Monday, August 18, 2014

Way Too Much of a Good Thing

I began paying attention to the annual, altogether whimsical Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest back in 2009. Sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University, it’s named for George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), whose 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, began with the oft-ridiculed phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Ever since 1982, organizers have asked people to submit the worst opening sentences from never-to-be-completed books. This year’s contest featured categories ranging from Adventure, Crime and Children’s Literature to Historical Fiction and Purple Prose.

The 2014 grand prize winner was Elizabeth Dorfman of Bainbridge Island, Washington, who picks up the understandably pitiful sum of $150 for her groaner of an entry:
When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered--this had to mean land!--but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.
Naturally, after such a start, I must highlight a few other category victors and runners-up. Here’s St. Petersburg, Florida, resident John Holmes’ first-place Historical Fiction entry:
In the late 1480’s, one of Henry VII’s spies in Milan picked up on what Columbus was up to, caught a gypsy caravan to Barcelona, a strawberry wagon to Lisbon, a crazy noble’s carriage to Marseilles, a worn stagecoach to Paris (which broke down), a hike to Calais, a rowboat to Southampton, arriving in London a year after Columbus landed in America, the imminent sailing for which the next year the spy, by now headless, had come to report.
Terri Meeker of Nixa, Missouri, claimed second-best honors for this submission in the Purple Prose category:
Cole kissed Anastasia, not in a lingering manner as a connoisseur might sip a glass of ’82 La Pin, but open-mouthed and desperate, like a hobo wrapping his mouth around a bottle of Strawberry Ripple in the alley behind the 7-11.
Winning this year in the Crime category was Carl Turney of Bayswater, Victoria, Australia. Here’s his submission:
Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing … he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world.
Suzy Levinson of Sunnyside, New York, took the top prize for Science Fiction with this deliberately peculiar entry:
The spaceship hovered like a saucer, only rounder, deeper, the product of an unholy union between dessert plate and finger bowl, as any of the villagers familiar with traditional service à la russe dining could plainly see.
And State College, Pennsylvania’s Stan Hunter Kranc captured the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award for this excessive bit of writing:
As he girded himself against the noxious, sulfurous fumes that belched from the chasm in preparation for descent into the bowels of the mountain where mighty pressure and unimaginable heat made rock run in syrupy rivers, Bob paused to consider the unlikely series of events that had led him to become the Great God Vulcan’s proctologist.
Click here to read (or groan at) all of this year’s top contenders.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Behind Prison Walls

Since its completion in 2002, the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp--an American military prison located inside the older Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, on an island off the southeastern coast of Cuba--has reportedly received 779 male inmates. Hundreds of detainees have since been sent to other destinations. But not until now has a “Gitmo” inmate released a book about his experiences at that facility. As The Christian Science Monitor explains,
Canongate has just announced that it will publish “Guantánamo Diary,” the prison memoirs of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the first Gitmo account to be released by a detainee still imprisoned at the camp.

“Guantanamo Diary” will be published simultaneously around the world on Jan. 20, 2015, as part of an international campaign to free Slahi, who has been held at the camp since 2002 despite never having been charged with a crime. Little, Brown has acquired the U.S. rights to the book, The Bookseller has reported.

The memoir details the harrowing conditions to which Slahi was subject, including beatings, sexual humiliation, and round-the-clock interrogation. Slate published an excerpt of the memoir last year.
The Monitor’s Husna Haq tells more here. And copies of Guantánamo Diary, edited by Larry Siems, can already be ordered here.


Saturday, August 09, 2014

From Retreat to Resignation

Thank goodness for Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, which reminds us that it was on August 9, 1854 -- 160 years ago today -- that Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, his book of reflections upon living simply in natural surroundings, was first published. The Almanac explains:
Walden described two years in Thoreau’s life, during which he lived in a cabin by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, on land that belonged to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the spring of 1845, Thoreau borrowed an ax from Bronson Alcott and began clearing white pine for a space to build his home. The one-room cabin was 10 feet by 15 feet and cost $28 to build.

Thoreau never claimed that he would be a total recluse during those years; he wrote in
Walden: “I am naturally no hermit.” There were busy roads nearby, and he lived just a mile and a half outside of Concord. He went to town to see friends, do laundry at his parents’ house, or purchase supplies, and his friends often stopped by to see him -- Emerson of course, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Alcotts. …

People regularly asked Thoreau questions about the day-to-day details of his life at Walden: what he ate, whether he got lonely, how he made a living, and how much money he spent. In February of 1845, Thoreau agreed to give two lectures in Concord about his life at Walden, focused on his personal economics. By the time Thoreau left Walden Pond in 1847, he had compiled his journal entries and lectures into a rough draft of the book that would eventually become
Walden. He wrote: “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”
Today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac also notes that it is the birthday of English author Izaak Walton (The Compleat Angler). And it was 40 years ago when Republican U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal and with impeachment proceedings against him set to commence in the House of Representatives, became the first and only American chief executive to resign the office. You can watch his announcement of that decision by clicking here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Peripatetic Detective

For once, it seems, I am perfectly positioned to appreciate an itinerant display of particular interest to crime-fiction aficionados. As the Mystery Scene blog explains, the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, which debuted at the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology in Portland last year, and is traveling through 2017, will make a stop in my hometown of Seattle about 26 months from now. The schedule shows it opening at the Pacific Science Center on October 13, 2016. Do you think it’s too early yet to buy tickets?

An article published back in March of this year in The New York Times defined the scope of this presentation: “From original manuscript pages from ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ to props from the current BBC hit ‘Sherlock,’ the exhibition aims to engage all levels of enthusiasts. Galleries feature an examination of [Holmes creator Arthur] Conan Doyle and late 19th-century London, the science behind the Holmes stories, and pop culture artifacts, past and present. There is also an immersive interactive Victorian-era murder mystery that visitors are asked to solve, clue by clue, after an introduction to Holmes’s scientific methods of crime-solving.”

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes is currently situated at Columbus, Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry through September 1. After that, it will relocate to the following locations:

• October 9, 2014: St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, Missouri
• February 12, 2015: Perot Museum of Nature & Science,
Dallas, Texas
• June 11, 2015: Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana, California
• October 15, 2015: Denver Museum of Nature & Science,
Denver, Colorado
• October 13, 2016: Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Washington

Additional stops may be added at a later date.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

My TV Book Addiction

(Editor’s note: Perhaps not surprisingly, author-screenwriter Lee Goldberg -- who’s concocted scripts for such TV series as Diagnosis: Murder, Spenser: For Hire and Monk, and penned more than a dozen Monk TV tie-in novels -- is a big fan of television history books. In the piece below, he assesses the strengths [and often multiple weaknesses] of several entries in that specialized genre. He wants it known that he purchased all of these books. They were not provided to him for review.)

