Articles by Megan
December 31, 2014
2014 was a year that couldn’t help but feel heavy… every time I turned on the news and let the world rush in, it felt as if a progressive heaviness sank into both limbs and mind, like someone had snuck chunks of concrete into my pockets when I wasn't looking.
When I sat down to have a look at my favourite YA and kids books of the year, I noticed a common pattern. All of these books had a lifting, a lightness to them, whether it be a character vaulting over the Berlin Wall, breaking physical and psychological bonds, or floating through the air in a balloon with animal pals. My favourite books of the year lifted and released.
Here’s to a lovely and lingering lightness in 2015. And may you charter your own balloon.
The Winner’s Curse
This one caught me completely by surprise – privileged girl buys slave, falls in love... we know the drill, right? But this story is so complex and layered, showing a power dynamic that fluctuates back and forth, life and love complicated by a social fabric that is in complete upheaval. While a lesser storyteller might have been satisfied to end with “love conquers all,” this book challenges the reader to dig deeper. Love here is an inconvenience and a curse, something that challenges the pleasantly constant currents of a stratified system and one’s role within that system. An utterly captivating, historical-feeling fantasy, where the time and place is richly evoked in every brocade thread and piece of buttercream lace. Pssst - even better, it’s the first book in a trilogy!
February 1983, Berlin. Ada lives in West Berlin, Stefan in East Berlin, separated by that infamous wall. If these two are to be together, as the title suggests, they will need to surmount that wall, leap over and into the air and be happy forever (well, it’s not quite that simple...). Here we get another heroine, like Kestrel in the Winner’s Curse, who is fierce, passionate, and smart. Ada is a punk, navigating the mix of immigrants, punks, and rebels in West Berlin. We see the world through her eyes and through the spout of her paint can as she sprays graffiti across the wall and yearns for Stefan. Will these two end up together? And what will they have to sacrifice to do so?
Sebastian and the Balloon
Tired of the run-of-the-mill goings on about his street, Sebastian crafts a balloon from his grandmother’s afghans and patchwork quilts and takes flight, meeting a whole host of new friends in the process. Philip C. Stead’s gorgeous illustrations and simple, lovely story will make you wonder what’s lying just over the horizon in wait for you.
And Away We Go!
Mr. Fox takes off in his hot air balloon on a trip to the moon. But… can Elephant come too? Giraffe? Can we bring pizza? What about Squirrel? Before long, the balloon is chock full. Will Mr. Fox make it to the moon? Or will his new group of pals find a more fun destination together? The colourful, classic illustration style and focus on new adventures is a perfect combination, and one that will again make you feel like taking off and learning what lies just beyond the glaring city lights.
Let me preface this by saying that I adore YA novels, dystopian in particular. Yes, YA dystopia—fiction for teens. Which I suppose makes my choice of The Unwinding as my favourite book of the year an odd one.
But the current spate of Young Adult dystopia is a reflection of some deep and troubling undercurrents that run through our social fabric and show little sign of abating. To truly understand fiction, you need on some level to understand its contemporary roots; right now that lies in a suffocating sense of anomie, and a need to examine catalysts of that fragmentation of social values and identity. It’s easy to forget that the roots of the seemingly far-fetched dystopias readers like me devour often lead right back to our own feet.
There are so many books this year that I loved, but none has so unsettled and challenged me as The Unwinding. It sits in the corner of my bedroom in a pile of its own, as if relegated to the corner for the bad behavior of hitting where it hurts, cast out from the teetering stacks of ARCs that have made my apartment a fire hazard.
The Unwinding is an immensely personal and unflinching look at the unravelling of the so-called American Dream: the need for constant growth and improvement, development without reflection, and money without a soul. If you feel that the American flag on the cover of the book and its American overtones make it exclusionary, think again.
This is not a story about Democrats versus Republicans, but rather a story about the nostalgic myth of the small community, the small business, and the reality of more and more people living separate from wealth and purpose, the chasm yawning ever wider between reality and representation.
