Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recession? Time to get Crafty. . .

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts is arriving at just the right time - lots of people are turning to crafts for cheap decorating ideas, or handmade gifts and if it's the latter, you could do a lot worse than seek inspiration from Martha - you know all her projects will be very professional looking. This book is geared towards the amateur crafter and there are many activities that you could do with kids. It's organzied by type of craft from Albums to Wreaths, with a general introduction and list of materials and supplies, followed by specific projects, some more appealing and practical than others. For example, I'm not too keen on decorating wastepaper baskets with shells, or covering candles (or anything for that matter) with glitter, but the chapters on beading, jewelry making, leaf prints (making fabric sun prints in particular) and photo crafts, have given me all sorts of intriguing decorating ideas. And for the person who likes to create their own gifts or cards, there are very good chapters on making soap and candles, and innovative stamping and heat embossing techniques. Though some of the projects look to be time-consuming, none of them require skills that can take a long time to master; thus no chapters on knitting, crocheting or quilting. As with all of Martha's books, the interior design and photographs are quite gorgeous to look at. I find some of her cookbooks a bit intimidating (too many expensive ingredients), but this craft book definitely is not - my only problem now is trying to keep my list of projects shorter than my to-be-read pile.

Other crafty books coming soon that I have my eye on:
Felt Furnishings: 25 Accessories for Contemporary Homes by Anne Kyyro Quinn ( I have a lot of old wool sweaters that are pilling or have tears in them and I'd love to turn them into funky pillows).

Chic & Simple Sewing: Skirts, Dresses, Tops and Jackets for the Modern Seamstress by Christine Haynes

I'm hoping the emphasis is on "simple".

Friday, March 27, 2009

We feel the love. . .

Thank you Rachel and Tania at the Chatham Public Library for sending this photo along of a display that you put together for our book picks.
We're very honoured and tickled pink - especially by the sign: Sssh. . .Dewey Divas and Dudes Ditch Their Cardigans.
We only wear our feathery boas when we read, honestly. . .

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Get Your Holds On -- Three Narrative Page Turners. . .

Dear Readers, you are being spoiled rotten this spring; there is SO much good fiction coming out this season. I have sales conference in a month for the fall books and it's killing me to have to turn away from a pile of 20 or so tantalizing spring and summer galleys, and start focusing on fall manuscripts. Ah, it's a cruel, cruel job being a book rep, but someone's got to do it.

The following three books are ones I have read and - trust me on this - if you are the type of reader that really relishes great suspenseful plotting, complicated characters who constantly surprise, and fictional worlds filled with delicious and slightly sinister secrets and lies, then these novels are the must-reads for you. These are the type of books you close with a satisfying thump, turn to no one in particular (or to the universe at large), and exclaim, "God, that was good!". I can't post detailed reviews before publication, so this will be more of a tease than anything else, but I urge you to put your library holds on now because these books are going to be big!

A.S Byatt will be receiving the prestigious 2009 Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix award at the Blue Met Literary Festival in Montreal next month, just in time to coincide with the release of her terrific new novel The Children's Book. This is easily one of my favourite books of the year and if you've been waiting for her to deliver a novel as enjoyable and gratifying as Possession, then here it is. In droves. The story follows several English families (and their German friends) from the late Victorian era, through the Edwardian period and ending with the First World War. One of the families is ruled by Olive Wellwood, a famous children's book author whose own kids grow up in the seemingly idyllic setting of their country home. However, as with most fairy tales and children's literature written during this period, there are definitely darker shadows lurking behind the magic. And as the Victorian repression of the parents collides with the freedoms of the new, modern century, the innocent world of childhood takes on completely new and tragic meanings. If you've ever read Peter Pan as an adult - I mean really read it - and been disturbed, then you will be fascinated by this novel. Also for fans of Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks; the war scenes are pretty devastating. I loved, loved, loved this novel. It had better be on the Booker shortlist.

Iain Pears has also returned to form with a big, juicy, espionage thriller that starts in the Edwardian era and goes back in time, to the late and then mid 1800s. Despite its historical settings, Stone's Fall couldn't be more topical right now, taking place amidst the intrigues, corruption and political manoeuvrings of the money markets. There's greed, murder, sex and revenge, and the narrative pacing will leave you breathless. If you like the plot twists of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, Pears' own An Instance of the Fingerpost, or Charles Palliser's Quincunx, you'll definitely enjoy this. As an aside, I'm amused by the subtle differences between the Canadian (on the left) and American (on the right) covers. Why is ours more bloody?

