Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Dead Kid Detective Agency by Evan Munday

The Title.  The cover art.  The shape of the book.  These are the first three things I really liked about this book...and I hadn't even opened the cover yet.  And when I did?  I was in book heaven.  Only a few short chapters in, at page 39, I already knew I was going to be a fan of this book.  Whatever plot direction it would take, Munday's writing style had me smiling, thinking and eager for the next syllable. Quick fired phrasings welcomed me into the pages, dexterously weaving the characters around me.  I instantly bonded with references to rocking out to Neil Diamond - a childhood embarrassment that I could now look back on with the wry amusement of an adult.

Thirteen-year-old October Schwartz is new in town; short on friends and the child of a clinically depressed science teacher, she spends her free time in the Sticksville Cemetery and it isn’t long before she befriends the ghosts of five dead teenagers, each from a different era of the past. Using October’s smarts and the ghosts’ abilities to walk through walls and roam around undetected, they form the Dead Kid Detective Agency, a group committed to solving Sticksville’s most mysterious mysteries. So when the high school’s beloved French teacher dies in a suspicious car accident, it provides the agency with its first bona fide case, putting them in the midst of a murder plot thick with car chases, cafeteria fights, and sociopathic math teachers, and sending them on an adventure that might just uncover the truth about a bomb that exploded 40 years ago.

I really liked that this book is packed full of Canadian references  landmarks and culture but never once beat you over the head with it.  As a Canadian, these references are organic, linking motives and personal histories together to create a familiar social landscape where I can immerse myself in the story.

This is Munday's premiere novel.  It works.  Very well.  Go get a copy.  Now.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 10 Most Bizarre Pieces Of Literary Merch

Just in time for Christmas...what do you get that hard to buy for bookphile?
Try one of these, um, unique items.  

Reposted from the July 2012 article by Kimberly Turner.

Books aren't just books anymore, and authors aren't just authors. They are—as obnoxious and bizspeak as it sounds—"brands," and they're being marketed as such. So if you're sick of hearing about Fifty Shades of Greynow, wait until your aunt asks for Fifty Shades lingerie this Christmas. CopCorp, which bought the licensing rights to the series, anticipates adult toys, key fobs, men's ties, jewelry, fragrances, and "appropriate services." (I shudder to think what that means.) After all, it's not such a stretch to assume that if you enjoy the book or author, you'll buy the T-shirt, coffee mug, or bookmark. But what about the panties, shower curtain, and Ouija board? Literary merchandise is not as straightforward as you might think. Here are ten of the most bizarre book tie-ins...

David Eggers shower curtainDave Eggers Shower Curtain

Are you like me? Do you find yourself sitting on the can—extra-soft Charmin by your side, germ-ridden reading material at the ready—thinking, "Man, there's only one thing that would make this bathroom experience better, and that's a Dave Eggers shower curtain"? No? What if that shower curtain featured a monologue told to Dave Eggers by HIS shower curtain? Come on. That's so many shower curtains, all trying to make you happy. All that's missing is a picture of a stapler.
I'm not even going to sit here and try to be cool with you. Here's the truth: I own this item. I got it for my birthday because my friends are all too aware of my Eggers fandom. Go ahead and judge me. I'll wait... Okay, so while you were being all judge-y, my shower curtain told me, "I shield you. And I like you." So I'm fine with your disparaging glances.
Price: Your shower curtain can enhance your self-esteem for $65.

Harry Potter's vibrating broomstickHarry Potter & The Vibrating Broomstick

Somewhere there's a Mattel executive who deserves a high-five but probably got a pink slip instead. I'm talking about the one who attended a meeting about a grooved broomstick designed to go between children's legs for "easy riding," and said, "What's missing here is a vibration feature." That master of marketing suffered the indignity of seeing the vibrating Nimbus 2000 Electronic Broomstickget yanked from store shelves shortly after its launch when parents complained that their daughters enjoyed the battery-operated toy a touch too much.
The "real flying sensations" had the magical ability to persuade females of all ages to take a joy ride into Harry Potter world, and the product earned glowing Amazon reviews: "When my 12 year old daughter asked for this for her birthday, I kind of wondered if she was too old for it, but she seems to LOVE it. Her friends love it too! They play for hours in her bedroom with this great toy ... My oldest daughter (17) really likes it too!" Chamber of Secrets indeed.
Price: Discontinued, try searching eBay for magic crotch rockets.

