Category Archives: Book News

Continuing the Conversation with Donna Bailey Nurse and Marina Endicott

A few days ago, I received a lovely email from Donna Bailey Nurse regarding my book review of Marina Endicott’s Close to Hugh. Like myself, she was disappointed it didn’t make the Giller shortlist, but she also wanted to share with me downloada wonderful piece she did on Endicott for the literary magazine Black Iris.  For those of you who read and enjoyed the book, or for those of you who simply can’t get enough of Endicott, you can find the profile on this wonderful Alberta author here. 

Nurse makes an extremely poignant observation about Endicott’s writing that really rang true for me in this piece; she points out that Endicott has incredible compassion for her characters, and that she treats them much the same way as Anne Tyler or Carol Shields does. Having just read Anne Tyler for the first time a few months ago, I couldn’t agree more!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, Donna Bailey Nurse is a very well-established writer in her own right, and I’m a big fan of her book reviews. So make sure to check out Black Iris for some more bookish writing.


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Touring the Grimm Brothers Museum in Kassel, Germany

On my European adventures I visited many car museums, mainly because that was what my husband wanted to do. However, we also visited some literary hotspots to appease my interests too, and one such destination was Grimm World in Kassel Germany.

Even the staircases had words at Grimm World!

Even the staircases had words at Grimm World!

We walked to this beautiful museum through a gorgeous park, and the museum itself had just opened in September 2015, so everything was brand new. Apparently the Brothers Grimm are considered Kassel ‘celebrities’,(they lived a great deal of their lives there) as the route to this museum and other important monuments to them were clearly marked with street signs that we saw as we walked through the town.

When you enter Grimm World, there is a (surprisingly) small area of book shelves with Grimm books for sale in all different languages. It won’t surprise you that I purchased an English book for my daughter, and at this point, she is ambivalent about it being seven months old, but I’m sure she’ll grow to love it once she’s a bit older. Some of the stories in the collection include: “Rapunzel”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, “Hansel and Gretel”, etc. Yes, Disney has made lots of money off the Grimm fairy tales, but it’s worth while mentioning the fact that the Grimm Brothers themselves didn’t write a lot of these. They actually collected the stories from other people, as they were passed down from generation to generation.

Translations of Grimm Fairy Tales from all over the world

Translations of Grimm Fairy Tales from all over the world

The exhibition itself was fantastic and broken out into three different sections: information on the Brothers’ work on the German dictionary, their individual lives, and their story collections. It included artistic representations of their tales, actual artifacts from their homes, and pages of their work.  One of the coolest things I saw was a child-sized house with a bed, and a projection of an old man sleeping in the bed, alongside speakers playing a recording of snoring sounds. I know what you’re thinking: what the hell does that represent? I wasn’t sure myself, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Each part of the exhibition was very interactive, in fact I huddled inside that house for a few minutes taking it all in, ready to jump back out if something creepy started to happen. Keep in mind, this place was meant for both adults and children, which is something I had to keep reminding myself of whenever I came across something that I found a bit unnerving.

So while my husband dreams of his day at the Porsche museum, I reminisce about my time at Grimm World; both are popular attractions in Germany, but only one will continue to keep rewarding us with stories for years to come!


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The Literary Festival Season Has Begun!

So with the onslaught of Fall book awards come the annual procession of literary festivals. Canada is lucky enough to have quite a few of them, although there is always room for more! As you all know, I used to work for Wordfest, so this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

I just finished reading a fun little piece in the Globe and Mail interviewing various authors about their coping techniques on the festival circuit. And just so we’re clear, most authors are dying to be on this kind of tour, and find it an honour to simply be invited to these festivals. There are of course, those mega super stars who can pick and choose what they do, but for 98% of Canadian writers, these appearances are fun because they’re finally getting paid to read their own writing to audiences.

4067553As Mark Medley notes at the beginning of the article, there is no shortage of debauchery at these things, and I can attest to that. Dave Bidini wrote an article about this, and lucky me, the inspiration for this came from a certain evening we both participated in during Wordfest. (Side note, he’s attending Wordfest again this year, go check him out!) Everyone seems to think that your university years are when you party hardest. In my case, it was when I was exposed to poets, musicians and fiction writers looking to let loose in the mountains.

Each festival week that I worked was a mixture of exhaustion and stress.  But every time an author I really admired spent time chatting with me, or genuinely thanked me for my hard work, it made it all worth it. I even have a few, treasured gifts from some writers who I can now call friends, which is just icing on the literary cupcake for me.

This is all to say that I’m a bit nostalgic when this season rolls around, because I miss the roller coaster of emotions that would typically accompany my work at the festival. However, being in the audience is just as fun, especially because I don’t have to worry if the readers are going to party too hard for their own good that night. They probably will, but I’ll be fast asleep at home while it’s happening.


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Elizabeth Hay is coming to Wordfest and I Love Her

I recently finished reading Elizabeth Hay‘s new book His Whole Life. And I loved it. Obviously, because Elizabeth Hay is great. I’ve also been helping the wonderful Shelley Youngblut program the 20th anniversary of Wordfest this year. So…they filmed me (nervously) reviewing this book as part of the festival preparations. Should I stick to doing written review of books, rather than video reviews? Probably, but this was super fun all the same. Check out the awesome Festival line-up (many appear on the Giller longlist) and buy your tickets now!

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Giller Longlist Announced!

Well the Giller Longlist has been announced, and it’s a good one! I may be a bit biased, simply because I’ve read and loved many of the books on the list, but it’s also pointed to a few I need to hurry up and read. You all know by now that I loved Patrick deWitt’s Under Major Domo Minor, and Michael Christie’s If I Fall, If I Die. And if you ever listened to my segments on CKUA, you would have heard me rave about Connie Gault’s A Beauty with Tony King. But now I have my next book to pick up and devour: Marina Endicott’s Close to Hugh, which just happens to be on my book shelf already.

Another reason I love this list? Simply because I know that as soon as it comes out, regardless of what books are on it, it’s going to inject some much needed money into the Canadian publishing industry. People are going to run to their local book store, or go online and purchase one, or all of these books. And that is a good thing for the whole publishing food chain. I’m also excited because I’ll be hosting the Calgary Giller Light Party, so we can find out the winner together on November 10th!

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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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