I have an addiction -- I love books about television, even if they are about shows I don’t like or have never watched. I buy them on the off-chance I will learn something about the business, or about production, or about writing that I didn’t know before. I especially like books about old TV shows, because then I also learn something about television history. I’m telling you all of this so you’ll understand what possessed me to buy Jonathan Etter’s 640-page book devoted to Here Come the Brides, a boring, utterly forgettable Western series that lasted a mere two seasons in the late 1960s and is known, if at all, for a catchy theme song (“Seattle”) and for featuring Bobby Sherman and David Soul among its cast.

I don’t care about the show -- the few episodes I’ve seen were lousy -- but I really liked Etter’s Gangway, Lord: The Here Come the Brides Book: A Behind-the-Scenes History of the 1968-70 ABC-TV Series from those crazy folks at BearManor Media (they’ve got to be crazy to publish books like this … but I love them for it). So why did I like the book if I could care less about the show? Because it’s packed with fascinating information about other shows. For instance, William Blinn, the creator of Here Come the Brides, spends a lot of time here talking about writing the TV series Bonanza and Shane, and that’s great stuff. And Brides star Robert Brown talks about almost starring in Hawaii Five-O, and his work on the unsold pilots The Yellow Bird, with Carroll O’Connor, and Colossus, with William Shatner, among others. So it’s for those golden nuggets that I was willing to slog through seemingly endless, pointless chapters about actress Bridget Hanley (who?) and her marriage to director E.W. Swackhamer, or the tragic details of Mark Lenard’s multiple melanoma that took his life long after the series was over. This book desperately needed a good editor, but I’m glad it didn’t have one, because it’s the stuff that had nothing to do with the show -- the stuff that should have been cut -- that I liked best. If you are one of the dozen living fans of Here Come the Brides, you will absolutely love this book. Every episode is examined in-depth and every regular and guest cast member, and almost every crew member, with the possible exception of the caterer, is interviewed about his or her life and career.

Here’s the irony, though, of my liking a book so much about a show that I could care less about: I bought David R. Greenland’s The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western, also from BearManor Media, because I love Gunsmoke (1955-1975), and yet I got nothing out of it at all. It’s a pointless book, a bland rehash of material presented better, and in more depth, by other books about the show. Oddly enough, Greenland acknowledges that fact in his preface: “By 2006, three books about the show had reached the marketplace, and even I conceded that the world did not need another.” Yet, he wrote one anyway, and shouldn’t have bothered, because he adds nothing new or particularly interesting to our understanding of the series. It’s filler masquerading as content. Unlike the Here Come the Brides book, there’s no gold here about other shows to make it a worthwhile purchase. Skip it.

Martin Grams Jr.’s The Time Tunnel: A History of the Television Series (BearManor) is much like the book on Here Come the Brides. It’s a massive work (nearly 600 pages in length) about a TV failure (The Time Tunnel lasted a single season, from 1966 to 1967) that’s packed with lots of interesting information … about director-producer Irwin Allen and his other shows and about the TV landscape of the late 1960s. Everything you could possibly want to know about Time Tunnel is here, from the original pitch to information on all of Allen’s attempts to do another time-travel series after it was cancelled; from the number of pages shot on a particular day to the cost of individual props; from the notes written by ABC-TV censors on each script to lists of the stock music cues in each episode; from exhaustively detailed synopses of each broadcast episode to detailed descriptions of the episodes that weren’t shot. There’s almost too much stuff. It’s as if Grams decided he had to put every single fact that came across his desk into this book just because he had them. The upside is that there’s something for everybody here, whether your interest is in TV production accounting or screenwriting. The downside is that it makes for tedious reading, even if you are really into the show or into TV history.

As I said, I love BearManor Media; it, and to a lesser degree, McFarland & Co., are my pimps. BearMedia publishes TV books that no right-minded publisher would ever touch. Who else would release books about the Western Temple Houston or the sitcom Good Morning, World, two shows that barely survived for a single season each back in the 1960s (and that I’ve never even seen)? You could probably fit all the potential readers of these last two books comfortably in a motor home for a dinner party.

Jeffrey Hunter and Temple Houston: A Story of Network Television, by Glenn A. Mosley, is a mess of a book (though it’s much better than his volume about the TV series The Deputy). As the title suggests, this work isn’t quite sure what it’s about. Is it about actor Jeffrey Hunter? Is it about Temple Houston (1963-1964)? Or is it about network television? Basically, it’s three lengthy magazine articles -- one on the very short-lived Temple Houston, one on the aborted Robert Taylor Show and one on Jeffrey Hunter’s disappointing career, all of them stitched together into a thin, and yet very padded, book. Still, the stories of Temple Houston and the never-aired Robert Taylor Show are fascinating, and with a cover price of just $14.95, this book is well worth the time for any student of TV history to read.

The more apt title for this book might have been A Perfect Storm of Bad Decisions. It recounts how Warner Bros. chose to replace the president of its TV division with actor-director Jack Webb, how NBC decided to cancel the drama The Robert Taylor Show four episodes into production without ever airing an episode, and how the network’s determination to rush Warner Bros./Four Star’s Temple Houston into production to fill the void, doomed them all. Mosley sums it up in his introduction.
In making the decision in the manner that it did, NBC effectively sealed the fate of two television franchises. The Robert Taylor Show would never see the light of day and, in the end, Temple Houston hardly stood a chance. NBC, Warner Brothers, and even Four Star would all end up in weaker positions as a result … Temple Houston has most often been dismissed as simply a failed, one-season Western on television. Fair enough -- so it was. But the story of Temple Houston is more than that; it is also the story of the intersection points between careers, Hollywood Studios, and network television.
And it’s a great untold story, one full of mistakes that neither NBC nor Warner Bros., or any other network or studios for that matter, learned from … and so were doomed to repeat many times over. There’s a lot of filler in this 154-page work, but on the strength of the Temple Houston and Robert Taylor Show stories alone, I recommend it for your TV reference book library.

Sadly, I can’t be as complimentary of Good Morning, World (BearMedia), by Tim Colliver, who wrote this very thin, heavily padded book because the short-lived, 1967-1968 CBS sitcom about a radio station inspired him to become a DJ. The problem is, that show just wasn’t very good and there wasn’t anything remotely interesting about it on any other level. As both Joby Baker, the long-forgotten star of the series, and the author of the book put it:
[Baker] also thought the scripts could have been better … a lot better.

