Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Mark: 2011 Orange Prize Winners

The youngest-ever winner of the £30,000 (about $48,000 Cdn) annual literary honour that celebrates female writers of English-language fiction was announced June 8.

The Tiger's Wife: A NovelDebut Novelist Tea Orbeht won the 2011 Orange Prize for her first book, The Tiger's Wife. The Tiger's Wife, which mixes realism and fantasy, is set in her native Balkans and follows a young doctor trying to unravel the death of her grandfather.

The novel is "an exceptional book" and its author "a truly exciting new talent," said jury chair Bettany Hughes.

"Obreht's powers of observation and her understanding of the world are remarkable. By skillfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms," Hughes said.

"The book reminds us how easily we can slip into barbarity, but also of the breadth and depth of human love."

Room: A NovelThe Orange Prize Youth Panel, a group of six teens who read the shortlisted novels, selected Emma Donoghue's Room as its winner, with the author saying she was "tickled pink" to have appealed to the young readers.

Adaptation: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Mark: What to do with 30 tonnes of books?

Fascinated by this story and wanted to share with all of you:

Courtesy of

Shaunna Raycraft is lost in a mountain of books. What began as a book rescue mission has become a literary nightmare for a Pike Lake, Sask., woman.

Shaunna Raycraft took over a collection of 350,000 books when a neighbour threatened to burn them after her collector husband passed away.

But now Raycraft and her own husband don't know what to do with all the books and are forced to contemplate burning some books themselves.

Raycraft said she was amazed when she first set eyes on the massive collection kept by their neighbours on a nearby acreage. "There was a house floor-to-ceiling with books," said Raycraft. "He was the collector; she had tried to get someone to appraise the books but they wouldn't come out [to the rural setting]."

"She didn't know how to deal with them so she started to burn them," Raycraft explained.

But the Raycrafts are book lovers and couldn't stand the sight of them being destroyed. Some of the books appear to be old and quite rare. "There was a first edition copy of Black Beauty on the top pile and the bottom was all charred off [from being burned] but the top was just immaculate," she said.

So Raycraft and her husband plunged in and took over the collection, bringing a small house onto their property to accommodate all the books. They piled box after box of books into the house.

"We're talking 30 tonnes of books. The weight of the books is pulling the house apart."

The books range from old textbooks to volumes of Shakespeare to 'How-To' manuals.

Raycraft tried selling the books on eBay, and to collectors and used book stores, but no one wants the task of sorting through them.

So now the Raycrafts have come to the end of the road with all the books. "We are kind of at a standstill," said Raycraft. "I work at two jobs. My husband is a full-time student. We have three kids and no time. And no money. And so we're at the point now where were looking at having to burn some of the books ourselves."

Raycraft said the books need to be in a climate-controlled setting. And they need help and expertise sorting through them. Or just help disposing of them.

"My goal is to get a sea container brought to the house. Most of the boxes are still unopened and unsorted. When you say to somebody,'I have 350,000 books,' it just goes over their head — they have no concept. It's very hard to take a box in and say, 'Here, sort through this and see what you want.'"

Raycraft said she has no idea how much the entire collection is worth but is looking for suggestions as to what to do with it.

Book Mark: 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize

Canada's richest poetry prize and the world's largest prize for a single poetry collection in English, the Griffin Poetry Prize, was presented on June 1. One national and one international winner recieve $65,000 each plus an additional $10,000 for participating in readings the night before the prize gala.

National Winner: Ossuaries - Dionne Brand


The judges' citiation said that Brand "has constructed a long poem, which is not a traditional seamless epic, nor a Poundian extended collage, but something else that seems quite new."

"Brand’s innovation on Ossuaries calls forth an entirely new sort of reading. The book is a triumph," the judges wrote.

In Ossuaries, a novel-length narrative poem, Brand tells the story of an activist named Yasmine who lives in exile and gets caught up in events such as a violent bank robbery.

International Winner:
Heavenly Questions - Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Heavenly Questions: Poems

Book Mark: 2011 Arthur Ellis Award Winners

The 2011 Arthur Ellis Award winners were unveiled at a banquet in Victoria June 2, the 28th edition of the awards held by the Crime Writers of Canada. The Ellis Awards are Canada's literary prize celebrating crime-writing excellence. Open to Canadian writers, the awards are named for Arthur Ellis, the pseudonym used by Canada's former official hangman.

