What to Read: February 2016

What to Read: February 2016

In case you are gearing up for CBC Canada Reads next month between March 21-24, here is a brief listing of the titles that will be under discussion in this lively and always entertaining annual debate. The focus this year is on “starting over” and the five panellists have each chosen the Canadian title they believe best represents the tension between hardship and opportunity starting a new life entails.
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg ($22.00, February 16 paperback release date)
Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz  ($22.95)
Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami ($21.00)
Illegal by Lawrence Hill ($24.99, February 23 paperback release date)
Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter ($21.00)
Now that the reality of 2016 has sunk in (or perhaps not depending on your personal time zone),
publishers have put together a winter line-up that offers some enticing new titles as well as a great mix of trade paperback releases. Whether you’re looking for something to take you to warmer climes with a menacing undercurrent of suspense, reconnecting with youthful joy in the wonder of nature and art, or discovering the wealth of information in support of Mental Health Month, we have it all.
Titles of Note – February 2016

Blood-Drenched Beard (Daniel Galera)
Pub. List Price: $20.00

Released late January in trade paperback, this novel by one of Brazil’s finest young authors tells the tale of a young man’s quest to find his grandfather’s killers. His father unloads this revelation on his deathbed as a challenge to his son to seek overdue justice. This is no simple task as grandpa was a very ornery hombre who was jumped by several people during a black-out at a dance. Oh, and just to complicate matters, the son has a rare neurological condition that doesn’t allow him to recognize the faces of people he’s met. Great stuff – Hitchcock meets a variation of Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento Mori.”

The Life of Elves (Muriel Barbery)
Pub. List Price: $20.00

Barbery’s international bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog explored the fascinating characters and complex relationships between an irascible Parisian concierge, a precocious 12 year-old girl, and a prescient Japanese gentleman as they come to terms with their self-written contracts with the world. Her latest expands upon themes of her earlier work while delivering a thoroughly engaging story centred on the innate drive to connect with the enchantment, mystery, and redemptive power of nature and art through the lives of two young girls with uniquely extraordinary gifts.

The Widow (Fiona Barton)
 Pub. List Price: $24.00 

While comparisons to Silent Wife and The Girl on the Train are inevitable, the intriguing plot and characters of this psychological thriller give it considerable heft. The main suspect in an unsolved child disappearance case is now dead. His widow, who has always stood by her husband and has presented herself as a “perfect wife” is now poised to give an exclusive interview defending herself about what she knew with a journalist determined to make a name for themselves. The lead detective who has been haunted by this case is just as interested in seeing if they can get a chance to crack what they think is the widow’s well-constructed façade.

The Cellar (Minette Walters)
Pub. List Price: $21.99
Paperback TBR: 23 February 2016

Walters has a predilection for unnervingly chilling psychological suspense so if you want another strong mid-winter dose of this particular genre, buckle-up. In a reverse variation of Emma Donoghue’s Room, the long-suffering live-in housekeeper turns the tables on her sadistic employers.

A Dangerous Place 

(Jacqueline Winspear)
 Pub. List Price: $19.99
Paperback TBR: 23 February 2016 

Winspear continues her excellent Maisie Dobbs series. In her latest intrigue, it’s 1937 and Maisie has been called back to England to see her father. While dropping anchor in Gibraltar, however, Maisie gets an all too real sense of the chaos on this tiny but politically explosive island. In the wake of the on-going Spanish revolution, the island is flooded with refugees and she becomes embroiled with the British Secret Service who suspect her motivations and allegiances in this atmosphere where betrayal and execution is common currency.

The End of Memory (Jay Ingram)
Pub. List Price: $19.99

Recently released in trade paperback, one of Canada’s premier science writers tackles the history and evolving science of the study of Alzheimer’s disease. Similar in scope to Siddhartha Mukherjee’s history of cancer, Emperor of All Maladies, Ingram traces the history of this acutely debilitating condition of memory loss back through the centuries, through the clinical studies of German neurologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 up to present day brain science and clinical studies. While there is no cure in sight, Ingram lays out significant areas of study that hold the promise of understanding this perplexing neurological phenomena that may one day lead to a cure.

The Brain’s Way of Healing
 (Norman Doidge)
Pub. List Price: $24.00

Also recently released in trade paperback, Doidge, a Toronto psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, expands upon his earlier bestselling work The Brain That Changes Itself. His previous title explained the concept and process of neuroplasticity in which the brain alters its own structure and creates new neural pathways in response to brain injuries and illness. His latest work focuses on new treatments for brain injuries and strokes, chronic pain, learning disorders, symptoms of autism, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, and dementia using new methods involving light, sound, vibration, and movement to awaken the brain’s own healing abilities.

