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Monday, October 31, 2011

Reading Is Sexy 2012 Calendar

You might remember the 2010 Reading is Sexy calendar.

I was Miss January.


The fine folks at TravelingStories.org have sent me the 2012 calendar that is helping raise funds for their organization, which provides books to kids who have none and strives to inspire a love for reading everywhere.


Traveling Stories finds schools and/or orphanages that want a library but cannot afford one on their own. Usually the school or orphanage already has a room for the library, they just don’t have the books or staff to run it. So far they have launched libraries in Sudan and El Salvador. In the US, their strategy is to inspire kids to read by hosting interactive literary events.

If you’d like to learn more about Traveling Stories, check out their FAQ.

And if you like sexy, pin-ups of reading peeps, then by all means get your copy for only $15. Order here.



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay


Ami McKay’s second novel is sure to be a bestseller just like the first.

I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.

So begins The Virgin Cure, a story about a street girl named Moth who is lured by the street savvy Mae into Miss Everett’s brothel for girls. Set in the 1800s in New York, girls as young as 12 are preyed upon by those wishing to make a buck or to pay a large sum to be a girl’s first. Sadly there are many gentlemen willing to sleep with young girls and, more depressing, there are many who believe virgins will cure syphillus.

Moth is 12, and like many girls from poor families, is sold. Money changes hands and she goes first to Mrs. Wentworth as a ladies maid. But Mrs. Wentworth likes to beat pretty girls so Moth runs away only to find that her mother is no longer living in their apartment. With no where to go, she’s left to her own devices until she is “saved” by Miss Everett, who trains young girls in the art of seduction and then sells their first trick for a lovely sum to well-to-do gentlemen including the Chief of Dectectives, bankers, and politicians. Thankfully Mr. Dink (no pun apparently intended) and Dr. Sadie (a lady physician dedicated to serving the needs of women and children) provide Moth a means to live beyond the street or the whorehouse. The question is whether she’ll take these offers.

The Virgin Cure is a novel about friendship and betrayal, and it’s a ficitionalized account of McKay’s great, great- grandmother who was a lady physician in NYC during this time.

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
published by Knopf in hardcover and ebook
Canadian author

Visit Ami McKay’s website


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Terroryaki! by Jennifer K. Chung


Terroryaki! by Jennifer K. Chung is the perfect book for Halloween, or any time that you want a spooky food truck on your radar.

It’s three months to the wedding, and Daisy’s Taiwanese parents are still shunning her sister’s hopelessly white fiancé. To escape the prenuptial drama, food-obsessed Daisy goes on the hunt for a mysterious take-out truck whose dishes are to die for. Literally.

Terroryaki! is a playfully appetizing first bite. This is Jennifer K. Chung’s first novel and it’s the winner of the 33rd Annual 3-Day Novel Contest, which runs every Labour Day Weekend. The writing is gritty and fast paced, exactly what you’d expect from a novel crafted in 3 days, but it’s also quite accomplished. The novel opens as follows:

Samantha was getting married, and Mom didn’t like it. She thought Sam’s fiancé was a bad match for her and predicted that Sam would be divorced within a year. I kinda liked the guy—Patrick often joined me on weekly expeditions to new restaurants—but Mom didn’t care about my opinion. Patrick wasn’t Asian enough for her, probably because he wasn’t Asian at all. Besides, Mom and Sam have had a rocky relationship ever since Sam went away to college, and Mom was always bugging me about Sam, asking if I’d talked to her or if she’d posted on Facebook. I always shrugged and said, “I dunno.”

This is a funny, spicy and slightly creepy tale of food, family, love, Seattle, and the best—if slightly cursed—teriyaki food truck in Seattle. Daisy is a teriyaki connaisseur and blogger. Samantha is a lawyer and the bride to be. Patrick is the dumbfounded fiancé. Mom and Dad are keen on their Taiwanese soap operas and overly dramatic. Plus there’s the curse, piratesque teriyaki food truck driver, and the Nordic, slightly insane, terrifying wedding planner. Poor Daisy needs to do more than just save the wedding day.

100% worth a read.

Order Terroryaki! from the 3-Day Novel Contest website.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

West Side Story at the Vancouver Opera

Now that James and I are newly married, we have quite a social calendar. Last evening we had the pleasure of attending the Vancouver Opera’s full-on Broadway-style production of West Side Story.


Not only did this production feature the original Jerome Robbins choreography (which is bloody challenging), but the singers and dancers combined forces with VO’s 30-piece powerhouse orchestra to hold our attention. It was wild and loud and worthy of the Tony awards and nominations the original production received.

