A New Blog! The Bibliotaphe Closet Is Closing and Moving to Zara’s Closet

Welcome to Zara’s Closet!

A Place Worth Rummaging Through

blue stencil door

02.22.2016

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

A closet is a wonderfully, small, enclosed space one can rummage through—or hide in. Now, what you find there, ranges in varying styles and tastes depending on which closet you happen to fall (or sneak) into.

The closet bears for us, a place to house our clothes, our bags, our shoes, our knick-knacks, our dirty laundry, even our metaphorical “skeletons” and secrets: perhaps old photographs, the ones which exist as hardcopy prints in black and white as old testimonies to an oral past told to us by our grandmothers, and those photos yellowing with age from the vintage 70’s in which our parents listened to the Bee Gee’s on an eight-track and snapped instant pictures with a Polaroid camera.

Closets are more than a highly acclaimed storage space, but can be a place of refuge in a game of Hide and Seek, a place of solace when tears require solace, or a place where men and women decide who they will be for the day by the clothes and shoes they wear—at least to the rest of the voyeuristic world.

As a seasoned blogger, I spent some time building a book blog called, The Bibliotaphe Closet, with the intent of encouraging literacy through the review of new books, the announcement of literary events, and the support of a vibrant, enthusiastic, reading community.

But, while my lifestyle has taken a passionate change to include a number of other interests on top of literature— it was suggested to me by a friend to perhaps begin a new blog that could showcase these new interests under one umbrella, rather than attempt to host multiple blogs at one time.

Good friends are worth listening to. And so here I am…opening another door to a new closet.  And I’m excited to share its contents with you!

Family

What better way than to share some advice on my experience with young children when I have two youngin’s of my own? Anything from play dates, to crafts, to places that are not only kid-friendly, but kid-loved.

Beauty

Or showcase the latest and greatest cosmetics that I come across when I’m craving for a new lipstick that we all know we don’t really need, but would be so disappointed to live without…right, ladies?

Books

There are books, too, lining my staircase waiting to be read and reviewed; stories that not only speak to the intimacies of our own fears and challenges, but also speak to a larger consciousness in our society. I would love to talk about that with you.

Coffee

And since I’m an avid Starbucks, coffeehouse rat, there are gift cards to hunt for and collect, as well as coffee-based drinks to taste and review for the masses. Maybe you’re obsessed with Starbucks like myself? Or maybe you’d much rather drink mud-water than buy from a trendy corporation that charges a buck per coffee bean…plus the namesake of your first-born child? (I’m kidding.)

Cooking

While I confess I’m not a natural in the kitchen, I do need to eat and eat healthy—which means, like you, I’m always on the lookout for a great-tasting, uncomplicated, yet nutritious recipe to fill my tummy and impress my husband and kids—a recipe that potentially doesn’t blow my budget or take me 10 hours to make before I change my mind and run off to a fast-food restaurant just because I don’t have the time!

Fitness

This goes hand-in-hand with living an active and healthy lifestyle. For those that don’t know, I weighed more than 200 lbs.  six months ago and have successfully shed the unwanted pounds in lieu of a lean, strong body through hard work, dedication, a balanced diet, and tons of exercise.

If you’ve ever struggled with poor body image or would like to shed a few pounds in order to get a little bit healthier—no matter what state your body is in now—I’m here for you as an advocate of fitness and healthy life choices. (I’m also here when you feel like eating everything in your kitchen, plus your neighbour’s kitchen—at 11:30 p.m.—because I, too, have been there!)

Paper

But, I’m not always at the gym either. I also like to spend time penning words to paper—literally—sending correspondence to penpals across the globe. If you like all-things paper and know what washi tape is (or would like to), there’s information on that here, too.

I’m also a writer. You can get all the juicy details about that on my bio page, but aside from hosting this blog, I’ve been known to publish a few pieces here and there, as well as pull all-nighters begging my muse to give me the right words (and stamina) to finish a chapter in a prose-fiction piece, or utter the eloquence and hidden metaphors bellied into a poem that I’m compelled to pluck onto paper.

If you’re a story writer or a poet, or simply love words and language, there will be a cranny of stories and poems for you to enjoy here while you visit.

Fashion

Or perhaps you’re keen on keeping yourself well put-together? (Because, really, who doesn’t want to look good?) Or perhaps you are innately drawn to beautiful things and luxurious brands?

I love the art and style, clothing and accessories afford me in presenting myself to the world and I’m more than happy to share the latest trends (and the best deals) with friends!

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If you’ve ever rummaged through a closet, it’s always a delight to discover something you never realized was there before. At Zara’s Closet, there’s going to be piles of things to look at, go through, and think about.

And because it’s an entirely new closet, it’s moving to an entirely new address, too!  Please come and follow me there as The Bibliotaphe Closet will soon become inactive.

