The last few reads of the summer

Catherine Coles
Coles Notes

While summer is not yet officially over, it feels like the lazy days of reading outside are numbered. In order to make the most of it, I recently polished off a very diverse assortment of reads. Here they are in no particular order – hopefully one will pique your interest.

Notes on a Foreign County by journalist Suzy Hansen could have just as easily been titled “naïve woman moves to Turkey and discovers there is a world outside America” – I liked it though!

This sort-of memoir discusses the role that United States foreign policy has played — and continues to play — in the political and social change of other sovereign countries. Specifically, it focuses on Turkey’s return to conservatism. The author finds that through talking with non-Westerners, she begins to see her own country in a different light.

Her (unsurprising) conclusion: American imperialism is directly responsible for destabilizing the Middle East. While it’s a bit scholarly at times, Notes on a Foreign County is very interesting overall – definitely worth a look!

Readers of books like The Wasp Factory (Iain Banks), Zombie (Joyce Carol Oates) and The Collector (John Fowles) will want to check out Criminal Zoo by Sean McDaniel, but everyone else should run the other way. It’s twisted!

Criminal Zoo takes readers into the mind of a convicted serial killer. Set in an alternate Texas, where the death penalty has been outlawed, there instead exists a “zoo” for society’s worst offenders.

People pay to view the criminals and pay even more for an opportunity to subject them to maltreatment. The narrator, a zoo resident, explains how he got there. Criminal Zoo is scary, has lots of good twists, and will make you ponder your position on criminal justice, particularly capital punishment.

Another book that veers into horror territory (although it could also be classified as sci-fi) is The Chrysalis by Brendan Deneen. This novel follows a young couple (Tom & Jenny) who decide to move to the suburbs when their New York City apartment rent skyrockets. There is not much available in their price range – except a beautiful, “too-good-to-be-true” century home.

Naturally, it has a dark history, but Tom and Jenny don’t really consider why it was such a bargain until later. That was just their first mistake! Then Tom ventures into the house’s creepy basement and discovers a living, breathing chrysalis. The chrysalis has a strange pull over him and soon things start going terribly wrong (think Jack in The Shining). The Chrysalis had the feel of an old, throwback horror movie. It has a great, potentially-creepy premise, but in the end it feels a bit campy. This is not necessarily a bad thing — I like a bit of camp once in a while!

An Ocean of Minutes by Canadian author Thea Lim has such an inventive, clever premise. In order to save her boyfriend Frank from a deadly flu, our protagonist Polly agrees to work as a bonded laborer for TimeRaiser, a company that sends uninfected people into the future in exchange for medical treatment for their loved ones. Polly embarks from 1981 with the plan to meet up with Frank in 1993, but instead ends up in 1998. She finds that America is a country divided, she has no rights or status and, of course, she can’t find Frank. The novel quickly becomes an allegory for the refugee experience. I found it a bit dull in the middle, but the ending was fantastic in a gut-punch kind of way. An Ocean of Minutes is getting a lot of comparisons to Station Eleven as well. I definitely see it – both are examples of subtle, thoughtful, well-written dystopian fiction.

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter is a memoir comprised of essays. It’s witty in a David Sedaris kind of way, but it’s about a serious topic: the author’s battle with alcoholism. Actually, it’s mostly about her journey towards accepting that she had problem to begin with, as well as the things that distracted her from making this realization. It’s frank, funny and feminist – in a sea of addiction memoirs, this one stands apart.

All of these titles can be reserved from your branch of the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries or online at

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