The son of a born-again, failed tobacco farmer; a young black woman, daughter to a heroin addict, growing up in the rust belt; an idealistic aide to then Senator Joe Biden, who discovers that the purpose and sense of belonging he’s always sought lies not in politics but in lobbying. The billionaire founder of PayPal, who by all means has snared a version of this elusive dream, but with it the sharp edges of a life with hidden shrapnel—nothing overt, but an uncomfortable whiplash and constant motion. I vividly recall dreams where I’m behind the wheel in a car without brakes, always going faster and faster, my insides calcifying into solid clumps of fear, then dissolving from the speed. These are the people Packer allows to tell their stories. Their successes and their failures, the loneliness that comes with individualism’s victories as well as its losses.
There is an unsettling loneliness inherent in the stories Packer tells—the feeling that each of his characters is fighting to emerge from a shadow into a startlingly bright dream that has been promised but remains out of reach, the way a recent dream flickers on the edge of consciousness, just beyond the edges of rational thought.
This is a book whose stories will sneak beneath your skin and settle in; the most unsettling element that the fears and disquiet expressed by the characters are our own, which we seek to hold in check just beneath the surface, lest they unwind and coil around us.
Megan Radford, Sales & Marketing Assistant
Grab your boots and bugspray and kiss your personal hygiene goodbye—it's camping season!
Camping cuisine for the Radford clan has traditionally entailed an intoxicating combination of beans, hot dog wieners, burned marshmallows, and malnutrition, so this year I threw caution to the wind and decided to try something new for me and my boyfriend’s 5-day camping trip: edible camping fare that wouldn’t give us scurvy!
I grabbed a copy of Hungry Campers by Zac Williams and threw it in my rucksack. This book promised a selection of simple and easy-to-make recipes for all meals (including the most important—dessert), as well as different recommendations/menu plans for weeklong or multi-day and overnight trips, and cooking for large groups. Some of the recipes are so simple and tasty that I found myself completely dumbfounded as to how such deliciousness could have been hidden in plain sight, much like a bear hides in the bushes waiting for you to turn the lights down to raid your cooler.
Here’s a sampling of the best of the weekend. And believe me, if we managed to concoct these tasty treats with no tears and minimal effort, you can too.
-2 flatbread pita rounds
-2 tablespoons pizza or marinara sauce
-¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
-Assorted pizza toppings (pepperoni, diced ham, mushrooms, canned pineapple, green bell pepper slices, sliced black olives)
1. Place 1 pita round on a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side facing up. Spread sauce over pita and add cheese and toppings as desired. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning to taste.
2. Cover with the remaining pita.
3. Wrap aluminum foil over pitas and fold in edges to seal. Place over coals and cook 10-12 minutes, turning once halfway through.
4. Chow down!
Baked Caramel Apples
-1 Golden Delicious apple
-3-4 Soft Caramel candies
-1 Tablespoon butter
1. Cut out the top ¾ of the core of the apple, taking care not to cut through the bottom. Place 3 or 4 caramel candies into the hollowed-out apple and top with butter.
2. Wrap apple in aluminum foil and place right side up on coals. Cook for 12-14 minutes, until apple is soft and caramel is melted. If necessary, stir butter and caramel to mix.
3. Chomp, chomp, and chomp further.
And finally, a new twist on an old favourite: the ever-enduring glory of the s'more! The following photos of the BF chowing down, shot in Renaissance lighting, speak to my overwhelming affection for this camping staple. Hungry Campers suggests using a fudge-covered wafer instead of the classic graham cracker + chocolate square, and what a grand suggestion it was:
Want to win a copy of Hungry Campers of your very own? Drop us a comment below, telling me your very favourite camping dish, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win.
1). Perusal of a lovely and accessible cookbook.
2). Changing into a suitable frock that may be destroyed/burned/ripped/pureed with mininal sorrow (helllloooo sweats).
3). Attempting to make a spatula & wax paper stand in for all manner of elaborate kitchen gadgetry (melon baller? Flour sifter?).
4). Removal of batteries from ye olde smoke alarm, & pardons asked from neighbours for black smoke/fire trucks on scene.
I'll admit it: I'm a little intimidated by fancy cookbooks. Yes they're lovely, but will my renter's insurance cover the fire damage I am sure to incur from trying the recipes therein?
