Saturday, March 31, 2007

A House Full of Babies

The Birth House by Ami McKay

Oh, my goodness, if you haven't read this book yet, you simply must! I had been putting it off for quite a while, even though I had heard wonderful things about it. Now, I am so glad that I added it to my Spring Reading Thing 2007 list.


Miss Dora Rare tells us her stories of daily life in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia in the early 1900s. But her daily life was far from ordinary. Growing up in a house surrounded by men (she had six brothers) Dora quickly became "one of the boys" much to her father's chagrine.

In an effort to separate her from her rowdy brothers so that she might eventually catch the eye of a suitor her father insisted on sending her to live with her Aunt Fran, who would teach her to be a lady. Well, Dorrie's mother wouldn't hear of it, since Aunt Fran is a bit high-and-mighty, well-to-do, and always seems to find a way to look down her nose at their simple ways. (As it turns out, Aunt Fran isn't nearly as perfect as she would like us to think!)

Dora, instead, goes to live with Miss Marie Babineau, the elderly midwife ("witch" according to many townfolk) who mentored her in catching babies and healing the sick with all sorts of potions and dreadful-sounding concoctions, and many many prayers.

As the story unfolds, Dora takes Miss B.'s role on, and gets into a few rough spots, thanks to the "know-it-all" Dr. Gilbert Thomas who has opened a new Maternity hospital for women to have their babies at, "pain-free" with the help of a little twilight sleep. His ridiculous remedies and theories of women's fits of hysteria and the cures therein (think of The Road to Wellville) were unfortunately, quite accurate for the time. Of course Dr. Thomas would like all the women to choose his practice because that means more money in his pocket. Therefore, he needs to convince Dora (and the community) that she really must end her midwifery days.

Dora finds herself rushing to Halifax, thrown into the aftermath of the Halifax explosion to care for the pregnant women who were launched into premature labour from the impact of the explosion.

She finds herself fleeing to Boston, where she questions her small-town existence as she is inspired by the women's movement and also unknowingly by Miss Honey, one of the girls at Paddy Malloy's Playhouse nextdoor.

As the years go by, we watch Dora grow out of her shell and become the woman she is intended to be, and her life unfolds, just as Miss B. predicted it would: in a house full of babies.


The characters are each unique and memorable. You can certainly find something to detest or adore about each of them - no matter how small a role they play. The research that McKay has done for this book is thorough, and she even calls on real historical events that greatly impact the lives of the residents of Scots Bay (the war, the Halifax explosion, for example).

In fact, I was surprised to discover that the entire premise of this book is based on the life of a real midwife who used to live in the house that McKay bought in Nova Scotia.

Read the book, and then go to McKay's website, to discover the conception of the novel, learn tidbits of history (such as midwifery in the early 1900s, groups like the Occasional Knitter's Society, and yes, even the early uses of the vibrator to cure hysteria), and even have your tea leaves read to see what the future holds for you.

This was by far, one of the most wonderful, engaging reads I have ever had. The storyline had me engrossed from start to finish. And the design is perfectly detailed. There are even notes from the Willow Book included at the end (just in case you need a little Beaver Brew or Raspberry Tea).

Friday, March 30, 2007

1, 2, 3 Vampire Hunters! MWAH-Ah-ahhh!

When I picked up the unabridged audio CD of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, I thought I was in for a real treat because I had heard quite a bit of buzz about this book. And, well, let's face it. I DID have that short vampire obsession phase back in college with Anne Rice's chronicles.

This audiobook boasts an ensemble cast of SIX readers, which is way more than typical. I do like the fact that there were so many different voices because it made the book feel more like one of those old radio mystery programs, which was kind of cool. The sound effects and menacing music were great for about the first disc, but then you just start expecting them, and it starts to sound silly. Something dramatic concludes the chapter, and right on cue: Dah, dah, daaaaaaaah from the orchestra.

But I do have to say that the utter dissapointment in this audiobook reached a climax with the entrance of Dracula himself. I kid you not, he sounded just like Count the Count from Sesame Street:

I was just waiting for the moment when he says, "I vant to suck your blooooood!" Terrible stereotyping of what Hollywood has done to Dracula. Seriously, I laughed through the rest of it.

