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Staff Picks

Here are some of our favourite books.

McNally Robinson co-owner and master bookseller, Chris Hall, has his own What To Read picks in a special place.


The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstearn
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Chosen by Brenna (Saskatoon): "Two ancient magicians set their prize pupils against each other in a long standing battle of wits and magic and feats of extraordinary delight. The venue for such a duel is the mysterious Night Circus, which only appears at night and comes and goes without anyone knowing. The trick here? Neither student is aware of the rules, or how a victor may be picked. But when the two of them start to fall in love, well that's when things get complicated. A fantastic magical story, with incredible acrobats and beautiful writing."


Mothering Sunday
by Graham Swift
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Chosen by Caroline (Saskatoon): "This is a perfect little gem of a novel, a beautifully written story in which each and every word seems precisely right. It tells how the events on one day in the life of a young woman shape the rest of her life and the person she eventually becomes."


Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
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Chosen by Kelsey (Saskatoon): "George Orwell's 1984 is having a surge in popularity these days, but equally, if not more relevant is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. If you are taking a second to look up from your phone to read this (hi!), know that Huxley's message is that Big Brother is not necessary to deprive individuals of their autonomy; people will grow to love their oppression because technology has erased their capacity to think."


Valley of the Dolls
by Jacqueline Susann
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Chosen by Kelsey (Saskatoon): "Did your high school English teacher ever tell you that The Great Gatsby is a more than a classic novel, it has wild parties, drugs, and some juicy homo-eroticism too? Well that teacher is a liar, but this book has all of those things and more! This is possibly the most fun you'll have reading a book all summer."


by Annette Lapointe
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Chosen by Tressa (Saskatoon): "Rowan is not necessarily a likable protagonist, but you'll find yourself rooting for him nonetheless as he navigates the criminal underbelly of Saskatchewan, tumultuous relationships with his erratic father and self-absorbed mother, and the aftershocks of an unstable and explosive childhood."


Monkey Beach
by Eden Robinson
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Chosen by Tressa (Saskatoon): "This book is as beautiful as it is haunting. At its heart, this is a story about loss and grief, and about a girl coming of age and finding her place in the world. It's a story about family, and the ties that bind us together. Oh, and there are Sasquatches."


Chosen by Helen A. (Saskatoon): "Furiously Happy is a hit and Jenny Lawson's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, is equally hilarious with a good shot of calamity mixed in. This one starts with her childhood and flounders on to adulthood. As I read I found myself snorting with laughter as I think, 'I can't believe she thought that, let alone wrote it.' A person could even learn what it might be like to have her anxiety issues by reading this most entertaining book."


The Time of Your Life
by Margaret Trudeau
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Chosen by Helen A. (Saskatoon): "A well organized and thorough book on women and aging. Trudeau has many friends of varied backgrounds and financial situations so was able to use many scenarios for consideration. She has such a fine common touch for one whose life has been anything but ordinary."


Chosen by Curtis (Saskatoon): "Composed of interviews with various fringe figures in science, medicine, psychology and religion, this book explores how easy it can be to know you're right, and how nearly impossible it is for us to admit when we're wrong."


Chosen by Erica (Saskatoon): "This year seems to be about getting lost in new worlds to me, and this is the best world I've been lost in in a LONG time. Absolutely weird and mesmerizing, I read it in almost one sitting and immediately had to revisit it. Seriously, it's mystical and magical and just pure meta reading bliss."


Sad Girls
by Lang Leav
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Chosen by Erica (Saskatoon): "Coming from renowned poet Lang Leav, this story of a young woman coming to terms with a lie she created is a beautifully written tale of what it can really mean to have anxiety and how self discovery can both help and hinder a person. The main character is spending this story on a journey for herself, and looking for pieces of herself in others. It was a journey to read along with. I read it in one day and could not put it down, no matter how hard I tried."


Paper Girls Volume 1
by Brian K. Vaughan
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Chosen by Madison (Saskatoon): "Paper Girls is brilliant. It captures the coming-of-age vibe of Stand By Me, but delivers it with a hearty helping of science fiction madness. And best of all, the heroes are a group of tough-as-nails teenage girls. Really, what more could you ask for?"


