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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Book Review: The Falconer’s Knot by Mary Hoffman

The Falconer’s Knot by Mary Hoffman is a novel about two teenagers in medieval Italy. One is Chiara, whose brother sells her to a nunnery because he can’t afford to keep her, and the other is Silvano, who is taking refuge is the neighbouring friary. Silvano is accused of murdering a man in a nearby town. The two are unlikely apprentices but soon find solitude in their new lifestyles. The fact that they get to enjoy each other as eye candy every once and a while doesn’t hurt.

Mary Hoffman is one of my favourite writers. She has another series for teens called Stravaganza, which is also set in Italy but during the Renaissance. It’s a trilogy and involves time travel.

I love Hoffman’s books because although the reading level is aimed at teens, the story is better written than many adult novels I read. My perception is that teen writers have to work extra hard to succeed. Their books are a hard sell—imagine trying to grab the attention of a teenager, to find a subject that will be new but not totally foreign, that involves sex but sex that won’t get banned by parent groups and librarians.

The Falconer’s Knot is a mystery. Silvano is taking refuge in the friary while his father tries to find the true murderer, but he is soon pegged as a suspect in a series of suspicious deaths in the friary. His only friend in the friary, the Colour Master, is also under suspicion. Over at the nunnery, Chiara is getting her hair chopped off and sporting the nun’s habit. She is also working with the nuns’ Colour Master.

The Colour Masters are creating pigments used for church frescos. This side story is really interesting because the information about religion and the painting of the frescos in Italy during the Middle Ages is interwoven in a non-intrusive way.

Overall this is a fun book. I’m not adept at figuring out mysteries so I couldn’t guess the ending, but in these types of literary mysteries that’s never really the point. This is just another damn-fine book from Mary Hoffman.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nicknames Past and Present

I acquired a new nickname yesterday and it got me thinking about the various aliases for Monique.

Here’s the newest one:
M-ster

Others in rotation:
The Duck
Miss Mon
dm2

Nicknames of a by-gone era:
Nicky
Moni-Q (pronounced mawn-IQ)
Monickity
Mimi
Ta-Lilliput
Mico

What names do you go by?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Good Times

It’s been quite the Harry Potter day today.

1. The final cover artwork was announced today. See the Raincoast website for details.

I am a huge fan of the Adult edition designs and the final book looks spectacular. I love the locket. I’ll have to start re-reading the series so that my brain is primed for the big day on July 21.

2. A kind-hearted reader sent along this YouTube link for my viewing pleasure. It’s puppet-threatre meets fan-fiction. I love the “ticking”. I also want to create a Monique puppet for my video reviews. What do you think? Any crafters in the audience?
Watch the video to find out what the hell I’m talking about.

3. Another kind-hearted reader, who knows I’m a Harry fan, sent over this video of the Scholastic editor unveiling the cover of the US edition on the Today show. Watch the video.

4. Scholastic also has a cool flash app creating an interactive picture of the book cover. (I think it’s done in flash, correct me if I’m wrong. I also want to learn how to do this. Anyone know?) Check out the US cover on Scholastic.


Other than that, it’s just been a hairy day.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Book Review: The Sunday List of Dreams by Kris Radish

Bringing sexy back.

We had quite the Sunday night. I finished Kris Radish’s book The Sunday List of Dreams, and we saw the movies Perfume and Little Children. All three are thematically linked by stories of sexual repression.

In Perfume the protagonist is killing women in order to capture their scent. In Little Children unfaithful partners are endulging in the sex they don’t get at home and sexual predators are trying to control themselves.

As I say, it was quite the Sunday.

Kris Radish’s book stands well above the movies though.

The Sunday List of Dreams is about Connie, retired nurse, getting on with her list of dreams.

1. Stop being afraid.
2. Let go.
3. Get rid of SHIT. Starting with the garage.

Funny enough it’s the shit in the garage that gets her into shit.

Connie discovers a box of files belonging to her oldest daughter Jessica. Jessica lives in New York and is a very busy CEO of a manufacturing company. Connie lives in the Mid-West. Her other two daughters are happily married with children. But Jessica has gone astray. They don’t talk as much as Connie would like.

Well it turns out the box of files contains early business plans and sketches for Jessica’s company. She sells sex toys.

That’s enough to jump start Connie. She on a plane to New York to find out what the hell Jessica is up to. Mother madness. Full panic. Rescue Jessica.

