Saturday, January 30, 2010

Canada Reads Book Club: Update #2

Things are picking up speed as we head out of January and into February. We made short work of Nikolski and are almost through The Jade Peony. How is it that we had not picked up these two books before!!

One of our offline book club members finished Fall on Your Knees recently, and sent through the following comments [SPOILERS]:
finished Fall on Your Knees yesterday. my goodness. the way the parents exploit their children and can't let them be happy...not just James but Rose's mother too--I found that betrayal just devastating to read about, that she would let her own daughter be unhappy so that she would fulfill the mother's plan for her, and keep her mother happy. And Mercedes not letting Anthony/Aloysius stay with his mom--maybe he had a good life anyway but you know Frances would have wanted to keep him.

Very creepy stuff.
Reviews forthcoming - yeah yeah, we said this before but we do mean it! We needed to figure out a schedule though as not to get overwhelmed with everything else on the go, including reading the last two books. Reviews will start the week of February 4, with one book covered for each week leading into the Canada Reads 2010 debates on CBC Radio One the week of March 8.

We've got two author mini bios up at the moment - Marina Endicott and Nicolas Dickner - a third on the way for Wayson Choy.

For all you following along online, drop a note ( comment below and let us know how things are going. Always interested in hearing how others are doing and what you think of the readings.

Table of Contents: The Bright Side of Disaster

Author: Katherine Center
Publisher/Year: Ballantine Books, 2008
Synopsis: Jenny Harris is nesting in her Houston home with her fiance, Dean, awaiting the birth of their child, to be followed by their wedding. But Dean grows more distant, especially after a coworker dies in a plane crash, and Jenny ends up becoming a single mother. Determined to take good care of her child, she tries to forget about Dean, relegating him to the past. Coping with a baby takes all Jenny's time, so when her perfect single neighbor takes an interest, Jenny is flattered but exhausted. Then, when she finally decides to take a chance and get to know him, Dean comes back into her life.

What Others Have To Say:

Dallas Morning News
"This story of a youthful-but-optimistic single mom rings bittersweet and utterly authentic."

"Center paints an accurate and humorous view of motherhood from the physical changes to lack of sleep and exhaustion, as well as the changes in friendships and feelings about men."

The Calgary Herald
"It describes graphically, but humorously, the gritty details of giving birth, breastfeeding and everything that goes along with it."

Read Chapter One.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book Review: Ben Sherwood, The Man Who Ate the 747

Author: Ben Sherwood
Publisher/Year: Bantam Books, 2002

It would be easy to categorize Ben Sherwood’s debut novel The Man Who Ate the 747 as a standard run-of-the-mill romance story with the obligatory dash of quirkiness inserted to set it apart for its genre companions. And this would be a fair assessment, if not for the composition of that quirky factor indicated by the novel’s title. The story is indeed about a man who eats a Boeing 747 airplane in a misguided attempt to prove his love to an elusive paramour.

The story begins with J.J. Smith, an average joe who works as a Keeper of the Records for The Book of Records. He is the guy who flies around the world to document amazing human feats for inclusion in the book’s editions. Smith has had a string of bad luck lately, with his last three record attempts ending in failure. As a result of his misfortune, his boss is hounding Smith to find the one feat that will reestablish his increasingly precarious position within the organization.

Going through his correspondence, Smith comes across a child’s letter relaying that there is a man eating an airplane in Nebraska. He is intrigued by the simple absurdity of the tip, and begins to research the possibility of the story. A quick search confirms that a plane did crash in the indicated town years ago, so off he goes to Superior to find this certainly crazy man.

Smith’s arrival in the town reveals more than he could have hoped. Not only is Wally Wyatt eating the 747 but he is doing it out of love. Wally’s logic is that if this act does not get the attention of Willa, the local newspaper publisher with whom he has been in love with since early youth, then nothing will. J.J. is excited about the potential record and, despite knowing that Wally does not want any attention, inculcates a media blitz. The town is besieged by reporters from all over the world, all anxious to get the story, and by companies wanting to capitalize on Wally’s story in order to sell their wares.

As all of this is going on, J.J. takes it upon himself to get Willa’s approval for Wally. She disapproves of Wally’s action, avoiding all discussion of his activities until J.J. shows up at her office. Willa and J.J. soon find themselves enmeshed in their own love story. Long hidden behind the facts he works with, J.J. finds a freedom with Willa that makes he begins to understand why Wally would undertake such an absurd and dangerous activity in the name of love.

