Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Trevor reviews The Beggar’s Garden; Kimbofo on The Sisters Brothers

September 26, 2011

The shortlist announcement is not far off; the Shadow Jury continues reading away. Our short story expert, Trevor, has positive thoughts about The Beggar’s Garden by Michael Christie (full review is here) — here are his opening thoughts:

The Giller Prize does it again: The Beggar’s Garden (2011) is another excellent short story collection, and another from a debut author. The author’s blurb says that Michael Christie “worked in a homeless shelter in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and provided outreach to the severely mentally ill.” His experiences there have made there way into this collection with striking emotion and clarity.

The Beggar’s Garden is made up of nine short stories, each centering on someone dealing with some form of mental illness or homelessness or both. Each story stands entirely on its own, though throughout Christie has them slyly referencing each other. No story was a failure, though I have to admit that I liked the ones in the first half quite a bit more than the ones in the second half. That said, I’ve gone back to those early stories and found that they not only held up to my memory but have strengthened

Kimbofo, meanwhile, has reviewed The Sisters Brothers (full review here). Her opening thoughts:

Canadian author Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers has been shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize and longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize.

It is the kind of book that could best be described as an enjoyable romp. It’s billed as a Western, but I saw it more as a road story — with guns and horses.

Set during the California gold rush of the 1850s, it is narrated by Eli Sister, one half of the Sisters brothers of the title, who makes his living as an assassin. But Eli is not your average killer for hire — he has a sensitive side, troubled by his weight, worried he’ll never find a woman to settle down with and constantly dreaming of a different life, perhaps running a trading post “just as long as everything was restful and easy and completely different from my present position in the world”.

His elder brother Charlie is more what one would imagine as a typical killer — he is ruthless, is attracted to violence and doesn’t suffer fools. But he’s also an alcoholic and his love of brandy means he spends a lot of his time on the road nursing horrendous hangovers.

All three Shadow Giller bloggers have now reviewed The Sisters Brothers (which is shortlisted for the Booker Prize, in addition to its Giller longlisting). Trevor’s review is here, KfC’s here.

New Face of Fiction winners

April 20, 2011

And the lucky winners selected with numbers from Random.Org are:

1. Touch, by Alexi Zentner — Pat
2. A Cold Night for Alligators, by Nick Crowe — Kayla
3. Every Time We Say Goodbye, by Jamie Zeppa — Mary Townson

And internationally, Guy Savage who chose A Cold Night for Alligators.

I have email addresses for all the winners and will send you a message to get postal details.

My thanks to everyone who entered and to Random House Canada for providing copies for the Canadian contests. We will try to do this again next year.

Jane Urquhart contest winners

October 4, 2010

Sorry for the delay — and for the ambiguous contest instructions. I ended up throwing all Canadian entries into contests one and two, all international entries into contest 3 and your choices were applied when I chose the prize. The results are:

Contest 1 — Three Jane Urquhart novels:
Away — BernardT
The Stone Carvers — Mike G
A Map of Glass — Margaret

Contest 2 — The New Face of Fiction
Deloume Road — Nena Athar

Contest 3 — International
Sanctuary Line — Janis Goodman

I will be in touch with all winners via email to obtain shipping addresses. My sincere thanks to Random House Canada who are providing the books (and shipping) for Contests 1 and 2 — I am delighted to be underwriting the costs for Contest 3 as part of my objective of promoting Canadian writers to readers outside the country.

Canadian entrants — move on to the next post for an excellent Giller Prize contest that gives you a chance to win autographed copies of all five shortlisted books.

International entrants — stay tuned. Mrs. KfC has agreed to underwrite a Giller contest that will include an international section. You will need to pay attention to Shadow Jury thoughts, I warn in advance.

From Chanel to Valentino, a Foundation for Fashion: A guest post from Mrs. KfC

August 27, 2010

September 9 to 16 marks the beginning of the semi-annual ritual known as “Fashion Week”. In fact, it is four weeks of fashion shows beginning in New York, moving on to London, then Milan and finishing in Paris, home of haute couture. The first runway show was presented by Charles Worth in Paris in 1858 and this year there will be about 275 runway shows in the four cities. The most lavish of them can cost up to $300,000 to stage, which is a lot for just 45 minutes of show. But the stakes are enormous. Fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry and neither longevity nor innovation can guarantee success, as both Christian Lacroix and Isaac Mizrahi learned when their fashion houses went bankrupt.

