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Book Review: The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton

I read a book last month that I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. It is a great book. A super fun read!

A little under a year ago I stumbled across a completely wonderful member of the Twitterverse, an aspiring author with a heart of gold: @InkMuse, Rebecca Hamilton to those of you still refusing to reduce your thoughts to 140 characters or less.  After a few mentions and one or two direct messages to each other, Ms. Hamilton excitedly offered to send me the first two chapters of her upcoming book to take a look at.  I admit, though excited to read her work (I am always curious and up for reading new and virtually unknown writing), I took this with a dash of salt.  An unpublished author querying a complete stranger via social media?  I knew better than to get my hopes up.  Of course, it would turn out that I was completely off base and that I would wind up in thrall and so, so eager for the actual book.  It did take me a little longer than I would have liked to get a hold of the book, as I was holding out for an actual print copy that I could order from my local independent store – but when I had it I was hooked!

Hamilton’s The Forever Girl is an outstanding first offering from a promising new author, and just what the Urban Fantasy realm needed.  In this coming-of-age tale we meet Sophia Parsons, a twenty-two year old Wiccan waitress with religious prejudice and a difficult family life looming overhead.  As if that weren’t enough, Miss Parsons also suffers a mysterious and not-entirely-natural affliction.  Then we meet Charles, a smouldering centuries-old shape-shifter with sharp tongue and rock-hard abs. Could Sophia’s life get any more challenging?  Why yes, of course it could.

One of The Forever Girl‘s most striking attributes is the language found within it.  Hamilton’s mastery of language, especially descriptive language, is nothing short of impressive.  From the “wasping” sound of Sophia’s supernatural disability to the “dawn’s russet sky – a shepherd’s warning, some said” that Sophia awoke to on page ninety-one, Hamilton treats her readers to a bright, intelligent and altogether fun narrative.  A personal favourite quote comes from Sophia’s love interest Charles as he discusses his long life with her (on page one-sixty-nine): “You must understand: immortality is not an escape from death.  It’s an accumulation of loss.”  Poignant.

Another huge boon is the story’s mythology.  While The Forever Girl certainly contains shades of vampires and shifters, it is a story with a new perspective entirely.  Hamilton took traditional myths and legends, popped them into the blender and hit purée.  This new take on a somewhat tired subject is hugely refreshing and the addition of Hamilton’s title focus, the forever girl, helps to make this a can’t-put-it-down read.

Particularly endearing, an absence of glitter-free fanged creatures notwithstanding, is the care and respect Hamilton has taken in her creation of a Wiccan protagonist.  Not Wiccan herself, Hamilton did a great deal of research to ensure the validity of Sophia’s spiritual voice.  From all accounts – testimonies from Wiccan readers – Hamilton hit the nail on the head with the utmost consideration to the religion and its followers.

There are, however, two discernible downsides to this novel: Sophia and Mrs. Franklin.  Hamilton’s protagonist is a phenomenal character; she’s intricately woven, dynamic, fun, challenging and unbelievably insecure.  While a very common trait, especially in young women, hyper-insecurity in literature needs to stop.  Hamilton did redeem Sophia by feeding her challenges to overcome that would help to build her waning self-confidence and gave her a cheering section that was not solely populated by dark, dangerous and lip-bitingly handsome Charles – that was lovely to read, as so often we are confronted by a strong, formidable woman who withers to a shade of her former self when not near her (supernatural) counterpart.  Hamilton allowed Sophia some weak(-in-the-knees) moments, but was, for the most part, consistent in providing a fierce, independent, introspective role-model for her readers.

The Mrs. Franklin storyline also left me wanting more.  This was a secondary plot, something extra to help build more depth to the new, supernatural world Sophia is discovering in The Forever Girl.  It is also the point of antagonism I prefer and would have loved to read more into.  This could easily have been a novel unto itself.

