The Mountains We Climb By Accident, the first novel by Montreal writer, poet and occasoional FTB contributor Dawn McSweeney, is a real treat of a book. It would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for someone who likes well-told stories and supporting local talent.

Full disclosure, I’m not just a reader, I was also the book’s editor. So while I may be a biased reviewer, I’m mainly biased because not only is it written by someone local, it’s also unabashedly set in Montreal.

This city serves as a backdrop for our protagonist Talia’s life story, or rather early to almost mid-life story. We jump back and forth with her, landing on key experiences and staying with them a bit, sometimes returning, sometimes not.

This non-chronological narrative approach has an internal logic based on how and when a person remembers certain events. McSweeney explained it to me when I interviewed her a few months ago.

It really works here. The writing is sharp and fast-moving, the characters are believable and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I generally look for political intrigue or outright sci fi or fantasy when it comes to the fiction I consume and that’s not what this novel offers. The focus here is on Talia’s relationships with romantic partners, family and friends.

Thanks, though, to McSweeney’s storytelling, it kept me interested from start to finish. I can only imagine it will do the same for people who are fans of the genre already.

Dawn McSweeney’s The Mountains We Climb By Accident is solid Montreal-based storytelling and a great first novel-length offering by a local author.

You can buy it in paperback or as an e-Book through Amazon

After being infamously evicted from his St. Laurent Boulevard location by his landlord last October, Terry Westcott has re-opened his jewel of a bookstore, the Librairie T. Westcott.

The revived store is in the St. Hubert Plaza, a bustling shopping area that promises to provide a new community of devotees for the beloved old landmark. The address is 6792 St. Hubert, and its accessible location – halfway between the Jean-Talon and the Beaubien metro stations – makes it an easy destination for bibliophiles. (ED’s Note: Yes, we know the area is currently under construction, but even in Montreal, that won’t last forever)

“It’s a good location, it’s a nice long store,” Terry says, “and I have the same number of bookcases I had before.” The space is indeed long and narrow – actually quite a bit longer than the previous store – and perfect for housing Mr. Westcott’s extensive collection.

Not so long ago, on a bleak and rainy day, I’d been a grim witness to the effects of rising rents, as a chunk of the 20 000-volume Westcott collection was carted away by a 1-800-GOT-JUNK dump truck for recycling. I asked Terry how much of his collection he’d been able to save.

“There are certain sections I’ve had to rebuild – my Latin American history section, my Jewish History section, my travel books, my Chinese History, my Russian History.” But, after 25 years, he’s not starting over from scratch.

Most of his treasured collection survived the purge. Concerned about his wide-ranging science fiction section, I was relieved to discover it was intact, although still packed up.

Did he have any misgivings about opening an English bookstore in a largely francophone part of town?

“Oh, I looked around,” he explains. “The problem with NDG, for example on Monkland, or in Verdun – they’re busy on the weekends but they’re slow during the week because those are mostly residential areas. People are at work. Children are at school. So on weekdays it’s very quiet. But St Hubert Plaza is quite crowded, seven days a week. That’s what a bookshop needs to survive. And of course it’s much busier on the weekends.”

Terry adds: “There are a lot of people moving over to the Petit-Patrie from the Plateau. Everything’s so expensive over there and so things are shifting over here.”

I wonder how it seems to be working out so far, considering the preponderance of English in the store. Terry is upbeat.

“A lot of French people are glad to have an English bookshop [in the area],” he says. “There are two French book stores down the street – a Renaud-Bray and Librairie Raffin– and there’s also a second-hand bookshop, Parenthèse. Most people in the Montreal area that read are fluently bilingual. So they’re happy to get an English bookshop. This is their chance to get a lot of English books, and also publications like Indiana University Press or South Georgia University Press that are never going to be translated into French.”

As before, Terry will no doubt make use of every square foot in the store, where the books were organized by subject and piled almost to the ceiling. Finding what you wanted was sometimes a challenge, as well as a balancing act, but Terry seemed to always know what he had, or at least, where it was likely to be found if he had it.

I express my relief that he didn’t have to retire and spend his days watching golf on TV, something he’d contemplated during the demise of the old shop. Instead, he’s now looking forward to having his bookshop become a new community hub again, like it was in the old location on St. Laurent.

Then I notice a photo of an impressive feline on the wall. Terry denies that it’s there as a reminder of his previous cat companions Emma (as in Jane Austen) and Eliot (as in T.S.) who had the run of the place.

“It’s a Florida panther,” he explains, “and they’re endangered. So I leave it up there so people can see…. He’s got a very intelligent look on his face. No deception: ‘I am what I am.’”

Whether deliberate or not, there couldn’t be a more apt metaphor for Terry Westcott and his resilient bookstore. While some see bookstores as endangered, Terry is steadfast in his chosen occupation.

He is what he is – and so as long as there are people with a passion for books, Terry Westcott and his Librairie will serve a vibrant new community of readers.

* Photos by Dan Svatek

Currently one of the hardest things to do as a writer is cover the explosion of nepotism, treason, espionage, bigotry, misogyny, greed, and comical idiocy that makes up the 45th presidency of the United States. Nothing so pointedly demonstrates this difficulty than Allan J. Lichtman’s book The Case for Impeachment.

Allan J. Lichtman is a legend.

A distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington DC, he has successfully predicted the outcome of eight US presidential elections. In November 2016 he predicted that the Orange Con-Man would win the election, and that he would be impeached. It is therefore no surprise that Lichtman and his publishers worked to get this book out before any such proceedings could take place.

After a couple of introductory chapters explaining impeachment rules, Lichtman, chapter by chapter, launches into a full scale indictment of the Orange Buffoon.

It’s a good book, but it’s incomplete. It’s incomplete because it could have used the notion of impeachment to make a broader point about the state of American politics, but didn’t, and it’s incomplete because that Entitled Orange Bully damns himself too quickly for most writers to follow.

The book is focused and because of that, it’s an easy read. In each chapter Lichtman talks about Cheeto-Head’s conduct before and after taking office, ties it to a legal issue or an aspect of the President’s character, and then argues it as grounds for impeachment.