Coco Chanel said “Fashion you see, goes out of fashion; style, never”. There are six style icons whose innovation and vision informed fashion and design over the last hundred years and they have had enduring influence on the both the art and the business of the fashion industry.

Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schaparelli were contemporaries: three brilliant independent women, running businesses themselves in an era when women certainly did not work, let alone run large enterprises. The fact that the three of them were working in the same industry – creating the industry, actually – at the same time probably made them all better at their work. Each brought something unique to the game and their work is widely copied to this day.

Chanel and Her World by Edmonde Charles-Roux (Vendome Press) is the best of the plethora of Chanel books on the market. This book was out of print for twenty years and has just been revised, updated and re-issued. A beautiful volume that explores both Chanel’s style and her fascinating life, the book has over 600 illustrations from Chanel’s early days as a milliner to the design of the iconic Chanel jacket when she was at her peak of creativity. Coco Chanel liberated women from the strictures of Victorian fashion, eliminating stifling corsets, creating comfortably loose, yet feminine, clothes, bobbing her hair and even wearing trousers, which were an instant hit with women, if not with the men of the day. She is credited with inventing sportswear for women, including the bathing suit and beach pyjamas. By 1916, a few short years after the opening of her first salon, she had 300 employees. Never content with the status quo, in 1920 she branched out and created Chanel #5, to this day the best selling perfume in the world. In 1936, she invented the little black dress, many versions of which are captured in this book.

Although she retired and lived in exile in Switzerland during World War II, she staged a dazzling comeback in 1954, at age 71, and created some of her most beautiful work. In addition to photographs and illustrations of her clothes, there are many photographs of her salon and her homes, all of which round out the picture of this fascinating woman.

Madeleine Vionnet was born in France in 1876 and left school at age 11 to become a seamstress. By 1912 she had opened her own haute couture establishment and began a remarkable career that has had echoes in the design of beautiful clothes since that time. Madeleine Vionnet by Betty Kirke (Chronicle Books) is a must read for anyone seriously interested in the technical underpinnings of fashion design. Through her studies of the figures on classical Greek vases in the Louvre, Madeleine Vionnet pioneered the use of the bias cut in garments. This was a breakthrough event in the history of fashion, as bias cut designs are very flattering on womens’ bodies, and enabled the creative use of many new fabrics which had emerged after the First World War. Betty Kirke’s book is unique in the fashion world, as it has not only the photographs of the gorgeous clothes, but also the exact patterns of how to cut them.

The geometry of fashion was Vionnet’s specialty, but she was also a pioneering employer. She had a large staff of seamstresses and provided them with free medical and dental benefits through the staff doctor and dentist. She gave paid vacations, was the first salon to give her employees coffee breaks, and granted maternity leave to the women who worked for her. If one of her seamstresses or vendeuses got married while in her employ, she was entitled to make herself a wedding dress from last years’ designs.

Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli by Dilys E. Blum (Yale University Press) is a gorgeous record of the work of the third of these three remarkable women. “Shocking” in the title refers to Schiaperelli’s signature color, shocking pink, which was not considered appropriate for fashionable garments until she began to use it liberally. The 300 reproductions in this book cover her entire career, starting with her early work as a sweater designer, focused on designs with tromp l’oeil effects. Schiaperelli was the first designer to understand the value of mass producing her designs and entered into agreements with select department stores to market her clothes to the everyday shopper in New York and London, rather than catering to the limited world of haute couture clients. She also formed strategic alliances with textile manufacturers to further her plan of mass producing her wide array of sporting clothes.

Schiaparelli began innovating with fasteners on her clothes, incorporating zippers and hooks as elements of design, rather than just utility instruments to be hidden in the garment. As her clothes became more popular, she opened a lavish new salon in Paris in 1935. Understanding the value of publicity, she had the press clippings from the opening printed on cotton and silk fabrics and incorporated them in to her collections for her entire career.

