Friday, August 29, 2008

Looking for Something to Read this Weekend?

If you like books by authors Miriam Toews, Emily Giffin or Melissa Banks, you should get your hands on The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon. This debut is funny and fresh and has a conflicted, wry main character that women everywhere will be able to relate to. 30-ish Winnipeg teacher Anna is stuck in a toxic relationship with her boyfriend of ten years Adam. With Adam away in Germany for a few months on a work contract, she is finally attempting to break things off, but when Anna starts to show signs of wavering, her well-meaning best friends stage an intervention. Adding to Anna's problems are:
  1. a job she doesn't really like
  2. a sister who moved to the Middle East with her boyfriend (now husband), became a Muslim, and is now pregnant and wondering what to do now that her husband has announced his intention of taking a second wife
  3. her cantankerous Ukrainian-born grandmother, who refuses to leave her prairie farm despite being past eighty and nearly blind
  4. Her friend Sara is getting married and is turning out to be quite the bridezilla. Anna is one of her bridesmaids and feels like she had gone to bridesmaid hell.

To deal with the stress of it all, Anna starts seeing a therapist, smoking, and keeping counsel with a squirrel (Buddy) who has moved into her attic. There are numerous funny sections in the book, but it is also very thought provoking look at the choices we make in relationships, how we change our dreams and plans for the love of others, and how hard it is to break free of a bad relationship and an abusive partner. This would make a great choice for book clubs!

And as a bonus, if you purchase the book (or are the first to take it out of the library) there is a sticker on the book that directs you to the book's web page ( From there, you enter a unique code that allows you to download a free soundtrack of indie music that the author has put together for the book. All the music fits the tone of the novel and the soundtrack features a great mix of names you will be familiar with (Sarah Slean, Jill Barber), as well as some new Canadian artists to discover.

The book has received glowing praise from author Steven Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo) and Alice Kuipers (Life on the Refrigerator Door) and in the Quill & Quire, The Globe & Mail, The Winnipeg Free Press and the National Post. Read the reviews here, then go out and get yourself a copy of The Prairie Bridesmaid- you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gargoyle Giveaway. . .

The Gargoyle, the first novel by Canadian Andrew Davidson was one of my picks for great summer reading and it's nice to see it rising on the bestseller charts (and the holds lists at libraries acrosss the country). You can see what I had to say about it in my post here. If the book sounds like your cup of reading tea, I have some advanced galleys that I will send to the first 10 librarians who e-mail me at Please put "Gargoyle Giveaway" in the subject line of the e-mail.

A couple of rules. You have to be a Canadian librarian working at a Canadian library. I can only send the galley to your work address so please include it in your e-mail. And a reminder that galleys are not finished books and cannot be put into collections. You can certainly pass it on to your colleagues though. I'll update this post when all the galleys have gone - until then, they will still be up for grabs.
Updated: The galleys are now all gone, but keep your eye on this blog - we'll have more fun giveaways in the future.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A war horse. . .

If you are still basking in the Canadian equestrian team's successes at the Olympics and are in the mood for a horsey read, Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben has just won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain's oldest literary prize. This has been on my radar for a while as it's a type of Black Beauty in the First World War tale. Which is a different and original take on the conflict.
God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britan by Rosemary Hill won the biography prize.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Only in Europe - Wunderbar!. . .

How great an idea is this? The Austrian city of Graz is offering a grant via one of its magazines to a lucky contest winner. The prize? Three weeks in a paid apartment in order to read ten German books of your choice - three have to come from small presses and five of them have to be by authors who are still alive! This is definately an idea that every city should emulate. What a great tourist hook it could be - intriguing a traveller with books about the city and then giving them some spending money to go and explore it on their own. Actually if my bosses are reading this - how about an inhouse contest for the reps? Heck, I'd take three weeks of paid reading in a shack in the middle of nowhere.
If you can read German and want to apply, you can find more information here, at a great blog that I read regularly called Love German Books. It's written in English by a translator from Berlin and a great source for all things to do with German culture, and of course books - many of which will make their way (albeit slowly) into English translation. I'm reading one of them now which I'll blog about when I've finished - Daniel Kehlmann's Me and Kaminski, out this November. So far, so good - it's extremely funny. Kehlmann's previous novel Measuring the World was a huge bestseller in Europe.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Battle of the sexes. . .

