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Staff Reviews

Looking for a recommendation? Here's a few words about some of our favourite books. If you would like to see them in person, you'll find them all collected on our Staff Table just inside the front door of our store.
Samantha (owner of Bolen Books) recommends Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life

It takes a special reader to consider picking up a book that is as long as this one. Now consider that this book has violence and abuse and torturous scenes in it and the audience for this book becomes even narrower. Still, I urge you to try this book. Yes, it is dark and has subject matter that may be disturbing, but the language and writing and characters in this book are so strong you will end up being grateful it is 720 pages long, because you won’t want it to end. Although the book’s cover flap will tell you that the book is about four friends and their lives and relationships, it is really about Jude. I wish he was real. I feel like I know him and his whole life’s painful story. This book isn’t for everyone but if you think it might be for you, if you are open to reading about a kind of pain you don’t find in books very often, then pick this up, take it home, and turn off your phone. This book is going to take over your life for a little while but it is very much worth it all.


Madeline recommends Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor's Welcome to Night Vale

Even as a non listener to the podcast on which this book is based, I loved it. It takes place in a small town called Night Vale, where pens are illegal, houses have their own thoughts, and librarians are extremely dangerous.  Though every occurrence in Night Vale is completely nonsensical, I found this story amazingly easy to follow. The writing style is lovely; simple and extremely funny. Reading aloud to my partner we both found ourselves laughing out loud several times. This book is so delightfully different, even if you're not a sci fi lover I would highly recommend it.


Timothy recommends Stacy Schiff's The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem

If you love great non-fiction and you're like me, you have a list in the back of your mind of all the topics that you wish somebody would write a really thorough and absorbing book about. While much has been written about the shadow of Massachusetts history that is the Salem witch trials, Stacy Schiff's penetrating book The Witches is sure to become the definitive work on the topic. Schiff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the 2010 bestseller Cleopatra, has dug deep into the patchwork records of the Salem witchcraft crisis to compose a well-rounded, vibrant narrative of who the accused, the accusers, and the afflicted were and how their lives became inexorably intertwined over the frigid winter of 1692. While great pieces of what transpired during the inquisitions and trials of the Salem witches have been fragmented over time, Schiff has woven together the story in a way that's gripping and deeply haunting. (Particularly so is the way in which the stigma of what took place that year has carried down through history; for generations, many residents of Salem (today Danvers) quietly insisted that the trials not be spoken of).

Thinking back on this book still sends chills down my spine a year after reading it, and there's definitely something bewitching about that..

Colin recommends Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash

Snow Crash is one of the defining novels of the cyberpunk genre and a perfect introduction for the curious. Set in a near future North America, Snow Crash features a memorable cast of characters dealing with a viral outbreak that is equal parts computer based and organic. Sword fighting, virtual reality, brain hacking, and pizza delivery, there is something for every reader in this fast paced classic of Science Fiction.


Nelia recommends Erik Axl Sund's Crow Girl

Disturbing - dark - more complex than I would have imagined a psychological thriller could be (emphasis on psychological). 

And I never saw the ending coming..


Rosarie recommends Tom Rob Smith's Child 44

In 1953 the Soviet Union is a "worker's paradise where the only crimes are those against the state." Stalin's decree ignores murders and other serious crimes while inducing fear and paranoia in the Russian population -- usually justified. Leo Demidov is a security officer who finds himself juggling what he is told is true with what he knows is true in his efforts to apprehend a serial killer who is targeting children. This is an engrossing mystery story. It is also a chilling depiction of life in a dangerous totalitarian state.