Novel: Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Chief Inspector Gamache Novels)

Non-Fiction: On The Farm - Stevie Cameron

On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women

Short story: So Much in Common - Mary Jane Maffini (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

Juvenile/young adult: The Worst Thing She Ever Did - Alice Kuipers.

The Worst Thing She Ever Did

French: Dans le quartier des agités - Jacques Côté.

Dans le Quartier des Agites - les Cahiers Noirs de l'Alieniste 1

First novel: The Debba - Avner Mandleman.

The Debba

John Jeneroux picked up the Unhanged Arthur Award, which recognizes the best unpublished first crime novel, for his manuscript Better Off Dead.

Book Mark: Passing of Mystery Writer Lilian Jackson Braun

Courtesy of The Associated Press:

Lilian Jackson Braun wrote 29 books in the The Cat Who... mystery series. She died Saturday.

Braun died Saturday of natural causes at the Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills in Landrum, S.C.. She had lived in Tryon, N.C., for the past 23 years with her husband, Earl Bettinger.

An obituary prepared by her publisher notes that she almost quit writing after her third book, The Cat Who Turned On and Off, was published because popular tastes had changed so much.

There was an 18-year hiatus before she wrote The Cat Who Saw Red, published in 1986. She resumed because her husband encouraged her to return to writing after she retired from The Detroit Free Press in 1984.

"By the time I had written the fourth one, tastes in mysteries had changed," Braun is quoted as saying by her publisher Penguin Group (USA). "They wanted sex and violence, not kitty-cat stories. Gore was not my style, so I just forgot about The Cat Who."

Braun wrote 31 books, including two short story collections, and worked 30 years at The Detroit Free Press.

Her mystery series began with The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, published in 1966 and ended with The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, when Braun retired from writing in 2007. Her books about Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum, were regulars on the New York Times bestseller lists and were translated into 16 languages.

Her books redefined the mystery genre, said Natalee Rosenstein, Braun's longtime editor and vice-president, senior executive editor of Berkley Books, a Penguin Group imprint.

Rosenstein said in a statement that she loved the books when she first read them, but "it did take me a while to figure out what genre it belonged to.

"She ultimately created a whole new chapter in the American mystery, and our wonderful working relationship spanned more than two decades. But most of all, it is Lilian the person I will remember — a strong, dedicated feisty woman who would always speak her mind and not be intimidated by anyone."

Braun wrote her books in longhand, then typed them herself, according to her publisher.

Braun was born June 20, 1913, in Chicopee Falls, Mass. She was preceded in death by her first husband, Louis Paul Braun; her sister, Florence Jackson; and her brother, Lloyd Jackson.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Table of Contents: There's Cake in My Future

There's Cake in My FutureAuthor: Kim Gruenenfelder
Publisher/Year: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010
Synopsis: After listening to her closest friends’ latest travails in love, parenting, and careers, superstitious bride-to-be Nicole (Nic) believes she has the perfect recipe for everyone’s happiness: a bridal shower “cake pull” in which each ribboned silver charm planted in her cake will bring its recipient the magical assistance she needs to change her destiny.  Melissa (Mel), still ringless after dating the same man for six years, deserves the engagement ring charm.  The red hot chili pepper would be perfect for Seema, who is in love with her best male friend Scott, but can’t seem to make their relationship more than platonic.  And recently laid off journalist Nic wants the shovel, which symbolizes hard work, to help her get her career back on track.  Nic does everything she can to control who gets which silver keepsake – as well as the future it represents.  But when the charmed cake is mysteriously shifted from the place settings Nic arranged around it, no one gets the charm she chose for them. And when the other party guests’ fortunes begin coming true, Mel, Seema, and Nic can’t help but wonder…. Is the cake trying to tell them something?

What Others Have To Say
Chick Lit
"This is Chick Lit at its peak"

Kirkus Reviews
"Gimmicky romp about letting life surprise you. Gruenenfelder too often relies on sitcom one-liners, but her women are smart, likable and good to each other."

Publisher's Weekly
"this is a good read, hip and amusing without ever thinking too hard."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Line By Line: Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance (Oprah's Book Club)"Flirting with madness was one thing; when madness started flirting back, it was time to call the whole thing off."

"You cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair."

"After all, our lives are but a sequence of events - a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity that we call life."

"Birth and death - what could be more monstrous than that? We like to deceive ourselves and call it wondrous and beautiful and majestic, but it's freakish, let's face it."

