Tag Archives: Chapters

An Hour With Roberta Rich

I was very excited (and nervous) about this meeting with Roberta Rich.  I love meeting people, especially authors, but one on one is a bit intimidating.  I still feel like I’m pretending to be a writer, as a blogger, and this lady is definitely the real thing.  Would I think of good questions?  Would I remember to let her talk (once you get me going, duct tape is occasionally necessary, particularly on the topic of books)? Thankfully, even if I had no idea what I was doing, she definitely did.

I brought up her former law career, and the fact that most lawyer/writer transitions ended up with legal thrillers.  Instead, she went with a midwife in 16th century Venice.

RR: There is a bit of legal… there’s a bit of Jewish law in The Harem Midwife.  You know, when I started writing, I was writing mystery stories, contemporary mystery stories, and I was writing… those were about a divorce lawyer in Vancouver.  Those are still in my filing cabinet, and have yet to see the light of day.  And in 2007 I was in Venice and I was in the Jewish ghetto and I was quite transfixed by it, and had the idea for a novel that was set in the ghetto.  I kind of wrote the novel that I wished had been available for me to read, because there are no novels that are set in the Jewish ghetto except for mine… It is a rich environment and I was quite surprised that I didn’t find anything.  This is a gap.  This was definitely a gap.

I told her I liked how she presented the conflict between morals and law, in both books.  Hannah, the midwife in question, keeps coming up against the laws of the country, the good of her family and community, and having to balance them against her moral duty, her ability to help people.   Should she do nothing, in order to protect herself and her family and community, or should she help when able?  Particularly at the time these books are set, as a member of the Jewish community a wrong action on her part could set off retribution against everyone Jewish. This is still relevant today, that conflict between what is legally right, and what is morally right.  That need to be aware of your effect not just on your own sense of right and wrong, but how your actions could potentially, for good or ill, affect everyone around you, particularly in this age of social media and instant fame.

Which, of course, us being in Toronto, brought up Rob Ford.

RR: It’s very hard to turn around these days without seeing Rob Ford’s (unflattering mutter) face everywhere you go.  He’s shameless, really, isn’t he and there are people who think it’s okay! We don’t want an average guy running a city. We want superior guys, right?

Exactly, Roberta.  Can we get her on the voter’s list, somehow?

So, back to the books.  I told her I had been up ridiculously late reading her books, had, in fact, read them back to back.

RR: Did you read them in sequence?

BP: There are people who read books out of sequence? But yes.

And then she asked me which one I preferred.  All of a sudden, I felt like I was being asked to tell a mother which one of her children I liked better.  Um…

So told her that I preferred The Midwife of Venice, because her descriptions were so vivid, I felt like I was right there.  The Harem Midwife was also excellent, but was a little more plot focused, with a little less character development.  In The Midwife of Venice, I felt immersed, I could see the sights, smell the smells.

RR: Well, I hadn’t really considered writing a sequel, I must say, to The Midwife of Venice, and I was quite bowled by the success of The Midwife of Venice, delighted of course, and Random House offered me a two book contract. So then, of course, I had to apply my mind to what I was going to write. So I wanted to write a sequel and the logical place was Istanbul, Constantinople, and I had been there several times, and so I was very happy at the prospect of doing research.  So, I was there, and I had been there years and years ago, and then I went back with my husband, we were there for two weeks, and then we went back the following year, and we travelled to Istanbul and various other places in Turkey. It’s a very interesting country.”

BP: One of the reasons I really enjoyed your books is because it’s funny, you think that all that stuff is in the past, but it’s not as in the past… as we would like to believe. Like polygamy.

RR: Polygamy is an interesting topic for me. The idea of the levirate marriage, for example.  I was talking at a book club in Toronto last year, about the idea of a levirate marriage, and a woman at the book club, who was Muslim, and her family was from India, said that that had happened in her family. So, levirate marriage, which happened five hundred years ago in my book, is something that happens in modern life.  There are… so called “honour killings.” It’s a terrible name for it, it’s a dishonour, not an honour killing.

I told her about the hymen repair surgery specialist in Toronto (Do you think it’s too late for me?” she snickered). The idea of virginity being a vital commodity is raised more than once, particularly in The Harem Midwife.

RR: I’ve spoken to a couple of doctors about this. There is no real way to tell from examining a woman whether she is a virgin or not. Girls that are sporty and athletic probably don’t have hymens that are intact. It’s not a thing that you could tell.  When you see women as property, it suddenly becomes very important.

We moved on to the book business. Amazon (my nemesis) was a topic of conversation.