Now, the novel’s opening sentence—“the story of the greatest love, ever”—promises much but does not fully deliver. The Man Who Ate the 747 is, despite the unique premise, a standard run-of-the-mill romance novel with few surprises. Even the cover art—a heart with wings--is standard visual fare. But the book is a pleasant enough for a lazy afternoon on the porch or at the beach.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Mark: Costa Book Awards Handed Out

Courtesy of AP:

LONDON – Poet Christopher Reid was awarded Britain's Costa Book of the Year Award on Tuesday with a poetry collection written in tribute to his late wife.

Reid's "A Scattering" — inspired by his wife's death from cancer in 2005 — beat four other finalists to the 30,000 pound ($48,426) prize, which aims to reward the most enjoyable book in the last year by writers based in the U.K. and Ireland.

"I'm delighted and bewildered to be the recipient of this important literary prize," the 60-year-old said as he accepted the award in central London. "The book itself was difficult to write ... It hasn't quietened the grief but it's helped me think more clearly."
Judge Josephine Hart described Reid's winning collection as "austere and beautiful and moving." She compared Reid's work to those by Thomas Hardy and W.B. Yeats, who were both inspired to write by personal tragedy.

"We feel that what Christopher Reid did was to take a personal tragedy and to make the emotion and the situation universal," she said. "It is bizarrely life-enhancing because it speaks of the triumph of love before and after death."

Hart said the judging panel arrived at the decision by a majority. The Book of the Year prize was chosen from five finalists, each already a winner of separate Costa genre awards — novel, first novel, poetry, biography and children's book. Each category winner receives 5,000 pounds ($8,000).

Reid's collection bested the bookies' favorite, "Brooklyn," a novel about a young Irishwoman emigrating to America in the 1950s by Irish author Colm Toibin. Graham Farmelo won the biography prize for "The Strangest Man," a life of physicist Paul Dirac. Raphael Selbourne won the first novel award for "Beauty," the story of a young Bangladeshi woman in Britain on the run from an arranged marriage, and U.S.-born writer Patrick Ness won the children's book award for "The Ask and the Answer."

The prizes — known until 2006 as the Whitbread Book Awards — were established in 1971. They were renamed in 2006 after sponsorship switched from retail and leisure group Whitbread to the Costa coffee shop chain. They are open to residents of Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Last year's Book of the Year was awarded to Sebastian Barry for his novel "The Secret Scripture."

Book Mark: Salon Takes on Jane Austen

Laura Miller over at has written an interesting article about Jane Austen, taking on a quest to find out who Jane Austen is within the realm of recent and wild retellings of Pride & Prejudice.

Still boggles our minds that book like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies exists.

Book Mark: Pop Matters' Best of Books of 2009

Pop Matters, a site for which yours truly used to write book reviews, recently published their lists for best fiction and non-fiction of 2009. As usual, the lists are a bit eccentric not unlike the entire site itself. And also as usual, astute observations on each of the books listed.

They have some really good stuff listed though, such as A Gate at the Stairs and Automats, Taxi Dances and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure.

Check out the non-fiction list.
Check out the fiction list.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Table of Contents: Towelhead

Author: Alicia Erian
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster, 2005
Synopsis: The year is 1991. When Jasira's mother finds out what has been going on between her boyfriend and her thirteen-year-old daughter, she has to make a choice -- and chooses to send Jasira off to Houston Texas, to live with her father. A remote disciplinarian prone to explosive rages, Jasira's father is unable to show his daughter the love she craves -- and far less able to handle her feelings about her changing body.

Bewildered by extremes of parental scrutiny and neglect, Jasira begins to look elsewhere for affection. Saddam Hussein has invaded Kuwait, and high school has become a lonely place for a "towelhead." When her father meets, and forbids her to see, her boyfriend, it becomes lonelier still. But there is always Mr. Vuoso -- a neighboring army reservist whose son Jasira babysits. Mr. Vuoso, as Jasira discovers, has an extensive collection of Playboy magazines. And he doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with Jasira's body at all.

What Others Have To Say:

The New York Times
"[Erian's] gift for conjuring characters is so strong; she has a sophisticated take on people, and charts with real precision how and why the human comedy becomes seriously unfunny."