Dan recommends Jeff Vandermeer's Area X Trilogy

This trilogy, about a mysterious disaster and the brave men and women who die trying to understand what has happened is a refreshing blend of sci-fi and mystery. In science fiction, the characters and the reader are typically aware of the nature of their situation. There ARE robots, it IS aliens. "These people aren't sick, they're zombies!" etc. Not since H.P. Lovecraft have I seen an author so successfully embrace the undefinable as a genre. When people realize they're in a situation where nothing can be certain, or taken for granted, it's natural for fear to seep in. When a threat can't even be identified as a threat, environmentally or politically, how can individuals or the people they work for respond? The personal narratives and stirring visuals captivated me. Most writers have something to say. Vandermeer is approaching the topic of the undefinable. The "unknown unknowns" that produce a feeling more complicated than fear, but nonetheless a similar feeling. Mankind is not separate from nature, but something is...


Evin recommends Noelle Stevenson's Nimona

Ballister is a genius scientist and nefarious supervillain. Ambrosius is the regal, beloved defender of the city. Nimona... is a punky shapeshifter who just super wants to be evil because it's way more fun messing with people. 
Stories about the character that is ostensibly the villain are always fun, and Nimona - both the book and its titular character - is that in spades. However, under the surface level fun of knocking things over and stealing sciency stuff and turning into monsters, Nimona packs some serious weight. Family, friends, loss, longing, ambition, determination, self-identity, belonging, and the oftentimes maddeningly indistinct line between love and hate. It's a great thing to hold, and Noelle Stevenson is a great talent to watch.


Timothy recommends John Marzluff's Gifts of the Crow

John Marzluff piqued my interest in crows after appearing on David Suzuki's The Nature of Things on CBC, where he talked about his work studying the lives of these curious corvids and what really goes on inside their world – a world shockingly similar to ours! His latest book, Gifts of the Crow, is a thoroughly researched and fascinatingly written look at an amazing bird that most of us see every day but know very little about. Marzluff talks in depth about how the unique brains of corvids allow them to do all those quirky things we've come to know them for, citing examples such as windshield wiper stealing ravens (another corvid) and even crows who have learned to imitate human vocalizations to summon the family dog! Check this book out and you'll never look at crows the same way again!


Dan recommends Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) was the first movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, it was completed the year before the founding of Studio Ghibli. That movie was based on this comic, and if you are daunted by the size and price of this absolute collection, seeing the film version will tell you if this book is for you. Who this book is definitely for, is Miyazaki fans not already in possession of this manga. It is one of a few essential gifts for the hardcore Ghibli fan. The story: mankind is closer than ever to extinction after war, famine, and a new, 100% toxic ecosystem have covered most of the world. Nausicaa, the princess of a sovereign micro-nation, is drawn into a journey to find out if there is any hope at all for our continued survival. I'm very fond of this story for being a "humble epic"- the scope is broad and the stakes are high, but the tone of the book is never overkill or visceral. Sadness and compassion also make appearances as Nausicaa struggles to feel sympathy for humanity and the Earth at the same time. The environmental commentary conceived decades ago is still vividly relevant today.


Mitchell recommends Anthony Marra's The Tsar of Love and Techno

When this book was suggested to me, the title and jacket blurb had me genuinely worried. It didn't seem like a book that I would usually be interested in reading. But The Tsar of Love and Techno has ended up being one of the most beautiful and well executed books I have ever had the pleasure of picking up. Rich with metaphors and imagery, complex characters, diverse interactions, and vivid landscapes, this book has thoroughly impressed me. For those who are afraid of short stories, fear not! Each of the segments are connected, Marra has interwoven them so naturally that by the time you finish this book, it will feel like one complete journey. Anthony Marra has written something deeply moving and profound. I will continue to suggest it to anyone I am able to when given the chance.


Liam recommends Pierce Brown's Red Rising

I have read the three big dystopian hit series; I enjoyed them, but also found them to be a little whiny and depressing.  Red Rising is the first of a new trilogy that so far beats those issues and leaves me excitedly looking forward to the sequel. I enjoyed the action, was moved past the sad parts, chuckled at the audacious characters, was surprised by the twists, and devoured the book ... in a day.


Nelia recommends Wab Kinew's The Reason You Walk

Why I liked this book- in the words of Wab Kinew speaking about his father...

