IN STORES SEPTEMBER 16




Now available for pre-order at Mabel's Fables | Chapters.Indigo | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes and Noble 
Recently I had the chance to read Carol Riggs's cool new YA sci-fi book, The Body Institute, due out September 1st. I'm a big fan of sci-fi whether we're talking about the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis, John Wyndham novels, episodes of Doctor Who or Falling Skies, or flicks like Looper or Her, so I had a ton of fun diving into the near future society Carol has envisioned in The Body Institute. Here instead of encountering body snatchers we have reducers, people others willingly allow to temporarily take over their bodies and lose weight for them. Move over, diet pills and Weight Watchers International! But, as you can imagine, all may not be well with this method of losing weight...

Here's the jacket copy from the book's publisher, Entangled: 

Meet Morgan Dey, one of the top teen Reducers at The Body Institute.

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Morgan can temporarily take over another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body—leaving her client slimmer, more toned, and feeling great. Only there are a few catches… 

For one, Morgan won’t remember what happens in her “Loaner” body. Once she’s done, she won’t recall walks with her new friend Matt, conversations with the super-cute Reducer she’s been text-flirting with, or the uneasy feeling she has that the director of The Body Institute is hiding something. Still, it’s all worth it in the name of science. Until the glitches start… 

Suddenly, residual memories from her Loaner are cropping up in Morgan’s mind. She’s feeling less like herself and more like someone else. And when protests from an anti–Body Institute organization threaten her safety, she’ll have to decide if being a Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul…

Are we our minds...or our bodies?   
The Body Institute cover

And here's the blurb I've written for the book:

"The Body Institute is a roller coaster of a book! This fast-paced sci-fi thriller grapples with issues of identity and scientific technology run amok in a society only two steps ahead of our own, while scrutinizing an all-encompassing obsession with being thin which is very much part of the here and now. Readers will love the twists and turns and be prompted to question their own relationship to technology, body image and the ever-growing power of mega-corporations."

You can learn more about author Carol Riggs at her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Yesterday I was at Niagara-on-the-Lake for the first time in about a year. If the dictionary sported photos along with definitions under ‘picturesque’ you’d find an image of this quaint theatre town of 15,000 people which is home to the Shaw Festival. Because my plantar fasciitis isn’t much better after over a year of sheer plantar HELL (yep, I have a doozy of a case that physio, expensive custom made orthotics and shockwave therapy haven’t helped, and some nice heel spurs – ouch – now show up on X-rays) I can only walk at a purposeful pace for about fifteen minutes before intense heel pain stops me in my tracks or up to an hour if I can amble at a shopping mall/supermarket pace. As a result I spent *a lot* of time on the benches that line Queen Street yesterday. A lot, a lot! Thankfully there are many benches, with some interesting and heartfelt remembrance plaques to go with them.




While in town one of the highlights is always the Christmas shop, which features gorgeous and kitschy (like this NHL themed tree) decorations alike.


I made sure to say hello to my old polar bear friend (photo of my previous visit with him here). He's such a fine dresser that he makes me feel schleppy.


And, of course, one of life's biggest pleasures is exploring great independent bookstores! So if you're in the area don't miss the charming Old Niagara Bookshop on Regent Street. You'll want to pick up something from their wonderfully unique collection.


One of the books we snapped up was this adorably tiny version of  Sherlock Holmes: The Essential Mysteries in One Sitting.


In Niagara-on-the-Lake even your dog gets the Downton Abbey treatment! Look at this water bowl, on an ornate platter and complete with a flower for decoration, left out in front of a local shop for your pooch to drink from.


Paddy is a huge fan of  the flavoured coffees at Victoria's Teas & Coffees which makes stopping in there a must also. For non-coffee or tea people, like me, they have a great gelato collection too. 


Lastly, rarely do we visit Niagara-on-the-Lake without dining at The Olde Angel Inn, Established in 1789, it's the oldest operating inn in Ontario. That considered, its reputation for being haunted is hardly surprising. They also serve exceptionally tasty pub food. Below you can see the Ploughman’s Lunch Paddy ordered: a selection of cheeses, fresh vegetables, fruit, pickled onions, hardboiled egg, Piccalilli, Branston Pickle and served with fresh bread and crackers.


