Mink River by Brian Doyle

mink-river

Sadly, I only learned of author Brian Doyle, when reading his obituary recently. A writer of adult and young adult fiction, of novels, short stories, poetry and essays, Doyle lived in Portland, Oregon, where he was also the editor of Portland Magazine. Finding out that Surrey Libraries owns a number of his books, I checked out the novel Mink River.

I loved his writing style – he brings the lyricism of a poet to his fiction. His trademark is long flowing sentences without punctuation. This takes some getting used to at first, but I came to love the style and his use of words.

Normally the magic realism genre is associated with Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others, but Doyle’s style is a kind of magic realism set in the Pacific Northwest. There are many great characters that you fall in love with, from a crow who talks (and philosophizes), to two old guys who make up the local Department of Public Works (which doesn’t limit itself to roads and drains, but haircuts and counting insects and generally watching out for the welfare of everyone in their little community). Doyle weaves in aboriginal lore, as well as Irish language and myth (one character is a transplanted Irishman). While Mink River has a large assortment of fascinating characters, really the main character of this book is the town of Neawanaka, with Doyle weaving various storylines together in his portrayal of this fictional town on the Oregon coast.

The affection and off-beat humour of Doyle’s writing reminds me of classic writers that I’ve enjoyed such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Tom Robbins. I’d recommend reading this book, and other fiction, essays and writing from this author. (Submitted by David)

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Dear Fahrenheit 451: Book Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks : A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

dear-fahrenheit451Loving books should never been seen as a competition; but, if it was, Annie Spence would win gold. This book is made up of two great parts: letters to her favourite (or not so favourite) books, and book lists that include a wide range of topics and familiar titles from part one thrown in the mix, like any awesome librarian would do if they wrote a book about books. It’s a short read (like The Book of Awesome), but deeply engrossing. Each letter feels like a mini book club, with Spence’s heart and humour leading the discussion. As someone who works in a library, this almost seems like the easiest book to write a review on. It has many of my favourite things: books, library stories, humour. But as an avid reader, I feel like I’ve met a new friend, who gives pretty awesome recommendations for what to read next! Give this book a try, even if you aren’t sure about reading a book about books. (Submitted by Mara)

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The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

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Gratuity, or Tip for short, is a terrified, angry, badass eleven-year-old. Ordinarily, Tip is used to handling all sorts of situations, having grown up managing her absent-minded mother. But these aren’t ordinary circumstances. The main reason she’s terrified is because an alien race, the Boov, have taken control of Earth and are forcing all humans in the United States to relocate to Florida, and no one knows what fate awaits them there. The main reason she’s angry is because her mother was abducted by the Boov last Christmas Eve, and Tip hasn’t seen or heard from her since.

And as for the badass part? Tip has decided that instead of boarding the Boov rocketpods to Florida along with everyone else, she is going to drive the family car across the country herself.

Adam Rex creates that great mixture of page-turning, immersive action and wry, self-aware humour that I loved so much in Douglas Adams’ writing. (When I finished, I felt like I needed to read it over again to catch all the satire and social commentary that I missed while I was barreling through to find out what would happen to Tip.) The True Meaning of Smekday is peppered with laugh-out-loud scenes and earworm phrases that I found myself chuckling at days after I had finished reading. Whether you read the book, which has accompanying illustrations by Adam Rex, or – like I did – listen to the audiobook narrated by the incomparable Bahni Turpin (you will be thinking in a Boov accent for weeks), you really cannot go wrong with this quirky, irreverent, giddy romp of a book. (Submitted by T. Thomas)

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The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

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 “There are strange things done/in the midnight sun/By the men who moil for gold/The Arctic trails have their secret tales/That would make your blood run cold/The Northern Lights/ have seen queer sights/But the queerest they ever did see/Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge/I cremated Sam McGee.”

Robert Service was a mild-mannered bank clerk in real life, but the way this poem makes the Arctic come alive, you’d think the man was a veteran of the Klondike. It’s funny; the version of Sam McGee I remember from my childhood conjures up images of grinning corpses, lonely cold, and complete silence, save for the sound of a lone sled’s runners slicing eerily through the snow. Bleak, strange, wildness…all surrounded by devastating, enveloping cold. When I pulled it off the shelves today and gave it a quick re-read, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that not only does it still have all that wildness, it’s funny, too. There is definite humour in these pages – the unnamed speaker of the poem lends some definite snark to the situation.

What a great tale. Each time I read this poem, I get chills. There are poems that have the ability to completely transport us to a specific time and place, and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee remains one of the best. Brrrrrrr!

P.S. Bonus Canadian points go to this edition because it’s illustrated by Ted Harrison. (Submitted by Veronica)

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The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby

fashion committee

I have loved the humour in Nanaimo based Susan Juby’s other young adult and adult novels, so I eagerly looked forward to reading her newest title, The Fashion Committee.  The book did not disappoint.  On the surface the plot line might sound like it’s a light or superficial story, as two teens are competing in the same fashion competition, to get a spot in a coveted art school.  However, there is a depth to the writing and the characters that draws you into the many challenges each individual faces.  This is excellent realistic fiction for teens or adults.  References to local spots in BC are fun too. (Submitted by Kristen)

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Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Image result for today will be different book coverToday will be Different by Maria Semple is a fast-paced, adventurous, fun read. It is full of strong characters, edgy humour, crazy plot twists and delightfully descriptive text that immerse you in Seattle, New Orleans, and Aspen. In the story, Eleanor Flood, a middle-aged animator and mom of a precocious eight-year-old boy living in Seattle wakes up one day deciding that today is the day she will get out of her rut and insists that today will be different. In fact, it turns into one misadventure after another as she tries to solve the mystery of her absent husband and in the search reflects on her life and her troubled relationship with her estranged sister. Although a quick, fast paced read, Semple is able to explore the relationships between this flawed, yet immensely likeable character and her significant others to a satisfying depth. (Submitted by Michelle).

 

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Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

Many of us in our `middle ages` are dealing with aging parents in various stages of decline.  Roz Chast, the writer and New Yorker cartoonist, uses the graphic novel format to document her journey through this challenging time in her memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Image result for can't we talk about something more pleasant

From first noticing that things seem to be `falling apart`, to realizing that she must take control of the uncontrollable, and then on through moving her parents into care, and experiencing their passing, Chast weaves her story with humour, grace, and brutal honesty.

The most important messages I took from this endearing memoir are that:

  • we are not alone,
  • having a sense of humour is a survival skill, and,
  • in the midst of complicated family relationships and challenging situations there is still, always, love.

(Submitted by KS).

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