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Penguin Canada

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton


The Widow by Fiona Barton (Penguin Canada) is a dark psychological thriller. Glen Taylor is a smarmy, arrogant bastard. He marries Jean when she’s quite young and she’s blown away. Initially she seems to like him ordering her food and telling her what to wear or do. Glen is older, charming, and she sees it as him introducing her to the adult world. But when Glen gets fired from his job and starts driving a truck, the cracks begin to show. One day the police show up. A little girl has gone missing and Glen’s delivery truck was in the area. Next the media circus shows up, and they are relentless. The family is hounded. Glen is hiding something but Jean doesn’t know what. They both love children, didn’t have any of their own, couldn’t. But Glen wouldn’t hurt a child, or so Jean believes. The police feel differently and it goes to court. It’s there that Jean is truly blown away. Glen was fired for viewing child pornography at the office. He was buying and watching porn at night unbeknownst to her, and there are deeper, darker secrets that are revealed.

What I like about this book is that it opens with one of the reporters smooth talking her way into Jean’s house. The chapters are told from Jean’s perspective, the reporter’s, or the detective’s. Little by little the case is pieced together and the reader realizes the connections at the same time as the case unfolds. There’s lots of little deceptions, unfollowed leads and circumstantial evidence. The scenario is unthinkable, but the plot twists and psychological insights into the wife, the reporter and the detective make this a fascinating, rather than gruesome, read.

You can’t get a better quote than this:

“If you liked Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you might want to pick up The Widow by Fiona Barton. Engrossing. Suspenseful.”—Stephen King

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell is a fast-paced, gripping ghost story about two immortals who prey on visitors to Slade House. Norah and Jonah Grayer are twins who learn the secret of eternal life. Yet the magic that sustains them requires the soul of a particular type of person, who they elaborately lure into their web every nine years. The novel spans from 1979 to 2015 with each episode taking place on the last Saturday in October (close to, or on, Halloween) when a secret entrance to Slade House is revealed to its intended victim.


Each episode is narrated by the newest victim, which lets Mitchell experiment with the tone of each era and the social and political dynamics of the scenes.

Slade House is a clever, creepy tale that started as a series of tweets. In some ways it is a companion to Mitchell’s previous novel The Bone Clocks, but really it is a continuation of the great uber-novel he has been writing for the last 15 years. Each of his novels has references to characters, settings or background details from the previous works. And although each novel stands alone, together they construct a sprawling universe.

This side gate at Powerscourt reminded me of Slade House.

Slade House by David Mitchell
Published by Penguin Random House

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


A heart-breaking, yet uplifting, book about two teens who fall in love after meeting at a Cancer Kid Support Group. Maybe you’ve seen the movie or read the hype about this book, either way, it’s all the wonderful things said and none of the bad. Hazel’s cancer is stable but she has never been anything but terminal. The wait is on. A fellow support-group kid named Isaac is her companion when it comes to sighing and eye rolling during the support group sessions and one day Isaac brings his friend Augustus to the group. Augustus is missing a leg due to his cancer but is in all respects a heartthrob. Former basketball star, instant charmer and class clown, Augustus has it all and only eyes for Hazel from day 1. Admittedly he is staring because Hazel reminds him of an ex-girlfriend, or rather of a former girlfriend who passed away from her cancer.

It’s love in the cancer ward and, although author John Green has made up many of the medical aspects, he seems so spot on with teen malaise and irony that you might think he is still a teenager himself.  I found this book more funny than sad and it’s definitely raw as well as raucous. There are lots of big questions in this book and the story acts as a pleasant philosophical examination of living, loving and taking risks.

Amazon.ca: The Fault in Our Stars ,by Green, John ( 2013 ) Paperback

Monday, April 06, 2015

Book Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

imageA quaint love story, or rather unrequited love story. Rachel Joyce’s first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, is the story of a saintly pensioner who walks, in yachting shoes, across England to say goodbye to a friend from long ago who is in a hospice. This is the other side of the story. Miss Queenie Hennessy is the friend who is waiting for Harold Fry, and while she waits, she writes out her confession and goodbye to Harold.