There is a very funny oh-my-god moment (for both mother and daughter) as Connie enters Jessica’s store for the first time.

Nothing like seeing your mother surrounded by dildos. Nothing like visiting your daughter’s sex shop for the first time.

Things, of course, fall apart and come together, and despite very few plot surprises, The Sunday List of Dreams is a good romp.

One of my favourite lines in the book:

Look at yourself. Not your face, sweetie, your self ... If you are giving driving directions to someone else it really helps to know the map.
The Sunday List of Dreams by Kris Radish

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shopping in Second Life

Barganistia has a great recap of the girls night out in Second Life. We went on a shopping spree. I’m going back for new hair.

I made the mistake of trying to modify my own. Like in real life, you should not attempt this unless you are highly skilled.

Check out the play-by-play commentary on After a Fashion.

And thank you to Katicus and Catherine for organizing and hauling us all around.

Starbucks: The Way I See It

The Way I See ItWhen I want a Chai tea latte, I choose Starbucks. I typically make my overpriced purchase at the Starbucks on Cornwall St. in Vancouver. I don’t mind paying for a good coffee (when I need it) and 99% of the time I’m happy with my experience in the store and enjoying my beverage.

I also like reading the paper cup. “The Way I See It” is a series of quotes, one is printed on each cup.

Today’s was:
“People should get out of their comfort zones on a daily basis. Take up knitting and boxing. It will make you so much more interesting.”—Raymond Lawson, Starbucks customer

That’s great Raymond got a spot on the cup.

His quote is not great. It’s far below the typical quotes.

It was disappointing. I came up with this:

The Way I See It
There’s only so much time in the day for mediocrity. The coffee better be good.

Then I saw a call to action on the coffee sleeve. “After you read ‘The Way I See It,’ tell us how you see it.” http://www.starbucks.com/wayiseeit

Ok. It’s Saturday and I’m procrastinating. I visited the site to submit my entry.

It’s a sad, corporate site.

There’s a description of what “The Way I See It” is, an inspiration quote from Giuliani and then a link to frequently asked questions.

Where do I follow through on the call to action? Where do I tell Starbucks how I see it?

Oh, there it is, buried as a menu item. “Contributor’s Corner.”

Nope not there.

That made me grumpy so I thought “I’ll tell you how I see it!”

Here’s the comment form.

Oh, wait the comment form is how you submit your “The Way I See It”.

Sigh.

There’s only so much time in the day for mediocrity. At least the coffee was good.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Book Review: iGeneration by Jason Logan

iGeneration is by Jason Logan, the illustrator who brought us If We Ever Break Up, This Is My Book.

iGeneration: Shuffling toward the Future is a quirky little book about technology and its control over our lives.

The whole book is illustrated, in fact, it’s very light on text. But it is pretty cute.

One of my favourite pages is “What the hell am I supposed to do whilst my music is downloading?” One suggestion is to create a false cache history to disturb your parents. For example,

panda-child-acid.xxx
makeabomboutofcommonhouseholdproducts.com
freeoldmansex.nz.org
prisons+welfare+lifeplan.com
make_some_cash_while_in_prison.com

I’d post a video review when I get a chance. The book is funny enough that you should have a look at it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Book Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard is one of my favourite plays, in part because I had to study the hell out of it in unversity and in part because it is one of the first dates that James and I had.

I was excited to see Stoppard’s new play Rock ‘n’ Roll is now published. Rock ‘n’ Roll premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London, in June 2006.

The cover is a very striking yellow, and the edition that I have includes an introduction from Stoppard. I find the author introductions to plays most fascinating. When I was in school I hated reading any of the extra bits, but now I’m much more interested in the context for the story, what references the author is trying to make, what he or she hopes the reader gets out of the text. The introduction to Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t disappoint, and it is a good recap of what was going on in Prague and Cambridge from 1968 to 1990, more directly what effect the Communist regime was having on musicians, philosophers and students.

In case you don’t know Tom Stoppard, he was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and moved to England as a child in 1946.

The Amazon copy says:
Catapulted into the front ranks of modern playwrights overnight when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead opened in London in 1967, he has become recognized as a contemporary comic master, the brilliantly acclaimed author of The Real Inspector Hound, Enter a Free Man, Albert’s Bridge, After Magritte, Travesties, Dirty Linen, Jumpers, New-Found-Land, Night and Day, The Real Thing, Hapgood, Artist Descending a Staircase, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage), and Rock ‘n’ Roll. He has also written a number of screenplays, including The Romantic Englishwoman, Despair, and Brazil.