And you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.

I have no qualms if you find something that interests you and by browsing, reading, and commenting, you get a little joy, too–or even a little help along the way.

This is, after all, my closet—but I promise my readers to always leave the door wide open.

Welcome—and come on in!

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Zara

zara - grey black fedora

Canada DOES Read! See the Shortlist for 2016

01.22.2016

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis / @zaraasian

It’s that time of year again when CBC announces the five titles of Canadian literature as chosen by its advocates for its annual debate, Canada Reads. 

This year’s host, Wab Kinew, a former panelist on Canada Reads, defended Joseph Boyden’s, The Orenda, and returns this year to host the event for the second time.

This year’s theme is about “starting over” and the following panelists have chosen Canadian books that they feel best represent transformation and the struggles in starting a new life.

Because Canada Reads begins on March 21 and lasts for four days, you have a chance now, to stock up on and read this year’s titles to see if you agree:

book - birdie***

Bruce Poon Tip will be defending Birdie by Tracey Lindberg.

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BoneAndBread_interim.indd

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Farah Mohamed will be defending Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz.

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book - the illegal

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Clara Hughes will be defending The Illegal by Lawrence Hill.

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book - minister without portfolio

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Adam Copeland will be defending Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter.

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book - heros walk

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Vinay Virmani will be defending The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami.

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Have you read any of the books that will be discussed in this year’s Canada Reads event?

Which book do you think will win this year’s Canada Reads title? Why?

Debates are usually won by those who make the strongest arguments. Based on what you know about the panelists for this year’s debate, who do you think will make the most compelling arguments on behalf of the book he/she is representing?

Which Canadian books would you like to see featured as contenders in next year’s Canada Reads debate?

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Until next time, happy reading!

zara - grey fedora

Book Review: A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

08.05.2015

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis / @zaraasian

a robot in the garden

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Deborah Install

Format: Paperback, 288 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-345-81533-0

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

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A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install is a sweet, fictional debut novel about a child-like sentient who calls himself Acrid Tang, a decrepit, but high-functioning artificial intelligence who surpasses even the modern android’s level of programming.

He is first discovered by Ben Chambers as he spies him randomly sitting under a tree in his garden and is quickly taken by him, his unexpected appearance and lack of ownership, and his unique body architecture obviously built by a creative and innovative maker.

With no knowledge of where or from whom this robot originates, Ben Chambers, takes it upon himself to journey across the globe to uncover the mystery behind Acrid Tang’s unusual build, worn-down condition,  and exceptional giftedness. In the process he travels from the United States to Tokyo, Japan, then to Koror, Palau, and back again.

In the process, he not only attempts to uncover the mystery of Acrid Tang’s beginnings, but through his challenging  journey, discovers his own potential for acceptance and healing after the hidden grief of mourning the death of his parents, and a new ability to take on more responsibility without fear.

The result is a sincere look at the interrelationship between an orphaned, sentient being and a grown man capable of new ambition and familial love.

The novel is a light read, its narrative grounded in Ben Chambers’ seriousness and Acrid Tang’s childlike naivety. And while the robot evolves, so does his human counterpart. They both learn from each other, the aspects of trust, the discrimination against the old and the broken, and the ability to see one’s own limitations and choose to move beyond them.

I did, however, find the character of Ben Chambers’ easy wealth, far too easy, in order to substantiate his costly journeys around the world in search for Acrid Tang’s mysterious beginnings. If the reader can forgive this character’s and/or novel’s flaw in the plot, the adventures themselves are neither exciting, nor commonplace, but an attempt to generate movement in the plot’s story and increase the characters’ bond of friendship and love.

Overall, Acrid Tang, is the robot-Pinocchio, whose faulty, cracked cylinder, pulsing heart, and peeling gaffer tape which holds him together, house an innovative program of self-awareness and earnestness unparalleled by any other AI in existence within the novel.

It’s that uniqueness that makes this novel a traditionally “coming-of-age” story—for both its Artificial Intelligence community and the humans who choose to live amongst them.

Zara’s Rating

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About the Author

From http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/257875/deborah-install. Photo by Hannah Montague.
From  Penguin  Random House website.  Photo by Hannah Montague.

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Deborah Install has been writing fiction since childhood, submitting her first book to a publisher at the age of 8. Her love of writing persisted, leading to a number of jobs, including web journalism and her most recent role as copywriter at a design and marketing agency. She lives in Birmingham, UK, with her husband, toddler and affectionate but imperious cat.


–  Bio from inside jacket of novel.

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What is your view of Artificial Intelligence and sentient beings and their place in society today and in the future? Do you agree or disagree with their existence?

If you were an “owner” of a fully functional AI android, what would you like it to do? What would you like its primary function to be?

Do you believe AI androids to be a realistic part of our future? Do you believe AI androids should have full autonomy and be considered persons under the law? Why or why not?