And speaking of Sarah Waters, she's back too with a wonderful old-fashioned ghost story. I'm a big fan of Waters and have always admired her for never writing the same book twice and continually experimenting with different genres. The Little Stranger is set in a small English village shortly after the Second World War and is the story of a doctor and his ever-increasing involvement with the isolated Ayres family (Bronte nod intentional), who live in an old and crumbling mansion. You will not find any cheap gimmicks here - Waters is far too fine a writer for that - but I guarantee the hair on the back of your neck is going to rise, not once but several times during the course of this novel. If you like Wilkie Collins, or particularly Daphne du Maurier, then this is right up your haunted hallway. I can't think of a better novel for a summer night - take a flashlight and read it under the covers.

Okay, and now for the fun part. I have up for grabs, one precious galley of each of these three novels. Pick the one out of these three that you'd most like to read and send me an e-mail at mscott@randomhouse.com with the title of the novel in the subject line. Include your name and full work address in the e-mail. Only enter once please, and just pick one of the books, so that we can spread the goodies around. I will randomly draw the names from all entries received up until noon EST, Friday, April 3rd. Sorry, but this offer is only open to Canadian librarians, library staff and teacher-librarians at either public, school, or academic libraries.
NOTE: This contest has now closed. Winners have been notified.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gardening on the Cheap

It's that time of year again, when we get a warm spell unseasonably early and my thoughts turn to gardening. Logically, despite Friday being the first official day of spring, I know it is far too early to start digging out any new flowerbeds, and don't plan on taking off my snow tires until the first week of April. But that hasn't stopped me from spending an embarrassing amount of time poring over gardening magazines, seed catalogues and looking longingly at the new, still unused ergonomic shovel which I got for Christmas.

I had to start a garden from scratch a few years back when I bought my house: it's long-neglected yard was a mess of weeds and little maple saplings. It's been a long, hard process, but I feel as though it is finally shaping up nicely and can't wait to get back to it. The hardest part has been trying to stay within some sort of budget. When you start with a blank canvas, it is awfully tempting to go to the local nursery, open up the charge card and go nuts. But in these tough economic times, even those of us fortunate enough to be still employed are reminded daily in the news that things might get much worse and that frugality might be the better option. So what's a gardening junkie to do?

Here's my three part gardening-on-the-cheap plan for this year. First, I'm going to try to grow most of my new plants for the garden from seed instead of buying them from a nursery. For about the price of a couple of flats of annuals, I was able to purchase quite a lot of seeds- annuals, perennials, and vegetables. Seeds always come with instructions printed on the packages, but seeing as I haven't had much success with seeds in the past, I turned to The Plant Propagator's Bible for advice.

The first part of the book takes you through the process of starting a variety of seeds, describing in detail various techniques you can use before planting to get better results (leaching, soaking, scarification, stratification). I've got primula seeds in my fridge chilling right now! She outlines which seeds need light to germinate, which need darkness, optimum humidity levels, temperature etc. The book also tells you how to collect seeds from plants at the end of the season so the money saving can continue the following year. Each technique is described in detail with corresponding illustrations, appropriate plant lists, checklists and a trouble-shooting guide. For advanced gardeners, there are even instructions on creating your own plant hybrids.

Second, I'm going to split a few of my perennials and see if any of my friends, family, and neighbours are interested in participating in a plant swap. The main bulk of The Plant Propagator's Bible is dedicated to showing you how to divide established plants. The author breaks the process down according to the best method- be it cutting, grafting, layering, or dividing plants with bulbs, tubers, fibrous roots or suckers. This is a cheap way of getting new types of plants for your garden, and you might just be able to get the plant you've admired from someone else's garden. And it isn't just outdoor plants this works for- you can also grow and swap new indoor plants too! There is an extensive plant directory at the back of the book reviewing in detail the best propagation method for each plant, a plant list, glossary, North American hardiness zones and index.