A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara
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Chosen by Madison (Saskatoon): "After finishing this book, I promptly collapsed into a puddle of tears on my kitchen floor. If you're looking for a feel-good read with a tidy ending, this is not the book for you. If you're looking for a book that is written in raw prose that moves with the speed and force of a freight train (while you, the reader, are tied to the tracks), then A Little Life may be your perfect match."


The Dawn Patrol
by Don Winslow
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Chosen by David L. (Winnipeg): "SoCal Noir, for lack of a better term.  Surfing devotee and sometime PI Boone Daniels untangles a dense knot of drug running, insurance fraud, and murder, while every surfer's dream wave moves towards the area."


Chosen by Anna-Marie (Saskatoon): "Our protagonist is the teenage daughter of Gujarati immigrants and living in Hawaii.  Rani is dealing with complex relationships, her parents' failing marriage, and abuse.  Rani uses music and performing as a way to cope and explore her identity.  This is a powerful novel that celebrates strong women, youth, and creativity.  Mature themes run through the book."

The Evolution of Alice
by David Alex Robertson
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Chosen by Anna-Marie (Saskatoon): "This gentle novel explores the themes of grief, community, and resiliency through the aftermath of the tragic death of a child. Told from the perspectives of a variety of characters, the story shows how people are connected and how they can help each other to fill the spaces left by loss.  Known for his graphic novels, The Evolution of Alice is Robertson's first full-text novel and it's beautiful.  Robertson's ability to tell a story definitely transfers to this genre."


So Sad Today
by Melissa Broder
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Chosen by Rachel F.-N. (Saskatoon): "These personal essays are disarmingly honest, hilarious and poetic all at the same time. For people who are scared of everything, but continue to exist."


Chosen by Tyler (Winnipeg): "A surreal, dreamlike, and grotesque story — at one moment entirely down-to-earth, maybe even comforting in its portrayal of family life, but at the next turn unsettling, sometimes downright nightmarish. Interspersed in the subtle horror of events is a reflection on the perils of communication: how what is said can harm, but what goes unsaid hurts the most."


Chosen by Coby (Winnipeg): "With the uncertain social/political/environmental times we're living in, and the overflow of depressing dystopian fiction that comes with it, Euterra Rising: The Last Utopia, emerges out of the dark as a relevant, hopeful, yet realistic vision of the future. In a world where most of society has crumbled (along with the internet!) the Euterran civilization rises as the-little-utopia-that-could. The story is epic, the characters edgy, and after reading it you may just wish you could pack your bags, time-travel 200 years into the future, and move straight to Euterra."


Falling: A Wake 
by Gary Kirkham
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Chosen by Hannah (Winnipeg): "After an airplane crashes on a farm nearby, Harold and Else find the body of a boy strapped to his airplane chair in their field. Gary Kirkham's bittersweet play watches two characters plummet forward through grief, loss and letting go, like the slow thump of a heartbeat in the dark."


The Afterlife of Birds 
by Elizabeth Philips
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Chosen by Joan (Winnipeg): "This gentle love story of an ordinary woman who works in a garden centre, and a man whose life revolves around the hobby of assembling bird skeletons for display will bring you to tears and re-inspire your hope for us all."


Chosen by Joan (Winnipeg): "Women and jazz! Love of music leads two women, one from a traditional Pakistani marriage and another from an ethnically Chinese background, to abandon tradition and challenge their prescribed destiny."


Chosen by Tishina (Winnipeg): "The Dead Ladies Project is a mélange between travelogue and literary engagement — although it can be self-indulgent at times, Crispin does not offer her readers romantic or spiritual catharsis à la Eat, Pray, Love. She instead suggests — through both personal explorations and through the experiences of now-dead literary folk — that we must choose to live fiercely and meaningfully. Ultimately, Crispin provides several essays that extend beyond her own circumstances and probes at the ongoing existential question about what it might mean to be alive."