While other designers of the day concentrated on Paris or Rome, Schiaparelli travelled extensively in the USA promoting her brand, and worked in London, as well as Paris and Rome to create new markets. She designed clothes for movies and associated freely with the surrealists in Paris, often incorporating their ideas in to her designs. Her motto was “ made beauty beats born beauty”, a reference to the fact that every woman’s beauty can be enhanced through beautiful garments.

And now to the men. The three most influential designers of the last fifty years were Dior, Yves St Laurent and Valentino.

Dior : 60 years of Style by Farid Chenoune and Laziz Hamani (Thames & Hudson Ltd.) chronicles the work of the house of Dior from its explosive beginnings in 1947 to today. The 250 illustrations and photographs are a beautiful record of the last 60 years of beautiful designs.

Christian Dior dazzled the fashion world in the spring of 1947 when he produced what has become known as The New Look. For the first time since the war broke out, he created a dramatic new silhouette. Gone were the skimpy dresses, short skirts and structured shoulders in vogue in wartime because of the scarcity of fabric for civilian uses. His bold new designs had nipped in waists, soft shoulders and full longer skirts — femininity reasserted. His show was wildly successful and, in an instant, most of the clothes on the market were passé. Stores scrambled to keep up with the demand for his lovely new look and other designers sharpened their pencils and came on board with this innovation. Ten days after his show, his salon had exceeded their profits targets for the year and it was only February! Success followed success and by the mid 1950’s Dior ateliers produced 12,000 dresses annually. He dressed movie stars and royalty and his name became synonymous with chic.

He collaborated with Roger Vivier to make shoes for his collections and launched Miss Dior perfume to capitalize on the value of his name.
Christian Dior died suddenly in 1958 and his house was presided over in turn by Yves St Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre and John Galliano, who runs it today. This 383 page book details the successes of the House of Dior and presents a beautiful visual history of the evolution of fashion from 1947 to today.

If Coco Chanel started the liberation of womens’ fashion, Yves St Laurent finished it. He invented “le tuxedo” for women, “le smoking jacket”, popularized the well-tailored pant suit, and created the safari jacket, the trench coat and the peacoat, all of which endure to today. His entire oeuvre is beautifully captured in Yves St Laurent Style published by his former life and business partner, Pierre Berge, and the Fondation Yves St Laurent (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.). It is the catalogue of the posthumous show of his works in Paris and includes over 300 photographs of his work at the back of the book, in addition to lush full page photos of some of his most important pieces, curated by color and by era.

St Laurent’s interest in design began when he was a toddler and accelerated as he matured. He was influenced by three designers: Chanel, Vionnet and Schiaperelli. As a young boy growing up in Algeria, he amused himself by creating entire collections, and when he was a teenager he came to the attention of Dior when he won a design competition for a black dress sponsored by the Paris fashion institute. He was hired by Dior when he was in his late teens and though he was untrained his genius was apparent even then. When Dior died suddenly, St Laurent took over the famed house at age 21.

He produced another revolution at the House of Dior in 1958 with the new “A-line silhouette”, the famous Trapeze dresses of the swinging sixties. In 1961 he was called up for military service and fell in to one of the deep depressions which would plague him all his life. When Dior announced that they had hired a replacement for him, he and Pierre Berge started their own house and success came very quickly.

By 1965, he read the winds of change in the air and started his “Rive Gauche” line, adding ready-to-wear to his couture business. The democratization of fashion resonated with the hipsters of the sixties and his designs for both Rive Gauche and his couture house reflected the spirit of the new generation. At the height of his success, he dressed Princess Diana, his lifelong muse Catherine Deneuve, Princess Grace, Audrey Hepburn and countless other icons of fashion.

Valentino Garavani was the most successful couturier of the 20th century. His house endured for 50 years and was the last couture establishment to be controlled by the designer when he retired in 2008. Valentino: Themes and Variations by Pamela Golbin(Rizzoli International Publications) is 300 pages of photographs of his work from 1957 to 2008. There is scant text, but his work speaks for itself, and reading this luxe volume gives a rich history of the evolution of classically designed clothes almost all of which still represent high fashion today.

