Friday, 29 December 2017

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning masterpiece became an international bestseller on publication, was adapted into an award-winning film, and has since come to be regarded as a modern classic

The Remains of the Day is a spellbinding portrayal of a vanished way of life and a haunting meditation on the high cost of duty. It is also one of the most subtle, sad and humorous love stories ever written.
 It is the summer of 1956, when Stevens, a man who has dedicated himself to his career as a perfect butler in the one-time great house of Darlington Hall, sets off on a holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and, unexpectedly, into his own past, especially his friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. As memories surface of his lifetime "in service" to Lord Darlington, and of his life between the wars, when the fate of the continent seemed to lie in the hands of a few men, he finds himself confronting the dark undercurrent beneath the carefully run world of his employer..

About the Author

Even under the best of circumstances, writing is a difficult task. It requires a great deal of concentration, as well as plenty of time for daydreaming, experimenting, and chasing potential dead ends. So when the British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who won  the Nobel Prize in Literature , found himself stalled on a book, he and his wife developed a plan. He would set aside four weeks to devote himself exclusively to writing. And his wife, Lorna? She would take care of everything else.
In an article written for The Guardian back in 2014, Ishiguro explains that this division of household labor was essential in the creation of his Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day:

I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash.” During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

     "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family--their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog--is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family

About the Author

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941; her family moved frequently, generally living in Quaker communities in the Midwest and South, before settling in North Carolina. Tyler attended Duke University, where she majored in Russian. In her first year, she became a pupil of Reynolds Price, who himself would become a major novelist and long-time friend. Price encouraged Tyler to pursue writing more vigorously, but she instead dedicated most of her attention to Russian. She graduated in 1961 then entered Columbia University to continue her studies. In 1962, she returned to Duke as Russian bibliographer for the library. The following year, Tyler married Taghi Modarressi, a psychologist from Iran. In 1964, the two moved to Montreal, where Tyler worked as an assistant librarian at McGill University Law School and wrote her first two novels If Morning Ever Comes (1964) and The Tin Can Tree (1965). In 1967, she and her husband moved to Baltimore, the setting for most of Tyler's subsequent novels. With the publication of A Slipping-Down Life (1970) and The Clock Winder (1972), Tyler began to receive more serious and positive critical attention, but only in the mid-seventies, when such writers as Gail Godwin and John Updike called attention to her, did her novels benefit from widespread recognition. Tyler's stature as an important literary figure was confirmed by the success of Morgan's Passing (1980), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award and received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Dinner at Homesick Restaurant (1982) won the PEN/ Faulkner Award for fiction and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. The Accidental Tourist (1985) and Breathing Lessons (1988) were honored respectively with a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize.


The Guardian

The NY Times

The Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours)

A passionate call to action, Firewater examines alcohol—its history, the myths surrounding it, and its devastating impact on Indigenous people.

Drawing on his years of experience as a Crown Prosecutor in Treaty 6 territory, Harold Johnson challenges readers to change the story we tell ourselves about the drink that goes by many names—booze, hooch, spirits, sauce, and the evocative “firewater.” Confronting the harmful stereotype of the “lazy, drunken Indian,” and rejecting medical, social, and psychological explanations of the roots of alcoholism, Johnson cries out for solutions, not diagnoses, and shows how alcohol continues to kill so many. Provocative, irreverent, and keenly aware of the power of stories, Firewater calls for people to make decisions about their communities and their lives on their own terms.

Author Bio

 Born and raised in northern Saskatchewan, Harold Johnson has a Master of Law degree from Harvard University and most recently worked as a Crown Prosecutor. He has served in the Canadian Navy, and worked in mining and logging. Johnson is the author of five works of fiction, several of which are set in northern Saskatchewan against a background of traditional Cree mythology. He is also the author of two non-fiction titles. His most recent novel, Corvus, was shortlisted for the 2016 Saskatchewan Book Award for Aboriginal Peoples' Writing, and The Cast Stone won the 2011 Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction.