The New York Times (2)
"The true coming of age here involves not the loss of Jasira's virginity (which becomes a hopelessly confused point of contention among the story's men) but the birth of her assertiveness and self-esteem."
"It is a tale simply told, in straightforward language, about age-old truths that are anything but simple."

Read an interview with the author.
View the trailer for the film adaptation.
Read Chapter 1 online.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Line By Line: Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

"...I've committed to nothing...and that's just tiny, tiny increments."

"What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person? People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives."

"I'm very good at the past. It's the present I can't understand."

"I've been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old, and frankly speaking, between you and me, I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains."

"It's not good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently, or if your favourite films wouldn't even speak to each other if they met at a party."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Trailer: Jess Walter, The Financial Lives of Poets

Canada Reads Book Club: Nicolas Dickner

The second novel in our reading list for the CRBC 2010 book club is Nicolas Dickner's Nikolski (as translated by Lazer Lederhendler). Lots of charm and a rhythmic elegance to the writing that kept our attention on each page. In fact, the novel was such an involving read that it was surprising to realize that it was almost 300 pages. Now that is a sign of a good story, and really good storyteller!

Review is forthcoming (need to sit and reflect a few more days before committing type to screen) but below is some information on Dickner we thought pertinent to share with you all.

Brief Biography
Studied visual arts and literature at university.
Travelled extensively in Europe and Latin America, then settled in Montreal.
Currently a literary columnist for the Montreal cultural weekly Voir.

Honours and Awards
L'encyclopédie du petit cercle
2001 - Prix littéraire Adrienne-Choquette
2001 - Prix Jovette-Bernier
2006 - Prix des libraires
2006 - Prix littéraire des collégiens
2006 - Prix Anne-Hébert
2006 - Prix Printemps des Lecteurs–Lavinal
2008 - Governor General's Award for French to English translation

Interviews and Articles

Walrus Magazine
Quill & Quire
The Guardian
The Independent
Montreal Review of Books

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Table of Contents: Candy Girl - A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper

Author: Diablo Cody
Publisher/Year: Penguin, 2006
Synopsis: Diablo Cody was twenty-four years old when she decided there had to be more to life than typing copy at an ad agency. On a whim, she signed up for amateur night at Minneapolis’s seedy Skyway Lounge. She didn’t win a prize that night, but she discovered that stripping delivered a rush she had never experienced before, and too many experiences to not write about it. While she didn’t fit the ordinary profile of a stripper—she had a supportive boyfriend, was equal parts brainpower and beauty, was from a good family, and was out to do a little soul searching—she soon immersed herself in this enticing life full-time.

What Others Have To Say:

Los Angeles Times
"Good, frothy fun. . . . For those of us who have stared, transfixed, from a distance, wondering how the air is up there, Candy Girl is a bracing lungful."

Lily Burana, Author
"Diablo Cody is to stripping what Chuck Klosterman is to pop culture and Sarah Vowell is to American history."

Time Out Chicago
"One hell of a good story."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Mark: Author/Musician Paul Quarrington Dies

First Kate McGarrigle, now Paul Quarrington. It is an oh so sad week.

Courtesy of
Award-winning Toronto writer and musician Paul Quarrington has died of lung cancer at age 56.

Quarrington died Thursday morning at his home in Toronto, surrounded by friends and family, according to a statement on his website.

"It is comforting to know that he didn't suffer; he was calm and quiet holding hands with those who were closest to him," the statement said.

Since his diagnosis with lung cancer last spring, Quarrington had channeled his energy into several projects he had on the go, among them, his first solo CD, a third release from his band PorkBelly Futures, and a memoir, Cigar Box Banjo, to be published by Greystone Books.

"I used to think that I was one of the luckiest guys alive — and when I got the diagnosis I thought, well my luck has just run out, but actually it hasn't really," Quarrington said at a concert last August. "You find out how lucky you are in terms of friends and people around you ."

At the time, Quarrington was touring with his band and making changes to his musical memoir, but he'd abandoned plans for another novel.

"Maybe because for a novelist going in you know at the end of the day you're not going to be entirely satisfied with the product because it's just too big and unwieldy. But with a song there's a chance it can be perfect — maybe they're more little bullets as opposed to the big bomb," he told CBC News.

Born and raised in Toronto, Quarrington graduated from the Canadian Film Centre. He first gained attention as a musician, recording Baby and the Blues, a Canadian hit, in 1979, with partner Martin Worthy.

