Southern charm and spirits: A review of Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu


“the veil between worlds is thinner here.”

This review has been a long time in the making, and unfortunately due to life it was delayed. So apologies to ECW Press for being tardy.

Alexandra GrigorescuCauchemar is Alexandra Grigorescu’s debut novel, and it revolves around a barely 20-year-old girl named Hannah. The book doesn’t waste much time in announcing that all hell is going to break loose for this character as her sole guardian suddenly dies by means that are mysteriously fishy…and also never quite explained. Alone and living in the Louisiana swamp, Hannah is left adrift. Her prospects look bleak considering that up to this point, she has been home-schooled, she has no friends, and the Louisiana community she lives in have no particular liking for her because of her estranged mother, Christobelle, who has a sinister reputation as a “voodoo Queen,” collecting men like flies who then seem to wilt and wither away in her care—Not exactly the type of woman you introduce as your mother.

louisiana swampsHannah finds some solace when she meets Callum, an easy-going (and apparently easy-to-fall-in-love-with) boat captain and part-time musician. But just when it seems Hannah might be okay in her present situation, the plot barrels into motion. The swamp becomes “the safest, and the most dangerous” place for Hannah to be. But it is when her mother comes back into her life that Hannah has to start facing what she has been sheltered from and denying her whole life: that her nightmares might be more than just nightmares, that the things we imagine going bump in the night actually DO go bump, and that strange phenomenons in nature might just have a supernatural reason behind them. The truth Hannah can’t seem to swallow is just how much of Christobelle and her mysterious ways already reside in her.

albino alligatorI wanted to love this book. The cover, the content, the setting, even the Francophone title that hints at what nightmarish content may be in store for the reader… I was prepared to enjoy it, however, I felt that Cauchemar was a rushed attempt at a first book. The concept was great. I love deep-south superstition, and this book excelled the most when it entered that dreamworld of creepy spirits and elusive white alligators. I was honestly captivated in these moments, chilled by what Hannah saw in her peripheral vision. But it was only in these moments that the plot gained its strength and immediately ended when we rejoined Hannah in the waking world.

Hannah is a very passé character. For being the main protagonist, her agency is lacking. A LOT happens to this poor girl as we find out, but that is the problem. Action is done to Hannah rather than her taking any. While the reader should obviously care what happens to her, I was more intrigued by Sarah Anne, Hannah’s estranged childhood friend. Her character certainly packed a bigger punch than Hannah’s.

As I mentioned, Grigorescu’s gothic storytelling successfully creeped me out at times, and I congratulate her on that her ability to write in a subtle and haunting manner. It is truly hard to make a reader’s skin crawl in a world as desensitized as ours. But the characters and the overall plot was all very two-dimensional. The one thing I take issue with the most is I didn’t believe in Callum and Hannah’s love. Once again, Grigorescu rushed things here. It was too fast! Even before the supernatural started to impact their relationship, their love for each other felt like a piece of flimsy cardboard, and even their love-making felt forced. I love a good love story (there’s A LOT of ‘loves’ going on in this paragraph, sorry), so if I’m not convinced, a book can be easily ruined for me.

In the end, Cauchemar is a bit of a mystery to me. It left too many questions that shouldn’t have to wait for a sequel to be answered, but with the ambiguous twist at the end, readers can likely expect there to be one—I just hope it also includes some plot development.

2 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

Advanced Readers copy provided to me by ECW Press.

Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu  © 2015.

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere March, 2015.

History. For Real: An evening with Erik Larson at the Appel Salon

Erik Larson - appel salon

“She was very good to me,” Erik Larson said in speaking about his character Martha in In the Garden of Beasts and the plethora of contemporary evidence she left for him in her journal writing. “She was also very good to many people,” he finished, and the audience chuckled knowingly.

Erik Larson interviewAt the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon on a Monday evening, Linden MacIntyre, a journalist and bestselling author himself interviewed, interviewed bestselling author Erik Larson about his books and his writing. At one point he specifically asked about how Erik can take an event of non-fiction and tell a story without making it partially fiction as a result. Because how can you possibly know what people were doing at that precise moment or what the weather was like that day? It’s impossible. How could you know that man was pacing on that day at that time?  Erik Larson amusingly responded, “But I do know. He told me.”

This is how Erik Larson brings history to life, through the personal items people left behind and the detailed historical records that were kept.

I have yet to read one of Erik Larson’s bestsellers, all of which would be fascinating for a history graduate such as myself. Duty calls for many books, however, I do own and will be reading his book The Devil in the White City. I purchased it after my first trip to the illustrious Windy City. I fell in love with Chicago and its vibrant history, so who wouldn’t enjoy reading a book in which its past is brought back to life?

