Tag Archives: literature

Valentine Reads: “Son of a Trickster” By: Eden Robinson and “Number 11” By: Jonathan Coe


“Son of a Trickster” By: Eden Robinson

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.

Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don’t.



“Number 11” By: Jonathan Coe

The long-awaited sequel to The Winshaw Legacy, the novel that introduced American readers to one of Britain’s most exciting new writers–an acerbic, hilariously dark, and unflinching portrait of modern society.

The novel opens in the early aughts: two ten-year-olds, Alison and Rachel, have a frightening encounter with the “Mad Bird Woman” who lives down the road. As the narrative progresses through time, the novel envelops others who are connected to the girls: Alison’s mother, a has-been singer, competing on a hit reality TV show; Rachel’s university mentor confronting her late husband’s disastrously obsessive search for a German film he saw as a child; a young police constable investigating the seemingly accidental and unrelated deaths of two stand-up comedians; the ludicrously wealthy family who hire Rachel as a nanny–under whose immense London mansion Rachel will discover a dark and terrifying secret. Psychological insight, social commentary, vicious satire, and even surrealist horror are combined in this highly accomplished work to hold up a revealing, disquieting mirror to the world we live in today.


Salman Rushdie for his Novel ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’ at the Toronto Reference Library (Toronto) – Thursday September 24, 2015

Not to be overly sentimental but Salman Rushdie is one of five of my favourite writers and I met him tonight. He alongside Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens inspired me to study English Lit in university. I may not agree with their politics and spiritual views but their writing has always made me swoon and encouraged me to work harder in creating my own written esthetic. I made a decision to stop writing 15 years ago and the heartache followed me overseas to England and back. When I moved back home to Toronto and changed careers 11 years ago, I made a decision to continue to cultivate my first love in my down time. It’s never easy to write but with heroes like Rushdie continuing to make it look effortless – a girl can only keep trying her best.

Read his latest book ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’ from http://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/.  http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/253057/two-years-eight-months-and-twenty-eight-nights-by-salman-rushdie/  It will make you swoon.

One last note, after I smiled all night at Mr. Rushdie he paid me the honour of tweeting me back:

‘The night Salman Rushdie tweeted me and no one else in Toronto.‪#‎fangirl‬

“Signing, yes. Singing, probably not.https://t.co/TCWsJRoXsK

It was one magical night indeed.


Book Report: ‘Wicked and Weird:  The Amazing Tales of Buck 65’ By: Rich Terfry

With wit, style and a born writer’s knack for telling detail, Rich Terfry gives us the wildly entertaining story of his unusual life through the eyes of his shy but brilliant and preternaturally observant alter-ego, Buck. Born in a small town in Nova Scotia to a mother who begins yelling at him the moment he is born and a father who keeps his own counsel, Buck imbibes fear and insecurity like other kids guzzle milk. Hobbled by his fears and demons, Buck almost disappears into the “evil in the woods” that lurks just beyond the town’s border . . . until he is saved by three gifts: baseball, romantic love and music. His epic journey­­—full of diversions, coincidences, and larger-than-life characters—out of the darkness of his suicide-plagued childhood and into the bright wide world begins with a killer pitching arm (Buck almost makes it to the pros) and continues with his transformation into hip hop artist Buck 65. Along the way, Buck develops into a hopeless romantic and an obsessively creative, shape-shifting man who both fears life and dives into it with abandon. Wicked and Weird is a lively, sometimes shocking portrait of a life lived on the edge, by turns funny and heartbreaking.


“Later that afternoon when I got back to my rat-trap apartment, the light on my answering machine was flashing.  The machine was full, maxed out with messages from people freaking out, saying they had been listening to the radio and heard an interview with the band Radiohead in which they mentioned my name.  They were big fans of the ‘Man Overboard’ album.

Radiohead was the biggest band in the world at the time.  They had just released their shocking Kid A album, which changed the face of popular music.  The most important band in rock and roll was working with beats and samples and electronics, and now was telling the world that my work had influenced the group.

The floodgates opened.  Radiohead’s endorsement was enough to send me into orbit.  No everyone wanted a piece of me.  Every record company in the world wanted to sign me.  ‘Man Overboard’ started selling like crazy.  Best of all, I started hearing from people all over the world who wanted to tell me how much the song “Ice” meant to them.  I heard from people who had lost a parent.  I heard from people whose lives were affected by cancer in one way or another.  For some people the song was simply about loss or the fear of loss.  For others the song was about family.  It seemed to mean something to just about everyone who heard it.  I had connected with people – all kinds of people – and it was an incredible feeling.