Before we get into the indictments in The Case for Impeachment, we need to talk about impeachment itself.

What is Impeachment?

Impeachment does not guarantee a removal from public office. It does not fire the president. What it does is act as a formal charge of misconduct that can be brought against the president, the vice-president, and all civil officers in the United States. The power to impeach is vested in the US Congress, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, though only the Senate has power to remove an official from public office following an impeachment.

The process works like this: any member of either house in Congress can draw up articles of impeachment aka charges against said public official. The House can approve or reject article(s) of impeachment, usually following an investigation, by a simple majority vote. If the House votes in favor of impeachment, the accused is impeached.

The case is then brought before the Senate which holds a sort of trial. Each side can present witnesses and the president is allowed to use his own lawyer if he wants. If the one facing impeachment is the president, the case is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, currently Justice John Roberts, who has had clashes with the current president before.

Once the trial is heard, the case goes to the Senate, which acts as a sort of jury. It takes a two thirds majority in the Senate consisting of sixty-seven votes to remove an official. If convicted, the president would be removed from office and lose any privileges and immunities he had in office, and the vice-president would take over.

In the nineties, the House voted in favor of impeaching Bill Clinton, but because he was popular at the time, his opponents failed to get the sixty-seven votes needed to remove him, thus allowing Clinton to finish up his term.

Grounds for Impeachment

According to the US Constitution, the president can be removed from office “for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” According to Lichtman, this has historically been given broad interpretation allowing for impeachment due to conduct before or after taking office. Lichtman also contends that a conviction for any of the aforementioned acts is not pre-requisite, just the fact that the president did them. That said, there is also the Emoluments clause in the Constitution that says that:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

An emolument is a salary, fee, or profit, and the notion of emoluments is especially relevant given the mounting evidence that the Orange Administration and the Russians colluded with one another.

Lichtman’s indictments of Nacho-Face are numerous.

He talks about the president’s war on women, mentioning sexual harassment charges and disgusting entitled behavior. Unfortunately, his chapter on the subject does not go far enough. He refrains from mentioning accusations that the president sexually assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl while at a party of now convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the president who prided himself on procuring underage girls for rich men. It does not address the Orange Bully’s remark that women who get abortions should be punished.

Lichtman also talks about the president’s disgraceful business practices, pointing out that for a man claiming to be for getting jobs for working Americans, his track record suggests a preference for employing illegal immigrants because they’re more easily exploitable. He mentions the man’s denial of climate change, but perhaps unwisely implies that the Syrian refugee crisis was largely due to it, when we can all agree that drought does not make evil leaders do what Assad has done.

In an extensive chapter devoted to Russia, the author describes how deeply entangled the president’s businesses are with forces in Eastern Europe. He also devotes chapters to the Orange administration gross disregard for the Constitution, the law, and basic human decency.

One of the best things about this book is that it is fundamentally an American work. There are little to no comparisons with other countries or leaders and refrains from references to international history.

This perhaps is a mistake.

The Orange Administration is doing what stereotypical Republicans have dreamed of: an America where the poor look to people of colour and immigrants as the source of their misfortunes, allowing the upper one percent to hold onto their wealth by cutting their own taxes, effectively destroying American healthcare, education, employment, and infrastructure.

History has taught us that people eventually catch on to who is really hurting them, and as the French Revolution teaches us, a reluctance of the wealthy to help the poor leads to catastrophic civil unrest. If the White House isn’t careful, they may one day be faced with an angry mob and a guillotine.

I first picked up Adeena Karasick’s book of poetry (one of her nine books), Dysemia Sleaze, back in 2006. I picked it without even knowing what the book was about or who it was written by.

I liked the title, though. I knew I was reading something next level. It was like mathematics in words and symbols. It all made some intuitive sense before I could actually make sense of it.

Almost a decade later, in the quest for knowledge of self and existential liberation from Babylon, while working on a farm in BC, I sought the opportunity to build with the Kabbalist, mystic, scholar, international poet and multi-media artist.

I had just read her her latest book titled This Poem. I wanted to learn some science from her about language, technology and the Kabbala. As I anticipated, Karasick dropped that knowledge.

Jesse Chase: You’re a feminist poet so I want to ask: does language have the ability to combat patriarchy? And would you make a distinction between feminism and a radical feminism?

Adeena Karasick: This Poem (Talonbooks, 2012) is a deeply ironic, self reflexive mash up re-inscribing subjectivity as a kind of contemporary archive of cultural fragments: updates, analysis, aggregates, contradictory trends, threads, webbed networks of information, the language of the ‘ordinary” and the otherness of daily carnage.

The self becomes a kind of euphoric recycling of information (shards, sparks) and thus speaks to how we are continually reinvented through recontextualization, collision, juxtapositions of defamiliarity as we process and re-process information.

Is this radically feminist? Perhaps in the way radical poetics is, in the tradition of the avant-garde foregrounding fragmented identities, irony, skepticism, a sense of self as other or outsider, a distrust of the literal, and belief in a tradition that questions rather than answers — As per “radical” i think its useful to think about it as a radical number, which is both rational and irrational, relational. And if radical comes from the Latin radicalis “of roots” I am committed to a writing where roots are re-routed, detour and “dangle”…

I’m particularly interested in ways language can both express and alter meaning; how we use language, masage its affect, shapes the way we think, breathe, behave. Thus, most of my project engages language in a way that undermines, questions or problematizes any kind of patriarchal premise – that there is a message, that can be clearly communicated, transmitted, that there is some truth outside of language, structures of logic, borders, orders, laws, flaws, codes— rather my work opens up a space that celebrates slippage, ellipses; all that is unsaid through veiling and unveiling, a multiplicitous heterogeny of ever-increasing otherness.

So yes, a highly feminist act – of intervention, disruption dissent where the discourse is all rapturously fractured and fraught with fission, elision. Not marked by censoring but by sensors, a re-sensed sensorium of incendiary sonorities.