“The reason I had trouble memorizing the lines is that they were horrible fucking lines.” … Throughout the course of the series, Baker thought the scripts were “corny” and the show “not really funny at times.” In all fairness, in looking back on the episodes now that they are on DVD, he was on to something.
Which begs the question, why write a book about a lousy show? Or better yet, why read one? My answer to both questions is: don’t. ◊

(This review has been edited from a two-part post that appeared originally in Lee Goldberg’s blog -- part I here, part II here.)

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Going to Extremes

Having long been intrigued by historical arctic adventure tales, I listened enthusiastically this last Saturday as National Public Radio host Scott Simon interviewed Hampton Sides, author of the new non-fiction work In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette (Doubleday). Sides, who was previously best known for his epic tale of the Old West, Blood and Thunder (2007), spent three years researching and writing In the Kingdom of Ice, which tells of a hopeful but doomed, 1879 expedition to the North Pole, financed by loopy newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett and led by Jeannette Captain George Washington De Long.

Earlier today, the Amazon blog Omnivoracious hosted another interview with Sides. Two parts of that exchange between Chris Schluep and the author convinced me this book must soon be added to my library.
CS: Describe your research. Was there a key piece that made you think "now I know how to frame this book"?

HS: In the early going of my research, I lucked into one of those priceless situations that I think all of us historians dream about: An invitation from a little old lady to come sift through a trunk full of yellowed letters that she had literally rescued from her attic. In this case, the trunk contained the personal papers of Emma De Long, the wife of the
Jeannette expedition’s captain, George De Long. Once I read the stuff, I knew that I’d found a powerful new way to frame the book: It was not just an adventure tale, but a love story as well. Emma De Long’s letters to her husband, and his letters to her, are elegant, eloquent, and moving, and as the drama unfolds, they become truly heart-wrenching. Really, that trunk full of papers formed the emotional spine of the book. …

CS: Did your work on the book lead you to draw any conclusions about climate change?

HS: Yes. One of the big problems that climate change researchers have grappled with is finding a way to know what the polar ice cap truly looked like a century ago in order to compare it with today’s Arctic ice conditions. To understand that, you’d have to go back in history, build a research station, and dangerously trap it in the drifting icepack for years.

As it happens, the
Jeannette kept meticulous records of the ice as it drifted two years, and a thousand miles, across the frozen sea. After the ship sank, De Long’s men lugged dozens of heavy meteorological logbooks containing troves of information about the icecap and Arctic weather -- the hard-won product of their daily labors for two years. When they reached Siberia’s shores four months later, De Long buried those logbooks in the sand, and miraculously, they were later found by Navy rescuers, eventually ending up in the National Archives in Washington, where they’ve gathered dust for 135 years. Over the past year, however, NOAA scientists have digitized those logbooks, and have been analyzing De Long’s data. The story they tell is a sobering one: The polar ice cap, at least in that 1,000-mile swath of the High Arctic, has shrunk, weakened, and thinned far more dramatically than anyone realized.
You can enjoy reading Omnivoracious’ entire interview here.


Monday, July 28, 2014

John Shaft’s Mixed Parentage

For years rumors have swirled around about how journalist-turned-author Ernest Tidyman didn’t write all seven of the Shaft novels carrying his byline, but instead turned to ghost writers for substantive work on at least the later entries in that series. Now Steve Aldous -- who is working on a book about Tidyman’s tales of New York City private eye John Shaft and the films those tales inspired -- delivers a fascinating, well-researched piece in our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, that looks back closely at Tidyman’s authorial efforts. Aldous explains at one point:
The success of the films Shaft and The French Connection -- for the latter of which Tidyman received an Academy Award (as well as an Edgar Allan Poe Award) -- significantly increased demands for his time and encouraged him to branch out further into other film writing and production. He set up Ernest Tidyman Productions and began to spread his time across a number of developing projects. The increasing workload encouraged Tidyman to hire writers to help out -- particularly with continuing the Shaft book series.

Tidyman had sketched out story ideas for three further
Shaft books, which he wanted to produce in quick succession so they would fall within the timeframe of MGM’s options agreement. He recruited two writers to help: Robert Turner, a vastly experienced author of pulpish fiction (The Girl in the Cop’s Pocket, etc.) and a contributor to many of the pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s; and Phillip Rock, a screenwriter who had also worked on a number of novelizations in the early 1970s (including an adaptation of Dirty Harry). Tidyman had previously used Rock on his novelization of High Plains Drifter, the screenplay Tidyman had written for Clint Eastwood’s 1973 Western.
For all fans of Tidyman’s mostly out-of-print books or Richard Roundtree’s Shaft film series, this piece is well worth reading.


Monday, July 21, 2014

James Garner Dead at 86

So sad to hear of the passing of actor James Garner (The Rockford Files, Maverick). Garner was 86 and died of natural causes.

Partly through the eternal Rockford Files and partly due to the fact that Garner was immensely popular with his peers and friends throughout his career, there has been a tremendous outpouring of grief in the media following the actor’s passing.

To my eye though, no looks at Garner’s life vis-a-vis his career are as poignant as what was put together by Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce, who interviewed Garner back in 2011. You can read Pierce’s words on the topic here.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

This Just In… Roastmaster (A Coffee Novel) by Janice Lierz

The seventh sister is over the moon for a Costa Rican coffee farmer...

In the spring of 1984, John Mallory, the seventh sister in a coffee family dies a legend when she is uprooted from Kansas City and travels to a coffee farm in Costa Rica to become a roastmaster.

Eighteen years later, Capri is connected to her dead aunt through a surreal sense of smell. When Capri runs away with her boyfriend, she unearths John Mallory’s story and the myth of the Pleiades, a cluster of blue stars known as the Seven Sisters. But her quirky mother, grandfather and five aunts fear love will also lead Capri to an early grave.

A heartwarming story about family bonds, sisters, coffee and the never-ending love of parent and child. It’s a novel about falling in love -- and the different journeys life takes us on… A tale for those who know magic can be found in the bean of a fruit.

You can order Roastmaster here. Visit author Janice Lierz on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Books are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

George RR Martin Insists He Will Finish Series

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is unimpressed with critics who say he’ll never finish his saga. In fact, he has a few choice words. Well, one anyway.