Johnson lives "off the grid" in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, with his wife, where he operates his family's traditional trap line.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Wild Rose by Sharon Butala

Wild Rose, an epic story of The West, now long gone, charts Sophie’s journey from underloved child in religion-bound rural Quebec, to headstrong young woman to exhausted homesteader to deserted bride and mother to independent businesswoman finding her way in a hostile, if beautiful, landscape. In language that is haunting, elegiac and rich with detail, Butala casts an unblinking eye on a merciless West that has become obscured behind headlines about wheat and oil prices. Sophie’s West – filled with sodbusters and cowboys, fallen women and proper ladies, settlers and Indians – comes vividly alive in the pages of Wild Rose, Butala’s most unforgettable novel.

Author Bio

Sharon Butala is the author of eighteen books of fiction and nonfiction, numerous essays and articles, some poetry and five produced plays. She published her first novel in 1984, Country of the Heart, which was nominated for the Books in Canada First Novel Award, followed closely by a collection of short stories, Queen of the Headaches. She was born in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan, she taught English in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. She eventually returned to Saskatoon, before moving near Eastend, Saskatchewan, to live on her husband, Peter Butala’s ranch.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

Strong, Sassy women and hard-luck hardheaded men, all searching for the middle ground between Native American tradition and the modern world, perform an elaborate dance of approach and avoidance in this magical, rollicking tale by Cherokee author Thomas King. Alberta is a university professor who would like to trade her two boyfriends for a baby but no husband; Lionel is forty and still sells televisions for a patronizing boss; Eli and his log cabin stand in the way of a profitable dam project. These three—and others—are coming to the Blackfoot reservation for the Sun Dance and there they will encounter four Indian elders and their companion, the trickster Coyote—and nothing in the small town of Blossom will ever be the same again...

 Thomas King was born in Sacramento, CA in 1943. He is of Cherokee, German and Greek descent. King was raised in California, later becoming a photojournalist in Australia. In 1986, he completed his Ph.D. in English and American studies at the University of Utah. He has taught Native Studies at the University of California, the University of Lethbridge, and at the University of Minnesota, where he was also Chair of American Indian Studies. King is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Guelph, west of Toronto.
King published his first novel in 1989, Medicine River. It marked him as an important voice in Canadian Literature. His use of humor, well-crafted dialogue (influenced by his interest in traditional oral literature), and an honest portrayal of day-to-day life of Natives marked the book as an important work of fiction. In 1990, King tried to radically redefine how theorists view Native literature. In the article, "Godzilla vs. Postcolonial," King challenges the view that all Native literature is a reaction to colonialism, rather than an extension of longer Native tradition. The term postcolonial serves, in King’s opinion, to reinforce the legacy of colonization.

Canada Reads

Publisher's Weekly

Kirkus Review

Chicago Tribune

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Our Best of 2016 - 2017

his_whole_life_coverAs often happens, it was very difficult to pick just one book - so we picked two from a short list of four!

Sometimes with hope and a little bit of luck truly great things can happen.  Two members of our book club nominated His Whole Life for our 2016 – 2017 reading list. A sound choice. A fine book.

Who would have thought that Elizabeth Hay, Giller Award winner, would consent to Skype with a book club from small town Alberta or that the Skype conference would be such a magical experience?

Thank you, Liz!  This was the highlight of our year.

We don't limit ourselves in terms of book selections; we have read current bestsellers, classics, fiction and non-fiction, Canadian and international authors.

What a pleasure it was to read Wayson Choy's All That Matters  twelves years after it was first published.  In a time when much is made of immigrants and refugees, it was good to step into the lives of that generation of immigrants, to try to understand their heartaches, hardships and struggles and to move much more close to understanding their culture.

Many of us felt that our second reading was the deeper one.

Monday, 15 May 2017

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.
But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

About the Author

Garth Stein is the author of four novels: the New York Times bestselling gothic/historical/coming-of-age/ghost story, "A Sudden Light;" the internationally bestselling "The Art of Racing in the Rain;" the PNBA Book Award winner, "How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets;" and the magically realistic "Raven Stole the Moon." He is also the author of the stage play, "Brother Jones." He has a dog, he's raced a few cars, climbed a bunch of really tall trees, made a few documentary films, and he lives in Seattle with his family. He's co-founder of, a non-profit collective of 74 Northwest authors working together to energize the reading and writing public.                 