Fans of romantic Urban Fantasy will love The Forever Girl.  It’s vibrant, it’s refreshingly different and our boy Charles is just too wonderful to pass up – you will develop a crush, there’s simply no avoiding it.  Fans of good writing will love The Forever Girl.  It is wonderful to see a book this well written in a genre that is beginning to become dishearteningly sloppy.  With authors like Hamilton at the helm, there is hope yet!

Happy reading, ladies and gents!

Santana – Black Magic Woman

UNT

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This post brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood Kim “G-Unit” G: former Books & Co. bookster, current UNBC bookster and constant reader.
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Thank you. All of you.

(Image found @ The Reasonably Prudent Law Student)

I just got home.  Just walked in the door.  Just sat down.

I need to say thank you.  To you.  All of you.  And to Books & Co.

Because of a personal scheduling mishap I was able to pick up a shift tonight to help a friend.  This was the first time I’d worked the Books & Co. register for the better part of two years.  After I got my bearings and started to lose some of my OMG-what-am-I-doing-!? stress, I had a blast!

I got to play with books, talk about books, got to know one of your amazing Booksters I had not had the pleasure of working with until this evening, caught up with some of my favourite (regular) people and was able to catch Eric Tompkins and Tom Young in action!  You made it possible.  You, the outstanding patrons ofPrince George’s favourite independent bookshop.  And you, the phenomenal Booksters and Voltarians – the people I look up to and envy the heck out of!

Thank you, all of you, for making this an awesome night!  You are truly the finest that Prince George has to offer.  You absolutely rock!

City and Colour – Fragile Bird

UNT.

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This post brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood Kim “G-Unit” G: former Books & Co. bookster, current UNBC bookster and constant reader.
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Freedom to Read in February; or Why do all the great things happen in the shortest month?

Short and sweet, that’s February.  As winter months go, it finishes early and starts to hint at spring with its longer days and – sometimes – milder weather.  No matter what the groundhog predicts (decisions were split amongst Canada’s groundhogs with Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie both predicting a quick end, but Balzac Billy and Fred la Marmotte predicted at least 6 more weeks of winter) February feels like winter’s end is right around the corner.

Despite its length, February is jam packed with special days, big and small (did you know February 3rd is Elmo’s Birthday?).  February is Black History Month, International Friendship Month (I don’t think this means you have to celebrate your international friends, although if it does, I’m looking at you Isabelle) and February 15th is National Flag Day here in Canada.  Importantly for us here at Books & Co, February boasts loads of author birthdays including Laura Ingalls Wilder, my favorite person born on February 7 (my mom remains my favorite person born on February 6 despite her shocking lack of published works).

And February also marks the beginning of Freedom to Read week, which runs from February 26 to March 3rd this year.  Freedom to Read week reminds us that even in Canada, one of the freest and most democratic nations in the world, books are still challenged at libraries and in schools every year.  Books by famous and acclaimed Canadian authors including Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence and W.P. Kinsella have all had people call for their removal from schools and libraries.  Internationally renowned books like the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird and children’s literature classic Bridge to Terabithia have also been challenged in recent years.

A lot can be lost if book bans are implemented and books are pulled from shelves.  Reading something does not mean you will agree with it and trying to limit exposure to books with content not universally agreed to be “good” or “moral” will result in there being very few books around. Rather than limit books with “questionable” content, we should be reading –and teaching our children to read – critically.  We need to be willing to discuss the parts of literature that make us uncomfortable and accept the right of others to read whatever they wish.

Intellectual freedom and the freedom to read are fundamental elements in a free society.  Without the freedom to read what we wish, how can we truly form our own opinions about important social and political issues?  I’m not suggesting that everyone has to read things that disagree with their established opinions, but we should all have the right to do so if we wish.

So, why not read a previously banned or challenged book this month?  Pick up The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling or even American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

For a more complete list of the requests made for books to be removed from schools and libraries in Canada, please visit the Freedom to Read website http://freedomtoread.ca/censorship_in_canada/challenged_books.asp

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Books & Co’s Reponse to the ‘Q’ Debate on the Relevance of Independent Bookstores; Or Bring it On Amazon

There was in interesting debate on CBC Radio’s ‘Q’ this morning.  The show’s host Jian Ghomeshi facilitated a discussion surrounding the necessity and efficiency of independent bookstores and whether Amazon’s influence has essentially made local booksellers irrelevant, or not.

