Tuesday, December 24, 2013

5 Christmas Trees Made Out of Books

I hope you find lots of books under your tree this year...
Or better yet, maybe your tree is books.

Here are five interesting book trees found across the internet.

1) The Petite and Green Booktree

Source: http://jeffphotos.blogspot.com/

2) The Booktree as Viewed in its Natural Habitat

























Source: "Ann" from Palm Springs HS

3) The Neat & Tidy Booktree Found in the LMU library in 2009

























Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lmulibrary/sets/72157622977026002/

4) The Sacrilegious Booktree
















Source unknown

5) The Glowing Magical Rainbow Booktree





















Source: http://bedeckme.wordpress.com/

Monday, December 23, 2013

Romance & Erotica Etiquette: What to do When an Old Lady Gives You Smut

Since the holiday season is in full swing, many of us have gifts on the mind. But what happens when that gift is a romance novel?

Just do it!
I'm not very knowledgeable about the genre, but it seems that I am surrounded by people who are ...And those people give me romance and erotica.

For example, when I was fifteen, my grandmother gave me a box of books she no longer wanted. I was thrilled until I opened the box to find that they were all romance novels from the early 1990s. I never read any of them... I sold them all at a garage sale a few years later. I felt kinda icky knowing that my grandmother had read these semi-erotic tales and found them good enough to pass on to another reader, but I also felt guilty knowing that she had given me books and I had snubbed them. Fortunately, she never asked what I had thought about them, but I still felt like I had done something wrong by not accepting a gift.

I'm not going to lie, I usually think I'm "better" than genre fiction, especially anything female-oriented or romantic. I was raised on classics and "literary fiction" (whatever that means) and am probably what many would consider to be a book snob.

Does it?
However, last summer when a boyfriend's mother left me in charge of watching her house when they went on vacation and she left me with some "books [I] should read to pass the time," I felt obligated to read whatever she left me. I was desperate to gain her affection and I really did appreciate the sentiment; she knew I was into books and wanted me to be comfortable in her home. But, you know where this is going... It was all erotica. It was weird stuff, too: Having sex with demons, making love to dead girls, rape, incest, bestiality, every fetish and taboo was covered, but I soldiered on. My sister and I decided to make a game of it and we took turns reading passages aloud. We still occasionally use the term "wet hot slit" in conversation. It was actually really fun to read these books and laugh about the raunchiness, but, the reality was unavoidable. My boyfriend's mother was a very proper, strict lady. She was terrified that I'd seduce her son. I wasn't allowed to sit on his bed and it was frowned down upon to be in the room together with the door shut (keep in mind that we were both well into our 20's...) I was really shocked that someone so concerned and tight-lipped (no pun intended) about sex would be reading such sexual novels. I was even more shocked that, even though she yelled at me weekly for being "too close" to her son, she would recommend those books to me.

That's not the end of it, though. One of the books she left looked particularly worn, and, inside the front cover, a page number was written... Yep... she had marked one of the hottest, wildest sex scenes in the whole book. And then had given that book to me.

I was mortified. How would I confront her upon her return? What if she asked about it? Was this all a trap?

It's a long way down.

Thankfully, when she came home, she didn't say anything about her books. I thanked her profusely for allowing me to stay in her home and she thanked me for watching it and everything was fine, but, I am still troubled about it to this day. I can't make any sense of it, but that may just be because I'm a stranger to the genre.

What is the proper etiquette when it comes to romance and erotica? Is there just some universal unspoken agreement in which you know that everyone everywhere has at least a passing interest in sex and it's cool if we read about it? Or is there a seedy underworld where people are buying and trading erotica in secret, pulling volumes out of hidden trench coat pockets in dark alleys?

Is it common practice to share "used" erotica?

I just don't know.


So, I've compiled an almost fool-proof guide on what to do if someone (most likely an old lady) gives you smut this holiday season:

Please note that this guide is intended for people like me who have no idea what to do with a romance novel or erotica and are too embarrassed to say, "Oh thank you, but this really isn't my thing!" 

1) Be grateful. Don't let that look of apprehension and shock sneak through when you see the half-naked man and cursive font on the cover. Say, "Thank you!" and smile.

2) Admit that you haven't read it yet, if asked. Even if it's a book I desperately want, I very rarely get the opportunity to start a book the moment I get it. Life is hectic, and they probably understand. I think that saying, "I really haven't had time to read it yet!" is more graceful than saying, "Yeah I didn't read it." And really, if you had unlimited time, you would probably read it, right? Right?

3) Don't pretend that you've read it if you haven't. You will easily be found out once Aunt Geraldine dives into the finer plot points and asks your opinion on why Rolphe would treat Amy so brutally.

4) Talk about the books you do like. There are plenty of ways to do this without sounding pretentious. Mention what you've been reading, what you plan to read, what your book club is reading that you enjoy, recent book-to-film adaptations that didn't do the book justice, anything! This doesn't have to happen immediately after the accursed erotica book has found its way into your arms. You can bring this up in the following weeks or months - just whenever. Eventually, the offending gift-giver will get a taste for what you like and don't like.

5) Just read the damn thing. Come on, how long can it be?

