Category Archives: Book News

Big book alert: Patrick deWitt has a new book coming!!!

Ahh the Fall. For book nerds like me, this is a great season for a few reasons; one, the weather is getting colder, so we have better excuses to stay in and read, and two, the Fall is when highly anticipated books are released, just before book award lists are announced. Canadian book lovers will no doubt know about Patrick deWitt, his last book The Sisters Brothers was HUGE, download (2)appearing on virtually every award list possible, keeping critics buzzing for months. My American readers may or may not be aware of him (or perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, assuming I even have American readers on this blog) but anywho, the SB should be made into a movie any day now, so you will know about him sooner rather than later!

9781770894143_edacd8ca-0aef-45b1-a5d6-aaa327c8278b_1024x1024But back to why the Fall is so great: I’ve got deWitt’s new book Undermajordomo Minor on my to-read shelf, and I’m planning to pick it up shortly, but in the meantime, his publisher has released this book trailer for those who don’t have access to the advanced reading copies I so lovingly covet as a book blogger. Who’s excited now????

Also-how great is the cover treatment on this book? I love themes!!!! I have to use a lot of exclamation marks here to demonstrate how excited I am…


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Book News: Harper Lee to publish her second novel

I’m a couple days late on this one, but I thought I’d weigh in on this latest piece of exciting book news anyway. Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (published in the 1950s), has announced that she will be releasing her second novel titled Go Set a Watchman in July 2015, with publisher HarperCollins (those lucky bastards, other publishers are most likely muttering to themselves).harper-lee

Before I delve further into this topic, I would like to admit something horribly embarrassing (because why not?). I thought Harper Lee was a man, until this past Tuesday, when I saw her publicity photo appear on my facebook feed accompanying this breaking news. In my defense, when I read the book in Grade 10, I’m sure I knew at the time that Lee was a woman, but that fact seems to have slipped my mind in the 15 plus years since. I was also unaware that Harper Lee was still alive (yes, I’m sure my ignorance is surprising to many), so I felt doubly awkward when hearing this news, mainly because it forced me to realize how little I actually know, vs. how little I actually think I know.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I want to say how excited I am about this. Will I rush out and buy the book? Probably not, I don’t typically jump on these book bandwagons like others. I will consider buying the book (from a local independent of course) as a gift for someone though, it could be a great conversation starter, and I’m sure many of my friends won’t hear about this news at all, so I’ll appear very knowledgeable just by getting it for them.

Since the news broke, there have been questions around the timing of this book, mainly because it is widely known that Lee is in failing health, and her dutiful attorney passed away a few months before this new book mysteriously appeared. Apparently Lee wrote it before To Kill a Mockingbird, but it hadn’t been up for release until now. Is Lee being taken advantage of by a big corporation? Who knows? And does anyone want to point out how strange it is that the imprint releasing her book is also named Harper? I haven’t seen any jokes about this yet, so perhaps I’m missing something, or I simply have a childish sense of humour.

But  I AM excitone-of-katy-perrys-dancing-sharks-reveals-his-identity-during-a-reddit-amaed about this because of how much press and attention it’s getting. Who knew, that just mere days after the internet’s incredible over-focus on dancing sharks during a Superbowl halftime show, that our intelligence could return this quickly to discuss something so worthwhile? Lately I’ve been reviewing the the ‘trending’ topics on facebook with distaste and pity for humankind, but my spirits are buoyed by the articulate discourse coming out of this latest announcement. Yes, people believe there are more important things than Kim Kardashian’s latest photo shoot and the 10 ways in which Missy Elliot out-shined Katy Perry, and it simply took a blast from the past to get us there. God bless you, Harper Lee.




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Defending Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

So, the Giller Prize is upon us. In just a few short days, an author’s life will be changed forever. No, this is not an exaggeration, this IS a life changing prize, especially now that it is worth $100,000 (basically the equivalent of 10 years of working for most Canadian authors, if not more).