I've been seated by this picture of King John signing the Magna Carta several times and always have a hard time taking my eyes off it. 


One of the wait staff noticed me snapping pictures of it and kindly moved a coat rack out of the way so I could capture an unobscured view. Then she shared the first of several ghostly stories about the inn. She's been working there for over ten years and on this past June 12th, the eight hundred year anniversary of King John's signing of the Magna Carta, the above painting, which has been hanging on this wall for over fifty-five years without incident, suddenly flew off the wall and hit her forcefully in the back.

A close-up of King John looking peeved

When I reacted to her account with equal parts delight and anxiety, she showed me a recent letter from a female inn guest who had written to her describing her own ghostly encounter while staying in the General's Quarters, in the bedroom closest to the sitting room. There she was awoken in the middle of the night by the smell of cold ashes and a dark, shapeless presence who began pulling at the bed covers and pillow. Her sister, in a separate room, also had strange experiences and the second night, freaked out by the strange energy of the place, the two ended up cowering in a room together until dawn arrived. The guest concludes her correspondence by vouching for the presence of active spirits in the inn but stating she had a thoroughly enjoyable stay nevertheless. 

So slow were Paddy and I to finish our lunch that I was able to coax a third story out of the same employee, this one involving the table next to us. Some time ago a woman and her young son were having a meal there. The pub's bathroom is located downstairs and at one point the woman took her son down. Once they were back seated in the restaurant he asked her matter-of-factly who the man with no feet at the top of the stairs had been (although there'd be no one there!). But apparently the woman didn't think much of it at the time, or until some point later when she was at home looking through photo album pictures with her son. He pointed out at photo of his great grandfather (a man he had supposedly never met) and said that was the man he'd seen at the top of the stairs that day. Eventually the customer shared this story with the employee I was speaking with, who didn't have any further details about who the great grandfather was and whether he'd ever lived in the Niagara area. Personally, I wonder if the boy may have thought he was the same man because of old fashioned clothes and style the apparition could have been sporting, but either way it makes a very cool story and I really appreciate her taking the time to share these incidences with me.

If you want to read more about paranormal activity at the inn you can start at this Niagara website, and the inn's own site. There are also a couple of accounts on a Toronto Ghosts page and whether you're into ghost-hunting or just want to grab some good food, The Olde Angel Inn is a great place to spend some time while in Niagara-on-the-Lake. But lest you think it's all about the nosh and the goosebumps, the Olde Angel Inn also has a romantic heart. The wooden walls of the women's bathroom stalls are entirely covered in declarations of love. Most of them etched roughly into the wood and others inked on with marker.



And don't forget to read some of  the dedications on the town benches--they tell mini stories of their own!
“...almost before Anne realized it, spring had come again to Green Gables and all the world was abloom once more.”
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
There was a time when I didn't notice whether the trees were in bloom or not. Years and years when I didn't notice, in fact. Even if someone pointed out a tree bursting with lovely pink or white blossoms I would turn towards it, seeming to stare at its gorgeous spring colours but not actually register its full beauty. How is this possible? I have no excuse for my oblivousness; I don't understand it from here myself.
 
For at least a decade now seeing magnolia, cherry and apple blossom trees in bloom has been a big part of what makes May my favourite month. The period when the trees are at the height of their beauty is short and precious. It's also the time of year when Southern Ontario weather can be at its finest, a period when we can feel grateful for spring's warmth and sunshine without feeling stifled by the humidity which often accompanies full-fledged summer.
 
So in this, my very favourite month, I wandered down the road to capture a bit of spring. My most favourite tree in all the world is among these pictures: a stunning magnolia that lives not far away. Visiting a tree seems like a very Anne of Green Gables thing to do but I honestly do try to stop by and admire this tree every year when it's a bloom. It's a beauty any day of the year but never finer than in May.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Happy spring!

This is me at seventeen in the summer of 1986. If the photo extended as far as my feet you'd see that not only am I in a Late Night with David Letterman sweatshirt, I'm also wearing the same brand of blue-striped white Adidas running shoes that Dave regularly sported on the show back then. Yeah, that's how much I admired David Letterman, I even had the same pair of running shoes.