Images: Harlequin

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Entitle - The eBook Subscription Service Formerly Known as eReatah

Remember my post on eReatah? Remember how I thought it was a horrible, horrible name?
eReatah is now called Entitle! It's still kind of a weird name ("entitled" has weird connotations...), but it's so much better than eReatah. As of Monday, they are officially out of beta!

You can visit Entitle here: https://www.entitlebooks.com/

It does not seem that much has changed on the website since its rebranding.
The packages are relatively the same, though I noticed that the top two tiers dropped slightly in price and that Package 1 includes a free 7 day trial:

Package 1: $14.99 (Select 2 books a month - includes free 7 day trial)
Package 2: $21.99 ( Select 3 books a month)
Package 3: $27.99 (Select 4 books a month)

Every book you select (or "rent," as they're calling it) is yours to keep for as long as you keep the Entitle app, even if you cancel your subscription. The app is available on Android devices (Kindle Fire included) and iOS.

The Recommendation Station is still around. There also seems to be a new feature called "If These Books Had a Baby," which is another silly name, but it's probably a fun feature. Or a smutty feature. I'm going to make Jane Eyre get it on with Gatsby.

As Pointed out by Mashable, Entitle is the first subscription service to offer publications from more than one "Big 5 Publisher." Currently, Entitle has Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins titles. The Mashable article hints that there is another Big 5 publisher looking to join Entitle. This really does not surprise me. Publishers really have nothing to lose since this is one of the more "publisher safe" subscription services. At the cheapest, they are still selling eBooks for $6.99 each. So, I'm not changing my mind about this. I still feel that the service "would be most advantageous for someone who is more interested in expensive (read: new) bestselling novels."

Sometime in the future, I hope to take advantage of the free 7 day trial.

Images: Entitle

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

Spoiler-free summary:Lena works for the Record, a renowned newspaper in New York City. She is not a reporter, however, but a transcriptionist - a scribe for the reporters.  Lena endlessly types the recorded messages left for her on her Dictaphone, allowing the world's news to pass through her fingertips and onto her computer screen. It may sound like an interesting position, but Lena is losing herself in the sea of quotes she must untangle on a daily basis. She has become a conduit for others - a silent, obedient link in a twisted, corporate chain. One day, a story comes through the lines that Lena just can't shake: A woman, who Lena recalls meeting on the bus only a few days before, has been mauled to death by lions at the zoo. This strange news story changes Lena's world as she becomes aware that, despite all of the quotes and articles drifting around her head, she has her own voice.

.....

The Transcriptionist, Amy Rowland's debut novel, is an interesting read. Quietly subversive, the book urges us to question our roles in the workplace and the ethics of  journalism. What does it mean to publish the truth? The prose ranges from lyrical to short and blunt, which, surprisingly was not distracting in the least. The language mimics the turmoil in our protagonist Lena's head. This novel is surreal and beautiful, but also short and frantic. There is a strange anxiety that emanates from the story, which, I think, is born from the urgency that surrounds journalism. There is not much action in this novel, but there are a lot of unbridled emotions.

Though this was a work of fiction, I found it very informative. Like many characters in the novel, I didn't even know that people still did this sort of work. I also enjoyed the look at the cutthroat world of journalism.

At times, the characters and scenarios were too saccharine or too perfectly demented to be real. For example, Lena's life mirrors Arlene's (and their names are the same...) I know this was necessary for Lena's development and Lena is completely aware of the resemblance, but, it drew me out of the story a bit. I approached The Transcriptionist more as an allegory or a modern day Aesop's fable rife with metaphor than a straight-forward novel.

The back of the novel  notes that Amy Rowland worked for the New York Times as a transcriptionist for over a decade. This was the icing on the literary cake for me. This novel became a thousand times more sad, more sincere, more biting, when I realized that Rowland's life and Lena's were probably not that different. I am very glad that, like Lena, Amy Rowland found her own voice amidst the headlines.

Buy The Transcriptionist May 13, 2014 from Algonquin Books in hardcover or audiobook format.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Q&A with Allan Stratton!


Allan Stratton, author of The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish (readthe review here!), has agreed to indulge us with an exclusive look behind the scenes of his latest novel.

Q: The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish is set in the 1930s, but the issues and personalities encountered within are timeless  – Did any current events, public figures, or modern societal trends influence you when writing this novel?

A: For sure. I think there are enormous social echoes between the Great Depression and our recent economic near-death experience. Miss Bentwhistle's original Ponzi Scheme at the Academy is a human-scaled version of the fraud and leveraging at the heart of the Wall Street collapse. And one can certainly see the power of today's media to shape discussion and opinion -- now television instead of print and radio -- and of the way in which entertainment is used to distract populations. There is also a need in tough times for  people to have something to believe in, a truth used to great effect by charlatans; answering more directly might tempt libel. But as you correctly point out Lord Acton wasn't the first to note that power corrupts, and without celebrities we wouldn't have history. That's what I love about satire: you'll always be in step with the times if your subject is our boundless capacity for the venal.

Q: Those familiar with you and your work will know that Canada is central to much of your writing. What, do you think, would this novel be without Canada? The characters travel into the United States and a bulk of the novel takes place there. How different would the story be if Mary Mabel & Co. started out in the States?

A: I like starting in Canada for three reasons. 

