators who behaved like drunken frat boys, the hedgehog lovers), she set about trying to figure out the British. Part anthropological field study and part memoir, The Anglo Files has already received great acclaim and recognition for the astuteness, humor, and sensitivity with which the author wields her pen.

About the Author

Raised in New York City, Lyall is a graduate of Philips Exeter
Academy, class of 1981 and of Yale University. Lyall married the author, Robert McCrum in 1995.
After 18 years as London correspondent for The New York Times Lyall returned to New York with the couple's daughters in 2013; they have returned to a transatlantic relationship for the time being.


NY Times
The Scotsman
Publishers Weekly


National Public Radio

The U.S. may have a special relationship with Britain, but there's a lot that divides Americans and Brits. Sarah Lyall, author of The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, talks with Linda Wertheimer. The book details British people and their character. In one section of the book, Lyall explores Brits and booze.

Big Think


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

 The year is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. In South London, in a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances are obliged to take in lodgers.
     With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, the routines of the house and the lives of its inhabitants will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far, and how devastatingly, the disturbances will reach.
     Waters proves once again that her eye for the telling details of class and character that draw people together as well as tear them apart is second to none in this masterpiece of psychological tension and emotional depth

Image result for sarah watersAbout the Author

Sarah Waters was born in 1966 in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

She studied English Literature at the universities of Kent and Lancaster, after which she worked in bookshops and libraries, before returning to postgraduate study. She then gained a Ph.D in English Literature, her field of study being lesbian and gay historical fiction, and also had articles on gender, sexuality and history published in a number of journals.

While working on her Ph.D thesis, she became increasingly interested in London life of the nineteenth century, and began writing fiction. She has since written three novels set in Victorian England, for which she has received high praise from both mainstream reviewers and the gay and lesbian press.

One of the most widely-read novelists of her generation, Waters has helped make densely-realized evocations of the British past into a respectable staple of contemporary fiction.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

About the Author
Emily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. A previous novel, The Singer's Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband.     
                                                                                                    Author's Website

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Our Best Book of 2014 - 2015

People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks

The choice of this book as “The Best” for this reading season is an interesting one for looking at our discussion notes from February there definitely were mixed reactions:

People of the Book elicited varying responses from our members. Many loved the book or loved parts of the book, were fascinated by the historical and restoration details or were bored by them. All agreed on one thing – they disliked the ending.

The group’s reaction is similar to that of the professional reviewers.  Some finding the amount of detail and the chronology clumsy, whiles others stated that both those elements were well-handled. Certainly Brooks set herself great challenges in research and in the structure of the book.  To build , populate, and plot the book based on the meagre evidence found in the Sarajevo Haggadagh is a major and risky undertaking. The work is not without flaws.


However, to us that is the strength of the author - her ability to take complex stories from history, weave them together and bring them to life in novel form. Her synthesis of the various threads of the story requires a particular talent. Choosing the art restorer to connect the elements did not seem/feel artificial. She writes very well, with detail carefully selected – we were able to see what she described. The work is very cinematic.

Fireside Readers

RDPL has her latest novel, Caleb's Crossing, in
 many different formats.

Suffice it to say that it's a book that resides comfortably in a place we too often imagine to be a no-man's land between popular fiction and literature. Brooks tells a believable and engaging story about sympathetic but imperfect characters -- "popular" fiction demands all of that -- but she also does the business of literature, exploring serious themes and writing
about them in handsome prose                                

Jonathan Yardley
The Washington Post
    Sunday January 6th, 2006                                                                         


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

419 by Will Ferguson

It has happened to all of us. We open our email in the morning and there is an “offer of a lifetime” from someone in Nigeria: a prince, a businessman, or a young woman in trouble. The anguished message pleads for help, requests you transfer money from your bank account to one in Nigeria or begs you open your bank account to receive millions of dollars for safekeeping — with a gratuity for your help. The reason you’ve been contacted, the email explains, is that you are honest, reliable and have a good head for business.
Together the scams are known as 419, named after a former section of the Nigerian Criminal Code. Most of us delete emails like these, recognizing they are clever ways to heist our money, but a surprising number don’t, making 419 one of the most lucrative economic pastimes in Nigeria. Will Ferguson peels back the covers on these types of scams in his new novel 419, cleverly looking at the wretched ruse from both sides — victims and perpetrators.