What are the dangers of implementing fully functional AI androids into society as we know it? What do you think would be their limitations?

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Zara - blue fur

Book Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

07.21.2015

By Zara D.Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis/ @zaraasian

for today i am a boy

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Category: LGBTQ Fiction

Author: Kim Fu

Format: Paperback, 242 pages

Publisher: Harpercollins Publishers

ISBN: 978-1-44341-264-3

Pub Date: January 6, 2014

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For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu is an engrossing and readable novel about a young man named Peter Huang, the only son in a family of three sisters, a silent and stifled mother, and a Chinese patriarchal father whose ingrained attitudes about manhood are both proud and resolute.

In this lyrical debut, Fu creates a truthful portrait of a young man whose sensitive and effeminate nature delves him further into the recesses of his true desire—to fully identify himself as a woman.

The plot explores Peter’s internal and private torment, his abhorrence towards the body he was born with and the insistent desire for the kind of body he lacks. While his own genitalia repulses him, his desire for women only goes as far as his admiration for their beauty and femininity, and his wish to ultimately emanate them.

But, this tendency is often repressed, exposed first in small doses at a time within the safety of his sisters’ bedrooms and their trust; to the absence of his family while he is left to clean in the privacy of their home; to sexual exploration with BDSM with a dominant woman; to the stifling relationship with a lesbian-turned-Christian; and to the exposure to people of the LGBTQ community who encourage him to live out his fantasy if not for one day during Halloween.

While the male stereotype is often dominantly imposed by Peter’s father and his expectations of him, Peter himself is tortured with his own feelings of guilt and shame, struggling often between his compulsion and desire to live out the female identity that is his true, internal nature and the gender role, society has come to expect of him as a male. The result is a fiercely honest dialogue of identity crisis, repression, and hopefully for the reader and the main character — emancipation.

 Zara’s Rating

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About the Author:

Kim Fu. Photo from http://kimfu.ca/bio.
Kim Fu. Photo from http://kimfu.ca/bio.

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Kim Fu’s novel FOR TODAY I AM A BOY (2014) was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and winner of the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. Her writing has been widely published and anthologized, including by the Atlantic, NPR, Maisonneuve, and Best Canadian Essays. Her first poetry collection HOW FESTIVE THE AMBULANCE will be published by Nightwood Editions in 2016. Fu is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Seattle.

– From: Kim Fu’s Official website.

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Do you know anyone who is transgendered?

Aside from sex, what kind of stereotypes are most associated with gender?

Of such stereotypes, which do you think are changing? Which do you think should change?

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Zara - blue fur

2015: A Fresh Start for the Bibliotaphe Closet

January 12. 2015

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zara.tokiniha

It seems the doors of the Bibliotaphe Closet have been shut for about a month without much of an explanation from me. That’s what happens when you lose your keys, or in my case, a handle on a reading and writing schedule that worked quite effectively until I unexpectedly picked up a new obsession—pretty stationery, washi tape, mail art, snail mail, and penning letters.

After I agreed to an interview and feature on the Penpal of the Week website as well as having won a free three-month membership to the League of Extraordinary Penpals (LEP), a warm and active online community; I have quickly transformed from an occasional letter-writing penpal to approximately three correspondents to a fully engaged writer and snail mail addict who has unbelievably gained the interest of 50+ penpals within Canada, the U.S.A., and around the world.

Translation —> You will most likely find me in a paper craft store running for the bins that carry a myriad of pretty stationery sets, peony notecards and notebooks, a slew of rubber stamps, kawaii stickers, and an uncertain amount of decorative washi tape, sticky notes, and planner inserts.

Incoming mail from Diana in Australia: instructions on how to make fabric tape and a vintage Paperdoll postcard. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Incoming mail from Diana in Australia: instructions on how to make fabric tape and a vintage Paperdoll postcard. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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I have gone so far as to:

  • create my own envelopes and postcards
  • renovate my study into a small craft room that now stores all my snail mail and mail art supplies
  • install hooks into the wall to display my washi tape
  • create my own midori planners and journals based on a number of YouTube instructional videos
  • buy my own digital shipping scale to weigh my mail packages by the gram
  • memorize postage rates by domestic, US, and international locations
  • bribe “Santa” for a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen with a fine nib
  • visit my mailbox on a strict rotation of three hours to check for incoming deliveries
  • and carry my mail, blank stationery, and pens with me everywhere I go just in case I have time to pen a letter
My creative writing space. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My creative writing space. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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That said, books and reading are still very much on my priority list. One does not usually forget their first love. But, as people grow, interests, too, tend to expand and develop (at least that’s what I tell myself since books have been left on the shelf).

With that in mind, I also hope to post stories about snail mail, mail art, and paper crafts on this blog. I may even have to consider revamping my blog’s site name, but I haven’t decided yet.