A few days after my answering machine melted down, Radiohead’s manager contacted me.  He told me that the guys in the band wanted to meet me and asked if I could make it to Montreal to say hello when they were passing through on their tour.

It was an offer I couldn’t pass up. But for all the excitement and new interest, I was still broke.  And Montreal is almost eight hundred miles from Halifax.  My only choice was to hitchhike.”

If you are a fan of Rich Terfry’s radio show and Facebook ‘story’ status updates, you will fall in love with ‘Wicked and Weird:  The Amazing Tales of Buck 65’.  It will move you and make you swoon with delight.  This long awaited book indeed will take you down the rabbit hole and invite you into scenarios that are not only quirky, profound and gut wrenching but will trigger you.

Like a grand book, ‘Wicked and Weird:  The Amazing Tales of Buck 65’ will transform you and will even start to encourage you to put it down and take a moment for yourself to think about a love lost, a family member who caused you hurt, unachieved professional goals and journey’s explored but not forgotten.

‘Wicked and Weird:  The Amazing Tales of Buck 65’, reads with a sense of ease.  A perfect book for the last long weekend of the summer as we transition into the Fall.  It’s time to shed some skin – let ‘Wicked and Weird:  The Amazing Tales of Buck 65′ help you with that.

“I checked into an almost-affordable, quasi-fancy hotel in the Pigalle neighbourhood (the diseased vagina of Paris).  The lobby of the hotel was dark and red-velvety.  It hummed with menace.  Working behind the desk was one of the strangest-looking and most beautiful women I’d ever seen.  She looked like she had been photo-shopped with parts from fifteen different beautiful women.

“J’ai besoin d’une chamber, s’il vous plait.”  I slid my credit card and passport across the desk.

The woman didn’t say a word.  She just nodded and went to work, entering my information in her computer.  Her hands were beautiful.  She smiled almost imperceptibly.  When she had finished, she handed me a key attached to a giant tassel.  She gazed into my eyes for a few beats longer than what is normally comfortable.  She buried a hook into me.

There was no elevator; instead there was a grand spiral staircase.  As I climbed I did, our eyes locked.  Somehow, it wasn’t embarrassing.  I could feel her promising me something, I promised her back.

Over the next two days, I explored Paris.  I rifled the city’s drawers and medicine cabinet.  I searched under the bed.  Every time I came and went through the hotel lobby, the telepathic games with the woman behind the desk intensified.  I was returning from a thorough combing of Montmartre, when she forfeited.

“My name is Anna.”  She spoke very silently.

“What time do you get off work?”  The question sounded bold coming out of my mouth, but it didn’t feel bold.  I felt certain it was the question she wanted me to ask.  Besides, telepaths don’t waste time with formalities and small talk.  We see the light in each other that no one else sees and that’s all that matters.

“Midnight.  Wait for me outside.  On the corner.  Not here.”

At 0030 we were in her apartment, sitting at her kitchen table, drinking tea.  After the tea had been drunk we moved to the rug on her living room floor and spent the wee hours coaxing kisses from each other.  I didn’t need to ask questions to know she had many secrets to protect.  Hard secrets.

It was almost four o’clock in the morning when it was time to say good-night.

“Can I see you again tomorrow?”

A sadness she’d been avoiding all night befell her.  “It will be difficult.  I’m not working at the hotel tomorrow, but I need to take care of some business.  Tomorrow night I have to go with some guys to a party.  I don’t want to, but I have no choice.”

I was afraid to ask what that meant – and her eyes told me not to.

“Will you be late?  Can I meet you after?”

“Maybe so.  I will call you.  I would love to see you.”

She called me the night after at 2:00 a.m.  “I want to wake up next to you.”

I ran to her.  We fell asleep four hours later, as the sun was coming up.  The three days that followed blurred together.

I didn’t want to leave Paris.  But I had to. I had to finish my tour.  I had another two weeks to go, travelling around France, Spain Portugal.  I promised Anna that I would come back when the tour was over.  I was already thinking of quitting my job at the hotel back in Halifax. And staying in Paris forever.  I was ready to cut ties and distance myself from the curses, the bad luck and the evil in the tree of Nova Scotia.  I breathed better in Paris.  I slept better.  I ate better.  Paris challenged me.  I could feel it bringing out the best in me.  I decided I needed Paris.

When I left, Anna cried.  No one had ever cried over me before.”


Book Report:  ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ By James Rebanks

A major new talent redefines the literature of rural life.