I always enjoy the Guardian's "Top Ten Lists" - an ongoing series where an author is asked to pick their favourite books in a specific category. I usually jot down a few titles for my everlasting to-be-read-someday list. This latest one is a lot of fun - the top ten best fictional scenes in the battle between the sexes. You can find it here. I'm not sure what it says about me that I've read most of the list already. My favourite is Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head. This would be one way to enliven a book club.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dance me to the end of this book...

Ever since reading Lloyd Jones' wonderful Mister Pip last year, I've been wanting more, more, more. This season we're publishing two of his backlist titles to make them available for the first time in Canada. I've just devoured the first - Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, which will be out at the end of this month. And I immediately went out and bought three CDs of Argentinian tangos. We tend to think of reading as a sedentary activity but I defy anyone to get through this lovely novel without putting on some music and giving it a twirl, if only in secret.
Louisa meets and falls in love with Schmidt when both spend several weeks hiding in a cave along the coast of New Zealand, along with two conscientious objectors escaping conscription during the First World War. To fill the time, Schmidt teaches his companions to dance the tango. When Schmidt emigrates to Argentina after the war, Louisa follows him and their poignant love affair continues despite a number of complications, not least of which is Schmidt's wife. Years later, Schmidt's granddaughter Rosa is back in New Zealand running an Argentinian restaurant. When the doors close at night and the staff are cleaning up, she plays cassettes of tangos and Lionel, a nineteen year old dishwasher, falls completely under the spell of both Rosa and the music. But their relationship is equally problematic; she too is married and quite a bit older than him.

Jones skillfully weaves these two love stories in and out of each other, like the many legs (and other body parts) of his dancers. I don't watch much television, but will admit to a guilty obsession with shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Dancing is sexy. And graceful. And just beautiful to watch, especially for a klutz like myself. Jones makes it just as seductive to read about, and educates the reader along the way about the history of tango music, dropping names and song titles and tantalizing descriptions. Hence the CDs. You'll want one that has some of the traditional tango music to go along with Louisa and Schmidt's story. Look for pieces by Carlos Gardel, Goyeneche and Troilo. Then for the modern love story, turn to the music of Astor Piazzolla. He caused quite a controversy in his time by experimenting with the traditional tango sound, but I love his infusions of jazz and piano into the music. There is a trio of linked pieces - Milonga Del Angel, Muerte Del Angel and Resurrection Del Angel - that is breathtakingly beautiful. I also have a wonderful CD of Yo-Yo Ma playing the music of Piazzolla.
And there's more to look forward to - Jones' second backlist novel Biographi , about a village dentist in Albania (Jones certainly doesn't write the same book twice), will be out in November.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Books for Baby Showers

I was invited to a baby shower this past weekend for a neighbour who is expecting her first baby. I often dread such events as frankly they are often overly long and one is forced to play silly games (like blind taste-testing baby food) so you can win a door prize. I can't believe how competitive people get over these door prizes- I've been to showers where grown women have almost come to blows over a candle! Thankfully the shower yesterday was just lovely: the mom-to-be was completely surprised and just glowed. The food was great, the weather was beautiful, and there was a great mix of people and conversation. And best of all the games were kept to a minimum!

The one thing I never have to worry when it comes to baby showers is picking a gift. I am a firm believer it is never too early to instill a passion for books in a child. Having lots of books in the home is a great way to start, so my typical baby shower present is usually a good selection of books for baby's first year. The selection of books I give varies by season, but based on feedback from previous baby showers, the following books have proven to be extremely popular with both parents and children:
Alligator Pie and Willoughby Wallaby Woo - These board books feature the classic poems from the fabulous Canadian poet Dennis Lee, with beautiful new, soft illustrations and a trim size perfect for little hands.

Fuzzy Bee and Snowy Bear- I always include one or two of these cloth books from Priddy Books in my gift bag. They are soft to touch with crinkly sounding filling that babies love. And with seven titles in the series, you can mix & match depending on the season and baby's gender. Also great are the Messages from the Heart cloth books by Sandra Magsamen like Good Night Little One. They are an accordian style cloth book, which fold out and can be used as a crib bumper or wall hanging. They are interactive, so baby can lift flaps to reveal messages underneath.

Bright Baby Board Books- I love this series of board books. Simple and perfect for babies, they feature neon-bright colours, a photographic image and one word per page. They are the perfect introduction to the various topics covered in the series: animals, colors, first words, and trucks.