He began writing novels while working as the bass player for the legendary Toronto rock band Joe Hall and the Continental Drift. His first novel, The Service, was published in 1978.

Although he addressed serious subjects, Quarrington's writing was characterized by its humour and deft handling of comic situations. His 1987 novel, King Leary, about a former hockey player, captured the 1988 Stephen Leacock Award, then faded into out-of-print oblivion. It emerged again as winner of CBC's Canada Reads 2008 competition. Anchor Canada subsequently produced a new edition of the book.

"There's a notion that if you're dealing with something that's fun, it's not as worthwhile as it could be," Quarrington told Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio's cultural affairs show Q, shortly after winning the contest.

"But when I was young and being influenced," he added, "all the novelists I read were funny like Joseph Heller and Philip Roth. I just thought it was part of the deal."

After being diagnosed with lung cancer last spring, Quarrington joked about his condition with his friends and in interviews with the media. "I've always found refuge in humour," he said.

Quarrington was probably best known for his zany, fast-paced novel Whale Music, loosely based on the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Called "the greatest rock 'n' roll novel ever written" by Penthouse magazine, the book is centred around a former rock legend who lives in seclusion mourning the death of his brother in car accident.

Whale Music won the 1989 Governor General's Award and became a film by the same name in 1994. Quarrington's screen adaptation was nominated for several Genie Awards. A later novel, Galveston, was nominated for the Giller Prize.

Quarrington wrote the Gemini Award-winning screenplay for the 1991 film, Perfectly Normal, and the screenplay for Camilla, which was directed by Deepa Mehta. He wrote several scripts for the stage including The Invention of Poetry and Dying is Easy.

He wrote for television, including for Due South and Moose TV.He had adapted his 2008 semi-autobiographical novel, The Ravine, about a down-and-out television producer, into a short film.

He also was working on an eight-part series for television, Notebooks on Euphoria, with movie and television director John L'Ecuyer.

Quarrington penned several non-fiction books that reflect his love of mainstream Canadiana — fishing and hockey — including the 2001 Fishing for Brookies, Browns and Bows: The Old Guy's Complete Guide to Catching Trout.

He won three National Magazine Awards for his journalism work.

He taught writing at Humber College and the University of Toronto, and sat on the board of directors of the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival.

An accomplished guitarist and songwriter, he maintained an active career as a musician in recent years.

His band, country-blues ensemble PorkBelly Futures, includes drummer/songwriter Worthy, bassist Chas Elliott, guitarist/harmonica player Stuart Laughton and singer-songwriter Rebecca Campbell. Its first CD, Way Past Midnight, was released in 2005 by Wildflower Records and spent six months on the Americana charts. Its second CD, PorkBelly Futures, was released in April 2008 and contains many of Quarrinigton's original compositions.

He leaves two teenage daughters, Carson Lara and Flannery.

Book Review: Fannie Flagg, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man

Author: Fannie Flag
Publisher/Year: Warner Books, 1992

Before Fannie Flagg hit it big with her now classic Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, she released a debut novel most worthy of the same amount of attention. Originally published under the title Coming Attractions, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man tells the story of one Daisy Fay Harper. The novel proceeds in diary form, allowing the reader insight into the confused yet assured mind of a very precocious young Southern Belle in the making.

Daisy Fay is growing up in the Gulf Coast’s Shell Beach during the 1950s thanks to one of her father’s ‘get rich quick’ schemes. Her family moves there to run an ice cream shop, a proposition that starts out fine but eventually ends up in disaster. Her upbringing is complicated by the troubles between her alcoholic father and emotionally-nervous mother. Their marriage eventually breaks down and Daisy’s mother moves away, leaving Daisy to be raised by her unreliable father and his best friend Jimmy.

During her youth, Daisy gets caught up in her father’s numerous financial schemes. One of these schemes includes Daisy pretending to be dead and then miraculously brought back to life by a local charlatan preacher. This, as well as all the other plans, does not result in the big payoff desired, and both father and daughter must learn to make do.

