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Three From the Shortlist #2

November 8, 2018

Kim reviews Motherhood

The Subject:As you’d expect for a book with a philosophical bent, it explores lots of interesting ideas about what it is to be a mother (doing what you, as a woman, were supposedly put on earth to do, for example) as well as what it is to be woman of child-bearing age who chooses not to bear children (helping the planet by not adding to the world’s population, is just one theory posited).”

The Style:Written in direct first-person text, almost as if the author is trying to talk herself into — or perhaps out of — making a decision, it’s occasionally humorous and often illuminating, but mostly — and I hate to say this — it’s downright self-indulgent.”

The Conclusion: Visit Kim’s blog, Reading Matters, for the full review!


Marcie reviews An Ocean of Minutes 

The Conflict:One remarkable aspect of Thea Lim’s novel is her capacity to move beyond the clear-cut delineations of victim and perpetrator, which makes for a more intriguing and rewarding story.

Once one acknowledges that everyone has the capacity to receive and to wield injury, the question of responsibility is ever-more complex. There are no convenient labels, so conflicts are not characterized by blame and rage, rather a more delicate dance of atonement and forgiveness, which is more unsettling but, ultimately, more satisfying.”

The Genre:The time-travel element gives this novel a whiff of genre, which isn’t generally rewarded by Giller Prize juries. Sometimes a title sneaks into the longlist, like Stephen Price’s By Gaslight, Dan Vyleta’s The Quiet Twin and Clifford Jackman’s The Winter Family. Very occasionally to the shortlist, like Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. So it’s already unusual to see Thea Lim’s debut on the list; either the jurors are smitten, or they are committed to representing (even if not necessarily rewarding) genre writing.

The Conclusion: Visit Marcie’s blog, Buried in Print, for the full review!


Naomi reviews Washington Black

The Adventure:The story takes us from the heat of Barbados to the chill of the Arctic, from the salt wind of Nova Scotia to the drizzle of England and the deserts of Morocco. It begins as a desperate escape from slave hunters, and ends in an obsessive search for a man.

The Octopus:Since this book first came out, I have been captivated by the octopus on the cover. What is an octopus doing on the cover of a book about an escaped slave?

Well, let me tell you…

The Conclusion: Visit my blog, Consumed by Ink, for the full review!


Have you read any of these? Which ones tempt you?


Three From the Longlist

October 11, 2017

Sometimes we on the shadow jury like to get a jump start on the Giller books as soon as the longlist comes out. Sometimes these books end up making it to the shortlist, but often do not. That, however, doesn’t make them any less worth reading and writing about.

Very early on, Kim had a review up of Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson. Here’s a taste of what she says about it.


From the start I thought the premise of Next Year, For Sure sounded dubious, the sort of book I wouldn’t like, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and enjoyable it turned out to be. I ate it up in just a handful of sittings and even though I didn’t much like the characters — too needy, too self-centred, too feckless — Peterson does such a brilliant job of putting us in their heads, explaining their motivations, their concerns, their fears, that it was hard not to become totally immersed in their story.

To read Kim’s review in full, please visit her blog.


Several months ago, before the Giller lists had come out, I had read and reviewed Boundary by Andrée A. Michaud on my blog. Although I’m not a big mystery reader, I found that the heart of the story was about the community; how neighbours react and cope when a terrible crime hits so close to home.


At times I found the story thrilling, at other times more of a study of time and place, but either way I found it compulsive reading. I was just as invested in the reactions of the characters as I was in solving the crime. One thing that I think made it particularly effective was the periodic narration of a 12-year-old girl vacationing in Boundary with her family. Seeing it all unfold from the eyes of one of the children – whose parents attempt to shield her from it – involved but not involved – trying to figure out the adults’ secrets – not quite knowing for sure – but sometimes seeing things the adults don’t see.

To read my review in full, please visit my blog.


More recently, I read We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes. A bold choice for the Giller list. But once I got into it, I realized how deserving it is.


…once I got into this book I was engrossed by the character’s struggle with himself and with everyone else he comes across, and I was in awe of the author’s skill at creating such an unpleasant, angry, abrasive character who I felt nothing but sympathy for. I wanted him to be saved. I wanted to save him.

There’s blood, drugs, uncomfortable situations, fire ants, sunburns, an accident with a moose, a run-in with his biological father, a fight with some teenage girls, and a lot of walking. During this time, our Johnny has a lot of time to think and to spout off at the world, and to try to figure out where he’s going in life. Will he be able to pull himself together to overcome all the stuff life has thrown at him, or will he just become another unknown, troublesome, invisible guy?

To read my review in full, please visit my blog.

Naomi reviews The Best Kind of People 

October 5, 2016

The Shadow Giller jury is continuing to work its way through this year’s shortlist. Naomi, from Consumed by Ink, has read Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People, which she describes as “timely, insightful, and a page-turner”.

“This is a book that will appeal to a wide audience, and will get people talking. And thinking: How would you react if someone you loved and trusted with the worst of crimes? The Best Kind of People is an examination of rape culture; what it looks like and how it affects us, the victims as well as the accused.”

Naomi goes on to say that while the subject matter is heavy, Whittall writes it in such a way that it “feels effortless and conversational. She even throws in some humour to lighten things up”.

To read Naomi’s review in full, please visit her blog.

Kimbofo reviews Fifteen Dogs

September 28, 2015

12015 AlexisKimbofo has kicked off her Giller reading this year with Fifteen Dogs, Andre Alexis’ novel. Here is the opening of her review — you can get the full version here:

André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs has been longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize. It’s by far the oddest, and possibly most absurd, book I’ve read in a long while. Indeed, to say I didn’t much like it might be an understatement.

Under normal circumstances, I’m sure I would have abandoned this strange and unusual novella. But as some of you will no doubt know, every year since 2011 I have taken part in the Shadow Giller — chaired by KevinfromCanada — in which a group of us read and review all the books on the Giller Prize longlist for that year. Between the four of us, we then choose a winner in advance of the real Giller. (You can read more about how the Shadow Giller came about on Kevin’s blog here.) And because I’m taking part in the process once again for 2015, I felt that I had to finish the book — even when every bone (pun not intended) in my body told me to put it aside and read something else instead!

So, what’s so weird about it, I hear you ask? Well, it takes the form of a fable in which the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo give a group of dogs the gift of consciousness. The idea is that intelligence does not make humans any more superior or happier than other animals.

“— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, said Apollo, that animals — any animal you choose — would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence.
— An earth year? I’ll take that bet, said Hermes, but on condition that if, at the end of its life, even one of the
creatures is happy, I win.”

And then 15 dogs, all staying overnight in a veterinary clinic in Toronto, discover that they can suddenly think for themselves, talk in a new language (English) and reason with one another. Yes, I told you it was a weird book.

Kim’s convinced me — I won’t be reading this one unless it make the shortlist (and even then only to try to figure out what the judges could be thinking). She is moving on to Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor next. I’m almost finished Connie Gault’s A Beauty and should have a review up later this week.


September 22, 2015

It turns out I was a tad optimistic in announcing the return of the Kevin From Canada blog. A medical procedure that I thought I could take in stride has got in the way of both reading and blogging.

I’m hoping to be back in shape shortly. I have all the Giller titles on hand and still intend to get to as many as possible. Thanks in advance for bearing with me.

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”.


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
The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut

The Finkler Question by Harold Jacobson

C by Tom McCarthy

Trespass by Rose Tremain

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

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