Sunday, September 09, 2007

Summer Stuff

Look, I finished my first ever knit baby outfit set thing!

I KNOW. It's exciting. I think I've solved my start-and-never-finish knitting problem - only knit small things! It's perfect!!

Now, just because I'm sure you're dying to see, here are some closeups:

Hat closeup

Sweater closeup:

Bootie closeup:

Much of these were knit on airplanes and streetcars, in and en route to cities such as Toronto, Philadelphia & Vancouver. Just gave the set to some soon-to-deliver friends, so hopefully I can post a picture one day soon with a real live model!!

The set travelled to BC with me and visited Rose & Kate's new apartment, where we saw a beautiful sunset from their balcony:

Also got to meet one of the cutest dogs ever - my new doggie pal Emmy Lou Hairy:

Rose and I took her for a drag through the park. That is one stubborn puppy!!

We had a lovely visit. Good dinner, lots of wine - wonderful hostesses!

The visit to Vancouver was followed by a trip to the Island to visit the fam. Pictures from that trip will have to wait until I get new batteries for my camera!!

Monday, July 30, 2007

mini Book Expo 2007 review #2 - "Star Dancer" by Beth Webb

Author: Beth Webb
Writing this review has been tough. I didn't love the book, but I was going to post a nice, supportive little review for a couple of reasons. One, I feel guilty about posting two negative miniBook Expo reviews in a row, and two, Star Dancer is nowhere near as bad as "Vanquished". However, my conscience would never let me rest if I wasn't honest, so here we go....
As I read, I worried I was being too hard on the book. I struggled to remind myself that the author wrote this for "young adults", as opposed to actual adults like myself. But then I thought of all the other young adult fiction that I truly enjoyed reading at any age, authors such as J.K. Rowling, Katherine Paterson, Judy Blume, Philip Pullman, Ray Bradbury, L.M. Montgomery...I could go on and on. What's the difference about Star Dancer? Why did I never really connect with the book?
Star Dancer is set in "prehistoric times", where Druids have recieved two phrophecies from "the Goddess". Prophecy one is of a terrible evil that is to come. Prophecy two is of a child being born, the star dancer, who will save them from said evil. The Druids presume this star dancer will be a boy (shocker), but it's actually a girl. The girl is unacknowledged by the Druids until almsost too late - then has to leave her family to begin her accelerated druidic training, hopefully in time to save the world from the coming evil.
For starters, the book needs a good editor. At 343 pages (wide margins and generous font included), it is way too bulky. The pacing feels off, and scenes of high drama are interspersed with tortured dialogue passages that were difficult to read. I suspect Webb was trying to re-create some sort of olde-English feel to the text, but it comes off clunky and inconsistent. The storytelling passages, or inner monologues of characters are quite readable, but the dialogue is not so good.
The tone of the book is very condescending - similar in feel to the Lemony Snickett books (which I also disliked - though I would recommend the series to kids who are new readers). The language and plot are overly simplistic for the 12 year olds it was written for. Halfway through the book, there are serious events happening, but nothing in the characters individual plotlines seem to have prepared them for these events, so their reactions are unbalanced, weak and unbelievable.
The main character, whose name I've already forgotten (wait - Tegen, her name is Tegen), is supposed to be one of those underdog, uber-humble kids who is actually very exceptional. But despite the fact that the entire book (and series, eventually) is centred around her, Tegen never really came to life for me. I was more interested in the supporting characters of Gilda the midwife, and Tegen's brother, Griff.
Griff is supposed to be a "half-head", or "moon-face". He was found abandoned by the riverside by Tegen's father the same night Tegen was born. Griff speaks with his own special syntax (lots of "I's", and "yus", and "dunna's"), and this combined with the physical description makes it fairly obvious to a contemporary reader that Webb is describing someone with Down's Syndrome. The Griff character is very inconsistent, fluctuating between wise old soul, and annoying special-needs brother with confusing speed. Toward the end of the book, Tegen and Griff are married (hand-fasted), as per the wish of their village's Druid (Griff's natural father, who is dying). Up until this point in the book, Griff and Tegen have been fairly close, with Tegen relying heavily on Griff for emotional support. After the hand-fasting, things are awkward. Tegen becomes obsessed with the fact that Griff might want to consummate their marriage. He certainly tries, saying things like "I luvs yer, Tegen, and I want to give yus a big cuddle like men dus to women."
Umm, ew? And do you see what I mean by unbalanced? It takes a very special author to deal with difficult issues like child abandonment, misogyny, menstruation, and arranged marriages to de-facto siblings in a way that is appropriate (and still entertaining) for young adults. Webb doesn't quite make it.
The book wasn't terrible, but I have zero interest in reading the sequels, I wouldn't give it to any book-loving young adult I know, and I won't recommend it to anyone else. There are better choices out there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