"More than any inheritance, more than any sacred item, more than any title, the legacy he left behind is this: as on that day in the sundance circle when he lifted me from the depths, he taught us that during our time on earth we ought to love one another, and that when our hearts are broken, we ought to work hard to make them whole again." 

And at this time, in our country, this book is important.


Rosarie recommends Judith Schalansky's Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands

The subtitle, “Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will” is apt. These islands are remote and for the most part inhospitable -BUT- the book is not. It is quirky and invites us to drop in for a visit to Lonely Island in the Arctic Ocean or Tikopia in the South Pacific. It gives us a glimpse of people and places through stories and journal entries, and leaves us to ponder and wonder and come back later to visit another little known spot in the world.


Timothy recommends Ian McAllister's Following the Last Wild Wolves

In Following the Last Wild Wolves Ian McAllister, co-founder of conservation group Pacific Wild, takes us inside British Columbia's pristine Great Bear Rainforest for an intimate look at the area's native population of grey wolves – thought to be one of the last wild wolf packs in the world to live relatively undisturbed by humans. A combined narrative of personal experiences and scientific facts, McAllister's work offers deep insight into the daily lives and social structure of one of nature's most misunderstood beings. From raising of young to hunting for food, to the threats posed by an ever-encroaching human population of trophy hunters, loggers, and developers, McAllister leaves little in the lives of these amazing animals unexplored. Following the Last Wild Wolves will leave you with a whole new appreciation for these unique populations that many don't even know exist.


Judy recommends Pico Iyer's The Art of Stillness

I've found the one book that I'll be taking to that desert island. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer is a gem!

Whether you long for a life out of the rat-race, yearn for moments of inner quiet, are a seasoned meditator, or a Leonard Cohen fan, you will be inspired by this small but mighty volume. You will pick it up frequently for both its pictorial beauty and its succinct language. Plus, it will be readily transportable to that desert island. 


Rosarie recommends Alexandra Horowitz's On Looking

I know that not everyone sees the world the same way, but it took reading this book to actually appreciate just how much our perceptions vary.

Alexandra Horowitz took walks with 10 different people (and a dog) through ordinary neighbourhoods and each one used a different “lens” to view their surroundings. The geologist had tales of rocks, soil, and building the structure of the city. The typographer was concerned with words and communication. The orthopedic surgeon noticed people’s gaits, etc.

Her walking companions tilted her world. She tilted mine.


Connor recommends Andre Alexis' Fifteen Dogs

In Fifteen Dogs, Andre Alexis explores the concept of two mythical gods bestowing human intelligence to a group of dogs and waging a year's servitude on whether one of the dogs will die happy or none will. It is, by far, one of the best books I have read in quite some time. Running the gamut from poignant to witty, Alexis keeps you reading to the very last word. Anyone can read this - from high school students onwards - and should. 


Liam recommends Brian Mcclellan's Promise of Blood

Brian McClellan has built a great debut in this dark fantasy world. Gunpowder-attuned mages and terrifying wizards; he has blended flintlock firearms with a more traditional fantasy flavour. Dropped straight into the plot with plenty of action, readers who find themselves frustrated at a myriad of viewpoints will appreciate having a select few characters whose actions and storylines intertwine for a focused and exciting tale.


Timothy recommends Brad Tolinksi and Alan di Perna's Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar

This book buzzes with all the electricity of the instrument it celebrates. Suitably edgy, informative, and passionate in its narrative, Play It Loud is a fitting look at an instrument that in itself is probably one of the most important pop culture icons of the twentieth century, as well a major catalyst in the birth of rock ‘n roll, and the numerous genres of music that exploded from then onward. There’s something in this book for biography lovers, music lovers, historians, readers young and old. Whether you grew up during the heyday of jazz, the rock music explosion of the 50s, the birth of punk and grunge, or anything in between, some part of Play It Loud will latch itself onto you. Every bit of Tolinski and Di Perna’s writing sizzles throughout - I really can’t recommend this book enough.

(And as a side note, when a book about the electric guitar has a foreword by Carlos Santana, you know it’s legit.)