Monday, 5 March 2018



By Fredrik Backman

Beartown is a small town with big dreams. Fredrik Backman takes us into this small community nestled amongst the trees, with a heavier storyline than his usual lighthearted, humorous fiction; maybe that’s because there’s so much riding on the outcome of this tale. Regardless, I was quickly drawn in and I could not put it down, reading it in a day. 

For generations, Beartown has been a hockey town; the old ice rink is still there nestled among the trees, a stark reminder of what the town once was. As the town struggles with a fading economy, the junior hockey team is preparing for the game of their lives- the semi-finals that they actually have a chance at winning. A win will put Beartown back on the map, the factory will re-open, the workers will be re-hired, tourism will increase, people will stop in Beartown instead of passing through. All it will take is for the team to win.

With so much riding on one game, tensions are running high and it is affecting everyone. The board of directors are making hiring and firing decisions, the general manager is consumed and distracted by the game, parents face off against each other, and everything rests on the shoulders of the teenage boys who will win or lose, save or condemn their town.

Will Benji, Kevin, Amat and the others get their chance?  

This is a story about emotions; hope, loss, jealousy, anger, longing, they’re all in there. These feelings can get in the way of decisions that need to be made and should be made, and how the little town that could copes with tragedy in the midst of the biggest game of their lives. 

For fans of Backman’s other Swedish novels, A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises and Britt Marie Was Here, among others, Beartown will not disappoint. This is a story that raises questions that are not easy to answer and make you think about what you would do, if it was you.

Friday, 23 February 2018

New Boy

New Boy
New Boy
By Tracy Chevalier

The Shakespearian tragedy of Othello is reimagined in Tracy Chevalier’s mesmerizing book, New Boy.

When Osei arrives at his new school in Washington D.C. in the 1970s, he is the only black boy on the playground.  This is not a new experience for him.  Osei’s father is a diplomat from Ghana and Osei has had to endure being the new boy in London, Rome, New York and now D.C.

As a black boy in an all-white school, Osei usually keeps himself emotionally distant from the other students while understanding the necessity of showing his prowess in sport and his lack of fear in social situations.  He does not expect to meet a girl like Dee – the beautiful good girl, who takes an immediate liking to him.

But a relationship between a black boy and the teacher’s pet is not welcome.  When the teachers discover Dee and Osei touching each other on the arms, an intimate gesture, they quickly intervene.  Osei is deemed to be coercing Dee in some way, although nothing could be further from the truth.

Many teachers and students find the attraction between the white girl and black boy repulsive.  Osei knows the relationship will not be accepted.  When Dee displays her physical attraction to Osei, the other children become “witnesses to a line [Osei] had never intended to cross.” (p. 75)

Enter Ian, a boy full of sinister intent.   He wants power over the other children and decides that he will shift the situation for his own benefit by creating chaos between Dee and Osei, and the other students.

Ian manipulates the children on the playground, convincing Osei that Dee is two-timing him with Casper, the golden boy.  Although the rest of the students fear him, none are willing to stand up to Ian, and he bullies with impunity.  His ability to cause fist fights on the playground and make friends despise each other is uncanny.  He sets in motion a series of events that lead to a violent outburst from Osei, and a tragic ending.

All of New Boy takes place in one day in a schoolyard.  Although we know the outcome of Othello, Chevalier’s novel is a book you won’t be able to put down.  Chevalier paints a vivid picture of the racial divide between white and black in America, while remaining true to Shakespeare’s observations about human folly and its often tragic outcomes.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Exit West

Exit West
Exit West

 by Moshin Hamid

In the futuristic, magical novel Exit West by Moshin Hamid, Saeed and Nadia meet in an evening class in an unidentified country that is under siege and about to explode into war.  Saeed is contemplative and reserved while Nadia is fiercely independent and confident.  As their friendship develops, the fighting becomes more violent and begins to inhabit their neighbourhoods.  They both anguish over the future of their country and their own fate.  Will they survive?  What will be left for them if they do?

Hearing of doors that will take them to other, safer places, Saeed and Nadia make the decision to leave and find a nonviolent home. This step through the door leads them to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Mykonos, where they struggle to belong, to survive, and to get news of the country they have left behind.  As they adjust to their new location, they are held together by the effort it takes to find housing, work, and food.

