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Fiction Blog

Blockbusters and hidden gems in the literary world

Bryant Harte

Bryant Harte

Wednesday, 24 October 2012 13:46

Double Double

Who was Tim Horton and how was he linked with the creation of the iconic brand that bears his name? This is one of the questions that Douglas Hunter addresses in his latest book, Double Double: How Tim Hortons Became a Canadian Way of Life, One Cup at a Time.

Hunter provides a narrative that covers the birth of the company through its merger with another chain in Wendy’s; to its current competition for dominance in the Canadian market.

Double Double, however, is not simply a book about Tim Hortons; it is also a look at history of the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry in Canada.

From the early days of QSRs to now defunct ventures such as Mother’s (does anyone else remember them?), Hunter presents a good (and nostalgic) overview of QSRs in Canada.

Hunter also does not shy from controversy, going in-depth into the lawsuits surrounding both the purchase of the rest of the company from Horton’s widow following his accident and the parbaking* dispute between the ownership and some of its franchisees.

While classified as a business book, I felt that this is almost more of a cultural study as it brought to mind Fast Food Nation at times, especially whilst discussing the food production end, such as parbaking*. Non business readers would be able to engage with this book, with such topics as Tim Horton and his life as an NHL player to Tim Hortons becoming an obligatory campaign stop for politicians trying to build their ‘everyman’ persona – in spite the fact that they don’t drink coffee (you have to read the book to find out who).

Double Double is our Indigo MBA pick for November; watch this space for a further post.


* Parbaking is when the food product is partially baked centrally then quickly frozen and distributed to stores, allowing them to finish baking the product on demand.

Thursday, 23 August 2012 20:05

Nikola Tesla and The Oatmeal

Nikola Tesla, the (oft forgotten) genius inventor, may be getting a new chance at recognition thanks to The Oatmeal.

Matthew Inman, the creator of The Oatmeal website and author of 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, as well as the upcoming How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, has thrown his weight behind Tesla’s memory and is raising $850,000 for the non-profit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, in order for them to buy the inventor’s former laboratory in Shoreham, New York. The goal is to turn this space into a Tesla museum, immortalizing the inventor and his contributions to science and society.

Operation Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum has raised more than its goal (close to $1 million at the time of writing) bringing the dream much closer to reality.

Nikola Tesla was one of the great minds of history and probably the most important contributor to our modern way of (electrified) life. He is responsible for the alternating current (AC) induction motor, which allowed for the more easily transferable AC electricity to be put into widespread use, as it is up until this day.

The number of patents Tesla held is astounding (around 300). Among these include the radio (sorry, not Marconi), remote control, and x-rays. Among some of his other works never realized include the use of the Tesla Coil for the distribution of electricity through the air (his massive tower at Wardenclyffe was never completed due to funding being cut off); an anti-gravity machine; his oscillator (which was blamed for almost crumbling a city block in New York); and a "death ray".

There remains an aura of mystery surrounding Tesla, whether due to his ground-breaking ideas, his death in poverty and relative obscurity, or the FBI seizure of his files upon his death.

For more information about this genius, read his work, My Inventions and Other Writings, or those of others, such as The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla or Tesla: Man Out of Time.

Let us hope that the goal of a museum in Tesla’s honour is successful (I’ve made my donation), and that proper recognition is finally given to his achievements.
Friday, 03 August 2012 14:27

John Keegan – In Memoriam

A giant has passed. Yesterday, Sir John Keegan died at the age of 78.

My first experience with Keegan’s works was in an introduction to a military history course at university, where at least two of his books appeared on the course list.

I duly purchased my copies and found the way I looked at military conflict significantly altered upon reading the first: The Face of Battle. His description of the battle of Agincourt in particular is something that has always stayed with me. He showed me what it would have been like to have been on the front lines, to feel the fear that the average soldier faced.

Not only was Keegan a prolific writer (a list of some of his works is below), but I have always found him extremely accessible and have had no qualms recommending his books to non-history readers.

I have kept his books with me through the years, and the Keegan section in my library has grown with time.

I still recall a line spoken by my military history professor, saying that "one could not swing a cat in a military history section of a library without hitting a Keegan". Let us hope that this continues to bear true following his passing and, indeed, well into the future.