mini Book Expo review - "Vanquished" by Hope Tarr

Author: Hope Tarr

Good lord. I'll try to keep the bleck's, blarf's, yuk's, and pitooee's to a minimum as I write this review, but it's seriously going to be a challenge.

I should perhaps start with a disclaimer - I am an unashamed reader of trashy novels. Well, maybe not so unashamed that I'm willing to read them on the streetcar. But I do have a serious soft spot for a trashy romance, and if vouchers for Almack's and corsets and parents-who-just-don't-understand and secret engagements and a kiss between the hero and heroine in the final few paragraphs are included, so much the better. If you haven't read one before now, I'm happy to recommend a few - for the most part they're delightful, escapist fluff, readable in a couple of hours.

Key words there being "for the most part". I wouldn't have made it past the first chapter in this particular book, if I hadn't felt obliged to plow through in hopes of saving some of your eyeballs from a similar fate with this review.

According to the publisher's synopsis, this book is set in Victorian England, "sizzlingly sensual and rich in historical detail", about a leading suffragist by the name of Caledonia Rivers, and an up-and-coming photographer with a troubled past, Hadrian St.Clair. A high-ranking political enemy of the suffragist movement has hired Hadrian to take a naughty photo of Caledonia to discredit her in the press and thereby crush the votes-for-women movement, but Hadrian and Caledonia fall in love and the evil politician's plan is (somewhat) thwarted.

From the beginning, Tarr sets Hadrian up to be unsympathetic to the suffragists in general, and she never really changes that image of him. Certainly, he falls for Caledonia at some point, but he never really sems to change his opinion of her life's work. If anything, you're given the impression that Caledonia wises up to the fact that life as a feminist is cold and lonely, and that what she needs to really make her happy is an extraordinarily macho man - the end of the novel sees her unable to continue her career as a suffragist and moving on to "true happiness" in life as Mrs. Hadrian St.Clair. Whaa? I can't understand how Tarr can write a book that purports to praise and support feminist history, when anyone with half a brain can see that it does COMPLETELY the opposite.

I like to think I'm centrist in my views, try to see all sides of an argument as much as possible, and am usually fairly moderate as a result (I recognize that this moderation comes from the comfort of a place in history where generations before me struggled for the benefits I enjoy!) but holy crap this book brought out the raging feminist in me. Here are some of the more maddening quotes:

"He longed to lift the suffragist veil and find the woman beneath", "Unlike so many of her suffragette sisters whose reputations skirted the fringe of respectability, Caledonia was said to be very good and virtuous", "Her mentor...the women braving the cold...everyone was counting on her to see them through to victory. Yet it had been a long time since someone, a man, had told her she was pretty."

Or maybe the touching scene where Caledonia confesses to Hadrian (mere moments before becoming his lover) that she's such a fraud, she isn't pure and virtuous - she had SEX with a then-fiance when she was 19, weep, weep, she's such a hypocrite, etc. etc.