Author Website:


Publishers Weekly

What We Thought

Again, we have a novel where Fireside Readers are far from unanimous in their opinions regarding its quality. 
On the positive side, readers found the old house with its hidden passages, history and ghosts intriguing – a “fantasy fiction”.  There were many themes to be explored: Tyler’s mission to reunite his parents, separation, incest, homosexuality, elder abuse…
On the negative, readers found the novel juvenile and they made reference to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.  Characters were found to be “lukewarm” and thinly drawn.  The behavior of Jones overall after he had been such a strong child was inexplicable.  Several found the ending dissonant.
In between were the members who read the book, had some difficulty engaging with its characters and story, but followed through to the end.

What did You Think?  Please add your comment below.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nihisi Coates

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
 Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

About the Author

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow, Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story “The Case for Reparations.” He lives in New York with his wife and son. 


The Washington Post

What We Thought...

Nina suggested this excellent book club choice and provided an informative introduction.  Thanks Nina!
Between the World and Me is not an easy read; the vocabulary can be difficult, the many references to American black artists and intellectuals, unfamiliar, and the subject emotionally searing.  The reading was worth the effort and the pain for the book opened up discussions – the nature of the other, the roots of prejudice and discrimination, the parallels between black and indigenous history in North America, can reparation/reconciliation ever be achieved?
We found it discouraging that the author does not see progress and isn’t hopeful for the future.  To us it is obvious that the dominant culture tries to separate and isolate the “other” – who has escaped this? We are products of our culture; we don’t get into others’ shoes because we cannot.  What we see, hear and feel is perceived through the filter of culture.  How do we come to mutual understanding?
This was a stimulating book, but not a hopeful one, however “sometimes you read something and it shifts your thinking.”

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

The High Mountains of Portugal is a suspenseful, mesmerizing story of a great quest for meaning, told in three intersecting narratives touching the lives of three different people and their families, and taking us on an extraordinary journey through the last century. We begin in the early 1900s, when Tomás discovers an ancient journal and sets out from Lisbon in one of the very first motor cars in Portugal in search of the strange treasure the journal describes. Thirty-five years later, a pathologist devoted to the novels of Agatha Christie, whose wife has possibly been murdered, finds himself drawn into the consequences of Tomás's quest. Fifty years later, Senator Peter Tovy of Ottawa, grieving the death of his own beloved wife, rescues a chimpanzee from an Oklahoma research facility and takes it to live with him in his ancestral village in northern Portugal, where the strands of all three stories miraculously mesh together.
Beautiful, witty and engaging, Yann Martel's new novel offers us the same tender exploration of the impact and significance of great love and great loss, belief and unbelief, that has marked all his brilliant, unexpected novels.

About the Author

     Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963 of Canadian parents. After studying philosophy at university, he worked at odd jobs and travelled before turning to writing. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed 2002 Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi, as well as the novel Self, the stories The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and the collection of letters to the Prime Minister of Canada What is Stephen Harper Reading? Yann Martel lives in Saskatoon,Saskatchewan.

Author Website


The Guardian

What We Thought

Many thanks to Lynn for her well researched and meaningful introduction to this novel.  Many of us had struggled to find connections between the three parts of the novel and between their characters.  Deciphering  Martel’s symbolism proved difficult.
Lynn provided a framework for us to consider his work.  Martel is a meticulous researcher who provides the reader with an accurate picture of Portuguese village life and culture, however, “the high mountains” are the high mountains in our lives – there are no high mountains in Portugal.
Faith is central to Martel’s writing and the three parts represent three approaches to faith.  The first is atheism - there is no god for Tomàs once he loses his partner, Dora, and their child to diphtheria. His quest is to find the crucifix carved by the priest who lost his faith in Africa which will show the world that “We are risen apes, not fallen angels”.
The second part deals with agnosticism and it is here that the element of magical realism is introduced. It is a “…chiefly Latin-American narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction.” Again, an ape appears as a key element in the story.
Finally, there is the concept of theism, where in part three, Peter learns to accept and love Odo and is able to live simply in the present.
All this provided rich fuel for discussion.  The novel is filled with death and loss.  The struggle to cope with grief and the anger and rebellion that stem from it are embedded in the book.  In grief, two characters from different parts of the book begin walking backwards – a FR member wondered if that was “walking by faith”. Does anything of value come from suffering?
Few of us had patience with the long complicated car journey of part one.  We appreciate the car as a novelty in society and we understand its disintegration, but in the end the car segment was too much for most of us. On the whole we thought there was too much symbolism and we felt it obscured rather than enhanced the meaning of the book.
We could not rationalize Tomás behaviour when the child was killed in the accident.  It seemed like if he wasn’t observed, then it didn’t count. He left the body of the child on the road, even though the child was the same age as his own dead son who he deeply mourned.
The pathologist held our attention although the diatribes of his wife tried our collective patience, and we  could not  decipher the significance of Agatha Christie’s works.  We did respond to the widow’s request to “tell me how he lived” rather than how he had died.
Part three carries the lightness of faith – Peter learns to live (and die) within god’s grace.
Thanks to Lynn’s dedicated work,  after a serious discussion, we all understood the book better.  I’m not sure we liked it.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must.And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map. Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets.For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.