What you say in ‘memewars’ of “read backwards or forwards, it re-interprets itself in an infinite process of self-replicating metastability through a virally multiplicitous linguistic praxis…Mem…signifies a hermeneutic process through its name.” Can we abstractly play ‘deconstruct the name’ as a sort of activity? Infinitely re-interpreting itself ‘through its name’. Do you care to riff off this? Is it a thought provoking device or activity? Like the Kabbala?

Whether you call it Kabbalistically-infused semiotic analyses or deconstructive investigations, meaning is always hiding in the words themselves. So, I don’t know if it’s a device per se, a methodology, a hermeneutic practice, but I can say that I spend an inordinate amount of my life recombining the alphabet, wearing it as a series of labyrinthian veils, inhabiting it as an ideological emporium of self replicating metastability that houses all potential meaning.

As evidenced per se with the 231 cycles of meaning in the Sefer Yetzirah:


Everything is connectable, dissectible, detectable. So, yes through the work, there is nothing I love better than the explosive jouissance of simultaneous reference whether it be cycling through dictionary definitions of words etymologies, phonetics, graphic resonances, social, political and cultural traces cycling through webs of knowledge structures, naming and renaming through synonymy, ignonymy homonymy, hymnonomy, anonymy…

Take my 1994 title Meme wars. Mem (or mayim, (water), referencing all that flows, is the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, appears in the middle. Kabbalistically read, (joined with the first and last letters of the alphabet), Alef Mem Tav, spells out truth:

Adeena Karasick 2

Mem shows how truth is always constructed in process. And moreover as the center of the alphabet, it highlights how it’s always found in the middle of language; en medias. And if the medium is the message, Mem stands in for the Law of the excluded middle, that center is always a myth, is a process of dissent, and speaks to ever-shifting perspectives.

Another linguistic echo comes through the French word, mêm(e). Meme is the self same. The same and the same is always other. This referencing a meme as a unit of culture energy virally replicating itself in and through language.

Though I must say, in 1994, when I wrote Meme wars, in no way did we know what the explosion of the internet meme as we now know it would be. All to say, that even the word itself (in whatever language) inscribes how we can never fully replicate anything but infinitely interpretive and re-generative. Re-invented. Made new. In a complex of simulacric echolalia.

Do you think the Kabbalistic logic of ‘creative misreading’ effectively challenges the ‘frame’ in a way that can be applied to a “new art” — a(e)s(th)et(ic)?

Well, like in Derridean deconstruction, which is not so much an anarchic free play of signification but questions the foundations of thinking praxis, reading from specific lenses, perspectives, codes, acknowledging we are never separate from them, Kabbalistic hermeneutics isn’t exactly “creative misreading”, as there is a system of reading called PARDES (paradise) where one spirals through the literal, metaphorical, analogic and secret/hidden layers of interpretation. Cycles through syntactic axis, gates of entry and resistance.

Does it offer a frame that can be applied to art? Absolutely. Endless analysis, interpretation begets further interpretation, re-visitation provokes different readings, spurring new understandings of the wor(l)d. For Kabbalists, Creation was enacted through the letters. The Midrash describes God “looking into the Torah to Create the World,”  and with every reading, we re-enact this process of creation or re-framation as the case may be.

And as such, it becomes a highly political act as it combats any reductive settling into an overarching unsubstantiated mode of reading, and instead points to ways we may enter into a fluid space of ever-generative explosive meaning, acknowledging the ideological codes and lenses from which we are actively interpreting from, however slippery and elusive and shifting they may be. And perhaps this is where aesthetics / ethics elide —

Would you have any suggestions as to how we could redefine what’s generally not considered technological, i.e. logic and language, and invent an activity that would itself be the redefining exercise, like the Kabbalah for example. Something that techno-poetically redistributes aesthetic values and disrupts technopoly. In other words, do you think we can use the seemingly negative attributes of a ‘technopoly’ to our advantage? And if so, how?

For me, language is a technology and at bottom is a prime mover in the re-distributes of aesthetic values. But, with that said, digital media allows me certain other freedoms and axis of entry. Unbound, it foregrounds the materiality of language in a virtual arena of eroticism, a freedom of acoustic and image and visual fragmentation bifurcation foregrounding the slipperiness of meaning.

Increasingly I am playing within this field — whether it’s the construction of videopoems (lingual Ladies, I got a Crush on Osama or incorporating filmic projections in my recent Salome project (where in collaboration with Abigail Child, mashed up the 1921 Charles Bryant film with my text overlaid), or my recent obsession, pechakuchas:

Also check out: Ceçi n’est pas un Telephone or hooked on Telephonic and BACK IN THE O.S.V.R.: THE GHOST IS THE MACHINE

Incorporating voice and text and image and animation, gifs and sound poetry, is an analytical meditation on the relationship between technology and spirituality in contemporary media; highlighting how the mystical and the machine are not oppositional, but that “all media are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes and transform our environment” (McLuhan) and opens not a physical vs. metaphysical, but ‘pataphysical space reminding us how language and thereby all knowledge is spectral, virtual, simulacric. Technopolis. A virtual city to live in.

As I headed to the book launch of vegan chef Maria Amore last week, my mind wandered back to a day in high school health class. During the class we were shown a video which graphically detailed all the destructive ways smoking ravaged your body. Being the mature, thoughtful teenager that I was, after watching the video I of course promptly went outside and lit up a cigarette. Being told how bad it was for me only made me crave the thing more.

After discussing veganism and trying out some treats from Cooking with Amore, I wondered if I would experience a similar feeling of rebelliousness? Would I leave the book launch and crave a hamburger afterwards? Living on my own, the cost of food is usually the deciding factor of what goes into my shopping cart. Like many others I’m sure, the life of the animal and its journey to the grocery store is honestly something I’ve never given much thought to.

Maria Amore

I’m sure my outlook on food consumption would be very different of course if, like Amore, I was faced with a serious illness. Amore’s first career was in law. And with the long hours and intense pressure that came with being a corporate lawyer, Amore had no time to think about food preparation and nutrition. Because of this, Amore says, eventually her body succumbed to exhaustion.