And I mean, really, the woman is dying. You’d think the man could get on a train or bus. But no, he is walking and she is waiting. The time gives them space to build themselves up for the visit, I suppose.

Anyway this companion book, since it’s not really a sequel, is about the burden of guilt Queenie has been carrying since leaving Kingsbridge 20 years ago. The novel is her letter to Harold about her recollections of first seeing him, dancing to himself under falling snow, and then meeting in the canteen at the brewery. She mentions, often, that Harold always remarks to everyone that they first met in the stationery cupboard. Miss Queenie Hennessy, however, was balling her eyes out so perhaps she’d rather remember it as the canteen. No matter. The “where” is the least of her deathbed worries.

Instead it’s that she met, danced with, and became friends with Harold’s son and never said a word about it to Harold. More than that, Harold’s son David stole money from her, along with her love poems and egg whisk. The egg whisk being the most irritating item to go astray. She lent David books, let him sleep on her couch, gave him money and offered up friendly advice about staying in touch with his parents. But David was as troubled as he was troubling.

Despite Queenie’s efforts to befriend him, David lied to her, mocked her, and eventually disappeared. His sudden death put Queenie on the spot. She couldn’t confess. She couldn’t tell Harold about her involvement with David because she feared the betrayal would be too great. She ran away then, but now she’s determined to say the things she wished she’d said then.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is her declaration of love and her confession. If Harold Fry’s pace is slow, Rachel Joyce’s writing just clips along at a good measure, which makes this 300-pager feel like a zippy read.

imageThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Book Prize. Read them both, why not.

See Books by Rachel Joyce on Amazon.ca

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: The World by Bill Gaston

The World by Bill Gaston is this month’s Vancouver Sun Book Club read and I’ve been enjoying re-discovering Gaston. I was first introduced to his work when I was at Raincoast and I’ve followed his career but haven’t really dipped into his books. Too bad I waited!

The World is both the title of this novel and the title of a novel in the book, written by Hal, one of the main characters. Hal has Alzheimer’s and is in a home and we don’t really get to his story until the final third of the book, but he is introduced early. The book begins with the sad life of Stuart Price who is a high-school shops teacher, recently retired. Stuart is split from his wife and has poured his energies into paying off his mortgage. Indeed he has just paid it off in a lump sum and, in burning the mortgage papers on his deck, burns the place down. Oh Stuart. To add insult to injury, he has forgotten to pay his insurance premium.

Stuart’s meltdown, or rather burndown, takes him on the road. Whether he’s running away or running to somewhere is questionable. He’s swiftly decided to drive his ancient Datsun from BC to Ontario in order to visit his long-lost friend Mel who is dying of cancer. It happens that his insurance company HQ is in Toronto and he wants to plead his case in person.

Stuart is hilarious, and a bit insane, so his third of the novel is pretty funny. The middle section begins with Mel bailing Stuart out of jail and continues from her perspective. It’s a bit dire in comparison to Stuart’s tragedy, but really it’s just another personal crisis from a different perspective. With Mel, we also finally meet Hal, author of The World which is about a leper colony on D’Arcy Island. Hal is quite the character and he and Stuart together are certainly a pair of looney tunes.

We’re going to be discussing Bill Gaston’s The World for the next couple of weeks in The Vancouver Sun so I’ll save my thoughts for that.

In the meantime, check out this gushing review in the National Post.

The World by Bill Gaston
Published by Hamish Hamilton

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Book Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Chaperon by Laura Moriarty reminded me a little bit of The Paris Wife. The book opens in 1922 during a summer in Wichita when not much is happening for Ms Cora Carlisle. Both her sons are grown and moved away, her husband’s successful law practice keeps him busy and Cora is idling away her time. What seems like an adventure is presented to her: chaperon 15-year-old Louise Brooks to New York City for her dance audition.

Cora, of course, has her own private reason for making the trip, and it’s not just boredom. We quickly find out that Cora was orphaned in New York and was sent out on an orphan train to be adopted by willing parents, who have since died. Her plan is to accompany Louise and seek out her birth parents. The orphanage has already refused to provide that information by mail, but Cora is optimistic.