Finally, I'm going to be paying attention to the local newspapers in coming months and doing some online searching to find out when the local horticultural societies, garden clubs and churches are having their annual plant sales. Most of these organizations have sales each spring, with members splitting perennials and selling them to raise money. I've had amazing luck in past years, finding lots of perennials for my mostly-shady garden- heucheras, ferns, hostas, primulas and more. From my experiences in previous years, I would highly recommend going to these sales ridiculously early as the unique and popular plants tend to go quickly. Prices at these sales are typically very reasonable (much less than nursery prices) and the people staffing the event are (in my experience) very helpful if you have questions about growing conditions, mature size etc. Make sure you have lots of room in your car (clean the trunk out before you leave) and if you have leftover plastic plant trays from years past, bring them along so you can grab multiple plants easily and get them back to your car.

I'd better get back to planting my seeds. Happy gardening!

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'll try at least to read this book slowly. . .

Tying in nicely to the Slow Movement is the idea of Slow Reading (alas, not always practical for book reps, but something I try to follow for my pleasure reading). John Miedema, a student in the Master of Library Sciences program at the University of Western Ontario, has been writing about this growing trend in his blog and now has a new book out on the subject, called - wait for it - Slow Reading. You can read how he defines the movement at his blog here. I love this paragraph in particular:
Slow readers often enjoy a sensual relationship with their information — noticing the well-selected binding, paper, illustrations and type; sub-vocalizing or reading the text aloud to hear it. Slow readers prefer books over screens, for the superior readability of paper, but also for the fixity of print. Print captures ideas and gives them a stillness that allows the reader to open deeply to them. The binding of a book captures an experience or idea at a particular space and time. When the reading is complete, you place it with satisfaction on your bookshelf.
John kindly offered his top ten reading picks for our blog back in December, 2007. Congratulations on your new book - I'll certainly be buying a copy and it seems the perfect read for librarians, booksellers and all book lovers.

New Emily Gravett Book!

Nothing brings a smile to my face quite like opening a box of samples to find a finished copy of a book that I fell in love with as soon as I saw the mock-up. And it is always a particularly happy day for me when that book happens to be the latest book by the wonderful Emily Gravett. I have been a huge fan of her work since her first book Wolves and now have a growing collection of her books in my home library. Her new book Dogs has finally arrived in our warehouse, and I just have to share!
Gravett tends to alternate between more sophisticated picture books (Wolves, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, Spells, Meerkat Mail) and those that are brilliant in their simplicity (Orange, Pear, Apple Bear, Monkey & Me, The Odd Egg). Dogs falls on the simple-yet-brilliant side. Using lovely pencil and watercolour illustrations the book showcases the wide variety of dogs that the narrator loves. From big and small, scruffy and smart, to good and bad, hairy and bald, the narrator loves them all! Many breeds of dogs are featured (and named on the endpapers) and the characteristics that make each unique breed are conveyed through the illustrations. It's both a clever book of opposites and an homage to dogs in general. The twist comes in the final spread, when the identity of the narrator is revealed, along with the type of dog he/she (I'm not telling) loves best.

To get a peek at the delightful illustrations inside Dogs, check out the book spreads on the official Emily Gravett website. Also, if you click on the activities tab on the site, you'll find a fun downloadable game that you can use for activity time (rather like a do-it-yourself Concentration/Memory game using cards made with the dogs featured in the book).

Also on the Activities page, you'll find a downloadable colour-by-numbers page featuring Duck and his beautiful egg from The Odd Egg.
Perfect for springtime Storytime, this book features a variety of animals who are waiting for their eggs to hatch. Duck, the only bird who didn't lay an egg himself , adopts a giant green and white speckled egg as his own. The other birds think it is odd, but Duck thinks it is the most beautiful egg in the world. Even after all of the other eggs hatch, Duck waits patiently. The hatching is illustrated with clever die-cut pages that show each baby and parent joyfully greeting each other for the first time as the pages turn. When Duck's egg finally does hatch, it is to reveal a surprise inside, one that may remind readers of the (also great) book Guji Guji. The detail in this book is delightful, from the various books Owl reads throughout the story, to the Parrot's gift of a mirror to its new son, to the scarf and booties Duck knits to pass the time and are worn by his new baby on the endpapers as the duo stroll away.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Prize News. . .