In my interpretation of this discussion, Farhad Majoo, of the website slate.com, argued that the ease of accessibility is the most important factor in promoting literacy and for that reason, Amazon should no longer be viewed as the ‘bad guy’.  He reasons that with an e-reader, or a Kindle in his case, the process of getting any book that you desire into your hands is much simpler than hoping your local bookseller has this title, or waiting for them to order it.  For this reason, he figures that local bookstores are slowly becoming irrelevant, as customers are forced to be influenced by the titles that the store’s owner or buyer chooses to stock, and have to wait if they want something not on hand.  With an e-reader, the instant availability of virtually everything far outweighs the personal benefits of shopping at a bricks-and-mortar store.   Also, he suggests that because the act of reading a book is mostly solitary, he doesn’t feel the need to have a place to gather with other readers, like a bookstore.

Toronto bookstore owner Joanne Saul was also involved in this discussion.  Her response to Majoo’s argument is that each bookstore presents  a unique selection of books relevant to the area in which it is located, and by doing so, exposes the customer to books that, although available on Amazon, they might never come across on their own.  Also, by having a personal interaction with customers, a bookstore is able to keep their customers’ interests in mind as it does the purchasing.  As well, a bookstore provides a meeting place for all those who love reading.

I’ve been asked many times how our business holding up with so many people using e-readers these days.  Although I’d be lying if I said that sales haven’t declined marginally, which is the case with most bookstores across the country, Books & Co is indeed alive and well!  And here’s why:

I firmly believe that although we live in a world where communication has become easier and easier, we’re also training ourselves to focus more on our handheld internet-connected screen, and less on our friends and neighbours standing right beside us, who are doing the exact same thing!  We’re losing the ability to bond with one other, friend or stranger, all because we’re too worried about missing the latest text message, tweet or Facebook update from our ‘friends’.  Even though this seems to be the trend, I don’t think people are wired for this form of communication.  Whether they realize it or not, I believe that people are craving some real personal interaction and crying out for some authentic atmosphere and genuine inspiration.

Jim Brinkman, Books & Co owner and founder has always said that he loves running a bookstore because essentially it is a store full of ideas.  Being surrounded by so many ideas in a public place leads to many interesting and powerful conversations and forges many meaningful friendships and relationships.  He’s always strived to promote other community building programs and events, and made it a priority to use his store to heighten the senses of taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch by using food, art, music, paint and books.  In the end, he’s created a place where people love to eat, read, meet, hangout alone, listen to music, talk about ideas, and buy the occasional book.

Whether or not you come to our store to shop, meet, hangout or eat, we love to see you!  We have a store that is full of life & inspiration & relationships & activity, and as a consumer, I would much rather support a business like this than transfer files from one computer to the next (essentially), all for the sake of convenience.  Prince George has been gracious enough to embrace our business, and for this reason, Amazon and the e-readers can bring it on.  We’ll be just fine, with or without them.

Owen Lubbers

Books & Co

Listen to the ‘Q’ Debate Here

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The lost art of letter writing – not so lost after all

Our little letter writing club has been getting a lot of attention.  There have been newspaper articles, television interviews and radio spots and lots and lots of people ask about it.  We’ve got a dedicated core of writers who come to every meeting and new writers every time we meet.

