Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Our first sandwich board. . .

Just a quick thank-you to all the terrific public and school library staff that came out to hear the Deweys Divas last week when we were touring around Alberta. We were particularly tickled to arrive at Calgary Public Library and see the above, outside on the sidewalk (thanks Sarah for sending along the photo). And thanks too to all those who stopped by our booths to chat at the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper. The weather completely co-operated this year and all of us had fun on the road. Of course being seasoned road trippers, we'll detour for anything out of the ordinary, and this year we went both highbrow and lowbrow. The highbrow was a quick pop into the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta to see their amazing exhibit of Hogarth Press books, which had me salivating in front of a first edition of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The Deweys can also highly recommend the onion cakes at the nearby Friends & Neighbours Cafe on Whyte Ave. A friendly unpretentious restaurant with friendly staff and great retro-green vinyl seating.
As for the lowbrow - well, I'm too embarassed. Just google Torrington, Alberta and you'll see why. Not exactly Drumheller, but maybe next year.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

And then there's Maude. . .

Coming home on the plane from a week's road trip in Alberta, I was saddened to hear that the amazing Bea Arthur had died. What a great, brassy, outspoken, raunchy, lovable diva she was. I grew up watching Maude and then The Golden Girls, and her cynical comic timing was next to none. Do yourself a favour and get your hands on the CD of Bea Arthur On Broadway: Just Between Friends, a one-woman show she did a few years ago. Oh, it's just marvellous - I've been listening to it repeatedly this afternoon and chuckling away.
Long before her TV fame, she was an enormous success on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for Mame. This live recording is equal parts stand-up comedy and witty cabaret. She tells many jokes and recounts hilarious and touching stories from her life and career, such as working with Angela Lansbury ("mouth like a longshoreman") to getting a coveted part alongside Lotte Lenya in Threepenny Opera. In between the amusing and frank banter, she sings a variety of songs from the very funny "What Can You Get a Nudist For Her Birthday?" or "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' On It!", to terrific renditions of Kurt Weill's "Pirate Jenny" and Stephen Sondheim's "Some People". And of course she reminisces about some of her favourite moments from her television years.
"For me, TV was so creatively rewarding," she says at one point. "Doing material that was bright and LITERATE (her emphasis) and original and adult and daring!" Those were the days. R.I.P Bea - you were truly a legend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Orange Prize 2009 Shortlist announced. . .

Love this prize - always new, exciting writers to discover. The shortlist was just announced and here it is:

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
Home by Marilynne Robinson
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

One Dewey pick among them - Lahring has been raving about Burnt Shadows for months now. The winner will be announced June 3rd.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Three Bunny Tails. . .

I do have a weakness for children's books featuring rabbits, having had two adorable bunnies - Juliet and Clover - as childhood pets. But Moon Rabbit, written and illustrated by Natalie Russell is a bunny book that speaks perfectly to my inner adult.

Little Rabbit - always accompanied by her oh-so-chic pink carrot purse - loves living in the big city that has all the cafes, bookstores and ice cream parlours she could ask for. There's always so much to do. But one day when she goes to the park to read a book, she falls asleep under a tree and doesn't wake up until it's dark and the moon is out. Hearing music in the distance, she discovers Brown Rabbit playing on his guitar. He leads her further into the park and introduces her to all the fun of communing with nature. But when Little Rabbit sees the city glowing at night in the distance, she misses her old life, and as much as she's enjoyed the company of Brown Rabbit, she decides to go home. Brown Rabbit doesn't understand how she could prefer the city to a beautiful moonlit park. It all ends happily though, because new friends can always come to visit.

I love the beautiful colour combinations used throughout the illustrations, and the simple but expressive rabbit faces. And if this isn't an allegory (though with a better ending) for every darn long-distance relationship I've ever had, I don't know what is.

For a different kind of leporine adventure, I got a lot of laughs out of Tuff Fluff: The Case of Duckie's Missing Brain by Scott Nash, in which a smart stuffed rabbit with a penchant for crossword puzzles, has to enlist the help of the other inhabitants of Los Attic to find the missing stuffing from Duckie's brain. He solves the case and gets his crossword clue as well. Lots of silly puns from this fun bun.

And you are in for a treat in August, when Big Bad Bun is published. It's written by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, the hilarious team behind one of my favourite children's books of all time - Tadpole's Promise . In their new book, a young rabbit leaves a note for his parents informing them that he's run away to join a gang and will thus be getting into all sorts of trouble as he aspires to be the baddest bun around. No need to twitch though - he's really at Grandma's, running away from a bad report card and wanting to let his parents know that really, things could be so much worse. . .
I'll be getting a copy for my mother.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fallada's son on Charlie Rose. . .

I've been pressing Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone - my favourite read this spring - into every reader's hands I know. Fallada died before the book was published in 1947, but his son Ulrich Ditzen recently travelled to the U.S. to talk about his father and the book. He recently appeared on Charlie Rose and MobyLives has posted the video here, where Ditzen, along with New York Times critic Liesl Schillinger, who in her review called this book the "signal literary event of 2009", and Dennis Johnson, the publisher of Melville House which is committed to bringing many of Fallada's previous novels back into print, discuss the novel, the real life couple that inspired Fallada, and the two other works of his now available - The Drinker and Little Man, What Now?
Definitely worth a look and if you haven't picked up this gripping and heartbreaking novel yet, what ARE you waiting for?

Monday, April 13, 2009

How dysfunctional is your reading?

Hmmm. What does it say about me or my reading habits that I scored 13 out of 13 on this Guardian quiz? (and I never get a perfect score on these things!). Check out your own traumatized reading habits here. Oh, and what was I reading this holiday weekend? Just the galley of an upcoming dystopian novel about a world that discards childless women, and finishing up Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum. Nothing disturbing there. . .