The part of the story that reminds me of The Paris Wife is the insights into the 1920s. It was a time of transition where skirt lengths (above the ankle) were still shocking and girls were coached that no man would want to marry an unwrapped piece of candy. At the same time homosexuality, the bob haircut, jazz and other shocking disregards for convention (like black and white people sitting side by side in the same theatre) were part of daily life in a bustling metropolis like NYC.

Cora takes all the shocks in stride, in particular the difficulties posed by Louise’s free-spirit attitude, and really finds her own place in the world. She goes by to Wichita with quite a backbone.

The Chaperon by Laura Moriarty
Published by Riverhead Books (Penguin Canada)
Available in hardcover on amazon.ca

Monday, January 23, 2012

Penguin Canada Launches Razorbill.ca

Penguin Canada has launched Razorbill.ca which is actually a Ning site. I was curious about Ning in its early days and belonged to a couple of networks there so nothing really came of it. I’m interested to see what Penguin Canada does here.

Razorbill is a hub for conversations about YA fiction, pre-launch news and author chats with folks like Joseph Boyden (love him), Hiromi Goto, Charles de Lint and Carrie Mac.

I joined because of some thematic convergence that the marketers will like to know about. 1) I got my Amazon news blast recommending hot titles in January. The first title was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I visited the book page because I liked the cover. Read the blurb to understand that it is YA fiction and has something to do with a girl who has cancer. Didn’t strike me as anything I needed to act urgently on so I carried on with my day. 2) I got an email from Robyn at Citizen Optimum introducing me to Razorbill, and including a link to grab a blogger badge, like you see below. John Green’s The Fault in our Stars is mentioned in the email. Hm. 3) I check out Razorbill and because I’m procrastinating about the day job, I sign up for an account. Then I complete the tedious form to eventually find the link to the badges. And here we are.


So anyone checked out Razorbill.ca? What do you think? Worth it?

I’m tired of all the little “community” sites. It’s like having a ton of party invites from different friends and eventually just staying home. Authors—do these sites help you? Marketers—do the analytics suggests these influence purchases directly or indirectly?


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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is a fantastic read. I thought the writing for Kite Runner was also strong but I hated the protagonist. Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns, however, is much more likable. Born to unwed parents, Mariam is disappointed by her mother and disillusioned by her father, who eventually sells her to a despicable man many times her age.

Hmm, more background required right?

A Thousand Splendid Suns is set during the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last 30 years. We see through Mariam’s eyes the Soviet invasion, the reign of the Taliban and the post-Taliban rebuilding. Our second main character is Laila, younger than Mariam and the second wife. She joins the family due to a series of unfortunate events.

Khaled Hosseini’s second novel is exceptional. The violence and fear is barely in balance with the hope and faith. The story is intimate, disturbing, jarring and remarkable in its representation of the personal lives of those who suffer at the hands of others.

A tightly written story for sure and definitely worth reading.

Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW: No Think for Old Publishers

New Think for Old Publishers panel at SXSW drew a lot of frustration from the crowd of book lovers and supporters.

The official description of the session was:

This is not a discussion of whether ebooks are killing treebooks, or whether it’s possible to get cozy with an Amazon Kindle. It’s about how participatory culture and the online world interact with good olde book publishing.Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, Deborah Schultz, and fellow panelists will share with the audience a variety of perspectives on what’s going right and what’s going wrong in publishing, assess success of recent forays into marketing digitally, digital publishing, and what books and blogs have to gain from one another. Penguin Group (USA), which houses some 40 plus imprints and publishes an extremely broad variety of physical and digital products everything from William Gibson’s first ebook in the 90’s to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (the source for HBO’s True Blood) is deeply involved in exploring ways that old and new media might better collaborate. Audience members are invited to speak up about what they think book publishers could/should be doing to better provide relevant information and content to blogs, websites, and online communities. Come tell old media what you want and how you want it.

Clay Shirky ITP
John Fagan   Mktg Dir,  Penguin Group (USA)
Deborah Schultz   Founder/Chief Catalyst,  deborahschultz.com
Peter Miller   Dir of Publicity,  Bloomsbury USA
Ivan Held   Pres GP Putnam’s Sons,  Penguin Group (USA)

They certainly told publishers what they think. The summation was “you suck at this is the biggest way possible.”