“With the medical doctors at a loss as to how to help me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started learning about nutrition,” Amore writes in the preface to her cookbook. While studying nutrition, Amore was horrified to learn about the truths behind factory farming and made the decision to become vegan. Combining her new belief system with her love of cooking, Amore knew she’d found her true calling as a vegan chef.

Amore became so adept at promoting her new profession online (including writing an FTB food column for two years) that she was recently offered an exciting new career opportunity.

“I was approached by investors who’d seen my Facebook page and asked if I’d like to run a vegan bistro in Mexico,” Amore told me during the book launch, grinning widely, “living in a tropical climate has always been something that’s interested me, so it wasn’t a hard decision. And because of the bistro, I’m thrilled to be able to donate all proceeds from the cookbook to the SPCA animal shelter.”

Amore left Montreal last Friday, and Bistro CasAmore will open later this year in Mexico.

Leaving the book launch I did not end up going for a hamburger, but instead thought about trying out some of Amore’s recipes like vegan shepherd’s pie, Portobello burgers and curried chickpeas with couscous. Unlike my teenage self, I am finally beginning to understand the importance of a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

I did finally quit smoking two years ago but I fully admit I still have a long way to go before I can truly say I lead a healthy lifestyle. Moderating my meat intake and combining it with more vegetarian and vegan options seems like a pretty great start.

Here is a recent interview Amore did with Global Montreal promoting her book:

Photos by Adida Khavous

The Anarchist Bookfair has returned once again to Montreal, bringing thousands of anarchists – and those curious – from across North America to the city. The fair, with the tagline “no gods, no masters, no bosses, no borders,” is now in its the fifteenth year.

The Bookfair takes place during the Festival of Anarchy, a month long festival that was kicked off on May 1 with the Anti-Capitalist May Day march, and goes to June 7. Anarchist and anti-capitalist events will be occurring throughout the city during this time.

Helena Moloney and Udham Singh, members of the Anarchist Bookfair Collective, explained to Forget the Box “anarchism stands for uncompromising resistance to all forms of oppression and domination – including capitalism, patriarchy, racism and colonialism – while promoting mutual aid, direct democracy, anti-authoritarianism, autonomy and solidarity.”

“We bring together theory and practice, through books, zines, art, discussions, presentations and more. There’s nothing like it in Montreal, when compared to other bookfairs,” they continued.

While books are of course a large part of the focus at the Bookfair, there will also be art exhibitions, workshops, presentations, as well as activities for children. Community groups and collectives such as Le Frigo Vert, Howl arts collective, and Queer Between the Covers – among many others – will set their tables for the event. With this, comes diverse set of workshops, all tackling different issues. Some top contenders of workshops include topics such as squatting as a political stance, struggles against police brutality from an anarchist perspective, and Indigenous Sovereignty and Decolonization.

Moloney and Singh explained there would be introductory workshops for those looking to learn more, stressing that the “the Bookfair is a very welcoming space for people who want to learn more,” not just for anarchist but those who are curious as well. Workshops and events will be held in both French and English with whisper translation.

Another initiative the fair is taking on is it’s committed to accessibility –something that sets it apart from other book fairs held in the city. According to its website, the fair is working to “avoid replicating the barriers in society that exclude and marginalizes people.” In 2010 the Book Fair started an Accessibility Fund which is focused on making the Fair accessible to those with disabilities, as well as counteracting ableism.

A large part of this is making the fair open to all, including children, offering free childcare for those looking to attend with kids. In addition the Fair works to make the environment as open as possible to all, with a “chill zone” set up in the park near the venue with the understanding that the Fair can be overwhelming.

The Anarchist Bookfair will be held May 26 and 27, from 10 am to 5 pm in Parc Vinet and is free to everyone looking to take part.

When I was about fifteen years old, I borrowed my mother’s credit card to order a product that I’d seen frequently advertised on television. It was the Time Life five CD collection of the great masterworks of classical music. And I devoured it. It consumed my life for months, this world of music I was only perfunctorily aware of before that I now immersed myself in. It shaped the course my musical tastes would take, and, I daresay, helped shape who I became.

To my family and friends, this sudden obsession with classical music no doubt came out of an apparent left field. But to me, though maybe then I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, it made perfect sense. Because at that time in my life, and for years before, what was I filling my time between school and boyhood monkeyshines with? Well, the gritty, pulsing underworld of Metroid; the sprawling epic grandeur of Zelda and Final Fantasy; and, of course, the foot-tapping capers of those Mario Twins (especially that delightful undersea waltz).

I came of age in the era of the SNES, and was a child of the NES era. The lush musical woodland of my adult years was sprouted from the 8-bit seeds buried deep in my brain early on. These melodic bleeps and bloops were what led me to more sophisticated musical art. But, in his book, Maestro Mario, author and musician Andrew Schartmann argues that these digital ditties were not simply stepping-stones to bigger and better things in contemporary art and culture, but valid–and important–works of art in their own right.

He makes the case with the conviction and confidence of one with a great deal of knowledge about both music and video games; and whether you’ve ever sat around a smoky basement couch having your mind blown that the Moon level theme from Duck Tales is as good as anything you’ll hear in a concert hall, or the thought of video game music being anything more than trivial background noise has never crossed your mind, Schartmann will have you convinced that there’s a lot more going on behind these tunes than first meets the ear.

He takes us from the glitzy beginnings of video entertainment sounds in casinos, to the breakthroughs in the severely limited environments of Pong and Space Invaders, and through the Renaissance of Nintendo’s and third party developers’ output for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s a far more exciting journey than one might expect, and he makes it easy and compelling no matter your level of knowledge of either music or video games. Example figures abound, and it makes for an even more informative read if you take the time to seek out the musical examples that help illustrate the author’s point (having YouTube open makes this remarkably easy to achieve).

The technical aspect of what makes these machines produce the sounds that they do is covered succinctly and with enough simplicity that it could easily be understood by even those among us who think Nintendos are magic boxes what I can make the pitchers move in. And, along with the more minute details of how and why, the importance of these sounds in our culture is put into context.