One of Flagg’s greatest talents lies in the caricature-like characters she draws to create the sub-stories. You have Jimmy, an alcoholic crop-duster whose fixation on exacting revenge when required is as obvious as his fixation on the adult Daisy is subtle. Then there is Mrs. Dot, former debutante and leader of the local Jr. Debutante club of which Daisy is forced to become a member. And there is Mr. Cecil, a hat and costume designer at the playhouse where Daisy gets her first taste of stage stardom. All of these characters combine to create a sympathetic, supportive, and hilarious environment in which Daisy learns about who she is and what life is all about.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man is one of the funniest and most sincere coming-of-age stories out there. The misadventures of Daisy are a laugh out loud riot, and the sentimentality with which Flagg writes about these events makes Daisy’s life all that much more humorous and touching. What an immense pleasure it is to know Daisy Fay Harper, if only for a short, vivid time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Canada Reads Book Club: Updates and Stuff

So things are moving along a tad slowly on the reading front. We blame it on the post-holiday crash blahs. Of course, the touch of procrastination this past week may also be a contributing factor.

As mentioned in the previous Marina Endicott post, a review of Good to a Fault is forthcoming. We promise! Hopefully we will have a couple reviews, submitted by book club members whose arms are being twisted as we type.

For the offline CRBC 2010 book club, one member has made short work of Good to a Fault and The Jade Peony, and is now halfway through Fall on Your Knees. It was a little incomprehensible that they had not read this novel before but we'll got over it.

The rest are making it through the first book or are moving on to the second.

We thought our next read would be Generation x but just not feeling it right know. So, we have turned our attention to Nikolski. Having never read a French Canadian novel translated to English before, we have out fingers cross for the best!

For all you following along online, drop a note ( comment below and let us know how things are going. Always interested in hearing how others are doing and what you think of the readings.

Happy Reading everyone!!

Canada Reads Book Club: Marina Endicott

The first novel up to bat for CRBC 2010 was Good to Fault by Marina Endicott. Main reason for it being first? We were ashamedly ignorant of the fact that we lived in the same city as Endicott. D'oh! So we thought we would make her novel our first reading priority to make up for said ignorance.

The novel was impressive for a couple reasons ... but you'll have to wait just a wee a bit longer for our review. While we continue to pull our review together though, we thought it important to provide some background information on the author and novel to build a little anticipation!

Brief Biography
Born in Golden, British Columbia in 1958.
Grew up in Halifax and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Toronto, Ontario.
Worked as an actor before moving to London, England, where she began to write fiction. Returning to Canada in 1984, she went west to Saskatoon and worked in theatre as a director and dramaturge.
Was for many years the dramaturge of the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre.
Lives in Edmonton, Alberta.
Has two children: Will and Rachel.

First novel, Open Arms, was a finalist for the 2001 in Canada First Novel Award.
Open Arms was broadcast on CBC Radio's Between the Covers in 2003 (access through iTunes podcasts).
Long poem, "The Policeman's Wife, Some Letters", was short-listed for the 2006 CBC Literary Awards.
Second novel, Good to a Fault, was a finalist for the 2008 Giller Prize.
Good to a Fault won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Canada and the Caribbean.

Interview and article at
Interview with Marina over at All Things Said & Done.

Quill & Quire
The Globe and Mail
Canadian Literature
Vue Weekly
Book Slut
United Church Observer

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Table of Contents: The Ivy Chronicles

Author: Karen Quinn
Publisher/Year: Viking, 2005
Synopsis: When turbocharged Park Avenue mom Ivy Ames finds she's been downsized from her high-powered corporate job and her marriage, she swiftly realizes that she's going to need a whole new way to support herself and her two private-school daughters. At first she does the obvious thing: she panics. Then she decides to put her years of marketing savvy to work and dreams up a brilliant new business - helping upscale New Yorkers get their little darlings into the most exclusive kindergartens in the city.

What Others Have To Say:

Allison Pearson, Author
"A very funny and frequently eye-popping tale of unnatural selection in the jungle of New York City’s private kindergartens."

Sarah Jessica Parker to star in movie adaptation.
Read an excerpt from The Ivy Chronicles!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Line By Line: David Sedaris, Naked

"We were not a hugging people. In terms of emotional comfort it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well made cocktail."

"I haven't the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out."

"The Greeks had invented democracy, built the Acropolis and called it a day."

"There seemed to be some correlation between devotion to God and a misguided zeal for marshmallows."