Recently interviewed by Swiss newspaper, Tages-Anzeiger, Martin blew his cool when asked if he thought his health would allow him to finish the saga.
During an interview with Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, 65-year-old Martin was asked what he thought about people who wonder if he’ll live long enough to finish the series (presently two books shy of Martin’s projected goal. “I find that question pretty offensive.”
You can see the full interview here. See January Magazine’s 2002 interview with Martin here.

This Just In… Here I Stand by Jillian Bullock

Here I Stand tells the gut-wrenching and compelling real-life story of a young, African-American woman fights to overcome life with the Philadelphia Italian Mafia, rape, homelessness, drugs, and prostitution to fulfill her dream to become a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, a screenwriter and a filmmaker.

With determination to live, despite the odds against her, Jillian Bullock’s harrowing account tests the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual being of someone who refused to fail.

Through real strength, resilience, perseverance, and what she calls “fighting spirit,” Jillian transformed her life to become a successful businesswoman, journalist, screenwriter, competitive martial artist and boxer, fitness expert, author, actress, empowerment speaker, award winning filmmaker, while raising three children as a single parent.

Jillian’s ability to survive under the most horrific and extraordinary circumstances to go on to completely transform her life makes Here I Stand such an unforgettable story.

Since the book was independently published in 2012, Jillian has been generating great sales and has sparked interest from a few producers in Hollywood, who are interested in turning her memoir into a feature film.

You can order Here I Stand here. Visit author Jillian Bullock on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

Summer Gathering, when the rebels of Shadowfell are planning to challenge the evil King Keldec, is approaching rapidly. Caller Neryn, with whom we have made a long journey, still has two Guardians to go before her training is complete. But the White Lady, Guardian of air, is not in the best state. The Master of Shadows(fire) is a trickster who may or may not advise her on how to protect the rebels’ Good Folk allies from cold iron, which makes them sick and can kill them. Worse, Keldec now has his own Caller, who is less scrupulous about what he does to the Good Folk he calls. Neryn’s beloved Flint, the rebels’ double agent, known to his comrades as Owen Swift-Sword, is fed up with his life at court and what he's forced to do as an Enforcer, but has no choice. Can he trust his closest friends in the Enforcers or not? 

The story in Raven Flight (Knopf) has been built up over the last two books in this series. Here it comes to a dramatic climax. Neryn has to make some decisions she doesn’t necessarily like. At the same time, she meets people from the other side whom she can like and respect and even finds herself, at one point, pitying the king and wondering what he might have been like under other circumstances. 

You do tend to forget the heroine is only 16, especially in a world where that’s an age where you might easily be married, but I think that any teens who have read the other two books will be happy with this one. 

Don’t read this without having read the first two books, but if you haven’t, I do recommend this series. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at

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This Just In… EXODUS 2022 by Kenneth G. Bennett

Joe Stanton is in agony. Out of his mind over the death of his young daughter.

Unable to contain his grief, Joe loses control in public, screaming his daughter’s name and causing a huge scene at a hotel on San Juan Island in Washington State. Thing is, Joe Stanton doesn’t have a daughter. Never did. And when the authorities arrive they blame the 28-year-old’s outburst on drugs. What they don’t yet know is that others up and down the Pacific coast -- from the Bering Sea to the Puget Sound -- are suffering identical, always fatal mental breakdowns.

With the help of his girlfriend, Joe struggles to unravel the meaning of the hallucination destroying his mind. As the couple begins to perceive its significance -- and Joe’s role in a looming global calamity -- they must also outwit a billionaire weapons contractor bent on exploiting Joe’s newfound understanding of the cosmos, and outlast the time bomb ticking in Joe’s brain.

You can order EXODUS 2022 here. Visit author Kenneth G. Bennett on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Iconic Authors Who Didn’t Like Each Other’s Writing

Think six degrees of Kevin Bacon… but with authors who didn’t like each other’s work. Visually maps it all out in a splendid infographic.

“For every great author, there’s another great author eager to knock him or her down a few pegs. Although the writers on this map are typically deemed canonical by literary tastemakers, there wasn’t much mutual admiration amongst them.”

Apparently, D.H. Lawrence trashed both Herman Melville and James Joyce, who was also loathed by Virginia Woolf. A lot of people didn’t care for Hemingway (not a big surprise) among them Gore Vidal, Nabokov and Faulkner.

The coolest part: click on the connective arrows to see what each writer didn’t like about the other. There are, as Visually suggests, some way harsh comments. For example, of D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad said, “Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”

OK, truly? I can't see the benefit of having this particular bunch in an infographic. But it looks cool, it draws your eye and, like everything else Visually does, it’s stylish and makes you think for a moment or two. Maybe that’s enough.

See the full and interactive version here.

January Magazine & CASL (Your Action is Required)

Only in Canada, you say?

Because we take an international view to literature in the English language, not all of our readers realize that January Magazine is based in Canada, but we are, even though our contributors and our readership is around the world.

On July 1, new legislation came into effect in Canada requiring everyone who uses e-mail to update their readerships to have a higher level of demonstrated consent from those who will be receiving the e-mail communication.

Everything we send out to readers has been going via RSS for the last few years and in order to sign up to get that mail-out, you have given what is now being called implicit permission. By this time in 2017, we’ll be needing explicit permission from our readership to continue mailing to them. You’ll be hearing from us in future about that.

For the time being, we’re asking that you consider this notice as your implied consent to continue receiving our electronic communications.

If you do not wish to continue receiving news from January Magazine and you’ve received this in e-mail, please reply and your name will be removed from the list.

Of course, you have the option of unsubscribing at any time by following the appropriate link at the bottom of any message from us.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Redford to Bring A Walk in the Woods and Climb to Conquer to the Screen

Robert Redford is set to produce a film adaptation of Climb to Conquer, journalist Peter Shelton’s 2003 WWII biography. The story is about the 10th Mountain Division who scaled rock walks at Riva Ridge to conquer a previously untouchable German position. Some experts have claimed it was this pivotal climb that enabled the Allied forces to move forward to ultimate victory.

According to Variety, Kurt Johnstad (Act of Valor, 300: Rise of an Empire) is in discussion to write the adaptation.

Meanwhile, Redford isn’t letting any moss grow on him waiting for the project to come together. He’s currently busy working on the screen version of another, although very different, biography. This one is based on Bill Bryson’s 1997 book, A Walk in the Woods.