Lest you think it's only in the fall that the big literary prizes are awarded, here come the longlists for two major ones.
I always look forward to the Orange Prize because I'm inevitably introduced to writers and books I've never heard of, but that sound wonderful. So get a pen out and peruse this year's longlist:

Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots
Ellen Feldman, Scottsboro
Laura Fish, Strange Music
V.V. Ganeshananthan, Love Marriage
Allegra Goodman,
Samantha Harvey, The Wilderness
Samantha Hunt, The Invention of Everything Else
Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog
Deirdre Madden, Molly Fox’s Birthday
Toni Morrison, A Mercy
Marilynne Robinson, Home
Preeta Samarasan, Evening is the Whole Day
Kamila Shamsie,
Burnt Shadows
Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife
Miriam Toews,
The Flying Troutmans
Ann Weisgarber, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

In particular, two books that look interesting are Laura Fish's Strange Music which is a partial fictional account of poet Elizabeth Barrett and Gaynor Arnold's Girl in a Blue Dress which is inspired by the story of Charles Dickens' wife Catharine. And The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight by Gina Ochsner looks very quirky. The shortlist will be announced on April 21st and the winner on June 3rd.

Also announced today are the contenders for the Man Booker International Prize, awarded every two years to a writer for the body of their work. Another great way to be introduced to wonderful writers you may not have read before. You can read more about the prize here.
Up for the award are Peter Carey, Evan S. Connell, Mahasweta Devi, E.L. Doctorow, James Kelman, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arnost Lustig, Alice Munro (hurrah!), V. S. Naipaul, Joyce Carol Oates, Antonio Tabucchi, Ngugi Wa Thiong'O, Dubravka Ugresic, and Ludmila Ulitskaya.
The winner will be announced in May.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Intoxicating Story. . .

I know, I know - in keeping with St. Paddy's Day, I should be blogging about an Irish author, but I haven't read any recently; I seem to be obsessed with Germany these days. So instead, here's a cautionary tale in case you are tempted to imbibe just a bit too much tonight. . .

Hans Fallada wrote The Drinker while in a Nazi insane asylum in 1944. Under the pretence of writing a propaganda novel, he was instead covering sheets of paper with tiny writing, turning them, and writing more between the lines. Fallada was released after the war, but he died in 1947 before the publication of the book.
The novel is narrated by Erwin Sommer, a respectable grocery wholesaler, who lives a quiet life in a small town with his wife Magda until he starts to drink. From then on, his life completely disintegrates. He loses business contracts, begins arguing with his wife, starts fantasizing about a barmaid, and through his desperate need for alcohol, becomes inextricably involved with Lobedanz, a scheming landlord who fleeces him of all his money. Sommer eventually ends up first in prison, and then in an insane asylum and his (now sober) descriptions of his fellow inmates, the horrors of daily life behind bars and the endless futile and ironic attempts to negotiate the law system, form the latter and most powerful part of the novel. Sommer's antics and situations are entirely of his own doing but it's to Fallada's credit that there are times when you can't help sympathizing with his bad luck and inability to slow down the momentum of his social and mental descent. He is very apt at self-justifying his actions (comically at times) and honest in his attempts to analyze his situation, even though we see his weak character flaws right from the first paragraph, when he sulkily tries to blame his early drinking on Magda, and the fact that she took four days to remove a cobweb from his room. Petty and petulant, Sommer's narrative voice nevertheless convincingly propels the reader right to the end of his story.
The book contains a very good afterword by John Willet, talking about the political context of the novel and also positioning it within Fallada's oeuvre. More of his backlist will be brought back into print by Melville House over the next few seasons. I'm definitely a Fallada fan - next on my list is his novel, Little Man, What Now?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shortlist for the 2009 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award Announced!

The Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award Committee of the Canadian Library Association announced the shortlist for this year's award on March 6th. I'm so pleased that one of my picks from last fall is included- A Bear in War by Stephanie Innes & Harry Endrulat and illustrated by Brian Deines. (For more on the book, check out my blog entry on the book launch which I posted back in November).
The 2009 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award recognizes an illustrator of a noteworthy Canadian picture book, published in 2008, that appeals to children up to the age of 12 years.

