Thursday, December 28, 2006


The ever smart and book savvy Victoria at Eve's Alexandria is reading Master and Commander. Funny, when I sell the Aubrey-Maturin series ( which I do. A lot. It is my passion ....well, one of them). I usually tell the prospective reader to read Post Captain (2) or HMS Surprise (3-----and my favourite of the canon ) as there is more action and plot drive and one is less likely to feel swatted over the head with incongruous waves of nautical terminology.

Somehow, I think our blogger friend ( and I am surmising based on my sheer passion for O'Brian alone ) will read book the first, be engaged by the almost Austen-like circumstance and the witty rapport of even the inaugural ( and very different ) scene and be off; loving Maturin for the next 20 books, loathing Diana, and enjoying a canvas painted with sea, scope, flora, fauna, and cello music.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


The best Christmas present, nay, the best present of anytime of year is the discovery of a new mystery series. It is , literally and figuratively, the gift that keeps on giving the year over.

Most of you know that I have recently acquired a job writing Children's and YA reviews. As such, I have been spending my time reading and researching for my soon-to-be-published young adult reviews. It seems quite some time ( maybe even two weeks ! egad !) since I picked up a "big people book" and read it straight through. I was delighted ( thus ) to have acquired a copy of Will Thomas' splendid debut novel Some Danger Involved while book shopping out of town yesterday afternoon.

There is only one thing better than reading a superb book written for my own age cover to an oasis after a desert ( a FUN desert, nonetheless filled with camels and trees and stuff ) of kiddy is finding a book written for my own age that has VICTORIAN DETECTIVES !!

It has been an age since I have discovered a mystery series I would gladly follow to the ends of the earth. I have been reading the most recent contributions to many a worthy canon but a NEWBIE?!! I honestly cannot remember the last detective I fell so quickly for. Most of the time when I waddle in mysteriophile land, I am wading in the waters of trueblue friends I have known for years. A new friend? Brilliant.

Many reviewers are commenting on Thomas' throw back to the Doyle canon; an easy parallel, I assure you, since his mysteries are set in the gastlit realm of Victorian England. Yet, the Sherlock and Watson motif does not quite resonate here. I am set immediately in mind of ( eep!) Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Thomas Llewellyn, a petite Welshman, is on the verge of suicide when he discovers an ad in the paper which leads him to a prospective employer ( the brilliant, bright and enigmatic Cyrus Barker ) and an office filled with Oriental goodies and books top-to-floor. Beating out dozens of hopefuls for the position of inquiry agent, Llewellyn is fashioned for his new position; clothes, food and (best of all ) room and board. In a house that is the Victorian equivalent of Wolfe's brownstone populated by an eccentric French cook, and oriental garden, a cute dog and a Jewish Butler named Mac, Llewellyn finds a true home unique to his former circumstance.

Nero Wolfe indeed---- yet the warm and puzzling Cyrus Barker is not the sedentary Wolfe, yet a trained roundabout man who prowls the streets and alleys of London knowing everything and everyone ( he refers to the bustling realm as his "web"; he is eyes and ears to everything ). Though his knowledge of Oriental fighting techniques recalls Sherlock Holmes' boxing manouevers and aplomb for stick fighting, Barker ends the similarities there. He is much kinder to his assistant than Holmes and much more likeable and self-effacing.

The first story in the series I am rushing out to buy as soon as this post is over, takes us into the East End of London, to the Jewish quarter, to a place that immediately puts one in mind of Eliot's Daniel Deronda. It is atmospheric, funny and narrated by a smart and scintillating story-teller who has ( as Thomas proclaims ) a George Gissing-like past.

Well done. I am intrigued, engaged, excited and everything else in the world !

Would talk more but am off to acquire more of the recent Will Thomas canon!

oh. And Will Thomas has a blog.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Advent Tour Post

Hello everyone and welcome to the fabulous festivus world of Christmas Melrose!! Here you shall join in some of my Festive Favs and learn just what it means to be a gal so obsessed with Christmas and all things related, you top up your egg nog with more than a healthy dose of nostalgia, and break out the jingling carols the day after Remembrance Day ( November 11 here in Canuckville).

I thought I would take you through some of my ritualistic Christmas events. I am a very merry traditionalist who happens to be ( delightfully ) a Victorianist as well; that era full of Christmas traditionalist-making. So, bring out the figgy pudding and pull up a chair decked with bells and holly and what-not.