"Every gathering has its moment. As an adult, I distract myself by trying to identify it, dreading the inevitable downswing that is sure to follow. The guests will repeat themselves one too many times, or you'll run out of dope or liquor and realize that it was all you ever had in common."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Table of Contents: Once Upon A Day

Author: Lisa Tucker
Publisher/Year: Atria, 2006
Synopsis: Nineteen years ago, a famous man disappeared from Los Angeles, taking his two children, Dorothea and Jimmy, to a rocky, desolate corner of New Mexico where he raised them in complete isolation in a utopian "Sanctuary." The children grew up with books and encyclopedias, records and a grand piano, but no television, computer, radio, or even a newspaper. Now Dorothea, at twenty-three, is leaving this place in search of her missing brother -- and venturing into the wide world for the first time.

Dorothea's search will turn into an odyssey of discovery, leading to the truth of her family's past and the terrifying day that changed her father forever. But Dorothea's journey will also introduce her to an unusual cast of characters, including a homeless girl from Missouri who becomes a jazz singer and a social worker whose mistake in judgment changes her best friend's life. And she will meet Stephen, a doctor turned cabdriver who, after suffering his own losses, has lost his ability to believe in a meaningful world. Together, they have a chance to make a discovery of a different kind: that though a heart can be broken by the tragic events of a day, a day can also bring a new chance at love and a deeper understanding of life's infinite possibilities.

What Others Have To Say:

The New York Times
"The title of Tucker's third novel sounds like a Nora Ephron movie, and on the surface the fanciful plot seems to play right along. . .[But] another narrative strand casts a welcome emotional shadow. . .lifting Once Upon a Day out of the realm of romantic comedy and into the darker territory of an Old World fairy tale."

Boston Globe
"Tucker's most ambitious novel yet. It's a tragedy, a mystery, a romance, a twisted family story about loss, violence, obsession, and forgiveness."

USA Today
"Tucker's book is beautifully written, and the premise is intriguing."

"In what may well be her breakout book, the gifted Tucker tells a compelling love story with uncommon empathy and grace."

Read the first chapter online!
Discussion Guide

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Review: Connie Willis, Bellwether

Author: Connie Willis
Publisher/Year: Bantam, 1996

Even readers who are not fans of fantasy or science fiction novels will find something of interest in Connie Willis’ crisply written Bellwether. In this novel, Willis takes on the fad phenomenon, using it as a plot device to examine chaos theory, love, and sheep. Yes, sheep. With Bellwether, Willis once again proves why she is a master of the science fiction genre, winning over new and old readers with her trademark satire and originality.

Sandra Foster is a statistical scientist whose new project is to determine the base cause for fads. She is single mindedly focused on figuring out why all her research about hair bobbing leads to Ohio and why exactly her assistant Flip is everything an assistant should not be.

It is Flip who brings Sandra in contact with Bennett O’Reilly, a chaos theory scientist who works at the same lab. Sandra immediately tags him as being anti-fad and she soon finds herself studying him instead of her fads. Through the antics of one ‘unhelpful’ assistant, the two are eventually thrown together into a research project more by need rather than want (at least initially).

Both are anxious to win the prestigious Niebnitz grant and they place their hopes on a flock of sheep. Bennett wants to understand the principles of chaos theory while Sandra’s focus is on determining what makes people ‘follow the leader’. What occurs is a series of perceived failures and dead ends that ultimately lead them directly to the answers they are looking for, and something that they are not.

Bellwether is a treasure chest of trivia on fads, a masterful touch that would have required quite a bit of research on Willis’ part. But this is most characteristic of Willis; she never backs away from providing a tremendous amount of background in her novels in order to assist the reader in understanding all the nuances she disperses throughout the plot. Sometimes this background can bog her writing down, such as with To Say Nothing of the Dog, but with this novel she has created a wonderful balance between research and story.

Willis is a highly imaginative and innovator author, as her numerous Hugo and Nebula awards can attest. She likes to take on different topics and throw a fantasy spin on them that always renders her stories interesting and original. And with Bellwether, she has created yet another classic Willis tale — intelligent, fun, refreshing, and fulfilling.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Mark: Canada Reads 2010 Mini-Book Club

We are hosting an in-person mini-book club in celebration of the upcoming Canada Reads 2010 contest. Then we thought "how about extend this participation to anyone else who would like to join in and read some great Canadian literature!"

So, below are the basics. This is our first foray into the world online book club shenanigans and are excited to have anyone interested on board for the ride!