Aimee Semple McPherson
First, Aimee Semple McPherson was the model for Mary Mabel's rise. She was a Canadian evangelist from small-town Ontario who became one of North America's biggest stars; her temple in Los Angeles sat thousands and she was one of the first women to have her own broadcast license. Some details in the novel are direct from her story, such as her riding up the centre aisle on a motorcycle, followed by the LAPD, to arrest sin. It's that kind of detail that shows truth is at least as strange as the strangest fiction.

Second, Canada is such a contrast in image to the United States. It would be quite possible to set the London sections in a small city like Pittsburg, for instance, or the Cedar Bend sections in backwoods Maine, but I don't think Mary Mabel's rise would seem quite so meteoric.

Third, Canada allows for the British connection which is key to Miss Bentwhistle's story, one I won't comment on further at risk of spoiling surprises.

Q: The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish deals with some touchy issues and satirizes ideals many hold central to their beliefs. The novel is brave and unapologetic. Were you afraid to step on any toes? Has there been any backlash?

A: Oh gosh no. Satire is all about stepping on toes. Backlash would only come from a satire's targets, and who on earth would want to be aligned with them?

Q: On a related note, due to the satirical nature of the novel, this book will probably appeal to a certain demographic and disgust another. What kind of person do you envision reading The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish and enjoying it? Hating it?

A: I write the kind of books and plays that I'd like to see and read, and I imagine my readers and audiences as friends. So … I guess I'm writing for the kind of people I'd like to have as friends. Simple as that. And my friends come in all shapes and sizes, ages and genders, and blah blah blah.

Q: Just for fun: What are you reading?


A: Carl Hiaasen's new novel, Bad Monkey. He's a wonderful social satirist from Florida who writes great comic adult and children's "mysteries". I put mystery in quotes, because the villains are clear from the outset -- corporate magnates, environmental despoilers, and real estate agents. And they meet the most delicious ends.

Q: Are you allowed to give us a sneak peek of what you have coming next?

A: Yes. It's a YA Turn of the Screw called THE DIOGS, coming spring 2014. 

Thanks again to Allan Stratton for the incredible interview. I really enjoyed learning more about this fantastic novel and the man behind it.

Buy Allan's latest novel, The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish April 7th, 2014 in print or ebook format from Dundurn.

Also, remember to visit Allan's site, allanstratton.com, and add him on Goodreads.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Vanishing by Wendy Webb

Spoiler-free summary:
Juila Bishop’s life has fallen apart: Her husband, a sociopath who committed fraud, has killed himself, her parents are dead, her friends have abandoned her, and she can’t shake the paparazzi who want a glimpse of what she’s become. It is in this dark period of her life that Adrian Sinclair, son of world-famous horror novelist Amaris Sinclair, approaches Julia with an interesting preposition - He can make her bleak, embarrassing past disappear. All she needs to do is follow him to the isolated Havenwood estate and keep his aging mother company. Julia accepts, hoping to leave her dark past behind, only to find that, perhaps, there is a greater darkness in store for her within the walls of the stately mansion.

.....

Reading this novel in the winter was a fantastic experience. Wendy Webb’s descriptions of the snowfall and wilderness surrounding Havenwood were beautiful and encouraged me to appreciate the cold, horrible weather I have been trying so hard to ignore. This is definitely the right time of the year to read this book.

I loved that so much of this novel concerned the literary. Amaris Sinclair, the matriarch of the house, is an eccentric horror writer. Julia, our protagonist, is a writer herself and is drawn to the sprawling library of Havenwood. (Speaking of which – that library sounds incredible!). There is just something satisfying about reading a novel in the wintertime about a novelist in the wintertime. Did that sentence make sense? I don’t know.

The Vanishing is billed as horror, but it never managed to frighten or surprise me. I thought that Julia was too slow in realizing what was going on around her and didn’t ask enough questions. When she was asking questions, they felt like the wrong ones. It was frustrating and I felt that a lot of Julia’s inability to understand what was going on around her was a ploy for the author to drag out the suspense for a few more pages. I could tell where this was going, so why couldn’t she!? I was unable to accept her reasoning and this made the premise unbelievable, and therefore, unscary. I was so bored with the characters that I hoped something horrible would happen to them and they could go away.

There also seem to be a lot of recycled phrases and dialog in this book. How many times is someone going to give Julia a look so tender that she almost bursts into tears? (At least three). How many times can Amaris say “darling” or “dear?” (I can’t even count).

In the Acknowledgements, Wendy Webb says, “I’m not trying to define a generation, right any great wrongs, or change the way you think about the world or your place in it. I just want to craft a good story that will delight you, entertain you, grab you and not let go…” I think that this is an excellent representation of The Vanishing. It’s fun and fast, a nice holiday read, but it lacks the depth of a novel with more staying power.

The potential for a deeper, perspective-shifting novel is there – the ideas of the past repeating itself and people being connected in ways deeper than physicality are thought-provoking and terrifying on their own – but, the narration is casual and the characters are shallow.

Buy The Vanishing January 21st, 2014 in paperback or ebook format from Amazon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Scribd - First Impressions



After much deliberation, I finally signed up for Scribd, an $8.99/month subscription service that bills itself as a “Netflix for books.”

Now, eight hours into my free month trial, I’m wondering, is it worth it?