Christmas without books is actually not Christmas; just some snow-filled phantom globe of a day where the supermarkets are not open. Christmas with books is worth waiting 364 days a year for. Me, traditionalist, Victorianist jingle-jangler, reads the same books every year around this holy, holly time.

Great Expectations the first of the Melrose Christmas picks. I first read this book on a snowy November night at the beginning of high school. The ambience was perfect for the windy chill. After all, the Dickens classic begins at Christmas. Indeed, Pip talks about hearing the carols sing ( feigning innocence to Mrs. Joe about his goings-on with Magwitch the criminal on the moors ), stirring figgy pudding and having a myriad of relatives ( including the unstoppable Uncle Pumblechook ) for a Christmas feast. Most humans are head over heels for Scrooge, I love GE. One of my favourite Christmases included a pack of Victorian classics from my parents---GE was one of them....after I had finished opening gifts and munching turkey, I rushed up to my room to read it once more.

Vienna Prelude by Bodie Thoene

As a minister's daughter, I spent a lot of time at church growing up. Before and after the morning service I would often prowl ( and later work ) in our church library. I pride myself in introducing churchgoers to a range of classics; such as Christy and Les Miserables. Though not a classic, I have re-visited Vienna Prelude every year since my first perusal from said church library. In essence, I have read Vienna Prelude fifteen times; always at Christmas. Much of the book is set in Austria during the Christmas season in the years leading up to WW II. Partly in the Tyrolean alps in a cozy farmhouse filled with warmth and tradition, at a small-spired church which puts me immediately in mind of the church I imagine was Franz Gruber's muse for Silent Night, and in the lofts and hay of a barn I see so clearly and smell so potently. There are sleighbells and horses and a clear, starry sky that spans for miles. Partly in a bustling Berlin department store filled with shoppers. And, as the titular city, Vienna stands in for Christmas; with street merchants selling carved creches, with fires burning in metal drums along the many winding streets, with a brasher report ducking out of the Sacher hotel and holding a fistful of tickets for Christmas concerts played by the Philharmonic.
Full of classical music and anecdotes of Dvorak, not to mention a swell love story, this is Christmas atmosphere at its best. Vienna became my dream city the moment after I read it.

Rose in Bloom and Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

This tradition started in first year university. They quickly became my "home books", books I left at my parent's house when I returned to Toronto after visits. They are thoroughly Christmas for me. Anecdotal and almost ridiculous in simplicity, they are as comfortable as cider. Rose Campbell is sent to live with her Uncle Alec after her father passes away. It doesn't take long for the orphaned child to find complete happiness with her rowdy male cousins and her strong, Scots uncle who makes her eat "parrich" ( that's Alcottean for porridge) and let out her tight corsets. Early feminism disguised in anecdotal bliss.


Music is my favourite part of the Christmas season. Nothing tugs me back to a particular time in my childhood than hearing my favourite carols. As an advocate for the reinstatement of hymnal traditions in church, and as a lover Church Music history, I relish the poetic words, strands and cadences of beautiful old Christmas hymns. From the Gregorian through the Baroque, through Handel to Bach's Arioso and to the Christmas hymns that permeate the 17th-20th Centuries with their haunting chords and t0-die-for lyrics, I am a Carol junkie. No secular Rudolph for me, Christmas songs must have religious meaning for it is those songs alone which leak an almost ethereal beauty.

I remember clearly listening to Elvis and the Carpenters' Christmas songs growing up; not to mention the old Bonanza tv show LP my dad has ( Christmas at the Ponderosa or some such ) which isn't so bad when Adam Cartwright sings an old negro spiritual.

Michael W. Smith's Christmas album remains ( I think ) his most credible endeavour. Partly because he uses Gregorian strain and influences, intersperses latin with the prophet Isaiah and enlists the Vienna Boys Choir to sing with dazzling orchestration. I usually don't pay attention this artist, but his Christmas cd is a work of art.



The Sound of Music

The Muppet Christmas Carol

It's a Wonderful Life

the Sound of Music


Christmas at the World's Biggest Bookstore : stand at the front of the store, wear reindeer antlers or a santa hat, wear red or green ( thanks Christine ) and throw Hershey's kisses at people while making a penguin puppet form festive greetings. Too many late nights, too many free order-in lunches, thousands upon zillions of books sold.