After three meetings of the new Prince George Correspondents’ Club (aka that letter writing thing we do in Café Voltaire a couple of Mondays a month) a couple of things have become clear:

  1. Women write more letters than men, but there are some dedicated male letter writers out there. I’d say women out-number men about 4 to 1 when it comes to writing letters with us.  So gentlemen, if you’re looking for women with lovely penmanship who will definitely write you love letters, maybe drop by on a Monday night – some of them have got to be single.
  2. Age does not really seem to be a factor when it comes to writing letters.  We’ve had writers ranging in age from high school seniors to senior citizens including a very young man whose father was teaching him how to write what is very likely his first letter.
  3. Everybody loves a sparkly sticker; they just do.  It’s a universal truth along the same lines as a single man in possession of a good fortune being in want of a wife.
  4. All of the attention the club has received has had some interesting, and unexpected results. Yesterday, I received a letter as a direct result of the letter writing club.  An inmate at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre wrote to me after seeing the CKPG news piece of TV.  He very politely asked if I’d write back to him or, if I were uncomfortable with that, if I’d pass his letter around at the next meeting and ask if anyone else would like to write him.  He assured me he replies to all letters, so a letter to him is guaranteed to result in a letter back.
  5. Sharing stationary, or even just showing off your new stationary, is fun.  People will ooooooohhhhhh and aaaaahhhhh over delicate writing paper or whimsical envelopes in almost the same way they comment on a new baby and we’ve been trading internet suppliers in an almost clandestine way – psst…did you know you can get handmade, personalized paper on…
  6. Do not ask to borrow my fountain pen.  Just don’t do it.  I did not realize how possessive I am about my pens and how strongly other people feel about their pens or pencils.  I met one woman who can only write in black gel ink and watched a lovely young woman use a variety of coloured pens to decorate her letters. This week I mailed letters with careful calligraphy on the envelopes and I’m pretty sure the writer would not have given up his calligraphy set to anyone.
  7. Even if you don’t think you’ve got someone to write to, you’ve got someone to write to.  A few people have come to our letter writing nights expecting some kind of presentation about how to write a letter or a talk about the importance of writing letters.  But once they found out we’re just time and space to write letters they borrowed some stationary (and in some cases pens) and started writing.  I think they surprised themselves with the length of their letters!

So, despite the fact that some people see writing a letter as a quaint, outmoded form of communication along the same line as semaphore or the telegraph (oh, man I’d love to get a telegram stop they seem so urgent and special stop), it seems that there is life in letter writing yet.  People still want to send their thoughts through the post, want to send doodles and, of course, sparkly stickers along with their news.  As I told CKPG, there will always be love letters and those love letters will probably be covered in sparkly stickers.

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On Books and Our Frozen City

Tom Thomson of the Group of Seven's Winter Morning

I think one of the main reasons Canada is such a literate and well read nation is our long, cold winters (see outside for an example of said winter).  A few years ago, I read a statistic that stated the Prince George Public Library was one of the most well used libraries – per capita – in the world, which means that in a country of readers, we’re leading the pack.  In Prince George we love our winter sports and activities but  we also spend a lot of time housebound and even though technology is such that we can go out (and survive) on a -30°C day, even the most hardcore winter lovers among us don’t always want to.

I know my favorite way to spend a frozen evening is under a blanket with a warm drink and a good book.  The choice of book depends on my mood.  Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly worn by the cold and dark, I’ll pick something light that will transport me to a warmer climate.  I find Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books to be the perfect antidote to a day where the wind brings the temperature down below -40°C.  A visit to Botswana with Mme Ramotswe is the perfect cure for the winter blues.

If, however, I’m feeling proud of my ability to thwart the cold, I’ll read something soaked in winter, something that revels in the cold and makes me feel proud to be a part of the community that survives and thrives in winter.  Something like Keith Billington’s Cold Land, Warm Hearts or House Calls By Dogsled. I may not be trudging through the snow, frost on my eyelashes, but I still get that particularly Canadian feeling of conquering the cold even if it is by simply staying indoors by the fireplace.

I’m also enjoying Adam Gopnik’s new collection Winter: Five Windows on the Season during our current cold snap.  As the 50th edition of the CBC Massey Lectures, this book is beautifully written and thought provoking.  It’s the perfect companion to a hot chocolate, a fire and the couch.  On a day like today, it was hard to get out of my warm bed and go out into the world, but I know that a nest of blankets and a good book await me there at the end of the day.

