Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arianna Immortalized

Though one could argue that media maven Arianna Huffington has already been immortalized by so many of her exploits, effective October Bluewater Comics is making it official.

Female Force: Arianna Huffington tells the story of the little immigrant girl (actually, she was 16 when she left Greece for England. Thirty when she moved to the United States) who became, arguably, one of the most powerful people in America.

Written by Martin Pierro and drawn by Nick Justus, Female Force: Arianna Huffington talks about Huffington’s time studying in England, her marriage to a congressman, her run as governor of California and how her website came to be sold to AOL for $315 million earlier this year.

“The great thing about the ‘Female Force’ series is we can examine the lives of anyone,” says Bluewater Comics’ Darren G. Davis. “Arianna Huffington is a unique personality. She is a woman who has reinvented herself when it was required and she still comes out on top.”

Previous subjects of Bluewater’s Female Force series include Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, Caroline Kennedy, Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama.

Female Force: Arianna Huffington will be a 32-page issue. It features a cover by artist Joe Phillips and will be available in October.

The Best of Non-Fiction Since the Beginning of TIME

Now for your reading pleasure: a list of the top 100 best and influential works of non-fiction published since 1923. And how do we know these are the best? Why, TIME said so, so -- obviously -- it must be true:
Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography — there's a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. We picked the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME ... magazine.
TIME breaks their list into categories very similar in nature to the way January Magazine has divided these things. Here are TIME’s: Autobiography/Memoir, Biography, Business, Culture, Essays, Food Writing, Health, History, Ideas, Non-Fiction Novels, Politics, Science, Self-Help, Social History, Sports and War.

We won’t publish the whole list, though you can see that here. We thought that we would, however, share a single list, just to give you a healthy taste.

  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein
  • Black Boy, by Richard Wright
  • Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown
  • Maus, by Art Spiegelman
  • A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin
  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson


Coloring Book Controversy

The company that introduced The Tea Party Coloring Book back in 2010 is creating a new stir with the latest addition to its list. The new coloring book, We Shall Never Forget 9/11, would seem top invite controversy, though the publisher, Really Big Coloring Books, maintains that isn’t the case. From Quill & Quire:
According to Bruce Felps, a blogger for NBC, the book “looks to be intended for kids about 6, 7, 8 years old,” and includes drawings of the smoking towers and a Navy SEAL firing a bullet at Osama Bin Laden, who is pictured cowering behind his wife.

Talking Points Memo quotes Really Big Coloring Books’ publisher Wayne Bell as saying the book is “basically a representation of what happened” on 9/11, and is “not degrading or anything like that.” About the image of the SEAL firing on Bin Laden, Bell tells TPM that the response has been largely positive.
The full piece is here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cheney’s Choices

Though January Magazine will most certainly not be running a review of Dick Cheney’s new memoir, In My Time, out today from Threshold Editions, it was amusing to see The Washington Post’s Steven Levingston cull Cheney’s reading list from the pages of the book. But even the Post wasn’t bowled over by Cheney’s choices:
Noticeably missing from the pages of Cheney’s memoir are references to books examining the big issues of our day — issues of crucial importance during his tenure with the Bush administration. From his memoir, it is impossible to know if he took any counsel at all from the estimable books of the past decade on national security, terrorism, torture, Islam, domestic surveillance. He remains opaque to the end.

Fiction: Notorious by Roberta Lowing

There is something bold and redemptive in Roberta Lowing’s Notorious (House of Ananansi), a debut novel that, unfortunately, never fully lives up to either its early promise or the sum of its parts.

There are moments of beauty here as well as sublime ambition. At times, Notorious puts the reader in mind of Shutter Island and The English Patient: both rich and gorgeous stories. Sadly, though, in the end, Lowing is neither Dennis Lehane nor Michael Ondaatje and her often deeply compelling work becomes bogged in the twinned cogs of ambition and inexperience.

First published in Lowing’s native Australia in 2009, Notorious links the stories of a Polish aristocrat, an Australian bureaucrat and a dead woman with a secret.
That night, like every night, I stand on the balcony and stare at where the forest shadows were deepest, where the wild things were. Where Devlin could be standing. I feel the house sliding into blackness and I look out and wonder, If you can’t see me, am I invisible?
Much of the writing is beautiful. Sublime. And carefully executed. A worthy debut, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize in its original publication year. One looks forward to seeing what this author will dream up next. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Swimming in a Cold Sea with Ann Patchett

“If we could learn everything we needed to know about writing fiction by seeing it masterfully executed, we could just stay in bed and read Chekhov.” So we are told by Orange Prize-winning author Ann Patchett in a new Kindle single called The Getaway Car. The e-book is published by Byliner, the publishing company-social network building around long-form journalism. (An interesting experiment in its own right. You can read about Byliner here.)