It’s a book for lovers of music, lovers of video games and their history, and lovers of video game music past and present, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in any combination of those. For me, it helped achieve a better understanding of music I love, reminded me of a few gems I’d long forgotten about hearing or playing, and gave me a little more perspective on why it felt so natural for a teenage boy to suddenly buy a Time Life box set of music he saw on television.

I am delighted and honored to announce that I submitted my cookbook to the publisher last week! After two years of dedicated and persistent hard work, my baby is finally on its way to being printed! In addition to a traditional book, an electronic version is also being made.

In about four weeks, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution will be available for purchase on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in bookstores. I have a French and Spanish translation of my cookbook in the works; both will be ready in 2014.

I am also thrilled to announce that my official book launch in Montreal, Canada will be held at the SPCA Annexe on December 14, 2013. I will be making dishes from the cookbook for everyone to sample and donations will be accepted to help the animals at the SPCA.

I will be selling and signing books and proceeds from the sale of my books will also go to the SPCA. More details will follow as the date draws near. You are all invited to join me in celebrating this very special day! I will also be organizing book signing events in other cities around the world! I am going global with Cooking With Amore!

Cooking With Amore contains many of the recipes I share with you each week and more. Some of the recipes which I consider quite genius I have saved for the book itself, such as my vegan poutine and vegan tiramisu, for example, as well as this vegan piece of heaven I do with cacao nibs and garden tomatoes (yes tomatoes!).

My goal is simply to get vegan recipes out there. I want people to get excited about cooking delicious dishes, without the use of any animal products.

Why? Because it’s possible, it’s healthy and it’s kind. To those of you contemplating a vegan lifestyle, or maybe just adding more plant-based meals to your diet, in Cooking With Amore, I offer you 100 scrumptious, easy recipes!

Banner Cooking with Amore 2

Let’s cook with love! Are you ready?

My website has also been finished and is ready for launch in the coming days. In the meantime, you can continue to follow me daily on my Facebook page where I share vegan recipes and health-related tips every day!


“Now that I have made the connection, I do not eat animals for the same reason as I do not eat human beings. To me, there is no difference between humans and animals, for we are all souls, in different physical disguises. I know that non-human animals value their lives, their relationships, and their freedom to run and play as much as humans do. They feel a wide range of emotions just like we do. I want to create a better world for all animals and that, in turn, means a better world for everyone. ”

~Maria Amore, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution

I read The See twice, and both times it took me several unsuccessful attempts to read it all the way through in one go. It might seem easy when you hold the book in your hand and browse quickly, as the written section are few and far between and artwork The See 3inhabits most of the pages; however the reality of carefully understanding it as a work of literature and art becomes a clearly harsh uncompromising task.

The passages are immaculately written in an almost childlike simplicity, which is the more difficult to swallow when you start to partially comprehend what the subject is about, and the subject cannot be put to simple terms. You cannot understand it all, and you and I could talk about it nonstop and still fail at reaching an agreement.

The beauty of this book, like the artwork in it, is that it is all up for interpretation and analysis, and what ultimately strikes you is as personal as your deepest, darkest memory. The book conjures up emotions, secrets, recollections that you might have locked away in those rooms of your mind and long since thrown away the keys.

That is precisely what we do. We protect ourselves. We lock away bad memories and horrifying happenings. Because otherwise we would not be able to function in a “normal” socially acceptable way. If you and I had the option of releasing our inhibitions and for one minute dredge up all our memories, the result would be screaming, crying, suicidal, messed up specimens that would be, on any other day, locked up in a mental institute.

No matter how hard we try, however, we cannot rid ourselves from these memories, because even though they might be repressed unconsciously, they will resurface and sooner or later we will have to deal with them consciously. Yet, all is not lost here, because The See 1along the way we develop certain skills and the mental knowhow to be able to come to terms with our past, even though it will upset and mentally scar us for the rest of our days.

All that has been said is of course conditional and comes into play uniquely for each individual. How I deal with my psychological problems is not and will not be the same as the way you or others deal with theirs.

What this book does in describing a very disturbing turn of events that ultimately causes destruction of an individual, is force you to face your own demons. You close your eyes; you scream mutely; you clench and grind your teeth; you shudder and curse; you “bitterly regret and pour forth bitter tears, but cannot wash those grievous lines away.”

The story is close to my own heart as I’ve had some personal experience with psychological issues and abuse, however I do believe that the events described and elegantly put to words here are universal and have a common connection with everyone in human terms.

serial villainA few weeks later than expected, I finally got my hands on a much anticipated short story collection Serial Villain by local writer Sherwin Tija. It took a little longer since the book caught the attention of my editor, who got sucked into the dark, sexy, and mysterious world of the illustrated tales crafted by Tija and so, free from its captor, I quickly devoured the book in a day. The book launched last week at The Mainline Theatre, where Sherwin often hosts quirky events like The Strip Spelling Bee, Crowd Karaoke, and Spring Slow dances with his company Chat Perdu Productions.

Serial Villain is a small brick of a book playing with the (delicious) tropes of genres like film noir, spy tales, and police stories to name a few. In these pages, there are villains galore, at every turn it seems, in the shadows, in the mirror, and even in the past.

There is a blatant and unapologetic eroticism in these tales that packs a punch, literally in some cases. Toying with morality, desire, and the notorious plot twist, Tija crafts a literary experience that can be likened to that of watching a series of films located in a city; films that have you blushing and looking over your shoulder hoping no one sees what you are reading out of context, especially in the case of “The Trouble with Hitler”, one of my favorites of the tome.

Along with “The Trouble with Hitler”, some highlights include “The Nethers”, which delves in the otherworldly and would make for a kick ass television show. Then there is, “At Night All Cats are Grey”, which twists and turns with the unexpectedness of when villain meets villain and finally,  “For Love or Money”, which considering my recent Archer marathon and recent James Bond education from friends over at The Cineclub: The Film Society, happened to be just the right spy treat replete with delightful references.