About the Author

Louise Penny, writer (born 1 July 1958 in Toronto, ON). Upon receiving her Bachelor of Applied Arts in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnic in 1979, Louise Penny began a lengthy career as a radio host and journalist with the CBC. Through her work she honed her public speaking skills and the ability to relate to others, skills that would later serve her well as an author. In 2004 Penny met her future husband, Dr. Michael Whitehead, then Chief of Hematology at Montreal Children's Hospital. He encouraged her to abandon her broadcasting career and write the novel she had always promised herself she would write. Penny's mother had introduced her daughter to such classic crime writers as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and George Simenon. After a false start in which she attempted to write the novel she thought others expected of her, Penny refocused her efforts and produced a story that she submitted for the British-based Crime Writers Association for their Debut Dagger Award. It placed second in a field of 800 entries. Picked up by a British literary agent and published as Still Life (2006), her debut novel featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Sureté became an instant hit with readers around the world.                         Author Website

NY Times

The Washington Post

There are many videos of interviews with Louise Penny on the internet.  To begin our meeting we chose one in which she talks about her latest novel, the importance of poetry to her life, and of her process of writing. Here's a link
We deliberately do not select our books by genre and had chosen A Great Reckoning due to Penny’s publisher’s promotion of the book which intrigued our members.  Hopes of opening our reading season with this new release were dashed when it became apparent that copies could not be available and circulated before our first meeting and so it was just fitted into our February calendar.  This week we faced the fact that about half our members prefer not to read mysteries…

Those of us who do, and who are fans of the author, were well able to point out the wonderful characterizations, the detailed plot structure, and the development of settings which in themselves became characters in the novel.

Those who reluctantly read crime fiction did appreciate the character development and the quality of the writing – “The lines of his face were the longitude and latitude of his life.”  However, some of the details which appeal to literary tourists, as Penny calls them, were obstacles to these readers.  One described Three Pines as “an alien settlement” perplexed by “these tremendously nice people”. Another was distracted by all the food in the bistro, in the homes of Three Pines, that served by Reine Marie.

That led us into a discussion of culture – food culture in particular – and how the French Canadian celebration of good food might be something westerners find difficult to understand.  In the end we decided that it was all a matter of taste!

What did you think?  Please add your thoughts to out comment section.

Monday, 30 January 2017

All That Matters by Wayson Choy

Kiam-Kim is three years old when he arrives by ship at Gold Mountain with his father and his grandmother, Poh-Poh, the Old One. It is 1926, and because of famine and civil war in China, they have left their village in Toishan province to become the new family of Third Uncle, a wealthy businessman whose own wife and son are dead. The place known as Gold Mountain is Vancouver, Canada, and Third Uncle needs help in his large Chinatown warehouse. Canada’s 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act forces them, and many others, to use false documents, or ghost papers, to get past the ‘immigration demons’ and become Third Uncle’s Gold Mountain family.

About the Author

Wayson Choy was born in Vancouver in 1939. At the age of 56, during the publicity tour for his first novel, The Jade Peony, Choy discovered that he had been adopted. This revelation inspired his memoir Paper Shadows in which he describes his experiences growing up in the working-class world of Vancouver’s old Chinatown. A graduate of the University of British Columbia, Choy lives in Toronto where, for many years, he taught English at Humber College, and creative writing in the Humber School for Writers. Wayson Choy was named a member of the Order of Canada in August 2005 for his contribution to the arts-writing.


Quill and Quire

Many Thanks to Marie for introducing this wonderful book  and for chairing the meeting.