Here is the complete list of finalists for the 2009 Amelia Frances Howard Gibbon Award, in alphabetical order by title (Titles in bold were Fall picks from other Deweys):

A Bear in War/Illustrated by Brian Deines (Key Porter)
A Pocket Can Have a Treasure in It/Illustrated by Deirdre Betteridge (Annick)
Chester’s Back!/Illustrated by Melanie Watt (Kids Can Press)
Jenneli’s Dance/Illustrated by Chris Auchter (Theytus)
Mattland/Illustrated by Dusan Petricic (Annick)
Naomi’s Tree/Illustrated by Ruth Ohi (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)
Out of the Deeps/Illustrated by Nicolas Debon (Orca)
Shin Chi’s Canoe/Illustrated by Kim LaFave (Groundwood)
Sir Reginald’s Logbook/Illustrated by Matt Hammill (Kids Can Press)
Thing Thing/Illustrated by Nicolas Debon (Tundra)

Also announced on March 6th were the finalists for the 2009 CLA Young Adult Book Award and the 2009 Book of the Year Award for Children. Check out the CLA website for the list of finalists for these awards!

The winners of all three awards will be announced prior to the annual Canadian Library Association Conference and presented at the CLA conference at Montreal’s Palais des Congres de Montreal in May.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Kindly Ones. . .

Last week, I blogged about Hans Fallada's German resistance novel Every Man Dies Alone. Coincidentally, out the same week, is another big, powerful novel that traces the war from a German perspective but in a completely different way - Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, translated by Charlotte Mandell.

I've been following the literary reviews and blogging discussion for both novels with interest, and I have to say that I've never seen a novel so polarized in its reception as The Kindly Ones. People either love or loathe this novel, and the strong emotions either way, seem to be colouring and overshadowing any honest, objective critical discussion about the book. So it was refreshing to see two balanced reviews recently published, and I would steer your way towards Daniel Mendelsohn's lengthy and indepth review in the New York Review of Books, or André Alexis's Saturday review in The Globe and Mail, in which he outlines and dissects the important debates surrounding the novel.

I'm in the "love it" camp, but I do recognize that this isn't a book for everyone and it's a very difficult book to read, let alone write about. The subject matter is fairly grim. It tells the story of Maximilien Aue, an intelligent, cultured, anti-Semitic Nazi officer, looking back on the war years from his comfortable existence passing as a French lace merchant (he had a French mother and spent some of his childhood in France). Aue observed, gathered notes on, and participated in the mass executions of thousands of Jews. His story takes him to Stalingrad, the concentration camps, and Berlin during the last days of the war and there is a scene towards the end that is as chilling as anything you'll find in Lord of the Flies. The descriptions of all these horrors are incredibly detailed and unrelenting and they go on for nearly a thousand pages. The galley completely consumed an entire week of my Christmas vacation, but I just couldn't stop reading, even when my thumbs started to hurt from grasping the pages.

Most of the detractors of this novel argue that while Littell's historical research and fictional rendering of the war is commendable, the novel fails with the over-the-top depiction of Aue himself - a homosexual who has an incestuous obsession with his sister, murders his mother and stepfather, and has a ongoing fascination with his bodily fluids. But there are a couple of things to note before tackling this novel. First, Aue is a fictional creation and though he encounters many real, historical characters, this is a work of fiction. Secondly, as the title alludes to, Littell has used Aeschylus's Oresteia, as the framing narrative device of his novel. It's not necessary to have read the Oresteia to read and appreciate The Kindly Ones, but it's worth looking up the story of Orestes to see some of the parallels. (Or you could read other playwrights' modern takes - Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, or Jean-Paul Sartre's The Flies as two examples). Greek tragedy, filled as it is with tales of murder and revenge, is hardly subtle and you can't ignore the allusions, which are done so effectively that I even started thinking of France as Clytemnestra and Germany as Agamemnon. Littell's juxtaposition of Aue/Orestes's story into the madness of the Second World War makes perfect sense to me. The Kindly Ones are another name for the Furies, that mentally pursue Aue (the novel is full of hallucinations, masochism and guilt) without Littell ever seeking to apologize for Aue's actions, as he himself remains defiantly unrepentant.