Charlie Chick is one of my favourite pop-up books. It features a little chick who likes to eat so much that he has BIG feet, and a BIG beak (etc.), which are big indeed- so much so that they pop off of the pages. Against a bright blue background the yellow chick and his bright orange feet & beak are really striking. And it has a fun surprise last spread which will make kids laugh.

In the past I've included books in the Baby Grip series of board books from Priddy Books in my gift bags. The Baby Grip series were photographic board books with a die-cut circle that enabled the baby to hold onto the book themselves. Recently, Priddy launched the books in a new format called Natural Baby. These board books are printed on recycled paper using soy-based ink and still feature real photos, simple text and bright colours. Babies love them and you can feel good about buying them!
Just some ideas for you to consider when shopping for your next baby shower gift!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on the Silver Screen . . .

The haunting YA novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne has been a favourite read among librarians and Deweys alike since it was published in 2006. The movie is coming out this fall. You can see the trailer here and it looks pretty good. Can the film version of Markus Zusak's equally amazing The Book Thief be far behind?

And for John Boyne fans - he'll have an adult historical novel out next spring. It's called Mutiny on the Bounty and tells the famous story through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy who is serving as Captain Bligh's personal valet on the ill-fated voyage.

Love Mysteries? Some Suggestions for You!

If I had to pick one genre of books to call my favourite, mystery would win hands down. I'm just back from vacation, where I got to indulge and read voraciously (as frankly there is not much else to do when camping in the rain). Listed below in no particular order are a few new recommendations. Some of these are coming out this Fall, and others are older titles that caught my eye during a recent reorganization of my bookshelves.

The Good Thief's Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan- This is the second book in this series of comedic mysteries (the first being The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam) that follow the adventures of author Charlie Howard. Charlie pens novels about a burglar named Faulks, but he also does a little thieving on the side to supplement his income. Royalty cheques only go so far, after all! I guess Charlie could be compared to the character played by Cary Grant in 'To Catch a Thief' - that is, if Charlie was good-looking, rich and suave (which he isn't). He is however a sucker for both a damsel in distress and a challenge, both of land Charlie into dangerous situations in these two books. The character voice is irreverent and fresh, the dialogue is witty and funny, and the descriptions of the cities of Amsterdam and Paris make me wish I had more vacation time booked (and a larger travel budget)!
The Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson. This is an excellent debut for those who love historical mysteries. Set in London in 1383, this book differs from the typical mystery set in this time period in that (gasp) the hero/heroine is not a monk or a nun! This is touted as a 'medieval noir', and features a disgraced former knight as the sleuth. Crispin Guest has had to rough it on the streets of London after losing both his rank and property when he was convicted for treason for plotting against Richard II. However he still has his wits and a few friends in high places and is managing to make a meager living as an investigator. He is looking into a potential case of marital infidelity when he finds his client murdered- inside a sealed room that was locked from the inside. How did the killer get out of the locked room, and what was the motivation for the killing? Featuring a great complex mystery, a missing religious relic, international plots, hidden identities, fabulous historical detail and a compelling, conflicted main character, I think this has the potential to be a long lived series!

High Season by Jon Loomis - This debut novel came out almost a year ago (September 2007) in hardcover. I didn't get an advance reader's copy at the time, so I ordered a sample after the book received a starred Booklist review. It unfortunately got buried on my bookcase and when I did finally pick it up, I devoured it in one sitting. High Season is set in Provincetown, Massachucetts- a funky seaside resort town that is a hotspot for gay and lesbian vacationers. Frank Coffin is the sheriff in Provincetown, having recently moved back to his hometown after a stint with the Baltimore homicide squad that ended with a multiple murder case that left him on disability, suffering from panic attacks. He hasn't had to deal with a murder since returning home, but that all changes when a vacationing TV evangelist, who is known for his homophobic sermons, is found murdered on a local beach dressed in drag. The case falls to the state police, but with their dismal track record at closing cases, Frank's new boss tells him to launch his own investigation on the quiet. Frank's boss wants the case resolved quickly as to not upset the local tourist trade. However, as the investigation proceeds, the case turns out not to be as simple as Frank is led to believe. He uncovers evidence of government corruption, shady property developers, smuggling, drugs and more. At the same time, his girlfriend is pressuring him to have a child, his car keeps breaking down, and he has to deal with the local 'characters', one of whom, in a hilarious scene, assaults a shady politician with a fish after he tries to evict him from his house. If you missed this in hardcover like I did, be sure to pick up the paperback edition, which just released in July. It is both funny and dark, the characters are very well developed, and you really feel as though you know the town when you finish the book. I hope there is another Frank Coffin book on the way soon!