Old world met new when a shepherd in the English Lake District impulsively started a Twitter account. A routine cell phone upgrade left author James Rebanks with a pretty decent camera and a pre-loaded Twitter app–the tools to share his way of life with the world. And what began as a tentative experiment became an international phenomenon.

James has worked the land for years, as did his father, and his father before him. His family has lived and farmed in the Lake District of Northern England as long as there have been written records (since 1420) and possibly much longer. And while the land itself has inspired great poets and authors we have rarely heard from the people who tend it. One Twitter account has changed all that, and now James Rebanks has broken free of the 140-character limit and produced “the book I have wanted to write my whole life.” The Shepherd’s Life is a memoir about growing up amidst a magical, storied landscape, of coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s among hills that seem timeless, and yet suffused with history. Broken into the four seasons, the book chronicles the author’s daily experiences at work with his flock and brings alive his family and their ancient way of life, which at times can seem irreconcilable with the modern world.

An astonishing original work, The Shepherd’s Life is an intimate look from inside a seemingly ordinary life, one that celebrates the meaning of place, the ties of family to the land around them, and the beauty of the past. It is the untold story of the Lake District, of a people who exist and endure out of sight in the midst of the most iconic literary landscape in the world.


There is the odd time that you read a book and feel transformed – it’s rare.  A book on shepherding in the wilds of the Lake District you say? ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ left me inspired and ready to learn about a lifestyle far from the streetcar lulls, honking horns and pollution of downtown Toronto.  Who knew such a calm, simple read could open my mind far from any yoga class has done in weeks.

‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebanks is a rich and decadent read.  Full of sink into your bed moments and aching of picturesque Lake District painted moments.

“When my grandfather bought our farm in the fells, he took us into the landscape of another breed of sheep, the Herdwick,  Herdwicks are born black with white ear tips, but change colour as they age, until they have a white, hoar-frosted head and legs, and a blue-grey fleece.  They are arguably the toughest mountain sheep in Britain.  Snow.  Rain.  Hail.  Sleet.  Wind.  Weeks of dour wet weather – no problem.  At one day old, with a good mother, they are almost indestructible, regardless of the weather, with a thick leathery skin and a carpet-like black fleece that keeps them fry and warm.  The ewes can live on less than any other sheep in these conditions and come off the fells with a lamb of value in the autumn.  Recent scientific research has shown that Herdwicks are genetically rather special; they have in them a primitive genome that few other British sheep carry.  Their nearest relatives are in Sweden, Finland, Iceland and the northern island of Orkney.  It is believed that the Herdwicks’ ancestors lived on the islands of the Wadden Sea, near the Frisian Islands, or further north in Scandinavia.  Local myth has it that they came with the Vikings on their boats, and the science now suggests this is true.  Since they arrived they have been selectively bred for more than a thousand years to suit this landscape.”

An ex-boyfriend took me to the Lake District for my 29th birthday when I lived in the UK.  I remember it being such a magical place, full of damp rolling hills, wandering sheep and an esthetic that you can’t caption fully in a picture.  Rebanks does a tremendous job in engaging the reader into his shepherding life that somehow parallels our own lives in countries far away with dashes of a work ethic, history and a beautiful fabric of stories that instantly take our minds and body on a break from our on reality.

“My job is simple:  get around the fields and feed and shepherd the different flocks of ewes – dealing with any issues that arise.  First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you; it’s about the sheep and the land.  Second rule:  sometimes you can’t win.  Third rule:  shut up, and go and do the work.”

If you are a fan of Twitter, Rebanks delivers daily tweets almost like they were lifted off the pages of his book with photo evidence of his hill ramblings.  They are poetic and yet full of perfectly British sarcastic giggles which brim of sheep dogs, a variety of sheep, familial nods and Herdwick shepherding gems.

Catch James Rebanks tomorrow at Globe & Mail Ben McNally Books for Brunch (May 31, 2015).

Here are all the details:


Sunday, May 31, 2015 – 10:00am


King Edward Hotel

37 King St. East

Toronto, ON  M5C 1E9

Brunch is served in the Vanity Fair Ballroom on the 2nd floor of the King Edward Hotel. Tickets are $50.00 each (taxes included).

Please call (416) 361-0032 with your credit card information to reserve a ticket.



Book Report: ‘Adultery’ by Paulo Coelho

Book Report:  'Adultery' by Paulo Coelho

Book Report: ‘Adultery’ by Paulo Coelho

If you are a fan of Paulo Coelho – you must read ‘Adultery’.  If you are looking for a ‘The Alchemist’ read – ‘Adultery’ may not be it, but it will encourage you to dig deep in true Coelho form.