How Can I Help? (David Goldbloom and Pier Bryden)
Pub. List Price: $34.99 Our Price: $31.49

February is Mental Health Month in Canada and if recent campaigns to focus our attention on the essential importance of mental health issues has shown us anything, it is that only open discussion of the prevalence of these issues in all of our lives will help end the crushing and isolating stigma of suffering through these conditions alone. Goldbloom, a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and Bryden, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, provide a detailed and accessible look at their work with a wide variety of patients, their families, and other clinicians who provide medical support, information, and community programming. They also focus on dispelling the myths surrounding the perceptions and practice of psychiatry along with the future direction of psychiatric care.

Cold Fire (John Boyko)
Pub. List Price: $35.00 Our Price: $31.50

Most of us who lived through the Kennedy years and the Cuban missile crisis have a notion of the political intensity, brinkmanship, and real fears of nuclear war this period was steeped in. What we don’t know are the behind the scenes battles for Canadian sovereignty between Diefenbaker, Pearson, and Kennedy, and how we ultimately lost those battles in spite of Diefenbaker’s outward bluster and public pronouncements to the contrary. Boyko also examines Diefenbaker’s unknown role in Kennedy’s fateful visit to Dallas amongst many other revelations of this fraught era.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People (Michael Booth)
Pub. List Price: $19.50
Booth is a journalist who lives in his adopted home of Denmark and has lived amongst the Scandinavians for ten years. He has been somewhat intrigued and at the same time concerned that most reporting on the state of Nordic countries in the western media are usually through what he considers rose-coloured glasses. Throughout his extensive travels in Scandinavia he provides a much more nuanced picture of each Nordic country, their particular social and cultural characters, their economic, educational, and social success stories as well as the darker aspects of suffocating parochialism in conjunction with a variety of extremist groups who populate the region.

The Evening Chorus (Helen Humphreys)
Pub. List Price: $18.99
Humphries travels back to World War II, where a novice RAF pilot spends the war in a German POW camp studying birds and arouses the attention of the camp Kommandant. Meanwhile back in England, his wife has an affair with another man and his sister loses all her possessions in the blitz. When his sister goes to stay with his wife, their friendship alters the course of all three of their lives.

The High Mountains of Portugal (Yann Martel
Pub. List Price: $32.00 Our Price: $28.80

Martel weaves together three narrative strands based on characters from 20th century Portugal, all of whom are on personal journeys of discovery and remembrance. Tomas from early 1900s Lisbon sets out to find an unusual treasure described in an ancient journal he uncovers. In the 1930s, a pathologist grieving the death of his wife under mysterious circumstances becomes enmeshed in the aftermath of Tomas’s quest. Later in the century a senator from Ottawa returns to his ancestral roots in a northern Portuguese village accompanied by an unlikely travelling companion where the three narratives tie together.

Funny Girl (Nick Hornby)
Pub. List Price: $21.00 
Novelist, screenwriter, and reader extraordinaire, Hornby casts back to the 1960s to delve into the world of television in swingin’ London. Barbara Parker, a big Lucille Ball fan, wins the 1964 Miss Blackpool Beauty Pageant and uses it as a springboard to audition for a new BBC TV sitcom under her new name, “Sophie Straw.” Hornby is a master of capturing the ambience of a particular cultural/media milieu and Funny Girl is no exception. Light comedy as social entertainment that was brought into millions of households with newly equipped TVs in the late ’50s and ’60s is the playing field and he delivers a Mad Men-like canvas replete with a poignant finale of a nostalgic era in early pop culture.

Daddy Lenin(Guy Vanderhaeghe)
Pub. List Price: $19.95
Paperback TBR: 23 February 2016
While most readers know Vanderhaeghe as the author of the award-winning Canadian West trilogy – Englishman’s Boy, Last Crossing, and A Good Man – he is also a master of the short story, as evidenced in his latest collection which won the Governor General’s Fiction Award last year and was selected as a Globe & Mail Top 100 for 2015. These stories all attest to his skill in illuminating the stark realities of the human condition, in particular life-defining incidents that test who we are, the compromises we’re willing to make, or the challenges we face.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Mona Awad) 
Pub. List Price: $20.00 
Paperback TBR: 23 February 2016

Mississauga a.k.a. “Misery Saga” is the backdrop to this refreshingly raw, honest, and darkly comic take on female friendships, our incessantly body-obsessed culture, and what twisted marvels we become in adapting to and surviving suburbia. Awad proves she is a sharp-eyed chronicler of contemporary society as she navigates the manufactured melding of our personal self-concepts with consumer based conformities through the eyes of her marvellously flawed and very real characters.