Not surprisingly, unlike most major bestsellers of that day such as The Hunger Games, Erik Larson’s appearance drew a mixed crowd of old and young. Although I was surprised how quickly older women could turn into young fan girls. I can’t really blame them — for an older gentleman, Erik Larson has aged quite well and has an Ernest Hemingway-esque look to him (Ironically, Erik claimed to be an admirer of the infamous author later that evening).

Truly enamored with his own work, it was a pleasure to listen to Erik Larson talk about his work, researching and writing history. It is quite the undertaking and an exciting one. History holds many secrets and most of these are often not taught in the school curriculum, as he pointed out. He didn’t learn half of what he knows now about the sinking of the Lusitania and the politics behind it since he published his most recently successful book Dead Wake.

Erik LarsonAfter the talk, Erik Larson graciously signed books for a very long line of fans. He was quite the gentleman, shaking my hand as I presented my copy of The Devil in the White City to be autographed.

I do wish I had had the chance to read one of his books before he arrived, however, his talk certainly inspired me to want to read more than just the one book I currently own.

Come back to Toronto soon, Mr. Erik Larson. After reading, I’m sure I’ll have a couple questions that the history books can’t answer.

If you missed Erik Larson’s visit to Ontario’s metropolitan centre then you can watch the Toronto Reference Library’s recording of the talk below. While lacking the in-person effect of his charismatic personality, it is certainly worth watching for the first time or reliving for a second.

An eco-friendly haunting: A review of A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A sudden light by garth stein

“My peace I give unto you”

Old houses are broken down and creepy, and ghosts are scary, usually out for revenge…or so one is meant to believe. A Sudden Light by Garth Stein breaks all of these rules, however. The narrator, Trevor Riddell, is only fourteen years old and completely in the dark about his family history on his dad’s side. But the past suddenly starts melding with the present after tragedy strikes the family, bankrupting his dad’s business and putting his parents’ marriage in troubled waters. It is after his parents begin a trial separation that Trevor’s summer break becomes anything but regular. While his mother heads to England, Trevor and his father return to where his father grew up — Riddell House and its timber legacy. Their goal? To join forces with Trevor’s aunt Serena, put Grandpa Samuel in a nursing home, sell off the decaying house and its property for development, divide the profit, and make everything right in the world again. But Trevor discovers that this house has secrets and that this grand master plan for Riddell House may not be what everyone living there wants — at least those not entirely alive, anyway. A certain ghost has promises that need to be kept and Trevor may be the only one willing to listen.

Setting the scene if often considered the “boring” part of writing and reading, however, A Sudden Light imbues the setting with more importance than is the usual practice. But this was hardly a drawback for the book. Stein is extremely visual and when reading you can sense the time he took to describe every detail, literally making the words breath on the page and bringing nature to life. Nature in this book is very much its own character. The reader can easily picture the towering ancient trees standing tall and ominous around the decaying mansion that is the Riddell Legacy. This mansion is also quite alive in its own right, housing long forgotten secrets and hidden passageways. But while Stein comes across as meticulous when it comes to trees and old houses, he seems less so inclined to pay the same attention to his human characters. Trevor is very young to be telling this story, and although he is recollecting the events as an adult, there is a limited sense of growth. The reader only really sees this naive boy who can’t quite figure everything out. He doesn’t seem to really grow from his experiences. I expected him to have deeper reactions to what was going on around him. Instead his feelings came across as superficial and half-hearted. Some more depth to Trevor’s character would probably have given the story that extra boost it needed.

The same problem I had with Trevor transfers to the other characters as well. Stilted conversations was very much a problem for this book. It didn’t flow or feel natural. I honestly felt like Stein gave all his energy to the setting and left none to complicate the characters. They were all very two-dimensional. The truth behind Serena’s character, while not completely evident, could be more than partially deciphered even before the book’s mid-point. It became quite obvious to me that I had figured her out long before Trevor had. While this method works in other books, giving the reader that foreshadowing head start, it felt more like Trevor was just being oblivious to the obvious, which instead of making me root for him made me negatively judge him instead.

Finally, Stein’s ending… It was very tidy, and while there was an attempt to create some drama and apprehension, it ended up feeling anti-climatic. It was basically saying “well this happened, but it’s all okay now.” Not exactly the ending I was anticipating for what started out with a very interesting premise. Combining together the present day, the timelessness of nature, generational history, and old society’s timber tycoons…it was a writer’s recipe that could have done so much more than it accomplished here.

Despite its setbacks I did enjoy reading A Sudden Light  — it was haunting and a very interesting idea. Sadly it could have been a little richer in its character development. But if you don’t mind the cookie-cutter characters, it is worth reading, if only for the view.

 3 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Simon and Schuster Canada.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein, Simon and Schuster Canada © 2014.

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere September 30, 2014.

Get INSPIRED!: Toronto’s inaugural international book fair

INSPIRE book fair

Since the announcement of a new international book fair INSPIRE!, there has been a lot of speculation — some positive and some negative. Being fairly new to the publishing industry, however, I was eager to get involved and see where this book fair would take us.