My mother used to say, if you fill your face with laughing, there will be no more room for crying."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Table of Contents: As Husbands Go

As Husbands Go: A NovelAuthor: Susan Isaacs
Publisher/Year: Scribner, 2010
Synopsis: Call her superficial, but Susie B Anthony Rabinowitz Gersten assumed her marriage was great—and why not? Jonah Gersten, MD, a Park Avenue plastic surgeon, clearly adored her. He was handsome, successful, and a doting dad to their four-year-old triplets. But when Jonah is found dead in the Upper East Side apartment of second-rate "escort" Dorinda Dillon, Susie is overwhelmed with questions left unanswered. It's bad enough to know your husband's been murdered, but even worse when you're universally pitied (and quietly mocked) because of the sleaze factor. None of it makes sense to Susie—not a sexual liaison with someone like Dorinda, not the "better not to discuss it" response from Jonah's partners. With help from her tough-talking, high-style grandma Ethel, who flies in from Miami, she takes on her snooty in-laws, her husband's partners, the NYPD, and the DA as she tries to prove that her wonderful life with Jonah was no lie.

What Others Have To Say

The New York Times
"But the characters are fun to meet, and the accretion of detail makes the book nice and chewy. What’s harder to forgive is that when the culprit is finally tracked down, his (or her!) plea agreement requires her (or him!) to tell Susie all about the murder. When will crime writers invent a way to summarize a murder that doesn’t involve an endless, bogus-­sounding confession?"

AARP Magazine
"...a lightweight adventure that makes a perfect summer read—so long as you find her narrator amusing rather than annoying."

Kirkus Reviews
"The mystery is barely there, but Isaacs’ fans will enjoy another sharp-tongued romp through the New York privileged classes and their foibles."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Mark: 2011 Moby Awards

The second annual Moby Awards were handed out this past Thursday (June 2). What are the Moby Awards, you ask? These are the awards for the best and worst book trailers!

We'll give an award for anything these days.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Ron Charles – Acceptance Speech

Grand Jury/We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards: Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart
Most Celebtastic Performance: James Franco - Super Sad True Love Story

Book Trailer As Stand Alone Art Object: How Did You Get This Number? – Sloane Crosley

Best Big House: Packing for Mars – Mary Roach

Worst Big House: Savages – Don Winslow

Best Small House: Tree of Codes – Jonathan Safran Foer

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer - Public Reactions from Visual Editions on Vimeo.

Worst Small / No House: Pirates:
The Midnight Passage – James R. Hannibal

Worst Performance by an Author: Jonathan Franzen – Freedom

What Are We Doing To Our Children?: It’s A Book – Lane Smith

General Technical Excellence and Courageous Pursuit of Gloriousness: Electric Literature

Most Monkey Sex: Bonobo Handshake – Vanessa Woods

Worst Soundtrack: GhostGirl

Most Angelic Angel Falling to Earth: Torment – Lauren Kate

Most Conflicted: (we published the book but the trailer is sooo good!) T Cooper – Beaufort Diaries

Adaptation: The Green Lantern

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Trailer: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Table of Contents: In the Woods

In the WoodsAuthor: Tana French
Publisher/Year: Penguin, 2008
Synopsis: As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled shoes, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox – his partner and closest friend – find themselves investigating a case with chilling links to that long-ago disappearance. Now, with only snippets of buried memories to guide him, Rob has the chance to unravel both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

What Others Have To Say

The Times
"Sharply written and insidiously creepy, this is a mesmerising read that grabs hold of the reader from the very first page and doesn’t let go until well past two in the morning."

The New York Times
"Drawn by the grim nature of her plot and the lyrical ferocity of her writing, even smart people who should know better will be able to lose themselves in these dark woods."

Literary Review
"The interplay between detective partners, the portrayal of the people involved, the atmosphere of tension and suspicion is skilfully described while the reader’s attention is tightened and slackened with a masterly hand."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: Andre Agassi, Open

Publisher/Year: Knopf, 2009

Open: An Autobiography (Vintage)
Tennis is a sport I know almost nothing about. Over the years I have come to know some of the names in the sport in passing--McEnroe, Navratilova, King, Graf, Sampras--if not the sport itself. What I associate most with tennis is the ping of the ball off the racket and the encompassing silence of the games beyond that. As an avid player of badminton in my youth, I can get behind the awesomeness of hitting that perfect folly over the net punctuated by that glorious sound. I don't understand the rules of the game, though it seems simple enough to play for fun. Given my somewhat apathetic attitude towards tennis, it is curious that I should pick up Andre Agassi's autobiography Open during my latest library trip.