So far, I’m not so sure…


The Great Things:
1) The interface is really nice, especially on the PC. I loved the simplicity of Standard View, which turns the selected book into a scroll-able column of text. The banner with the logo, search box, and Upload button disappears when you start scrolling down. I like this because it makes it easier to sneak some chapters during work without looking suspect.

A novel in Standard View

You are also able to switch to Book View, which felt a little pointless to me on the computer, but it allows for both scrolling and side-clicking to “turn the page.” It also allowed for pages to be displayed side-by-side. Again, this mostly seemed gimmicky to me, but I can see where it would have its merits. Perhaps this would be useful when reading a graphic novel, textbook, or children’s book?

A novel in Book View

2) I LOVED the seamless transitions from PC to mobile device. I was able to leave my computer, open the Scribd mobile app, and pick right back up at the place I left off (providing that I was connected to the internet). I did not realize that this was so important to me until I tried it. This feature is, for me, almost worth it alone.




3) So many Neil Gaiman books are available for subscribers!

The Good Things:
1) The service is, in my mind, inexpensive. If you are accustomed to buying and reading 1-2 paperbacks a month and don’t mind older titles, you could easily save money with Scribd.

2) Your first month is free and they offer many ways to earn free days/weeks with the service:


I’m not very keen on promoting things on Facebook and Twitter, especially with my personal accounts, but, liking Scribd on Facebook and installing the app were relatively painless. You can also earn free days through spreading referral links, inviting friends by email, and sharing a pre-written post on Twitter and Facebook. I earned 28 free days and came out of it with my dignity intact.

3) You could potentially discover some interesting new reads by perusing their “Collections.” I’m not sure who curates these Collections or how often they’re updated, but some of them were pretty interesting. I especially enjoyed the Short & Sweet Collection:


4) I also thought their choice in children’s literature (look for Kids & Teens in the Browse drop-down) was really awesome. Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events is available in full and there are lots of well-known titles from Beverly Cleary and Terry Pratchett.

The Not-So-Good-Things:
1) I mentioned in the “Good Things” section that the Collections displayed on the home page could lead to some new discoveries, but I also think they could lead to frustration. For example, before I really got the hang of the site, I clicked the “Classics” Collection thinking that it would take me to a page listing every book labeled in the system as a “classic.” However, I was only given 18 results. Do you mean to tell me that there are only 18 classics available!? This does not seem to be the case, but, I was panicked at first.

2) It’s kind of hard to find things in the Scribd system. I did not have much luck running across things I thought I’d like to read through browsing categories or Collections. I had to think of books I wanted (with a little help from my Goodreads profile) and then search for them. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I’m a pretty impulsive reader and will forget what’s on my to-read list until it’s right in front of me. I really enjoy just stumbling across things and picking them up, and I did not have this experience with Scribd. The whole point of signing up for Scribd was to give me an outlet for my impulsion – to allow discovery - and I just felt stifled.

3) Most disappointingly, the selection is lacking. I’m not sure if I’m just having a hard time navigating the site and “browsing,” but there doesn’t seem to be that much available… Nine times out of ten, I’d search for a title and head to the book only to find that it’s not available for subscribers… I’d have to pay full price for the e-book. It’d be nice if, within the search drop-down, a logo or emblem would appear indicating what is or isn’t available for subscribers. I hate getting my hopes up. I’m sure that there will be more titles in the future, but, until then, I’m on the fence.
An example of the dreaded "Not Available for Subscribers" scenario.
$5.99 for Bleak House :(


So, come back in a month! I hope to have another article concerning my first month spent on Scribd. Is it worth it? We’ll find out, I guess…

 Note: I am a very “literary” reader. I lean toward literary fiction, classics, and the occasional fantasy novel. I am not very knowledgeable about non-fiction, anthologies, or genre pieces. There might be an amazing selection of biographies, how-tos, and thrillers available on Scribd that I am just too biased to comprehend.

See my post on eRheatah, an alternative to Scridb, here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Caminar by Skila Brown


Spoiler-free summary:
Written entirely in free-verse poetry, Caminar, the debut novel from Skila Brown is the story of Carlos and the remote Guatemalan village he called home. Caught in the midst of the Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war, Carlos must learn how to survive after everything he knows is wrenched away from him. Part coming-of-age story, part historical fiction, Caminar offers a lyrical glimpse into rural Guatemala’s troubled past and one boy’s ability to say, “I remember.”

.....

Caminar was a fairly short read - I believe I read it in less than an hour – but it was impactful, nonetheless. I think that is a sign of good poetry – the ability to make an impact in very few words.

My favorite part of the book came when Carlos was remembering his town and he remembered even where the puddles would form when it would rain. I felt that the placement of puddles is something each of us stores subconsciously, with a bit of fondness, though we don’t recognize it’s fondness until Skila Brown tells us so. Brown’s ability to make an observation as mundane as this a sweet and endearing memory is a testament to her skill as a poet. This book is riddled with succinct little observations such as this.

I was surprised to learn that Brown is not Guatemalan and does not speak Spanish well (as admitted by the author herself in the back of the book). She seems very invested in Guatemalan culture and I found no evidence in the book that she was not a fluent speaker of Spanish. There are a few Spanish idioms and phrases sprinkled throughout the book, but I, with my tenuous grasp on the Spanish language, was able to understand most of them without the help of the glossary in the back.

