Monday, July 27, 2015


Fishbowl gives a creative perspective of how people’s lives interconnect in an apartment building. It all begins when a curious goldfish takes a leap out of a 27th story window. As he descends he learns about the various residents in the building. Some of these characters include a shut-in, a construction worker with a secret, a young time-travelling boy, a woman who has just went in to labour, and a couple in a new relationship full of secrets and hope.

I live in an apartment building and I found it interesting to think about how everyone effects each other on a day-to-day basis. For instance, maybe holding the door for a neighbor will turn their bad day into a good one. This book opens your eyes to those you interact with every day but don’t necessarily consider an acquaintance. I also always enjoy when a book has several different story lines because it allows for that much more detail into the environment and characters.

This book is a great example of a character piece. Bradley Somer does a great job creating unique characters and interweaving them so seamlessly. I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy an interesting book filled with turns you may not expect, as well as character pieces in which a lot of work goes into making unique and fascinating characters. I hope everyone who reads this enjoys it as much as I did. 

Wesley Wilson is a graduate student at the University of Guelph, working on her Master’s in Food Microbiology as well as working in a microbiology lab. She is a self-proclaimed Slytherin who loves hanging out with her cats, Minerva and Aladdin, as well as curling up with a good book. She can often be found binge watching Gilmore Girls, or any of Wes Anderson’s films.


There have been a lot of books written about food lately. People want to know where their food comes from, how it is made or grown, and what might be wrong with it. People are trying to navigate through a mess of food narratives with buzz-words like organic, free-range, grass-fed, GMO-free, anti-biotic free, natural. But with so many competing interests, it is difficult to sort out who or what to believe.

Mark Schatzker adds another valuable voice, a new perspective, to this growing narrative around food. In The Dorito Effect he goes further than with his previous book, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef. Not unexpectedly, he did find the tastiest piece of beef, on a farm where the cows grazed on pasture etc., but The Dorito Effect asks why. Where does flavour come from? Why does it exist? Where did it go? (And if you are scratching your head at that last one you are probably not old enough to know how much flavour has changed. When I asked my grandmother, she knew exactly what I was talking about.) And most importantly, how do we get it back.

This book, like others in this genre, serves the dual purpose of educating while entertaining with anecdotes from different people with a story to tell. Schatzker has threaded some of these narratives throughout the book, which adds a kind of continuity that other non-fiction books may lack — a cast of characters that you get to know and care about.

The story that I particularly enjoyed was about Fred Provenza, a scientist who used the behaviour of sheep and goats to ask questions about nutrition — mainly how do they know what to eat. Through descriptions of some pretty elegant experiments, Schatzker weaves a tale where things like nutrition and flavour are intimately linked. Animals know even better than nutritionists what their bodies need to survive. But what does this have to do with us?

Our bodies are also our own “nutritionists.” When we let them. But we have learned to ignore what our bodies are telling us (by indiscriminately consuming supplements, for example) and, even worse, our bodies are being fooled by food that tastes good but is no longer nutritious. By food that has severed the link between nutrition and flavour. This is the "Dorito Effect" — bland food disguised with flavourful nutrition mimics.

One of my biggest compliments about this book is that it is a fair account. It is really easy to stand on a soap-box and declare that one thing or another is the most important — Organic! Sustainability! Welfare! Economics! Anyone can make a one-sided argument and make it sound plausible, and even convince a couple people that it is the most important thing. But this is only doing people a disservice by oversimplifying an incredibly complex problem. Schatzker fully admits the different roadblocks that he, and others, have encountered when pursuing flavour.

(Aside: I am an animal welfare scientist. But I would be hard pressed to get any farmer or industry group to listen to what I had to say if I disregarded what they are most concerned about: economics. Instead, I have to demonstrate how the animal welfare and economic agendas are one and the same. How? By showing that animals with better welfare make a better product and ultimately save money.)

Schatzker takes this balance in stride when commenting on the history of how we got to such a flavourless state. First, the connection between flavour and nutrition has been newly embraced, and even then not by everyone. Second, food is where it is because plant and animal breeders have previously used measures like yield, disease resistance, and feed efficiency to genetically select the fastest and most efficient product. As a consequence of not selecting for flavour, and nutrition, we now have chickens that reach market weight in record time (6 weeks!) but taste like “one of those pillows they hand out on airplanes” and are not as good for you as they were at the turn of the 20th century.

