Sunday, March 31, 2013

So Cool Sunday: Handmade Type...Literally

I saw this last year and I fell in love with the concept. Tien-Min Liao created a video in which she  painted letters on her hands and manipulated them to show the relationship between uppercase and lowercase letters. I love this! I want to try this and do this with kids when they're learning letters! Keep reading past the jump to see a video of the whole alphabet in transformation. So cool!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

If you don't like Jodi Picoult now, don't bother to keep trying because she's never going to change

Cranky Bird from this website. Seriously, check it out. Also if you are the owner of the Cranky Bird website and you want me to take this image down or remove the link, please let me know and I'll definitely do that. In the meantime though, everyone should visit the site because it's great.
 For someone who writes such sentimental fiction, Jodi Picoult sure is cranky and unpleasant. Or at least in interviews. I've only read two of her books, Sing You Home and The Storyteller, but that was enough for me to conclude that she's no literary giant (if the comments on my Amazon review are any indication, two books is more than enough to judge her body of work). And if her recent interview with the New York Times is any indication, she never will be. That's because according to Picoult, the only problem with her writing is the people who criticize her writing, and they're all jerks anyway. Way to stay classy, Jodi!

I encourage you to read the full NYT article (here) but here are some of the highlights. Among the things that make Jodi Picoult cranky are:

People who call her writing "chick lit." 
Says Picoult, "I don’t mind the term “chick lit.” I don’t happen to write it, so I think it’s funny when people assume I do just because I happen to have a vagina."

Geez, could you say that in a MORE condescending way, Jodi? I don't necessarily agree that the term "chick lit" is the best way to describe her writing (those books are usually funnier and cuter!) but she definitely writes genre fiction. Her genre is sentimental, tragi-emotional soft fiction. Is that a genre? Whatever genre Lifetime movies are, that's what she writes. But she seems convinced that she writes great literature that would change the world and, more importantly, win her a bunch of awards, if only people weren't blinded by her vagina (eww did I just write that?).

Which brings me to the next thing that makes Jodi Picoult cranky...

Sexism. It's everywhere. Like, literally everywhere. Especially if you're Jodi Picoult.
According to Jodi, the literary world--particularly critics--is made up almost entirely of men (it isn't) and female authors never get the kind of coverage, respect or accolades that men get. Ever. 

This would be a much stronger argument if it didn't come from Jodi Picoult. Because even if there were an argument to be made for sexism in the literary world (of course there is, sexism really is everywhere, at least to an extent) no amount of world-changing sexism-fixing would improve Picoult's writing. If 90% of the world's authors, publishers, critics and readers were ALL women, she still wouldn't be the one getting the praise she feels she deserves. 

You have a fan base, Jodi. Enjoy it. Be happy with it. But if you want the NYT to kiss your ass, write better books.
Jodi Picoult (from WikiCommons)

Other authors. Oh and she'll name names.
She's not shy about openly (and rudely!) dissing authors such as Jonathan Franzen, E.L. James, Stephanie Meyer, John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks. I'm not about to defend the writing of any of those, but she went so far as to call some of them "reprehensible" and "the worst." As a fellow author (and not a book critic) could she not find it in herself to be just a little more gracious, at least in an interview? Again, keeping it classy, Picoult-style.

Her publisher. You know, the one that made her an insanely successful household name.
She's recently announced that she's leaving Simon & Schuster for Random House. Those are both great publishing houses, and it's certainly not uncommon for authors to switch publishers throughout their career. But again, it's the WAY Jodi Picoult chooses to say it that is just so slimy. Here's the reason she gave:

"I have great relationships with people at Simon & Schuster. I’m not leaving in a huff, and I’m not upset at anybody. I just needed to try something new to reach a new level. It’s not necessarily sales; it’s recognition. There’s a handful of what I would call the brand-name authors. Patterson, Evanovich. That’s where I would like to head."

Yep. You just read that. Jodi Picoult is leaving Simon & Schuster because she wants to be more of a brand name author. Because it's all about the craft.