I enjoyed this book, but I wish it was a bit longer. It was well-written and informative, but it just didn’t feel like enough to me. I think that part of this feeling might be stemming from the fact that most of the action in the story takes place over the course of a few days.

I honestly did not know that this was intended to be a “middle-grade novel” until I got to the section at the back with questions and answers from the author. This appendix definitely read as something for someone younger, but, the rest of the novel is ageless.

Buy Caminar March 25, 2014 in hardcover from Candlewick Press and Amazon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish by Allan Stratton

Spoiler-free summary:
Mary Mabel McTavish was a small-town girl down on her luck until, quite accidently, she resurrected the dead. Seemingly under the guidance of her dead mother, Mary Mabel laid her hands on a probably-dead boy and brought him back to life. This miracle sweeps her out of the Canadian countryside into the United States and all the way to Hollywood. On her way to stardom, Mary Mabel meets an unsavory cast of characters who, under the pretense of spreading God’s miracle, all want a piece of her growing fame. Set in the 1930s, this novel benefits from the weird, unexpected charms of old Hollywood, yellow journalism, and the Great Depression.

.....


The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish really caught me off guard. It was hilarious, dirty in the best way possible, and satisfyingly critical of the hypocrisies of religion, government, and society in general. Stratton drew weird comparisons between the spheres of religion, media/journalism, and Hollywood, assuring us that everything is just a matter of commerce and advertising. This is dangerous ground, as any argument on these subjects can turn sophomoric and cliché, but, Stratton handles it all with subtle and smart humor coupled with immense writing skill.

I am having a hard time explaining why I appreciated this book so much. I think perhaps it was the perfect balance of vulgarity, slapstick humor, nostalgia, social criticism, and darkness. The only thing I can really compare it to is Catch-22, and that’s not really a good comparison. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a damn smart book.

I have to admit that this book did take a while to get going, but the second half of the novel really flies by and makes all of the confusion and tone-building of the first few chapters worth it. I had some trouble differentiating between some of the characters (there were lots and lots of characters). My main issue was that until one of the characters underwent a grotesque physical and mental change, I couldn’t keep Percy and Floyd straight.

However, the wide array of characters ends up being a benefit. The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish is a subversive freakshow that managed to both distress and delight me.

Buy this book April 7th, 2014 in print or ebook format from Dundurn.

Monday, November 25, 2013

On NaNoWriMo and Self-Hatred

The idea of NaNoWriMo (National Novel WritingMonth) appeals to me and everyone knows it. When November rolls around, I always have a few friends asking me if I’ll be participating this year and the answer is always an emphatic, “maybe!”

I join groups and make posts on Facebook, I update my NaNo profile on the official site so that my most glamorous photo is available, I even spent some time this year collaborating with coworkers on our NaNo Game Plans before the end of October. Hell, this year I even had a plot.

So, what did I do come November First? Did I settle down at my desk with a hot cup of coffee and type away well into the night (see doesn’t that sounds appealing)?

No. I completely gave up on day one.

This has been my course of action for the last five years. I have never actually participated in NaNoWriMo despite annually working myself into a frenzy about it at the end of October.

And you know what? I didn’t even feel bad about it until now, the 25th of November. November is almost over and all I have to show for it is a haircut.

Every year around this time of the month, I ask myself, “What is wrong with me?” If the concept appeals to me enough to get me excited and then upset me when it falls through, why don’t I at least try? Writing has always been my only decent creative output and I want this. I want to have written a novel. I want to be completely and utterly absorbed in writing. I want to be creating. I want this novel to be done. I want to share this story. But, I just can’t do NaNo.

For a while, I thought that it was because I exhibit poor self-control. Maybe if I set a more rigid schedule for myself I could at least start a project.

But then, the part of my brain that is desperately attempting to keep me from falling into a depressive abyss says, “Perhaps, my love,  by depriving yourself of something you want so completely, you are exhibiting the most self-control of them all!!!” (see how excitable my inner-monologue is?) And I say to myself, “Yes! You’re right!!! Look at me, washing clothes and writing instructions for software! Please see how clean my apartment is. Please note the perfection of my mascara. Did you know that I watched almost twenty movies this month? Twenty. Isn’t that something?”

Though I try to tell myself that my pursuits are admirable and mean something, I just can’t convince myself that they are more substantial than a novel. A novel, written and edited and “done,” is so emblematic in my mind of so many strange things that I want and need. I know, I know, I know I need this.

So the real reason I can’t and won’t participate in NaNoWriMo is because I’m afraid. I don’t trust myself enough to abandon so many safe, inconsequential things in my life that have become regularities. I don’t like myself enough to believe that anything I write in thirty days is worth not vacuuming as often or walking aimlessly through Target for two hours. This is not an issue of self-control - it is an issue of self-worth.