RR: Amazon is really selling at a loss, they don’t care what they sell their books for. There have been a number of articles about Amazon recently, and their labour policies, which are nasty, nasty.  They’re paying some kids minimum wage to work in these vast warehouses, they’re under the gun, time-wise, they’re – I couldn’t believe this when I read it – the one in Arizona is not air conditioned.  That’s a serious problem in a place like Arizona.  These kids are running around, running around, running around… they have a beeper that tells them how long it should take them to get to a particular stack of books, get a book, and put it in a box, and if they don’t make that, that time limit, they get beeped! I think that would make me crazy.

I mentioned Chapters Runnymede’s imminent closing, and recommended she visit  She expressed disgust at it being turned into a drug store. “Oh god, oh that’s so depressing. ” were her exact words.  Right there with you, Roberta.

RR:   I thought, two years ago (I don’t really know anything about the business from before two years ago) I thought e-books were going to take over, take over, take over.  And it was twenty percent then and it’s forty percent now but I think, it seems as though it’s going to continue at forty percent.  People like holding a book in their hands.  And it’s not just people my age. It’s also young people.  With social media… I often wonder how much information… well, there’s a tremendous amount of information about me, I’m sure.  For anybody who’s interested in finding it out. But, we’ve sacrificed privacy for convenience, haven’t we? That’s the trade-off that most of us have made, myself included.

I recognize the irony that this article is being shared on at least three different types of social media.

I gave her, as a souvenir of Toronto, a maple bacon chocolate bar, which considering that they’ve been making maple-bacon flavoured everything here the last while, including a burger at the Ex, seemed quite apt.  She did a credible imitation of being glad to get it, which I hope she was, but you know, not everyone thinks maple bacon chocolate sounds wonderful.   We chatted about Toronto, and its historical buildings, and from the window I pointed out the church spire that used to be Toronto’s tallest structure.  She said she thought that Toronto had done a better job of maintaining its history than Vancouver (her hometown), and was enjoying her visit greatly.  She was staying with a friend in Toronto’s Cabbagetown area, and had determined that if she ever lived in Toronto, that is where she would live.

She had a quick glance at my web site, and thought it was hilarious that the first article that popped up was the one about copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in the library having herpes virus.  She teased me that I was supposed to be encouraging reading, wasn’t I? I said Fifty Shades was an exception to that rule.   She said she read the first chapter, it was available as a free download, and thought it was boring, and the heroine insipid.  She’d had people tell her, a hairdresser, for example, that it had just aroused them incredibly, which she found laughable.  “It obviously doesn’t take much to arouse them, does it?”  Did I tell you I love this woman?

We parted after an hour.  I thoroughly enjoyed the interview.  She headed off for lunch, and I headed home, very impressed.  Roberta Rich is a hell of a woman, and a hell of an author, and you should go buy her books.

Happy reading – and thinking!


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One Of The World’s Most Beautiful Bookstores is Closing

It’s the final curtain for the iconic Chapters bookstore in Toronto, often in the top ten lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.

There was a lot of controversy when Chapters bought the old Runnymede theatre, but instead of bulldozing it they renovated it, restoring the building to its former glory and creating a shopping experience beyond belief. I published a blog post a long time ago, wishing I could work there, since a supposedly haunted bookstore in an old theatre sounds straight out of a Nancy Drew novel.

The reason it’s closing, however, makes me pretty damned angry.  I refer you to this article by Lisa Rainford, Torstar News:

“It’s a great store that’s served the neighbourhood incredibly well,” said Drew McGowen, vice-president of real estate and development at Chapters Indigo. “We’re at the end of our lease and the landlord can get far, far more money than we are able to pay.”

Since its opening in November 1999, Toronto’s commercial and housing real estate market has experienced “such a boom,” McGowen said. Chapters must vacate the premises by March 31, 2014, however, McGowen could not confirm when the store would be closed to the public. As for its employees, they have been notified and all will be relocated to other stores, he said.

“I want to offer our greatest, greatest thank you for your loyalty,” McGowen said, speaking to Chapters’ customers. “We hope you’ll stay with us as our customer even though we’re moving out of that immediate market. We hope you’ll still shop with us.”

McGowen called the store “an icon.” Its architecture and heritage “goes hand-and-hand with a bookstore.”

“The neighbourhood is so fantastic. It’s a store that has little to no parking, but people walk to it all the time. They’re so loyal,” he said.

He said he suspects the store won’t close quietly. Not if local resident and frequent Chapters customer Gwen O’Connell, who has lived in the Bloor West Village for 27 years, has her way.

“It’s really sad for the community,” said O’Connell, who knows some of the local Chapters employees. “It’s a historical building and (Chapters) maintained its dignity and history. It’ll be extremely sad to see it go.”

People from all walks of life rely on Chapters as a community hub, O’Connell said.