Of The Getaway Car, Shirley Hong writes that the e-book, “doesn’t offer prospective writers a step-by-step guide to the craft of fiction. Instead, this primer from the highly-respected novelist mostly shares her own experiences -- her childhood dream, her life as a struggling writer who sets aside her work to make ends meet, and her ultimate success, reached with the help of teacher/mentors like Russell Banks and Grace Paley.”

Patchett is the author of Bel Canto, The Magician’s Assistant and, most recently, State of Wonder (Harper).

“Novel writing, I soon discovered,” she tells us in The Getaway Car, “is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea.”


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Going Home

People say you can never go home again. But, if you do and you’re a reporter, taking along a local author will make the ride more interesting.

That’s what the Los Angeles Times’ Hector Tobar found in a recent piece that focuses on Rap Sheet friend and contributing editor, Gary Phillips, returning to the South Los Angeles neighborhood where the author grew up. It’s a gorgeous piece and Phillips’ recollections and reflections are moving and even poignant:
For Angelenos of a certain age, loss is part of the urban experience. Our families have left the place we once called home, and seemingly everything to which we attach nostalgia is gone. For some, change feeds resentment. Phillips isn't one of those people.

“I’m too old to be bitter,” he told me. Instead, he’s used his memories to feed his writing, the images and people of his youth showing up in the pages of his books alongside the Asian and Latino residents and merchants of South-Central's present.
The writing he speaks of has been filled with passion and a sharp sense of place. Violent Spring, Bad Night is Falling and other novels feature private detective Ivan Monk, a character through which Phillips skillfully manages to show community, political connections and the mean streets this author writes so well.

A more recent Phillips creation is Nate Hollis the detective in the comic series Angeltown inked by Shawn Martinbrough. The Angeltown series reflects Los Angeles “as a lot of different cities,” as he said in an interview with Comic Book Resources. Angeltown, Phillips said then, is about “the dark and the light and how Nate Hollis navigates the in between.”

The Los Angeles Times piece is here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Today: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The buzz around Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut has been intense. Before I began to read The Language of Flowers (Ballantine) I couldn’t imagine that the book could possibly live up to the hype. And it doesn’t. In many ways, it exceeds it.

“For eight years, I dreamed of fire,” the book begins. “Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose.”

Our narrator is Victoria Jones, raised in foster care, she’s now 18 and, with no real place to go and no clear idea of what she should do with her life, she finds herself drawn to working with growing things. In the local park, with her green thumb on full display, she is discovered by a florist, who helps Victoria discover and develop her fluency in the language of flowers. It’s a skill that will ultimately lead her to find what is missing in her own life... and more.

Victoria is well named and possibly not coincidentally. The Language of Flowers that the title references is an idea from the Victorian era. It was then also sometimes called floriography and it dealt with the idea that flowers and their arrangement could send messages. It makes for a nice backdrop against which to lay a worthwhile coming of age story. The Language of Flowers is the very best of that breed. Look for this one to spend the next decade high on book club readings lists. And that’s a good thing: it’s a terrific book with a lot of interesting components for discussion.

This one is likely to make my best of the year list. Diffenbaugh has come out of the gate with a bang.

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Pierce’s Pick: The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Laura Lippman’s latest, The Most Dangerous Thing.

Says Pierce, “Skipping back and forth through time, this tale relates the experiences of a once-inseparable group of childhood friends who, after years of separation, are thrust back together by the car-crash death of their most wild-haired member. That’s when a secret they share threatens to be exposed and bring trouble all around.”

Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Ray Bradbury Applauds Upcoming Film Version of Dandelion Wine

Iconic science fiction author and elastic thinker Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, on this day in 1920.

In some ways, Ray Bradbury is best known for his very earliest published work: the collection of stories published together at The Martian Chronicles in 1950 and the dystopian 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, but there have been many, many works since that time, significantly The Illustrated Man (1951), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), I Sing The Body Electric (1969) and really, it’s only when you try to start listing them that you realize there are too many to list! The most complete bibliography we’ve seen is here.

Meanwhile, it’s been announced that Bradbury’s 1957 novel, Dandelion Wine, is currently being adapted for the screen by Mike Medavoy, Doug McKay, with Rodion Nahapetov of RGI Productions and Natasha Shliapnikoff are producing and Nahapetov doing the writing. From Variety:
“This is the best birthday gift I could ask for,” Bradbury said. “Today, I have been reborn! ‘Dandelion Wine’ is my most deeply personal work and brings back memories of sheer joy as well as terror. This is the story of me as a young boy and the magic of an unforgettable summer which still holds a mystical power over me.”

Story, published in 1957, takes place in the 1928 summer in Green Town, Ill. -- which closely resembles Bradbury's home of Waukegan, Ill. The protagonist is 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding, whose short stories are tinged with fantasy.