The most annoying scene, which had me throwing the book on the floor in disgust and taking a few days' reading break, was the one a few pages later, where Caledonia gives the first blowjob of her "fraudulous", "hypocritical" sex-life. While she is telling him "you taste nice, delicious even", he is thinking about how 'never before had he cared enough to hold back a woman's hair while she went down on him'.

Jesus H. Christ. Seriously, did some porn-addicted 18 year old frat boy write this? The more erotic passages were mostly ridiculous. I don't mind a good erotic passage here and there - but I sort of like them to fade out just before the actual intercourse bits. Whenever this sort of book degrades into sexual euphemisms, "throbbing members" etc ., I find it jars me out of the story, and I don't usually get back into it. Tarr has written a few extremely explicit scenes, including one surprising anal sex interlude. Does anyone else think it somewhat unlikely that a woman in Victorian England would be clamoring for anal sex in her second sexual encounter? Hmmm?

I have issues with the supposed historical accuracy beyond Victorian sexuality. Sure, Tarr mentions historically accurate names (Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline & Richard Pankhurst, William Ewert Gladstone), but none of her actual characters behave with anything like historical accuracy. Caledonia's guardian Aunt, for example - there's no way someone in that role, in that era, would have been so permissive and encouraging.

The novels of this sort that to my mind are successful have many of the same glaring plot/character/historical inaccuracies - but somehow they manage to hit that magic place where the reader really ends up liking the characters and is therefore able to suspend disbelief and float through the story no matter the unlikelihood of the plot. Tarr's book never gets to that place. Her characters were flat and unsympathetic. I think there was definitely potential for this idea to take off, but this reader's feet remained firmly planted on the ground.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

random street music

So I'm sure most of you have seen the washington post article/video about their experiment with violinist extraordinaire Joshua Bell (I know Call-eeen did, if you haven't, read/watch it here). I just stumbled across this post on pitchfork, with 2 videos of the Shins in Paris, up to similar shenanigans. Why do they get a bigger response? Is it 'cause there's more of them? Pop vs. Classical? Paris vs. Washington? All of the above?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Soooo, there's a book out there called "the Long Tail", by a guy named Chris Anderson (Editor of WIRED Magazine). Coles Notes: The book is about a marketing phenomenon he calls the long tail. Sounds boring, but it's actually pretty interesting - he uses the music industry as an example in the book - basically, imagine a simple XY graph. The X axis (vertical) is the frequency/number of albums sold in a week, the Y axis (horizontal) is the rank, by name of the album. The left side is dominated by the the Top 40, new releases that are currently recieving radio air-time.

Nothing new there, but here's the interesting bit - that huge amount on the left hand side of the graph decreases dramatically as you move to the right (apparently it's the 1/n rule, not that I know what that means), eventually dwindling to zero. Even really random, small interest albums generate a few sales, and the thing that's amazing is that this area under the "long tail" is much greater than the dramatic spike at the beginning. According to Anderson, in traditional retail models, new albums account for 63% of total sales - but online, because of ease of access, unlimited supply and huge selection, those numbers are reversed, and new albums account for only 36% of total sales!

MY POINT - I found a very interesting website today called "Sell A Band".

From the site:
Fans, dubbed 'Believers', find an artist they like on For USD 10, they can buy a share, or 'Part'. Once the band has sold 5,000 parts, SellaBand arranges a professional recording, including top studios, A&R managers and producers. Believers receive a limited edition CD of the recording. The interesting twist is that the songs are then made available as free downloads. Income comes from advertising revenue, which is split three ways: artist, believer and SellaBand. Since both believers and artists benefit from getting 5,000 parts sold, both are likely to actively promote the band (and SellaBand) everywhere musicians and music fans are active: on their blogs, on their MySpace pages, in online communities, to their friends, etc. Once the recording has taken place, the same goes for SellaBand's download portal: artists and believers profit from ad revenues created by driving traffic to their download page.

The site has been up since August 2006, and so far they have 4 bands that have reached the 50,000 fan mark. Their terms are pretty reasonable - sounds like it might be an amazing way for indie groups to pick up a bigger piece of that "long tail". Not to mention record an album for free.