“It’s an integral part of our neighbourhood,” she said, recalling a recent visit by acclaimed local boxer George Chuvalo, who attracted as many as 200 people to the store for a signing of his new book, ‘Chuvalo: A Fighter’s Life: The Story Of Boxing’s Last Gladiator.’

Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette had just been informed of the news. If Chapters does indeed vacate the property, the councillor said she would hope that any new tenant would maintain the interior of the former theatre. Its exterior is protected by a heritage designation, she said.

According to rumblings in the neighbourhood, O’Connell said she’s heard a large-scale pharmacy is looking to relocated to the building.

In 1999, Chapters redeveloped the old theatre, the “Runny” as it was affectionately called, into a bookstore while keeping the cinema’s atmospheric interior intact. Built in June, 1927, the vaudeville theatre – designed to transport patrons to exotic places – was the first of its kind in Toronto. Designed by Alfred Chapman, it was known for its music and stage shows and could seat as many as 1,400 people. The ceiling was painted to depict a blue sky with puffy clouds; its complex lighting system projected a starry night and airplanes.

The atmospheric-style theatre is one of only three left in Canada.

So, there you have it.  It’s being closed because of the property owner’s greed.  Visit while you can, because the interior does not have to be left intact by the new tenant.  I honestly can’t imagine how a pharmacy would manage to do the beautiful space justice.

As a side note, don’t forget to submit your questions for my interview with Roberta Rich! The most interesting ones will be used.  You can post to my blog, contact me via my Twitter account @Bibliophiliacs , or the Bibliophiliacs facebook page.


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Books for Black Friday?

Here in Canada, we had our Thanksgiving a month ago.  One holiday tradition, however, has crossed the border from the U.S.: Black Friday.  Named Black Friday because it’s the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S., the time when retailers go “into the black” (if it wasn’t for this and Christmas, no retailer would survive).  Here in the Great White North, we quite often lose shoppers to the U.S. for Black Friday deals, especially now that the Canadian and U.S. dollar values are so close together.  To boost sales and try to keep shoppers in Canada, a lot of Canadian retailers have jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon, and are offering some pretty amazing deals.

The one nearest and dearest to my heart is Chapters Indigo, the national bookstore chain.  There are some insanely good deals going, starting today and going until Sunday.  The famous buy 3 get the 4th one free (famous to book-lovers, anyways) is on, but now it’s available on gift and toy items, as well as books and magazines.   This is when you see book-lovers hauling grocery trolleys full of books up to the cash registers, a gleam in their eye and a deal in their heart, for reading to last the cold winter nights.  And with the deal available on line now as well, anyone with internet access and international delivery can share our joy.

Oh, another one to keep in mind – the Kobo Mini .  They put it on sale today and tomorrow for $49.99 for the door crasher.   It’s a good gift for students, and for younger kids who you want an e-reader for but don’t want to spend a ton of money on in the event of destruction.

Happy shopping!



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The Hunger Games: What’s all the fuss about?

Pretty much anyone not living under a rock, and probably some who are, have heard the phrase “The Hunger Games”  lately.   With the movie about to release, and the merchandise going crazy (check out the display at Chapters if you doubt me), it can be a little tough to tell whether the trilogy is really worth reading, or whether it’s just Hollywood sparkle.   As someone who has actually read The Hunger Games, and, in fact, read it when it originally came out, I think I can give you a review minus the hype.

The Hunger Games was published as a teen book, but I think that it’s a good enough story that adults can enjoy it too.  This is a classic adventure novel, full of action.  There are moral quandaries, questions of ethics, but they are fuel for the drama.  The setting is a classic dystopia, a post-apocalyptic world where all wealth is centred in The Capitol, and everyone else lives in one of twelve districts, where all food and resources for The Capitol come from.  The people in the districts are little more than slaves, and their lives are short and bleak.  The one event that can change that: The Hunger Games.  Teams of two, one male and one female, chosen from each district, compete to the death in an arena full of genetically altered animals and horrific booby traps.  At the end of the games, only one person will stand.    The whole thing is televised, and winning partly depends on capturing the attention of the audience, since audience participation is encouraged, and audience members can send food and medical supplies to favored competitors.

The story follows one of the competitors from district twelve, a girl named Katniss Everdeen, and how her life is changed dramatically when she volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the games.  The victor’s district will receive additional food supplies.  Imagine suddenly being the symbol of everyone’s hopes – especially as a teenager.

I’m not going to get into the description of the other two novels, since that will essentially act as a spoiler for the first one.

I do recommend these books.  The storyline is interesting, and offers some great visuals.  Once the story hooks you, it becomes one of those books that you drag everywhere with you, and don’t go to bed, because you  need to know what’s going to happen!  The other two books are excellent as well.   There are many debates about how the trilogy is ended, not everyone likes it, but that’s not unusual.  No one ever really wants a series they enjoyed to end, and in a story like this one, there are probably a lot of different ways people would have liked to see the story end.

