fun stuff, guest post

Guest Post by Alex Hoffman: How much do people actually like Giller Prize winners?

Alex Hoffman, who tweets as @thatguyalex and blogs at graphicnovelguy.wordpress.com, runs the Metro Toronto Book Club and is the owner of many signed books and even more opinions. With the approach of the Giller announcement this evening, he asked if he could do a guest post. The floor is his. . .

With the imminent announcement of either 419 by Will Ferguson or Ru by Kim Thuy as the 2012 winner, I decided to ruminate on some Giller questions through a guest post here on EditorialEyes.

Do Giller Winners become popular reads?


Continue reading “Guest Post by Alex Hoffman: How much do people actually like Giller Prize winners?”

literary event

The Event: Rick Mercer and Aislin at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon

Rick Mercer and Terry Mosher at the Appel Salon.
All photographs taken by Alexander Hoffman.

“I want to be you when I grow up.”
– Rick Mercer to Terry Mosher, Oct. 18, 2012

This will surprise no one in Canada, but it has to be said: Rick Mercer is a funny, funny man. He, along with Terry Mosher (aka Aislin), appeared at Toronto Reference Library as part of the Star Talks program at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon. And he had the sold-out crowd paralyzed with belly laughs all evening.

Mr. Mercer took to the stage after an introduction by writer, critic, and purveyor of arts and pop culture Geoff Pevere, who also acted as moderator for the discussion in the evening’s second half. Exuding energy and charm, Rick seemed genuinely pleased to be with us as he settled comfortably behind the podium. Looking around, he said, “Wow. A library with a bar!” He hung out at the library a lot when he was a kid, he said, so much so that his dad warned him he’d start suffering from Old Book Lung, but the libraries of his youth never had a bar in them.

Continue reading “The Event: Rick Mercer and Aislin at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon”

book review

Prairie endings and beginnings: a review of Napi’s Dance by Alanda Greene

Snake Woman and Eleanor Donaldson live in two very different versions of the Canadian prairie in Alanda Greene’s debut novel Napi’s Dance. Snake Woman grows up at a time of upheaval. The palefaced people are making inroads into indigenous land, bringing with them weapons, alcohol, and values foreign to the Blackfoot people. Decades later, Eleanor falls in love with the wide open spaces and huge sky when her family moves from Aurora, Ontario, to a homestead in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

“All this beauty given us, to move through across Napi’s great body to know the stories that guide us on a true path. We will fiercely fight to keep this.”

Napi’s Dance, Alanda Greene

Snake Woman and Eleanor Donaldson live in two very different versions of the Canadian prairie in Alanda Greene’s debut novel Napi’s Dance. Snake Woman, who begins the story as Snake Child, grows up in a time of upheaval. The palefaced people are making inroads into indigenous land, bringing with them weapons, alcohol, and values foreign to the Blackfoot people. As political strife and outside danger rips at the fabric of her world, Snake Child and her foster mother Mountain Horse are tasked by the mysterious Women’s Society with the honour and responsibility of hosting a Bundle Spirit in their lodge. Several decades later, Eleanor falls in love with the wide open spaces and huge sky when her family moves from Aurora, Ontario, to a homestead in Medicine Hat, Alberta. As the Donaldsons adjust to farming life in a sod house, they are visited by representatives of the Royal Ontario Museum who wish to bring Aboriginal artifacts back to Ontario, to preserve this dying way of life.

Continue reading “Prairie endings and beginnings: a review of Napi’s Dance by Alanda Greene”

literary event

The Event: Emma Donoghue at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon

Emma Donoghue © Nina Subin, 2010. Image from EmmaDonoghue.com

Book season has officially kicked off in Toronto. With Tuesday night’s fabulous Bookstravaganza, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, Word on the Street, and the International Festival of Authors, we also have the always incredible (and incredibly free) Bram & Bluma Appel Salon programs at the Toronto Reference Library.

Several hundred fans came out on September 19th for an evening with Emma Donoghue, who is known as much for her vivid, meticulous historical fiction (Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter) as she is her 2010 blockbuster success Room, a contemporary novel told from the point of view of a precocious five year old whose whole, mostly happy, world, Room, is actually the prison he and his mother are kept in by her kidnapper and serial rapist. With her new historical fiction short story collection, Astray, arriving on shelves at the end of October, I was eager to hear what an author of such diverse genres and forms had to say.

Continue reading “The Event: Emma Donoghue at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon”

book review

The smell of chai and sadness: a review of Everything was Good-bye by Gurjinder Basran

The writing is lush and elegant. Basran really is “one to watch,” as she was proclaimed by the Vancouver Sun. Her characterization is superb, and her descriptions of smells are particularly evocative.

“If only. Those two words have gathered like ghosts. If only my father hadn’t died, if only my mother had had sons, if only Harj had stayed, if only I hadn’t met Liam, if only he could have loved me…Once, when I was lamenting Harj’s departure, my mother told me that ‘if only’ was the beginning of new dreams made of old things and that only God could reincarnate our hopes into such a reality.”