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Biography: Joe Simon: My Life in Comics by Joe Simon

While biographies of the real superheroes in the world of comics are, sadly, few and far between, it’s difficult to imagine one much better than Joe Simon: My Life in Comics (Titan).

Simon is, of course, best known as the co-creator of that most enduring of superheroes, Captain America. And though that collaboration is nothing to sneeze at, there is so much more to Simon’s life and career than that. Another important collaboration was Marvel Comics, where Simon was the first editor and one of the very important things Simon did while at Marvel was give legend-to-be Stan Lee his first job.

Simon’s voice here is much as you’d expect: forthright, enthusiastic and with a feeling of candor. It’s fun to read about the early years: Simon’s connections with the writer Damon Runyon, boxer Jack Dempsey and other members of the comic and entertainment elite.

Unsurprisingly, Simon’s autobiography is also partly a biography of the industry he helped create: its triumphs, losses and near losses and what, more than 60 years later, he sees now. I doubt that the timing here is a lucky accident: the Joe Johnston-directed Captain America movie with Chris Evans in the title roll opened last month. The movie I’d like to see, though? It’s this one. Simon’s story is fascinating and his journey has been important to the industry. Comic lovers will find Joe Simon: My Life in Comics to be an enjoyable and satisfying read.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bad (Literary) Romance

What do Vita Sackville West, W.E.B. Du Bois, Sylvia Plath and Norman Mailer have in common? They were all parts of romantic matches that proved to be less than sterling: sometimes with disastrous results.

In one of those irritating slideshows designed to up page count, Flavorwire peeks at the romantic lives of seven couples culled from the pages of Katie Roiphe’s 2007 book, Uncommon Arrangements:
Writers who marry or woo other writers -- it’s a bold move, considering the egos involved and the social isolation necessary to get a decent amount of good work done. And yet the authors below tried to make it work; some stayed together for months and some were even able to make it last years.
Ernest Hemingway and journalist Martha Gellhorn (pictured above left) are among these. “I weep for the eight years I spent… worshipping his image with him,” Gelhorn would write years later, “and I weep for whatever else I was cheated of due to that time-serving.”

But one of the best entries marks the relationship between Rebecca West and H.G. Wells consists entirely of a 1913 letter from West to Wells. “During the next few days,” West begins, “I shall either put a bullet through my head or commit something more shattering to myself than death.”

Bad romance, indeed!

Stockett and Evanovich Join Amazon’s Million Sellers Kindle Club

Kathryn Stockett (The Help) and Janet Evanovich (Smokin’ Seventeen) have become the latest authors to enter Amazon’s million-sellers group. According to the Los Angeles Times:
So far, it's a pretty small club. Steig Larsson was the first to cross the 1-million Kindle ebook mark first, followed by thriller-writer James Patterson and romance maven Nora Roberts. Then came Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books, which are the basis for the HBO vampire series "True Blood." Lee Child, Suzanne Collins and Michael Connelly are also million-sellers. Independent author John Locke was the first to become a Kindle million-seller without the support of a major publisher.
Interestingly enough, these latest entries are possibly both fueled at least in part by sales due to film tie-ins. As the Times points out with The Help, “Last week, the film adaptation was released; the movie came in second at the box office over the weekend and, apparently, sparked the interest of Kindle owners who hadn't yet purchased the book.”

Evanovich, of course, has a long publishing history and a terrific sales record with her Stephanie Plum books. Even so, the fact that a film version of the first of the Plum books, One for the Money, is due in theaters in January may be contributing.

The Julie Anne Robinson-directed movie looks as though it may do justice to Evanovich’s popular books, too. Starring Katherine Heigl, John Leguizamo, Daniel Sunjata, Jason O’Mara (Ranger and Joe Morelli respectively) and with Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazur the film sounds terrific, though it isn’t the first time One For the Money has made it to the screen. A TV movie starring Lynn Collins and directed by David Grossman, didn’t exactly wow audiences when it was released back in 2002.

One for the Money will be released on January 27th.


Fiction: House of Holes by Nicholson Baker

Depending on who you read, Nicholson Baker’s latest work of (ahem) literary erotica is either “a ridiculous porn-fest” (The Guardian), “a bona fide filth-fest” (the Los Angeles Times) and “Gleefully Goofy” (The Toronto Globe and Mail). The funny thing? All of those things are true. And more.

At times House of Holes (Simon & Schuster) feels like a solid attack on a culture that has demonized sex and sexuality. At other times it feels like an aging writer’s poke at a fickle literati that can, nonetheless, be easily led astray. And, in fairness, at still others, it feels like a genuine attempt to push the literary envelope as far as it can be pushed.