2014-11-16 14.10.27But volunteering for an inaugural event has its own challenges. Everyone involved is learning as they go, addressing problems when they happen, and basically flying by the seat of their pants. Thankfully, I was surprised by the level of organization. Besides myself, there had been an overwhelming response of volunteers, so the fair was rarely, if ever, short on staff.

2014-11-15 13.37.33Free access to the fair was one of the highlighting perks for being a volunteer. No scanning fuss for us! Our blue volunteer t-shirts were a “get up the escalator” free card. The themed decor of the venue was quite extravagant. Going up the escalator, you were surrounded by a a stunning display of dangling alphabet letters and cardboard books, which almost reached the floor below. At the very top of the escalator, you were then greeted by vintage presses from various decades. They were definitely a type of “porn” for the book publishing enthusiast. Around the book fair there was also comfy rest spots sporting sofas and multi-coloured zebras to keep you company while you lounged.

2014-11-15 13.57.20However, the INSPIRE! team weren’t the only creative bunch during the fair. Many publishers went all out in decorating their booths for the weekend-long event. Simon and Schuster Canada‘s booth was breathtaking with its house-like interior, moving from room to room. I especially loved the mattress of books in the bedroom and the beautiful book sculptures descending from the ceiling. If they had been for sale, I don’t think I could have helped myself. Simon and Schuster staff on hand told me a co-worker’s friend had made them. A talented friend, indeed.

2014-11-15 13.28.43Penguin Random House Canada also had a beautiful booth filled with books, an author-signing table, and decor reminiscent of walking into Indigo’s lifestyle store areas. There was a lot of profile-worthy wall of Penguin classics to take your picture in front of, which I took full advantage of.

Aside from the big-name publishers, the little guys were  also well-represented. While they weren’t as over-the-top, they held their own with their books doing the eye-catching for them. From indie publishers to self-publishers, there was plenty to look at it in the exhibitor marketplace alone. The scholarly section wasn’t very well filled out, however, I was happy to see my old friends at Wilfrid Laurier University Press advertising their wares, including their successful Life Writing series. I especially enjoyed flipped through the titles I had had a hand in developing during my brief stint there as a publishing assistant.

2014-11-15 15.10.22Throughout the day, INSPIRE! also had a great line-up of stage and off-stage events. There were authors of cook books giving cooking tutorials, author interviews on the INSPIRE! Main Stage, as well as a TD Children’s Stage. Notably, there was a First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literary Circle, which drew a lot of attention with its promotion of sharing, collaboration, and dialogue. One was able to discover Aboriginal authors, poets, and storytellers in a very inviting setting. And of course Penguin Random House had its own authors, including the infamous Chris Hadfield, where people sported stick-on versions of his iconic mustache.

There was definitely a lot happening, which was sometimes distracting and was to the detriment of other events occurring simultaneously. The Main Stage was overpowering at times, especially due to the size of the venue. Hopefully, solutions will be found as the INSPIRE! committee plan for next year, or the fair could benefit from a different choice of venue entirely.

All in all, I think the event was a success. In my mind, it felt like a blown-up version of the Scholastic book fairs I enjoyed so much as a child. I’ve heard that excitement around the Scholastic fair and catalogue has greatly diminished since I left the public school system, and it would be nice if this book fair helps revitalize that interest in books and book culture.

INSPIRE book fair t-shirtI would also recommend volunteering. It was a great experience. Everyone was friendly and volunteers were given breakfast goodies and pizza for lunch. Free food for free labour. I think that is a pretty good deal, and one that isn’t offered all the time when volunteering. The free t-shirt is also a great plus. Fairgoers were also fans of them, as volunteers were continuously asked where they could be purchased. If you were one of the attendees who wanted one, consider volunteering next year. In my opinion, this fair could have a bright future if the few kinks found this year are worked out and improved on. Perhaps the publishers who stayed away this year will join in now that INSPIRE! has left behind its foreshadowed failure and become a part of the busy annual fall season of the publishing biz.

INSPIRE international book fair

A big screen improvement: A review of Mockingjay Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1

Starring  Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland.

*some spoilers*

If you read my post on the Mockingjay book then you probably know that I’m not a big fan of the third and final book in the trilogy.  For once, I finally hoped the movie could do something to spice it up a little and, for the most, I wasn’t let down.

Mockingjay Part 1 never went too far off course. Katniss was still very much contained in District 13’s bunkers, only emerging on occasion to do propaganda shots and visit other districts, but somehow the movie made you forget that fact. I wasn’t bored the same way I had been reading the first half of the book.