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Spicy Treat. . .

The best food I've ever tasted - hands down - was on a trip I took nearly 15 years ago to Malaysia and Singapore. With its mixture of Malay, Indian, and Chinese culinary heritages, and a bit of neighbouring Thai influence thrown in, every dish seemed to explode with flavours. Subtle and spicy. I can never entirely repeat the experience because in the intervening years I've developed an annoying shrimp allergy (sigh), but I've enjoyed trying to recreate a little bit of it this weekend with this new cookbook, The Spice Merchant's Daughter. The author Christina Arokiasamy, grew up in Malacca, Malaysia (as did my own mum), trained in hotel kitchens and now lives in Hawaii where she runs a cooking school. The recipes in this book are truly tantalizing to read but are not itimidating to try, written purposely to include ingredients that can easily be found in North American grocery or Asian stores. What I really like about this cookbook are the first few chapters that outline all the main ingredients you'll need, along with very useful tips on how long they can be stored and what to look for when buying them. There is a section on how to make your own rubs, pastes, chili powders and peanut sauce. I now have a month's supply of ginger garlic paste in my freezer.
And then come the recipes! I made the Golden Curry Puffs and in memory of the ones I had during High Tea at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore, I substituted ground beef for the diced chicken. Very easy to make using puff pastry and very tasty. Other mouthwatering offerings include Coconut Spareribs, Green Beans with Roasted Chile Paste, Salmon with Ginger Butter, and Cardamon Butter Rice. Lots of vegetarian dishes and yes for you lucky ones, plenty of recipes using prawns . The desserts look yummy as well. Jasmine cake made with grated orange zest. Or crepes that combine maple syrup and coconut milk for the topping.
A nice bonus - your kitchen will smell amazing when you cook with these recipes.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Make time for The 13 Clocks. . .

New York Review of Books has a children's classics line that is simply delightful. These are books that have truly stood the test of time, beautifully bound and illustrated and are just as much fun for adults to read. Just published is James Thurber's wonderful The 13 Clocks, illustrated by Marc Simont. At the Ontario Library Conference back in January, I had a poster of this cover in our booth and it generated more squeals of delight from librarians and their inner child than almost any other "new" book we had. So if you've been looking to reread this classic, or introduce it to a wee one, it's now available!

Or, if you've never read it, wait until you are having a really, really bad day. One of those that are full of problems that particularly plague adults. Then climb into your most comfortable jammies with a mug of hot chocolate and this book, and I guarentee you'll feel better in no time. This is a very funny fairytale about an Evil Duke, his beautiful niece the Princess Saralinda, the Prince Zorn of Zorna who tries to win her hand by performing impossible tasks, and his terrific sidekick, the Golux, "the only Golux in the world". In the background lurks the menacing Todal which looks like a "blob of glup" and likes to "gleep". And that's all I'm going to say about that.

As you've probably guessed this tale is full of intricate and clever wordplay and really works best when read aloud. But it also contains some witty riddles and lots of sharp observations on human nature. Neil Gaiman, in his introduction calls The 13 Clocks, "probably the best book in the world". You have to check it out.

I'm also very fond of Australian Norman Lindsay's extremely funny The Magic Pudding. And in September, NYRB will be publishing John Masefield's The Midnight Folk, the prequel to The Box of Delights. This is British fantasy at its best - full of magic, talking animals and fast-paced adventures in the English countryside. Perfect for kids who love the Narnia series or Harry Potter or for adults like me, who grew up with Enid Blyton (though Masefield is far more sophisticated a writer). Yes, you can be a kid again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

C-TON Rocks

What I am excited about reading this fall is a new kid's writer + illustrator from Toronto called C-TON. His stuff is very cool and you could read it for hours...he reminds me of Richard Scarry drinking way too much coffee. My son and his buddies thought his stuff was very cool. His website gives a good indication of the depth of his work which covers adult as well as kid's stuff. I am looking forward to seeing the book in its entirety.