Variety reports that Redford has held the film rights since 2005 and that, at various time, Larry Charles, Chris Columbus and Barry Levinson have “been in negotiations to direct at various points.” Things are looking up now, though. From Variety:
Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman and Kristen Schaal have joined Robert Redford in the independent drama “A Walk in the Woods.”
Wildwood Enterprises and Route One Films started production Monday on the film, an adaptation of travel writer Bill Bryson’s memoir. Ken Kwapis (“He’s Just Not That Into You”) is directing from a script by “Little Miss Sunshine” writer Michael Arndt.
Nick Nolte will also star.


This Just In… Baudelaire’s Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven

It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.

As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and séances.

The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire’s controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet’s exact handwriting.

Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind’s Perfume.

Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III.

A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.

You can order Baudelaire’s Revenge here. Visit author Bob Van Laerhoven on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fiction: The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

Already a publishing sensation in Europe, Joel Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Penguin) is one of those books everyone has been talking about. It’s a novel held aloft by a lot of hype, and much of it is even deserved. It reads fast. It’s got an intricate plot, and it’s been compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- though in truth it has none of that book’s urgency or bowstring tautness or even its unspeakable violence. What it does have is a boatload of characters you come to care about and a story that will keep you guessing. It even tries to give itself some meaning. What more could you want?

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a novel about perception. Dicker, in his first novel, reveals that he is a master at creating perception based on perspective. Whereas most novels are told from one point of view, this one is told in several, all happening at once -- or what seems like at once.

The plot centers on three people: Marcus Goldman, a young novelist whose college professor inspired him to become a writer; Harry Quebert, the professor, a successful novelist now enjoying his twilight years; and Nola Kellergan, the young woman Harry loved, but who was murdered 33 years ago, leaving him alone and destroyed.

The story jumps back and forth in time constantly between 2008 and events leading up to Nola’s murder in 1970. In short, filmic scenes, we spend a lot of time with all three of them, as well as with many other members of the small New Hampshire town where they live. Much of the book follows Marcus’s investigation into Nola’s murder, trying to uncover secrets that both bind the town together and threaten to rip it apart at the seams. We read many parts of the story over and over again, from different points of view, and each time a new detail or motivation or lie is revealed. There are assumptions, there are lies, there’s regret, there are actions and consequences, and there is, eventually, truth. They say that there are three versions of any story: what I think happened, what you think happened, and what actually happened. This book is about all three, except there are more like twenty.
This is why I say the book is about perception. There can be only one truth about who murdered Nola -- as well as why and how -- but the novel offers up many of them before we finally learn the one that really matters. Dicker’s gift is that he doesn’t seem to be playing with the reader; instead, he’s having fun with his characters, and we’re just watching. He knows these people, and he wants them to know the solution as much as they themselves do -- and as much as we do.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is terrific fun -- and it deserves a place in your beach bag.
Now, having said all that, I also have to stand back and wonder why I wasn’t blown away, as I thought I would be -- and as the hype assured me I would be. As involving as it is, I have to admit that sometimes this book is written in a way that makes what’s happening in Somerset sound like a badly written arc of As the World Turns. I attribute this, at least some of it, to the translator. His take has turned what could have been a tight, relentless thriller into a book that’s, well, not so thrilling. Captivating, yes. Fun, yes. But shocking, disturbing, dark, like Steig Larsson’s trilogy? No.

The action unfolds at a few key locations: the town’s diner, Marcus’ house (he borrows it from Harry), another house or two, the roads in and around town. You get the whole small-townness of the setting, the closing of the ranks as an outsider comes poking around. There’s serious threat, and there are serious secrets that beg to be uncovered once the clues are assembled. But they’re assembled, it all comes to a close so nicely. So neatly. What I wanted was a loose end or two. I wanted messiness, especially from such a messy tale.

Peppered throughout are tidbits about writing gleaned from conversations Harry had with Marcus when Marcus was his student. Harry tells him how to write a novel, a novel people will lose themselves in, a novel people will talk about. Much of the advice makes sense, and I suppose Dicker follows all the advice well, because I was drawn in, intrigued, and pretty well satisfied. But still, except for a few choice moments, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair feels very surface to me, very shallow, and that’s a shame. Because I think it’s more than that, and I think Dicker set out to do more than that. In a way, the tidbits, while interesting, undermine the tale they’re meant to illuminate. They’re almost a series of winks from the author that in some small way taint the novel itself. They don’t break the fourth wall, but they very nearly do, the way, say, blood spatters on a camera lens remind you that you’re watching a movie, when that’s the last thing you want.
Le Journal du Dimanche, in France, said: “If you dip your toes into this major novel, you’re finished; you won’t be able to keep from sprinting through to the last page.” The sprinting part is true. But to call The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair a major novel is the problem. It’s big, at 643 pages. But major? I wish.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This Just In… Deathbed Dimes by Naomi Elana Zener

Deathbed Dimes exposes the reality that if you can outlive your relatives, friends, and sometimes even strangers, your odds of hitting the inheritance jackpot are better than playing the lottery.

Joely Zeller is a beautiful and ambitious 32-year-old attorney who is the only daughter of a Hollywood firm royal. She’s determined to build a successful career, find love, and get married, all without her family’s help.

To emerge from under her parents’ cloud of notoriety, Joely fled to New York upon graduation from Stanford Law School to practice Estates and Trust law at a blue-chip Wall Street law firm. Enduring 90-hour workweeks for the next eight years, she sacrificed her love life (jilted by her fiancé for his best man) only to have her career efforts foiled by her incredibly incompetent male counterpart. Joely then sees her golden ticket to self-actualization. A serendipitous encounter with a former professor reminds her that with the impending, inevitable demise of aging baby boomers, an unprecedented wealth transfer is beginning to take place. With her experience and her Hollywood connections, she could start her own law firm back in Los Angeles. With her two best friends and former law classmates as partners, Joely sets about helping the recently disowned, dispossessed, and penniless sharpen their claws as they stake their claims to the fortunes of their dearly departed. ◊

You can order Deathbed Dimes here. Visit author Naomi Elana Zener on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bringing More Characters Back to Life

Most readers have probably forgotten Carolyn Weston (1921-2001), but she was the author of three novels featuring a pair of Santa Monica, California, police detectives, Sergeant Al Krug and Detective Casey Kellog. The first of those, 1972’s Poor, Poor Ophelia, inspired the 1972-1977 ABC-TV drama The Streets of San Francisco.