The living-flesh Katniss played by Jennifer Lawrence was definitely a less dead-paned version when compared to the one we had to listen to all the way through the book. Her emotional distress over Peeta and hesitation over becoming the face of the rebellion is rendered in a clear and relateable fashion. We feel her pain, her pure exhaustion with the whole thing, and we also feel her fury when suddenly she responds to the horrific bombing of the hospital. We burn with her. I swear I felt goosebumps.
burn with us

PeetaJosh Hutcherson also gave an amazing performance. Considering the book is entirely from Katniss’ point of view, it was refreshing to glimpse him for ourselves and see his tortured expressions and gradual decline with every video clip’s appearance. Being part of Team Peeta, I was hooked, and Josh was wonderful in really conveying what had happened to Peeta while being held in Panem.

GaleHowever, I did notice that the movie made a remarkable change with Gale’s character. As I noted in my review of the book, Collins eliminated that conflict too easily, making Gale’s character almost dislikeable, which was unfortunate. Gale is a good person, and I think , by accident or not, Collins eliminated the reader’s empathy for him by making him too aggressive and in cahoots with District 13’s President. The film dials this “anti” back by a great deal, which serves in Gales favour. While I still love Peeta, I don’t hate Gale like the book made me want to (an unfair change for poor Gale in my opinion to begin with). This is especially made clear when Gale is given a chance in the movie to speak about what he saw the day District 12 was bombed and a level of understanding is reached between Gale and the viewer that the book and the reader didn’t achieve.

Hanging Tree, Mockingjay Part 1By now, everyone has also either seen, heard, or at least heard of the phenomenon of Jennifer Lawrence’s singing voice. While I doubt she will start belting it out on stage any time soon like some actresses (she literally cried a bit before having to shoot the singing scene, her director confided to media), Jennifer Lawrence’s simple, unaccompanied voice singing The Hanging Tree literally ricocheted through the audience. Goosebumps, again, were inevitably, especially when the chorus was taken up by the rest of the revolutionaries marching on the dam. If you want to listen to it again, like I have on more than one occasion , I’ve attached the memorable melody at the end of this post.

Of course, Mockingjay Part 1 leaves you hanging, which is to be expected. Even if you have read the book, this is upsetting. The movie was done well, which obviously leaves you wanting more. After viewing part 1, I’m dying of anticipation to see what they will do with the latter half of the book, which was better but not great either. This includes how they will progress without Philip Seymour Hoffman, who successfully brought Plutarch and his propaganda games to life.


Touchingly, Part 1 was dedicated in his memory.


A pleasant surprise: Toronto’s Giller Light Bash

Scotiabank Giller Light Bash

For those of us who can’t afford to go to the Book Lover’s Ball, the Scotiabank Giller Light Bash is the next best thing. It’s not a black tie event, but it is a chance for publishing professionals, authors, and book lovers alike to adorn themselves in their best outfit, eat delicious appetizers, drink wine, dance, and celebrate books while being catered to an exclusive screening of the Scotiabank Giller Prize winner announcement. It is perfectly described as “a taste of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala formalities with an affordable price in an exciting party environment,” and the proceeds go to Frontier College, Canada’s original literacy organization. It is a well-known and well-attended cultural event that happens one night in six different cities across Canada, all with their own way of celebrating, from cocktail dinners to lively debates: Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, and Vancouver.

2014-11-10 20.57.24

The whole point of these one-night celebrations, of course, is the awarding of the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, which is a prestigious honour awarded annually for excellence in fiction in Canada. It’s Canada’s own largest and most important literary award, imbuing confidence and renewed vibrancy into Canadian publishing and giving winning authors renewed or new-found publicity and popularity. Over the years, it has been given to many deserving authors, from Alice Munro to Joseph Boyden.The Scotiabank Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch, who still takes an active part selecting the jury and announcing the winner, and the inspiration for this prize came in memory of his late wife, Doris Giller, who was a successful journalist and editor and had a passion for the Canadian literary scene.

2014 Giller Light Bash adThis year the event was held at the Daniels Spectrum, the cultural hub of Regent Park, and it was a convenient location that was easily walkable from the downtown core area. There was a $3 coat check, however, which wasn’t ideal considering the original ticket price and the fact that wearing a coat (brrr!) was not a viable option. But sacrifices must be made, even if $2 would have been slightly better, and the evening was still a successful one.

It was off to a good start already when I arrived, with plenty of people filing into the surprisingly spacious venue. At the back of the room was the table full of extravagant raffle prizes, featuring bags of books, a pot and pan kitchen set, concert tickets, etc. There was also an opportunity to use a raffle ticket to predict the winning book and, if guessed correctly, an opportunity to score a copy of each Giller shortlist title signed by the author (I didn’t use a raffle ticket for this purpose, and it was probably for the best…I guessed wrong anyway).