- Read the five (5) of the nominated books between January 13, 2010 and March 5, 2010.
- Select one (1) of the books to champion.
- Post your defense of the book you are championing to the comments section of the Canada Reads blog post @ Let It Read (which we should have up approx. 2 weeks prior to the contest starting). Keep your defense to 300 words or less!
- Follow the debates on CBC Radio One the week of March 8-12, to find out which novel Canada selects as the champion.

Also, there will be individual blog postings for each of the books as well over the next few weeks, including reviews, author information, etc. Check back often to see how things are progressing, and let us know how the readings are going.

Oh, and even if you only read one or two of the books, please feel free to provide your comments anyway. We won't be that strict with the guidelines, given the short timeframe. We just want to promote good Canadian literature!

Reading Material
Novel: Generation X by Douglas Coupland
Celebrity Champion: Roland Pemberton a.k.a Cadence Weapon, Musician

Novel: Fall On Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald
Celebrity Champion: Perdita Felicien, Hurdler

Novel: The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
Celebrity Champion: Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child Canada

Novel: Good To A Fault by Marina Endicott
Celebrity Champion: Simi Sara, Vancouver media personality

Novel: Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner
Celebrity Champion: Michel Vézina, Montreal belletrist

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Table of Contents: Every Visible Thing

Author: Lisa Carey
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins, 2006
Synopsis: The Fureys are a family divided in time. Five years ago, the eldest son, Hugh, left home in the middle of the night and never returned. After two years of exhausting and fruitless searching, his parents, estranged by grief, try to put the tragedy behind them. His mother recovers from an emotional breakdown by losing herself in a new career. His father, having lost his faith as well as his position as a theology professor, takes on the role of caregiver for their remaining two children with lackluster effort.

Owen and Lena, left to fend for themselves, hold on to the memory of their brother with increasingly self-destructive obsessions. Ten-year-old Owen, prompted by the iconic angels in his father's former study, calls on Hugh as a guardian angel as his own sexual experimentation turns dangerous. Fifteen-year-old Lena explores drugs, boys, and truancy, and begins a search for Hugh—and for herself—through the lens of his old camera. As she spirals increasingly out of control, she forces the family to face their past . . . and find a future.

What Others Have To Say:

Entertainment Weekly
"Lena's immersion in Boston's chaotic street-punk scene is expertly drawn, but it is Owen's foray into sexuality that's most heartbreaking and, ultimately, redemptive."

"It's impossible not to be swept along by the untidy, ultimately hopeful family drama."

Publisher's Weekly
"Graceful, affecting . . . rewarding, suffused in lucid grief and delicate longings."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Mark: 100 Best Books of the Decade

Back in November, the London Times published their list of the 100 best books of the 00's. The usual suspects are there (J.K. Rowling, Phillip Roth), and the number one book is not much of a surprise. Overall though, an impressive compilation.

London Times - 100 Best Books of the Decade.

Line By Line: Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

"I rather you have a good mind than a cute behind."

"All knowledge is spendable currency, depending on the market."

"At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice."

"See, you don't have to think about doing the right thing. If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking."

"Most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review: Clare Morrall, Astonishing Splashes of Colour

Author: Clare Morrall
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins, 2004

There were high expectations for this novel prior to picking it up simply because the title was so evocative. Clare Morrall, with her first novel, does not fail in fulfilling these expectations as she has crafted an immensely appealing protagonist in Kitty Wellington, whose alienation, both internally and externally constructed, is both saddening and life-affirming. Astonishing Splashes of Colour is indeed astonishing in its composition, as Morrall weaves colour through the narrative as sign posts for insight into Kitty’s physical, emotional, and psychological wounds and wonderings.

Kitty lives what can be termed a dysfunctional existence. Her family, comprised of four much older brothers, who share little in common besides her, and her tempermental and creative painter father, are emotionally distant. She does not have any memories of her mother, a woman who was supposedly killed in a car crash when Kitty was very young. She is also living out an unusual arrangement with her husband James, who lives across the hall in his own flat. Together they are bound by marriage, and individually they are attempting to assuage an encompassing grief that neither one can easily shed.

To all, including herself, Kitty is emotionally unstable and unable to fully deal with her miscarriage and subsequent inability to have children. Her response to the grief is to cast everything around her in varying colour hues. This creative device known as synaesthesia, a condition in which emotions are seen as colours, allows the reader vivid insight into Kitty’s devastion and quite fantastic imagination.