About the Author

William Stener Ferguson, travel writer and novelist (born at Fort Vermilion, AB, 12 Oct 1964). Will Ferguson was educated in western Canada and graduated with a BFA from York University. Ferguson's writing encompasses the whole of human experience. His narratives describe historic, human and geographic landscapes, expressing the shifting nature of humanity in genres as diverse as the novel, the essay, travelogue and memoir, and in his reflections on Canadian identity...
...Ferguson's 2012 novel, 419, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. International in scope, it explores unfathomed despair and how it corrupts the human soul. Ferguson's intricate plot is like a transcontinental contagion that, through computers, infects the lives of innocents made gullible and guilty by association with their nation's GDP: "I am contacting you today regarding an urgent business proposal...the decision you make will go a        long ways toward determining the future...of a young woman."

Author's Website:


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he's still in good health, and in one day, he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn't interested (and he'd like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). So he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator, and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant).

It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many of the key explosions of the twentieth century and travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to Mao, Franco, and de Gaulle. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world.

About the Author
Jonas Jonasson was born in the city of Vaxjo in southern Sweden in 1962.
Jonas first started writing when he was working as a journalist for a number of Swedish newspapers.
He subsequently went on to start his own production company. After several years in the media industry, Jonas felt the urge to do something else. That was when the character of Allan Karlsson came to him and he started to write his first novel.


The Telegraph

The New Zealand Herald

Kirkus Reviews


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Alice Munro


Alice Ann Munro                                               b. 10 July 1931
Munro's work has been described as having revolutionized the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backward in time Her stories have been said to "embed more than announce, reveal more than parade."
Munro's fiction is most often set in her native Huron County in southwestern Ontario. Her stories explore human complexities in an uncomplicated prose style. Munro's writing has established her as "one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction," or, as Cynthia Ozick put it, "our  Chekhov." Munro is the recipient of many literary accolades, including the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature for her work as "master of the contemporary short story", and the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. She is also a three-time winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for fiction and was the recipient of the Writers' Trust of Canada's 1996 Marian Engel Award, as well as the 2004 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for Runaway.

Dance of the Happy Shades 1968, Lives of Girls and Women 1971, Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You 1974, Who Do You Think You Are? 1978, The Moons of Jupiter 1982, The Progress of Love 1986, Friend of My Youth 1990, Open Secrets 1994, Selected Stories 1996, The Love of a Good Woman 1998, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Marriage 2001, No Love Lost 2003, Vintage Munro 2004 (collection of previously published stories), Runaway 2004, The View from Castle Rock 2006, Too Much Happiness 2009 and Dear Life 2012.

Reviews:  The Guardian     The New York Times     The Globe and Mail

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

The tale begins in the early 1950s when an 11-year-old Ceylonese boy boards the Oronsay, which will sail across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean, ultimately bound for England. The Oronsay is a floating castle, a world unto itself, with seven levels, nine cooks, a veterinarian, several swimming pools, a jail, and more than 600 passengers.  In a voice both haunting and intimate, the boy asks, “What had there been before such a ship in my life?”
The boy is nicknamed Mynah by his shipmates; he has absent parents and thus “no secure map,” and is free to invent himself. For Mynah, the sea voyage marks a kind of second birth, a passage that influences everything significant in his later life. Interwoven with the drama of Mynah’s journey are his experiences and reflections as an adult, where many of the childhood mysteries experienced aboard are unravelled with the benefit of hindsight. Looking back on that time years later, he confides, “I try to imagine who the boy on the ship was….  He went up the gangplank, watching only the path of his feet – nothing ahead of him existed.” The rhythm between past and present, between experience and understanding, creates emotional depth and multiple layers of suspense.
                           About the Author
Michael Ondaatje, OC, poet, novelist, filmmaker, editor (born 12 Sept 1943 in Colombo, Sri Lanka). Michael Ondaatje's work combines the factual and the imaginary, poetry and prose. His longer narrative works, often based on the unorthodox lives of real people, may contain documentary as well as fictional elements. Ondaatje's imagery is characterized by its preoccupation with multiculturalism; its gravitation towards the bizarre, the exaggerated, and the unlikely; its fascination with the secret codes of violence in both personal and political life; and with its continued delving into the world of movies, jazz and friendship. His work is also notable for its cinematic qualities in its frequent use of montage techniques and its spare dramatic dialogue. A five time winner of the Governor General's Award Ondaatje has also won the Giller Prize, the Booker Prize, and the Prix M├ędicis ├ętranger, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada, making him, along with Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, one of Canada’s most celebrated living authors.

Reviews:  Quill and Quire     NY Times     The Globe