But, for starters, I encourage readers to set realistic reading goals for the year. This can be easily done through the HarperCollins of Canada 50 Book Pledge Program online, which acts as a database and personal tracker for a large reading community through a “To Be Read,” “Read,” and “Wish List” bookshelves.

As a preview, the first few books I look forward to reading and reviewing in 2015 are:

Alphabetique by Molly Peacock

alphabetique

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The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

strange library

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Little White Lies by Katie Dale

little white lies

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The Jaguar’s Children by John Valliant

jaguars children

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If I Fall, I Die by Michael Christie

if i fall i die

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Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

vanessa and her sister

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While I suspected there would be time during the holidays to read, write, and even pen letters, there was instead a perpetual food binge and all forms of lively procrastination.

The New Year rolled itself in and just last week I celebrated my 40th—cough—birthday! (But, more on that in another post.)

Regardless, now that it’s 2015, I’m happy to reconsider some new personal goals and resolutions, as well as give The Bibliotaphe Closet a contextual renovation and a clean, fresh start.

Here’s to more reading—and writing in the New Year!

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What are your reading goals for 2015?

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zara - vintage

Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

11.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zara.tokiniha

lucky us

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Category: Fiction

Author: Amy Bloom

Format: Hardcover, 250 pages

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6724-4

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is a modern telling of two very different sisters from the 1940’s who must reconcile their fate with each other and the consequential hardships they encounter right from childhood into their adulthood.

It is the story of Eva Logan-Acton and her half-sister, Iris. The two who are thrown together at the loss of both their mothers, one through death, the other through abandonment, left open to the neglect and betrayal of their biological father, Edgar.

Not only is there a dichotomy between the two sisters in look, but also in temperament, the two in their personal failings, somehow find ways to survive poverty, manipulation, and loss.

Though the plot lends itself to the absurd, it’s the characters’ dilemmas and persevering spirit that makes this book at the very least an entertaining read. Is it realistic? No, not really, but it is possible and lures the reader into turning each page with interest.

The heart of the novel is wound in the realism of its characters’—especially the main characters’ personalities. Iris, the drama queen is both self-indulgent as she is tough-skinned, a survivor, and an emotional manipulator, but would be lost without her grounded sister, Eva, to anchor her down emotionally throughout the book.

Eva, self-sacrificial to the point of semi-martyrdom, while formally uneducated, finds ways in which she can survive the drama of her sister, the inconsistency and eventual illness of her father, and the short- term charity of her friend, Francisco’s sisters in the beauty salon where she dutifully sweeps floors and washes sinks. She teaches herself how to read, memorizes her father’s Little Blue Books for abridged versions of knowledge and sometimes useful or non-useful facts, and learns not only how to read Tarot cards, but how to best advise customers with news that encourages them and encourages them to return to the salon for her most-often positive advice.

But Iris and Eva are not the only characters in the novel with unique personalities and circumstances. There is Edgar, whose love for Clara, a jazz singer and closeted albino who cannot redeem him from the mistakes he’s committed in the past, nor the disease he must face in the near future; Francisco, a gay makeup artist and friend-turned-father-figure; Reenie, Iris’ focus of love and borderline obsession; Gus, the ousted husband whose relation to Reenie places him in an unbelievable and life-threatening circumstance; and Danny, the stolen orphan made to seduce and fulfill a gap in a grieving woman’s life.

Together the story unfolds into a highly unlikely plot that still seduces the reader enough to not only continue reading, but also empathize with the characters and their sentimental failings. Somehow the absurdity of the plot doesn’t deter the individuals from eventually finding some form of love and solace, and even a self-imposed, redefinition of family.

Lucky Us feels like a somewhat sarcastic title, but is able to self-prophesy on the story’s behalf by the time the novel ends. I’m just not quite sure who the title is referring to exactly—the characters themselves or the readers who get to witness a highly tumultuous story unravel itself into some form of success or the readers who are lucky enough not to suffer the same type of consequences as the characters that find redemption in their own answers?

Amy Bloom does a good job of creating interesting enough characters that will urge its readers to turn the page and come away from the story with more than an afterthought, but a sense that the injustices of the world still have a purpose even if they insist on sometimes remaining unclear.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of Lucky Us in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

 amy bloom***

Amy Bloom is the author of Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love Invents Us; Normal; Away, a New York Times bestseller; and Where the God of Love Hangs Out. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. She teaches creative writing at Wesleyan University.

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What do you think is the best thing about having a sister?  What do you think is the worst?

How far would you go on getting what you want? Lies? Murder?

What is your definition of family?

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zara - selfie 1

Stationery and Kawaii Madness!

October 16.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For stationery and kawaii enthusiasts, you’ll be glad to know that I made a wonderful discovery during my visit to Kingston, Ontario for the Thanksgiving long weekend holiday last week.