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The Great E-Book Debate; or Why I Still Read Paperbacks

Strap in folks, this is going to be a long one, because I realize I have a lot to say about e-books and e-readers and now that I’ve got a forum (thanks for giving me full reign of the blog Owen), I’m going to use it.  These are all my own thoughts based on my own usage of e-readers, my observations of others using e-readers and my reading about e-readers.

Over the Christmas holiday I got more reading time than usual and I gluttonously took it! I devoured several of the books my Mom got for Christmas (thanks Dad!) and finished a couple of novels that had been kicking around my nightstand for a while.  I also read a few things on, to name names, my parents’ Kobo and because I could compare the two forms of reading so easily, I realized a few things about the differences between e-reading and reading real books.

This may seem like sacrilege for a bookseller at a bricks and mortar, independent bookstore to say, but on principal, I’m not against e-readers.  I think that anything that encourages people to read for pleasure should be celebrated and in certain circumstances I can see their appeal.  It’s much easier to take a Kobo or Kindle on a trip than the equivalent number of paperbacks and if you’re reading something you’re not particularly proud of (say something that may have a bright pink cupcake on its real cover) you might not want other people to know about it (although I would never judge your book just by its cover), but in other places and for other purposes, I find e-readers inconvenient or even dangerous.

I’ll explain the dangerous part first.  I think e-readers are dangerous for beginning readers, for kids who are just starting out on their path to literacy.  I firmly believe that e-readers should not be given to kids below the age of 8 or so because the “children’s books” available in electronic format are little more than primitive video games.  Filled with moving pictures and sounds, I think kids’ e-books rob beginning readers of the essential imaginative process of reading a real book.  They give kids too much, and ultimately all of the added content detracts from the act of actually reading.

I’ve seen my extremely intelligent 6-year-old niece (who reads well above grade level in both French and English, she’s amazing) become enamored with a “book” on her mother’s iPhone and I was reminded of her interaction with a handheld video game and not how I’ve seen her entranced by an actual book.  For children, I think e-readers and e-books are dangerous and will help continue the trend of decreased attention spans and ultimately decreased literacy.

In terms of inconvenience, my own experience with e-reading is one of irritation.  I read fast, very fast, a paperback a day fast and when I’m reading a novel or a biography or any other kind of actual book, I don’t notice when my eyes move from one page to the next or when I have to turn the page, but the interface of the Kobo I read on this Christmas kept pulling me out of the narrative.  Turning the pages felt excruciatingly slow and getting from one chapter to the next was like torture, I wanted to be immersed in the text the way I can be with an actual book and I was continually pulled away.  It took me 3 or 4 times as long to read an e-book on the Kobo as it would have done to read the real book.

Now, I can almost hear e-book lovers say, “well it was the fact it’s an older Kobo, the new touch screen Kobos are much faster,” or “you should have had a Kindle,” or “an iPad is really the way to go.” I will agree, technology has advanced since the Kobo I was using came out, but I’ve used other e-readers and I found they couldn’t keep up with my page speed, that they don’t have as many words on the page as a regular book which means more page flipping.  I also found that I couldn’t go back and check something as readily as I could in a regular book.  So, until turning an e-page becomes as unobtrusive as turning a real page, I’m not going to be switching to an e-reader anytime soon.

People are starting to call bookstores and real books “quaint” as if they exist as mementos of a bygone era like typewriters or fedoras, as if they are on their way out and only eccentrics will be reading real books in the future, but I just don’t think technology has reached a point where it will replace the book yet.  I haven’t even gotten into the e-bookstores versus real bookstore debate about how lovely it is to browse actual bookshelves and be transported by a book you’ve never heard of simply because you found the title or the cover intriguing or a bookseller recommended it to you. Things are changing in publishing and bookselling and e-books and e-readers are part of that, but they still have a long way to go before they replace the 1000 year old technology that is the book.

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