As they move through doors to other countries the reader moves with them and learns that the refugees are everywhere worldwide. These doors allow the world’s citizens to move from one refugee camp/city/country to another – but they come with a price. For Saeed and Nadia, the price is a loss of the closeness they once had to each other, as through them we live the refugee experience, reading how each of them learns to cope in each new situation, each of them seeking something to belong to, and something to tie them to their past. 

This novel takes place in the future-- or does it? Hamid’s poetic narrative gives the reader an insight into the refugee experience, and provides food for thought on current approaches to refugees.

For other popular reading suggestions check out Richmond Public Library's Web site at 

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Night Circus

The Night Circus
The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a spellbinding fairy tale of a novel.  Jumping back and forth through time, and moving from London to Cairo to Boston to Montreal, The Night Circus makes you feel as though magic is everywhere, if you just know where to look.

Hector Bowen makes his living as a magician.  But unlike other magicians of the 1870s, his performances go beyond the usual sleight of hand.  Hector, or Prospero as he is known, enchants his audience like no other.  

When Hector is presented with his estranged 5-year-old daughter Celia, he realizes that she has the gift of magic as well, and vows to train her.  But Hector is an arrogant man.  He binds Celia to an unbreakable vow; Celia, as an adult, will have to compete in a magical contest she knows little about.  And Hector, as “coach”, wants her to win.

But what will be the venue for this magical showdown?  Enter the Night Circus.  This is a circus the likes of which the world has never seen.  The Night Circus will suddenly appear in random cities during the overnight hours, making residents feel as though it has appeared by magic.  The circus is open each night from dusk to dawn.  Each tent is more mesmerizing than the next, with acts that include the incredible tattooed contortionist, a vertical labyrinth with a trapdoor exit at the top, a room full of bottles containing scents that transport visitors to other lands, and of course, the magic of Celia.

At the Night Circus, Celia meets Marco, and their romantic connection causes the earth to move – literally.  But Marco is revealed to be Celia’s competitor, and the two must navigate an epic romance that seems doomed from the start.  Which one will be the victor?  Can there be a winner in a scenario where the competitors fall in love?

The Night Circus will draw you in just as the fictional Night Circus draws in followers.  Many of the novel’s characters can think of nothing else after they attend.  Erin Morgenstern’s writing is magical realism at its best; you always feel that you’re teetering on the edge of fantasy and reality, but you can never decide which is best.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

A famous actor has a heart attack on stage as he performs King Lear; a paramedic-in-training jumps out of the audience to perform CPR; and a 7-year-old actress watches her mentor pass away.  Outside the theatre, snow is falling, and a deadly flu is quickly spreading across the globe.  Unbeknownst to those in the thrall of the King Lear tragedy, the world as we know it is coming to an end.

So begins Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  Fast forward 20 years and that young actress is now performing with the Travelling Symphony.  Kirsten has little memory of the old world before the Georgia Flu.  With her parents and brother gone, she now has a new family – all survivors. 

Although there are many settlements, there are no longer towns per se, or even borders.  The Symphony is made up of actors and musicians who move from place to place performing nightly renditions of Shakespeare and Bach, amongst other things.  In a world that has turned dark, the Travelling Symphony brings light.  

There are many hazards on the road, but none so frightening as in St. Deborah-By-The-Sea.  This settlement is ruled by a Prophet; he takes many wives, often young girls, and holds sway over the townsfolk.  The Symphony knows when they arrive that they are in danger, and escape is much more difficult than they imagine.

Meanwhile, Station Eleven also follows the life of our paramedic.  Jeevan must make his way out of Toronto on terrifying roads strewn with the dead.  He must avoid marauding bandits and the dangers of a lawless world, to find… what?  There must be good people out there, he reasons.

As for our actor, Arthur’s former life is revisited – a life of fame, fortune and many regrets.  He leaves behind three ex-wives – one of whom has written the Station Eleven comic book from which the novel gets its name.  He also leaves one son, Tyler, to a new and dangerous existence.

Mandel writes of a dystopian world that is well within the realm of possibility.  At times the characters’ fear is palpable as they navigate the unknown.  But amongst all the heartbreak, beauty persists.  There is a rumour of a Museum of Civilization, located in an airport in Michigan.  The Symphony brings its brand of beauty to the world on a nightly basis.  And as the new world solidifies, people move beyond survival and towards lives they enjoy.