If I had read the book, I'm sure I would have enjoyed the story a lot more.

So if you're into vampires and whatnot, I'd say, stick with Anne Rice. She's got it down.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What Oprah's Reading

Oprah has announced that The Road by Cormac McCarthy is her latest book club selection. I haven't read it yet, but maybe I should add it to my spring challenge list! It sounds pretty great:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food-—and each other.

Have you read it yet?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with Strings...

randomness...feed your mind and your blog
Week of March 25: A Few of My Favorite Things

what's your favorite.....

1. food: I'll break this one down into two categories. Fave healthy food? Yogurt. Especially now that I've discovered the delectable goodness of Activia's apple meusli & nuts. Now, fave food in general? CHEESE! Ohhh I *heart* cheese. Give me a chunk of bread and a hunk of cheese and I'm in heaven.

2. movie: Stealing Home (Mark Harmon & Jodi Foster) Something about this movie just gets me every time. And for anyone who's seen this one, you'll know what it means when I say, "Goodnight Mrs. Paaaaaaarks!" :-D

3. song: Grace Kelly by Mika, but as far as music goes my favourites change frequently. But ooh, Mika's album is released in Canada tomorrow! I've been looking forward to this one...he's a great blend of Elton John, Scissor Sisters, and Queen. What a combination. Big Girl is a great anthem for us fluffy girls out there. :-D

4. color: Brick Red (with glitter!)

5. outdoor activity: Walking. Am I boring yet?

6. season: Fall is indisputably the most beautiful season, in my opinion. Nothing greater than the changing colour of leaves, the crisp autumn air, breaking out your sweaters, and curling up by the fireplace with a cup of cocoa and a good book.

7. book: Oh, now this isn't fair. There's no possible way in the universe that I can narrow it down to one fave. So I'll give you my latest one: The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Her previous book, Fall on Your Knees was an Oprah pick, but this one grabbed me on a more personal level. Perhaps it's my childhood fascination with Bugs Bunny, just like the main character, Madeleine McCarthy. Or maybe it's something else.

8. store: One word - IKEA. I know, some people look down on it because it's "cheap" stuff. But hey, why should I spend 3x the money at a fancy furniture store, when IKEA stuff looks great and holds up just fine in my house? More money for me to spend on books. And shoes.

9. car: I've only had a few cars in my lifetime, but so far the best has been my Honda Civic (06)!

10. animal: This guy:

till next time....

Visual DNA

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Boys and Their Muddy Boots

I'm the only girl stuck in the middle of six boys who spend most of their days poking, laughing and wrestling together as they trip and drag their muddy boots through my life.

Dora Rare, The Birth House by Ami McKay

Friday, March 23, 2007

Random House has Insight

When you're surfing the net for your next great reading purchase, do you ever read excerpts before you decide to buy? It's one of my own personal favourite ways of determining whether a book will capture my interest or not. I love to read the first line. If it grabs me, I'll read the full first paragraph. And sometimes I go even further and read the entire sample that's available.

As I surf through the various book blogs out there, I enjoy reading what people have to say about the book they just finished. But it's usually not enough for me. I still have that little nagging voice that says, "browse inside the book first!" But then I usually have to go to the trouble of following a link to the publisher or to Amazon, finding out if there even IS an excerpt available, getting into the reader, taking a peek, then if I decide to buy it, I have to get back to the main page...yadda, yadda, yadda.

Well, now there's a cool little gadget that will make that whole process a lot quicker and easier. And it's snazzy too!

Random House has introduced Insight - a digital distribution tool, and a neat little widget that lets you take a sneak peek into many of their books with a Browse & Search function. It's an online book reader that shows you what the actual pages look like, and gives you a decent chunk of the book to get a good feel for it.

Know what's even cooler? They've designed it so that you can add the widget to your website or blog. Check this out: (You will need Flash 9.0 to view this, and it's available for free here.)

