A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman


The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a novel about a bunch of kids who end up at a magic school—a daring feat (or author death wish) considering the world of Harry Potter hasn’t left our collective consciousness. But Grossman’s intention is to tie into the collective consciousness, in particular to the works of CS Lewis, Ursula LeGuin and JK Rowling. And he pulls it off. Grossman does, afterall, hold degrees in comparative literature from Harvard and Yale, and, based on writing style, is well versed in the traditions of modern fantasy and literary fiction.

Like Harry Potter, we have a couple of trios in the mix. Our main group being intellectually precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater and his best friends James and Julia (who happen to be a couple). Quentin is our Harry, James and Julia our Ron and Hermione. But this trio doesn’t quite work out.

Quentin and James set off for their Princeton interviews. The interviewer turns up dead. The paramedic on scene is a bit odd and tries to give them envelopes with their names on them, and only Quentin accepts. Bonds are broken. Quentin moves to the next level.

The next level being an examination and then acceptance at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Page 23
The test also changed as he took it. The reading-comprehension section showed him a paragraph that vanished as he read it, then quizzed him on its contents. Some new kind of computerized paper—hadn’t he read somewhere that somebody was working on that? Digital ink? Amazing resolution, though. He was asked to draw a rabbit that wouldn’t keepstill as he drew it—as soon as it had paws it scratched itself luxuriously and then went hopping off around the page, nibbling at the other questions, so that he had to chase it with the pencil to finish filling in the fur. He wound up pacifying it with some hastily sketched radishes and then drawing a fence around it to keep it in line.

The eventual threesome--pardon the pun because I mean it in the most virtuous way (for most of the book, anyway)--is Quentin, Alice and Penny. Penny is a punk, bad-ass, too-smart-for-school kind of guy. Alice is beside-herself shy and the smartest of the lot.

Brakebills is a college so these kids are a bit raunchier than the Harry Potter lot, but they are equally naive in the ways of magic. The lessons and structure of this magical world in Book 1 is by far my favourite part of the novel. By Book 2, Quentin and Alice have graduated and are slumming it in Manhattan. This particular section is my least favourite. Quentin turns from being this naive, wizard in training to an overindulged, laissez-faire idiot. (Strong writing, certainly. Q is such an ass that I almost gave up on him and his dumb friends, but Grossman pulled me back in with Book 3 and another round of adventure.)

I don't want to give too much plot away, but if you read CS Lewis, then there are some throwbacks to Narnia here that you'll really enjoy as the characters venture off to other worlds.

(Another of my favourite scenes is a conversation with Quentin and a drunk brown bear.)

Book completed, I'm looking forward to Grossman's next book (a bit unfair to demand more when he's only just finished touring for this one). C'est la vie!

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Viking)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Publishing Websites

Our publishing friends have been launching new websites like crazy. I can’t keep up. But I do want to call out two in particular.

Haig, Cam and Frederick, our friends at Lift Studios, redesigned the snazzy new ABPBC website.


Diana Douglas and team have significantly updated the website for Self-Counsel Press.


Notable features include:

  • Latest industry news headlines. Stay up-to-date with the most recent headlines in small business and personal legal issues. Read up on personal finance and real estate issues.
  • Free articles and expert resources. Take advantage of tips and guides provided by Self-Counsel’s authors, editors, and experts. Topics ranging from divorce and legal wills to starting your own small business, and social media marketing are available for free on the site and in downloadable PDF format.
  • Interactive forum. Users can connect with Self-Counsel authors and industry experts on subjects ranging from the latest trends in do-it-yourself legal topics to specific questions about starting and running a small business.
  • Digital products. The new website features downloadable products, including small business and legal forms.
  • Sample chapters. Users can download sample chapters of every book Self-Counsel publishes.
  • Social media bookmarks. A “share” button under every article, news headline, and book allows users to share information with friends and family in an easy and efficient way. Users can also find links to book review blogs, book giveaways, and relevant videos.
  • Tags. Users can add tags to each of the books on the site as a way of categorizing or labeling them for future reference.
  • Book reviews. Readers can share their opinions as well as read what others have said about Self-Counsel’s books.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


I like reading first novels because for the most part book publishers are wary of publishing first-time authors. They feel that no one will buy a book by someone they’ve never heard of. The upside to this misguided logic is that first novels are a highly filter commodity—only the best get through—which means that first novels can sometimes be the best novels you read in a given year.