Using the miscarriage as her staring point, Morrall slowly reveals the true impetus for Kitty’s internal anguish, her search for an identity. Because she has no memories of her mother, Kitty questions her brothers and fathers for answers, answers that they are quite reluctant to reveal. Her search culminates in one emotionally charged event, where Kitty comes to understand that the life she so desperately clings to is built on two equally devastating lies.

The emotional impact of these revelations sends Kitty spiraling for solid ground. She ends up acting on her child-like impulses, actions that result in a dangerous double kidnapping. It is this event that triggers yet another emotional and tragic event that finally forces Kitty and James to fully face the reality of their current lives if they are to ever move forward.

Morrall has created a tremendously powerful novel that is fresh and unsentimental. She layers her prose with dark humor and emotional breaks, building upon plot turns and character faults to construct a suspenseful tale of depression and devastation, loss and love, optimism and starting over. Astonishing Splashes of Colour is a brilliant debut novel, and the undercurrent of hopefulness threaded throughout its pages is the element that sets it apart from rest of the pack.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Table of Contents: Bed Rest

Author: Sarah Bilston
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins, 2007
Synopsis: Quinn "Q" Boothroyd is a young British lawyer married to an American and living in New York City. She's checked off most of the boxes on her "Modern Woman's List of Things to Do Before Hitting 30," and her busy working life has been relatively painless. But when her doctor tells her she must spend the last three months of her pregnancy lying in bed, Q is thrown into a tailspin. Initially bored and frustrated, Q soon fills her days by trying to reconnect with her workaholic husband, provide legal advice for her sweet Greek neighbor, forge new emotional bonds with her mother and sisters, and figure out who will keep her stocked up in cookies and sandwiches.

Q experiences adventures on the couch she never would have encountered in the law firm and learns a lot about herself and what she wants out of life—and above all, about the little one growing inside her.

What Others Have To Say:

Marian Keyes, Author
"Sarah Bilston has written a very clear-sighted novel about how tough it is for women to juggle career, marriage and childbirth- I laughed out loud and I couldn't put it down."

"...with a witty (rather than whiny) and snarky (rather than snippy) heroine it could have been just what Marian [Keyes] promised."

Plum Sykes, Author
"Even if you've never been pregnant you'll be as instantly hooked on this addictive novel. While most of us dream of days on end in bed with nothing to do but eat and watch television, Q shows us the true nature of being a caged animal."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Line By Line: Joseph Heller, Catch 22

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."

"You're inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age?"

“You wouldn’t be normal if you were never afraid. Even the bravest men experience fear. One of the biggest jobs we all face in combat is to overcome fear.”

"You know, that might be the answer - to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail."

"[T]hat's the way things go when you elevate mediocre people to positions of authority."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Table of Contents: The Abstinence Teacher

Author: Tom Perrotta
Publisher/Year: St Martin's Press, 2007
Synopsis: Ruth Ramsey is a divorced single mother teaching human sexuality in a Northeastern high school. When she makes a favorable comment about sexual pleasure in class, a girl in the class who belongs to the ultra-conservative Christian church in town is offended and her family complains to school officials. The school apologizes for any offensive comments Ruth might have made and changes the curriculum of her class. When Ruth's daughter's soccer coach, Tim Mason, a former drug user and alcoholic who also belongs to the church, instructs the girls to pray after a victory, Ruth is furious. At the same time, she finds herself attracted to the coach. The attraction is mutual and shakes up both of their worlds.

What Others Have To Say:

The New York Times
"As formulaic as [the] plot might sound, Mr. Perrotta uses it not to construct a conventional screwball romance but to create a sad-funny-touching story that looks at the frustrations and perils of life in suburbia through darkly tinted, not rose-colored glasses"

Entertainment Weekly
"Perrotta leaves the fate of these sweet, baffled characters hanging, which is a disappointment. But he resists giving firm answers to the thorny moral questions lurking in his material — which is a relief."

The Washington Post
"[T]he novel lacks the necessary element of passion. It practices a strange kind of abstinence: a failure to consummate its satiric drive."

USA Today
"For a novel that is really about sex, not abstinence, Teacher gets a C-plus for sizzle. But it does earn an A for funny."

A Writer's Search for the Sex in Abstinence
Q&A with Tom Perrotta