We’re first introduced to the House of Holes on page four, when roommates Shandee and Rianne have found the arm of a man named Dave. Not the man himself, just his arm. Dave’s arm has a tender touch and can also write things down. And so a bit of backstory comes to us that way: with Dave’s arm writing things down to share with either Shandee or Rianne and then with the two girls bickering jealously about it:
“He went to a place called the House of Holes. There Dave had requested a larger thicker penis. Apparently you can do that. But at a price. The director, this woman called Lila, said to him: ‘Would you be willing to give your right arm for a larger penis?’ Dave said no at first, because his right arm was necessary for his work. But Lila said that it was only temporary -- only till someone found the arm and took it back and stuck it on him. Dave said, ‘Oh, if it’s temporary, sure.’ So he underwent a voluntary amputation right near the blow, and his arm had the self-contained life-support pack grafted on.”
You see where this is going, I guess. I chose this particular excerpt partly because it’s one of the few benign enough for public consumption and partly because it sets up just what kind of ride this is: an insane one, obviously. An acid-washed sexual fantasy from a National Book Critics Circle-winning author. Even at its best, the reality of House of Holes can be a little much. Real-life holes lead patrons to the House of Holes where men pay to play, but women get in for free. Once there, all sorts of transformations are possible -- like Dave and his penis and even more so. And all of it to make sex possible in more ways and with more partners than would be conceivable in the real world.

In conclusion: to be honest, I’m still reeling a little bit. House of Holes is relentless in its pursuit of the purely sexual and, at times, the book is numbing at best and just plain dumb at worst. Though I’ll allow that it’s possible Baker was here trying honestly to push at some unseen envelope, in the end I wonder if this is an envelope that really needs pushing. I was not offended, but neither was I moved and, lacking either, can we really render House of Holes as art?


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Floating the E-Book Boat

Earlier this summer, outside of an Apple store in Southern California, I was charmed to see an off-duty Apple Genius reading a book. Made of paper. A non-e-book. It seemed disloyal of him somehow. And it also seemed honest. Yes, he might as well have been saying, the world is changing. And me? I’m part of that change. But the sun is shining and I’ve got this half hour and I just wanna sit here and enjoy my book.

Despite the fact that I’ve been an early e-book adopter in almost every way (I teach courses in making them and my own backlist is becoming increasingly available in electronic formats) there are still times -- many, many times -- when I want to be just like that Apple Genius: I want to just be left alone to read a book.

Now all that said, it’s unsurprising, particularly in these dodgy financial times, that an increasing number of readers are purchasing their new reading material in electronic formats. Not only are e-books splendidly uncomplicated to buy, in most cases, they’re also cheaper, something that consumers are noticing and cashing in on. According to Techcrunch’s Paul Carr, “People who weren’t reading for pleasure, now are. This is good.”
Once upon a time, hardcover books were the only way that book lovers could read new titles. This allowed publishers to charge a premium for a product — a big, shiny hardback book — that actually isn’t much more expensive to produce than a paperback. Today, most publishers release the ebook edition of a new title at the same time as a hardback. Ebooks are a cheaper, more portable, quicker way for fans to get hold of their favourite author’s latest work so it’s absolutely unremarkable that hardcore book buyers are migrating to that format. Sure enough, hardback sales have dipped in the past 12 months but, in the same period, ebook sales have soared. In terms of both unit sales (up 4.1% from 2008) and revenue (up 5.6% from 2008), American publishers experienced a bumper year last year.sales have soared. In terms of both unit sales (up 4.1% from 2008) and revenue (up 5.6% from 2008), American publishers experienced a bumper year last year.
And now, finally, with some significant (partially e-book generated) shifts in the market, independent bookstores are finding ways to hit back. From PopMatters:
So how are the survivors coping? There seems to be no single secret, although each of the remaining local independents has found a way to offer enough extra value and a sense of community — book club meetings, appearances by bestselling authors, discounted books for students — to convince customers they’re worth the trip.
Some independents are even finding ways to float their own version of the e-book boat:
In some cases, the independent booksellers are even flirting with the enemy in hopes of keeping a share of the book market. Both Next Chapter in Mequon and Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, another former Harry W. Schwartz location, have started selling e-books that can be used on certain e-readers, including the Barnes & Noble Nook. They can’t sell for the popular Kindle because it’s a proprietary device connected to Amazon’s own online store.

“I never thought I’d be selling a Barnes & Noble product,” said Daniel Goldin, Boswell’s owner.
Increasingly what all of us have to remember is this: the only battle to be fought here is for reading. As Carr reminds us, “measuring the state of ‘books’ based on the number of hardcover sales is like measuring the popularity of ‘music’ based on how many people are buying cassettes.”

As I’ve said so often: in the end, the format does not matter. It’s nothing more than a delivery method. Just give me my story and let it take me away.


