Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's Flavia Up to Now?

I’m quite excited! Alan Bradley’s third book, A Red Herring Without Mustard, has finally come out and I can’t wait to see what Flavia de Luce is up to now. This precocious eleven-year-old junior sleuth and self-taught chemist is one of my favourite literary characters of all time. She’s clever and innocent, but not na├»ve. She’s funny. She’s tenacious. She’s somehow both sensitive and unflappable. And through her, Bradley has managed to resurrect the good old-fashioned whodunnit in a most delightful way. Fans of Flavia de Luce will already know what I’m talking about. Those who haven’t yet had the Flavia experience are in for a big treat.

I cut my murder mystery teeth on Nancy Drew when a boy in my third grade class gave me a copy of The Secret in the Old Clock (the first Nancy Drew mystery, 1932). I think it may have been the first real novel that I ever read, and while I cannot recall the plot at all now, I will never forget the feeling of being thrilled by the discovery and unraveling of the clues. I wanted to be a detective!

As I grew older, I got to know more literary detectives, both amateur and professional. Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot topped my list of favourites for decades. They were the quintessential representatives of the mystery genre where, while yes, there were dead bodies, the focus was not on the violence of the murder, but the detection involved in solving the crime.

Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters) and Amelia Peabody (Elizabeth Peters) soon joined the intrepid trio of esteemed crime solvers, rounding out a short, but beloved list of clue-gathering brilliance. Then came Jim Qwilleran, Willam Murdoch, Tom Barnaby, and Mikail Blomkvist. The list was growing. And now dear little Flavia has found a permanent place in my heart (and on my list).

I almost put The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia’s first adventure) down after the first page. What? I asked myself have I gotten myself into. The opening paragraphs described, in the first person, a dreadful kidnapping and escape. It was this passage – on page 2 – that got me hooked: “I skipped down the broad stone staircase into the hall, pausing at the door of the dining room just long enough to toss my pigtails back over my shoulders and into their regulation position.” I had to read on.

I’m so glad that I did. Alan Bradley spun a tale of mystery so utterly captivating that I rushed out and bought my own copy. When The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag came out, I pushed aside two other novels to read it. Flavia had lost none of her charm. Her vivid imagination and genius detection skills kept me up well into the wee hours each night until I sadly turned the last page and closed the cover on another endearing chapter in her young life.

Now, the bright yellow dust jacket that hugs A Red Herring Without Mustard beckons me back into Flavia’s post WWII English world. Shortly after a Gypsy tells her fortune, Flavia stumbles (probably literally) across the seer’s dead body. “…bludgeoned in the wee hours in her own caravan.” Was it an act of retribution? Flavia is about to find out.

You can place a hold on this book by searching the on-line catalogue at for A red herring without mustard. Click on the title and then click on Place Hold on the far right side of the page. Enter your user name and password and then click on the Place Hold button near the bottom of the page. You will be entered into the queue and our friendly staff will let you know as soon as it is available.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Canada Reads - and an HPL contest maybe!?

It’s that time of year again. The Canada Reads 2011 debates will air on CBC on February 7, 8 & 9 at 9 and 11 a.m. and again at 8 p.m. Started in 2001, Canada Reads is CBC's annual battle of the books, where five Canadian personalities select the book they think Canadians should read. Each personality selects a book to defend and the books are eliminated one by one until a winner is declared. Jian Ghomeshi has hosted Canada Reads since 2008.

So today I’m going to present the five titles, their defenders and pull it all together with a cover photo of each. What I’m actually going to do is copy most of the stuff from the Canada Reads site, but don’t tell anyone. If you are concerned about copyright and information piracy, you can go to the Canada Reads site and read it all there - What you won’t find on the Canada Reads site is whether or not any of the titles – should you be so inclined as to want to read them – are available at HPL. It’s entirely up to you; read on here or surf on over and read it all legally.

The first book on the list is The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis:
The peccadilloes of Parliament Hill's political animals are the subject of The Best Laid Plans (McClelland and Stewart), Terry Fallis's hilarious first novel, which won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

The novel's protagonist, Dan Addison, has had his fill of Parliament Hill propaganda and backbench maneuvering. A former speechwriter for the leader of the Liberal Opposition, he's disillusioned by the discrepancy between what's said on the Hill and what's done behind the scenes. Now in his 30s, he's washing his hands of the whole thing. Dan Addison is dropping out of politics for the relatively tame world of academe.

Not so fast, say his former employers. Before Dan can cast off politics once and for all he's given a Herculean task: find the party a new Liberal candidate to run in the next federal election.

Terry Fallis
No stranger to the worlds of public affairs and government, Terry Fallis has worked in public relations for more than two decades - and his insider knowledge in both arenas shines through in his irreverent, award-winning satire of national politics, The Best Laid Plans.

Defended by Ali Velshi
An award-winning CNN anchor and the news network's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi has covered every major news story from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year to the financial collapse of Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers in 2008.

The second book on the list is The Birth House by Ami Mckay
The miracle of birth and the struggle to live a good life; the miracle of a good life and the struggle to be born — these are just a few of the themes explored in Ami McKay's poignant debut novel, The Birth House (Vintage Canada).