New to West Side Story? In 1957, Robbins conceived, choreographed and directed the show, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. He’s renowned for this show, it just celebrated 50 years, and it rocked the critics in its day.

West Side Story is a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet (which the VO is staging next—get your tickets now), set in Hell’s Kitchen NYC (VO’s poster artwork for the show styles the location as Vancouver, which I think is a pretty cool touch).

The thing about West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet is that these are classic stories of love, rivalry, death and remorse that resonate today.

Both open with a street fight between rival gangs.
The girls are betrothed to other men.
There’s a party, then a balcony scene.
A wedding and a couple of dead kids.

So we went, and there were some great moments! The show was directed by Ken Cazan, who worked with Leonard Bernstein, and it was choreographed by Tracey Flye, one of the few in the world officially certified to coach the original Robbins choreography. Talk about pulling out the big guns.

If you want to see this show, you need to act quickly as it’s close to sold out. Remaining shows run Thursday, October 27, Friday, October 28 and a matinee and evening performance on Saturday, October 29.

Tickets online: http://www.vancouveropera.ca/tickets/
VO ticket centre: 604-683-0222

If you don’t know West Side Story, instead of Romeo and Juliet, we have Tony and Maria (performed by Colin Ainsworth and Lucia Cesaroni) as our star-crossed lovers. Both are highly regarded opera singers for those of you poo-pooing the opera for opening its season with a Broadway-style production. These two have opera chops: Ainsworth, last seen on the VO stage as the love-struck Kristian in Lillian Alling, and Cesaroni, debuting on the VO stage and carrying on as soloist in The Messiah with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, both light up the stage in some of my favourite moments.

Maria in the Dress Shop with Anita. Cleopatra Williams as Anita; Lucia Cesaroni as Maria. Photo by Tim Matheson


Balcony Scene. Colin Ainsworth as Tony; Lucia Cesaroni as Maria. Photo by Tim Matheson


Dreaming of their wedding. Colin Ainsworth as Tony; Lucia Cesaroni as Maria. Photo by Tim Matheson


Beyond the singing, the dancing was gritty and full of energy. The first scene with the Sharks’ women and the dance hall was kung-pow!

Photo by Tim Matheson

So, if you haven’t gone to the opera in a while, West Side Story is a great place to start.

Tickets online: http://www.vancouveropera.ca/tickets/
VO ticket centre: 604-683-0222

And if you enjoyed the Vancouver Opera’s performance of West Side Story, then the rest of the season is not to be missed. A natural follow-up to West Side Story is the opera’s upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet.

The pairings don’t end there. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra goes Looney Tunes with “Warner Bros. presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” running November 19-20. Match that with the Vancouver Opera’s The Barber of Seville, which opens March 17, 2012, and you’ll be finely tuned.

See the VO’s 2011-2012 Season
Tickets online: http://www.vancouveropera.ca/tickets/
VO ticket centre: 604-683-0222

Watch rehearsal video, interviews with the cast and creative team, and VO’s West Side Story TV commercial at http://www.vancouveropera.ca/West-Side-Story.html


Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


The Night Circus is as magical as it sounds.

The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

I would dearly love to read the reactions, the observations of each and every person who walks through the gates of Le Cirque de Rêves, to know what they see and hear and feel. To see how their experience overlaps with my own and how it differs. I have been fortunate enough to receive letters with such information, to have rêveurs share with me writings from journals or thoughts scribbled on scraps of paper.
We add our own stories, each visitor, each visit, each night spent at the circus. I suppose there will never be a lack of things to say, of stories to be told and shared.

These two passages are miles apart in in the novel. The first is the opening lines and the second is from Friedrick Thiessen, the first of the rêveurs.

Le Cirque de Rêves is a magical, travelling circus that appears and disappears at the will of Celia Bowen, the Illusionist. Yes, a female illusionist. And what is even more captivating is that she is bound to another illusionist as part of a challenge instigated by her father. The challenge is a duel of sorts and her opponent happens to be a young man besotted with her. He too is an illusionist and together they create the magic of the circus. There are some mechanical items, such as Friedrick Thiessen’s master clock, and Mr. Barris’ carousel, but many of the mechanical aspects are altered magically, and many of the magical aspects are altered mechanically in order to mask their true nature. The entire circus is fashioned in black, white and shades of grey. To honour the circus, its super fans, rêveurs, wear black, white or grey with a splash of red. They religiously follow the circus around the world, reporting to each other its location and writing articles for each other. (A bit like my Harry Potter fandom friends.)