But I don’t want this post to be depressing, I want this post to be exciting!!!! On Nov. 10, I’ll be a part of the Giller Light Calgary party, defending the novel Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. I wanted to give you a sneak peek of what I would be discussing at the event, so below is a brief summary of what I thought of the book.

Firstly, it’s important that you understand what a theremin is when reading the book. To demonstrate, I have included a video of the instrument below. This is of course a miniature version of it, because a cat is playing it.

Thank you to “Mr. HarlemTwerk: for posting that video! Granted, theremin’s don’t really look like that; they’re much bigger with no antennae, but you got the point.

Us Conductors is about the Russian inventor Lev Terman who invented the theremin back in the 1920s. He also invented a few others things, most notably some technology that allowed the Soviets to spy on Americans in the 30s, but this book mainly focuses on his love of music, and the effect the theremin had on his early life.

Following an exciting first half of the book that details Terman’s wealth and celebrity-filled time in American, comes a very dark second half of the narrative. Terman is forced back to Russia and shuffled between gulags and various other prisons, basically working as a slave for his country. Similar to concentration camps from WWII, Terman barely survives the inhumane conditions. All in all, from the little I’ve read about Terman’s  life, this story is fairly true to history.

I realize this description of the book has remained fairly unbiased up until now, but I will be making the argument on Monday that Michaels  should win the Giller. Why? Sean Michaels is a great writer. At the very least, this is a requirement to win the richest literary prize in Canada. But he also has phenomenal storytelling skills. The book begins in one genre, and ends as an entirely different one. This abrupt change kept me reading, but Michaels was smart enough to maintain his tone and character development throughout. Because the narrative voice remained consistent throughout the book, the drastic plot change was not jarring or unbelievable to me as a reader.

If the above observations have piqued your interest, come on our to the Giller Light Bash on Monday to celebrate literary merit in Canada. If you don’t live in and around Calgary, make sure to tune in to the Giller Prizes on television, Rick Mercer is hosting!


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Book Event: Back to (Writing) School with Author Ian Williams

Last night at the Barley Mill Pub in Eau Claire, I had the pleasure of attending another successful and educational Writers Guild of Alberta event. Recently named University of Calgary writer-in-residence Ian Williams gave a thought-provoking yet still entertaining presentation on writing. Although I don’t consider myself a formal writer,  he still gave me some useful tips, and I’ve decided to start calling myself a ‘creative non-fiction’ writer rather than a blogger, as this sounds much fancier.

Ian Williams, speaking to a rapt crowd at the Barley Mill last night

Ian Williams, speaking to a rapt crowd at the Barley Mill last night

When the event began, Williams announced that his talk would be focused more on us, the audience, rather than himself. He wanted us to leave the event learning a bit more about our own writing styles, which in all my years of attending literary events, came across as a rather creative approach. Understandably, we were all a bit hesitant when he said this, as most writers don’t like the limelight, and horrific images of people standing up and discussing their books-in-progress danced through my head. However, quite the opposite happened, and I believe the objective of the evening was reached. What revelations did I have?  I realized that I don’t take my writing as seriously as any poet, and my particular ‘style’ of writing includes getting a bunch of crap down on the page, and editing it all afterwards. So, very useful soul-searching was done on my part.

Williams also encouraged us to challenge ourselves: if you’re the type of person who does all their writing in the morning, try writing at night! If you’re the kind of person who only writes fiction, try writing non-fiction and see where that gets you. I’m about to embark on an online writing course, so I hope to take advantage of this advice and try out my very rusty fiction-writing skills to see if this improves overall communications. Williams also emphasized the fact that writing a bunch of stuff that never sees the light of day is a good exercise, which is a difficult pill to swallow for multi-taskers like myself (“what a waste of time” I thought in my head) but I do see his point.