Trust me, buy the trilogy, because odds are you’re not going to stop at one.   And from the number of adults snapping up mockingjay pins, I’m definitely not alone in enjoying the series.  It’s a fun read, is really what it comes down to.  Don’t read it for great literature, or thought provoking philosophy.  Read it for the book equivalent of an Indiana Jones movie, or Star Wars.  It’s a great adventure story, and well worth the purchase.  It is available on e-book, too, which is nice.


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George R.R. Martin: Prima-Donna, or Overwhelmed and Overworked?


For those of you who read my earlier post on George R.R. Martin’s upcoming signing in Toronto,(see here )you may already be familiar with the rules outlined for the signing. For those who are not familiar, I will re-list them:

• Line-up will be first-come, first-served. Due to anticipated attendance, line-up may begin outside of Indigo Manulife Centre – Bay Street entrance ONLY. Please dress appropriately for the weather.
• George R.R. Martin will sign ONE to TWO (1-2) books maximum, depending on the number of people in line.
• No personalizations – author signature only
• No posed photography – can take photographs from the line

Some people are taking this as evidence that Martin (sorry, I got tired of writing the whole thing, plus two initials, over and over) has fallen victim to his own celebrity, and has a vastly inflated ego as a result.  That if he can’t even take time to add a name to a signature, or pose with a fan, why should the fan take time to buy his book.  And then there is that nasty rumor that he doesn’t actually care if he finishes the series, because between the books and the tv show, he’s made his money.

I admit, this was the camp I initially found myself in, thinking of all those people, including fellow employees, who will be waiting hours in line to see him, in Toronto in March (which is a potential horror in and of itself), and he can’t exert himself a little?  After the initial righteous indignation passed, though (the advantage of being out of my twenties), I thought about this a little more.

First of all, Martin is not a young guy.  See above photo.  He, too, will be there for hours, shaking innumerable hands (thanks to Bruce Campbell’s autobiography for acquainting me with what a scary process this can be), and signing innumerable autographs (think of the hand cramps!).  If he took individual photos with everyone in line, it would either mean the whole event would be waaaaaaay longer, or, more likely, that he wouldn’t be able to see as many people.  So this stuff actually is probably to increase the lowly line-waiter’s chance of a face-to-face, however brief.  Also, the day before the signing, he has a reading and Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival (sold out).  Just so you know, these events encompass more than just the time he spends with the public.  There is much going on behind the scenes to make it all possible.    So, he is probably already exhausted.  I would be too.  I had a look at his schedule of appearances on his official site… he already has bookings for 2014.   http://georgerrmartin.com/appearances.html

Also, although it could be a be conspiratorial marketing scheme, looking at various pages of his site, including his journal, he seems to actually like (most of) his fans, and even has a soft spot for the crazy ones who name babies after his characters.  So maybe we should go easy on him, and author and fans can appreciate that the other one is setting aside time out of their schedule for them.   I, for one, think of all this as further evidence that books are definitely still relevant, or we wouldn’t be so passionate.

So thanks to you both.


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Amazon Boycott – Vive la Resistance!

The boycott of Amazon by refusing to stock their books on the shelves, now includes Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Books-A-Million, and IndieCommerce, the venue for the American Booksellers Association (ABA).    To meet customers’  needs, the books continue to be offered for special order, but the companies will not be ordering any stock on hand, in stores or warehouses.  I don’t know how much this will hurt Amazon, since the majority of their business is done online, but a publishing company that doesn’t have books on shelves is necessarily limited.  Not every book-lover shops online, and it will definitely limit distribution in Canada, where Indigo and Books-A-Million have a strong presence.

I have never been a fan of Amazon’s policy of publishing their e-books only in their own format, as opposed to the industry standard of ePub.   Now, their publishing house won’t allow their authors’ e-books to be sold by anyone but Amazon.  The response of the other book-sellers is that they won’t be used as Amazon’s bricks-and-mortar, and prevented from selling the electronic versions.

I have included links to two more articles on the subject, and will be watching developments with interest.  Even if this has no impact on Amazon at all, I’m still glad they’re doing it.



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Great Bookstore Flash Mob

For Valentine’s day, I’d like to share a little video with you that was posted by Indigo Books.  Wish I worked at this store!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the book-lovers everywhere.

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Amazon Publishing bookshop boycott grows | Books | guardian.co.uk

Barnes and Noble, Indigo, and independent booksellers have joined together against  Amazon’s Goliath.


Amazon Publishing bookshop boycott grows | Books | guardian.co.uk.


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