I am so tempted to give this book to some of my married friends.  I wondered as I read this book if indeed the guises of a long term union, temptation and following through has lurked in the shadows for them.  Indeed, terrifying but also as ‘Adultery’ tells us a tale full of honesty, questioning and the confusion that comes with it.

Even if you aren’t married or in a long term relationship, Coelho will offer up some other ruminations to ponder as he did for me.

‘After a certain age, we put on a mask of confidence and certainty.  In time, that mask gets stuck to our face and we can’t remove it.

As children, we learn that if we carry it we’ll receive affection, that if we show we’re sad we’ll be consoled.  If we can’t get what we want with a smile, we can surely do so with our tears.

But we no longer cry, except in the bathroom when no one is listening.  Nor do we smile at anyone other than our children.  We don’t show our feelings because people might think we’re vulnerable and take advantage of us.

Sleep is the best remedy.’

It’s interesting for a woman now in her 40’s – I feel like I have shed that mask and I live with an either you ‘like me or you hate me’ view.  Warts and all.  Is it because I have had a surplus of time to be with myself and let’s face it being a bit selfish.  Maybe I’m just over it and know in my heart that I don’t need to strive to be a Superwoman.  I know who I am and I’m okay with it.  Instead of focusing all of my energy on little children, I have spent quite a few years nurturing the little child inside of me and figuring out my quirks and ironing out those rough edges.

Sleep – gosh I have numerous dates with my pillow over my weekends.  I get a lot of sleep and it is indeed my saving grace, my rejuvenation and keeps me focused.  This happens even more during the Fall and Winter moments.  Hibernation is decadence.

The Fall is my most favourite time of year and Coelho found a way to draw some symbolism to it and our own emotional processing.

‘There is no better time than the autumn to begin forgetting the things that trouble us, allowing them to fall away like dried leaves.  There is no better time to dance again, to make the most of every crumb of sunlight and warm body and soul with its rays before it falls asleep and becomes only a dim light bulb in the skies.’

I find that I wake up in the Fall.  Perhaps it is the cool breeze, rustling of leaves and new season for adventure.  But I also find myself taking things a lot less seriously and dropping things in their wake.  Be it things that aren’t working, staying away from toxicity and using my energy towards celebratory pursuits.

I also find myself looking up at the sky when I return from home late at night and feeling truly inspired.  This is something I rarely did.  But it has proven to be a nice accent to the end of my day.

‘Let yourself get carried away by the night from time to time.  Look up at the stars and try to get drunk on the sense of infinity.  The night, with all its charms, is also a path to enlightenment.  Just as dark well has thirst-quenching water at its bottom, the night, whose mystery brings us closer to the mystery of God, has a flame capable of rekindling our soul hidden in its shadows.’

In the Fall and Winter it’s all about slowing down and for me, truly feeling appreciative for what I have.  Also making time to do some work on myself without distraction.

‘Adultery’ by Paulo Coelho will read differently for all of us dependant on our life situations.  In true Coelho fashion he has an eloquent way of bringing enlightenment, spirituality, life challenges and entwining it into an always purposeful and uplifting read.


Book Report: “No Relation” By Terry Fallis

Book Report:  “No Relation” By Terry Fallis

Book Report: “No Relation” By Terry Fallis

In his fourth novel, winner of the 2011 Canada Reads competition and “CanLit’s crowned king of chuckles” (Telegraph-Journal) Terry Fallis’s sharp, funny wit takes readers into the world of identity, inheritance, and belonging, begging the question: What’s in a name?

This is the story of a young copywriter in New York City. He’s worked at the same agency for fifteen years, and with a recent promotion under his belt, life is good. Then, one morning this copywriter finds himself unceremoniously fired from his job, and after he catches his live-in girlfriend moving out of their apartment a couple hours later, he’s also single. Believe it or not, these aren’t the biggest problems in this copywriter’s life. There’s something bigger, something that has been haunting him his whole life, something that he’ll never be able to shake. Meet Earnest Hemmingway.

What’s in a name? Well, if you share your moniker with the likes of some of the most revered, infamous, and sometimes dreaded names in history, plenty. This is Earnest’s lifelong plight, but something more recent is on his plate: His father is pressuring him to come home and play an active role in running the family clothing business. And as a complex familial battle plays out, Earnest’s inherited name leads him in unexpected directions. Wry, clever, and utterly engaging, No Relation is Terry Fallis at the top of his form.