The following is a selection of Keegan’s work:

Wednesday, 09 May 2012 12:25

Cover Reveal: A Memory of Light

We have a cover!

The final volume of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, now has an image to its name.

For everything Wheel of Time, follow my blog progress in reading through the series in A Year in The Wheel of Time.

Friday, 30 March 2012 16:11

George and Me

When George R. R. Martin came to Toronto on a whirlwind tour earlier this month, he made a stop at our Indigo Manulife Centre flagship store for a book signing. To make things even better, he agreed to sit down with me for an exclusive interview.

Now, I’ve been down this road before. As you may recall, last year I interviewed Martin ahead of the release of A Dance with Dragons, though that was done via conference call and, while still exhilarating, was nothing compared to actually sitting down with The Master.

As you saw in my previous post, the store was all done up for the event, with somewhere north of 800 people queued up for signatures.

As for me, I will have to admit that I felt a bit tongue-tied and, after watching the interview, I can see that I did ramble and trip over my words at times, though I guess that this is to be expected when you sit down with someone you admire and whose work you have been following for more than a decade.

Enough preamble. Here is the interview, and my YouTube debut:

grrm_feast         grrm_king

Some things to take away:

  • Game of Thrones Season 2 starts April 1st on HBO
  • Three Dunk and Egg novellas are down, with the last one to appear in the anthology Dangerous Women and the Bantam collection appearing at least two years from now
  • For A Feast of Ice and Fire, it’s all about the lemon cakes
  • Martin’s last great read was Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63
  • Being a literary rock star is tiring
  • Buy HBO’s Game of Thrones on DVD and Blu-Ray

grrm_stein       grrm_got

I know what you’re thinking – I want a mug like the one that George R. R. Martin was drinking from in the interview. Well, good news, because you can get your very own Stark Stein on!

In fact, why don’t you visit our Game of Thrones online shop or visit your local Indigo or Chapters for our great selection of all things relating to the HBO series and A Song of Ice and Fire.

I have to say that I am still on a high from my interview and, despite disliking the sound of my voice; I think I have watched it more than is probably healthy.

Many thanks to Mr. Martin for taking time out of his busy tour to speak with us and to the folks at Random House for making it happen.

Thursday, 19 April 2012 15:00

Books of Mad Men

I know that many of you have seen posts similar to this elsewhere, but I swear that I came up with this idea independently (and was chagrined to discover that many others seem to have not only had the same idea, but beat me to the punch).

A few months ago, while I was re-watching Mad Men to prepare for Season 5, which started last month, I decided to jot down all the book references in the series. This could either be books that characters were actually reading (Lady Chatterley's Lover or Exodus), or ones only referenced in the series (Darkness at Noon or The Agony and the Ecstasy).

This is by no means an exhaustive list - I may have missed some along the way.

Please also see our Mad Men inspired online boutique for some more titles.

Season 1


There are only a few references that I found in the first season. These mostly reflected books that were popular at the time, such as Peggy getting her hands on a (well worn) copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover from the women in the office. Also, we do see Betty reading Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, while Don reads Exodus by Leon Uris to help with his pitch for an Israeli tourism contract.


And then we have a personal favourite of mine, with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Bert Cooper pushes this more than once in the first season. He also implies that he runs in the same circles as she and believes that Rand would love to meet Don, providing one of my favourite Cooper lines: “I’m going to introduce you to Miss Ayn Rand. I think she’ll salivate”.

Season 2

madmen_meditations      madmen_darkness      madmen_agonymadmen_diamond

In the second season, the book references step up a notch in the first episode with Don reading Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency. This season also saw the first references in speech to novels, such as with Arthur Koestler’s  Darkness at Noon, Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Diamond as Big as the Ritz. That being said, these are the ones which I caught, I am probably missing some others.

madmen_babylonmadmen_fools       madmen_fury

Fitzgerald makes another appearance, with his Babylon Revisited: and Other Stories. The season is rounded out with appearances by Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (which Don tears the final page out of).

madmen_hornblower       madmen_mobymadmen_tarot

In addition, I do believe I saw a Horatio Hornblower book by C. S. Forester and maybe a copy of Melville’s Moby Dick – the latter having a question mark beside it in my notes, making me unsure of whether I saw the white whale or not. The Tarot also makes its appearance when Don is read his fortune by Anna in his first trip to California.