I am sure this problem manifests itself elsewhere in my life, but NaNoWriMo has become a glaring and clear-cut example. I rarely let myself indulge in things like this, usually under the guise of me saying, “Oh that’s gimmicky,” and moving on, but secretly, I want to see myself as important enough to dedicate a month to my creative process. It’s just so damn hard.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith


Spoiler-free summary: 
Lula Landry, the beautiful and troubled supermodel, has died. While most of the world has accepted the fall from her balcony as suicide, her adoptive brother, John Bristow has some questions. He hires down-on-his-luck detective Cormoran Strike to investigate her death. Expecting it to be just another dead-end case, a result of a shocked and denial-laden family, Strike and his temporary secretary Robin are quickly pulled into Lula’s glamorous, but moody, world to find that perhaps there is indeed more to Lula’s tragic story.

.....



I don’t think I would have ever picked up this book if it hadn’t come out that Robert Galbraith is JK Rowling in disguise. I didn’t think I cared for detective or crime novels, but I enjoyed this book. I don’t think it was enough to convert me to mysteries, but, it was a nice, fun read. It wasn’t really a thinker and there was not much edge-of-my-seat action, but it was pleasant enough.

The writing felt very distinctly Rowling to me. I keep telling myself that I would definitely have drawn the comparison between Galbraith and Rowling if it hadn’t surfaced that they are one and the same, but, I wouldn’t have ever read it otherwise, so who knows. The names of the characters especially felt whimsical and Rowling-esque to me. Cormoran Strike, Lula Landry – these names would not seem out of place in the Wizarding World.

I enjoyed this much more than I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s only other non-Harry Potter work. They felt very similar, however. As with The Casual Vacancy, The Cuckoo’s Calling explored the themes of wealth vs. poverty. I find it interesting that Rowling continually returns to these ideas: Harry gained and lost wealth and fame over and over, in different forms, The Casual Vacancy centered around less-than-glamorous characters, and this novel was about the price of fame. It’s very interesting. I’d like to make some grand, sweeping conclusion about Rowling and her discontent with the life she’s living, but, I have a headache and don’t care enough, I guess.

I have read some reviews online in which people mention that perhaps this book is a little long; I’d have to agree with that sentiment. The first half of the novel drags a bit and spends more time describing the relationship between Strike and his temporary solution, Robin. But, the end picks up considerably. However, all of this relationship-building between Strike and Robin felt odd to me, given the way this novel ends. I was expecting a bit more to come out of their bond, if you know what I mean. We are repeatedly beat over the head with the idea that Robin is unhappy with her engagement, but nothing significant comes from it. Is this a setup for a sequel, or did someone tell Rowling that not every story is a love story and the plot was tweaked, but not enough? So, as you can see, I was torn between thinking: “this book is too long” and “there’s not enough here,” which is an interesting place to be.   

There were some interesting digs at the national debt and politics in general buried in this book, which I found kind of out of place. I couldn’t figure out if they were from Rowling’s point of view or Strike’s. Also, there was one odd sentence mentioning a cat’s anus that really just threw me.  

Overall, I found the plot kind of shocking for the sake of being shocking, but the writing was fun and I enjoyed meeting the characters.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

To Train Up a Child - Should it Be Removed from Amazon?

It’s all over Facebook – another child has been killed as an apparent result of her parents clinging to the methods found within To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl.

Hana Williams, the adopted daughter of Larry and Carri Williams (their names rhyme, please note), was found naked in her backyard. She died from hypothermia and starvation with marks on her body indicating that she had been beaten with plastic tubing the day of her death. Whipping a child with plastic tubing is, apparently, a method of punishment endorsed by the Pearls in their book.

Having not actually read the book, I’m not going to further elaborate on what is or isn’t endorsed by the Pearls. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, there are a billion websites out there where you can find quotes from the book and read about other instances of child abuse that may be related to their advice. I am more interested in the controversy surrounding the book staying available for purchase on Amazon.com

Over 30,000 people have signed this petition online begging Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, to take down the listing for To Train Up a Child, along with listings for Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Trip and Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman – none of which I’ve read and cannot comment on. The petition claims that the content found within these books is “offensive” and “contrary to [Amazon’s] Content Guidelines.”

Though I do not agree with its religious teachings, abusive or not, and wish that this book would disappear from the face of the earth, I think that removing this book from Amazon will open a can of worms – a scary one. It is published by No Greater Joy Ministries, owned by the Pearls themselves. So, this is technically an independent book listed on Amazon by the Pearls. You, as an independent author, also have the ability to self-publish your books on Amazon. What do we do if a self-published novel mentions that maybe the main character doesn’t believe in God, and that offends Christians? It’s offensive to someone, right? So do we remove it thanks to the Content Guidelines? I don’t know. Most books, fiction included, will contain something that’s offensive to someone somewhere. Do we really want to give Jeff Bezos that much power?

The only real way to get people to stop reading this book and taking its message to heart is not to get it torn down from online retailers, but through education. The problem does not lie in the book itself – it lies in the reasoning abilities of the people who take messages spewed from the likes of the Pearls seriously. If people were better educated in science and health issues, mental and physical, we wouldn’t have people blindly following the words of the Pearls or abusing their children verbally and physically in “the name of the Lord.” I think the time and energy spent focusing on removing the book from shelves could be better spent in educating the masses in more constructive, scientific ways.

All of this negative publicity about this book is, after all, publicity.
See the below graph of interest in the search term “To Train Up a Child” as reported by Google Trends:

I’m sure some of those Google searches resulted in purchases, and, therefore, funding for the Pearls.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon responds to these requests, if at all.
My prediction is that, to avoid scandal, they will quietly remove it.

But what does that solve?
The No Greater Joy website offers To Train Up a Child on its own for $7.95, or in a “four book special” for $25. They also offer the book in Spanish, on audiobook, and as an eBook. 
Most disturbingly, you can buy the book by the case for $438.84.
I doubt they’ll be removing it any time soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

eRheatah - Is it Worth it?

Note: eReatah has been rebranded as Entitle

Finally, it seems that publishers are loosening up and are venturing into the world of online book subscription services. Some services, such as Oyster and Scribd, are taking a more Netflix-like approach to the business. For a low monthly rate (Oyster is $9.95 a month while Scribd is $8.99), you can download and read as many books as you want as many times as you want. Some, however, are mixing up the game. This is where eRheatah comes in.



eRheatah, despite whatever its weird and slightly embarrassing name might suggest, is an interesting concept. Instead of offering unlimited access, eRhetah presents users with tiered packages with the following monthly rates:
Package 1 – Cub Plan: $14.99 (Select 2 books a month)
Package 2 – Cheetah Plan: $22.50 ( Select 3 books a month)
Package 3 – King Cheetah Plan: $29.99 (Select 4 books a month)

Every book you select is yours to keep for as long as you keep the eReatah app, even if you cancel your subscription. The app is available on Android devices (Kindle Fire included) and iOS.

eRheatah currently offers a $5 account credit for every friend you refer to the service, which is a neat incentive. I imagine, in these early days of book subscription, it would be pretty easy to rack up some credit this way.

There also seems to be some buzz concerning eReatah’s book discovery platform: Recommendation Station (again with the embarrassing names… This service also appears to be called “Picks of the Month” elsewhere on the site. I’m confused). Based on the Netflix algorithm for movie recommendations, the Recommendation Station promises to find titles that you will enjoy based on your past preferences. It is crucial with eReatah that you do not waste your book selections per month, so Recommendation Station is, apparently, there to help. What if, on the Cub Plan, I pick two books and it turns out I absolutely hate them? Assuming I have nothing unread from previous months’ selections, I have to wait a whole thirty days (that comes out to $.50 of regret a day) until I can pick two more books. This is enough to turn me off of the service completely, but I’m sure there are people out there who are more in-tune with what they would like to read than I.

Though the service is currently in beta testing mode, there are 90,000 titles available for selection from big name publishers such as Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. With the higher price tag and monthly selection limitations, it is no surprise that more of the “big name” publishers are comfortable with eRheatah. It is important to note that Oyster and Scribd both offer books from HarperCollins, though the general consensus has been that these books are “a few months old.” With that in mind, it is not difficult to find two older eBooks on Amazon for less than $15 – the starting price for an eRheatah plan.

It seems that eRheatah would be most advantageous for someone who is more interested in expensive (read: new) bestselling novels. So, if staying on top of the bestselling lists is important to you, eRheatah might be your service.

To request a beta account, visit https://www.ereatah.com

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh



Spoiler-free Summary:
Lucy Dane has lived her entire live in Henbane, an isolated little town nestled deep within the Ozark Mountains. Her mother, however, was an outsider – an orphan from the faraway land of Iowa. Seemingly brought there to work at the Dane family farm and store, Lila was exotic and captivating – traits that quickly got her labeled as a witch. She disappeared without a trace shortly after Lucy was born, and her memory haunts the people of Henbane. Lucy desperately wants to know what became of her mother and why she left, but she must first solve another, more recent mystery: Who murdered her friend Cheri, and where did she spend the last year of her life before her remains were found in the middle of town? Lucy’s search uproots her town and the families within. We find ourselves frantically sifting through the intricate and interlaced history of Henbane to find that even the tightest-knit towns can harbor horrific secrets.

.....



The Weight of Blood is the debut novel from Laura McHugh. The writing is simple, but beautiful. McHugh’s descriptions of Henbane are full of lore and mysticism – and this magical quality permeates the characters. Lila, the mother, is powerful and magical, but not because she is a witch. The evil characters (who will not be named) seem to cast a strange trance on the town, assuring that their control is absolute. It feels, at times, that there is more at work here than small town gossip, taboos, and conventions.

I think I have a soft spot for novels set in the Ozarks. I loved the way she recalled the unforgiving wilderness and ungainly citizens with sentimental sweetness. I think this is really the only way one can describe rough-around-the-edge towns without coming off as demeaning.

Though, at times, the plot verges on stereotype. This novel contains guns, booze, incest, and, in a way, slaves - all the pinnacles of a good old fashioned “hillbilly” novel. McHugh’s tremendous writing skill saves this story from rolling eyes. Additionally, the back of the book tells us that Laura McHugh was from Iowa and moved to Missouri, much like our main character’s mystical mother. I appreciate that McHugh drew upon her own experiences as an outsider in the South, which I guess is another reason we can’t be angry at McHugh for generalizing.