The Giller Light Bash is a fun night, but it is also an expensive one. Raffle tickets cost a fair amount of money for just 4 tickets, and drink tickets had a hefty price of 1 ticket for $6 (a bar is cheaper!). The one bonus in regards to drinks was a free trial run of the wine by Barefoot. They conveniently had a booth set up where you could sample all the different types of wine being offered that night, so at least when you bought your $6 glass, you knew you liked it.

litograph tattooAside from the exuberant cost, the Giller Light Bash has its free perks as well. Last year, there was a beautiful selection of posters from Litographs included in the swag bags that everyone was given at the end of the night. This year, Litographs’ new tattoo collection was featured as an event table, where guests could go and select two (or more) literary tattoos that featured lines from Pride and Prejudice  to The Wizard of Oz. You also had the option of putting them on right there and then, which my friend and I promptly did. I chose “Brevity is the Soul of Wit” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and my friend chose “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Some guests became obsessed with the literary tattoo option quite quickly. I witnessed one woman who had covered herself in every single tattoo that was available. Needless to say, she was literally showing her support for the classics.

There was also a photo booth set up with a variety of fun and wonky props to try on. Everyone, including myself, enjoyed taking photos throughout the night, some more than once. The one thing about having only 10 seconds for each photo is that usually you end up doing the same pose or just looking ridiculous. I think my friend and I accomplished both these feats.

photo booth at Giller Light Bash

Of course, the highlight of the evening was watching the live broadcast of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala. Rick Mercer hosted, and he was hilarious as always, making smart remarks and teasing the authors during his pre-filmed interviews with each of the shortlisted finalists. He played mad libs with them in addition to asking the big questions, such as what each of them would do with the cash ($100,000!!!!!). Amusingly, Miriam Toews, the author of All My Puny Sorrows, said she would buy a nice warm pair of Sorels (which apparently Mercer bought for her in the end!). And, touchingly, David Bezmozgis, the author of The Betrayers, said it was already spoken for with three growing kids at home (parents — there for you till the end). During the broadcast, there was also a length introduction for each finalist’s book, which were well done. The book trailers were very well done, and I certainly wanted to read all of them by the end of it (unfortunately, I hadn’t read any before the Giller Light Bash). If you can find the book trailers online, I definitely suggest you watch them. Quite the marketing skill was employed in their making. Well done, publishing fellows!

Sean Micheals giller winnerBut what we were all waiting for was the winning announcement, and when it came I was astounded. First-time novelist Sean Michaels won the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his first book Us Conductors. After watching the book trailer at the event, I had already developed an interest in reading the book. I love fiction inspired by Russian history, and on top of that it also contains a romance and the jazz age (who could ask for more from a debut novel?). The only other debut novelist to win the Giller Prize was Johanna Skibsrud for The Sentimentalist in 2010, and besides Michaels, the only other first-time author to capture the prestiguous award was Vincent Lam for his 2006 short story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. Considering how first-time authors often struggle to get the attention of publishers these days, it was touching to see Michaels be rewarded for his determination to succeed. He certainly deserved to be noticed.

After the winning announcement, the Giller Light Bash kicked it up a notch. The DJ turned on the music and the celebrating began with more drinks and dancing. It was a great evening to be a part of. There was also the lovely bonus of receiving a swag bag at the end of the night, which included a new book (you can never have enough books), popcorn, coupons, magazines, popcorn, lip gloss, coconut water, and plenty of other fun trinkets. I was very pleased with the booty.

I still think the evening could drop in price, as many of the other cities celebrating that same night do have cheaper ticket options (except Winnipeg — the odd ball out) and Halifax even has different pricing options, such as a student price. But, aside from the fact that I am incredibly poor and as a result cheap, the Giller Light Bash is an awesome experience where you get to network, meet new people, and have fun with some good friends. Yes, it was on a Monday, but it did make the dreary Monday a little better, even if it was a little more difficult to get up for Tuesday.

Whether you’re new to publishing or just love books, you should definitely consider attending the Giller Light Bash next year. It’s for a good cause and you get to party on a Monday without having to be a university student. A win–win in my books!









Litographs: Word-shaded art


I first learned about Litographs at the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Light Bash. Their posters were part of the swag bags given to guests at the end of the night. There were a variety of options from Moby Dick to Alice in Wonderland, however, I was lucky enough to get my hands on the Pride and Prejudice one.

pride and prejudice posterIf you can’t figure out why one would get excited over a poster then you have never seen one of Litograph’s designs. To the left, you can see my poster inspired by the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. It’s gorgeous, right? Not only is it gorgeous, it is made entirely out of words, which are completely legible! Every Litograph design emerges from the text of a book. They use the words from the book itself to illustrate the memorable characters and scenes we have all imagined when reading one of our favourite books.

Litographs specializes not just in posters, but will place the same design on tote bags and t-shirts (for both men and women). You can watch their video here, detailing how they make their t-shirts.  All of the Litograph products come with a choice or colour from black and white to green or purple, and they are all printed locally in Cambridge, MA.