Season 3

madmen_decline   madmen_strangermadmen_group

The third season keeps up the literary pace with Grampa Gene having Sally read to him from Gibbons’ classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Lane Pryce also sees himself, like Heinlein’s character, as a Stranger in a Strange Land. Mary McCarthy’s The Group also makes an appearance, continuing a trend in the series in which the characters are found reading the bestselling novels of the day.

madmen_confessions           madmen_guest

The ad world in the 60’s was abuzz with David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man. Conrad Hilton is another major individual of the times whose book makes an appearance.  I am not sure of the title, but it was either the hard to find Be My Guest, or the even rarer Inspirations of an Innkeeper.

Season 4


This season sees a book making a direct impact in Don’s work. Ahead of the meeting with the executives from Honda, Don instructs everyone to read Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. In the end, Don learns something which helps him in his negotiations (don’t want to spoil things for anyone).  The first children’s book appeared for me as well, with Sally reading The Clue of the Black Keys, a Nancy Drew mystery.


The fourth season also saw a real life book crossover as Roger Sterling, incensed at the publicity that David Ogilvy was receiving for his work (see above) decides to write his own memoir: Sterling's Gold: Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Man, which was then published both fictionally on the series and in reality in November 2010.


Rounding out my list is John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, being read by Don in the final episode of the season. This one was very hard to identify on screen. I must have gone through the scene frame by frame several times before my wife was able to decipher the title.

Kudos to her and kudos to Mad Men for including a great reading list in an already excellent show.

Monday, 26 March 2012 15:11

Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World

I have reached The Eye of the World and it is time for me to venture on, with The Great Hunt.

As I mentioned in my original post, my goal this year is to read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series in its entirety before the release of the final volume, A Memory of Light.

And we now have a date. A little while back, TOR Books announced that A Memory of Light will be released on January 8th, 2013. That leaves me just over 9 months to complete the remaining 12 volumes of the series. Piece of cake – my only problem will be stringing them out that long, as once I got going on The Eye of the World, I didn’t want to stop.

I am now writing this post a month after I finished the book, which is bad form on my part, and I have made a commitment to have a notepad next to me whilst reading so that I can jot down my thoughts as I go, which will help me compose more timely posts.

It has been a while since I have ventured down the path of High Fantasy, and this was one well chosen.

Firstly, I would like to address the issue of me reading the prequel before book one. Many helpful readers of this blog warned me against reading it first (unfortunately too late for me), mostly due to the fact that it would ruin the mystique of the series. Having read the first book, I can say that knowing the back story of Moiraine and Lan may have taken a bit of the mystique away, though in the end I was a more knowledgeable reader, especially about Aes Sedai, and didn’t have to spend much time puzzling over things.

Of the folk from Emond’s Field, I am really only a fan of Rand and Perrin at this point. Egwene and Nynaeve seem either dull and/or infuriating, and Mat is a pain (how much of that was from his dagger and how is much is just pure old Mat is still just a guess for me at this point).

So far things are quite enjoyable. I can't wait to delve deeper into Jordan's world.

As for A Memory of Light, I will continue to provide updates as they come.

SPOILER ALERTDO NOT read the below unless you have finished The Eye of the World.

Two words: Epic Magic. I know that Rand’s abilities were massively enhanced from the Eye of the World, but I really did enjoy the beat-down on the trolloc army and I hope for some more of the same in the coming books. I wasn’t as keen, however, by the defeat of Ba’alzamon (shortens the story and removes the enemy) and assume that he was only weakened in the encounter.

 Not sure where things go from here. Will the company be permanently split with Rand’s self-imposed exile and the rest heading to Tar Valon, or will it only be temporary like when everyone parted ways after Shadar Logoth?


Follow my progress through The Wheel of Time:


Read along. Here is the complete title list:

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 15:54

George R. R. Martin at Indigo

Last night, George R. R. Martin (GRRM) was signing books for a crowd of fans 800-strong at Indigo Manulife Centre in Toronto – and the blog was there.

Watch this space for an exclusive interview with Martin, as well as some more details from last night.

To pass the time, why not peruse our Game of Thrones online boutique for all things GRRM and HBO? Season Two is upon us soon. A Clash of Kings is about to commence.