Everything was Good-bye, Gurjinder Basran

I first heard about Everything Was Good-bye through an invitation to join Penguin Canada and the Chatelaine Book Club for an evening with author Gurjinder Basran. Having a chance to hang out in the Penguin offices, sipping wine, chatting with other bloggers, and listening to Gurjinder read from the book and then answer questions was a not-to-be-missed experience, and I suggest you read the great recaps on Nicole About Town’s and Just a Lil Lost’s blogs.

I’ve since read Everything was Good-bye, and my reading was informed by Basran’s discussion of how she came to write the book and her own life experiences—almost like reading the book club guide and then reading the novel. Set in the 1990s, Everything Was Good-bye is the story of Meena, a first-generation Punjabi-Canadian struggling to find her place within her family, her cultural community, and Canadian society in general. While it grew out of a journalling project and was inspired by Basran’s life in many ways, the book is a work of fiction (one that was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award finalist and that won Mother Tongue Publishing’s Search for the Great BC Novel Contest).

As a teenager and the youngest of six daughters, Meena’s life is overshadowed by the choices her older sisters have made. She’s something of an outcast, more interested in wearing jeans than salwar suits, in lining up to get a Simple Minds record autographed than going to yet another friend of a friend’s wedding party. And yet she’s also an outsider at school because she looks “different” and adheres to a different set of family and social customs. It angers her family that she spends time with Liam, a white boy and outsider in his own right, an artistic kid from a difficult home who feels just as lost as Meena does.

Spanning the time from Meena’s broken but beautiful romance with Liam in her late teens to her heartbreaking marriage in her thirties, the book offers gracefully drawn sketches of Meena’s life, moments of tragedy and sadness that are inescapable because of her upbringing. Continue reading “The smell of chai and sadness: a review of Everything was Good-bye by Gurjinder Basran”

book review

Kicking Ass and Accounting for Cash: a review of The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton

Ava herself is one of my favourite new characters. She’s just got it together, and I love that she can by turns break noses and charm foreign diplomats, that if she needs to promise hundreds of thousands of dollars or blackmail sleazeballs, she doesn’t balk.

“I need to locate Seto. You know where he is, or at the very least how I can contact him. You have two options. You tell me what I want to know, or I’m going to make a hundred copies of that photo…and send them to your wife, your kids, your Atlanta neighbours, your parents, any siblings you have, your in-laws, and anyone you’re doing or have ever done business with.”

The Water Rat of Wanchai, Ian Hamilton

I first caught wind of the mysterious Ava Lee on a subway poster advertising her adventures in the book The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, by Ian Hamilton. Ava is fearless, sexy, and lethal, the poster proclaimed, not to mention her profession: she’s a forensic accountant. Yay?

That was enough to pique my interest. Wuhan is the third book in Hamilton’s Ava Lee series, which are currently being published two a year. I picked up last year’s debut of the series The Water Rat of Wanchai to see what all the fuss was about. With an ass-kicking main character, an intriguing conundrum to solve, and a setting that encompasses Toronto, Seattle, Hong Kong, Thailand, Guyana, and the British Virgin Islands, Water Rat is off to a good start.

Ava is no ordinary accountant. Born in China to a successful businessman’s second wife (he has three families, each on a different continent) and brought up in a rich Chinese-Canadian community just north of Toronto, Ava Lee is extraordinary right from the start. Educated at a posh girls’ school, a disciple of bak mei, a traditional, exclusive, and highly lethal form of kung fu, fashionable and label-obsessed, gay, globe trotting, and bored with traditional accounting, Ava defies categorization. She and an older family friend, whom she respectfully refers to as “Uncle,” run a forensic accounting business: they will recover huge amounts of appropriated money for a modest one third of what they recover. And they’ll do it by any means necessary. Continue reading “Kicking Ass and Accounting for Cash: a review of The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton”

book review

Murder, Mayhem, and Father Christmas: A review of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley

We always get a wonderful cast in every Flavia book, be they murderous philatelists, puppeteers, gypsies, or, as is the case here, ciné folk. In Shadows, Buckshaw is being rented out by a film crew, including a famous director, actors, and their coterie.

 

“I had half a mind to march upstairs to my laboratory, fetch down the jar of cyanide, seize this boob’s nose, tilt his head back, pour the stuff down his throat, and hang the consequences.

Fortunately, good breeding kept me from doing so.”

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley

Even if you haven’t read them, you’ve probably heard about the Flavia de Luce mysteries, which all started with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Set in the rural English town of Bishop’s Lacey in the 1950s, Alan Bradley’s world is a wonderfully charming place to sink into. And his protagonist, the eleven-year-old Flavia, is one of the best amateur detectives in recent literature. Young Flavia is a chemistry nut—with a special interest in poisons—and when she’s not contemplating the delightful properties of cyanide or lacing her older sister’s lipstick with an extract made from poison ivy, she’s zipping around Bishop’s Lacy on her trusty bicycle (whose name, incidentally, is Gladys) and finding her way into the hearts of murder investigations.

A review of a Flavia book really has to be about two things: the self-contained story within the book, and its place in the overall series, specifically how it forwards the overarching stories and mysteries of the de Luce household. Continue reading “Murder, Mayhem, and Father Christmas: A review of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley”