A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry


Fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife will not be disappointed by Audrey Niffenegger’s latest novel Her Fearful Symmetry.

Julia and Valentine Poole are 20-year-old sisters who are mirror twins. They are identical but also mirror images of each other. Valentina’s organs are even in the wrong spots. The twins are the daughter of a twin and the story opens with them inheriting the aunt’s apartment in London.

The English aunt, Elspeth, has very specific instructions. The girls must live in the flat for 1 year before selling it and under no circumstances is their mother Edwina to enter the apartment. 

The flat borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Robert, Elspeth’s lover works. He also happens to live in the flat below theirs.

To say the least, without giving things away, this is a modern-day ghost story with twins. Smart, eerie and a nice page turner.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Published by Vintage Canada
Read an Excerpt

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Birthday Week

I always enjoy celebrating my birthday, and I especially appreciate that James facilitates the birthday-ing beyond the single day. This year, I’ve had a really great time!

November 16, my friend and perfumer Ayala Moriel launched her chocolate bar line with Cocoa Nymph. My friend Anita, who shares a birthday with me and a passion for perfume, was also in town. Partners in tow (in toe?) we went to the Cocoa Nymph shop, listened to James (not mine) play some lovely piano. Then we tasted each of the 3 chocolate bars with wine pairings.

Ayala Moreil Chocolate Launch

Guilt (orange + dark chocolate, really smooth)
I don’t normally like orange and chocolate but what I discovered is that I don’t like synthetic orange and chocolate. The orange in this bar, along with orange blossom, is absolutely beautiful. The chocolate just melts in your mouth.

Espionage (smokey salt + dark chocolate)
Wow! My favourite. This chocolate is a journey in your mouth. The smokey salt creates little bursts of flavour that are intensely wonderful.

Roses et chocolat
Rose in desserts is a very Middle Eastern flavour and I love it. The darkest of the bars, this rose essence is one of the best in the world. To have it in a chocolate bar would be sinful if the Cocoa Nymph wasn’t such a great chocolatier.

Ayala Moreil Chocolate Launch

Ayala launches her chocolate bars from Cocoa Nymph

Chocolate and wine done, James and I carried on to Bao Bei for some late night cocktails (the John Wein and a smoky plum bourbon high ball). One of my favourite spots. We also indulged in some late night snacks. So tasty!

Shao Bing
Crunchy sesame flatbread with braised pork butt, Asian pear, pickled onion
and mustard greens – 10

Steamed buns with braised beef shortrib, hoisin, scallions, pickled cucumber,
and roasted peanuts – 9

Steamed prawn and chive dumplings – 7.50

Bao Bei

The next day was my buddy Jay Grandin’s birthday, which brought us to the Alibi Room for merriment.

Then Friday, James and I popped down to Seattle to hang with the awesome duo of Common Craft—Lee and Sachi LeFever. I can’t imagine more wonderful hosts for our Seattle visit.

Lee just returned Friday night from Toronto so it was another late evening meal, this time at an amazing Basque restaurant, whose name escapes me.

Duck confit, rabbit, squid, croquettes, brussel sprouts — ice cream, almond cake, roasted pear with fig ganache. Need I go on? It was delicious.

On Saturday, James and I started with some shopping at Nordstroms. I love the sales people there. Then we took the monorail to Pacific Science Center for the Harry Potter Exhibition.

Pacific Science Center

After we walked back to Pike Market and had one of Seattle’s best crab cakes, 5 oz of crab moulded into a delightful mound of yumminess. Bit of shoe shopping. It was MY birthday so no feeling sorry for James. Then we drove up to Capitol Hill and Quinn’s Pub, where we had an amazing Painted Hills beef burger and fries (James) and a rabbit sausage with roast squash, frisée, chestnuts and a maple bourbon homemade marshmallow (me), oh yes!

The late night component included going back to Science Center to watch the Harry Potter movie on the IMAX screen. It was a big day.

This morning we (James, Lee, Sachi and I) joined Jay and Anatasia at Luc, a great French bistro that has just recently opened for brunch. Mushroom omelette, homemade doughnuts, coffee and friends.

Book Review: The Retreat by David Bergen


One of the best books I read this year is The Retreat by David Bergen. Bergen hails from Winnipeg and The Retreat is set close to there in an area that I know well, Lake of the Woods.

It’s 1974, during the summer of the Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario. Raymond is a native boy who falls in love with a white girl whose uncle is in the police force. The family is not keen on their relationship and manage to drive them apart (quite literally). Raymond later meets Lizzy Byrd, who is holidaying at Lake of the Woods at “The Retreat”, a commune run by a woo-woo guru named Dr. Amos. Lizzy’s mother is a fan of Dr. Amos. Lizzy’s father is not, but in an effort to satisfy his wife, he’s brought the family here for the summer.

The summer is a long period of time.

With a cast of characters at the Retreat, as well as the locals, Bergen’s weaves a multilayered story. Kids get lost and almost drown. Family’s break up, and come back together. Regardless of the storyline, each character is complete. Bergen’s characters aren’t two dimensional, even if they only have supporting roles.

The Retreat is a beautifully written novel. Each word finely crafts the story. I really, really enjoyed this book and think Bergen is as gifted as the critics claim (nominee 2008 - Scotiabank Giller Prize, winner 2009 - McNally Robinson Book of the Year, winner 2009 - Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction).
Read an excerpt.

The Retreat by David Bergen
Published by McClelland & Stewart

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eastside Culture Crawl: Rachael Ashe

My artist friend Rachael Ashe (who does the awesome altered books) is participating in Vancouver’s Eastside Culture Crawl from Friday, November 26 to Sunday, November 28!

Altered Book: Constellation Of The Great Bear

The Eastside Culture Crawl is an annual free 3-day visual arts event that involves more than 10,000 people visiting over 375 artists in their studios. The studios are all in the Eastside, the area bounded by Main Street, Victoria Drive, First Avenue to the waterfront.

Please come visit Rachael’s Studio and buy some beautiful artwork. It’s her first year in the Eastside Culture Crawl.

Although the altered books are my favourite, they may not be yours. That’s ok! Rachael also does wonder collages and metal prints. There will also be a large-scale paper craft tree and the series of encyclopedias most recently on display at the Container Art show at the PNE.

Sneak Preview of the Tree of Uncommon Knowledge

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Book Review: Two Generals by Scott Chantler

Scott Chantler is an acclaimed graphic novelist who lives in Waterloo. And he draws in a style that I totally love for graphic novels. Apparently I’m not the only one who loves his stuff, Chantler’s books have been nominated for the Eisner, Harvey, Russ Manning, Joe Shuster, and Doug Wright Awards–and I don’t see why he didn’t win.

Two Generals is a graphic novel set during the Second World War. I think this is his ninth book, although there are only 5 books to buy in his store. Regardless of what number this book is, it’s worth buying.

The thing I love about Seth’s work is the packaging. There’s something about a graphic novel that deserves artistic attention. And I was really pleased to see the incredible package and designed for Chantler’s book (designed by Jennifer Lum at McClelland & Stewart).

In March 1943, Scott’s grandfather, Law Chantler, left Canada for active service with the Highland Light Infantry in England. Also on board was his best friend and fellow officer, Jack. After grueling training and weeks of boredom and anxiousness to get going, they were crossing the English Channel for the Allied invasion of Normandy. If you know your military history, you’ll know that this operation was fraught with difficulties.

The novel is a story of friendship and the absurdities of war rather than a straight account of events. And I enjoyed the subtleties of the illustrations, the side winks, the knowing glances and the quiet gestures that tell the emotional story of the lives of these two men. 

Scott has also launched a research blog for Two Generals where you can view early sketches and also the photos and images that he used to inform this story and illustrations. I recommend having a look!


Two Generals by Scott Chantler
Published by McClelland & Stewart



Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

Certainly a weirdly good read. Charles Yu first came to my attention with Thrid Class Superhero, his collection of short stories. Now, he’s on the radar with How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe, his debut novel.


Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space with interconnected yet separate universes. It’s a time when time travel is something anyone can do, like microwaving food. People have a personal time travel device, which they mostly use to visit moments in the past that they want to relive—usually bad moments that they are hoping to change or from which they hope to gain insights.

The base model TM-31 [TM-31 Recreational Time Travel Device] runs on state-of-the-art chronodiegetical technology: a six-cylinder grammar drive built on a quad-core physic engine, which features an applied temporalinguistics architecture allowing for free-form navigation within a rendered environment, such as, for instance, a story space and, in particular, a science fictional universe.

A box. Get in. Push some buttons. Visit different times. The operating system is called TAMMY (or TIM—depending on what you chose at start up).

Charles Yu, time travel technician, saves people from themselves. Or rather, he fixes their time travel machines that break due to human tampering. But ultimately he ends up trapping himself in a time loop.

If you’re not a fan of science fiction, then this is a good literary spin on that genre. If you are a science fiction fan, I think you’ll enjoy the science and philosophy described in the novel.

1-line summary: This novel is The Big Bang Theory meets a dysfunctional Family Ties, without the laugh track, although there are some funny moments.

Clever. Geeky. Nostalgic. (Can you be nostalgic for the future? In a science fictional universe, I think you can be.)

Related Links

Charles Yu in the Huffington Post before finishing the novel.
Lev Grossman’s review of Science Fictional Universe on Amazon.com
Pantheon: US publisher
Pantheon: CDN publisher