See that little binoculars icon at the top right corner? Click on that, and you can search the contents of the ENTIRE book (not just what's here in the preview). So let's say, you're doing research for a term paper, and you're looking for a book with lots of information on...oh, I dunno...agoraphobia. You've found a book on phobias, but you're not sure if agoraphobia is covered. Problem a search for agoraphobia, and you'll find all the instances of that word in the entire book.

And for my fellow audiophiles out there, they've also got samples for audio books too, so you can have a little listen before you buy:

(There's even a wee little audio version too...great for your sidebar!)

You can read more about Insight here, and check out the available titles with Browse & Search here.

This new little goody makes me giddy. :) Can't wait to get to my next book that has Browse & Search available.

My sidebar will be widgetylicious.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

***Potential SPOILER Alert***

This is the second novel by Jodi Picoult that I have read, (The Pact was the first) and I have enjoyed both of them. Her common themes of teenage angst and unrequited love make for easy curl-up-with-your-book reading.

In Salem Falls, Jack St. Bride has developed a bad reputation that follows him wherever he goes. You see, Jack was wrongfully convicted for statutory rape of one of his former students who had a crush on him and made it all up. Following a prison term, Jack moves onto a new town, a new life. There, he meets Addie Peabody - a slightly odd woman who runs the Do-Or-Diner and who hasn't been able to completely get over her daughter's premature death.

The people of the town eventually discover that Jack is an ex-con, and begin the brutal campaign of running him out of town without a thought to his rights.

The real trouble begins when one of the local school girls (who is involved in witchcraft) cries rape and points the blame at Jack. Yep, the poor guy was accused again.

An investigation and trial ensues, and Jack is defended by none other than Jordan MacAfee (who also appeared in The Pact).

I won't spoil the ending for you, but you can guess how it all works out. They always do.

It doesn't matter though...the point is, this is a good, quick, pleasurable read.

Short Stories Vs. Novels

Booking Through Thursday

  1. Short Stories? Or full-length novels? I never really was a fan of short stories for the longest time. Until I read "The Kittens" by Dean Koontz. (Yeah, I know, this is my third Koontz post in a row. Sheesh.) But that story was amazing, and proved to me that short stories can have the same profound effect on you that full length novels can.

  2. And, what's your favorite source for short stories? (You know, if you read them.) I still don't read a lot of short fiction, but when I do, it's usually in an anthology like this or this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Book Trailers the New Marketing Tool?

Something that seems to be building in the book marketing world is the creation of book trailers. I have to say, I'm really keen on this idea. It's been a long-time effective marketing tool for movies, so why couldn't it work for books too?

Random House is turning the idea into a contest, which is brilliant, IMHO:

Dean Koontz needs you to direct the trailer for his upcoming book, The Good Guy. Use your video cam, cell phone cam, or whatever else you can think of to create a 30 second trailer based on the 2 chapter excerpt they've provided. Upload your masterpiece to YouTube for all to see, and you'll get a groovy t-shirt that proudly states, "I shot The Good Guy."

Sheer brilliance. I'm not eligible to enter, but I might try to come up with something just for fun. Although I'm limited in the fact that I have no video camera. Hrm.

Here's a great example of a professional book trailer. This is for Dean Koontz's The Husband (which was a fast-paced thriller!)

How cool is that?

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Wanna Play Too!

Katrina over at Callapidder Days has announced the spring challenge from March 21 to June 21, with the snappy and highly appropriate name of Spring Reading Thing 2007! But in my own little world, I like to think of it as "Tackle the Mountain 2007." Working for a publisher has ensured my neverending supply of books that threaten to topple my bookshelves.

So here's my target list which is bound to grow, since I'm going to another booksale on April 14.
(in no particular order)

1. The Birth House by Ami McKay
2. The Keep by Jennifer Egan
3. The Good Guy by Dean Koontz
4. The World Below by Sue Miller
5. The Wreckage by Michael Crummey
6. The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

Is anyone else creeped out by the fact that every book on my list starts with "The?"


On with the reading!