Such is the case with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

Our heroine is 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist who knows the ins and outs of various poisons and their affect on the human body. The novel’s opening scene is of Flavia locked in a closet. Her contemptuous older sisters have bound and gagged her. A cunning lass, Flavia frees herself and sets out to poison her oldest sister via the beauty queen’s lipstick.

Set in the 1950s, Flavia’s Bucksaw home (a decaying English mansion with a chem lab in the attic) is the site of a murder. Flavia discovers the dead man in the cucumber patch. He happens to be the man her father argued with hours before. There’s a dead crow, a crazy cook, a gardener with post-traumatic stress, an affable detective, a couple of side stories of deception, and a lot of investigative work by 11-year-old Miss Flavia.

Chapter 12

Feely and Daffy were sitting on a flowered divan in the drawing room, wrapped in one another’s arms and wailing like air-raid sirens. I had taken a few steps into the room to join in with them before Ophelia spotted me.

‘Where have you been, you little beast?’ she hissed, springing up and coming at me like a wildcat, her eyes swollen and red as cycle reflectors. ‘Everyone’s been searching for you. We thought you’d drowned. Oh! How I prayed you had!’

Welcome home, Flave, I thought.

‘Father’s been arrested,’ Daffy said matter-of-factly. ‘They’ve taken him away.’

‘Where?’ I asked.

‘How should we know?’ Ophelia spat contemptuously. ‘Wherever they take people who have been arrested, I expect. Where have you been?’

‘Bishop’s Lacey or Hinley?’

‘What do you mean? Talk sense, you little fool.’

‘Bishop’s Lacey or Hinley,’ I repeated. ‘There’s only a one-room police station at Bishop’s Lacey, so I don’t expect he’s been taken there. The County Constabulary is at Hinley. So they’ve likely taken him to Hinley.’

‘They’ll charge him with murder,’ Ophelia said, ‘and then he’ll be hanged!’ She burst into tears again and turned away.

For a moment I almost felt sorry for her.

You can just hear the villain muttering, ’ I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!’

If you like Scooby-Doo, Miss Marple, The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency and quirky fiction, this is for you.

Full marks Alan Bradley on your first novel!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie on Amazon

Published by Doubleday Canada

Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is worth the praise. Hanna Heath, an Australian rare book expert and conservationist, is called upon to analyze and conserve the famed Sarajevo Haggadah.

The Sarajevo Haggadah was created in the middle of the 14th century, the golden age of Spain. There are many theories about its creation and the identity of the artist who illuminated it. What is known is that there are two coats of arms, one representing a rose and the other a wing. The book is beautiful and has the mysterious history of a beautiful, unidentified woman. It is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images.

See the illuminations ...

The Haggadah survived the Inquisition, the Second World War, the Bosnian War, and countless other close calls.

In Brooks’ novel, the Haggadah must also survive a form of repatriation.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks delivers a great unraveling.

People of the Book in Google Book Search
Geraldine Brooks
Penguin Books

People of the Book melds the known stories of the Haggadah with the imagined stories of Geraldine Brooks.

Book Review: Girl #3 by Nichole McGill

imageGirl #3 by Nichole McGill is a great literary, thriller about a girl who is almost abducted. It can be scary being a kid, a girl in particular. What I loved about Nichole’s writing is how she captures the faulty thought process of teens. Basically they’ve been on earth long enough to be given responsibilities, like a paper route, but at 14 have been navigating the world without parental interference for less than 4 years. In terms of making decisions, like what to do if a guy is stalking you on your paper route, they don’t have a very complex understanding of the world and the adults within it.

Pitched for age group 12+, I happily enjoyed it at age 30+. I think it would be a great book club book for those groups of mom-daughters who need fictional accounts to have conversations about boys, sex, trust, bullying, divorce and behaviour that is ok.

Girl #3 is a fast-paced novel about 14-year-old Syd and a guy who stalks her on her paper route. It’s about about her fury at friends’ betrayals over boys, boys’ betrayals over sexual innocence, the betrayals of adults who don’t take teens seriously and the perceived betrayal of parents divorcing.

Girl #3 by Nichole McGill on Amazon
Published by Key Porter Books