The Germ Files (Jason Tetro) 
Pub. List Price: $22.00 

Tetro provides an extremely accessible, informative, and entertaining Microbiology 101 for most of us who are blissfully unaware of the crucial importance and surprisingly ingenious ways microbes control our physical well-being and, yes, our mental and emotional well-being as well. The work of these microscopic marvels and their biochemical revelations are presented under themes of health, hygiene, sex, childcare, nutrition, and dieting for those who want to delve right into specific subjects.

On the Move: A Life (Oliver Sacks) 
 Our Price: $22.00
Paperback TBR: 23 February 2016

In many ways, Sacks was a trailblazer into the myriad and astounding ways our brains make us human. In this and other scientific and medical interests he pursuedthroughout his extraordinary career, he provides personal stories into similar neurological phenomenon Doidge is currently exploring. In telling his own story of the restless exploration into his scientific and medical obsessions, he also gives us a self-portrait of a compassionate, curiosity addicted, and thoughtfully exuberant life.

Dark Money (Jane Mayer)
Pub. List Price: $38.95 Our Price: $35.05

Recently released in January, Mayer’s exceptionally researched exposé of the vast sums of money spent by a libertarian clique of billionaires over the past decades to ensure the ascendancy of Republican influence throughout all levels of American government makes for sobering and disturbing reading. Hardly the stuff of wildly imagined conspiracy theorists, Mayer has spent five yearstracking the money that has financed and organized this highly influential network of think tanks, academic programs, and news media outlets that is considerably more powerful and pervasive than what the relatively meagre resources of the “mainstream” liberal opposition can provide. She makes a sustained argument that ostensibly, this  hijacking of American democracy by extremely powerful private interests with astronomical resources  has been pivotal in creating  a political climate well suited to the particular mindset and values of Donald Trump and company.

17 Carnations: the Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History (Andrew Morton)
Pub. List Price: $19.49
Paperback TBR: 9 February 2016 

Andrew Morton has made a career of delving into the lives of British Royalty and in his latest work he tackles the lives and deceptions of Edward VIII – Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson. With access to documents from the FBI, German, Russian, and British Royal archives along with personal correspondence of Churchill, Eisenhower, and the Windsors, Morton is able to form a more complete picture of the cover-up of the Windsor’s close ties to the Nazis. Morton’s research covers the period before, during, and after WWII when the controversy over their involvement with Hitler created huge rifts and recriminations within the diplomatic, academic, and military intelligence communities.

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir (Chris Offutt)
Pub. List Price: $35.00 Our Price: $31.50

Offutt’s unusually compelling and well written memoir about his complicated relationship with his father is by no means a prurient exercise in exorcising old ghosts. What began as a strategy to help finance his son’s orthodontic needs, Offutt senior’s career writing erotic novels in the heyday of this genre in the 70s became an obsession that took over his life and fuelled his ambition to become the king of commercial smut with over 400 novels from a rather wide range of scenarios. The junior Offutt’s quest to understand his distant and controlling father could only gain perspective after his father’s death as he sifted through the colourful archaeology of his past.

Good Morning, Canada (Andrea Lynn Beck) 
Pub. List Price: $9.99

Beck’s companion toGoodnight, Canada! is now available in a board book for very young readers. Rhyming text and bright artwork that reflect different landscapes and hanging seasons also includes repeated images for kids to search and find.

Pax (Sara Pennypacker)
Pub. List Price: $21.00

Pennypacker’s beautifully rendered tale of the relationship between a boy and a young fox he rescues is illustrated by Jon Klassen.


The Night Gardener (Terry and Eric Fan) 
Pub. List Price: $21.99 Our Price: $19.79

This extraordinary picture book by Toronto artists Terry and Eric Fan will enthrall and engage young readers. Young William wakes to find the tree outside his window transformed into an owl. Soon many trees are transformed into magnificent topiaries by the mysterious night gardener and William’s neighborhood is changed forever.

The Rule of 3: Will to Survive (Eric Walters)
Pub. List Price: $21.00 

Our Price: $18.90
In the dramatic conclusion to the Rule of Three trilogy the residents of the fortified neighborhood of Eden Mills have to face a rogue paramilitary group bent on revenge.

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