The picture looks bleak, but Schatzker offers some hope in the way of a compromise. Mainly that yield (or price) doesn’t need to be sacrificed for taste if you combine the right varieties. Nutritious, delicious and affordable: the triple threat. I have already said too much about this incredibly thought-provoking account of modern food. It is by no means the only account, but it is an important voice nonetheless. And unless we want a future of bland, nutritionless, Orwellian food-products that must be consumed just to sustain life, people need to start speaking up for real flavour.

Michelle Hunniford is a PhD student studying animal behaviour and welfare. Poultry specialist. Grammar enthusiast. Orwellian and Darwinian. 


For over a year, I was a part-time Torontonian. I dated a foreigner and spent weekends at classical concerts, the beach, and eating vegan burritos in downtown T-dot. Danila Botha’s Too Much on the Inside definitely swerved a few corners from where I was spending my time. An earthy portrait of love, loss, and confronting the past set in Toronto’s Queen St W, Botha’s first novel is incredibly moving, gritty, and authentic. Too Much on the Inside is an honest and moving love letter to Toronto’s hodgepodge cultural fabric exploring bar life, cross-continental connections, and heartbreak. It has the paradoxical distinction of being radically different from my own experiences yet totally relatable: much like meeting a stranger from abroad in the hub of Toronto who has much more in common with you than at first glance.

Too Much on the Inside is an exploration of four fascinatingly dissimilar characters whose lives intersect and influence each other irrevocably. The novel reminds me of the fugal interlacing of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia and the down-to-earth sincerity of J.K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy. Dez is a Brazilian Don Juan interested in Canada’s heterogeneous culinary and sexual cuisine. He runs a bar where Nicki and Marlize wait tables. Nicki grew up in Israel, where she spent time in the military. She’s dating Lukas, a transplanted hospital janitor with a crime-laced past who grew up near a military base in Nova Scotia. Marlize is an ex-ballerina from South Africa studying at Ryerson who is escaping a violent past. They are dealing with their ambivalent relationships to Toronto as well to each other and themselves.

Too Much on the Inside is an incredible feat of literary structural engineering: we collide with these four people knowing very little about them. Slowly, like groggy survivors of a car crash, they divulge haunting memories and experiences from their time in Canada and beyond. We discover their darkest fears and secrets. Each person’s personalities and motivations become clearer and we feel disgust, admiration, empathy, and pride towards them. Eschewing the traditional blocky chapter form, Botha moves deftly between the characters in effortless stream-of-consciousness, first-person writing. It has the disconcerting effect of being a collective voice of the bustling, multi-hued metropolis that is Toronto as well as a TV show that flips channels between parallel lives. It is a lot like being pushed onto a busy street in downtown Toronto: at first discombobulating, hearing chatter in countless accents and languages, and then enticing as the voices begin to emerge as captivatingly diverse faces and people. Botha’s writing is masterful – deceptively simple, with an astonishing attention to detail that creates a multi-coloured fabric of distinct locales and personalities.

Personally, I put off reading the final pages of Too Much for a of couple weeks and even so, at its close, I felt that Too Much on the Inside definitely did not have enough pages on its inside. It’s not every day that an author has the ability to create such indelibly memorable and strikingly flesh-and-blood characters. Botha’s characterization is so powerful that I wish that I could call up Leo, Nili, Marli, and Lukas to ask them how things have been going post-book. These are conflicted, complex, and flawed people who are difficult to leave behind at the end of the novel. Their heartbreak, loss, and ultimate emotional awakening are true to life and undeniably human. Their mistakes are inevitable but still difficult to accept when they occur and their moments of bliss and realization are bittersweet but stirring.

Despite the beautiful memories I created in Toronto, it was also a similar maze of conflicted feelings, emotional roller coasters, and eye-opening discovery that culminated in understanding through the anguish. Botha’s Too Much on the Inside is a reminder that most of us are simply trying to come to terms with love, loss, and identity crisis no matter where we come from, what our past was, or who we are striving to be in the present. Fortunately, like the four resilient protagonists in Too Much on the Inside, we’ve got each other in this journey, no matter how disparate or exotic we might seem to be on the outside.

Mike Fan is a Chinese-Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three languages (with a few in progress). He holds degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, but it was apparent from an early age that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Some Turbid Night. Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


I'm sure I won't be the first to look at the title of Sam Munson's urban fantasy tale and cringe a bit. However, for me a bit of that cringe is hoping that people won't be immediately turned off, mistaking the bold, yellow-coloured obscenity on the cover as an indicator that this is a book hoping to trade on sassy shock value in place of literary substance. In fact, the opposite is true, and there is a lot to like in Munson's naughtily named novel.