First in the Cinder Block Books series, Serial Villain is just what the doctor ordered to get your heart racing and your paranoia thriving.




Literature is an endless permutation of themes. But, what happens when you mix zombies with Biblical stories? Stant Litore created the Zombie Bible, an ongoing re-imagination of our cultural heritage with an important twist–more zombies, more horror and managing to be relevant to our day-to-day life. I’ve been reading The Zombie Bible ever since its first volume was released in 2011. Despite being irreligious, its religious tones and themes didn’t put me off. The book doesn’t seek to preach and convert. Rather, it relates to the struggles of humanity against the swarms of the hungry dead.

The latest book, Strangers in the Land, follows the story of the prophetess Devora the Old. She sees what God wants her to see, and she finds herself called north. The zombies have returned, and the People are in danger. What was interesting about Devora was how well her inner strength was displayed. As a woman in 1190 BC, prophetic visions or not, she had to fight to be heard and recognized in a society where only men could hold power. There’s a constant aura of personal danger that permeates the story. Not only from the zombies, but from the men who are supposed to protect and travel with her. Every gesture and comment can be read with the subtext of imminent violence. Devora’s calm determination and sense of duty set her apart from the other characters, but her response to things that test her faith and perceptions are what really serve to humanize her. While you might find yourself rolling your eyes at her anti-heathen outbursts and almost unfeeling adherence to the covenant, Devora seems like a woman you could meet at the story, or on the job.

Strangers in the land'_The setting of ancient Israel was so well done that it was like I stepped through a time machine. The worldbuilding was painstakingly done–the landscape, down to the tents and the trees was authentic and beautifully described. The city of Walls, the camps, the zombies and the shared history merges together to create descriptive quality seldom seen outside of literary fiction. Nothing is held back or censored. The beauty of the land is coupled with the terrible destruction brought by the undead to form a chilling representation of what the past would have looked like with zombies.

In the end, The Zombie Bible is about people–our ancestors’ struggle with the undead. Strangers in the Land is no exception, but Litore does an excellent job of writing a heroine fighting for life and justice in a terrifying and unjust world. Even if you’ll never read The Bible, give The Zombie Bible a try.

After watching Ang Lee grab an Oscar for best director on Sunday, I ventured into our local cinema to watch the film “Life of Pi”, even though I had read some bad reviews in The Guardian and New Yorker. I have to say as an art critic I loved the visual aspects of it, and as an atheist and writer I hated every self-congratulatory, self-righteous second of it all.

book cover-1I knew the story because my brother Siavash had read the book by the Canadian author Yann Martel and due to my badgering spilled the beans about the ambiguous ending afterwards. Yet with the film there was no ambiguity to be found in the end, and we discover that the story had been made up just to entertain, this came as a welcoming surprise because I really couldn’t stomach a lesson in religious doubt and essence of faith. Yet, Yann Martel himself stated: “I’m happy it works so well as a film. Even if the ending is not as ambiguous as the book’s, the possibility that there might be another version of Pi’s story comes at you unexpectedly and raises the same important questions about truth, perception and belief.”

The story revolves around Pi who from the start is exploring his relationship with religions and faith in God. For him confusion never ceases as he is bombarded with different ideologies from every corner. So, I guess inevitably, he decides to practice all religions and believe in mighty forces watching over him. As is always the case with these kinds of stories, our protagonist finds out that only through knowing himself he can love God. I could almost hear Deepak Chopra shouting: “Every person is a God in embryo.”

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian writes: “the film itself, despite some lovely images and those eyepopping effects, it is a shallow and self-important shaggy-dog story – or shaggy-tiger story – and I am bemused by the saucer-eyed critical responses it’s been getting.” I agree with his description, because the film’s special effects are amazing, and digital creation of the world Pi encounters is just breathtakingly beautiful, but the story lacks the oomph it needs and the double narration, even though great in literature, doesn’t come out well on the screen.

I have to state that I’m not a big fan of 3D, and all the things that were promised to us with renaissance of the technology has faded with sales of 3D television hitting rock bottom. I get headaches every time I watch these movies in cinema, and from my experience with televisions the glasses issue has made it tremendously hard to enjoy a movie. Life of Pi catering for this market, and the fact that all the effects in the movie were designs for the 3D experience really worries me about Ang Lee’s sense of judgement. Why would any director, let alone a celebrated one like Mr Lee decide to create a movie that cannot be enjoyed on DVD? Even if they release it as a normal HD the effects won’t be the same, so why?

life of pi 2From an artistic point of view no one can fault the movie. It is beguiling, mesmerizingly beautiful example of what digital art can do. There are colours and effects that are unmatched by any other film, and you are drawn into a world so hypnotic that you forget every scene has been created using softwares. I know if we look back at it in 10 years’ time we will laugh at ourselves for being so naïve, but for now we can enjoy it as an enticing spectacle and one that should not be missed as long as it is in the cinemas.

However, again the story, apart from the ending, really brings it down in my view. Obama in 2010 wrote a letter to Yann Martel in which he described the book as “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” Obviously President Obama is not seeking scientific proof and is happy with fiction, however I cannot deny Mr Martel his power of storytelling, because he has written a book that is sold more than 10 million copies, and the fact that this book was rejected no less than five times by publishers, gives us all unpublished writers hope. As for the movie, I would suggest bringing your earplugs and you will have an experience of a lifetime.

Because I’m a zombie horror writer, other up and coming zombie horror writers always want to give me their books. As a consequence, I’m well-versed in many of the undiscovered literary gems pertaining to our cannibalistic, undead friends. World War Z catapulted the zombie novel into the literary stage, but many more have followed in its wake. In addition to shock and gore, zombie stories can tell us about the primal struggles and hunger endemic to human existence. Zombie stories tell us about our hopes and dreams, our need to come together and our need to self-destruct.

#1. The Zombie Bible (Stant Litore)

zombie bibleAn ongoing series, The Zombie Bible seeks to retell Bible stories with a twist: that our saints and prophets also fought the undead. Litore’s elegant prose shows both the horrors of an undead apocalypse in Biblical times, and the beauty of the enduring human spirit. The religious element is kept tasteful and does not seek to judge its reader, but rather to fuel the spirits of his characters.