Who says writing workshops have to include the same, old boring advice? And isn’t it better to take in these words of wisdom while in a pub, sipping a glass of beer and munching on some yam fries? I thought so too, so stay tuned for the next WGA event, you won’t want to miss it.



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CBC Books’ Writers to Watch: the 2014 Edition

I have some observations on the most recent “Writers to Watch” list from CBC Books:

  • Not surprisingly, it is a diverse list in both authors and their publishers. I would expect nothing less from the CBC.
  • I have heard of none of these writers. A few years ago, when I worked in publishing, I’m sure I would have recognized the majority of these names (at the very least, the new face of fiction from Random House) but alas, I glean all my book information from blogs such as these, just like everyone else now so I’m sufficiently out of the loop.
  • None of these books looked particularly interesting to me, but they are all very typically “Canadian”, which the CBC seems hell-bent on reminding us of, every chance they get.
  • I can guarantee you that all of these authors are struggling to make a living from their writing, and will continue to do so, well after their books are released and highly lauded by critics, which most will inevitably be.
  • At least one of these authors will probably find themselves on the Giller longlist this year, but I can guarantee they won’t win it. Yes, I know that without reading any of the books themselves, or even thoroughly reading the blurbs that were included in the article.
  • The book I want to read the most is New Tab by Guillaume Morissette because his headshot includes a picture of him holding a beautiful cat.

    Obviously, this is the best author on the list

    Obviously, this is the best author on the list

To some, my list above may seem like I’ve given up on Canadian book lists, or the CBC. I’ve done neither, I assure you. I listen to the CBC all the time, even when I’m sick of how Canadian it sounds, and I still eagerly click on these book ranking lists, if only to see what I do and do not recognize. I am however slightly jaded when it comes to identifying these ‘hot new writers’. Why are these books supposed to be interesting to us, other than the fact that they’re new, and the CBC says they’re good? I suppose that’s what us book bloggers are for, an unbiased opinion to let book enthusiasts know what’s worthwhile, and what isn’t.

I’d also like to point out that in the comments section of the site, the visible diversity of the authors was also noticed by a fellow reader, so obviously I’m not the only one who is aware of the CBC’s attempt to include as many skin colors as possible on this list. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, in fact they probably have a mandate to do this, it’s just so …Canadian!



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Wanted: Book Covers from the ’70s

I came across this juicy little tidbit while scanning book news from the past few weeks, and I thought you would find this interesting as well. And don’t worry, if you have no idea who Lena Dunham or Chip Kidd is, that really has no bearing on what I found interesting about this article anyway.


Does this book cover not look like it came straight from your parent’s bookshelf? I know I did a double take when I looked at this image-Kidd is completely right, this cover looks extremely outdated. In fact, it looks a lot like the yellowing copy of the Joy of Cooking that has sat at my family’s cottage for over four decades now.

This isn't a picture of the actual book at my cottage, but it might as well be

This isn’t a picture of the actual book at my cottage, but it might as well be

Does Lena Dunham think she’s being ironic by using an outdated type on her book? Is this another case of hipster nonsense? Or perhaps this what people in New York think is cool these days? Well, I’d  agree with Chip Kidd on this one-out with the old and in with the new!











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WGA Conference: The Writing Life Panel

Hilary McMahon, Me, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe

Hilary McMahon, Me, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe

I just love the picture above, it’s one of my favourites from the Writers Guild of Alberta Conference because it so honestly depicts how fun the event was to host. The crowd in the background of this photo were enthusiastic, supportive and asked wonderfully insightful questions. The panelists Hilary McMahon, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe were all great presenters as well-they were honest, open, and had a great sense of humor, which made hosting this event that much more fun! In fact, they were all so talkative that my not-oft tested moderating skills were hardly necessary, much to my relief.

The title of the event was “The Writing Life”, so I asked a few questions around the current state of publishing, what’s expected of a writer these days, the role of social media in a professional writer’s life, etc. A discussion like this could easily slip into a depressing rant about the good old days, but thankfully the everyone’s jokes and optimism prevented this from happening.