People who call her formulaic.
"That's such b.s!" claims Picoult (I'm paraphrasing). "Why? Because I have a trial in many of my books. I don’t know that John Grisham is called formulaic very often, so it is kind of interesting." (not paraphrasing) 

And that's Jodi Picoult's answer to everything. If anyone criticizes her books in any way (even if they're the fans who are actually buying her books) she slams back with, "How come you don't say that about [insert other author's name here]?" Which does nothing to improve her OWN writing.

So if you don't like Jodi Picoult's books by now, don't bother to keep trying. They're all going to be exactly the same. And if you don't like it, you're probably a jerk. A sexist jerk who just doesn't get it and you're just being mean and IT'S NOT FAIR!! Nicholas Sparks never has to deal with this crap. I HATE NICHOLAS SPARKS SO MUCH! But you'll see. I'll show them. I'LL SHOW THEM ALL!

[Editor's Note: Sorry about that last bit. It seems Jodi Picoult momentarily took over this post. I apologize. I tried to stop her but she was so cranky. I got scared.]

Sing You Home
The Storyteller
The Fiction Writer's Handbook

Friday, March 29, 2013

LAST CHANCE: Win a full year paid membership to!

UPDATE: This contest is now closed. 

March is almost over and that means it's almost time for me to announce a winner of a one-year membership to 

If you haven't used LibraryThing before, I urge you to do so. It's similar to Goodreads, but a little less cluttered and more book-focused (and less chat-focused). Plus their book giveaways are WAAAAAAY more straight forward. A paid membership is not strictly necessary since it's a free site, but it will allow you to do more, such as cataloging an unlimited number of books on your shelf (a free membership gives you a maximum of 200 books to add to your shelf). 

Contest closes March 31, which means there's still time to enter! To enter to win, simply go to this post: and leave a message saying what book you're currently reading. That's it!

I'll announce a winner on April 1, 2013 (then again the next day in case you thought it was an April Fool's Day joke).

Shakespeare Roundup: Check out my interview with iBardBooks!

CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH iBARDBOOKS!! I don't think I've ever been interviewed for anything before. It's VERY exciting. Don't tell them I haven't started reading Coriolanus yet.

You can check out the interview here:

Or scroll down...I've pasted the whole thing it (it doesn't fit...but I was very excited).


We’ve been connecting to Shakespeare lovers all over Twitter but sometimes we want more than 140 characters. Mary Lavers aka @ShakespeareYear is one of those people. She’s reading everything Shakespeare in a year. It’s an ambitious task in many ways. We know how difficult it is to wade through pages and pages of text–that’s why we created iBardbooks! Check out our interview with Mary to find out how she started blogging, why she decided to do this project and what surprises she encountered along the road.

Hi Mary! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Truro, Nova Scotia. I moved to Montreal in 1994 to attend McGill University, where I started out studying biochemistry but ended up completing a degree in Religious Studies and Women’s Studies (biochemistry is not for everybody!). Later I studied Early Childhood Education as well. I lived in Ottawa for a few years but now I’m back in Nova Scotia. I currently live in Dartmouth with my partner and our three-year-old daughter.
How did you start blogging?
I started my first blog, Cozy Little Book Journal, as a way to record my own thoughts on the books I was reading, really just for my own purposes. I thought if I kept track of which authors I liked and didn’t like, it would be easier to read them/avoid them in the future. But I came to really love the process of recording my thoughts on the books I read. It made me a better reader, I think. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that people started reading my blog!
You were 12-years-old when you decided to read all of Shakespeare’s books by 40. Where did that ambition come from?
I think I was a little bit like Lisa Simpson (from The Simpsons) in that regard. I was a bookish kid, but I was also very interested in SEEMING bookish, if that makes sense. I was a little bit obsessed with being “cultured.”  I’m sure at 12, I was also bemoaning the fact that my town had no opera house or ballet theatre. Did I like opera and ballet? Who the hell knows? I just liked the idea of knowing about “high culture.” For me, Shakespeare was by far the most accessible way to become “culturally educated” (or at least what I thought was “cultured” at that age).
Do you still feel that way?
As I got older, my perspective changed of course. I came to appreciate all different kinds of cultural and educational experiences, not just the ones I thought were “elite” and not just for the sake of seeming smart! But Shakespeare still seemed like a worthy goal. If nothing else, I liked the idea of understanding the source material for all those Shakespearean references that show up in everyday life all the time.
Have there been any surprises during your Shakespeare Year project?
When I planned my reading schedule for the year, I made sure to start with a few comedies and sprinkle the rest of the comedies between the tragedies and histories. I thought they’d be easier to read for some reason and would provide a welcome relief after some of the more intense tragedies.
In reality, it’s been the other way around. I’m finding the tragedies much, much easier to read than the comedies. I guess the things we find funny change from generation to generation (let alone century to century!) but the things that break our hearts stay the same. Plus it’s harder to understand the comic timing and “quippiness” of the comedies when I’m just reading them on the page. Shakespeare’s plays were not meant to be read like novels, and that’s especially clear when reading the farcical comedies like Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Oh, and reading Romeo and Juliet at 17 and re-reading it at 37 is like reading two completely different plays. I loved that play so much I would dream about it at night when I was 17. I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic. Now I just want to tell the little twerps to stop wasting everyone’s time and that they’re both grounded.
Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 6.28.44 PM
Follow @ShakespeareYear here and check out her blog here.
And follow iBardbooks on Twitter here