In that spirit (apprehensive), I picked up Lucy Knisley's graphic novel Relish. Part cookbook, part memoir of growing up with foodie parents with a penchant for experimentation with food, it seemed a safe venture. I happened to thumb to a page that was an entrypoint of complete identification and love for this book, and that was Knisley's secret adoration of a culinary masterpiece:
Yep, you better believe it.
Knisley has love for the marshmallow-laden cereal, something most foodies probably wouldn't readily confess to. As the daughter of two foodies and a lover of exquisite, fresh, lovingly prepared food from infancy, Knisley confesses to an alternative affinity for the prepackaged and the sugary. I totally get this. As a child vigilantly kept away from sugar, I can attest to the siren song of sweet lady Oreo, the forbidden, lusty wiles of a McD's cheeseburger.
This is what makes Knisley's writing on food so lovely: it is the memory and the connection of food that she focuses on and which takes the descriptions from tasty to succulent. It is the idea that any food can be delicious, and even the horrible experiments with food can be a treat if there are people to laugh about it with you. Reading about Knisley's apricot-jam-filled fresh croissant on a Venice stoop, or bushel of strawberries picked for jam in rural New York will in equal parts take you to her memory and take you back in time to your own. To the streetcarts of rainy afternoons, the farmers' markets in the summer sunshine, and everywhere in between.
I devoured this book, and chose a recipe (the first of many I'm going to try!) that evoked my own memories of dusty, sweat-dappled mornings in Mexico with the sea breeze at my back... The recipes and stories in this book are a lovely trip down memory lane. And they're pretty delicious too.
Prep Time: Approx. 20-25 minutes
Fry one tortilla in corn oil until it Heat up black beans and add to
rises. Dab with paper towel to base.
soak up excess grease.
Add salsa... Avocado...
Sour Cream... A 2nd fried tortilla & 2 fried eggs...
Some more salsa, and some TA-DAH! (CHOMP!)
Want to win a copy of Relish? Tell me your favourite food memory in the comments below, and one lucky person will be selected at random to win the book! It can be a serious, delicious, awful, or downright silly memory (like Knisley's story of a friend who created an ill-advised delicacy: lemonade chicken!).
March 08, 2013
I recently got to check out the Art Spiegelman exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and it’s put me in an oh-so-excited mood for the upcoming Co-Mix by Art Spiegelman from D+Q (September 17, 2013).
For me, as I suspect for many, many others, Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Maus was my first introduction to the comics/graphic novel scene beyond the Sunday funnies and a love affair with Gary Larson’s Far Side. Maus was a complete revelation, showing an intersection of images, text, intensity, introspection, horror, sorrow, sardonic wit, and gallows humor. It was different from the literature I had ever been exposed to as a teenager, it was different from any kind of art I knew, and I loved it. It would lead to many a jaunt through stores like Lucky’s Comics on Vancouver’s Main Street and festivals like the comics and indie/zine Word Under the Street in Vancouver.
The Spiegelman exhibit pulls in work from his earlier career with such projects as Garbage Pail Kids, to his work at RAW, to his work on Maus, to his children’s books (yes, he wrote children’s books!), to his infamous New Yorker covers, to his post-9/11 reflections In the Shadow Of No Towers.
If you're still a little on the fence about "this whole comics thing" (insert Mother's disapproving stare *here*), there's plenty for the historian and publishing nerd to enjoy too. In a documentary on Spiegelman playing in one wing of the exhibit, we see a young Spiegelman and his wife Francoise Mouly purchase a printing press and set it up in their New York loft to self-publish copies of RAW. It’s a peek into a gorgeous, lovely window of publishing that is sure to leave you with warm fuzzies amidst the thick clouds of cigarette smoke and 70s bellbottoms.
Spiegelman's work is so sharp: sexual, political, hilarious, absurd, and heavily influenced by art history (I can’t think of many other comic artists who would/could incorporate Picasso’s Guernica in one frame, with a cubist Mr. Potato Head juxtaposed in the next).
Strolling through this man’s career in black ink and colour studies, it’s amazing to see the scope and impact of his career. I can’t wait for Co-Mix to read more! Spiegelman will be attending the 2013 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, so don't miss your chance to see him in person.