Another great thing about Litographs is their choice in books. They don’t just go the classics and instead have a varied list of book options for every book lover out there. Their genres include American Lit, British Lit, Children’s, Epics, Essay Collections, Mystery, Nonfiction, Plays, Poetry, Sci-fi Fantasy, Science, Shakespeare, and Story Collections. Recently, Litographs has also just started a chain of literary tattoos, which you can opt in to be a part of. I am eagerly awaiting their actual temporary tattoo line.

Litographs wuthering heights toteSince I already have a poster, I have now been eyeing their Wuthering Heights tote design. It is quite whimsical with the view from the window.

However, Litographs is always coming up with new designs, and if you subscribe to their newsletter they will notify you every time a new design is available to purchase. Their most recent addition is that of the Time Traveler’s Wife, and it is giving Wuthering Heights a run for its money. I especially like Litographs time traveler's wife designit as a t-shirt.

You can browse their collection here and see for yourself the endless options. Litographs would definitely make a great present for any book lovers you know or it would also make a great gift for yourself. We all need a little spoiling now and then, and I definitely like the idea of art lovingly made from the words that have brought me joy. What could be better?





Penguin Turns 40 at IFOA

Penguin Canada 40th Anniversary

On October 28th, 2014, Penguin Canada celebrated its fortieth anniversary as part of the Harbourfront Centre’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA). To commemorate the event, four authors joined a round table discussion to discuss the transformative power of literature and Penguin books, specifically. The discussion was moderated by Jared Bland, the Arts Editor of the Globe and Mail, and the authors present were Joseph Boyden, Lee Henderson, John Ralston Saul and Johanna Skibsrud.

Unfortunately, I was a bit late for the event, so I missed some of the readings that happened. Each author picked a book Penguin has published in that the recent or distant past to read from, describing its importance in the literary world. The reading I particularly enjoyed was given by John Ralston Saul, a published author as well as the international President of PEN International. He read from Dead Souls a novel by Nikolai Gogol published in 1842. The novel is a satire meant to demonstrate the flaws and faults of the Russian population. This ailing social system is shown through the selfish actions of one man named Chichikov. The book is anything but subtle in its criticism and its obtuse obviousness was hilarious to behold during Saul’s reading from different sections of the book. I find myself intrigued to read the whole book, considering the love I already have for Russian literature.

IFOAAfter the readings, all the authors sat down with Jared Bland to discuss books, the act of reading, and their  favourite publisher, Penguin of Canada. However, I think the best conversation, or debate really, was on the phenomenon of e-books. As a publishing professional, I understand the value of this new technology and keeping up with the trend, but as a ready I haven’t joined in. I am a lover of the physical book, therefore, I can’t imagine giving up the sensation of feeling or smelling the pages of old and new books alike. Frankly, I don’t think the smell of technology is all that enticing. So when Lee Anderson started to berate the e-book’s existence, I was all for it.

Anderson went on to say he can’t leave the house without a book and that when he visits other people he loves browsing their shelves if they have a great library in their homes. He made it quite clear just how odd it would be to ask to see someone’s e-reader and be amazed at their collection. Hands down, it was the best rant ever! You had to be there to truly appreciate what was said and Anderson’s accompanied hand actions to support his opinion. Absolutely priceless, and many of the other authors in attendance agreed.

They also all agreed that Penguin is everlasting and infinite. Everyone knows that orange colour and that little penguin logo. Merged with Random House or not, Penguin will always stand on its own as a valued publisher and a friend to all readers and their shelf space. Anderson put it perfectly when he said, “You can always trust that little bird.”

Overall, it was a great evening at IFOA and a beautiful celebration of Penguin and the art of publishing. And upon filing out of the Brigantine Room, all the attendees were given a Penguin bag, a miniature Penguin notebook, a key chain in the shape of the infamous penguin, and best of all, a Penguin poster with the statement “Go Away I’m Reading” (there was also champagne!). Pretty awesome perks from a pretty awesome publisher.

Penguin Poster

Happy Anniversary, Penguin Canada! (now shush, I’m reading)



Tumbling the building blocks: A review of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl

Cover of How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

“So what do you do when you build yourself—only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things?”

How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

 It is 1990 and Johanna Morrigan is fourteen years old, living in Wolverhampton, a city in the English West Midlands, with her unemployed rock-star-wannabe father, depressed mother, two brothers, and twin babies. Johanna has more childcare duties and financial worries than any teenage girl should have to deal with and she ultimately dreams of finding a way out.

In order to make this happen, Johanna reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde–fast talking, hard drinking Lady Sex Adventurer and freelance music journalist. Johanna is determined to build herself in the best way she knows how: on the fly. As Johanna navigates her way through this adult world as a working class girl, her notes are as follows:

How to Build a Girl

By sixteen, Johanna is living the life of lots of sex, lots of drug, and lots of rock ‘n’ roll all in an attempt to build herself, but she soon wonders if during all these wild adventures whether she has gone about this whole “building herself business” in all the wrong ways, and can she change it?