Now comes word that Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, the writers behind Brash Books, a new crime-fiction imprint, have acquired Weston’s police procedurals, and plan to republish Poor, Poor Ophelia in 2015. What’s more, Goldberg tells me in an e-mail note, “we own [the three books] outright. So we are planning to continue the series with new novels. We’re in talks with an established female crime writer now about it. We haven’t decided whether to keep them in the ’70s in Santa Monica, or move the setting to San Francisco … or make a big leap and bring them to present-day San Francisco. It’s not as strange as it sounds. [Ed McBain’s] 87th Precinct books spanned decades, but the characters didn’t age. Same goes for Nero Wolfe. So moving our characters to present day, without aging them, has some precedent.”

We’ll let you know more about this as we hear it.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New in Paperback: Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (Moonlight Hotel, The Man Who Tried to Save the World) brings the gravitas of an accomplished novelist and war correspondent to Lawrence in Arabia (Anchor Books).

This is a stellar look at some of the major issues in the Middle East and the influence that early 19th century outsiders, including Lawrence of Arabia’s TH Lawrence, had on the direction in which the modern Middle East was formed.

The writing here is breathtaking (and the book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2013) and the research it must have taken actually set me aback: this is an intricate work, well beyond the scope of anything you’re imagining.

As a biography of Lawrence, it would have been superb, but Lawrence in Arabia is so much more: offering an illuminating visit to a time and events that still cause ripples across the region and with a contradictory character whose actions continue to cause controversy 80 years after his death. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

SF/F: The Very Best of Tad Williams by Tad Williams

Though certainly not the household word that Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin has become, Tad Williams is one of the icons of the fantasy world.

Since the publication of his first novel, Tailchaser’s Song, in 1985, his dozen novels, eight works of non-fiction as well as the inclusion of his short fiction in various magazines and anthologies have showcased his thoughtful and imaginative prose.

The Very Best of Tad Williams (Tachyon) showcases the work of this engaging author. Most of the stories collected here have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Bound together in this way, though, they create a sort of living retrospective of the author’s work. Obviously, Williams’ many fans will eat this up. However, those who have been thinking about reading some of his work but have been hesitating will find this book a great indoctrination, especially since many of his novels are massive in both size and scope. Beginning with a more bite-sized stories may well appeal to those wary of making the huge time investment into most of Williams’ novels.

And it won’t surprise Williams’ fans one bit to hear that the author may well be on the cusp of an even broader readership. Williams’ very charming debut novel, Tailchaser's Song, a fantasy set in a world peopled (ahem) by cats, is currently under development as a feature-length animated film. More news on that as it develops. ◊

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This Just In… Thicker than Blood by Joshua Sanofsky

Life just keeps getting more complicated for Journeyman Mage Alys Kinnear.

Arrested for the destruction of her home town, Alys is soon tasked with one of her most dangerous cases to date. A series of grisly slayings in London, all with mysterious ties to Alys and her familiars, causes Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Ben Donovan to enlist the aid of the Yard’s prime suspect... Alys herself! But does the good detective have an ulterior motive for wanting to work so closely with her?

You can order Thicker Than Blood here. Read about Family Ties, the previous book in this series here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Book Expo 2014: Report from the Floor

by Tony Buchsbaum

Every year at this time, the book universe gathers to celebrate itself (and why shouldn’t it?) at Book Expo America. This is the spot to be if you’re a book lover. But good luck getting in. It’s not open to the public -- except for a little bit. But more on that later.

This year, BEA was held at the massive Jacob Javits Convention Center in NYC. In years past, Javits was filled to bursting with BEA-ness. More recently, it’s been a bit smaller, mostly confined to the main exhibit hall and select meeting rooms downstairs.

What happens at BEA? Books. This is where publishers from all over the world showcase the big books coming out between spring and Christmas. So it’s around six or seven months of bestsellers-to-be, all revealed at once in one form or another. By which I mean, glossy jackets displayed in fancy digital frames at one end, and deluxe, hard-to-get-your-hands-on advance copies at the other. Oh, and it also means book-world celebs: authors, movie and TV and music stars, all crashing into one giant melting pot of literary yumminess.

The big publishers -- Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and their ilk -- hand out advance copies or arrange them in neat stacks on the floor, free for the taking. Think: kid in a candy store where your money’s no good. Some only give out books when their authors do signings in the booth or at one of the 20 autographing tables where the lines can range from, say, two people to 200.

When a publisher brings in a movie star or Anne Rice or Pat Conroy or some other name author, there’s a line. A long one. When they bring in a debut novelist with no name but an interesting book, it’s more manageable. Either way, it’s a blast. You get a few precious seconds with your favorite author, and then you get a signed book that feels like a bar of gold in your hand.

This year, Billy Idol and Jason Segel signed little previews of their books. Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch signed posters. Jodi Picoult, Alan Furst, Karin Slaughter, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Ben Mezrich, Tracy Letts, Colm Toibin and a starfield of other authors came to sign advance copies of their new books for adoring fans -- and by adoring fans I mean booksellers, librarians, VIPs and members of the press.

Every year, there’s one book everybody wants but relatively few actually get. Two years ago, that book was The Twelve by Justin Cronin. This year, it was The Bone Clocks by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell. (I, for one, can’t wait to read that one.)

A walk through the aisles reveals editors, publishers, agents, publicists and authors. Unless you know their faces, you spend a lot of time with your eyes cast down so you can read their badges. It’s kind of funny, actually, how eye contact is made only when you know the face -- or suddenly, the name. Either way, it’s great fun.

This year was also the inaugural year for BookCon. This one-day public event was held inside the exhibit hall. For around 30 bucks anyone could come in, mingle, attend some very cool star-studded Q&A sessions and grab books.

When people who love to read come together with those who write, there’s a genuine frisson. When a kid who loves to read comes face-to-face with the author of her favorite book, prepare for wide eyes, some respectful screaming and sometimes tears. To people who love to read, authors are rock stars. BookCon brings them together, and everyone wins. Readers, authors and publishers.

Across BEA and BookCon, the highlight events were a reception for Hilary Clinton, whose new book, Hard Choices, will be out in a week; separate events headlined by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler; a session in which John Green schmoozed with the director of The Fault in Our Stars about making the movie; and one more in which David Mitchell gave away some secrets about his writing process. And on and on and on.

In a word, this year’s BEA was pretty awesome. Next year’s will have a new world of treasures. If you can snag a ticket, do. I’ll see you there.


Non-Fiction: Keep Your Brain Young by Fraser Smith and Ellie Aghdassi

Keep Your Brain Young (Robert Rose) was hanging around my desk for a while before I realized it was, among other things, a cookbook. “You are what you eat,” reverberated through my mind.