While he started his house in Rome, Valentine regularly went to Paris to present his couture lines, a risky proposition for an Italian going to fashion mecca. The strength of his work earned him great respect in France, culminating in his receipt of the Legion d’Honneur in 2007.

Valentino’s genius was in both design and embellishment, and the close-ups of the embroidery in this volume alone make it worth the price of the book. The last section of the book includes Valentino’s print advertising campaigns from the 1960’s to 2008 and is an interesting reflection of how he positioned his work with chic women internationally. Jackie Kennedy was a regular client of Valentino’s and the pink suit she was wearing when her husband was assasinated was his design. In happier times, she wore a piece from his all white collection when she married Aristotle Onasis on Corfu.

When all is said and done at the end of Fashion Weeks in late September, when close to 10,000 garments have paraded down the runways, some will have been beautiful, some outrageous, some revolutionary, and some shocking, but the ones that will succeed will be those that define style. As Coco Chanel said “Fashion you see, goes out of fashion, style never”.

Indeed.

2010 Man Booker Prize longlist

July 27, 2010

The 2010 Man Booker Prize longlist was released today. Last year, KfC managed to review all 13 titles and I will set that goal again this year, although I may fall a couple short as I have only read four of the books. I will post a category in the sidebar with updates and links to reviews as they go up.

First off, the three that have been reviewed here:

February, by Lisa Moore — reviewed here — one of two Canadian entries on the list and a major surprise. (Emma Donoghue’s Room — not yet released — is the other.) February did not even make last year’s Giller Prize longlist. But…it is very topical, since it is about the Ocean Ranger disaster and the current Gulf of Mexico crisis makes it very timely. After a few years of Canadian absence from the Booker list, it is nice to see two there but I am sure Yann Martel, Linden McIntyre and Tom Rachman (all eligible Canadian authors) are as surprised as I am that at the choices.

The Long Song, by Andrea Levy — reviewed here. Well-loved for Small Island, Levy again returns to Jamaica with this novel about the final days of slavery — and what happens when it ended. For my money, a worthy inclusion on the longlist. Levy’s approach to her very serious subject is to examine it through the eyes of some individuals effected by it, both black and white. What results is a very human, readable novel.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas — reviewed here. An Australian novel, this one has been around for a while — short listed for their Miles Franklin prize in 2008, it won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2009, but was only published in the UK this year, making it Booker eligible. A very interesting study of modern Australia, told through the eyes and experiences of a dozen characters who happened to be present when “the slap” took place. For Canadian readers in particular, a worthwhile look at contemporary life in one of the other Old Dominions, with many parallels to our own experience.

And a review to be posted in two days:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. When the bookies post their odds, I expect this to be one of the favorites — it has received very good reviews and been the subject of much talk. I’ll offer a bit of a preview, however. Despite being a major David Mitchell fan (I have read all his books), I will be out of step on this book — indeed, of the four that I have read so far, I would rank it third. Then again, as veteran visitors here may remember, I did not much like last year’s Booker winner, Wolf Hall, either.

Which gives us the KfC reading list for the next while — copies of these have been ordered, with review timing likely dependent on when they arrive (a number are not yet available in North America and have to be shipped from the UK). I won’t promise that I will get to them all but I’ll do my best.

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (already a two-time Booker winner).

Room by Emma Donoghue
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The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut
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The Finkler Question by Harold Jacobson

C by Tom McCarthy
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Trespass by Rose Tremain

The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner
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Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Mrs. KfC visits Dovegreyreader, a guest post

July 23, 2010

Sometimes you come across a book that you absolutely love, and the characters become much loved friends whilst you are reading it, and often well after you have finished it. You imagine them going about their lives and think about them even after the book has found its place on your shelf. Then you hear that they are going to make a movie of the book, and your first reaction is “oh NO – what if they RUIN it for me!” A casting mistake, a film location that isn’t what you had imagined, a voice that isn’t true, there are dozens of ways that your imaginary friends can come a cropper in the film.