While visiting the artsy core of downtown Kingston, I accidentally came across an independently-owned stationery-and-kawaii-filled shop called, Midori. I would have passed right by it if I didn’t see the painted sign outside, which said stationery in elegant, cursive print. Thankfully, I noticed it enough to stop mid-step before heading toward the nearest Starbucks Coffee shop.

Once inside, I was transported into a wonderful, little room painted in pastels featuring a variety of kawaii products imported from China, Korea, and Japan that included stuffed, plush toys, jewellery, mugs, bento boxes, handbags, and loads of notebooks, paper stationery, postcards, and pens.

I chatted with Midori’s owner and proprietor, Tina Yan, who opened the store in October of last year (2013) and discovered that not only do we share the same birthday month, but that we’re equally enthusiastic about kawaii products!

Canadian-born with cultural roots from China, Tina, thought it was important to bring popular kawaii goods from Asian countries to provide Canadian customers with products solely created and distributed in South Asian countries—which suits me perfectly fine since I don’t see the possibility of travelling to South Asia any time soon. How else will I deal with my stationery and kawaii addiction?

Tina Yan, Owner of Midori Shop, in front of Midori rabbit logo design. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Tina Yan, Owner of Midori Shop, in front of Midori rabbit logo design. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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While chatting with Tina about the possibility of featuring her and her shop on my blog, she was kind enough to allow me to take a number of photographs in her store while I searched for items that I might purchase. Here are some of the wonderful kawaii items I found in her shop:

Notebooks, red-haired girls x2. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Notebooks, red-haired girls x2. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii black cat plush toys. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii black cat plush toys. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii cat notebook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii cat notebook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii bento box made in Japan. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii bento box made in Japan. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii linen bag, Girl on Bicycle, baby blue. $30.00 CAD. (The one I plan on buying when I return to the shop next month!) (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii linen bag, Girl on Bicycle, baby blue. $30.00 CAD. (The one I plan on buying when I return to the shop next month!) (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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I was so pleased with this little shop, I returned twice in one day and bought the following, cute products to use for my own, personal writing and snail mail:

My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl notebooks x4, assorted. $1.15 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl notebooks x4, assorted. $1.15 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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These pretty 4″x5.5″ notebooks from the My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl line created by languo is simply exquisite. I was drawn to the art cover designs, which features a different girl in each portrait. Inside, the paper is brown, blank, and consists of 24 pages.

My only regret about the design is that there is no Asian girl with black hair on a cover. Surely, a Beauty Girl would also come from Asia, right?

While I’m excited about my purchase, these notebooks seem far too pretty for me to use right away. I have yet to decide what to write in them! In the meantime, they will sit at my desk on display.

Kawaii gel ink pens, assorted. From $1.50-$1.99 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii gel ink pens, assorted. From $1.50-$1.99 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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After testing a number of pens in stock at Midori, I decided on buying the light blue, gel-ink pen with the bear cap, 0.38mm fine point, with “love dolls every day” printed on its casing; the Fihfio floral print, gel-ink pen with a cap that says, “Your happy story;” and my favourite of the three, the BCO black, ink gel pen with the sad ghost cap, 0.4mm fine point. It runs quite smoothly with a dark imprint and is the current pen I use to write all my snail mail letters.

London postcard set. $3.75 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
London postcard set. $3.75 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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These London photograph postcards came in a set of 18. The photographs are not only lovely renditions of London’s famous city, but the paper itself is slightly glossy with an embossed texture, which give them a far more realistic feel than other glossed postcards and reprints.

For 18 postcards of good photographs for the low price of $3.50 CAD per set, you simply can’t lose, which is why when I return I’ll be buying a few more packages!

“Got a Mail” pink kawaii agenda with cards and stickers. $7.45 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
“Got a Mail” pink kawaii agenda with cards and stickers. $7.45 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

The “Got a Mail” pink agenda is not only blank, but provides the user with both a monthly and weekly date format. While the user must fill in dates for himself/herself, numbers are listed at the top margin to provide for accuracy and a little help.

At the back of the agenda is a number of blank pages for notes and includes a few cards and stickers for decoration.

The front cover also allows the user to change its design with the cards included.

I can’t wait to start using this agenda/diary in the new year.

Kawaii Cooky Mini Mate Notebook: Travel Story. $1.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Cooky Mini Mate Notebook: Travel Story. $1.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

***

While this notebook does not match the My Fairy Tale World series, I could not resist the adorable Cooky character with her squinted, smiling eyes and huge red hood.

She reminds me of an Asian version of the Little Red Riding Hood character. Just look at her sitting in her suitcase!

I snatched this notebook at the recommendation of Tina who also thinks Cooky is adorable.

The paper inside is white, lined, and contains 46 pages.