To whet your appetite, here are some shots from last night:


Winter is coming...


Some of our new Game of Thrones merchandise (in stores very soon) and their guardian.


The Master with yours truly.


Facing the multitudes.

Wednesday, 01 February 2012 21:07

Wheel of Time: New Spring

A New Spring has finished and I am ready to take on The Eye of the World.

As I mentioned in my last post, my goal this year is to read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series in its entirety before the release of the final volume, A Memory of Light.

I was a bit worried going in, as this prequel was written after book ten of the series (Crossroads of Twilight), and I wasn’t sure if it would read properly for the uninitiated. In the end, my worries were for naught as I wasn’t lost at any point in the book and it didn’t feel like I required any prior knowledge before starting.

My new worry is that New Spring gave away too much of the back story, or of things that I wasn’t supposed to learn about until well into the series (a couple of helpful readers on my last post have since confirmed my fears). I have no answer as to what extent I have ruined things, but I will be able to report back after I read book one, The Eye of the World. In light of this new knowledge, I would recommend skipping the prequel until later on in the series.

Anyway, back to New Spring. This one felt like a teaser to me, and it took a great deal of restraint to not immediately pick up The Eye of the World once I finished (if I start down that road I will be done before the flowers arrive, and be left with a lot of time to kill before the release of A Memory of Light). I feel that I now have a semi-firm grip on Jordan’s world - though I still confuse the individual kingdoms, their location, and the personality of their inhabitants. This was to be expected of a series so large in scope, and I am eager to learn more.

For those who read my reviews of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire last year, you know that I am a fan of cliffhanger endings, and New Spring definitely left me on a high, ready to read the rest of The Wheel of Time. I believe I have built a rapport with Moiraine and Lan and I am looking forward to their development and the continuance of their story.

SPOILER ALERTDO NOT read the below thoughts unless you have finished New Spring. I really don’t know what I may be giving away here.

I do hope that the unveiling of The Dragon Reborn later in the series is not of some momentous or surprising nature; else I will have already spoiled things for myself (see above). Then again, if the revelation is Eddings-esqe (I am thinking about Garion in the The Belgariad here) and not supposed to be surprising, then things are all good.

I am intrigued in the magical setup of Jordan’s world, the use of the One Power being solely in the domain of women, driving men mad. I wonder if it has to do with the lack of available training for men (unlike the Tower for women), or if men are just more easily corruptible – although the existence of the Black Ajah shows that women, too, are corruptible.

Not too many additional thoughts this time – though there will be plenty more as I progress through the series.


Follow my progress through The Wheel of Time:


Read along with me. Here is the complete title list:

Friday, 27 January 2012 16:53

A Year in The Wheel of Time

I consider myself a fantasy reader, yet I have never read The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. (Hopefully I won’t receive a deluge of hate mail for this confession.) There is a good reason for this, I swear.

Back in the 90’s, probably my heyday for Fantasy reading, I was warned off starting The Wheel of Time series by my friends as it was around the publication of book eight and they didn’t see any end in sight. While they enjoyed the series, they thought they would have been better off saving themselves the agonizing wait in between releases and instead wait until they could read it end to end in its entirety.

This is what I am going to do this year.

According to Brandon Sanderson's Twitter feed, the last book has been finished, the revisions are in progress, and the end is in sight.

I am about to embark on my year of living in The Wheel of Time. I plan to immerse myself in Robert Jordan's world, reading through the complete series and reporting on my thoughts for each book as I progress through the series.

For followers of this blog, you will see similarities to what I did for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire last year. For those of you who, like myself, have a long wait for Martin's next installment, The Winds of Winter, the Wheel of Time books are a great way to fill the time and sate your appetite for epic storylines until then. 

Along the way I will give updates on the new book, A Memory of Light, along with providing any exclusive content that I can get my hands on.

I welcome any thoughts or stories about your own experiences with The Wheel of Time as I progress. If anyone else wants to take the up challenge in reading the complete Wheel of Time before A Memory of Light is released, you can let me know in the comments and we can share the journey together.

Anyway, I’m off and will start with New Spring. (While the prequel was published much later on through the series, I feel that chronologically, this is the best place to begin.)

For those who want to follow along, I am planning on finishing this prequel and reporting back by the end of the month


For those not in the know, here is the complete title list:

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