DGR at the Endsleigh

Well, I was thinking about all this as my three wonderful friends and I were chuntering along on British Rail across the length and breadth of England last Friday, coming from the Lake District to a much anticipated visit with Dovegreyreader. You see, she had become something of an imaginary friend to me over the last few months since KfC alerted me to her blog. I have been reading it faithfully and had formed an impression of her that I was holding fast, and I kept wondering what if that was what she was really like. I imagined her as a warm funny woman who embraced life fully, who found joy in all things great and small, and who was unfailingly cheerful, positive and a very, very nice person. I had a picture of her buzzing about, knitting, quilting, singing, reading, writing, and laughing. I knew what she looked like, as her picture had been on her blog. As we neared the station, I got a bit nervous – what if she wasn’t like that at all? Yikes!

We alighted from the train (as they love to say on British Rail) and as we were struggling with our bags, before we had a moment to look up, we were caught up in the warmest welcome you could ever imagine. DGR and Bookhound had come to the station 45 minutes early, just in case, and ran up to us, hugged us all warmly with a “Welcome Canada!” that made us all laugh and put us at ease. Bless them, they had brought two cars, as they knew we were travelling with a lot of gear, and they divided us up – Gill and I went with DGR and Sally and Denise and our luggage went with Bookhound. DGR piloted her little Fiesta to our hotel (the Endsleigh, if you know her blog), pointing out all the sights that had been referenced on her blog, and places of interest along the way. Bookhound, meanwhile, had released his inner Tour Guide, and treated his passengers to a jolly good look round the area en route to the hotel, arriving an hour and a half after we other three got there.

The Tinker book-signing

The next morning, DGR picked us up and took us to town where we attended the dearest thing ever – we went to visit the Tinker in Tinkertown. Having been alerted to our visit, he had just finished the hoovering (his flat is spotless – I want him to move in with us!). After a few pleasantries, the Tinker went and fetched 4 copies of his book, and we had a book signing! (The book is called Bugle Boy, the publisher is Long Barn Books and it features a Foreward by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.) He is a lovely man, funny, self deprecating, with a merry twinkle in his eye. DGR is clearly the light of his life, and they have a wonderful relationship. Before we left, he showed us some of his beautiful handiwork – needlepoint hangings that are beautiful to behold. The apples don’t fall far from the tree, do they?

DGR always alerts her readers to special moments so they can calm themselves, and I am borrowing her device here. Get ready for something terrific.


On Saturday evening, DGR and Bookhound came to dinner with us four Canadians. I know you already know this if you have read her blog, but she made each of us a lovely quilted square and then SHE GAVE ME A QUILT! I mean to say that this lovely woman had spent the last six weeks making a quilt for a person she had never met. She really did. I was gobsmacked. It is beautiful, as you can see from the picture. I was moved to tears with the generosity of this gift – who gives of her precious time for six weeks to make a quilt for a stranger? Dovegreyreader does, that’s who. Can you imagine? I’m still trying to fathom this. And so she and Rocky could get down to quilting, Bookhound cleared up after the dinner he had made every evening and delivered a cup of tea (not for Rocky though) so DGR could focus on the task at hand.

But I’m not done yet . The next day, Bookhound made us the most splendid tea you can imagine. Lovely little sandwiches – without the crusts, naturally – scones, clotted cream, yummy jam, and of course the requisite tea. All of this served on a crisply ironed tablecloth in a warm and cheery room. We spent a lovely Sunday evening with them, meeting the Gamekeeper (who is great), his dogs, his ferrets, the neighbor’s cows (two of whom have sexual identity issues), Muffy (the cat), and revelling in the beautiful view we all see out the window in the upper corner of DGR’s blog.

So, Dear Readers, I am much relieved to tell you that Dovegreyreader is every bit as wonderful as I had imagined her to be from reading her blog. She is defined by the generosity of her spirit, her joyful approach to life, and her indomitable enthusiasm for her family, her books and her community. When they make the DGR movie, I shall recommend they cast Vanessa Redgrave (circa 1985) as DGR, Alan Bates as Bookhound, Sir John Gielgud as the Tinker, and Rocky as himself.

It was a gift to get to meet these lovely people.

And if you are one of the few people in the world who has not yet visited dovegreyreader’s blog, here is a link.

