Carolyn Taylor-Watts grew up in New Zealand and started out her career there as a registered nurse, but she has now established a family in downtown Toronto and pursued her dream as a writer of short stories and books. Although she has previously published several non-fiction books, last December she self-published a novel for the first time.

Helena: An Odyssey is an epic saga overflowing with Greco-Turkish history and stories that reflect the symbolism and importance of hair — in fact, the novel was inspired by Taylor-Watts’s Greek hairdresser. The story opens with the Kouvalis family in late 20th-century Toronto, but weaves back and forth between this family’s present day and the time of the Greco-Turkish war generations earlier. The author describes her book as “a story of myths, grand obsessions, and doomed, thwarted love stories. Probably the most interesting one of its many themes is the fascinating and sometimes terrible history of the power and symbolism of hair.” She spoke with Bookclub-in-a-Box about her writing process and inspiration, the years of research, and the highs and lows of self-publishing. (Buy Helena: An Odyssey in print or ebook format on Amazon.)

Can you tell me about your Greek hairdresser, and how she inspired the main themes of Helena: An Odyssey?

When I moved to Cabbagetown in Toronto, I needed a hairdresser. I was walking up Parliament Street, and I heard music coming out of this hair salon. I looked in the window and there was this woman dancing and singing with scissors in her hand. The salon was full and busy and it had an energizing atmosphere. So I thought, ooh, let’s try this.

When I sat down in her chair, it was like sitting in a psychiatrist’s chair, because the hairdresser asks you to tell her all about yourself.  But I turned the tables on her because I found her so fascinating, and I wanted to know all about her. Over the years, I heard her family’s story — they were Greeks living in Turkey — and what happened to them when they came to Toronto. I had intended to write a novel about what I know, my own story about my forebears moving from England to New Zealand. But I thought, I already know that story and I don’t want to relive it — I want to know something else.

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This Sunday marks the first official day of summer, and we’re already stacking a lot of books up on our to-read pile. Marilyn Herbert, founder of Bookclub-in-a-Box, has put together this list of books you should read — including Harper Lee’s long-awaited followup to To Kill a Mockingbird — either to be enjoyed on your own or for a discussion with your closest book-loving friends.

A God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson)

A God In Ruins picks up the life of Ursula Todd’s young brother Teddy. We met Ursula in the mesmerizing Life After Life where she lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. We meet Teddy as a would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father and as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

The Truth According to Us (Annie Barrows)

Evoking the same small town charm with the same great eye for character, the co-author of Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society finds her own voice in this debut novel about a young debutante working for the Federal Writer’s Project whose arrival in Macedonia, West Virginia changes the course of history for a prominent family who has been sitting on a secret for decades. The Romeyn family is a fixture in the town, their identity tied to its knotty history. Layla enters their lives and lights a match to the family veneer and a truth comes to light that will change each of their lives forever. Continue reading

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Spring has arrived at long last, and you can now save 25% off every one of our Bookclub-in-a-Box discussion guides, in print and PDF formats. After you begin your order on this website, just use the coupon code “SPRING” at checkout.

PDF guides: Was $6.98 Now $5.23

Print guides: Was $7.49 Now $5.62

This offer ends April 2 at 11:59 p.m., so take advantage of our spring sale now!

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Enter the contest: Win two tickets to Tarragon Theatre’s poetic thriller Abyss, for any performance between Feb. 12 and March 15. To enter, email your name and phone number to laura@bookclubinabox.com by Feb. 9.

Discount: Save 20% off tickets with coupon code “BOOKCLUB”!

Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre presents the English-language premiere of Abyss by award-winning Tarragon playwright-in-residence Maria Milisavljevic.

Karla Richter has gone missing, last seen heading to the grocery store in her red rubber boots. The police and papers ignore her disappearance, leaving her three friends to discover the truth. As the story slowly unravels, it becomes clear that all three of them have been harbouring secrets. A search for Karla becomes a search for the self in this lyrical thriller and modern-day epic cloaked in the mystery of Europe’s underworld. Abyss was directed by Tarragon’s artistic director Richard Rose, and stars Cara Pifko, Gord Rand, and Sarah Sherman.

Bookclub-in-a-Box readers can save 20% off the cost of regular tickets. Visit tickets.tarragontheatre.com, select your show date and time, and follow the steps until you reach the “Add Tickets to Shopping Cart” stage. Once you click that button, enter the word BOOKCLUB into the coupon code box. Should you have any issues please give the theatre’s Patron Services a call at 416-531-1827.

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Today is the official launch of the Novel Notes Mini-Guide for Steven Galloway’s haunting, beautiful novel The Cellist of Sarajevo.

In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human. In this novel, Steven Galloway has painted a portrait of the Siege of Sarajevo (1992–1996) that will not be soon forgotten.

Click here to buy the PDF guide now for just $5.50.

The Bookclub-in-a-Box Mini-Guide (37 pages) includes complete coverage of the characters, themes, symbols, historical background and writing style, plus discussion questions to get your book club or classroom buzzing.

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Looking for something to fill these lazy, hazy days of summer? Bookclub-in-a-Box’s Marilyn Herbert has put together our annual list of books we’ve either already read or are eager to read. Some of these are brand new, and some are older books you should really get around to if you haven’t already. Have you read any of these titles? What books are you reading this summer?

The Orenda   (Joseph Boyden)

A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family, and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees that the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar.

Frog Music  (Emma Donaghue)

It is 1876, and San Francisco, the freewheeling “Paris of the West,” is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, Blanche will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice—if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed. Continue reading

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