So why did I love this novel? Because, despite the bleakness of subject matter, this was a reading experience unlike any other that I've recently encountered. I admire Littell's sheer guts in telling this story. It was utterly original, the writing was compelling and in many ways the most horrific impact of the book came in the endless litany of bureaucratic and financial details surrounding the Final Solution. That so many millions of lives were coldly calculated with a view to balancing a martial business plan is heartbreaking, and yet so indicitive of how war really works. Could this all happen again? Absolutely. Littell's novel makes that very clear. As Aue writes at the beginning of his narrative:
"Those who kill are humans, just like those who are killed, that's what's terrible. You can never say: I shall never kill, that's impossible; the most you can say is: I hope I shall never kill."
I suggest you read Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone for the inventive and suspenseful plot, the masterly characterization, and for the heartbreak and hope of ordinary citizens living through war. I can't think of any reader who wouldn't enjoy this book. As for Littell's The Kindly Ones, this is a book to read for the important, visceral, and challenging questions it asks - about the atrocity of war, the nature of evil, and how history is chronicled and expressed in art and literary culture. It's for a reader who demands more than just plot; one who is up to the challenge of being shaken from narrative and stylistic expectations, and willing to devote the time to the story and Littell's craft. Don't read this novel in piecemeal fashion.
Both novels provide very different, but equally fascinating and essential views of the Second World War; I have no doubt that both will be read a hundred years from now. Reading both, almost back to back as I did, was an exhilarating, unforgettable experience.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bought in New York. . .

Couldn't resist buying a pair of these cushion covers for obvious reasons. They are called Lit 101 and are available at CB2 - the sister store of Crate and Barrel. No CB2's in Canada yet (we just got our first Crate and Barrel in Toronto), but apparently the company is planning to expand across the border.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

P.C. & Kristin Cast News!

P.C. and Kristin Cast, authors of the popular House of Night series are coming back to Toronto to promote their new book Hunted.

Hunted is the first of the series to be released in hardcover, and hits bookstores and library shelves March 10th. I've been a fan of this YA series since it started with Marked- these vampyre novels for readers 15 and up are original, sexy, and fast paced. They are great for older readers of the Twilight series, as well as reluctant readers (books one and two (Betrayed) were selected as 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers by the American Library Association).

Listed below are the dates and locations that the authors will be appearing while in Canada and I hope you'll pass along this information to any of your patrons that are fans of this series!

I'm planning on attending the event in Burlington (tattoos AND cats!) as I didn't get to meet the authors last time they were in town (their trip was shorter than expected as their original flight was cancelled because of a hurricane in Texas).

Wednesday, March 25th @ 7:00 PM
INDIGO Manulife, 55 Bloor Street East, Toronto
- There will be giveaways, raffles, a DJ and a Q&A with PC + Kristin
- The authors are being interviewed onstage by an editor from FAZE magazine

Thursday, March 26th @ 7:00 PM
Chapters Woodview Place, 3315 Fairview, Burlington
- There will be a henna tattoo artist on site to give tattoos
- There will be a wiccan practitioner who will cast a circle before the event begins
- There will be cats for petting or adopting
- Authors are being interviewed on stage by Indigo’s own, Jennifer Shannon
- There will be a Q&A with the authors after the interview
- There will be giveaways and raffles

If you can't make it to these events, be sure to check the blog the week of March 30th- I'll be offering up the chance to win some signed books!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Percy Jackson News & Sneak Peak at 'The Last Olympian'

The much anticipated final book in the hugely popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series from Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian , hits bookstores and library shelves May 5th, 2009.
As a battle for the fate of Western civilization is waged on the streets of Manhattan, the mysterious prophecy surrounding Percy's sixteenth birthday unfolds...
Sounds great doesn't it? So, what are fans to do with themselves for the 58 days (and counting) until they can get their hands on this book? First, I'd suggest re-reading all of the books in the series so they are fresh in your mind. Don't forget the recently released series guide The Demigod Files. The guide contains character profiles and interviews, as well as three original short stories featuring 'Percy Jackson's most dangerous adventures never before committed to paper'.
Fans who haven't done so already should also check out the official website. Here you'll find trivia games, mazes, word puzzles, instructions for a Percy improv theatre and even a sneak peak at chapter one of the new book.