Transported by Rohinton Mistry

Today in the Guardian’s Summer Readings series, Hannah Booth talks about reading Rohinton Mistry’s stellar A Fine Balance while in India.
A great novel can transport you from one country to another. But reading one in its home country does something greater still. Being in India intensified my joy at this vast, heartbreaking and compassionate book, and it in turn deepened my experience of India.
Back in 2003, I completely botched an interview with this fine writer. You can see the result of that here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fiction: The Full Moon Bride by Shobhan Bantwal

Shobhan Bantwal’s fifth novel covers ground that will be familiar to her readers and that, in some ways, reads like a page from her own life. In The Full Moon Bride (Kensington) Bantwal once again explores romance and the dowry culture and the world of arranged marriages, this time between an environmental lawyer from New Jersey and two suitors -- one family chosen and sanctioned and one not.

Bantwal has taken a bit of time coming to this fully American story. Her first two novels, The Dowry Bride and The Forbidden Daughter, were both set in India. Two more novels, The Sari Shop Widow and The Unexpected Son, were both set in the United States, but with backdrops redolent with the sounds, sights and smells of India. The Full Moon Bride, however, is an American novel, where the main character happens to be of Indian birth and, as it turns out in ways that will surprise even her, sensibilities.

Thirty-something Soorya Giri is, in many ways, the very picture of young professional American womanhood. A successful lawyer, she works too hard, worries about her weight and keeping her parents off her back about finding Mr. Right. Less typically, her parents want to do more than help Soorya find an acceptable mate: they want to do it for her by putting together an arranged marriage. They are relentless and Soorya feels out of options so she allows her parents to arrange the traditional bride viewings that will allow potential husbands or their families to get a look at her. The process is uncomfortable at best but, once it’s complete, Soorya has two strong options: one young man her parents would delight in her marrying and another who is less suitable in almost every way.

In many ways, The Full Moon Bride is a straight up story of love and self-redemptiopn that you’ve read before. But the very real ties to traditional Indian culture add a deeper -- and more exotic -- dimension. And it’s enjoyable to partake in Soorya’s growth -- both spiritually and intellectually.

The Full Moon Bride is an engaging and satisfying read. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Google Hearts Motorola

Of course the big news on Wall Street and in the book world on Monday was the Google/Motorola deal the news of which splashed sunshine on a recently beleaguered public market. In case you missed the bones of the deal, here’s the skinny from IDG:
Google has announced that it plans to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5bn, subject to regulatory approval.

Google has offered about $40 per share in cash, a premium of 63 percent over the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on Friday.

Motorola Mobility exclusively ships phones and its Xoom tablet with Google's Android operating system. The deal will mean that Google now has a hardware manufacturer to work with closely to develop Android, said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.
All over the blogosphere and the media, pundits are positing about what this deal might mean to various aspects of the industry. The Guardian’s technology blog gathers some links and quotes to help making parsing the whole thing a little more straight-forward. That’s here.

Pierce’s Pick: Bye Bye, Baby by Max Allan Collins

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Bye Bye, Baby by Road to Perdition author Max Allan Collins.

Says Pierce, “Back for the first time since Chicago Confidential (2002), P.I. Nate Heller is in Hollywood in 1962, helping Marilyn Monroe with a contract dispute. When the sex symbol suddenly dies, he’s sure it had as much to do with the politicians and mobsters she’d been cozying up to as with the drugs in her system.”

Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here. Want to hear more from Pierce? He’s most often found at The Rap Sheet, and that’s here. Feeling nostalgic? January Magazine’s 1999 interview with Collins is here.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Crime Fiction: Spycatcher/Spartan by Matthew Dunn

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Ali Karim reviews the book known as Spycatcher in the U.S. and Spartan in the U.K. Says Karim:
There can be no doubt that the man who composed this novel is someone who has survived residency in the realm of modern espionage. Novels by people only claiming an inside track just try too hard. Dunn gives the reader the sense of being on the Titanic and seeing the fatal iceberg emerging from the ocean mist ahead. Only the tip of that behemoth is visible, but you know that you’re sailing inexorably toward a beast, and that the real horrors remain hidden. Dunn’s story focuses on to the uncertainty of fear, and the matter-of-fact brutality that people in the intelligence game witness. Through the eyes of his characters we follow that brutal path. What we see and feel is not pleasant, but at times the recoil of catharsis in such a random world seems comforting.
The full review is here.

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Young Adult: Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston

Lesley Livingston’s juvenile fiction consistently manages to be refreshing, engaging and surprisingly smart. She demonstrated this with her debut Wonderous Strange series (Wonderous Strange, Darklight, Tempestuous) and she does it again in a whole new world of characters in Once Every Never (Penguin) the first book in a new series that combines Celtic mythology with contemporary romance. It’s a mix that’s tough to put down.