Shakespeare Roundup: Antony and Cleopatra

Okay, my Shakespeare project is slowing down a little (oh noes!) but I did manage to finish Antony and Cleopatra (barely). Here's what I wrote on My Shakespeare Year:

So, uh, I don't know what's going on here...I don't remember this from the play. It's apparently from a 2010 Cape Town production of Antony and Cleopatra. You can see a review here.
I'm not sure how much I actually learned from Antony and Cleopatra. The language is rich and fun to read, but there are SO MANY scenes that I lost track of all the things that are supposed to be happening and which ones I was supposed to keep track of. Mostly I just pictured Elizabeth Taylor. Except half the time it wasn't even Elizabeth Taylor from the movie Cleopatra; it was Liz from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It kind of still works, actually. I'm going to try picturing Liz Taylor for more Shakespeare characters and see where it takes me.

I'm sorry I don't have more to say about this one. I kind of feel like the Roman plays are ones that I should be reading in a classroom, with someone explaining the actual history along side the dramatic interpretation. I can only imagine how I'll feel when I get to the English histories. In addition to not watching the HBO show Rome, I have also not watched The Tudors. So I guess I'll just have to remember history class or do some additional research or something.


What's next? Coriolanus? Oh man, NO ONE HAS EVEN HEARD OF THAT ONE!

Shakespeare Roundup: Julius Caesar

I didn't actually finish Julius Caesar, which is the first time I've broken my schedule. But, to be fair, I had a really good reason. Here's what I wrote on My Shakespeare Year:

Day 77: Julius Caesar: What I Learned (Part 1 of 2)

This has been one heck of a week. What started out as an easy week re-reading a play I remembered from high school turned into a week of frantic travel plans and packing of funeral clothes. Shakespeare took a back burner. But as I spent time with my family and decided not to worry about anything else, I also remembered that I DID learn something about Shakespeare this week after all. 

I learned that scheduling nine months' worth of reading into a twelve month period was an excellent idea. I built "catch up" right into my schedule. So I'm forgetting about Julius Caesar for now. I've already read it anyway, so it's not even cheating. I'm not going to struggle to finish it and then put the rest of my reading plans behind schedule. I'll just tack it on at the end, or else read it when I have a few days in between plays (some plays only take a day or two to read, then I don't need to start the new one until the following Tuesday). It'll get done. Whatever. When I read it, I'll post a new "What I Learned" thingy.

In the meantime, here's a picture of a lady who would have made Shakespeare weak in the knees. She was a matriarch, a lady who lived through two world wars, tonnes of family dramas, a scandal or two, more losses than are fair, more fairness than most ever show, and did it all with a twinkle in her eye and a bite in her speech. She was a helluva lady, all 103 years she was here.