The book follows the tale of Mike Wood, a teenage high school quarterback used to solving problems with muscle. In perhaps the most socially conscious use of blackmail I've seen, Mike is tricked by the nerdy loner of the school, Hob Callahan, into READING (*insert gasp*). The title of choice is a mysterious book called The Calendar of Sleights, a seemingly innocuous guide to a library of cards tricks. In actuality, it is a cleverly disguised litmus test for whether an individual has the talent for actual sorcery.

After passing this initial entry test, Mike enters a world of underground speakeasies, secret schools of spellcraft, and a silent rebellion against the titular "assholes"; a conflicting magical tradition, steeped in ritual and nigh-religious dogma. The Theurgists (the “official” moniker for the Assholes) possess a fierce prejudice against the style of craft that Mike and his compatriots practice: one that has led them to commit a multitude of genocidal atrocities in the name of stomping out all resistance to their deadly doctrine.

Munson's book is a very specific incarnation of urban fantasy. It takes much of its tone from the sleight of hand culture that emerged at the turn of the 20th century, when travelling magicians gained popularity. The type of magic written about here is very informal and personalized. Aside from the Sleights in the Calendar, there are no how-to's, principles, or rules. It's incredibly improvisational, with the nature of the trick largely dictated by the particular proclivities and talents of the practitioner. Hob is a Mozart of misdirection and illusion, his older brother Vincent has a special gift for anything involving plants, and Mike, true to his background, has talent in the form of enforcing his own violent physicality on his foes.

In terms of archetype, the book could best be described as dark coming of age tale. Mike finds companionship and belonging within his new circle of friends otherwise absent in his thuggish football teammates. But the world he is delighted to find he belongs in rapidly reveals itself to be a deadly one, both from the threat of the "Assholes", and the physical toll that every spell exacts upon the user.

The War Against the Assholes
is a refreshingly odd, street-level take on urban fantasy, well-rooted in a story about growing up, discovering your identity, and the gradual erosion of naivete that comes with it. Munson pulls off his own sleight in his gradual unveiling of the story, and though the ending is more a silent vanishing act than a flashy finale, it somehow fits. Sometimes the good guys win, sometimes the bad guys do; but somewhere in between, flickers of literary magic happen, and that's enough for me to recommend this book.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek at The Rogue's Gallery and One of Us. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


It's a good time to be a fantasy fan. In recent years, the genre has undergone a transformative renaissance. What used to be niche environment mainly populated by lost heirs disguised as farmboys has transformed its storytelling scope into an expansive drama detailing world-shaking events.

The audience for fantasy has grown larger as well; through mediums such as film and music, which make the stories more accessible to fans, it is possible to make the stories bigger, to add a level of detail never before seen. Books have begun, in turn, to echo that trend. Now we have massive multi-book series spanning many years, containing thousands of characters. J.R.R. Tolkien, Laura Resnick, Kristen Britain, and George R.R. Martin are some of the best known, and now the name of Ken Liu can be added to their ranks.

The story of The Grace Of Kings is actually fairly simple: an island nation formerly comprised of separate territories united under one emperor descends into civil war after that emperor's death. As warfare engulfs the island, two heroes emerge that will dominate the events unfolding. Kuni Garu, once a small-time rogue elevated to general status, and Mata Zyndu, a seven-foot, double-pupiled man compared to the gods of old. The book deals mainly with these two and how their relationship transforms over the years of war.

There's a lot to like about all the characters; I enjoy how selfish they all are. A lot of fantasy books involving warfare usually like to focus on the side of the righteous -- the heroic rebels overcoming the villainous king, and living happily ever after. In this book, though the characters may state that their causes are noble, at heart they continue to lust after other things. Upon becoming a captain, a man aspires to be a general; upon being forced to marry, a woman aspires to lead her people into a bold new age. Even at the end of the book, when cooperation between characters is necessary to resolving the conflict, they choose not to be content, but rather to keep a wary eye on each other. It makes them feel more human.

But if the characters are fantastic, the world in which they inhabit is even better. A lot of Eastern-influenced fantasy has been appearing as of late (see my previous reviews of Guy Gavriel Kay's River Of Stars and Jay Kristoff's Endsinger) and it's really cool to see some new points of view in a primarily Western-dominated view. The culture and mythology of the people in Kings is meticulously constructed and easy to get into, which helps make the characters' actions more believable. Speaking of mythology, one of my very favourite things about this book is the gods; they're real, and though they interact with people from time to time, they're not omnipotent. There are little snippets throughout the book as the gods snipe at one another over the course of the war, and you get the sense of them as beings merely playing a game with mortals, rather than controlling them. The notion of the manipulative instead of the forceful god is an interesting and creative way to use the concept.