I also had trouble with the shifting points of view in this novel. Every chapter is from a character’s point of view and I found this somewhat disorienting. The first half of the novel alternates between Lila and Lucy. I didn’t realize that Lila was the same Lila as Lucy’s mother until I was a quarter of the way in. I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t pay attention or if it was meant to feel that way. Lila’s story is told from the past, but in present tense, and she is about Lucy’s age. Lucy’s story is also told from the present, so I think I assumed that everything was happening concurrently and that this Lila we were reading about was the weird illegitimate sister of Lucy, returned to Missouri to tell Lucy what became of their mother. I had a hard time keeping the Dane brothers straight at first, which really screwed me up. The second half of the novel is from a whole bunch of characters' points of view, some in first person and some in third, which felt jolting and odd. I see why McHugh structured the novel in this way, but I can’t help but wonder if there was a way to make it less confusing.

Overall, I found this story gripping and scary. I knew where the plot was heading, but the little side stories and pitfalls along the way kept me interested. McHugh is a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to see what else she has to offer.

Buy The Weight of Blood in hardcover or eBook format March 11, 2014 from Random House, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble



P.S: While researching the author, I found this story from the Columbia Daily Tribune.
It has some interesting background information on McHugh. It states that she based The Weight of Blood off of a human trafficking case that occurred in Lebanon, Missouri in 2010. I think that this is the case in question. Reading more about it, I faintly remember hearing about it on the news. The resemblances between the victim in this report and Cheri in the novel are uncanny.
In the Tribune article, McHugh also offers some interesting insight into the world of publishing and writing, including the importance of a good query letter.

Monday, November 11, 2013

And Then Run by Eric Hublot

Spoiler-Free Summary:
Our main character, Jerome Esterson is an idealistic and wealthy young man who, to put it simply, wants things that are not "conventional." I put it in quotes because honestly, the things he wants are what a lot of people want, or think they want, or would want if there were no rules: threesomes, underage babes, violence without consequence. Eric is a force, brimming with raw and primal urges. He rallies against domesticity and monogamy - any mention of suburban life makes him sick. He uses his natural talents in persuasion and public speaking to spread his controversial message. He builds up a reputation, aids some companies with his PR prowess, and meets some tempting women (and some tempting technology), in the process. All throughout, Jerome is honing his body into a killing machine, but to what end? Jerome pushes all those around him to their social limits while he pushes himself toward madness. 

.....

And then Run was not my favorite book. 
However, this was a deviance from the typical genres I read, so that may be playing a part in my inability to grasp the motives and meaning of this novel.  

I think the easiest, kindest way to write this review would be to split it into some well-defined sections: Things I Appreciated, and Things I Didn't. 

Things I Appreciated
  • I enjoyed the skepticism of Jerome. His assessments of social norms were often witty. 
  • I liked the honesty he provided us concerning the world of business, marketing, Hollywood, and crime. For example, he continually referred to mainstream movies and romance novels as "Monogamy Commercials," which made me smile.
  • Jerome lived in the modern world. He played video games I've heard of, watched movies I've watched, and read books I've read. This inclusion added some context to the story and made it scarier/more thought-provoking. I could relate to Jerome, despite him being a psychopath and all.
  • The erotic bits got better as the book went on, which ties into....

Things I Didn't
  • The erotic portions of this novel were not very erotic to me. Perhaps I am jaded. However, the last few sexual encounters in the book contain a fair bit more detail, which, I think helped out a bit. I never really found any of them realistic or interesting, though. Then again, I don't read erotica.
  • The first 90% of this novel literally just felt like dialog. Jerome seems to spend most of his time engaged in long discourses with his cocky friends, fights with his unbelievably horrible girlfriend(s) (see the below bullet point...), or, get this, giving speeches. It felt like Jerome was only giving speeches in order to tell us more about his boring, "edgy" views. It felt like characters like Madison existed only to give him an excuse to rant. These all came off like cheap tricks. At times, I got the impression that Hublot was unsure how to show us how characters other than Jerome felt or acted without giving it to us in straight dialog. Some might enjoy this and interpret it as a stylistic choice, but, I found it boring and slow. I guess I would have liked this novel a bit better, if, instead of just giving us giant scripts of the characters' interactions, we got to see more of their physical reactions and nuances, and Jerome's reactions to these more subtle displays.
  • As I said above, certain characters, especially female characters, seemed only to exist to give Jerome an excuse to rant and be angry about things. Madison was so one-dimensional and horrible that I doubted she existed from the start. I thought, surely, that she was some weird Fight Club-ian projection of Jerome's psyche. But, unfortunately, I don't think she was. Every time Jerome would speak, Madison would start screaming and crying. This was frustrating because 1) Jerome is funny. He has plenty of witty observations. Why does a smart, scholarly girl like Madison have absolutely no sense of humor? 2) We are meant to believe that Madison and Jerome have wanted each other for a long time, yet they act like this? Have they really hid their true selves from each other for this long? 3) If Madison hated him so much, why didn't she just leave? She's not very empowered or strong-willed, despite being educated. She knows that her opinion matters and that what Jerome is doing is wrong, but refuses to do anything but bitch. This applies to all of Jerome's girlfriends. They are all just varying shades of bitchy.
I read elsewhere (but I forget where...) that this book came off as American Psycho meets Fight Club meets The Great Gatsby. A combination such as this has potential, but, it just wasn't executed in a way I could appreciate.


That being said, I have no doubt that there are people out there who will adore this novel and find it disturbing and thought-provoking. 

Buy And Then Run now at Amazon, in Kindle E-book format or in paperback.