A red-carpet-ready post by Megan and Alisha
The Oscars are set to hit the screen Feb. 24, so it’s time to put your party pants on and prep for your oh-so-excellent Oscar fete, complete with games, treats, drinks, and plenty of snark (did you see what she was wearing?!).
Even if you won’t be exclaiming “You like me! You really like me!” to anyone but your cat in the immediate future (Best Supporting Snuggler: Mr. Meowsikins), you can still throw one doozy of a party with a few choice books to help. We’ve put a few books to the critics (staff), and here are the night’s big winners. Plus, check out our handy dandy flow chart for your road to Oscar party glory.
WINNER: Best friendly competition aid
Name That Movie (Chronicle Books)
This book has proven to be a hit with film newbies and movie snobs alike. With a double spread of esoteric sketches in sequential order from a particular movie, the reader has to guess the movie in question. Sure to bring out the competitive side of partygoers, get ready for some fun. And remember, if there’s one thing the Oscars are fantastic at, it’s showing how to be a graceful loser (but if you want to reign supreme, feel free to study the answers at the back of the book beforehand).
WINNER: Best Montage Avoidance Tool
Mag Mixed-Up Movie Lines (Magnetic Poetry)
If you’re like me and need an occasional break from the montage-y goodness of the show, this is your perfect tool. Mix and match famous movie lines, then giggle and glory at your cleverness. “Frankly, my dear, you’re a damned dirty ape and you can’t handle the truth!”
WINNER: Best giggle booster/conversation starter
Film Listography Journal (Chronicle Books)
Use this journal, complete with over 70 hilarious sketches, to list all your favourite movie picks. Go beyond your picks for the Oscar night alone and fill in lists from the classic (favourite films, favourite actors) to the delightfully idiosyncratic (top so-bad-it’s-good movies, scenes that made you cringe). Guaranteed to launch a conversation, especially when you find out whose favourite movie is Weekend at Bernie’s.
WINNER: Best self-esteem enhancing tool
TCM Classic Movie Trivia (Chronicle Books) and 100 Cult Films (I.B. Taurus)
Much like double-sided tape and stilettos can prop up a less than stellar Oscar dress, these books can do wonders for propping up your elite status in your circle of film buffs. Remember, we all know that the true spirit of the Oscar party is not the celebration of film, but rather proving that you know more bizarre and esoteric trivia about movies than your friends.
If the 4000 questions, including “expert only” section, of TCM Classic Movie Trivia isn’t enough to leave your movie aficionado opponents sobbing in defeat, 100 Cult Films will further help you one-up your mates by showing your superior knowledge in not just everyday cult films (scoff) but in cult sub-genres such as Italian cannibal movies and Japanese anime.
The Ultimate Bar Book Seriously Simple Parties
BATTLE ROYALE FOR FILM ESOTERICA CROWN
Name That Movie
Film Listography Magpo Mixed Up Movie Lines
HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTESS
February 14, 2013
Love is in the air...
For the single gal or fellow, Valentine’s Day feels nothing short of a cold, hard, chocolate-covered kick to the face. While representatives of blissful coupledom go about buying candy, chocolates, barbershop quartets, and professing their love in public and frightening ways, it can feel lonely as a single on that gooiest of sacchrine holidays. Here is a choose-your-own-adventure-style formula for optimal Valentine’s Day enjoyment as a single.
Start by answering this handy dandy question and clicking on the link to set you up with your true object of affection (duh - a book) on this snuggliest of days: How would you most like to spend the upcoming Valentine’s Day?
X Marks the Scot (9781402270093)
For the Love of the Goblin Warrior (9781402262098)
This doesn’t require too much explanation, but it's the best way of I know to block the lace and candy hearts from your immediate line of sight. Goblin warriors? Scottish shirtless shenanigans? Yes and yes.
If you would like practical, helpful ways to use potions and fortune-telling to lure a be-kilted gentleman into your boudoir, jump to #2.
Fortune-telling book of love (9781452108599)
The Book of Love (9780811877206)
My motto as a single was always to turn to voodoo, witchery, or any other (some could call it) duplicitous means of charm, so these books are a godsend (don't tell my boyfriend).
If you’re looking for more psychologically sound methods of self-reinvention and mate attraction, jump to #3.