Because its titled, “Travel Story,” I plan on saving this little notebook for my travels.

Pacific Mall

After leaving Kingston, Ontario, I visited the Pacific Mall in Markham, a mall that specializes in Asian-imported goods and products. It was the first time I visited in over 10 years and was ecstatic to find a few more kawaii goodies.

This is what I brought home:

Red Pucca wallet. $7.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Red Pucca wallet. $7.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

***

The Pucca wallet is bright red in colour, which symbolizes good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture. The Kanji symbol means love. It also comes with a removable coin purse with Kanji print, five cardholders, one identification holder, and a long pocket for cash.

Kawaii origami strips x4: Molang bunny, blue and yellow teddy bear, Rilakkuma bear, blue and yellow mouse. $1.29-$1.49 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii origami strips x4: Molang bunny, blue and yellow teddy bear, Rilakkuma bear, blue and yellow mouse. $1.29-$1.49 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

***

At first I thought these cute kawaii strips were washi tape, but when I inquired about them I was told that the strips are meant for paper crafts like the creation of small origami stars.

Because I’m attracted to small figurines, paper crafts, and kawaii, I quickly bought four packages. While I won’t use every strip to make paper stars, I do plan on adding a little glue at the back to decorate a few of my snail mail envelopes.

Because I’m partial to cute bunnies, my favourite one is the one with the Molang bunny.

OMG Korean hair colour change doll, phone charm, green. $1.99 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
OMG Korean hair colour change doll, phone charm, green. $1.99 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

***

This little kawaii doll drew me right in with her bright, curly, green hair. Instead of attaching her to my mobile phone, I put her on my key ring instead. I’ve named her Kiyoko, which means child of happy generations in Japanese. I trust we’ll be very happy together for “generations” to come.

Kawaii Pocket Bunny Oil-Control Sleek Mist from Tony Moly Beauty Store. $12.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Pocket Bunny Oil-Control Sleek Mist from Tony Moly Beauty Store. $12.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

***

Aside for the cute kawaii bottle, this Pocket Bunny Sleek Mist helps to control the breakout of oily skin. Instead of powder to mattefy skin, this spritz can be used any time of the day. It smells good, too!

Kawaii Strawberry Lipgloss by Tony Moly. $12.50 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Strawberry Lipgloss by Tony Moly. $12.50 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

***

The Tony Moly Strawberry Lipgloss line is light and sheer and its price point high most likely because of its marketable packaging.

I really couldn’t care less about the actual lipgloss (though I had my eye on the deep pink and coral colours), but I absolutely adore the lipgloss strawberry doll caps.

It comes in coral, pink, light, pink, and a nude cream.

I pucker up every time I look at these!

***

The trip was well worth it with a number of unexpected kawaii finds. I hope to be able to travel again next month and pick up some more stationery and kawaii goodies. Which ones would you buy?

***

Do you like kawaii? What do you like most about it?

Of all the items featured above, which one(s) do you like the most?

What’s your favourite kawaii item that you own?

Where do you find or shop for your kawaii items? (Feel free to share links to websites.)

If you were a kawaii character, what character would you be?

***

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Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving 2014

October 14.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

In previous years, Thanksgiving was a time to anticipate a tabletop filled with a traditional feast: turkey as its centrepiece, mashed potato with cranberry sauce, roasted, buttered corn, thick lasagna, a creamy potato salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, a little wine, and rich coffee with dessert.

But, the price to pay? A day or two in the kitchen, a potentially aggravating sit-in dinner with a few abrasive, tactless family members who are always compelled to criticize either your job, your spouse, your children, your looks, or your lack of any, and a bloated gut or terrible hangover from a few hours of enjoyable gluttony.

Thankfully, that did not happen this year.

This year, my husband and I, and our two children, rented a car for a few days, packed our bags, and travelled to Kingston, Ontario, to spend our Thanksgiving weekend with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, who we haven’t seen in a long time with our last visit to them over four years ago.

On our way, we stopped at Fairview Mall for an emergency bathroom break and happily discovered a LEGO store for the first time. My eldest son, Michael, a 10-year-old boy passionately obsessed with LEGO had a spaz attack! We spent a good half hour in the store checking out the latest box sets, admiring the coloured LEGO wall at the back, and building our own customized  mini-figures.


Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Together, we built three customized mini-figures for purchase, one meant to be a replica of my son with his medicine pouch and a weapon of choice to battle the “zombies” of the future Zombie Apocalypse; a Fairy Pie Godmother who brings pie to all LEGO-loving children of the world; and Gardenia, an avid reader, writer, and gardener:

The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The car ride was loud and enjoyable except for the traffic we were unfortunate enough to get stuck in while on the 401. Still, we gladly took the opportunity to stop at a service station at Trenton to have lunch before arriving to Kingston.