Rock ‘n’ Roll highlights the moments of friendship and tension between Jan and Max. Jan is a lecturer at Cambridge who returns to Prague just as the Soviet tanks are rolling into the city. He’s a music fan and in addition to a brief history of Czechoslovakia, you get a brief history of The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Lennon, Andy Warhol, and Frank Zappa. Max is a Marxist philosopher with a free-spirited daughter and a Sapphic philosopher wife who is dying from cancer.  Over a 20-year period Rock ‘n’ Roll offers little windows into Jan and Max’s acceptance and resistance to the Communist regime.

The remarkable thing about the play is that it’s heavy in a light way. There’s a sense of bouyancy and humour. In many ways it reminds me of Chekov’s plays, but without the dark, foreboding sense that, as James says, “it’s a godless world and we’re all going to die.”

Rock ‘n’ Roll—a new play by Tom Stoppard—read more on Amazon.ca

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Off to the Spelling Bee

10 FinalistsI’m almost out the door to the CanSpell Regional Spelling Bee. Should be fun.

UPDATE: It was totally fun. The spellers were 11 years old. I arrived at the start of the final round. There were 10 spellers remaining: 3 boys and 7 girls. Hailey was up first. Speller #7. I thought she sounded like a smarty-pants (in the best possible way) and she did go on to win the championship. The winner took home $3000. Second place was $2000 and went to Rebeccah, who seemed to be a crowd favourite in my section.

I wish I’d taken my notepad to record some of the words.

Two winners: runner-up on left, winner on right

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hey Book Readers

Please check out the survey on Galley Cat.

They want to know “What’s the most likely way a book gets on your to-read list?”

I read about it in a newspaper (print or online).
I read about it in a magazine (print or online).
I read about it on a blog.
I saw something about it on TV.
Someone I know recommended it.
It caught my eye in the bookstore.
I traded with a friend in publishing for a copy.

It would be a shame if only people in the publishing industry answered this survey, which they acknowledge. The call to action is go do the survey, then tell other book readers to answer the survey.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Microsoft Lawyer Attacks Google in Speech to Associaton of American Publishers

Oh what fun.

Tom Rubin, Associate General Counsel for Copyright, Trademark, and Trade Secrets at Microsoft, recently spoke to the Association of American Publishers (March 6, 2007).

His speech, “Searching for Principles: Online Services and Intellectual Property” , is a clear attack on Google Book Search and a blatant cuddling up to the AAP, who are suing Google for scanning copyright-protected books without first seeking the permission of the copyright holder.

The entire speech is available on the Microsoft site. Read the speech here.

To state my position: Google Book Search is not about stealing copyright.

It’s pitiful that Rubin would seek to benefit from publishers’ fears of the unknown in order to promote Microsoft’s own product, Live Book Search. You can just hear the faint peeps of “MSN”. The little whine of “remember me, play with me, search with me. MSN. MSN. MSN.”

MSN has very little share of the search audience, they are practically non-existent compared to Google and Yahoo.

But if Microsoft wants to increase it’s share of search traffic do they really think pointing fingers is the way to go? So what if Microsoft’s Live Book Search is better than Google Book Search in terms of their communications with publishers. If very few people use Microsoft search then where is the discovery mechanism for books? Isn’t that the promise search engines are making to publishers and authors? We’ll help readers discovered your books.

Tim O’Reilly has a great article about the negative reactions to the Microsoft attack on Google, and he’s articulated many of the reasons why Google is not out of line with the Book Search program.

Read what O’Reilly Radar has to say.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on the matter.

Microsoft’s Rubin says,

“I do think that three simple principles can help us make the right choices. The first principle is that new services that expand online access to content should be encouraged. The second principle is that those new services must respect the legitimate interests of copyright holders; put conversely, we must forcefully reject any business model that is based on the systematic infringement of copyrights. The third principle is that even as we follow the first two principles, we must all work together to find consumer-friendly and cost-effective solutions to our shared goal of expanding online access to copyrighted and public-domain works.”

1st Principle: “new services that expand online access to content should be encouraged ...” Only if they are Microsoft initiatives, right.