Game of Thrones iron throne'Game Of Thrones' Iron Throne

You know what really brings a room together? A 350-pound throne made of 1,000 swords taken from your enemies. I know, I know, you're all like, "Hey, I've got soccer practices to attend and reality television to watch. When am I gonna have time to slay 1,000 foes?" Realistically, you're not. That's why HBO did the work for you, modeling a seven-foot replica of the seat of kings from George R.R. Martin's novels out of hand-painted fiberglass and fire-proof resin. It might not have the best lumbar support, but your in-laws will learn to respect your authority in a hurry.
Price: $30,000 plus $1,800 shipping.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas game'Fear And Loathing' Board Game

Created by artist Jonathan Baldwin, this Hunter S. Thompson–inspired board game has it all: stimulants, depressants, inhalants, unclassified hallucinogens, activity cards, and challenges such as "While one person flicks the lights on and off rapidly, try to catch three soft objects thrown at you." Although most of the substances are fake and the game was never mass-produced, the rules and cards are available on Baldwin's website, so with a good drug dealer, a healthy lack of self preservation, and a bit of craftiness, one could easily make a DIY version (a la Cards Against Humanity).
Price: $3,500 according to

Hemmingway tableHemingway Furniture

You've grown your beard out, donned the iconic turtleneck sweater, drank yourself blind, and divorced your third wife, but still don't have a publishing contract. What to do? The next step in your Single White Female–esque Hemingway obsession is to dispose of your current IKEA furnishings and replace them with Thomasville's Hemingway collection.
Start with the hideous Trophy Horn Table (which the Thomasville website explains is tied to the animal trophies Hemingway took during his 1934 East African safari) then maybe add an Elephant Accent Table (they had to stretch to explain this one: "In 1927, Hemingway published a collection of short stories in a book entitled Men Without Women. In this book there was a story called 'Hills Like White Elephants.' While this story really did not have anything directly to do with elephants, Hemingway did subsequently see and experience elephants in their native habitats when on safaris") and, of course, finish with the Hemingway Writing Desk. Then sit back and wait for the Pulitzers and Nobel Prizes to roll in.
Prices: From $400 to $4,099 depending on piece.

Twilight panties!'Twilight' Between Your Legs

If you're looking for officially licensed Twilight merch, there's no shortage of jewelry, life-size cardboard vampire cutouts, and action figures. But let me tell you what's wrong with all that: None of it goes anywhere near your crotch. Fortunately, the crazies of the interwebs are problem solvers. Twilight condoms will ensure you don't end up with a vampire fetus eating your womb and then some disturbed fan making a felt model of said damaged womb. Fan-madeEdward Cullen panties with an image of actor Robert Pattinson's mouth on the inside (what's creepy about that?) will ensure you never get laid by an actual human male. And a ghastly pale Twilight-inspired dildo called The Vamp (link NSFW, obvs) retains cold so you can "toss it in the fridge for that authentic experience." A perfect gift for the discerning necrophiliac. Try to forget this is all based on young adult fiction.
Twilight dildo
Prices: Vampire ice dildo, $43.99. Panties and condoms are not being mass-produced, thank god.

Catcher in the Rye children's shirt'Catcher In The Rye' Shirt For Toddlers

Why wait for your toddler to hit puberty before becoming an angst-ridden ball of alienation and confusion? Get your tiny Holden Caulfield on the road to the asylum early with this adorable Catcher In The Rye toddler tee. To solidify your little bundle of joy's youthful disillusionment, be sure to play him lullaby versions of The Smiths and Morrissey. If you're lucky, his first word will be "phony" and he'll be promptly expelled from his first prep school.
Price: $19.95 plus your child's sense of joy.

Writer shot glassesWriterly Drinking Aids

Look, I'm not saying literary greatness can't be achieved without alcohol. It happens all the time. What I am saying is that if I had a time machine and my druthers, I'd put Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Charles Bukowski into a room with a single bottle of whiskey. Then I'd use a two-way mirror to watch them duke it out. Oh, and they'd all be in the prime of their youth to level the playing field. There might also be a single weapon, but something lame like a Nerf wiffle ball bat. These are the kinds of things I daydream about.
Alas, I do not have a time machine (nor do I have my druthers most of the time), so the best I can do is this Dorothy Parker martini glass with "I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. Three, I'm under the table. Four, I'm under my host!" etched into it.
For more extreme displays of lushness, I can move to the Great Drinkers Shot Glass Set, featuring images of Churchill, Byron, Baudelaire, Yeats, Parker, and Wilde along with booze-related quotes. Justify your drunkenness by claiming you're some kind of kindred spirit of these literary greats, then go browse Reddit or something.
Price: Martini glass, $12.95. Shot glasses, $15.49.

Eat, Pray, Love fragrance'Eat, Pray, Love' Merch

Remember Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir about escaping her materialistic NYC lifestyle to go on a spiritual journey around the world? It's all about soul-searching and finding fulfillment and breaking free of the shackles of consumerism. What really complements a book like that? A shitload of pricey merchandise and a marketing plan designed to convince unfulfilled middle-aged women that they can buy their way out of unhappiness. From $19,795 tours of India to a whole collection of costume-y Sue Wong kimono-looking things to perfumes, tea sets, fugly scarves, and lip gloss—the anti-consumerist book was so pimped out, it should've been called Eat, Pray, Buy.
Prices: Vary from fairly cheap to ridiculously pricey, depending on product.