Shakespeare Roundup: Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost was the first Shakespearean play I've read so far this year that I really disliked. It was...exhausting. Here's what I wrote about it on my other blog, My Shakespeare Year

Love's Labour's Lost is the first play so far in this project that I just haven't like. I hated it. It annoyed me. I'm breaking up with it. So instead of "What I Learned" here's a cartoon of Love's Labour's Lost. It's very won't even have to read the play now. You're welcome.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Not since Erick Setiawan's Of Bees and Mist have I fallen in love so instantly with a book that is essentially an extended fable. Like Setiawan's book, The Golem and the Jinni is a fable that reveals a lot about human emotions. The golem in the story is Chava, a realistic clay "monster" that was created as a companion to her creator, who unfortunately dies on the ship that is carrying them both to New York. Chava is now an outsider in a new land, not only because she is an immigrant but because she is not a real human. Through a chance meeting she encounters Ahmed, a jinni, or Syrian fire creature, who had been trapped in a copper flask. The two have similar experiences of alienation and struggling to belong, though their backgrounds are so different.

And that's the heart of the story. It's a story of alienation, of differences and similarities in human experience, of religious difference and emotional connection. I think the success of the novel comes from the care Wecker takes to make all of the characters believable. Yes, two of the characters are supernatural, but their motivations and responses are so well thought out, that I believe them as characters. I feel for them. And the rest of the world Wecker creates is not supernatural. It is emotionally rich, realistic and fully fleshed out. This book is not a fantasy novel. It really is a fable.

Helene Wecker is now on my "READ ANYTHING THIS AUTHOR WRITES" list, along with Erick Setiawan, Vincent Lam and Liza Klaussman.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Little Dinos Don't Bite, by Michael Dahl (illustrated by Adam Record)

Little Dinos Don't Bite 
(Hello Genius Series)
Author: Michael Dahl
Illustrator: Adam Record 
Publisher: Picture Window Books 
Publication Date: February 1, 2013

As both a parent and a daycare teacher, I understand the need for resources about biting. BELIEVE ME! I'm not sure this book will be any child's favourite though. It's okay, but not fantastic. The illustrations are cute and colourful and dinosaurs are always a popular choice for children's book characters, but the "no biting" message is clearly aimed at the way adults think more than the way children think. Little Dino is told repeatedly "Don't Bite" (his toys, his friends, his mom) but he's never really told WHY. Small children would respond better to a story in which there was a concrete REASON why the character shouldn't bite (it hurts people, it breaks things, etc.) rather than it just being a rule. It's already a rule! Story books can help reinforce rules and ideas by illustrating "case studies." (You shouldn't bite. Don't believe me? Examine if you will the case of Little Dino.

It may sound like I'm overthinking this, but I believe strongly that children's books should NEVER sacrifice story for message, even board books for toddlers. It has to be a good book first and foremost if children are expected to respond to it. So books with "messages" are much better conveyed by good storytelling than by illustrated rule telling.

As an example of what I mean, I urge you to check out Doodle Bites, by Polly Dunbar (part of the Tilly and Friends series). It's fantastic and much better at getting the message across than this book.

Which is Round? Which is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada

Which is Round? Which is Bigger? 
Author: Mineko Mamada 
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2013

This is a simple picture books for toddlers and preschool books that will delight young children with shape "tricks." It'll show a picture of an apple and an anteater, for instance (I think it's an anteater...hedgehog maybe?), and ask "Which is round?" Obviously the apple. But then on the next page, the apple will be bitten into and the armadillo will be curled into a ball. NOW which is round?
It's cute and I like the way it not only teaches shapes and proportions, but it also challenges perception based on movement and changing positions. Very young children tend to create broad categories for the things around them (a ball is round, therefore all round things are balls; an apple is a fruit, therefore all fruits are apples...or balls) so this kind of "trick" will bring giggles to younger toddlers. It was a little young for my three-year-old, but she still enjoyed the pictures.

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal: Volume II: Creation Myths, by Brain Froud (with Joshua Dysart, Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John)

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal Volume II: Creation Myths
Authors: Brian Froud, Joshua Dysart, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment 
Publication Date: March 12, 2013 
Whenever I review a comic or graphic novel, I usually ask the opinion of my partner and resident comic book expert, Mike. I definitely did for this one, which I got mostly for his benefit anyway. Although the art was pretty, I'm not familiar with The Dark Crystal at all (I've never seen the movie) so this comic made no sense to me. So it's not a completely stand-alone book. Mike, on the other hand, is a huge fan of the Jim Henson movie. Here's what he had to say:

"Good stuff, definitely has the feel of the world of the movie, at an earlier time period.  Wouldn’t make sense to a reader who had not a) read the previous volume, or b) like me, watched the movie a bunch of times.  Pretty, and the illustrations of many of the animals and characters give a Henson creature feel of movement.  I liked it."
So if you're a fan of the movie and you like comics (or graphic novels or whatever) you'll probably like this. If not, you might be a little lost (like I was).