2nd Principle: “we must forcefully reject any business model that is based on the systematic infringement of copyrights.” I reject the fear mongering. Where is the infringement? The court hasn’t decided on this one, but I agree with Tim O’Reilly that if Google is wrong in making a copy of a book in order to create a search index, and that’s not considered fair use, “then the whole search engine economy comes tumbling down, since web search itself depends on the same fair use exemption.”

3rd Principle: “we must all work together to find consumer-friendly and cost-effective solutions to our shared goal of expanding online access to copyrighted and public-domain works.” Do publishers really want to expand online access of copyrighted materials? I think the ones suing Google are not interested in making their works discoverable online. But they should be. Publishers and record companies and any rights holders need to be better educated on what consumers are doing online, how readers want to discover titles, how readers want to screen information (you can filter what I see, but I do want to “look inside” before I buy online or go to the library to take out the book, or go to the bookstore to buy the book.)

Next rant.

Microsoft’s Rubin says, “In my view, Google has chosen the wrong path for the longer term, because it systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works. In doing so, it undermines critical incentives to create.”

Give me a break.

Google Book Search is offering publishers a way to monetize works that are collecting dust and sitting in obscurity in a library. An important avenue is the web. Here’s a scenario: “I’m looking for X. I Googled X. No results. It must not exist. Next thing. Off I go.” That’s consumer behaviour.

The counter argument is that not all books scanned are obscure. Many are new titles or are still protected under copyright. Great. Google is respecting that and only displaying a snippet of the book. A snippet relevant to my search inquiry.

Publishers already create and freely and widely distribute book descriptions, jacket copy, and author descriptions. Those bits of text get modified and posted on all sorts of retailer sites, reviewer sites, etc. Are publishers up in arms about their marketing copy? No. It’s marketing copy. They spent a lot of time writing a tailored bit of copy for one audience member. The perfect buyer of this book will love to know that it’s “a remarkable tale”, one of “strength and weakness”, set in “a land of complexities.”

Wouldn’t it be better to write copy tailored to every potential buyer? To give them a little excerpt to prove that this is the book for them?

That’s the value I see in Google Book Search (and Live Book Search, and any other search directory that wants to create an index of books and excerpts).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

User-created video reviews

James has been working on a project called AdHack, which is a do-it-yourself advertising community. AdHack came to be because the mechanisms for creating compelling testimonials, print ads, web ads, product reviews, etc. are at our finger tips. In fact, they are fully within our hot little mitts. Companies can create great ads, but those ads often act in support of word-of-mouth recommendations from our peers.

For example, I recently decided to open an ING Direct account. I want those high interest rates that the commercials promise. But I’m skeptical of the company. Are they legit? I own too many “As Seen On TV” products that don’t live up to the hype so I’m hesitant to believe TV. Are the interest rates really the rates broadcast? How does it work when there are no branches? The question list is quite long so although the commercials reinforce brand awareness, they don’t compel me to try the service. What compels me is word of mouth—comments from my friend who has her mortgage with ING. Her good experience becomes my action item—go get an ING Direct account. The commerical supports my action but the real driving force is the experience of my trusted advisor, my friend.

AdHack is a community that lets people share their experiences. It’s the intermediary between company-produced commericals and peer-produced product/service reviews. It’s like an ad agency for the people, by the people.

Last week I created a quick video book review of Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years. My friend Kate blogged about the video as an example of a great idea for product reviewers. She’s absolutely right. And, it’s a great example of a way to participate in AdHack.com.

All of that is a long-winded way to say that Kate talked about creating video product reviews of laptop bags, and I created a video review of my Victorinox laptop bag. (Victorinox are the makers of SwissArmy knife.)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Book Review: Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years

Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years by Tony Nourmand (published by Chronicle Books) is a beautiful book of photos and essays on Audrey in front of the camera and behind the scenes. In addition to the photos, there’s lots of great images from the movie posters.

Watch my video review on YouTube.

Duck Photoshoot

Hop Studios has a casting call out for ducks.

Hop Studios is auditioning for a new rubber duck icon.

If you have a rubber duck with a nice face and great body that looks great on camera, let me know and we’ll arrange to bring it in for a photo shoot.

I noticed that I have a lot of ducks. Here’s my duck team.

Daring

Beeko

Betty 3

Abigail 2

Stewart 2

Tweeter 2

Tyrone 3

DeeDee 1