More Rick Riordan news:

  • RICK RIORDAN IS COMING TO CANADA! Rick will be in Vancouver, BC on Thursday, May 7th.
  • The Hollywood Reporter and Variety announced key casting news for The Lightning Thief movie. The movie, which is being eyed as a potential franchise by the studio, will be directed by Chris Columbus (who also directed the first two Harry Potter films). Set to begin shooting this April, the movie will star Logan Lerman as Percy. Brandon T. Jackson also has signed on to co-star.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bridges to Brooklyn. . .

During my recent trip to New York, I was able to cross off one of the many items on my bucket list - walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I'd been visiting Melville House which is located in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) district of Brooklyn. It's a very cool area with industrial buildings turned into offices, and lots of independent shops and restaurants, including Jacques Torres' Chocolate store, filled with delicious concoctions that even included chocolate-covered Cheerios. Dewey approved for sure!
Latte in hand, cereal in pocket, I walked back to Manhattan over the bridge at sunset which was the perfect magical time to do so - looking to my left, the Statue of Liberty was just a black smudge in the harbour, but ahead and to my right, the entire city was glowing. Truly a great experience. And in anticipation of this event, (I like to theme my life), my reading material on this trip was none other than two novels set in Brooklyn.
NYRB Classics is just re-issuing L.J. Davis's 1971 novel A Meaningful Life, with a new introduction by Jonathan Lethem - no stranger to Brooklyn himself. The jacket copy caught my attention right away, calling the novel, "a blistering black comedy about the American quest for redemption through real estate". Yes, it is but don't be fooled - this is no Wall Street tycoon tale. Call it also the story of one desperate man's attempt at rebirth through remodelling. (And who can't relate to that? I know if I could just get my apartment organized and decorated properly, my life would be perfect!)
Lowell Lake is an ordinary man trying to find some purpose in his life. He's married to a woman he doesn't really like, and with whom he has virtually nothing in common with. They have reluctantly moved to New York for no good reason, where Lowell painstakingly tries (and fails) to write a novel and is now stuck in a boring, dead-end job as the managing editor for a plumbing magazine. Just how miserable (and appallingly funny) his life gets is illustrated by this description of a dreaded visit to his ghastly inlaws:
"He always felt a little drunk at his in-laws' place, and afterward he had a funny hung-over feeling, as though they had put something in his coffee. Actually, they never put anything in his coffee, and he was lucky if he got any at all. When he did get some, it came in a different kind of cup from everybody's else's. He wondered if his mother-in-law kept the cup in a special place, wrapped up in a plastic bag."
To get over his apathy with existence, Lowell goes searching for the "stuff of life" and, based on his fuzzy memory of a magazine article, decides to tackle poverty, racism, and municipal corruption head on, by restoring an old mansion in Brooklyn to its former glory. The fact that the property is currently a decrepit rooming house that will eat up his entire savings in repair costs, plus it is filled with poor tenants, who far from engaging with, he now has to evict, is something Lowell hadn't quite bargained for. Many (mis) adventures ensue.
The writing is very sardonic and cynical, and watching Lowell's story unfold is akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion - again and again and again. The novel will appeal to readers of Richard Yates (it's funnier than Revolutionary Road but I think one could embark on endless cocktail debates as to which novel is more tragic - once a suitable definition of tragic is agreed upon) and I think Nick Hornby or Martin Amis fans would enjoy it as well.

Coming later this spring, Colm Tóibín's new novel is simply titled Brooklyn and while I don't want to post a full review before publication date, I can tell you that it is very different in tone. from A Meaningful Life. It's the story of Eilis Lacey, a shy young woman in the 1950s who leaves her family in a small Irish town to come to Brooklyn in search of work. A friendly priest finds her lodgings, gets her a job as a sales clerk in a department store and helps her enroll in night courses at the local college. Soon she meets Tony, an Italian plumber who falls in love with her. But when a family tragedy draws her back to Ireland, and her old familiar life, she has to decide where her future will lie. This is very much a novel filled with quiet - yet powerful - observances of life's insecurities precariously balanced against the potential of dreams and opportunities. Look for the novel in May.