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Wonderful James Thurber. . .

It's Monday and it's April and it's snowing in Toronto. We all need a good laugh. But have no fear, The Wonderful O is here!
Written by humourist James Thurber in 1957, this re-issue has just been published as part of NYRB's great line of children's classics, and if you need a good giggle, no matter what your age, I highly recommend this tale. The story concerns two pirates looking for treasure on the island of Ooroo. But Black, the "man with a ship", has had a hatred of the letter "O" ever since his mother got stuck in a porthole and had to be fatally pushed out. When the islanders prove uncooperative in helping them find the jewels, Black with the help of the devious lawyer Hyde, decides not only to ban all items with the letter "O" in them, but also forces the people to remove the o's from their daily speech. The results are hilarious and disturbing. Verbal misunderstandings are so common that neighbours have difficulty understanding each other and the linguistic challenges become increasingly obvious because Black has neglected to consider collective nouns, synonyms and the names of things in foreign languages.

"Taking a single letter from the alphabet, " he said, "should make life simpler."
"I don't see why. "[said Hyde]. "Take the F from life and you have lie. It's adding a letter to simple that makes it simpler. Taking a letter from hoarder makes it harder."

Thurber writes terrific prose that is great for reading aloud as he packs his narrative with playful and alliterative language. Great for vocabulary building (yes, even adults will need a dictionary close by, but I for one, never get tired of learning new words). It also has very topical things to say about censorship and as I was reading it, I was thinking that this story is more relevant to today's kids than when it first appeared. With the advent of obsessive texting, they are conditioned to remove vowels from their messages; kids will be able to decode the shortened words in this story far faster than their elders.
For more in this vein, also check out Thurber's The 13 Clocks which plays with the traditional fairy-tale narrative, and for teens, you can also recommend Mark Dunn's delightful epistolary novel, Ella Minnow Pea, about a girl living on the fictional island of Nollop where the town council starts banning letters of the alphabet. In order to save the day, she must find a sentence other than “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” that uses every letter of the alphabet. It too is a wonderful read.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Mystery of Grace Book Launch

Are you a fan of Canadian fantasy author Charles De Lint? If so, and you live in Toronto (or can get there) you are invited to the launch of his new book The Mystery of Grace next Wednesday night, April 8th, at the Cadillac Lounge (1300 Queen St. West, Toronto) from 7-9 pm.
With the theme of 'This Ain't Your Average Book Launch' this is definitely going to be a fun evening! There will be appetizers, an author reading, and special musical guest Sarah Blackwood from The Creepshow. Bring along a copy of the book to be signed (or purchase one there), but definitely come prepared to have a good time!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

PC Cast Event Update

On March 26th P.C. and Kristin Cast were in town promoting the fifth book in the House of Night series Hunted. Along with interviews with the National Post , the Toronto Star and, the mother/daughter team appeared on Canada AM and did two bookstore signings. I went to the one held at a Chapters store in Burlington, ON.
What an event! Over 400 eager fans packed the store to meet the authors, who answered questions from fans and signed books for almost two hours. Two of the fans that I talked to had driven across the border from Buffalo to meet the authors.

Also on hand at this event were two Wiccans who set the mood by casting a circle giving thanks to the elements, a henna tattoo artist who provided free tattoos to fans waiting in line, and volunteers from a local cat rescue agency- Abandoned Cats Rescue. They brought along several cats available for adoption, and let me tell you, it was very hard not to take one home with me! Only the memory of the very bad reaction I got when I introduced my second cat Mo to Delaney (cat #1) stopped me...
Those unfamiliar with the series might be asking themselves- why cats? In the House of Night series, vampyres have a special affinity for cats and most fledgling have been 'picked' by a cat companion. The main character Zoey has a little orange cat named Nala (little lioness)- who I imagine looks rather like the cutie pictured below. Photos are courtesy of our fantastic Indigo rep (and all around nice guy) David Cuthbertson.

Hunted is even more action-packed than the first four books in the series. The school's High Priestess Nefret has 'gone to the dark side' so to speak, aligning herself with the recently freed fallen angel Kalona and his creepy army of Raven Mockers (rather grotesque bird/human hybrids) and turning her back on the Godess Nyx. Zoey and her friends have escaped from school and are hiding out in the Prohibition-era tunnels under Tuscon. However, when Zoey ventures above ground to confront her human ex Heath, she is attacked and gravely injured by a Raven Mocker. Forced to return to the House of Night to heal, she and her friends have to unravel a mysterious prophecy in order to find out how to defeat Kalona and Nefret. As with all of the books, Zoey is never short of boyfriends and once again has to juggle the hunky-yet-possessive vampyre Erik, the red fledgling Stark (who may or may not be evil), and her human ex- boyfriend Heath. Judging from the screams of the crowd at the signing, the fan favourite definitely seems to be Stark!

The authors were coy about who Zoey will end up with, only saying that the current storyline would continue for at least a few more books, but there was definitely a possibility of a spin-off series (possibly focused on Stevie Ray and the red fledglings ). I guess we will all have to wait to find out more when book six, Tempted, comes out this October!

So onto the contest portion of this posting! While I was at the event, I got one full set of the books in the House of Night series autographed, along with two copies of the new hardcover, Hunted.

If you are a teacher or librarian (Canada only, sorry) and would like to enter my draw to win these books, please send me an e-mail with the subject line 'PC Cast Contest' at You must also provide the full mailing address of your school or library to be eligible. I'll collect entries until Sunday April 26th and will draw one 'grand' prize winner of the full set, and two additional winners of the individual books. Good luck!