Christmas at home: I take an annual walk ( I love walking ) mid afternoon just as it is getting dark so I can see the lights and wander in the snow. Sadly, there is no snow here yet which makes me think I might see my first green Christmas ever ( don't make me scream!! )

Christmas Eve service: a must, followed by a feast---my mom is a spectacular cook; we have spinach dip in sourdough bread, jalapeno poppers, brie, etc., etc.

The Answering of the Phone: ever since Elf was released, my sister Fruity and I started a tradition. From the 23rd through New Years' we answer the phone " Buddy the Elf, what's your favourite colour?" Fun people respond with their favourite colour and laugh, stupid people hang up thinking they reached some demented business.

Advent calendars: my mom still gets us each one every year. She sends them to us at university.

Narnia: a recent development but ever so Christmas what with Aslan and Father Christmas

The Bible: my dad reads a chapter ( usually Luke 2) before we open our presents. But there is always the Matthew/ Luke debate and yelps of "read the one with the wisemen."

Lots of presents, lots of reading, lots of laughs.

Hope you enjoyed reading about Christmas in the land of Moi!

Merry Christmas to all of you-----every single one. Have a bookish holiday and squeal a couple of your favourite titles at me if you want recommendations. I have sold hundreds upon hundreds of books this season. Here's hoping for many more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The only thing better than a startlingly good read, is a dazzling literary adaptation.

In most cases, gleaning their films from ITV and the BBC, Masterpiece Theatre does a tremendous job.

The last few weeks have been repeats (Carrie's War, Under the Greenwood Tree), but January dawns a new era of masterpiece!

First up The Virgin Queen: any one who has read even a snippet of Philippa Gregory will be on this one!

Jane Eyre: the fantastic adaptation ( I would love to hear opinions ) Court burned for me earlier this Fall.

The Sally Lockhart Mysteries: Long before I knew of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, this little Victorianist was rampantly reading the ins and outs of Lockhart's mysterious London. I am very excited they have been filmed. Long Live Phillip Pullman.

Christmas is the time to drag out favourite past miniseries:

Pride and Prejudice
Foyle's War
Our Mutual Friend ( an absolute favourite of mine )
Anne of Green Gables
Horatio Hornblower
North and South

I own tons of them. What are your festive favourites?

Friday, December 08, 2006

And other miraculous cures

Okay, here it is folks, the Christmas Book!

You know, the Book that all publishers run out of during the crunch time of the holidays? The book they loosely grapple with their fingers, sending sporadic stock now and then goodnaturedly so you pounce on each box with aplomb?

The Book that is a friggin' scarcity the ten shopping days before Christmas but becomes a stocking nightmare on the 27th of December when you have no other books on your bare shelves ( as bare as the cupboards of the unsuspecting Whos prey to the Grinches Christmas eve massacre ) but fifty thousand copies of the selfsame, now viciously obsolete, Book.

Yep kids, last year it switched from Marley and Me to You: The Owner's Manual to Case Histories by Kate Atkinson ( trust the World's Biggest Bookstore to pull that one off ). This year it's Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Dr. Vincent Lam, the Atwood propaganda worthy of the Giller prize ( did I mention Lam is represented by Anchor Canada whereas every other nominee on this year's "where the hell did that come from?!" list was published by small Torontonian avant-garde presses that no one has ever heard of ) and our utmost attention. We've sold out four times. And, pending a huge shipment next Tuesday, we'll have to spend the weekend in the throes of improvization: you know the same propensity that allows you to sell Jack Absolute to Da Vinci-coders:

"He solves codes. Really he does. And I think if you look really, really carefully you'll see the Illuminati in the background. A little lacking on the italics, mind you, but they are indeed, the darkest con of man!"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


She's no Deirdre Baker......but I don't mind reading what Susan Perren has to say in the Kids' section of the Globe and Mail now and then. (Odd, that the only thing I like about the Star is the bi-weekly Small Print section in which Deirdre Baker rambles, in her almost unbelievably articulate way, about the brightest and best of the Kids' book world).
But this, dear friends, is not about the Star, it is about Susan Perren's 2006 YA picks.