Incidentally, an interview with Tóibín was just published in the Guardian about how he finds no pleasure in the process of writing. You can read it here. Lucky for us, this doesn't stop him from pursuing his craft.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone: the "signal literary event of 2009. . . "

Okay, so sometimes this job really is glamourous. And sometimes, a great book really does get the attention (and now hopefully the readers) that it deserves.

I was in New York last week on vacation, but took the opportunity to tag along with a working colleague to visit several of the small publishers that I represent and admire the most - Melville House definitely being one of them. And while we were sitting around the table chatting, their publicist handed over an advance copy of yesterday's NY Times review of Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone, translated by Michael Hofmann - definitely one of my favourite books of the spring season. And so the champagne was brought out (not something that happens a lot in publishing these days) and the lengthy review that begins with, "A signal literary event of 2009 has occurred. . ." was read out in its entirety. It was so exciting to be there at that moment and it couldn't have happened to a nicer publisher. Stellar reviews have also been coming in from the U.K. (where the book is titled Alone In Berlin). And the Globe and Mail should publish their review this weekend.

It's amazing to me that it's taken more than sixty years for this novel to be translated into English; it was originally published in 1947, shortly after the author died. It follows the story of Otto and Anna Quangel - two ordinary Germans living in Berlin during the Second World War. When their only son is killed at the front, Otto decides on a simple, quiet form of resistance to the war. He painstakingly spends Sunday afternoons writing anti-Nazi slogans in beautiful calligraphy on postcards, which he then drops in various stairwells around Berlin. That's it. He doesn't stick around to see who picks up the postcards or what their reactions are; he just wants to tap into, and encourage what he hopes is a growing movement of opposition to Hitler and the Third Reich.
But many of these postcards are being turned in to Gestapo headquarters and turned over to Inspector Escherich. His mania for catching the postcard dropper is comparable to Javert's relentless pursuit of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Escherich pins a red flag on his city map every time a new postcard is found, and as the cluster grows, he gets closer and closer to pinpointing the location of the Quangels. But this novel is not only the story of a deadly cat and mouse game. Escherich's spiralling, geographic obsession mirrors Fallada's narrative technique which begins with the descriptions and actions of the many tenants in the Quangels apartment building - all of whom will surround, intersect with, and ultimately affect the outcome of Otto and Anna's story. The complex and clever intricacies of plot are what give this novel its riveting suspense and are nothing short of astonishing, especially when one considers this 500 page book was written - somewhat in desperation - in only twenty-four days. Yet the writing is beautiful and haunting, and describes in minute detail the emotional rollercoaster of frustration, fear, anger and sometimes greed and selfishness, among ordinary German citizens who did not blindly follow the Nazi regime. It's a war story as gripping as any thriller, but full of unforgettable humanity, love, small doses of humour, and ultimately hope. If you only read one novel this year - I urge you to give this one a try. It has the narrative pacing and intrigue of a John Le Carré or Graham Greene novel, the moral complexity and ambiguity of Dosteovesky or Ian McEwan, and has the incredible backstory of Suite Française. It would make an absolutely terrific book club choice - perfect for men or women readers of all ages.

Fallada's fascinating life has the makings of a complicated novel in its own right. Every Man Dies Alone includes a biographical afterword by Fallada scholar Geoff Wilkes, as well as some background information on the real life couple that Otto and Anna were based on, including photographs from their Gestapo file. The book is also beautifully designed; the front endpapers are a map of Berlin with marked with key locations in the novel, while the back endpapers replicates Inspector Escherich's red flagged office map.

Kudos to Melville House for bringing this amazing novel to English readers. They have made a significant commitment to Fallada - they've also re-issued his previous novels The Drinker and Little Man, What Now? and more of his backlist is coming next year.
I have one galley left of Every Man Dies Alone and I'll send it out to a Canadian librarian (public, school or academic). Just send me an e-mail at mscott@randomhouse.com with "Hans Fallada" in the subject line and include your work address. I'll accept e-mails until this Friday, March 6th at noon EST and then I'll do a draw from all the entries I receive. Good luck!
And if you're not a librarian, or don't win the galley - the book will be available in every bookstore this week, or go and put your holds on a library copy. You will not be disappointed; this is the one everyone is talking about. Go!