How to Build a Girl is a fast- paced tale of a working class girl whose brains and way with words ensure that her everyday actions will lead to wild parties and unexpected opportunities that allow her to escape the drudgery that is Wolverhampton and somehow find success in the most round-about manner feasible.

This new book reads very much like Moran’s semi-autobiography; she also grew up in a large working class family and became a successful music journalist at a young age (although Moran declares it is pure fiction). Whatever the truth is, Moran has created an authentic teenage voice through her character Johanna. Moran puts the pubescent roller coaster on full display from the exaggerated emotional response to ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to the self-conscious body image moments in front of the mirror.

While Johanna is often over the top and highly excitable in all that she does, it is a very true-to-life portayal. Everyone as a teenager has had moments of exclaiming that it is the end of the world as he or she knows it because this or that happened etc. I believe I said this more than once while growing up…I sometimes still say it on occasion.

How to Build a Girl is also very frank about sex, specifically female sexuality. Moran does not shy away from the subject, but places it front and centre with a wank (specifically, Johanna masturbating in the dead of night next to her sleeping brother with a pillow between them for privacy, because, yes, young girls have urges too and those urges need to be satisfied). Aside from the occasional wank, Johanna also goes out and has lots of sex with lots of different people because, as Moran puts it, “it is what young teenage girls will do. It’s what I did. It’s what my friends did.” Moran said her intention behind this book and the character Johanna is to reclaim the word “slag” and “slut” from society’s shaming culture and renaming it fun names, such as “lady sex pirate” or “swash fuckler.” It’s not about shaming but experiencing. When I attended Moran’s launch at the Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon, she described the teenage girl’s life in the perfect fashion: “It is about going out and having amazing experiences and awful experiences, which later turn into amazing anecdotes.” And she’s right, you know. After all, how many of us have gone out for drinks talking about our latest adventure in bed or otherwise, both good and bad? All of us, I would think.

While the reader may not be able to relate to everything Johanna goes through in the book, it is all honest and it is all written in a hilarious fashion that only Caitlin Moran is capable of. You may not always be able to say, “I’ve done that,” but you don’t mind going along for the ride with this fun and easy read.

Essentially, How to Build a Girl is about class, social privilege, feminism, and building yourself and rebuilding yourself as you go through life. Johanna may think she has the right building blocks at first, but she soon learns there is no right or easy way to build yourself. Johanna Morrigan is a beautiful work in progress and Caitlin Moran’s book ends with a promise that we haven’t seen the last of this spunky teenage girl.

5 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada, © 2014

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

“Let’s all have a good wank”: Caitlin Moran at the Appel Salon


**Some explicit content**

There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe what it is like to actually meet Caitlin Moran. This British columnist, feminist goddess has taken the world by storm. She is a gigantic earthquake that has taken the world between her hands and has shaken it with laughter: laughter that has brought awareness and revitalization to the word “feminist.”

When I heard that Caitlin Moran was coming to Toronto, I was beyond excited. I introduced myself to this courageous, funny woman’s writing when I gave How to Be a Woman, Moran’s first book, to my sister as a random gift of sisterly affection (yes, I am awesome). I never imagined the possibility of Moran coming to Toronto as part of her book tour for her most recent book and first novel How to Build a Girl (I sense a theme…). Apparently, living in Toronto isn’t always bad (just most of the time).

Unfortunately, my sister decided it would be a good idea to leave the province and go work and live out west, so she wasn’t able to attend the Toronto Public Library’s special event  at the Appel Salon. Therefore, I went alone, which in retrospect can be consiered a very feminist action, independence and all that jazz, so I felt perfectly aligned with the evening already.

It was a full house at the Appel Salon (Moran is a very popular woman outside of Britain…something I’m not surprised by). And Moran also made quite the entrance, as was only right, arriving with a bouquet of gigantic balloons. I was already in awe of her. It was going to be a great evening.

And it was.

To write about everything would make this blog post extravagantly long, so I won’t indulge myself in recounting every detail of that spectacular program. However, I will highlight a couple of really great moments.

Moran lived up to her reputation with her funny, outspoken, matter-of-fact-don’t-give-a-fuck manner of talking about life, drugs, feminism, and being a girl in general. It was refreshing and liberating. I have also never laughed so much in my life nor felt so inspired by one woman’s words, who, up until that point, I only knew through words on a page.

Interviewed by Globe and Mail‘s Johanna Schneller, Caitlin Moran lit up the room with her banter. She is definitely not one to sugarcoat anything. She admitted to taking drugs in her youth and making silly mistakes in interviews she’s conducted as a journalist (her comment of how Benedict Cumberbatch is “big everywhere” certainly brought the house down).