The writing style is very literary and flowery and the stories themselves are painstakingly researched. Some may find the language used tedious or object to the lack of chainsaws, but these books are worth a look if you want something other than the usual urban nightmare.

#2. The I Zombie I Series (Jack Wallen)

i zombie iI’ve been following this series for over a year, and I Zombie I is one of the most inventive zombie series I’ve ever read. The pages keep flipping and the plot twists and turns. By the end of the third book, I had no idea what to think. That’s a good thing.

What’s especially noteworthy about Wallen’s work is that he doesn’t shy away from strong female protagonists. No longer having to suffer the tired cliche of ditz-who-gets-everyone-killed, his character Bethany is a nerd girl who uses Linux, some common sense, and her mechanical aptitude to save the world. It’s not all high-tech geekery, though. All of the hallmarks of a great zombie story are in this one. Weapons, stealth, mystery, evolving zombies and intrigue are included with admission.

#3. The Zombie West Series (Angela Scott)

wanted dead or undeadZombies in the Wild West. I’m not usually a fan of the Westerns, but when done properly they do make an excellent venue to explore the mass slaughter of the walking dead.

It’s bounty hunter meets the-girl-in-the-wanted-poster. While there is a romantic sub-element to the story, it’s done in a way that isn’t absolutely annoying. The rest is standard Western fare. Saloons, shoot-outs, caravans filled with zombies and utter lawlessness are the name of the game. It’s all about a struggle to survive in a world gone horribly wrong, while trying to solve the mystery of a girl who is immune to the bite of the infected.

The cyberpunk phenomena has lead to a plethora of fascinating works of fiction. Enhanced humans, transhuman problems and fusion-powered bad guys are only part of the appeal. The other side of the story, as I’ve discovered, is part of the timeless narrative of character development and fantastic storytelling.

One such example is Shadow of a Dead Star, by Michael Shean. The story takes place in 2078 Seattle, a city marked by its consumerism and abject depravity. At the core of this soulless world is detective Tom Walken, a man driven to seek justice. In a nation where corporations run the police, he is tasked with stopping shipments of banned contraband. One night, he’s ordered to confiscate three living sex dolls – called Princess Dolls – abominations that come out of illicit offshore labs. Predictably, the raid goes horribly wrong, and Walken must submerge himself in Seattle’s vile underbelly in order to crack the case. However, he’s in over his head and between him and his hacker partner Bobbi January, he needs to untangle a web of deception that threatens to engulf all of humanity.

I was sucked right in by this book from the moment I picked it up. The descriptive value is almost cinematic. Painstaking detail is used to describe every facet of this rich and gloomy universe. The clothes, hairstyles, plastic surgery, and even the cars are fleshed out until they’re more realistic than the room you’re sitting in. Suffice it to say, Shean has a talent for descriptiveness. Whether he’s describing futuristic fashions or a shower of gore, you’re trapped in that moment with him.

cyberpunk girlThe characters are also exceptional. Bobbi stole the show. She’s a lady hacker–smart-talking, resourceful and stunningly human. Her dimension gives this story a grounding point, a place the audience can cling to when the story gets crazy. In short, she’s a great, strong female character that the genre sorely needs. As for Walken, he’s a great, driven character who can lose himself in his own single minded need for justice. It’s all he believes in, and that faith is what sustains him until the very end.

In short, the mystery will keep you guessing until the very end. And, you will get it wrong, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s a subtext to this story as well, lurking just below the surface. Social commentary, an intoxicating mystery and amazing world building are what’s made Shadow of a Dead star my favourite cyberpunk book of all time.

Do you have a favorite scifi or cyberpunk book? let us know in the comments!

Based out of London, Ontario, Sunflower Skins is a collection of cut and paste self-published books that aim to delight, educate and challenge the reader.  I recently spoke with the brainchild of Sunflower Skins Britani Sadovski, and we chatted about life in the DYI publishing community, her inspirations and where she sees Sunflower Skins headed in the future.


Stephanie Laughlin: Tell me about the origins of Sunflower Skins

Britani Sadovski:
I began self-publishing before university, and the early chapbooks reflect my poetry-entrenched literary upbringing. My first Sunflower Skins projects were free, an attempt to inspire shared literature and guerrilla art; I still maintain the free-press mission with the Bulimic Beluga project and put lots of love into each book I make.

I work exclusively with my partner Thom Bacchus Roland, whose writing can be found here.

SL: I’m particularly interested in what inspired one of your books “the future of bullimic beluga whales”

BS: “Bulimic Belugas” originally started as an idea for a zine, but I quickly found a required monthly format to be too limiting for the direction I wanted to take my art. Instead, inspired by riotgrrl liner notes, Courtney Love’s early band posters, and Kathy Acker’s versions of cut-up technique, I created my own “self-help book” using some black humour and real statistics on eating disorders. More people need to be able to talk about bulimia, depression, and anxiety disorders. The absurd approach at least seems to get their attention.

 SL: Are you part of a community of DYI publishers?

BS: As a teenager I realized that traditional publishing was not for me. In general I don’t like big box business, and books are no different; I love local bookshops, the owner’s knowledge and intimacy with texts of all kinds. At 18 I found The Grove Press Reader which changed my approach to writing, for whom I wanted to write, and informed my ethics concerning the publishing world; Barney Rosset’s dedication to fighting censorship, as well as working closely with writers and their original texts, greatly inspires me to maintain full control over my art and to work without boundaries. My partner Thom Roland and I write, format, print, and bind all of our books ourselves. Both of us have blogs for comics, short stories, fragments, and essays. We decided to create the literary, socially-just world we want that we don’t find in London, ON.; though we’ve set up our headquarters here to expand publishing and distribution, we’ve found more of a community online, of like-minded individuals who publish their own comics and essays on blogs.

Sunflower Skins creator Britani Sadovski

SL: What’s the reaction to your work in London, Ont? Have you shown your work in other places?