We meet Clarinet Reid arriving at Heathrow with her best friend, Allie for a summer with Clare’s brainiac aunt, Maggie, a world famous professor of archeology. That familial connection makes a lot of the plot devices in Once Every Never possible, but it’s all good: our girl Clare gets to be the fish out of water while her aunt is not only the one supervising adult in this story, she’s also an internationally respected expert in a lot of the deeds and misdeeds that go on.

Clare has arrived in London for a summer of exile in what she and her friend had imagined would be “dullsville”. Of course, and in the natural way of things, nothing could be further from the truth as before much time has passed, Clare and her pal will be on the hunt for a stolen artifact, dealing with a Druid Blood Curse that is centuries old and falling hard for two hot guys: who happen to be inhabiting the same body.

There’s a lot to keep track of, but Livingston does a great job, keeping readers included and interested. There’s also a light smattering of learning that manages to never sully the real and pure entertainment value of Once Every Never. It’s a careful balance that few books for this age group manage successfully, but Livingston handles those challenges with aplomb.

Once Ever Never is a great start on a new series by an author who has proven to be a reliable, engaging voice in a surprisingly short time. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cookbooks: The Complete Homebrew Beer Book: 200 Easy Recipes, from Ales and Lagers to Extreme Beers and International Favorites by George Humm

In The Complete Homebrew Beer Book (Robert Rose) author George Hummel brings up a very good point early on. In fact, it may be the most important point of all when considering whether or not to brew your own beer. “Unlike home winemaking,” Hummel tells us, “you’ll be making a beverage that is generally preferred fresh.” And that’s not all: “Also unlike home winemaking, which relies on the quality of the grapes available, beer is process-driven.” And in a food and beverage world increasingly fueled by what is more local and what is most fresh, there would seem to me to be no stronger argument than any of that.

Hummel, who is an award-winning homebrewer and a columnist with Mid-Atlantic Brewing News knows this beat pretty well. In fact, as owner of Philadelphia’s homebrew mecca Home Sweet Homebrew, Hummel has come to know what questions a would-be homebrewer will ask and in The Complete Homebrew Beer Book, he answers them. I won’t go so far as to say Hummel makes it look easy, but he does make it look simple: carefully follow these instructions and -- voila! -- you’ll have beer.

The book includes 200 recipes for everything from favorite Ales, IPAs to Spruce Beer, Licorice Porter and even a whole bouquet of meads.

Obviously, homebrewing will not be for everyone. But if it’s for you, The Complete Homebrew Beer Book is a great place to start. ◊

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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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Death by Writing

Though some of the deaths listed by The Huffington Post as the “Weirdest Writer Deaths” are pushing things a little hard, the piece is still a fun exploration. At the very least, it’s an interesting way of getting people talking.

“The two most written about themes in fiction?” asks HuffPost. “Love and death. Yet however strange the circumstances that writers may invent, real circumstances of death are often weirder than anything that anyone could imagine.”

As it turns out, the weirdest offerings here come from readers who commented. It turns out Lord Byron, Frank O’Hara, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Tycho Brahe (admittedly a stretch) and others all came to questionable ends.

World’s Largest Literary Festival in Full Swing

The Edinburgh International Literary Festival got underway this morning. This is, arguably, the largest, most important festival of its type in the world and The Guardian is in place to cover the two weeks of literary shenanigans. From The Guardian’s book blog:

It's the Guardian's first year sponsoring the festival, so all is new and thrilling for us - and, perhaps, for you too. Over the next two weeks (the EIBF runs until August 28th, making it the world's biggest books festival) we'll be keeping everyone who can't make it there this year up to speed with what's going on. What we're going to try to do with our coverage is step out of the way as much as possible, and just give you the sense of what it's like to be here; to that end, we'll have daily video interviews with festival authors (as well as longer films once a week; the first, a tour of Edinburgh with Alexander McCall Smith, will be up on Monday), twice-weekly editions of the books podcast on Mondays and Fridays, and live chats with festival authors from Jasper Fforde to Maggie O'Farrell.
This years author line-up includes Alberto Manguel, David Almond, Amy Bloom, Denise Mina, Roddy Doyle, Val McDermid, Michel Faber, Johanna Skibsrud and many others. The festival runs until the 29th of August.

All of the action is rounded up by The Guardian here. The Festival’s official web site is here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crime Fiction: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Brendan M. Leonard reviews The End of Everything by Megan Abbott. Says Leonard:
Megan Abbott makes glass sculptures filled with blood. Her new book, The End of Everything, is no exception. Her prose is beautiful, fragile, and it courses through the pages with a pulsing power. She stains and scars your memory. To read her is to be reminded of Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception (2010), standing still as that shocking wave crashes around him. While you’re turned head over heels with each new sentence, she hits you again and again. You experience guilt, terror, passion, nostalgia, regret -- and that’s just the short list. Every word is overwhelming and heartbreaking. You could drown in it. Part of you wants to.
The full review is here.