Prior to that I’d thought it was just my editor’s barb that I was no longer as young and sharp as I was when I started writing for January Magazine many moons ago and high time I began looking for ways to keep the old thinking machine sharp and strong.

And then I peeked inside.
This book offers the promise of protecting, repairing, and enhancing your mental health while coincidentally improving your general physical well-being.
Which sounded like a good start.

Before we get to food, of course, there’s a whole lot about the diseases associated with aging, how they progress and what causes them. Don’t kid yourself: this is not cheery stuff, but as Smith notes at the very beginning of Keep Your Brain Young: “It is a fact of life -- we are all going to age.” I would add, “If we’re lucky.”

Part 2 of the book deals with “Smart Nutrients,” how to get them and what the lack of them can cause. Then the “12-Step Healthy Brain Diet Program,” which leads quite naturally to Part 5: “Menu Plans and Recipes for a Healthy Brain” which is a good two thirds of the book.

In addition to recipes, meal plans are included and encouraged, but the recipes take center stage. Nutritional information is included on each recipe page as is a detailed ingredients list and clear instructions.

Keep Your Brain Young is a useful and informative book both for those dealing with specific age-related ailments as well as those many of us who are enjoying the privilege of growing older. ◊

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Monday, June 02, 2014

This Just In… Deathbed Dimes by Naomi Elana Zener

Joely Zeller, a beautiful and ambitious 32-year-old attorney is the only daughter of a Hollywood film royal. She’s determined to build a successful career, find love, and get married, all without the help of her family.

To emerge from under her parents’ cloud of notoriety, Joely flees to New York to practice estates and trust law at a blue-chip Wall Street law firm. Enduring 90-hour workweeks for the next six years, she sacrifices her love life, only to have her career efforts foiled by her incredibly incompetent male counterpart.

Joely then sees her golden ticket to self-actualization. With her experience and her Hollywood connections, she could start her own law firm back in Los Angeles. With her two best friends and former law classmates as partners, Joely sets about helping the recently disowned, dispossessed, and penniless sharpen their claws as they stake their claims to the fortunes of their dearly departed.

Get more information about the book here. You can order Deathbed Dimes here. Visit author Naomi Elana Zener on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Top Ten Literary Put Downs of All Time

When it comes to slapping down an insult, which author takes top honors?

UKTV’s Drama Channel recently commissioned a survey asking 2000 people just that. The results offered up some surprises with Margaret Mitchell, Oscar Wilde (who made the list twice) and Terry Pratchett among the contenders for author of the best literary put down of all time. Here’s are the top 10 greatest literary put-downs:

1. “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” -- Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell (charachter: Rhett Butler)

2. “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, Mr Worthing, to lose both looks like carelessness” -- The Importance Of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde (character: Lady Bracknell)

3. “May your genitals sprout wings and fly away.” — Small Gods, Terry Pratchett (character: Om)

4. “If you will forgive me for being personal, I do not like your face.” — Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (character: Hercule Poirot)

5. “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” — Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen (character: Mr Darcy)

6. “You are the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.” — Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen (character: Elizabeth Bennett)

7. “If looks could kill, you’d soon find out that yours couldn’t.” — After Claude, Iris Owens (character: Harriet)

8. “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.” — Coriolanus, William Shakespeare (character: Menenius)

9. “The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me.” — The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde (character: Gwendolen)

10. “I misjudged you... You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.” — The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (character: Harvey Stone).

Friday, May 30, 2014

New Douglas Adams May Put New Spin on Beloved Material

When Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams died much too young at 49 in May of 2001, he left a lot of stories untold. At least, that’s what his fans have always suspected. Thanks to his new biographer, JL Roberts, those fans will soon be proven correct. From The Guardian:
There is "an enormous amount of material out there that has never been seen before," said Roberts. As well as Life, the Universe and Everything, the biography will feature an alternative original pitch for Hitchhiker, a lost rough script for the second television series, and further scraps of unused material, with names like Baggy the Runch and The Assumption of Saint Zalabad.
The Life, the Universe and Everything draft, Roberts said, has "whole chapters where the characters are doing different things – different ideas he never got round to using, [such as] chapters written from Arthur Dent's point of view". 
But "none of this stuff is finished," he added. "It's very important to contextualise this material properly … and I understand people thinking that this is raw material and he didn't want it to be seen. I spend part of the book asking what Douglas would have wanted … but there are so many great Douglas Adams jokes which have been completely air-sealed for the last 20 years. [And] I think it's wonderful that we finally get to read some of this stuff."
We agree! You can read more about Roberts’ fascinating journey of Adams’ discovery here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

This Just In… The Phoenix Year by David L. Blond

“...from out of the fire, would rise a new order, like the legend of the phoenix. There would emerge a new world, a new super economy...” 
So begins a sequence of events destined to rock world economies to their core.

On the 50th anniversary of their induction into the Society of the Phoenix, a group of billionaires is about to change the world dramatically, with devastating effect. Overseen by the reclusive Heinrich Von Kleise, the Society has hatched an audacious plan to subvert world economies by using and abusing some of the world’s wealthiest businessmen and their families; in some cases, holding them literally to ransom, or worse.

Michael Ross, an economic advisor to the US President, Ben Masters, a disgraced property tycoon, Natalya Avramowitz, a Russian economist and spy, and “Kim,” a CIA agent, find themselves at the center of this plot, involving inside trading, sex slavery and political corruption.

As the world careens towards financial Armageddon, can Michael, Natalya and Kim prevent global disintegration, or are the world’s financial institutions fated to implode?

The Phoenix Year by David L. Blond is a gripping novel, encompassing many of the financial crises that have hit the headlines in the past decade. The author has skillfully woven these together to create an action-packed conspiracy thriller that smacks of reality and future possibility.