Double Fine Action Comics Vol. 2, by Scott C. (foreward by Erik Wolpaw)

Double Fine Action Comics Vol. 2

Author: Scott Campbell
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: April 17, 2013
Yesterday I posted a review of Double Fine Action Comics Vol. 1, with the help of my partner Mike. His basic assessment was that the collection would be great if you knew the author personally (as in, "Dude, that's so good. You should totally put that in a book!") but for everyone else...meh. Fine. Just fine, though, not "double fine."

Here's what he had to say about Volume Two:
"Same stuff.  I have not altered my perspective or assertion that this is definitely funny to the author’s friends."
There ya go. If you're not one of Scott Campbell's friends or family members, the appeal of this collection may be limited.

Double Fine Action Comics Vol. 1, by Scott C. (foreward by Tim Schafer)

Double Fine Action Comics Vol. 1

Author: Scott Campbell
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: April 17, 2013
For this review I enlisted the help of my partner, Mike. He's my resident comic book expert. His assessment? Double Fine Action Comics is just regular fine, not double fine. Just one fine would suffice. Here's the rest of what he had to say:

"Knight guy, Two headed baby, Muscleman, Captain and Thompson, cast of aliens and whatever...
   There’re a lot of comics where people are just talking and filling up the quiet.  Sometimes they are funny.  There’re a lot of comics where crazy impossible and theatre of the absurd sort of things happen.  Sometimes they are funny.  Sluggy Freelance is both.
   This isn’t either.
   The adventures are absurd, but not really funny.  The punchline panels are likewise not really funny.  I read the premise for this.  Someone created this at their job, writing/drawing other things, as a pastime/entertainment for friends and colleagues.  I feel if I was friends with the creator, I would say, “Dude, you should totally write that as a book.”
  I don’t know the writer, though.  This feels like a big “You had to be there” in joke."
So there you have it. I read it. Frankly, I wouldn't have been this generous. Thanks, Mike!

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel, by Sharon E. McKay (illustrated by Daniel LaFrance)

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel

Author: Sharon E. McKay
Illustrator: Daniel Lafrance
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: February 7, 2013
I have not read Sharon McKay's 2008 YA novel, War Brothers, so I can't compare the graphic novel version to the original. Like the original, War Brothers--The Graphic Novel tells the story of child soldiers in Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, this time with illustrations by Daniel Lafrance to add a new dimension to the characters. 

I discussed this book with my partner Mike (he reads a lot of comic books and graphic novels). Here's what he had to say:

"A pretty good story.  A little safe – only one of the main characters has to kill, and they manage to escape together.  There’s even a little deus ex machina in the jungle. Not bad for younger readers – it wades into the horror of child soldiers and the LRA.  It’s fiction, and it feels that way.  Weird to say, but feels a bit “Feel good story”, even given the topic.  The feeling of guilt and belief that everyone was afraid of them as killers was well done."
He also mentioned how much he liked the fact that the illustrations were somewhere between typical graphic novel images and children's book illustrations. They were almost cute, or they would have been if the subject matter hadn't been so horrifying. It added to the feeling that these children's childhoods were being stolen from them by being forced into children's armies.

Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History's Mysteries, by Elizabeth MacLeod

Bones Never Lie:
How Forensics Helps Solve History's Mysteries
Author: Elizabeth MacLeod
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: February 4, 2013
This book is good, but it could have been great. The idea is that the author presents some of "history's mysteries" such as what killed Napoleon, the supposed disappearance of Anastasia Romanov, the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask, etc., and then reveals how forensic science helped solve those mysteries. The problem is that many of the examples she chooses were NOT solved by forensic science at all, so many chapters end with the conclusion that "we just don't know" or "using deductive reasoning this is our best guess." Why did she choose mysteries that didn't fit her theme?! It's baffling.

The chapters that do use scientific evidence--like the chapter on Napoleon--are interesting and well done. I just don't know why she opted to include material that didn't fit the theme of the book.