The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

[caption id="attachment_8859" align="aligncenter" width="660"]The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved. The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Once there, it was not only a relief to finally arrive, but to see my in-laws after so many years. There were happy tears, hugs, and a thoughtful dinner waiting for us.

Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While I was originally nervous about visiting them in respect to not seeing them in a number of years, but also because of the language barrier, once we arrived, their gracious hospitality and love made it so much easier to settle in—and stay.

We stayed for three days and two nights!

Each day was an opportunity for us to relax in our pyjamas, talk—really talk—and laugh, and ultimately spend quality time together as a family, which I found touching and rejuvenating.

Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The wonderful gift of my father-in-law and mother-in-law is not only their strong, personal faith, but how their faith is alive and active in their lives. Papá, who is a retired pastor, does more than spend his time preaching empty words without consequence or validation. His advice is not only usually faith-based, but sound because he is a living testament of what he believes in. Mamá, too, lives out her faith by action, not simply words. To have spent time with them even for a little while was to be a part of God’s loving grace.

Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

It is so refreshing to be a part of such an open and loving family.

On the one hand, Mamá and Papá, have very little financially. They don’t desire a large home, nor a luxury car of which to boast about to friends and family. They travel about once or twice a year to El Salvador, not for a vacation for themselves, but rather an opportunity to give to the poor and needy while there. And they feel no compulsion to own “bigger and better,” worldly things. They live quite simply and are always content with what they have. But, it isn’t because they can’t afford a lavish lifestyle—it’s because their mindset does not focus on the importance of materialism as one of their priorities.

And yet, they have so much of themselves to give emotionally. They are open and direct, but without the need to be condescending, critical, or controlling. While they want what’s best for their son, me, and their grandchildren, they always speak and act with love, kindness, and understanding.

Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

We did not have a giant turkey for Thanksgiving or a lavish feast of any kind. Instead, we ate homemade soup with beef and vegetables, pupusas (a Salvadorean dish made of masa flour and mozzarella cheese with cortido, a cabbage, carrot, vinaigrette topping), mashed red bean, Salvadorean cheese, fried plantain with cream, and coffee and tea biscuits for dessert.

I spent some of my time braiding Mamá’s hair while the kids enjoyed running around the small apartment, and my husband helped Papá with the installation of Spanish accent shortcuts onto his computer/keyboard.

We also had the opportunity to see my brother-in-law, Eli, and visit his new home in Kingston. The kids took such a liking to his jokes and playfulness that they want to sleep over at his house next time we visit!

My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Aside from family time, I was also able to visit the artsy core of downtown Kingston. I discovered a nice, little bookstore called, A Novel Idea, where I picked up a Montreal Book Review publication, some Kingston Writers’ promotional cards, a few bookmarks, Kingston Art buttons, and some postcards.

All in all, it was a much-needed getaway from the city, an opportunity to enjoy a long car ride and the autumn sights, to spend some quality time with my husband’s family, and to also get some stationery shopping done, as well as some letter writing to a number of my penpals.

The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

This year, Thanksgiving was so much more than about eating turkey. It was as it’s meant to be, a time for thoughtful reflection and a time for giving sincere thanks for family, friends, good food, great company, and the love and grace of God and His many blessings.

Whatever faith you may have or however differently you may celebrate, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration this past weekend! While I need not worry about a turkey gut, I’ve had my fill of other delicious foods and time well spent.

Happy Thanksgiving!

***

How do you usually spend Thanksgiving?

What was most memorable about your Thanksgiving celebration this year?

If you could so something differently for next year, what would you like to do?

What are you most thankful for?

***

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There’s Nothing Short About the 2014 Giller Shortlist

10.06.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Today is an important day for those who actively belong and participate in the Canadian literary world, especially for those who submitted their work for consideration of the highly coveted and prestigious literary prize for Canadian fiction—The Scotiabank Giller Prize—especially this year.

With an increase to the financial winnings—yes, a whopping $100,000 instead of last year’s $50,000—authors this year are vying for double the money through the prize that Jack Rabinovitch created in 1994 to honour his late wife, literary editor, Doris Giller, which boasts the title of Canada’s top literary fiction prize.

Anyone who is anyone in the publishing world knows that if you make it onto the Giller Longlist, you’ve already won reputable standing — one of distinction and one of opportunity.

But, to snag a spot on the Shortlist is to bid for the biggest accolade and jackpot in Canadian fiction. Canadian stories aren’t just stories anymore, but a testament to Canada’s cultural voice through literature. What it says is honoured each and every year, featuring some of Canada’s finest literary talent.

This year, Canadian author Shauna Singh Baldwin, British novelist Justin Cartwright, and American writer and critic Francine Prose, were the writers specifically chosen to sit on the Giller Prize jury, which had the difficult, but rewarding job of reading though a number of novel submissions—to first choose the Longlist that was announced in mid-September and then to cut the list down by half, which was announced today.