What Books May Come

Critical Mass asks, "What Are You Looking Forward to Reading This Spring?"

Well, I'll tell ya.

1. The Good Guy by Dean Koontz (Bantam, May) I've been a big fan of Dean Koontz since high school. My collection of dog-eared mass markets and hardcovers spill off the shelves in my basement. In my humble opinion, I went through a rough spell starting with From the Corner of His Eye through By the Light of the Moon. But with Life Expectancy, he had snagged me again, and whenever a new one comes out, I simply devour it. This new one promises a thrilling ride, as Timothy Carrier attempts to save a woman's life, but in doing so, implicates himself as the one who's hiring her killer.

2. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada, April) Atonement was an amazing read. Someone swiped my copy of Saturday, but it's also been on my wish list for a while. But read the exerpt of this new one (pdf), and tell me you don't want more.

3. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (Atria, March) This is the book that people have been saying has the Columbine-type plot with school violence. I've read 1.5 books by Picoult (The Pact, and I'm almost done with Salem Falls), and both have captured the young and tortured souls of teenaged angst extremely well. She's good at the love story, and great with the courtroom scenes that don't get the snooze award like some others. Check out this excerpt.

4. Everything I needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by 24 notable female authors (Pocket, June) Seriously, I don't know a girl out there who hasn't read a Judy Blume novel and learned a thing or two. I remember passing around a copy of Wifey with my junior high girlfriends and giggling about all the smutty parts. God love ya, Judy Blume.

Long Time Gone

So I feel the need to explain my blogginess. Er, my blogessence. Um. Whatever.

I started a blog way back in 2002. I called it The Old Curiosity Shop, and this was my very first post:

Curiosity is not just for cats. I read to learn. I read to feel. I read because I'm curious about the world and about people. I love to share my favorite books and poems with people. That's just what this is. The Old Curiosity Shop of Literature.

Somewhere along the way, I lost track of that mission. I went strong for a good solid year, I think, and then the posts started coming few and far between. I think I figured out a reason for it.

I'm a perfectionist (like so many others who say they're a perfectionist when asked what their negative qualities are) and I can't seem to continually produce what I intend to be high-quality posts on a regular basis.

How can I get over that? Well...I can start writing rambly posts like this one until I figure out what the heck I'm trying to say.

I've always believed that good writing is an art that is well practiced.

And boy, have I been out of practice.

But now I feel that urge share the things I know. It's a pretty profound feeling. I hope it sticks around.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eggs Benny on a Sunday: Books & Brunch

This morning I hopped into my little silver Civic and tootled on downtown to the King Eddie hotel for Books & Brunch. A little eggs benedict, some adorable conversation with the senior citizens at my table, and some great talks from the following authors:

The Honourable James Bartleman started the program off with an inspiring talk about his new book,
Raisin Wine, which naturally led to his literacy efforts for Aboriginal children in Canada. He has established some amazing initiatives, including an annual book drive which has sent over a million books to reserves in an effort to build libraries and ensure that every aboriginal child has a book to call their own. This is a program that gets right to the core of my heart because books had a profound effect on me as a child (as they did for His Honour -- they changed his life completely, going from a poor kid in Port Carling to the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. I'd say they had an effect!). I encourage you to read more about the wonderful literacy initiatives, and get involved however you can! And, I also encourage you to read the author Q&A about his book. And then go buy the book at your favourite local bookstore. It's a delightfully devourable read.

Next up was the lovely Kyo Maclear, whose book The Letter Opener is about a woman who works in the Undeliverable Mail Office, and one day discovers that her co-worker has gone missing. Maclear began her talk by reminding us that there actually is a LOT of lost mail out there...some of it with your very own name on it likely sitting in a lost mail bin somewhere out there. Do you ever wonder what's been lost of yours? Letter from an old friend? Bills that never showed up (hoorah!)? How many birthday gifts have gone missing? What a wondrous treasure trove that Undeliverable Mail Office must be!

