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.