You can order The Phoenix Year here. Visit author David L. Blond on the web here. ◊

This Just In... is a column that shares basic information on selected titles. Titles are included at the editor’s discretion and on a first come, first served basis or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Dropping American Texts Enrages Brits

A decision to drop classic American texts from British classrooms has critics and the Internet in an uproar. Education secretary, Michael Gove, has been taking serious heat for dropping To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and other works. From The Guardian:
Although a statement from the Department for Education insisted that it was not banning anything, Paul Dodd of OCR attributed the change directly to the education secretary. "Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past. Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic," he told the Sunday Times. 
Christopher Bigsby, professor of American studies at the University of East Anglia, and the biographer of Arthur Miller, said the "union jack of culture" was now fluttering over Gove's department.
"These works are to be rejected in the name of a more nationally centred syllabus, and this from a confessed admirer of rap. As the home secretary does her best to patrol our borders to keep out international students, who she regards as immigrants, so the GCSE syllabus is to be kept for the English for fear that Romanian novels might move in next door."
The move provoked a furious reaction on Twitter, with the hashtag Mockingbird trending. The actor Mark Gatiss, co-creator of the BBC drama Sherlock, tweeted: "Since when was the wretched Michael Gove allowed to dictate what children read? This man is a dangerous philistine."
In fairness, though, this is hardly book burning. No one is being prevented from reading those American classics. But is it really so heinous for a country to support its literature strongly? So shocking that there is a faction who want British kids to read British novels? There is way more great literature out there than can be assigned in a single academic lifetime. And how do you choose what should be included? Of all the ways that literature in education can be selected, this does not seem to me to be the worst.

It’s possible, though, that I’m in the minority as the outcry against dropping these American texts from British curriculum continues to grow and more than 50,000 names have already been collected in an online protest. From the petition page:
Michael Gove says he hasn't "banned" any books. But by telling teachers we have to teach Romantic Poets, a 19th century novel, a Shakespeare play and a British text, he is narrowing the curriculum and taking choice away from teachers. With all the other demands on us, it will be hard for any teacher to teach more than these set texts and we simply don’t believe these choices are the right ones for all students. We love literature and want to share that love. This syllabus risks building resentment and dislike of our literary heritage.
Even so, Gove does have some defenders, among them Alan Taylor who, in the Herald Scotland, writes:
But what is this obsession with American literature? As one who reads it constantly, I nevertheless find it odd that educationists would rather drum it into young minds than that of their own culture. It goes without saying that no-one in their right mind would advocate children reading narrowly.
As soon as Taylor asks the question, he answers it.
Readers don't think along nationalist lines. They want to rove without a compass, following whichever tracks take their fancy. The more they read, the better, be it Flaubert or Faulkner, Beckett or Bellow, Kafka or Flannery O'Connor. Indeed, I would argue that looking constantly westward has made us myopic. We need to read more of world literature and more in translation than in the past. 
We need to open up minds rather than close them. Canons and syllabuses may have a practical, scholastic use but they are in essence locked rooms which deny access to other ways of seeing, other ways of imagining and telling stories.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou’s 10 Most Beautiful Quotes

Today literature lost one of its most powerful and beautiful voices when Maya Angelou passed away at age 86.

A celebrated writer, Tony Award-winning actress, grammy nominated musician and professional dancer, Angelou died at home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The recipient of over 30 honorary doctorates, Angelou was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971) and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Her first book, the memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1969 and has since frequently been among the American Library Association’s most banned and challenged books.

While the whole world grieves at the loss of this important and splendid voice, we thought to attempt to find the very best of the quotes attributed to her. It was as difficult a task as it was subjective. It will surprise no one at all to read that we could have listed the best 100 and still not have scratched the surface.

1. “Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. ”

2. “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

3. “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

4. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

5. “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

6. “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

7. “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”

8. “Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art.”

9. “Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.”

10. “I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Monday, May 19, 2014

Mary Stewart Dead at 97

British novelist Mary Stewart, credited with creating the romantic suspense genre, died on May 9th at her home on the west coast of Scotland. She was 97.

Most popular in the 1960s through 1980s, Stewart is credited as one of the pioneers of the romantic suspense genre. Best known for her Merlin series, Stewart wrote more than 20 novels over her long career. From the New York Times:
“Mary Stewart sprinkled intelligence around like stardust,” the columnist Melanie Reid wrote in the Glasgow newspaper The Herald in 2004. “Every chapter was headed with a quote from Marvell or Shakespeare or Browning. The fineness of her mind shone through.”
Ms. Stewart was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1968, received the Frederick Niven Literary Award from the Scottish chapter of International PEN for “The Crystal Cave” and in 2006 was given a lifetime achievement award by the Scottish Parliament.


This Just In… Under My Skin by Orville Lloyd Douglas

Under My Skin asks a variety of questions, such as: Why are young black gay men invisible in Canada’s queer and black communities? Do their lives really matter? How do young black men deal with the daily challenges of dealing with multiple oppressions in relation to our race and gender? Is Canada truly a multicultural nation? Why are the brothers dying due to gun violence on the streets of Toronto?

Under My Skin is a raw and passionate exploration of desire, power and difference in the Canadian landscape. Douglas’ poetry is visceral and emotionally compelling. The work embodies a profound yearning for love, tenderness and ethical recognition.” -- Sheila L. Cavanagh, York University professor and author of Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality and the Hygienic Imagination.

You can order Under My Skin here. ◊


Patricia Highsmith: Art and Inspiration

With the recent film release of The Two Faces of January (no relation), yet another powerful vehicle of film comes to the screen based on the work of Patricia Highsmith.

The movie, starring Viggo Mortenson and Kirsten Dunst and directed by screenwriter Hossein Amini, is based on Highsmith’s 1964 thriller of the same name. The Two Face of January is not, of course, the first film to be based on Highsmith’s work. Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train), Wim Wenders (The American Friend), Claude Chabrol (The Cry of the Owl) and others have all adapted Highsmith’s work for the screen.

Other films inspired by Highsmith’s work are coming and there are many novelists who aim props in the author’s direction. As a result of all this art and inspiration, on The Guardian blog, associate media editor John Dugdale asks, “How did Highsmith become so hip?”
In cinema, the main factors seem to be a new awareness of the diversity of her work beyond the Ripley series, and the latterly acquired potential for period nostalgia – although her writing is spare, post-Hitchcock film adaptations have been visually gorgeous, juxtaposing nasty people with lovely backdrops, such as The Two Faces of January's 1960s Athens. For would-be female crime writers today, part of her appeal is that her protagonists are civilians, in contrast to other potential role models, from PD James and Ruth Rendell onwards, who staged a takeover of the police detective novel (although Rendell later developed a cop-free Highsmith-esque sideline as Barbara Vine). These are contemporary, urban characters, making them more "relatable", at least for grownups, than Du Maurier's heroines, who usually live either in the past or in rural mansions.
Today's proliferating psychological thrillers, however, tend to combine Highsmithian modern setups with Du Maurier's first-person narrative technique in Rebecca, a fusion probably pioneered by Nicci French in a bestselling series starting in the late 90s and now widely adopted as bookshops are inundated with tales of stalker nightmares, sociopathic ex-husbands or bosses and evil best friends.
You can see the full piece here.