I first saw Late Night while sleeping over at a friend's house during ninth grade in '83; her older sister was a fan and that night the three of us tuned in to the 12:30 show. But it wasn't until the following year, when I was fifteen, that a laxer bedtime allowed me to become a more regular viewer. At the time the cultural landscape was markedly different than today and for me—a suburban Canadian teenager—watching Late Night felt like discovering a cool underground club dedicated to pointing out the hilarious meeting point of the mundane and the absurd (Dave’s disdain for NBC owners General Electric, Chris Elliott as the Guy Under the Seats, Larry Bud Melman wandering around in a bear suit trying to get change for a ten, Dave dropping stuff from a 5 story building). In short, Late Night with David Letterman developed my love for comedy.


If I’d had a craptastic day Dave’s 12.30 show was a sensational place to hang out (when there weren't many cool, funny places for someone my age to be) for an hour. And If I’d had a good day, Late Night was the icing on the cake. No matter what was going on in the outside world or my daily life I would always, always feel immeasurably better after watching the show. Elated even. Discovering Late Night felt like finding another member(s) of my tribe, even if Dave and his team of writers were all the way down in New York and I didn't know them personally. The following day my best friend and I often discussed show highlights. Along with fantastic 80s music like Talk Talk, The Thompson Twins and The Smiths, David Letterman and Late Night was our awesome alternate universe. I didn’t care about reading Shakespeare, my upcoming math or science quiz, or clothes shopping at the local mall. I cared about getting good tickets for the upcoming Tears for Fears concert or watching David Letterman flirt with Teri Garr.

Then and now, I am a huge David Letterman fan. I will always be an enormous David Letterman fan and I really don’t want to think about how in five weeks' time Dave won’t be a presence on the late night airwaves anymore, how from May 20th onward there will always be something missing.

David Letterman, The Late Show

When my brother, a fellow diehard Letterman fan of thirty-plus years, sent me a link to a clip of Elvis Costello on the show several months ago and noted how at the very end Elvis says, "it's the last year of our youth, Dave," whoah boy, I felt that something fierce. This is the last year of my youth too. The end of an era.

Some months after my brother forwarded the clip he called and asked whether I I wanted to go see The Late Show with him if he could get tickets. He wasn't positive it could happen but he had a contact that greatly improved the odds.

As it turned out the odds were excellent. His request for Late Show tickets was granted about ten days ago. My brother arranged the entire trip to New York City and made a lifelong dream of mine (and his!) come true. On March 31st we were members of the Late Show studio audience, a wonderfully giddy, surreal experience.

As a writer I have many alternate universes but I can't think of one that means more to me than the one David Letterman introduced me to over thirty years ago, the one he created and cultivated for millions of viewers in stolen hours of the night.

Whatever large or small things happen in the news after May 20th, from the political to the inane to human rights issues, I know I'll find myself wondering what Dave would've had to say about them. I hate the thought of saying goodbye, but I can't allow these final weeks of The Late Show to go by without saying thanks. Thank you, Dave, for the role you played in my life, and endless thanks to my brother for making our Late Show experience happen and for always knowing, just as well as I did, that Late Night and the Late Show were never just TV shows.



Al Franken very eloquently sums up what David Letterman accomplished
in his years as the host of Late Night and The Late Show beginning at the 7:15 mark


A Josh Gad clip from the Late Show recording we were at


New York morning, March 31st


Outside the Ed Sullivan theatre with my brother, March 31st


The prized Late Show tickets, March 31st


You are here! March 31st


Times Square, April 1st


Last view of New York off to the left, April 1st

Now this was a shame. On Friday February 13th Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper assaulted Quebec icon Bonhomme outside Hôtel de Glace near Quebec City. The visit started out promisingly enough.

Yo! How's my fav snowman?

But only minutes later the Prime Minister caught Bonhomme by surprise when he viciously kicked him in the stomach as he accused Bonhomme of being in league with Canadian scientists. It's well known that Canadian scientists have been repeatedly muzzled on the subjects of climate change and other environmental concerns during Harper's time in office.

In 2014 The Climate Change Performance Index (published annually by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe) labelled Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott the "earth's worst climate villains."

"Think I don't know you're on the scientists' side?

Moments after Friday's unsportman-like attack, Bonhomme, having recovered from his initial surprise, wrestled Harper to the ground and dunked his face in the snow several times. "That's from the polar bears," Bonhomme reportedly declared in French. He was quickly restrained by RCMP who pulled the Prime Minister to safety.
If you haven't already, please sign the Amnesty International petition and Change.org petition asking for blogger Raif Badawi’s unconditional release.

