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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendations

Here are the last 3 books I devoured.

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The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
A novel that often reads like interwoven short stories about misunderstandings and miscommunication. A December flight from Belfast to Amsterdam brings together the otherwise unconnected characters of this drama. We have a father and teenage son who are at odds, a single-mother and a spoiled daughter on her hen party (dippy girlfriends in tow), and an almost-retired couple who are losing touch with each other. The trip to Amsterdam changes them all for better or worst. Author David Park has written 7 books, including the hugely acclaimed The Truth Commissioner. I think Darren will like this novel. The book has a very European feel to it, complete with Irish slang and descriptions of Amsterdam’s nooks and crannies.

Opening lines:

The ink was black, the paper the same shade of blue as a bird’s egg he had found a week before. In their balanced elegance the capital G and B mirrored each other. Unlike most of the soccer signatures he collected which were largely indecipherable hieroglyphics — the bored scribbles of fleeing stars — this name was readable and perfectly formed.

The Light Of Amsterdam by David Park, published by Bloomsbury


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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper
A thrilling, and terrifying read, with lots of Milton’s Paradise Lost insights for the book nerds. A major departure for the bestselling author of Lost Girls, The Demonologist has the same literary prowess as Pyper’s other novels but is more like a literary version of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. Professor Ullman is a world-renowned expert in Milton’s Paradise Lost. He’s a scholar but not a believer, until he witnesses demonic acts with his own eyes, including the possession of his daughter. An advance copy crossed my desk in early 2013 but since I was pregnant at the time, I waited until now to dip into the shadows of this book. I recommend it for Kiley who said she was looking for page-turner summer read. This is Canadian, literary, and creepy-crawly.

Opening lines:

The rows of faces. Younger and younger each term. Of course, this is only me getting older among the freshmen who come and go, an illusion, like looking out the rear window of a car and seeing the landscape run away from you instead of you running from it.

The Demonologist: A Novel by Andrew Pyper, published by Simon & Schuster


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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Winner of the Man Booker Prize. Add this to the classic school-boy novel list. Four boys meet during their formative years at school. One boy standout. One boy dies. One boy, now grownup, tells the tale. Barnes’ novels are so smart that they make me feel smart. This is a bit of a snobby book and I loved it. In some ways it reminds me of Fifth Business by Robertson Davies in that the reader must beware of an unconsciously unreliable narrator. I’m afraid to recommend this one for fear of identifying the snobby readers among us, but you know who you are.

Opening lines:

I remember, in no particular order:
– a shiny inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, published by Vintage Canada

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

imageBook Of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale was recommended to me by my friend Rachael. I was keen to read it because when I worked at Raincoast we had distributed some of Shannon Hale’s previous titles.

The story opens with Dashti becoming a maid to Lady Saren and promptly being locked up in a tower with her for seven years. Saren’s father, in a rage, has bricked her up into the tower because she has refused to marry an evil lord from a neighbouring realm. Instead she is in love with Tegas, a more gentle lord, and another neighbour.

This love is rather tenuous though and Lady Saren insists that Dashti speak to Tegas when he sneaks into the tower and knocks at their locked door. Of course, Dashti complies, falls in love with Tegas, has to fight for her safety when evil Lord Khasar later shows up at the door, fends for herself and Lady Saren when they manage to escape and then sets them up, under a disguise, in Tegas’ own household.

Dashti is a heroine in the classic sense and a terrier in a modern sense.

Hale’s tale is pulled from a long-forgotten Grimm’s tale, but she adds her own twists and interpretations. Overall it’s a great teen read, and good for adults looking for light fantasy and easy, compelling 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”.

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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?


UPDATES

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

Monday, May 07, 2007

Book Review: If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre

If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre is about the world of philosophy as seen by a teenage boy.

Ben Wagner is quite happy playing football and frying chips for his summer job at Cod Almighty. Happy enough, that is, until Lila orders a bag of chips and asks him if he thinks the chips taste the same to him as it does to her. How do we really know? How do we know if “salty” means the same to you as it does to me? How do we know what happiness is?

The next thing you know Ben is crawling through the towel closet for regular chats with Lila in the World of Ideas, the land where philosophers go when they die. A land where they just talk and talk and talk about philosophy.

This is the Narnia-meets-Wizard-of-Oz version of Philosophy.

The World of Ideas a rather boring place, which is suddenly seeing excitement due to a bet between Socrates and Wittgenstein. The bet is whether philosophy can (Socrates) or can’t (Wittgenstein) make a person’s life better—a regular bloke, a Joseph Blogg, a Joe Blo’s life better.

Enter Ben through the closet.

If Minds Had Toes ... then we would tickle them.

Lucy Eyre does a great job of tickling her readers’ minds.

All the age-old questions are on display: free will, right vs. wrong, ethics, morals ... it’s philosophy 101.

I’d say that If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre is a good book for teens, more so than for adults interested in philosophy.

I don’t think it’s pitched that way but at age 15, 16, you do start thinking about free will and the larger universe and whether there is a god or a powerful being, what is right and wrong. Lucy has a way of portraying straight-up philosophy in an entertaining way. So much so that I’ve started to understand why someone could argue that we do not have free will.

My mind has been tickled.

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.