I think it’s unfair to attack the folks on that panel but as representatives of the industry they do have to go back to their houses and understand that they need to convey, not that bloggers are an unruly bunch, but that publishers need to get off their asses and get involved with social media. Enough is enough.

BookSquare says
If you’re going to hold a session called “New Think for Old Publishers”, you gotta come with some new thinking. Either that or tell the audience that it’s a research session…and the audience is supposed to bring the new thinking. Good idea, needed better execution. Nobody read the panel description to mean “we want the audience to tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it”.


The publishing people on stage said, essentially, tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it. You have 300 people who give up an hour of their lives to hear the cool things the traditional publishing business is doing…and you can ask them to consult on your business?

Watch a video of the panel here.

Other links to conversation about this panel:
Medialoper has a fairly neutral assessment of what unfolded.

Twitter stream of comments on this panel #sxswbp

Monique’s summary
What went wrong is this:
* Publishers have not listened to the crowd for a long time.
* The crowd is restless.
* Publishers wring their hands about the web.
* The crowd offers options publishers don’t like.
* Publishers weep into their hands.
* The crowd wants to help and offers other suggestions.
* Publishers act like deer in headlights.
* The crowd plows down publishers and reinvents the industry without them.

What this panel really came down to is that the wisdom of the crowds is not being tapped. The crowd is now sick and tired of trying to help people who won’t help themselves.

Hold me to this: I’m going to organize a panel in Vancouver. We’re going to create a model for publishing and marketing books. We’re going to move forward as an industry. Leaders will be identified. Roles will be assigned. If you’re not open to totally change everything you’re doing, then you are not ready for this revolution. Don’t come.

Who’s in?


Peter Miller Glibness. “Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Tips from a panelist who barely survived” in Publishers Weekly.
Read the article.

Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada on 6 Things That Revolutionize Publishing

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Joseph Boyden Wins Giller Prize

CTV on Boyden’s Giller win ...

Yay! Congratulations to Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road, who is a fantastic writer and a swell guy. His latest Through Black Spruce won the Giller Prize.

Listen to Seen Reading and read the entry inspired by Boyden’s Giller winner Through Black Spruce

Published by Penguin

Monday, May 05, 2008

Johnny Bunko Video Sells Books

In my never-ending quest to find a good use for book trailers, I’ve discovered Johnny Bunko.

Johnny Bunko trailer from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Does this work?

Here’s what happened for me.

I like books and am always on the lookout for new books.

I subscribe to a bunch of email newsletters, in particular business newsletters and technology newsletters.

GrokDotCom is one of the newsletters and last week they wrote about the Johnny Bunko video.

I clicked on the link and watched the video, which is pretty cool.

Here’s what hooked me. I read and loved What Colour Is My Parachute? I religiously avoided Who Moved My Cheese? because it was the career book of business books for a time. The video nicely positions Johnny Bunko as THE career book of its time—the book for the new generation of employees entering the workforce.

Now I’m curious and want to read the book.

So mission accomplished. Effective video.

(Plus, I’m interested enough to write about the book and video here.)

What do you think of the video? Do you have another example of marketing unpacked?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Penguin UK and Harper Collins Canada

I have been remiss in my duties.

SoMisguided is my external brain. I like to post things here about clever online marketing campaigns and the book business but the first part of the year has totally had it’s way with me.

If you have a clever online campaign or if you’ve seen one your really liked, please let me know what I’ve missed. In turn, I promise to pay attention.

Here are 2 big ones I failed to write about in a timely fashion.

Penguin UK, We Tell Stories, http://www.wetellstories.co.uk
Penguin has a fantastic story generator on their website. Fairy tales and other works are revealed based on user input. I love it, really fun idea.

Harper Collins Canada March Mystery Madness
6 weeks, 64 books, 4 conferences, tonnes of “games,” and 1 winner. Deanna from Harper says, “essentially, it’s the NCAA basketball tournament only with mystery books.” A perfect description. I’ve totally missed on this one, but I understand there are 2 books left and you can still vote for your favourites in the poll here: http://www.harpercollins.ca/marchmysterymadness/poll.html

One person wins 64 books.

Know about a clever online marketing campaign involving books? Let me know.