Guy Gavriel Kay spoke about the way each of our individual pasts have an effect on our reaction to and interaction with a book can have. That's part of the conversation between the author and the reader. If you've just had a terrible argument with a friend, then your interpretation of a book you're reading will be different than when you are having a brilliantly good day. And Kay wants to be the kind of author that keeps you up until three in the morning, even if you have a meeting at 8:00, or have to get the kids off to school, or whatever. He wants you to not be able to put that book not end that conversation between author and reader because you just can't wait to see how it all ends. Will his latest book Ysabel do that for you?

Last but by no means least, Sally Armstrong described her excitement for researching her book, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, about her great-great-great-grandmother. It sounds like a fascinating story. And because I don't feel like paraphrasing, here's the book description:

In 1775, twenty-year-old Charlotte Taylor fled her English country house with her lover, the family’s black butler. To escape the fury of her father, they boarded a ship for the West Indies, but ten days after reaching shore, Charlotte’s lover died of yellow fever, leaving her alone and pregnant in Jamaica.

Undaunted, Charlotte swiftly made an alliance with a British naval commodore, who plied a trading route between the islands and British North America, and travelled north with him. She landed at the Baie de Chaleur, in what is present-day New Brunswick, where she found refuge with the Mi’kmaq and birthed her baby. In the sixty-six years that followed, she would have three husbands, nine more children and a lifelong relationship with an aboriginal man.

Charlotte Taylor lived in the front row of history, walking the same paths as the expelled Acadians, the privateers of the British-American War and the newly arriving Loyalists. In a rough and beautiful landscape, she struggled to clear and claim land, and battled the devastating epidemics that stalked her growing family. Using a seamless blend of fact and fiction, Charlotte Taylor’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Sally Armstrong, reclaims the life of a dauntless and unusual woman and delivers living history with all the drama and sweep of a novel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

No, it's not the Bass-O-Matic 76, it's the HydraCoach!

For those of us who are mathematically challenged in keeping track of our water intake, it's the new HydraCoach Intelligent Water Bottle! Gotta love their catch line too: "It Thinks While You Drink." Ha!

So apparently this handy little contraption will set a Personal Hydration Goal for you, and will monitor your daily intake. It even calculates your average consumption, the time left you have in the day to meet your goal, and yes, even the "Sip Tracker" tells you the "amount and percentage of fluid consumed relative to your Personal Hydration Goal."


All this for a mere $30 purchase. Who knew drinking water could be so complex?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How do you solve a problem like ice on the CN Tower?

Ice Closes Gardiner

This week in Toronto, a major section of the Gardiner Expressway was closed due to the threat of falling sheets of ice the size of dinner tables from the side of the CN Tower.

The size of DINNER TABLES. Yikes.

Well, this little conundrum made my commuting hours hellish. As any Torontonian knows, whenever something happens on the Gardiner/QEW, you get gridlocked traffic trying to get out of the city which makes for lots and lots of cranky motorists.

Me included. CRANKY-pants! My commute home on Monday afternoon took over 2 hours, when it shouldhave taken 1. Grumble grumble.

But the good news is, the highway has reopened -- for now. The sheet of ice is still clinging for dear life on the tower, and officials have no idea how to get it down safely.

Enter the brilliant Canadian public:
"Ask the Maple Leafs to play on it. Maybe they'll actually win a game."
- Wilson Chung, Mississauga

(ouch...hey, they DID win last night!)

"Put a bunch of politicians in the 360 Restaurant. All the hot air generated is sure to melt the ice."
- Trevor Dzoutzidis, Toronto

"Where is Spiderman when we really need him?"
- R. Swift, Point Edward

"Have them re-route the cast of Amazing Race All-Stars to the base of the CN Tower. Give each team a soup spoon and tell them the last one to remove their section of ice is eliminated. Those guys will do anything."
- Bryant St., Toronto

"Lower a large speaker from above and acoustically blast it off. I'm thinking Celine Dion. She can hit the high notes and that way she could use her voice for good instead of evil."
- Tom MacMillan, Brockville

Sheer silliness! :)

Why don't they do my idea? Get a helicopter up there with a really big broom hanging from it, and smack that tower around a little bit? That'll teach it!

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