The novel is set in a small Nova Scotia community during a period of great change: in Europe, the First World War is raging. In North America advances in medicine and social organization are radically altering the way people live. It's an era charged with tumult, destruction and social revolution.

Ami McKay
Born and raised in the U.S. Midwest, Ami McKay moved to Nova Scotia a decade ago and embraced Canadian history in writing her debut novel The Birth House. She and her family moved into a home that was once known as the local "birth house"-- it was there that she began writing fiction in earnest.

Defended by Debbie Travis
A pioneering force and major star in the now popular TV makeover genre, Debbie Travis is a household name - for good reason. The design maven is a best-selling author and the CEO of a growing housewares empire, Travis's Home Collection, which boasts nearly $100 million in annual sales.

The third book on the list is The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
Angie Abdou's remarkable debut novel The Bone Cage (NeWest Press) takes readers deep into the gruelling, often solitary world of amateur athletics. Neither a classic sports novel, nor a simple coming-of-age story, The Bone Cage offers a unique spin on both beloved genres.

Sadie and Digger are amateur athletes with the same goal: to make it to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Sadie is a swimmer, Digger a wrestler. Both have spent an inordinate amount of time training and training and then training some more. They've made sacrifices, both personal and physical, over many years to achieve their dreams. But life will get in the way of dreams. Sadie, in particular, deals with tragic unforeseen circumstances, which threaten to undermine her dreams of Olympic glory.

Angie Abdou
The fierce drive of a former competitive swimmer and the imagination of a gifted fiction writer: these are the qualities that author and creative writing instructor Angie Abdou brought to her compelling first novel, The Bone Cage.

Defended by Georges Laraque
During his 11-year career in the National Hockey League, Georges Laraque was one of the most feared enforcers in the game. But off-ice, this talented tough guy has put his muscle behind a wide range of social causes, from relief efforts in Haiti to animal welfare.

The fourth book on the list is Essex County by Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire's Essex County (Top Shelf Productions) is composed of three interconnected graphic novels: Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse. Winner of several major awards in the world of comics, including a Joe Shuster Award, it was hailed by reviewers as "the comics medium at its best" (Booklist) and "a quiet, somber, haunting masterpiece" (The Oregonian). The minimalistic though intensely emotional trilogy gives form to the author's inspired vision of what it means to live, work, dream and even die in a Southwestern Ontario rural community.

The population of Lemire's fictional landscape is represented from childhood to old age through the characters of Lester, Lou and Anne. Their external world is rendered in stark black-and-white lines. The vividness of their interior lives, however, is what gives the graphic novel its colour and vitality.

Jeff Lemire
A graphic novelist and comics illustrator who has garnered international acclaim, Jeff Lemire paid tribute to his rural roots in his remarkable trilogy, Essex County, and the world of comics responded with a plethora of major prizes and rave reviews

Defended by Sara Quin
She's a musician who has been in the limelight for more than a decade, though she's only 30. Calgary native Sara Quin, one half of the indie music sensation known as Tegan & Sara, has been singing and writing songs with her twin sister, Tegan, since she was 15.

The fifth and final book on the list is Unless by Carol Shields
Most people want to be happy. But how many have what it takes to be good? Can self-realization and morality share the same space in our lives? Or can we only have one and not the other? These are the questions that underlie Carol Shields's 2002 profoundly moving novel Unless (Vintage Canada), which explores the "problem of goodness" and how it squares with the very human desire for happiness.

Reta Winters is going through a period of "great unhappiness." The successful writer, wife and mother appears to have every gift life can offer, and yet, she's miserable, consumed utterly by the sudden change in her 19-year-old daughter, Norah.

Without warning, the pretty, confident young university student has chucked it all — school, love, her family — for a life on the streets. Norah now spends her nights in a homeless shelter, and her days plunked on a street corner in downtown Toronto. Around her neck hangs a sign that reads "goodness." She collects money from strangers, which she then distributes to the homeless of Toronto. The question that haunts her family: Why?

Carol Shields
One of Canada's most beloved and prolific literary figures, Carol Shields influenced a generation of writers both in this country and abroad. She wrote her first novel, Small Ceremonies, in 1976; over the following three decades, she went on to publish more than 20 other books in an array of genres, including fiction, poetry, plays and criticism.

Defended by Lorne Cardinal
One of Canada's most recognizable actors, with numerous television, film and stage credits, Lorne Cardinal is best known for his role as police officer Davis Quinton on the hit TV series Corner Gas.

And now that you have read this far I’ve decided not to tell you which ones are available at HPL. Instead I’m going to let you guess. I will tell you that only two of them are available. I will also tell you that you don’t even have to guess. You can search HPL’s on-line catalogue to find the answer. If you e-mail me with the right answer by February 15th, your name will go into a draw for a $25.00 gift certificate from with which you can buy one of these Canada Reads titles – or any title you want, actually. My e-mail address is You can find the HPL on-line catalogue at:

I'll be looking forward to hearing from you soon! Happy reading!