Raif Badawi was imprisoned for 10 years "in May 2014 after starting a website for social and political debate in Saudi Arabia. He was charged with creating the ‘Saudi Arabian Liberals’ website and insulting Islam." His sentence included 1,000 lashes to be administered at the rate of 50 per week.
 
Raif Badawi with his children
Raif Badawi with his children
 
On January 9th, Raif Badawi received the first set of 50 lashes in a public flogging. A medical committee deemed him too weak and unwell from his first set of lashes to receive a second set the following week. In short, Raif would have to recover enough to be lashed again and again for an unthinkable 20 weeks.
 
After an international outcry for Raif, King Abdullah has referred the case to the Saudi Arabian supreme court. On Sunday night 18 Nobel Laureates published an open letter urging Saudi academics to condemn the public flogging.
 
Today you can also take part in the Stand Up For Raif online protest to help show your support for Raif and keep up the pressure to have him released.
 
I Am Standing Up For Raif Badawi

You can read excerpts from Raif Badawi's writings at the Guardian.co.uk.
If you know much about my writing you're probably aware that most of my published work has been contemporary YA, very realistic stuff similar to things that might well have happened to you or someone you know. I've also written two sci-fi eco-thrillers, a novel about a twenty-year-old who goes into a state of collapse after the love-of-her-life boyfriend dies, and a book about a ghost girl tethered to a grieving teenage boy.

What you might not guess from all this is that I'm a sucker for a good alien story—a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files, Stargate Atlantis, Falling Skies, V (both the 1984 series and 09 remake), Invasion (such an amazing show—can't believe it was cancelled after only a single season!), Doctor Who (more on that here) and Torchwood. Likewise, when a cool alien flick rolls up at the Cineplex, I'm there. Below are some of my personal favourites from over the years.

* Monsters (2010)
Directed and written by Gareth Edwards
Anything but your typical alien invasion picture or boiler plate aliens. "Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border."

* The Abyss (1989)
Directed and written by James Cameron
When a diving team search for a lost nuclear submarine they encounter something more. A terrific cast (Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn) and highly original—-almost whimsical—-alien species make this underwater drama one of a kind.

The Abyss
The Abyss

* Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Directed and written by Steven Spielberg
A group of strangers are inexorably drawn toward an encounter with intelligent alien life in Spielberg's iconic follow-up film to Jaws.

* Starship Troopers (1997)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Edward Neumeier, based on a book by Robert A. Heinlein
Bug-squishing fun. In the near future humanity battles giant alien insects. One of the noteworthy aspects of the film is the comprehensive gender quality we observe in the military.

* Alien | Aliens (1979/1986)
Alien directed by Ridley Scott; written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett Aliens directed and written by James Cameron
The alien(s) of the title are horrific to look at, all endless sets of teeth and seething acid. If possible, they seem even more single-minded than Daleks. Exterminate!

* District 9 (2009)
Directd by Neill Blomkamp; written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
That rarity amongst modern action films, one that's as intelligent as it is gripping. Alien refugees are housed in South Africa's District 9, a makeshift ghetto. But when a human government operative begins to mutate into an alien creature, the fragile relationship between the refugees and their hosts explodes.

District 9
District 9

* Signs (2002)
Directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan
The crop circles that appear in the fields of a family farm are just the sinister beginning. In Roger Ebert's review of the film he writes, "M. Night Shyamalan's 'Signs' is the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air."

* Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Director by Philip Kaufman; screenplay by W.D. Richter, based on a book by Jack Finney
Humans are systematically replaced by aliens who stealthily duplicate them. If you've seen this particular adaptation no doubt Donald Sutherland's other worldly howl is etched in your memory forever like it is in mine.

* Prometheus (2012)
Directed by Ridley Scott; written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
I didn't group this with the other Alien movies above because Prometheus is a very different sort of film. For me the creation of the alien wasn't the most interesting element about this one—the glimpses at humanity's creators were.

* War of the Worlds (2005)
Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp, based on a book by H.G. Wells
Relentless, terrifying and realistic—humanity struggles to survive an alien onslaught.

War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds
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