I wonder how successful they will be - I can see some people being pretty disappointed if they've invested $10 in a few different bands, and none of them hit 50,000 (the magic number where they get something back, physically). That's what I think is most interesting, people supporting a group with almost philanthropic (or maybe entrepreneurial is a better word!) intent - there's no instant return on your $10, no guarantee of any personal return at all. Are they supporting the industry, or the website itself? They're really only giving the band a "chance", as the band doesn't get any money until the album is in the free download stage and ad revenue starts coming in.

Is it worth it for the bands? I don't imagine much money will come in during that first year where they don't own their master and they are only getting ad revenue. Then again, I don't have any practical idea how big those ad revenue numbers might be. And a year isn't a very long time, so this might be the best opportunity some bands ever get. Either way - neat!

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Sunday, March 11, 2007


I'm not much of a jewellery gal. Real jewellery, that is. I tend to take off my jewellery when it bugs me no matter where I am and usually forget where I put it, so I guess you could say that my collection is much more Claire's than Tiffany's, if you know what I mean. And I think that you do. Accessories are usually something I put on before I leave the house in the morning and then don't think about until it's time to get ready for bed and I have to take them off. Since I was about 4 years old, and I met a friend of my parents who always had long, perfect red-painted fingernails and big dramatic hair and sparkly earrings (give me a break - I was 4 and it was 1981) I've been in awe of people who always look perfectly accessorized. I dream of one day joining their ranks, but am pretty sure that thanks to my tomboy roots I'll never quite make it.

This lifelong obsession with accessories is one of the reasons I was so completely amazed with the ROM's newest exhibit, Ancient Peru Unearthed: Golden Treasures of a Lost Civilization.

This exhibit is about the Sicán civilization of Peru (800-1375). The Sicán pre-date the infamous Inca, and were actually around much longer (500 or so years, compared with the 100 or so of the Inca). And let me tell you, these people knew their accessories!

I've never seen so much GOLD in one place before. The exhibit is beautiful, and winds through the 3rd floor of the museum, directly on top of the Samuel Hall/Currelly Gallery. The Sicán were incredible metalsmiths, and there are many examples of their advanced craftsmanship in the show. Their society put great stock in personal ornamentation (mostly relating to status, experts think), and their theory seemed to be - if you can figure out a way to put GOLD on it, do it. They put modern ear-spool wearing kids to shame with their gigantic, ornate ear discs, that's for sure. (These suckers are 12cm in diameter and over a foot long!!)

The Sicán civilization was mostly unknown until about 30 years ago. Because of centuries of grave-robbing and looting, and the Spaniards' incredible lust for all things GOLD, there are very few traces of the Sicán to be found - and the few artifacts that did surface before the 1990s were a mystery to archaeologists. No one knew exactly what their context was, or who to attribute them to. In an amazing stroke of luck, archaeologists unearthed a completely untouched tomb in the early 1990s. The tombs above this one had all been looted, but they think that the looters hit ground water and were prevented from digging deeper to the final tomb, so it was preserved. Inside this tomb was what they call the Sicán Lord, and the incredible contents are what the ROM's exhibit is based around.

Exhibit highlights (if for some reason you need another reason besides the GOLD) include an archaeological "dig zone" for the kiddies, lots of accessible features for people who are vision- or hearing-impaired, and a great video presentation featuring traditional music. The ROM has also created a large amount of digital resources for this show, including a dedicated mini-site with an image gallery, podcasts, lots of info and activities. For the first time, the ROM is also reaching out to the blogging community, which is something I am VERY excited about. Seems to me that "Renaissance ROM" is about much more than the fancy building out front - they really are working to build an actual Renaissance in every aspect of the museum. Torontonians should be very proud to have the ROM in their backyard.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

i love this story

Wonder how Canada Post would fare with a similar charge?,,2-2007000420,00.html