Those who loved The Time Traveller’s Wife will be as thrilled with this novel. It has magic, romance, nasty parenting, loss, joy and everything you need to run a magical circus. (There is also a reference to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in the acknowledgements and an assortment of perfumery references—all very much of interest to me.)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday Canada
National Post Review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain


The Paris Wife is a fictionalized account of the marriage between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway. It was a rocky marriage that lasted only 7 years, but it started with a great romance in Chicago and ended in an affair in Paris. Hadley was the first wife, and although Ernest married several more times, his account of his marriage to Hadley is beautifully treated in his work A Moveable Feast. Perhaps because he was such a louse when he was married to her?

Hadley is often referred to as the Paris Wife as the Hemingway couple spent most of their time together in Paris in the early days of Hemingway’s career. Hadley raised their son, practiced piano and patiently waited upon and tended to Ernest, who in turn ran amok with the European and American literati that included the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Although a fictional account, I enjoyed Paula McLain’s rendition of those crazy years in Paris post-WWII when everyone was running about and artists and writers were trying to make a name for themselves.

Hadley was Ernest’s sounding board and credited with making the space available for Hemingway to focus on making it big. The novel portrays this time as volatile. Post war, everyone was finding their place, including women. While many of the Hemingways’ female friends were working on their own careers, Hadley appeared keen to stay in the background in a supporting role to her husband, happily raising their baby boy. But although she is the doting wife, she’s sound of mind and body and a charmer in her own right. McLain certainly doesn’t portray all the females in the novel as so likeable.

Overall, a charming rendition of a heartbreaking relationship.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Published by Bond Street Books (Doubleday Canada)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Listen to A Trick of Light by Louise Penny

I mentioned earlier how much I enjoyed reading Louise Penny’s latest Inspector Gamache mystery.

This Canadian author is certainly making the rounds on bestseller lists across North America:

#4 - New York Times bestseller list
#5 - Publishers Weekly
#5 - Chicago Tribune
#6 - Washington Post
#9 - National Independent Bookstores
#7 - Toronto Globe and Mail
#2 - Canadian Bookseller’s Association
#3 - Vancouver sun
#10- Maclean’s
#5 - Entertainment Weekly

Go Louise Penny!

Such success deserves some more attention and I am lucky enough to share an audio clip of A Trick of Light. The audiobook is available from Macmillan Audio and they’ve kindly given me permission to share the clip with you.

Have a listen to this audio clip of A Trick of Light.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Book Review: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje


The English Patient was one of my favourite novels by Ondaatje. It helped that I studied it in English Lit because the movie adaption is really only one part of the many stories interwoven in that tale. It’s a masterpiece. But I suspect that it’s one of those books that people bought but never read. In the case of The Cat’s Table, we have a novel that is a much more accessible to read and definitely worth picking up.

In the early 1950s, 11-year-old Mynah (or Michael) boards a ship in Colombo bound for England. The Cat’s Table is his adventure on board, the characters who he meets, and later his adult understanding of that childhood time. Ondaatje has crafted a wonderful tale.

As I got into the car, it was explained to me that after I’d crossed the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, and gone through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, I would arrive one morning on a small pier in England and my mother would meet me there. It was to the magic or the scale of the journey that was of concern to me, but that detail of how my mother could know when exactly I would arrive in that other country.

And if she would be there.

What he doesn’t know is that he’ll befriend the heart-troubled Ramadhin or the exuberant Cassius. Nor does he know upon boarding about the shackled prisoner, the deaf girl or the circus.

It was not even eight o’clock when we crossed the border from First Class back to Tourist Class. We pretended to stagger with the roll of the ship. I had by now come to love the slow waltz of our vessel from side to side. And the fact that I was on my own, save for the distant Flavia Prins and Emily, was itself an adventure. I had no family responsibilities. I could go anywhere, do anything. And Ramadhin, Cassius, and I had already established one rule. Each day we had to do at least one thing that was forbidden. The day had barely begun, and we still had hours ahead of us to perform this task.

Whether it’s sneaking down to the boiler rooms, slipping into the life rafts, nabbing treats, or brazenly standing out in a storm, these three boys wreck havoc in the way only boys can. But this story is not just about discovering what they can get into, it’s about discovering who they are and what they mean to each other.

In many ways, it’s a story we all know. It’s one of going to camp for the summer and making friends, meeting people on a trip with whom you promise to stay in touch, or missing classmates who’ve come and gone. It’s about friendships made in a confined space or time. It’s about growing up and moving from childhood to adulthood. That’s what I mean by accessible. We share Mynah’s memories, even if they are not of the exact same space and time.

Watch for Michael Ondaatje at the Writers Festivals happening this fall. He’s worth seeing and the book is worth reading.

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
Published by M&S
Available in hardcover, unabridged audio CD, unabridged audiobook download and eBook.
Canadian author