Here are the six finalists:

David Bezmozgis for his novel, The Betrayers, published by HarperCollins Canada:

betrayers***

Frances Itani for her book, Tell, published by HarperCollins Canada:

tell***

Sean Michaels for his novel, Us Conductors, published by Random House Canada:

us conductors ***

Heather O’Neill for her novel, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, published by HarperCollins Canada:

girl who was saturday night***

Miriam Toews for her novel, All My Puny Sorrows, published by Knopf Canada:

all my puny sorrows***

Padma Viswanathan for her book, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, published by Random House Canada:

ever after of ashwin rao***

Congratulations to all the finalists!

The Scotiabank Giller Prize will air on CBC Television on Monday, Nov. 10 at 9 p.m.with host Jian Ghomeshi of CBC Radio’s Q.

***

Have you read any of the books that made it onto the Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist?

Did the books you were expecting to make it on the list actually make it?

Who do you think will win this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize?

If you were to win the Giller Prize, what would you do with $100,000?

***

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Re-cap: Word on the Street Festival 2014

09.23.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zara.tokiniha

My husband and I had planned to attend the annual Word on the Street festival in Toronto on September 21 for months since our successful visits since a few years ago. And then of course, closer to the date, we heard the disappointing news of rain and thunder showers, which literally put a “damper” on our intentions to attend. So, after waking up really early with anticipation to leave, we heard the news, and then begrudgingly went back to sleep.

After a little nap, our five-year-old daughter woke us up saying, “Mama, I thought we’re going to Toronto?” That convinced me enough to reconsider. Why disappoint my only daughter? Why break a promise to her because of a little rain? So, my husband and I got up again and were determined to head on out regardless of the potentially bad weather.

In lieu of the poor weather reports we packed our umbrellas and practically ran to catch a GO bus to head to Union Station, at which point we walked to King subway, only to turn back due to the sales booth being closed. The great thing about the weekend in Toronto is the affordable TTC Family Pass, which allows two adults and up to four children to ride the TTC streetcar and subway all day. The unfortunate thing about the weekend in Toronto is its only time to perform construction and maintenance on the subway lines, which only means closures, detours, and delays for its commuters—yes, us.

Eventually, we routed ourselves onto a subway line headed north to College, at which point we needed to hop onto a streetcar to take us to Queen’s Park. We didn’t score the new TTC streetcars only launched a few weeks ago, but got a taste of the imminent crowd that is a Toronto pedestrian lifestyle.

Even though we were late, I was able to snag quite a bit of SWAG in the form of bookmarks, postcards, buttons, posters, stickers, temporary tattoos, and even a beach ball!

Some of the SWAG items I picked up at WOTS 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Some of the SWAG items I picked up at WOTS 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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X. wearing one my favourites pieces of SWAG from WOTS 2014, play reading glasses. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
X. wearing one my favourites pieces of SWAG from WOTS 2014, play reading glasses. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

It was, however, a struggle to even get a peek at some of the books for sale at a number of tents because of the bibliotaphe mobs that surrounded these busy tables. But, because of my will, determination, and sheer girth, I was able to squeeze (and elbow) through some people to finally get near some titles.

My friends at HarperCollins Canada loaded their tent with a slew of titles, a hodge podge of genres, ready for the plucking at super-crazy, clearance prices: $3 for hardcovers and $2 for paperbacks! But, because the crowd was busy picking and pecking at books, I was only able to snag a few goodies:

Books I bought at WOTS 2014: "The Age of Hope" by David Bergen, "Solo" by Rana Dasgupta, and "Astray" by Emma Donoghue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Books I bought at WOTS 2014: “The Age of Hope” by David Bergen, “Solo” by Rana Dasgupta, and “Astray” by Emma Donoghue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Still, the trip was worth it since there is always a spot reserved entirely for young children and their families especially the huge stage performances by TVO Kids, which my children enjoyed.

Here are some of the highlights my little readers enjoyed at WOTS this year:

The kids posing with Chirp of TVO Kids at WOTS 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids posing with Chirp of TVO Kids at WOTS 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The kids with one of my favourite characters when I was a kid---it's Polkaroo! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids with one of my favourite characters when I was a kid—it’s Polkaroo! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

My little cowboy and cowgirl, courtesy of Howdy, TVO Kids. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My little cowboy and cowgirl, courtesy of Howdy, TVO Kids. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Other highlights included listening in to Claire Cameron speak about her book, “The Bear,” and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer on her beautifully written novel, “All the Broken Things.”

What a brilliant day for book lovers everywhere!

Hope to see you all next year!

***

Did you attend WOTS 2014 this year?

Which authors were you most excited about meeting?

What bookish goodies were you able to snag?

***

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Books and nooks. Writing and reading between the pages.