cookie factory

Cookies!

The other night we temporarily transformed our apartment into a cookie factory and baked a ton of cookies for the holidays—chocolate chip, cinnamon chip and chocolate mint chip—while watching Chevy Chase succumb to holiday psychosis in Christmas Vacation.

Usually the first batch of cookies gets a bit burnt on the bottom because we haven't figured out precisely how long to leave them in for yet (our cookie factory typically only opens once a year!) but this time each and every cookie came out perfectly. In the end things also worked out for Chevy Chase as his boss learned the error of his ways and decided to give Clark (Chevy) the bonus necessary to put in his planned swimming pool.

However, sometimes the holidays really are a full-fledged disaster. The pressure to be joyful can make us just the opposite if our lives are the slightest bit less than perfect. Financial problems, work stresses, falling out with friends, undergoing a break-up, fighting with family, illness, suffering the loss of a loved one or having to spend the holiday alone—any of these things (and many more) can infuse us with sadness, anger and feelings of deep frustation or dissatisfaction.

And so, although I hope your holidays are happy I also hope that if that's not in the cards for you this year that you can find a way to ditch the happy holiday pressure. Sometimes doing things for people that have it worse can help and sometimes we might feel better skipping the holiday entirely or breaking with previous traditions and spending it with different people and/or doing different things than usual. I think it's important to remember that now isn't always and that if are having a tough time now that next week, next month or next year you could be on top of the world.

With that in mind I want to wish everybody out there all the best for 2011! One of the things I'm really looking forward to is, of course, reading some great new YA books early in the new year. Here are some with late December or January release dates that I'm especially looking forward to and either have on order or recently picked up:

Taking Off by Jenny Moss, Fall for Anything by  Courtney Summers, The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Throat by R.A. Nelson

Truthfully, I finished Fall for Anything last week and it is stunning. Like Courtney Summers' previously novels it's extremely intense but Fall for Anything is my favourite of her books so far. I just loved Eddie and my heart ached for her as she tried to make some sense of her father's suicide. The books I love the most are the ones that make me feel something deeply and this is one of those books—a painful, truthful exercise in empathy.

***
One last thing, there are still a couple of days left to enter the contest to win signed copies of my three books at Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm. Contest closes December 27th!
I finished my very first YA book back in 2000 but long before I reached the last chapter, I realized the story wouldn't be over on the final page. No, I needed to write a sequel and then a sequel to the sequel before I'd truly be done with those characters. Yep, it turned out I was writing a trilogy and in the middle of my second book I began doing some comparative reading and discovered two YA relationship trilogies that felt like first cousins to my novels. The first of these was the Jackie & Kev Trilogy—an Irish series by Marilyn Taylor (Could This Be Love? I Wondered; Could I Love A Stranger? and Call yourself a Friend?). The second series was by best-selling British author Kate Cann and is referred to as the Diving In series or the Coll and Art trilogy. Only it's not a trilogy any longer because at last Kate Cann has released a fourth novel in the series.

Diving In, In the Deep End, Sink or Swim by Kate Cann

While the first three books are from Coll's point of view, exploring her feelings as she falls for Art, discovers sex and navigates their often rocky relationship, this fourth book is, at last, Art's thoughts on their love affair. Being a big fan of the Coll and Art books I'm extremely excited about this new novel, Art's Story, because, as Kate Cann mentions on her website, this fourth book, “tells you if they stay together or not.”

Here's the blurb on Art's Story from Kate Cann's site: “While Coll's passion for Art is growing – what's he feeling? What does he think of her, how does he see her? And why is he so cut off and cruel sometimes? And when Coll comes back form Canada, can Art change enough to keep them together?”

I highly recommend the Coll and Art books for readers who are fans of realistic teen fiction. These novels remain amongst the best, most truthful YA books about a teen relationship I've ever read and they have the added bonus, for Anglophiles like me, of being British.

But if you happen to be in North America, you're not of out luck, because the Coll and Art trilogy was released on this side of the pond under the titles Ready? Sex and Go! several years ago. It's interesting to note what a different impression a title and cover give a novel considering that the same words appear inside. In this case, I think the British titles and above cover designs do a much better job of capturing the feel of Coll and Art's tale. You might get the impression from the American packaging that this is a sensationalized story but in fact its charm is that it's completely down to earth and open-hearted.

Readty? Sex. Go! by Kate Cann

I fell in love with Coll and Art's story years ago and now that Kate Cann's released Art's Story (which she says her old publisher wouldn't offer her a contract for because they felt “Art was too dark and negative”) I'm going to go back and gleefully reread them all as I wait for my copy of Art's Story to arrive in the mail. If you're interested in checking out Art's Story too, you can order it on Kate Cann's website.

Leader of the Pack and Art's Story by Katen Cann

As a side note, I'm happy to hear that Kate Cann also intends to re-release Breaking Up, which I was lucky enough to pick up in paperback several years ago. And, finally, if you enjoy books with realistic male central characters, you'll love Cann's book Leader of the Pack about seventeen year old Jack who struggles to balance his lives and breathes rugby mentality with the realities of a relationship.
There's only a sprinkling of snow in the city so far but it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas regardless. Here's what Toronto looked like like yesterday (December 8th):

City Hall sign: Dec 8

The view from Front Street:

Flatiron building, CN tower and skyscrapers from Front Street

Four foot high gingerbread recreation (created with 54lbs of flour and 54lbs of sugar) of the Royal York hotel's original 1929 construction. You can find it in the lobby of the Royal York:

Gingerbread version of the Royal York

Chilly, lonely park along the Esplanade:

Esplanade park

Overhead Christmas decorations in the Distillery District:

Distillery District

Christmas Market at the Distillery District. It runs until December 12th. Note the snowy sign pointing the way to the gingerbread house:

Distillery District

Distillery District

Distillery District Christmas market stalls:

Distillery District

Voila, the {edible} gingerbread house:

Distillery District gingerbread house

It was too cold to attempt the market ferris wheel:

Distillery District ferris wheel

But watching this choir singing Avril Lavigne's Keep Holding On was fun:

Distillery District choir skings Avril

And then we moved on to watch the skaters at Nathan Phlilips Square. I couldn't see where the skate rental place had gone but apparently it's currently in a construction trailer on site:

Nathan Phlilips Square

Nathan Phlilips Square

Menorah in front of Old City Hall:

Menorah,  Old City Hall:

The nativity scene at Old City Hall has been vandalized again this year—the glass had been smashed and the baby Jesus stolen:

Vandalized nativity scene, Old City Hall

As usual, the Hudson's Bay Christmas windows are absolutely gorgeous:

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

Hudson's Bay Christmas windows

The Swarovski Christmas tree at the Eaton Centre was pretty much the only visible Christmas decoration in the place:

Swarovski Christmas tree, Eaton Centr

Berczy Park, Front Street:

Berczy Park, Front Street

Restaurant poinsettias:

white poinsettias in the restaurant

Brookfield Place holiday lights:

Brookfield place: let there be light
As a John Lennon fan, having a December 8th birthday can be rough. Inevitably, sometime during the day I end up tuning into one of the radio stations (this would be Q107 if you're in Toronto) playing 24 hours of Lennon tunes and feeling sad that John is no longer in the world with us.

John LennonHe's been gone thirty years now and sometimes the loss still comes as a shock, like when I was watching the documentary LENNONYC a couple of weeks ago. After spending hours witnessing the charismatic figure battle to stay in the city he loved, battle with his own personal demons, and spread his message of peace, it was difficult, all over again, to let him go again when the documentary reached the moment of his murder, the moment he was snatched away from us too soon.

In fact, I was too young to really mourn John Lennon when he was killed in New York on December 8th, 1980. I became a fan in my teenage years, devouring Beatles and Lennon biographies, buying the music in tape format and reading John's own writings, In His Own Write, A Spaniard in the Works and Skywriting by Word of Mouth. He was an enormous influence on me, both creatively and in terms of social justice. He seemed fearless, direct to the point that the naked messages in songs like Working Class Hero, Imagine and Woman is the Nigger of the World, enraged and terrified some people while striking a chord of painful recognition in others who were ready for change, sick of hypocrisy and political and social double-think.

We will always have to fight for change and though I wish John Lennon were here to help us do it in person I'm extremely grateful we have his music and message, which continue to be powerful inspiration for anyone who wants to attempt living an authentic life in a society which often values artifice, money and power over what should matter—love, peace, equality.

Thanks, John, for everything.



***

I thought I'd include a few of my teenage writings (penned when I was sixteen or seventeen) that demonstrated my admiration and/or the influence John Lennon had on me as a young person. The first poem is directly about John, the second also touches on other aspects of my life (including what a stark blue my walls apppeared to be after taking down the collection of wall to wall posters that used to decorate my room!) and the third short piece clearly shows John's stylistic influence. I wrote quite a few pieces sporting a similar style around the same time and hope to post more at a later date. If you check out a story called Tomorrow Never Knows which I wrote several years later you'll see that John Lennon also makes an appearance there.

John


We all live and die
in our own time
But for you the city sighs
becoming its own grave
And the people all forgave
you for being human

***

Isolation

I read the news today oh boy
and thought of John and Scotland and the Twins
but they were only in my head
I wished to be with them instead
of this blue room with four blue walls
and all of them bare

Once maybe someone told me that you have to be dead
but I wonder now if it’s all in my head
like John and Scotland and the Twins
and I wonder if they lie surrounded by blue
though I know it’s true of Scotland
and possibly the Twins

I read the news today oh John
and couldn’t understand what all the words were about
or where you’d gone with the Twins
I wondered if it was Scotland and
is it true that you have to be dead
or is it all only in my head?

***
The Adventures of Hippy Head in the Unreal World

“Hippy Hair! Hippy hair!” the girls cried, making faces. Hippy head was too bloated to mind the name calling. He was really grooving now, there were chicks and everything. Hippy head’s mind was filled with weird visions. He could barely see the girls from his place on the ceiling.

“Come up here and see me,” Hippy head roared pleasantly.

“Oh, Hippy head, your hair’s too long for us.”

“That may be,” said Hippy and tied it in a bow.

***

Songs for John

Here Today, Paul McCartney:



All Those Years Ago, George Harrison:



Empty Garden, Elton John:



The Late Great Johnny Ace, Paul Simon:


I know I'm supposed to be on a blog break to concentrate on writing my new book but I've had to take a break from my break to giggle at the fact that Johnny Marr (ex Smiths guitarist) has told British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop saying he likes the band.

On December first Marr tweeted, "David Cameron, stop staying you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it."

Anyone who follows British politics will understand Marr's thought process here. It's pretty difficult to fathom what Cameron, whose government is slashing more than £81 billion from the budget (cuts which will hit the poor and vulnerable the hardest) could possibly admire about a band that was so critical of Margaret Thatcher's government.

David Cameron: let them eat cake!

Apparently Cameron "has made a big deal about his music preferences, talking up his fondness for The xx, Radiohead and Pulp, perhaps in an effort to look a little more alternative."

Perhaps we can look forward to other bands coming forward to tell David Cameron to get stuffed!

While I'm here I should mention that my blog tour concluded yesterday but if you want to win signed copies of all my books head over to Ramblings of a Bookworm. There you'll also find an interview with Jersy from One Lonely Degree. If you ever wanted to know more about him, that's the place to go to find out!
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