Moran and How to Build a GirlBesides talking about basically everything, Moran did discuss her new book How to Build a Girl, and how she wanted to write a book about being a girl and figuring out what being a girl is all about. Basically, she wanted to beat the “porn industry,” as she put it, by writing an insanely explicit book that wrote about female sexuality in a frank and open manner. It is about self-discovery in all its forms, and masturbation. Yes, Moran is an advocate of female masturbation and for good reason. As she says, “I can simply make myself happy, and it hasn’t got any calories in it, and I can do it pretty much anywhere!” Sound advice, I think. I mean, when we think of masturbation, we often think of men with their hands on their dicks vigorously pumping away, but that is one gender and one way. Moran brings female sexuality and exploration out of the shadow in this book and places it front and centre. What movies have always left in the dark or demonized (remember Carrie’s period?), Moran cleanses in a new and enlightened way by saying it’s okay, it’s normal, it’s healthy.

The book is also about sex, and having lots of it. “That is what teenage girls do,” Moran says. Therefore, she is not encouraging girls to be promiscuous and have lots of sex. It is already HAPPENING, and she is simply bringing it to the forefront as a conversation that should happen and that there should be no shame in sexual self-discovery. This is a philosophy I also truly believe in. Many people I know squirm at the idea of talking about sex. During my undergraduate degree, I volunteered for my school newspaper as a copy editor and I had the most funny and amazing conversations with the group of girls I worked with. These conversations earned me the nickname “Dana After Dark,” but sex was an active and fun anecdotal topic we all tossed around into the wee hours of the night (that newspaper was never done on time!). So I completely support Moran’s intentions for writing this book, which leads me to her lovely reading and accompanied acting of a section in her book regarding her main character Johanna and her advice for future women who are caught having sex with a largely endowed man or as Moran described it: “Having sex with a man whose penis is ‘medically inadvisable.'” Tip #1: Place your hands flat on his chest and BRACE, BRACE, BRACE with your arms. Tip #2: In doggie, you can keep subtly but essentially crawling away from the penis, making it possible to only get the first 5 inches inside. Moran demonstrated both the missionary and doggie position on stage in a hilarious fashion while telling us these tips, which is a sight I will not soon forget (a demonstration that she also at her family Christmas during charades that mortified her brothers, she later told us).

Well, I have already wrote more than I intended (Can you tell I enjoyed myself yet?), but I must mention one more moment that has stuck with me since the event. A lot of people tell you not to care what other’s think. Of course, we all do anyway. The media bombards us with images of perfection, so we naturally don’t think we are good enough. I know I have looked at my body image and wondered: “Am I skinny enough?” It is a terrible question to ask yourself, because you are basing the answer on what society thinks and that is something you should never do! Moran set the record straight that evening in the most unexpected way possible when she was discussing the idea she had for How to Be a Woman‘s book cover that she pitched to her publishers. She called it Her Feminist Smile, and then Moran proceeded to not just tell but SHOW us what she meant by this. She wanted to draw eyes on her tits, or rather her bra, draw a nose above her belly button, and then manipulate her belly fat into a big smiley mouth.

Caitlin MoranThe room erupted with laughter. Moran, in front of this huge crowd, lifted her shirt and jiggled her belly fat for everyone to see. Reconciled with her body, Caitlin Moran literally does not give a fuck! And I admire her so much for that. There is no “circle of shame” and Moran makes that perfectly clear.

After the talk was over, I was completely thrown and I had never felt more womanly or more of a feminist in all my life. Gushing about it on my phone to my boyfriend later, I called the entire experience a “femaganza.” I had to make up a word to even begin to describe how I felt about it!

Caitlin Moran and IBefore I left, I did stand in line to meet this awe-inspiring woman, who I could listen to all day. Moran gave me one of her infamous free hugs, which is nothing like hugging a stranger. Immediately you feel known and loved by this woman who doesn’t even know your name. She left me feeling like a rock star. Her final words to me: “Go change the world.” I only hope I can change it as much as she changed me in one evening.


She also said she loved my blazer. I was thrilled!


To finish, I will leave you with Caitlin Moran’s 5 rules of feminism (this woman is, after all, a genius in her own right):

Rule #1: Women are equal to men.
Rule #2: don’t be a dick.
And Rule #3: there are no more rules.

If you feel particularly inspired by how enraptured I was by Moran then you can watch her entire laughter-inducing, life-changing talk below (the Toronto Public Library did us all a favour by filming it thereby allowing us to experience it over and over again—all glorious 1 hour and 24 minutes of it!!! It’s worth the invested time if I haven’t already convinced you by now)

For more Appel Salon programs you can visit the Toronto Public Library’s website here.

To keep up with Caitlin Moran and all her hilarity you can find her personal website here and follow her on Twitter at @caitlinmoran

Caitlin Moran