They read as follows:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation by MT Anderson ( recent winner of the National Book Award)

Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis

Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones

A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston

A couple are usual suspects by now, but the Sarah Ellis delighted me. I was glad to hear her get the credit she so obviously deserves for this most recent endeavour.

As a bookseller, Octavian Nothing has been a challenge. It is, like the Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, a book that forces the younger demographic to challenge themselves beyond the usual expectancy. Only the most dedicated of readers will have the tenacity to battle Anderson's beautiful 18th Century prose, dilluted sentences and spacious intervals. To get inside of Octavian's mind and reap the benefits of this multi-faceted text, one must be willing to surrender completely to one of the most difficult teen reads of the past couple of years. A worthwhile adventure, indeed, but not for the half-heartedly inclined.

I read the ARC of the Julie Johnston in the summer and was thrilled at the supposed simplicity of the text and how the interposed thematic meaning beneath surfaced in Johnston's always eloquent manner. I love giving it to bright pre-teeners; wide eyed dreamers who love dwelling on the cusp of reality and fantasy; who feed on stories that transport them to different times. For those anxious to find a parallel, Eva Ibbotson's A Song For Summer strikes me as similar in tone and theme. Though both are set in different worlds physically, they both require the same capacity for abandonment. You want to drift of in these books. Take the words on the page, chew it slowly, and drift far away.

Gatty's Tale is, of course, a Crossley-Holland ( worthy in itself) and takes up the plight of the fiesty orphan we previously encountered in the enormously popular Arthur series. Always thinking our young friend deserves a book of her own, this met my expectations! Gatty's adventures seem to me a hybrid of Adam of the Road and an equally fascinating group of books by Joan Aiken ( see Wolves of Willougby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea).

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Canada Reads 2007!

The nation wide discussion/ contest that brought us Deafening, and Rockbound , and the Hubert Aquin book that no one understood.
Hats off to you, CBC!

Here's next year.... with some of everyone's perennial favourite judges ( face it ! I just have a thing for a contest where Jim Cuddy lets as all know he reads Guy Vanderhaegue and Steven Page...well. Steven Page should always have a venue for voicing his book opinions!

Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor
(defended by Jim Cuddy )

Children of My Heart by Gabrielle Roy
(defended by Denise Bombardier )

The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani
(defended by Donna Morrissey)

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill
(defended by John K. Samson)

Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis
(defended by Steven Page)

There it is, kids, get reading. I have to read Lullabies and Song of Kahunsha; but since a lot of the selections have been around for a bit I, luckily in the case of the Roy and the Timothy Taylor, have already partaken.

Friday, December 01, 2006


A Whitbread by any other name is still a Whitbread.

In adult territory, I was not at all surprised to see perennial favourites Mark Haddon and David Mitchell show up.

I was, of course, delighted that The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox graced the scene. Although it needs some editing, it is fresh and captivating and spookily unique.

Here are the YA nominees ( a splendid list indeed ):

Clay by David Almond
The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
Set in Stone by Linda Newbery
Just in Case by Meg Rosoff

I read the David Almond in ARC form in the summer. Very creepy with a tinge of sci-fi.

Julia Golding remains a new favourite Diamond of Drury Lane and Cat Among the Pigeons are not only spirited to life by Cat's colourful narration but are peopled by the most intriguing characters of the 18th Century's theatrical world. Case in point, Cat's guardian is Richard Brinsley Sheridan ( you know, the one with all of the insults: " you mewling, mangy, puppy!" but, he keeps them in check here).

I have not read Set in Stone but am off to order it because it looks fascinating ...and historical....coupled with an art teacher and a governess!

Just in Case by Rosoff is one of everyone's most talked of this year. It keeps popping up on the Cybil's nomination list and Kat gave it a glowing review bestowing upon it five balls of yarn ( impressive indeed ), laying aside her obvious bias for the character's first name (we all know a good Justin ), and gushing:

"What a brilliant book! Explosive imagery, whimscal and serious, smart and incredibly heart wrenching, I couldn't put this book down. It was disturbing, but poignant. It had the "coming of age" feel to it, in a very unconventional way. I think I fell in love a little with Justin (David) and Boy. I found it totally believable, even though it's totally unbelievable. I must read her first book. You must too. Possibly now one of my favoutire YA novels to date. "

Enough said.