CTON’d Super A-maze-ing Year of Crazy Comics 978-2-89579-209-3 Paperback $20.00 OWLKids

A tiny paring from the Potato Peel Society. . .

Bloomsbury, the British publisher of this delightful epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, has produced a short YouTube video with readings from a few of the letters to give you the flavour of the writing. You can view it here. Three Deweys have already read and loved this book - honestly, it's a real treat that you owe to your reading self especially if you are at all nostalgic for the days when people wrote real letters.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Celebrating Pets With Differences

My parents recently adopted a little dog named Sammy from a rescue shelter in Toronto called Adopt A Dog Save A Life. Sammy is a four month old, five pound Chihauhau/Jack Russell terrier mix who was born with an eye condition called Microphthalmia, which results in low-vision.
He is absolutely adorable, and the whole family was in love with him within minutes of being introduced. He is incredibly affectionate and loves to sit on people's laps. I thought he would have trouble adjusting to walks with his vision problems, but he has proven that he can easily keep pace with my sister's husky. He particularly loves walking around the backyard (on a leash for now until he knows his way around) and has made friends with Mack, the Golden Lab who lives next door. He also likes to sit by the back patio door to listen to the birds (and chew on a snack it appears from the photo above). I'll have to make a point to buy my mom some small dog treats- that one Sammy is chewing on looks as big as his head!

A book on our fall list from Kane Miller Book Publishers, The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness is a perfect book to celebrate pets with differences. Written by Australian author Colin Thompson (author of the equally fabulous book The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley), it is a quirky, funny, and very touching story of friendship and family for readers 5-8 (advanced picture book). George lives with his grandmother but they don't have a lot in common so he is very lonely. Every friday afternoon on the way home from school, he stops in at the dog shelter. He is always drawn to the last cage in the last aisle, which is where the shelter keeps the dogs that no one wants for 'a final week before their journey to heaven.' This time, the cage contains a scruffy three-legged dog named Jeremy who George feels is a kindred spirit. George convinces his grandmother to adopt Jeremy. Soon Jeremy learns all about cuddles and dinnertime, and George learns about 'not being on your own'. They all want to add 'walkies' to their vocabulary, so George and his grandmother devise various artificial legs for Jeremy. I won't spoil the rest of the book, but I will say that the book leaves you with tears in your eyes (the happy kind) and a nice warm fuzzy feeling.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stephenie Meyer Fans Rejoice! The Wait is Almost Over for Breaking Dawn!!!

The most anticipated book of the summer is set to come out at 12:01 a.m. Saturday August 2nd- Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer.
I would love to be able to give you a review, but the closest I've come to seeing the book is a photo of the shipping carton! I unfortunately have to wait like the everyone else until Saturday to find out the conclusion to Bella and Edward's story (which I say being an avid member of Team Edward, not Team Jacob).

I've know that stores and libraries are planning parties to launch the book- everything from masquerades to sleepover parties. I read this morning in the Publishers Weekly newsletter that some bookstores in the U.S. are pairing events with blood drives, which I think is a fabulous idea.
You are going to see this book everywhere over the next few days. Global News at Six ran a feature on the release of the book this past Wednesday (the piece was called 'Twilighters' if you want to check it out on the Global TV website, under Top Stories). There will be interviews with Stephenie Meyers in the next few days in the Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, a feature on the book release on CBC News, coverage of the release & a book review in the Vancouver Sun, all of the Canwest papers, and there is an article on the Twilight phenomenon in the latest edition of Maclean's magazine. Wow! And this is just SOME of the Canadian press coverage plans. I could list the U.S. plans, but this blog would go on far too long.

If you want to hear a spoiler direct from the mouth of Stephenie Meyer, you can check out the interview she gave for Entertainment Weekly.

I'm heading out to a nearby provincial park to go camping for the long weekend. I always find the hardest thing about a long weekend is deciding which books to bring. Do you bring the favourite authors that you KNOW you'll enjoy, or do you take the new galley that everyone in the office has been buzzing about? It's a great chance of getting ahead on your reading, but what if the book is bad? What if you (gasp) are stuck in the forest with no reading material?! The release of Breaking Dawn has, at least for me, made this dilemma much easier. I'm taking the first three books to re-read so I'm primed and ready to read the sample which (hopefully) will be waiting for me in my office upon my return...

Have a great long weekend everyone! Happy Reading!