I recall Agassi in terms of the popular culture referencing that we likely all have at some point. The hair, oh that hair and then none. The women--Streisand, Shields, finally Graf. The rock star attitude. These are all pieces within a much larger puzzle, I thought as I picked up the book. I would come to learn that while Agassi is indeed a larger puzzle these few pieces are rather quite large and take up consider space in his story.

When I finished this book, it was obvious to me that Agassi did not have to write it. Okay, lots (most) people don't have to write their autobiographies. But with Agassi, I can’t help but wonder what he thought could be gained from revealing a year-long crystal meth dalliance? To me, it is the setup to explain that he lied about the usage when confronted by a failed drug test (the book is title 'Open' afterall). He claimed "I drank a friend's spiked soda!” and the ATP bought the explanation. For this reader, this story resonated more about the wisdom, or rather failed wisdom, of a professional organization that allows a player to write a mere letter to defend their actions. It opens the door to ultimately letting the organization actively off the hook for conducting a proper investigation by letting an athlete let himself or herself off the hook.

But enough about this. I could go on for volumes about integrity or lack thereof in sports.

What Agassi gained in telling his story was an opportunity to negate or debunk some of the myths about him and possibly to also propagate others. It is sweet to know that Stephanie (Steffi) Graf was a significant feature is his personal life long before they became romantically involved. It comes through loud and clear that in her Agassi has found his other half. And the relationship between him and trainer-mentor-guru Gil Reyes is heartening to read about. Both threads of the story are not surprising though; it would be a different type of cheating on Agassi’s part to not have such archetypes factor into the story. Unfortunately for him, Hollywood as stripped out some of the sincerity of such archetypal relationships through melodramatic retellings in lesser fare. This makes the more emotional components of the story ring a bit hollow despite the obvious sincerity.

Two themes were clear to me throughout Agassi's detailed tellings of his professional and personal struggles. One, his insecurity. It would be easy to lay blame for this at the feet of his borderline abusive father but Agassi does not do this and nor can I. He simply seemed like a kid in an adult body until his 30s, much like many of our generation where self-confidence is often mistaken for self-esteem in our pursuit to be somebody. Sure, Agassi had lots of success and lots of defeat yet he spends considerable time retelling his many steps to the precipice of wanting to figure out why either would happen and then his rushing away from the edge. He seems afraid to know what was really lurking underneath the rebellions that lead to a pink mohawk or denim shorts or his first marriage. If I had to venture a guess, Agassi having to listen to his brother Philly repetitively being told by their father that he was a born loser had more impact on him than Philly.

Second, his sensitivity. This comes through crystal clear in the discussion around his first marriage. He and Shields connected based on a similar background but obviously there was not enough similarity to make it last. I had always thought Shields to be quite cold, and the image rendered here reinforces my thoughts. For example, when she questions why he got involved in the medical troubles of an acquaintance, it almost feels like a verbal slap in the face. And not just to him.

A clear outlet for this sensitivity was the establishment of his charter school for at-risk children in Las Vegas. Besides his family, this school is his haven and heaven. For a kid who brashly dropped out of school at 14 to open such an institution demonstrates a heightened acceptance that he was capable of more than tennis. The pedigree he brings to the school—eight grand slams, one Olympic gold medal, 60 titles, 1,000 matches—provides for a stability and a location of excellence that he himself craved throughout his career.

I must admit though to being bored when reading the passages dedicated to recounting matches. Technically these are the most action packed in any sports biography I've come across to date yet they read dry as clay when put to paper. I suspect you need to be a tennis fan, or have more than a cursory interest in the sport to truly get the grit within the passages. The only match of his that I recall fully watching was from the 2006 US Open against Marcos Baghdatis. I didn't really know what I was watching but it felt like history in the making (which it was) and I couldn't turn away.

His recounting of the physical and emotional pain endured then underscores my long respect for his passion for the sport. He often recounts in the book that he hates tennis but one does not risk permanent injury time and time again without some desire or passion fueling the fire within. And it underscores his respect for the sport and his fellow players. They do not always come across favorably but they are rendered fairly within his perspective. One does not get the feeling that Agassi despised any of them though, I’m sure there were times when he felt he did.

Overall, Open feels like Agassi on a quest. To where or to what I ends, I am unsure. There is plenty of information and details from which to drawn many different conclusions but the only one that matters is his own. As with all autobiographies, the literary goal is to demonstrate that a person has come "full circle" in some fashion. Same is true for Agassi. And having achieved so much personal and professional success by the age of 36, including this book, seems pretty full circle to me. May he keep questing and being 'open'.