Confession

July 17, 2010

Okay, KfC is somewhat behind in terms of new posts. I will confess:

1. Every four years, I become a football fan for four weeks. I thought that I had read and written enough in advance, but it turns out that I was about two books short.

2. Plus, a highlight of every summer is the Open Championship. Even I can’t read a novel when I know that howling winds at St. Andrews are producing very high scores — and wonderful television.

3. Perhaps most important this year in terms of reading distractions, Mrs. KfC and some friends have been off trekking in the Lake District and I have been sending daily North American news reports. Even better for regular visitors here, however, they have now headed south to Devon and will be spending the next few days in the territory of the blogger of all bloggers, dovegreyreader — DGR and Bookhound met them at the Plymouth train station yesterday. I’m getting regular reports (and photos) so this too is a reading distraction. The good news, however, is that Mrs. KfC has promised a guest post about the experience when she gets home. Stay tuned.

I promise I will be back to regular form in a week or so. The David Mitchell is the book currently being read (and is proving a bit slow). Once I figure out when I’ll be finishing it, I’ll get a schedule up. In the meantime, here’s a picture of a sculpture that we are rather proud to own:

And a copy of Annabel goes to…

July 5, 2010

Alison.

Congratulations — I’ll be in touch via email to get a shipping address. My special thanks to author Kathleen Winter for the excellent guest post and to House of Anansi Press for both providing me with a copy of Annabel and offering one for the contest. Thanks as well to everyone who commented on Kathleen’s post.

New Face of Fiction Winners

June 25, 2010

Thanks to the wonders of Random.org, we have two winners:

1. The Canadian contest winner is Katie, who chose Ghosted.
2. The International contest winner is David Dean, who chose Doing Dangerously Well (and who said he is currently reading Deloume Road).

I will be in touch with both winners via email to set up delivery. Thanks to everyone (especially Lisa Hill and her wonderful, abject plea) for entering.

KfC’s NFoF giveaway

June 19, 2010

The headline on this post alone should befuggle google. Befoogle guggle? Whatever.

Over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of reviewing the four first novels that are this year’s selections in Random House Canda’s New Face of Fiction program. As far as I can tell, it started in 1996 and one of the first “first novels” it introduced to the world was Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Fall on Your Knees, one of my most favorite novels of all time and an international success. The record has been consistent ever since (ncluding Self, the first novel from Yann Martel, who won the Booker Prize for Life of Pi) — you can check out a list of the previous selections here.

So here are the two contests:

1. For Canadian residents: your choice of the 2010 New Face of Fiction books, courtesy Random House Canada. All you have to do is comment saying you are Canadian and which book you want. 
2. For international visitors: Since one of the objectives of the KfC blog is to introduce Canadian work to the world, we have a second contest for non-Canadian residents, underwritten by KfC — I’ll ship the book to you from Chapters. Just indicate that you are international and your choice of the four. And I know that if you want two, you will get both, but your plea does have to be abject.

Deadline for entries in both contests is midnight GMT, June 24. I’ll post the winners on June 25.

Here are thumbnail reviews of the four books, with links to my reviews:

Deloume Road, by Matthew Hooton. A modern addition to the literature of Vancouver Island — a contemplation of conflicted lives from families living along an isolated road in mid-island. Those who remember Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook may well find some echoes in this accomplished first novel. Check out the review here.

Motorcycles and Sweetgrass, by Drew Hayden Taylor. A very accessible. often playful, entry into the world of First Nations spiritualism. And an equally good introduction into the modern world challenges of the conflict between traditional and current values. Plus, it features a 1953 Indian Chief motorcyle as a central character. Review here.

Ghosted, by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. My favorite of the four, but don’t let that sway you. A moving, very dark portrayal of Toronto’s underside, with a fascinating cast of depraved characters. The humor is significant, but very black. For me, a major achievement. Review here.

Doing Dangerously Well, by Carole Enahoro. The review is right below this post so I won’t go into a lot of detail — an interesting exploration of what Nigerian politics does — or might — look like.

All you have to do is indicate whether you are entering the Canadian or international contest and what is your choice(s). Come back June 25 for the results.


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