If I had to make one complaint with the book, sometimes it slows down a lot and takes too long of a break between characters. Sometimes events that were heralded as extremely important in later chapters were barely touched on whilst they were actually happening, and sometimes it's easy to forget what a character is doing at a given moment. However, these gaps are few and far between, and it's easy to catch up on them. As far as epic fantasy series goes, this one has the potential to be a classic. I eagerly await the next two volumes.

Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to or

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Matt Graham isn't the first author to discuss the value of nature to the human spirit, but he is arguably the most committed. As a modern-day hunter-gatherer, Graham only occasionally steps into the bounds of what we would call civilization. The rest of the time, he's walking across the country, free climbing to incredible heights, and otherwise living off the land, crafting his own tools and shelter, hunting his own food; living skin-to-skin with the wilderness. Epic Survival is his attempt to impart some of the lessons (both practical and philosophical) that he has picked up along the way.
With fewer and fewer people identifying with traditional religions or theologies today, many  struggle with finding greater spiritual meaning in their lives. The relationship that Matt has fostered with the ecosystem is one way of invoking the kind of resonant emotional connection to something larger than oneself without appealing to the “old man on a cloud” school of spirituality. Don't be fooled, though: if nature is a God, it's closer to the Old Testament kind.

With all the childlike wonder that Graham discusses the soul-fulfilling experiences he's had in the wilderness, he makes no qualms about the dangers. He bluntly states that “If you don't pay attention and respect [the land], it WILL kill you.” This pragmatic reality is one of the things that keeps the book grounded rather than floating off into flowers-in-rifles hippie territory. Numerous times, Graham and co-writer Young go into great detail on how to construct sandals, hunting tools, and traps, complete with hand-drawn diagrams. This is definitely indicative of Matt's background as a wilderness survival teacher, and it shows. The combination of his wisdom and experience, and Josh Young's skills as a multiple time bestselling author means that the complexity of the information need not be compromised for the sake of clarity.

There are a few points where Graham floats dangerously close to the naturalistic fallacy, stating his belief that “any time that we rely on technology or gadgetry instead of nature, we harm ourselves in some way.” I doubt that those with diabetes who are reliant on insulin would feel the same way, nor would those dying of Ebola feel as enthusiastic about nature's inherent benevolence. However, these moments are few and far between. Furthermore, this book is a tale of a journey, both literally and figuratively. The stories in Epic Survival's chapters range from Graham's early twenties into his late thirties, often times looking back with the cringe-inducing clarity of hindsight at the hasty or preachy decisions made in the enthusiasm of youth. In that same vein, I feel willing to forgive his perhaps 
overreaching perspective on nature, only because there are areas of our lives where we may all may “drink the kool-aid” from time-to-time, only realizing as much after the fact.

In sum, I think that for the broad range of experiences, useful information, and potentially mind-opening philosophies within, Epic Survival: Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom, and Lessons in Living From a Modern-Day Hunter Gatherer is worth the read. Just make sure to sit and count to ten before you trade in your converse for a set of yucca fiber sandals.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek at The Rogue's Gallery and One of Us. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.


You would think being caught red-handed outsourcing your course work to India would be the worst day of your life, but for Walter Roger’s it’s only the first step on his way to anonymity and humiliation. 

After saying goodbye to his dreams of being a wealthy lawyer, with the attendant luxury car and corner office, he serves time as an articling clerk with a Russian family law firm to gain insight and experience in the law. Unfortunately, all he gains insight and experience in is making sandwiches and typing! After a period of lying on his bed, he takes a job working for an eccentric former classmate, Octavian Castro. Although Walter’s mother considers him a successful lawyer that is far from the truth; Walter and Octavian have managed to create the least successful law firm of all time, until one day, another delusional, bulimic, former class-mate Ferdinand “Mags” Magellan unearths a peculiar loophole in the immigration law that will either make them all millionaires or destroy them completely. 

From Toronto to Cuba, Showey Yazdanian follows this band of misfits and schemers as they try to get rich quick with a very dubious scheme. The action is fast-paced and witty, I laughed out loud several times, and although the reader has a sense of things ending badly, the characters are likable under-dogs, people caught in the wrong professions of their choice. The book is well written and very readable, a great summer read!

- Catherine McGratton