“After Toronto, Paris, Pamplona and Key West, the last leg of my tour was depressing in almost every respect.  It was cloudy, dreary and rainy day.  The sky closed in on me as I drove.  The weather was enough to dampen the spirits of even the most jubilant optimists.  But I was laid low by more than meteorology.  Upon touchdown in Boise and throughout the drive to Ketchum, I simply could not stop thinking about Hemingway’s final days, not to mention his final act.  But the time he moved to Ketchum, he was no longer the write he once was, and he knew it.   He had concluded that his writing had irretrievably declined to well below the standards he’d always set for himself.  This realization was a devastating blow he just couldn’t sustain.  He even tried electroshock therapy in the high hopes of restoring his gift. But it was futile.  In his final months, he acted strangely, pushing away friends and descending into depression and paranoia.  He claimed ‘the feds’ were out to get him, tailing him everywhere, and even bugging his phones.  He’d always been a drinker.  But in his final decline, he drank even more, with predictable effect.  Then, in the early morning of July 1, 1961, he arose before Mary, pulled his favourite shotgun from the rack, shoved in two shells, and ended his life.”

I heart a book that aches of Mordechai Richler themes and dialogue.  “No Relation” By Terry Fallis is full of the late Richler’s intent but with new and improved refreshing quips that will leave you feeling refreshed while also dabbling into some awesome Canadian Lit.

I really enjoyed the character of Earnest Hemmingway in “No Relation” By Terry Fallis.  At first I thought he would be a far moodier and curmudgeonly character but ended up being likeable and full of wonderment.

Look not every book is going to lead you down the course of enlightenment.  “No Relation” By Terry Fallis inspired my one sided daily dialogue with life,  to laugh at the small stuff and encouraged me to make lemonade out of those lemons that have been sitting on my kitchen table for far too long.

I’ve noticed that I have been making small changes in my life these days.  I love structure and sticking to my daily system.  It works.  But I’ve been on this schedule for so long.  It’s not really working for me anymore in terms of producing results towards change.

Earnest Hemmingway’s job loss in “No Relation” By Terry Fallis reminded me that perhaps a life overhaul is in order for me.  I have some time off coming and I’ve already started to piece together a list of ideas.

“No Relation” By Terry Fallis is a great summer read and worthy of a long weekend indulgence.  Perhaps it will inspire a life overhaul for you as well.


Nick Hornby Wrote Me Back

So I sent Nick Hornby’s publicist a copy of my blog post a few days ago just as a head’s up on press.  As seen here:  https://thirtyfourflavours.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/oh-nick-hornby/

On Friday I get an email from a ‘Nick’, subject of the email ‘From Nick Hornby’.

The email was short and sweet and read:

Dear Melanie,

Thank you. I love you too.

Nick Hornby

Enough said.  😉



Oh Nick Hornby..



I’ve had a major crush on Nick Hornby for years.  When I saw ‘High Fidelity’ in a theatre in Manchester, England I was solely there for my John Cusack fix and I fell asleep watching the film!!  Which I tend to do…ugh.  Why does John Cusack like everything I like?  The Clash, Nick Hornby books and the like.  Ok anyway, I digress.

Nick Hornby,  love him.  I love how he mixes his love of music into his literature.  There’s always a lil tongue in cheek and his commentary on life and why men are the way they are.

My fav books by him?  High Fidelity, 31 Songs and Slam.  Sure there have been films and soundtracks to his words…but that aside there is nothing like getting into bed and getting lost in his laddish sense of humour with pop culture and musical injections segued onto the pages.  It’s a good sleep people.

So in typical Mel fashion, I was looking at my book shelf the other day and realized I own nothing by Mr. Hornby.  I don’t know how that happened?  Well all his reads have been library loans I guess.  😉

So late one night as you do, I’m sourcing his books on ebay.  I found a used stash and they are coming from the U.S. in the coming weeks.  I also checked Craigslist.  Hmm low and behold I find a person selling an autographed copy of ‘Juliet Naked’ for $15.  Ummm?  So I contact the fellow we agree to meet and he agrees to take my $10 offer.  Gobsmacked?  Yes!!!  😉

I don’t know, I’m not a huge ‘oohh I got something autographed’ type of girl but I will tell you – a Nick Hornby signed book has made my January.  His books have given me so many laughs, sighs and happiness over the years.  My co-worker said to me after I told her my tale ‘not only was it a find but something cosmic just happened’.  Agreed.

The coolest thing was that not only was it autographed and in perfect condition but it had a store receipt inside the book where the book was purchased.  Stockholm!  If some cosmic stuff did indeed just happen to me – it came all the way from Stockholm!  I love it when good karma is on my side.


Mel xo

p.s.  Guess who wrote me back?  😉  https://thirtyfourflavours.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/nick-hornby-wrote-me-back/