Why do we look at the publishing industry as if it’s golden age that is slowly fading away?  I’m going to try to sum this up as short and simply as possible. The publishing houses are losing money because of major cutbacks in their revenue, mostly due to the fact that big box stores and corporations (Indigo, Amazon, etc. ) are paying less that they ever did for their stock, because they have the influence and market majority to do so. Oh, and e-books are a big part of this, because they are sold for a lot less than their hard copy counterparts, but they cost just as much to produce (the main cost in book production is the editing and typesetting of the pages). As you can see, the cost of producing books is still the same, yet publishers are making less money for the same product, which means they are pressured to cost costs elsewhere. This in turn gets passed down to the authors themselves, because they are being paid less for their writing, and being asked to essentially provide the marketing for their own books. So, not only are writers paid very little for what they’ve already written, but they’re being asked to write other things for free (like twitter updates, blogs and facebook posts).frabz-WRITER-What-my-friends-think-I-do-What-my-mom-thinks-I-do-What-s-24d512

Similar reasoning can be applied to the demise of the newspaper industry, but lord knows I don’t the the time or patience to argue on behalf of all paper industries, so I draw the line at discussing anything other than books on this blog.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this-if it hasn’t become obvious enough yet, it’s something that I’m passionate about, which is why I’m a board member of the Writers Guild of Alberta. The WGA supports Alberta writers and is doing its best to protect the rights of writers in this province, which is something that is constantly threatened by the shrinking budgets of publishers big and small. So please do your part, buy some books and hug a writer when you see one, because when not appearing on a super fantastic panel as part of a conference, the writing life is not as glamorous as you may think.



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Calgary Reads Book Sale!!!

I am forever indebted to my good friend Kayleigh for introducing me to the Calgary Reads Annual Book Sale. How did I not know about this before, and why has it taken me this long to discover it? The sight of walking into a big empty warehouse full of books and book lovers warmed my cold heart to its very core, and I was amazed to see people wheeling luggage filled to the brim with books!

I’ve included a photo here of what the room looked like, just to give you an idea of how many people were there. Who said the book industry was dead-it clearly isn’t! This is a great example of how publishing is shifting, and although used book stores aren’t as popular as some would like them to be, people are clearly still purchasing used books, and in this case, all the proceeds are going to a good cause.

My fellow book-lovers!

My fellow book-lovers!

And the variety of books! There was something there for everyone, and everything was meticulously sorted. Fiction was sorted into mystery, horror, historical fiction, beach reads, Canadian fiction, even a Governor General Award-Winning section was there. And of course tons of non-fiction: history, cookbooks, gardening, arts and crafts, self-help, travel books. Really, they had everything, even a section for children’s books and YA. Interestingly enough-they did not accept Harlequin romance novels as donations. I found that a bit baffling, because it’s such a popular genre that many people would have gladly picked it up should it be available, but who am I to judge?

I got all these for 20 bucks-yup, pretty good deal

I got all these for 20 bucks in total-yup, pretty good deal

The stack of books I brought home came to a measly 20 bucks-so a little less than the cost of one hardcover book. Now, I know that sales like this are the bane of booksellers’ existence, because it trains people to pay less for the books they want. However, what I like about this is that it brings the community together over something that’s important-reading! And I bet that the majority of people there make a habit of shopping for books all year long-this is just their chance to get a whole whack of them for next to nothing.  Most likely, they are also the people who visit their local independent bookstores, so you can’t blame them for wanting to save a couple of bucks. I got the first books of a couple of series at this sale, and if I really like them, I’ll probably go out and buy the second and third in the series, so I’m hoping that this sale will encourage more book purchases in the future, rather than stifle them.

If you missed it this year, now you know what to look forward to next year! Keep your eye on the Calgary Reads site for information about next year’s sale, because they’re a not-for-profit organization doing amazing work, and your support is greatly appreciated.