Chosen by Tishina (Winnipeg): "Kirton's page as bone - ink as blood offers us imagery of familial distance/closeness and pulls magical realism into our everyday lives. Her poetics are born from the landscape of the prairie and are rooted in her identity and experiences as a mixed-race Métis/Icelandic woman. page as bone - ink as blood reads as personal explorations transformed into pretty and expansive lyricism centring themes of water/land, trauma/healing and death/rebirth."


M Train
by Patti Smith
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Chosen by Kayla (Saskatoon): "Written by rock-and-roll queen Patti Smith, M-Train journeys through eighteen chapters or "memory train stations" that represent dreamy, abstract reflections of her later life. While her highly acclaimed 2010 memoir Just Kids focuses on her early days in the Chelsea Hotel with former lover and fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe, M-Train features tender glimpses of her relationship with Fred 'Sonic' Smith. Most of all, Smith's memoir contains a beautifully crafted, eclectic collection of moving stories about time spent writing in New York City cafes, her various travels around the world and her creative inspirations, from the work of Murakami to Bulgakov and back again. Although I have read a large part of Patti Smith's body of work, I think that this memoir is an excellent place to start if you are new to her writing."


Chosen by Madison (Saskatoon): "More a collection of vignettes than poems, Gernes’ work takes a profound look at the small, everyday moments that make up a life. Her freeform writing style has a mystical quality that morphs even the most mundane of events, such as grocery shopping and root canals, into dreamlike sequences. Surreal and utterly unique, Frayed Opus encourages the reader to pause and observe the world around them with a fresh and optimistic eye."


Chosen by Madison (Saskatoon): "Composed of equal parts fierce humour and introspection, Hurley’s essays dive into the nitty gritty of what it means to be a woman in modern geek culture. Tackling everything from internet trolls to publishing woes, The Geek Feminist Revolutionexamines the impact that feminism has had upon both science fiction and fantasy writing and the book industry as a whole. Hurley takes the reader on a journey which is alternately disheartening and empowering, using her unique voice to take a poignant (and often cheeky) stand against the suppression of the female voice."


The Bookman
by Lavie Tidhar
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Chosen by Vincent (Saskatoon): "A cyclone of literature loved, love lost, assassinations accomplished, and myths unbound and rebound. Also airships, automatons, and aliens."


The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
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Chosen by Tressa (Saskatoon): "Beautiful and heartbreaking, this book is a re-telling of The Iliad through the eyes of Patroclus, companion and lover of the famed hero Achilles. New life is breathed into these ancient characters, rendering them complex and identifiable. The skill with which this story was told, and the breadth of emotion it made me feel, are both reasons why I would wholeheartedly recommend it."


Chosen by Erica (Saskatoon): "Doctor McNinja is crimes healthiest adversary, and one of the funniest ones to boot. Along with his raptor-riding sidekick, his gorilla receptionist, and the amazing art by author Chris Hastings, these comics had me laughing at nearly every single page."

The Goblin Emperor
by Katherine Addison
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Chosen by Sascha (Saskatoon): "A great simple fantasy about a rags to riches forgotten mistreated son called to become the new emperor of a fantasy elven realm. Though mostly a feel good story about royal intrigue, the story delves into many much more relate able issues as well. A unique fantasy story in that it avoids the black and white, good and evil, distinctions in order to create a much more contemporary tale in a magical elven world."


Sacred Games
by Vikram Chandra
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Chosen by David L. (Winnipeg): "If The Godfather were set in India, and featured an ageing, morally ambivalent detective as protagonist, and the country of India itself was the most important character, a novel close to Sacred Games would emerge. Suspenseful, thrilling, and serious food for thought."


The Uninvited
by Cat Winters
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Chosen by Ashley (Winnipeg): "Jazz? Romance? Historical Fiction? The Spanish Flu? Cat Winters masterfully weaves history with the supernatural in The Uninvited. The Spanish Influenza and World War I has left survivors in a world where the air was thick with death, and for Ivy Rowan constant visions of ghosts; the uninvited. A hauntingly beautiful story about family, freedom, and second chances."


Chosen by Miranda (Saskatoon): "In his latest book, Haig discusses facts and his experiences with anxiety and depression. Reasons to Stay Alive is one of the best nonfiction titles I've read so far. It's thought-provoking, sincere, relatable, and goes where most people are afraid to go."