BS: I’ve sent Bulimic Beluga books to friends around the world to distribute in local libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, and anywhere else they want. Contributing to zine libraries is a favourite activity! This past winter a fellow writer took books with him on a trip to Turkey, leaving some scattered in airports along the way; another friend, a Pure Poet, took a bunch to Washington, D.C. campuses and even he left a few in the aquarium.

 I’ve had many people approach me, both in person and online, about my mental health writing, sharing personal stories about medication, trial treatments, relationship troubles, and social triumphs; the opportunity to connect with my readers and inspire conversation and new ideas encourages me, for I want a more accepting, honest world.

 SL: How do you see Sunflower Skins evolving ?

BS: I have a couple of books currently available (a photography-based comic book and a double-feature horror chapbook shared with Thom Roland). I’m currently working on a collection of Stupid Children Stories, a hand-bound book of mixed media: short stories, photography, and childhood drawings.

As we continue distributing free beluga books to encourage mental health discussion, Sunflower Skins embraces a mindful, purposeful-play lifestyle in order to explore issues in a non-threatening environment; I play with Lego, plastic dinosaurs, Giant Microbes, and various other toys to focus on the absurd in my comics, whether it’s making literary jokes, socio-political observations, or completely silly dino scenes. I also make comics starring live spiders and take great pleasure in connecting with the natural world.

 SL: Anything specific you’d like me to mention in the article? Upcoming book fairs, etc…

BS: Feed the Whales is an important cause! I’ll send as many books as people want to anywhere in the world; free press for all! You can also support Sunflower Skins and Bulimic Belugas by spreading the word through t-shirts, buttons, or even little handmade plush whales.In December 2012 we’ll be taking the Bulimic Belugas to DisneyWorld! Blub blub!

Find me on Twitter @sunflowerskins

“I suppose now is a better time than ever to tell you about my anomalous medical condition.” – Maxwell, in The Altered Consciousness of Maxwell Silverhammer

“Ultimately, the criticism that’s leveled at it that it’s terribly written, is true.” – @litopia “The Porn Supremacy”, regarding Shades of Grey

Maxwell is an interesting fellow. Mystique and controversy surrounded his birth, and from his first breath he’s plagued by a mysterious, incurable illness that will preclude his having a “normal” life, and in fact alter his whole relationship with reality. Tragedy pierces the bubble of his existence, transforming his already wonky life, and still he presses on toward his goals with unfaltering, fairly unmerited, confidence to the end. His life is one of unfulfilled potential, and in that, serves as an adequate comparison to the story itself.

The Altered Consciousness of Maxwell Silverhammer is an ambitious novelette (Is that a new term, or a smaller novella? Can we just call this a short story? 20 pages is actually a short story). It introduces characters that could have such depth but never get there, too many unfulfilled plot possibilities, and some decidedly-poor word choices.

Am I being harsh?

Maybe I should lighten up, but here’s why I won’t: if we want to grab hold of the slipping standards of modern literature, we must start with critical thinking and honest opinions. We must stop shrugging everything off as passably good enough, or entertaining enough, or our literary landscape will soon reflect all the artistic quality of network TV.

I understand that the author, Daniel Bartlett, is an “emerging” artist, and rock-on in that regard. It’s an impressive feat to even get to that stage, statistically speaking. I fear this is an instance of immature writing though, and I don’t want the terms to become synonymous, nor do I feel one is an excuse for the other. This piece could’ve used some honest reads and serious re-writes before getting this far.

Well, it made it this far, and I’m an honest reader who thinks constructive criticism trumps complaining, so I offer a few universal tips that are specifically relevant:

1) Keep it simple. Yup. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Authors can see an infinite web of possibilities for their characters to embark on; a grand tangle of plot-lines stemming from a universe of factors unseen to the reader. For instance, the reader may or may not know why a character has a certain tattoo, whereas the author surely (I hope) knows. The craft is in knowing whether or not it’s pertinent for us to understand. Create or Die’s podcast episode entitled ‘Simplicity’ eloquently delves into the semantics of showing vs. telling, and the poignancy of “She smiled” over “She smiled because she was happy right then.” If your characters aren’t fleshing themselves out, their independent voices aren’t strong enough.

2) If I don’t care about your characters, I don’t care about your story. Plenty of people will take story over character, but I am not one. If characters are merely pronouns with a string of circumstances, I lose inter — oh look! A bird! Characters should have feelings and should be written about in a way that highlights their humanity. It makes them real. It makes me care.

3) A whole whack of people prefer stories to characters, so plots ought be kept tight. Don’t open so many options that none can be sufficiently seen through. It leaves danglies, (and it also leaves me musing over the more interesting turns we didn’t, but could’ve easily taken).

4) People seldom write how they speak, so writing dialogue is tricky by definition. Read it out loud as you write it, and don’t quit till it’s realistic. As a reader, if I can’t believe it, it never happened, hence your characters don’t exist, and your whole universe flashes out and turns into mere paper in my hand.

5) Run that bad boy through a spell check AND a human check. The cover page, the one with the title, should be especially flawless, slick graphics notwithstanding. Also, always number the pages when sending it out into the real world. Someone writing a review may want to print it up and read it at their convenience, and sans page numbers, they can only hope they’ve stapled it all into the right order.

The long and short of this short story is that I went into it hoping to be blown away, but found myself literally face-palming. It’s on sale on Amazon for 99 cents, and available on Kindle, which led to further face-palming. I started thinking that perhaps there’s a whole sect of skilled, probably discouraged, creative writers who aren’t sending their work out. Or that maybe as Litopia pointed out recently—and that statistics consistently prove—quality and popularity simply have nothing to do with one another.

On the other hand: beauty, beholder, eye, or something like that. It’ll cost you vastly less than a cup of decent coffee to see what I’m complaining about and whether or not you agree.

Having been adequately motivated, I’ve dubbed my bestie as my Lit Agent, and she’s Googling what that entails. In the meantime, I hope to read more emerging artists, and I pray to the Muses that the next thing that crosses my desk is so good it makes me wild with artistic envy.

Bring it.