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Book Rapport Launch!

As many of my readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for Wordfest, mainly because I worked there for five years and 100% support their festival’s mandate of bringing readers and writers together. So, not surprisingly when I received an invitation to the launch of their Book Rapport/Festival des mots program, I jumped at the chance to attend!

Sandra and Jo announcing the program!

Sandra and Jo announcing the program!

The event was held at Owl’s Nest Bookstore, who is also the bookseller for the kids program of Wordfest. As always, they put out a great spread, including wine, jellybeans, and cheese. Who could ask for anything else? Not surprisingly, I gorged myself on the jellybeans, and those who know me well would expect nothing less I’m sure.

The formal program started out with a great video that featured clips of previous Book Rapport events, and interviews with the students and teachers who have participated in the program. Then-the big reveal! A sheet was whipped off a table in the back where all the featured books of the youth program were displayed (picture below). Who am I excited about? Ruth Ohi is a great additional to the line-up, she’s written and illustrated adorable children’s books, and is a lovely woman to boot. Kenneth Oppel was another big name I recognized-he’ll be presenting at a few sold-out shows for sure. Ivan E. Coyote also stood out for me-I know she’s attended the festival a few times in the past, but  I’ve been a fan of her genre-defying work for a long time now, and her writing explores gender in such interesting ways that her appearances will never get old. Her short story collection Missed Her is one of my favourite books of all time. book table

There’s also some great French authors coming, so if you speak the language of love, or if your kids do, make sure to check out that line-up here.

It was nice to catch up with old friends, and peruse the book shelves. Before I entered the store, I promised myself I wouldn’t buy anything, but as all book-aholics know, it’s impossible to enter a book shop as lovely as Owl’s Nest and not come out with anything. So, at the recommendation of Jo Steffens, Executive Director of Wordfest, I picked up Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. At the recommendation of the internet and all women on it, I picked up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. You can be sure that I will posting reviews on both of those books, so stay tuned! Oh, and I got a delicious-smelling tube of hand creme, which lord knows I didn’t need, but I’m so excited for.



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W.O. Mitchell Book Prize Readings

On Tuesday night, I joined a small but mighty crowd of book lovers in the upstairs of the Rose and Crown on 4th to hear this year’s shortlisted W.O. Mitchell Book Prize authors read from their nominated works. Those were:

  1. Glenn Dixon for Tripping the World Fantastic (Dundurn Press)
  2. Juleta Severson-Baker for Incarnate (Frontenac House)
  3. Tyler Trafford for Almost a Great Escape: A Found Story (Goose Lane Editions)

Dixon gave a multimedia presentation from his book which included a recording of an ancient Egyptian horn being played for the first and only time. Baker read a few pieces from her first collection of poetry, including some racy love poems about her husband. What made this reading all the better was that her mother-in-law was in the audience! (I was most the likely the only one who felt awkward about this, judging by everyone else’s reactions). And Trafford didn’t even read from his book, he regaled the rapt audience with the story of the emotional genesis of his first full-length book, which was a great way to end the readings. To cap off these great performances, the crowd was treated to past winner Marcello Di Cintio starting off the Q&A period with some rousing questions of his own. I worked up the courage to ask a question and requested that Di Cintio give the shortlisters some advice on what it’s like to be nominated for this award-and hopefully win it! His advice was humorous, as I had hoped and expected. If you’re curious as to what it was-looks like you should have been there!

Glenn Dixon Reading

Glenn Dixon Reading

So, the mixture of non-fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction all worked together to create a memorable evening of readings, and I don’t say that very often, because I’ve been to some terrible readings in my time. Buy me a few drinks and you’ll hear all about those, but for now, I’m content to brag about the amazing writers I’ve heard read and perform like I am here. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, you’re all deserving in my mind, but may the best book win!!!


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