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SF/F: The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter by Brent Hayward

I have been consistently impressed by the books I’ve seen from upstart Toronto-based publisher CZP. Their playlist has developed into a sort of dark buffet of things you don’t imagine would get much airplay anywhere else -- at least, not in full novel form. Thoughtful, convoluted works that push at the boundaries of genre and sometimes even literature. I’ll be the first to admit that not all of what I’ve read from them has been terrific, but certainly all of it has been interesting.

You don’t need a crystal ball -- and possibly not even the ability to read -- to know that Brent Hayward’s The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter will fall into that interesting category. The title alone sets the stage. After all, a book with that title: what could it be about? Several days after reading it, I’m still not entirely sure. And yet, here I am, trying to explain it to you. Here goes nothing.

Four apparently only mildly related threads of story eventually come together (somewhat) in the futuristic mediaeval city of Nowy Solum where some unnamable technological failure has had a profound effect on the day-to-day. “There’s more to a story than events taking place in one location, to one person.” So wisely spake the title’s Fecund, the feminine monster locked away in the bowels of the palace that overshadows Nowy Solum.
Rolling lazily, laterally, the fecund let out a sigh. She half-closed one red-tinged eye. Her cascading body, strung with the weeds of her cell, was clearly swollen. Ready, it seemed, to burst.
The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter is not a book that will appeal to all readers. Despite the fact that I liked it very much and that so much about author Hayward’s use of language is appealing, I’m still not totally sure I understand the story and what it was meant to mean. A part of me wonders if that, too, is not the point. That you are intended to be left asking questions -- big ones -- and not given answers. Again, not all readers wants to be handled in that way. But for those who do, The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter is a thoughtful, if not entirely satisfying, read and Hayward has written another book (after his debut: 2008’s Filaria) worthy of asking questions about. ◊

David Middleton is art director of January Magazine as well as editor of the art and culture section.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Who Married Virginia Woolf?

We loved Virginia Woolf but would we have love her as much as Virginia Strachey? Probably, but it would have been a different dance. According to The Writer’s Almanac, it was a near thing:
It was on this day in 1912 that the novelist Virginia Stephen married Leonard Woolf, a quiet wedding at the St. Pancras Registry Office.

Leonard Woolf was friends with Virginia's beloved brother, Thoby, who had recently died of typhoid; and also with one of her closest friends, Lytton Strachey. Strachey had proposed marriage to Virginia in 1909, and she had accepted. Strachey was gay at a time when it was illegal to be gay in England, Virginia was hesitant about her sexuality, and they liked and respected each other as intellectual equals. But Lytton quickly changed his mind -- he wrote to Leonard: “I was in terror lest she should kiss me” -- and Virginia admitted that she didn’t love Lytton.
In his turn, Lytton passed Virginia off to Woolf:
Instead, Lytton campaigned for his old friend Leonard to marry Virginia. Leonard Woolf was stationed in what is now Sri Lanka as a civil servant in the Colonial Service, but when he came home after seven years of service, he reacquainted himself with Virginia and fell in love. He was smart, and a writer, and he knew enough to be cautious with her -- they went on walks and talked. He proposed to her in January of 1912, and she didn’t accept.
Of course, she did eventually. They were married that August and the newlyweds set off on a two-month long honeymoon through western Europe:
They had a wonderful time as companions, and Virginia wrote to a friend: “We've talked incessantly for seven weeks, and become chronically nomadic and monogamic.” But she wrote to another friend: “Why do you think people make such a fuss about marriage and copulation? Why do some of our friends change upon losing chastity? Possibly my great age makes it less of a catastrophe; but certainly I find the climax immensely exaggerated. Except for a sustained good humor (Leonard shan’t see this) due to the fact that every twinge of anger is at once visited upon my husband, I might still be Miss S.”
There’s a lot more detail -- some of it quite juicy -- at The Writer’s Almanac. You can find that here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Non-Fiction: Clean Energy Nation by Jerry McNerney and Martin Cheek

In publishing, as in so many things, timing is everything. For instance, in a week where the eyes of the world weren’t focused on the apparent looming financial collapse of the West, the debut of an intelligent and lucid book focused on answering difficult questions relating to energy would likely have been met by a lot more fanfare and maybe even a bit of hoopla. But with a pub date of August 1, 2011, everyone’s focus has been just about everywhere else and while we should be focusing on “Freeing America From the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels,” this week, we’re just not. And that’s a shame.

Congressman Jerry McNerney knows his stuff and brings his passion to Clean Energy Nation (Amacom). McNerney is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the subcommittee on Energy and the Environment and the subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Before joining congress, he served in a consulting capacity for Pacific Gas and Electric, FlowWind and The Electric Power Research Institute. Clearly, the questions he tackles in Clean Energy Nation are close to his heart.