If all this sounds like too much freaking effort and all you want is a shirtless romp, head on back to #1.
Wired For Love (9781608820580)
Relationship Saboteurs (9781572247468)
New Science of Love (9781402253751)
For those more introspective Valentine’s observers, here’s your chance to figure out what’s going on in that heart and head of yours. A little psychological reading-up on you and your potential partner's needs will go a long way towards ensuring that you are psychologically sound for a relationship.
If this isn’t your cup of tea, and what you really desire on Valentine’s Day is a man in a kilt, a possible paranormal romance, and an absence of shirts, jump back to #1.
For less… shall we say, straightforward methods of love procurement (helloooooo love potions), jump back to #2.
If the idea of studying your own heart makes you want to lash out irrationally, jump directly to #4.
All My Friends Are Still Dead (9781452106960)—You’re still single? Well at least all your friends aren’t still dead. Next.
50 Sheds of Grey (9781250033666)—Instead of the love of a good man or woman, rejoice in the love that comes from a sturdy, well-loved garden shed (swoon).
44 Horrible Dates (9781402267475)— Schadenfreude, baby. At least this wasn’t you.
Remember, young squires, that a Valentine's Day date can be awkward and end early on February 14, but the love of a good book will keep you up on many a late night.
December 14, 2012
As one of Raincoast’s newbies, I’d seen staff picks of the year before, and felt excited to contribute a balanced, even view of those estimable books of stalwart repute that had caught my fancy in the year bygone.
And then I started working here… luxuriating in a constant, neverending parade of book lust akin to a daily sugar rush. THE COVERS! LOOK AT THOSE ENDPAPERS! THE BLADS! MY GOD, THE BLADS! Keep the drool from the pages, old chap, play it cool Radford, play it cool… THAT’S MY FAVOURITE BISAC CODE EVER!
My immediate response to “pick your favourite book” was to scoff like a surly teen. Pick ONE book? Like, surely you jest.There were spreadsheets, longlists, shortlists, and a drumroll.
But I digress…
Here are the books of 2012 that I just can’t get enough of:
Shadow & Bone
The fantasy/pseudo dystopian element of this book was so completely captivating, the world so unique, and the plot turns so surprising, I stayed up for two nights (weeknights—don’t tell my boss) into the wee hours just to finish it. The setting and the details are so rich, you feel the bite of cold in the harsh Siberian wastelands as you read. Add one rockin’ female protagonist to the mix, some magical creatures, and an epic quest to defeat evil, and oh yes, it’s gonna be good.
With the sequel out in June, I’m not sure how I’ll contain my excitement in the meantime (warning: risk of spontaneous excited squeals/shouts).
It’s A Tiger!
David LaRochelle and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
It’s just a picture book *scoff scoff*. I’m not really afraid of those slithering snakes… or those mischievious monkeys… or that terrifying tiger!
The illustrations are gorgeous, the story delightful. This book is bright, fun, and the tiger bears an uncanny resemblance to my own charming feline (though she is likely more apt to chomp my head than a ferocious jungle beast). This is a book that begs to be read aloud. And I wasn’t scared, I swear! I’ll just go on to the next book and let my heart rate return to normal.
Rachel Vail and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
If you need me to explain why a piglet who wants to be a bunny is fantastic in every which way, then perhaps you’d best skip to the next selection. Oh, and the piggy hates salad, despite trying several times to swallow it down. How great is that?!
Reading this took me back to those wonderful days as a kid, when your central concerns were picking your nose without getting caught, deciding which teddy bear to snuggle, and reading a wonderful book for the pure, unfiltered giggle factor.
Selecting this title is a struggle (and kind of cheating), as I’m fighting the urge to toss my computer against the wall and abandon finishing this to retreat to the last 10 pages of this book, which has gripped me from the start.
The story is set far in the future, in a time of cyborgs, androids, and lunar colonies. There is a thin overlay of the classic Cinderella story, but this book ventures deeper, calling into question what it means to be human: a percentage of biology (51% human, 49% robot)? An emotional makeup? An ethical framework? In a world where the androids seem more human than our homosapien chums, it’s largely up to the reader to decide.
Now it’s time to scoot on out of here and read!
Megan Radford, Sales & Marketing Assistant