Sylvia Plath oven mittsSylvia Plath Oven Products

Now I'm not known for my political correctness, but there's a line society draws in order to maintain common decency and good taste. It's that smudged mark you can see about ten feet behind me right now. It is disrespectful enough that emo kids with "I am. I am. I am." tattooed on their lower backs know more about Plath's suicide via oven than they do about her poetry. But creating oven mitts bearing her name? Well, that's a whole new level of uncouth, isn't it?
Then there's the Ouija board. Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes, were known to consult the spirit board now and again, and the tortured writer even penned a poem entitled "Ouija." So despite the goofy Miami Vice color scheme, the Sylvia Plath Ouija board seemed harmless enough at first glance. Then I noticed the planchette. Yep, that's an oven. Hold a séance using this, and I hope Plath haunts the shit out of your apartment forever.
Sylvia Plath ouija board
Price: Oven mitts are $28 on Etsy when available (they aren't currently). Ouija board costs your eternal soul, if you can find it for sale.

Would you buy any of this stuff? Do you own any weird lit merch?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vampire Stalker by Allison Van Diepen

What if the characters in a vampire novel left their world—and came into yours?
Amy is in love with someone who doesn't exist: Alexander Banks, the dashing hero in a popular series of vampire novels. Then one night, Amy meets a boy who bears an eerie resemblance to Alexander. In fact, he IS Alexander, who has escaped from the pages of the book and is in hot pursuit of a wicked vampire named Vigo. Together, Amy and Alexander set out to track Vigo and learn how and why Alexander crossed over. But when she and Alexander begin to fall for each other, Amy wonders if she even wants him to ever return to the realm of fiction.

A 2013 Red Maple Nominee

hmm.  I enjoyed the concept of this book and even a few parts of the story -  as long as I kept in mind that it was written for young readers.  It felt very light for an otherworldly vampire story and lacked the emotional depths I like to connect with in my reading. I found the action low key and the romance was what I will call: almost there. The relationship between Alexander and Amy worked until it left the realm of possibility and tried to actually take place.  Had it been left as a crush or a flirtation I may not have noticed how it was more semblance than tangible.

 There were several moments where the phrase "oh, come on!" jumped about my brain - for instance the ease with which Amy and her Librarian friend, Mrs. P accept the main premise of a character from a book happening into their 'real' world. Then there was the way in which Amy's mom was so willing to allow a stranger eighteen year-old to move in with her two young daughter based on her teenage daughter's earnest request.  I don't know of any mother, single or otherwise who would be so trusting and allow this guest to come and go from her home with barely an eyebrow raised.  Conversely the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, while more of a background theme, had some realistic moments and felt like a honest relationship to to me.  

Still, the idea behind Vampire Stalker is an intriguing one.  Haven't you ever been reading a story and thought, even fleetingly, that you would like to meet the characters?  Or experience part of their world in your own real life?  Van Diepen hints at the influence, fantasy and power that a love of reading offers fellow bookphiles.  And that aspect is the sum of the attraction I have for this book.  It was not enough.  I hope that  younger, perhaps newer readers, will find more value here than I did.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Seeing Cinderella by Jenni Lundquist

Calliope Meadow Anderson wishes her life could be more of a fairy tale—just like the stories she writes. Her best friend, Ellen, is acting weird, her parent's marriage is falling apart, and to top things off, she found out she needs hideously large and geeky glasses.

But Callie soon learns they aren't just any glasses—they are magical and let her read people's thoughts. For the first time ever she's answering all the questions right in math class, and gets a glimpse of what goes through people's minds all day, including what Ellen—and her longtime crush—really think of her.

As if dealing with these crazy glasses weren't enough, Callie tries out for the lead in her school's production of Cinderella and actually gets the part. Instead, Callie chooses to let Ellen have the lead and be Ellen's understudy—just like she has done for their entire friendship.

Add in a new girl who has something to hide, a secret admirer, a best friend stealer who isn't what she seems, and Callie's year just went from ordinary to extraordinary.

Can this supporting actress learn to be a leading lady in her own life? Or is she destined to stay in the background forever—even with her super-freaky-magic glasses?

This is a fun, quirky tale that lets the reader try out a superpower we have all wanted, or thought we wanted, at one time or another.  What do people really think?  Would you really want to know?  Would you want someone else to be able to see what YOU really think?  How would it change things?  Is it better not to know?   I liked the way Lundquist explored Callie's awkwardness and uncertainty.  We've all been that age and even as we grow up, we all still have those moments and thoughts that cause us to cringe inside with embarrassment and self doubt.  Without becoming preachy, Seeing Cinderella travels a path of evolving friendships, learning to trust and seeing what is truly in front of you.  I recommend this book for any middle grade girl who is navigating her way through the daily changes going to school, growing up, life and family throws at her.