“Before we can establish where we are going in our national energy journey,” McNerney writes, “we must know where we now stand and understand how we got here.” This tone continues throughout the book. He is passionate, but neither grandstands nor stands on a soapbox. His explanations are clear, his analogies work and the possibilities he presents seem... well... possible.

Clean Energy Nation
is a bright, thoughtful book that outlines the problems while detailing some solutions. These are not problems that will go away by themselves, but it’s terrific to know that people with McNerney’s passion and vision are out there working towards a solution. ◊

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.


New Today: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Though we all know where Grey’s trilogy is going to end up, it’s all about the journey with Becoming Marie Antoinette (Ballantine), the first of three novels featuring the doomed queen to be penned by newcomer, Juliet Grey.

We are promised that, with this series, we’ll come to know a kinder, gentler Marie “Off With Their Heads” Antoinette. And, certainly, with this first installment, that’s true. Here we meet the 10-year-old Austrian archduchess, Maria Antonia, who before her marriage, must be transformed from provincial nobel to a young woman who will be queen.

Fans of historical fiction will eat this one up. It’s engaging, smart and authentic. Grey has done her homework.


Pierce’s Pick: Murder in the Minster by Susanna Gregory

This week, our man Pierce chooses Cambridge academic Susanna Gregory’s latest novel to feature 14th century teach-investigator Matthew Bartholomew.

In Murder in the Minster, Pierce writes, Bartholomew “travels from the college of Michaelhouse, in Cambridge, to help claim a much-needed legacy from the Archbishop of York. But trouble brews: York is threatened by greed and the French, several of the Archbishop’s executors have died and proof of Michaelhouse’s bequest has vanished.”

Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here. Want to hear more from Pierce? He’s most often found at The Rap Sheet, and that’s here.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Sarcasm Font Debuts

Here’s what I think: if you need a special font to indicate where you want to insert sarcasm, you need to work on your writing skills. Written sarcasm should be self-evident. Not everyone thinks so. From The Huffington Post:
We who spend our days IMing, Facebooking, Tweeting and so on have said it time and time again: there is a great need for a sarcasm font. Well, it looks like our social networking prayers have finally been answered by a company called Twitterblitz, started by three New York interns working at Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH). The solution? Sartalics.
The full story is here.

The Philosopher and the Spy

Nobel Prize-winning writer, journalist and philosopher Albert Camus died in 1960 at the age of 46. His death was due to a tragic car accident. Or was it? An Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, is now suggesting Camus’ death might have been part of a cold war plot to silence the outspoken writer. From The Guardian:
The theory is based on remarks by Giovanni Catelli, an Italian academic and poet, who noted that a passage in a diary written by the celebrated Czech poet and translator Jan Zábrana, and published as a book entitled Celý život, was missing from the Italian translation.

In the missing paragraph, Zábrana writes: "I heard something very strange from the mouth of a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources. According to him, the accident that had cost Albert Camus his life in 1960 was organised by Soviet spies. They damaged a tyre on the car using a sophisticated piece of equipment that cut or made a hole in the wheel at speed.
In 1957, Camus became the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded to him “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” He died January 4, 1960, a little more than two years after winning the award.

Famous Last Words

“He is coming, and I am here.” -- from The Time Travelers’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
There are many ways to judge a book. My favorite remains by actually reading it, end to end. But, if you're lacking all the time necessary to actually sit down and read there are some ways to shorthand the decision-making process.
“The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room.” -- from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Obviously, some people judge a book by its cover. And despite everything we say about that, it really can give you a pretty good feel for a literary work... even if that feel isn’t always the correct one.

Some people read the first 50 pages. Some people read only page 69. But the United Kingdom’s Stylist Magazine offers up a whole new way: one I not only would not have thought of, but sincerely would not indulge.
Because, whilst the beginning of a book may get all the glory, it's the ending that really stays with you. A vague last line casts a shadow over the entire novel, whereas a powerful and poignant one will keep you wondering for weeks to come.
And while that may be true, its also the ending of a book that can give the game away. For my part, I think I’ll stick with just old fashioned reading to decide whether or not I like a book. If you want to check out Stylist’s method, it’s here.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Previously Rejected Bestsellers

What do Anne of Green Gables, Lolita and Twilight have in common? As it turns out, all three were rejected when first presented to publishers. From The Huffington Post via Flavorwire comes a fun and fast look at 10 titles that nearly didn’t make it:
Anyone who has ever wanted to work in a creative field, be it writing, painting or playing music has been told they’d better develop thick skin. After all, it doesn’t matter how good you are, someone will always be there to tear you down. It’s hard to think of a better example of this than to look at some rejected books that would later become some of the best-selling titles in the world. From the Twilight saga to Anne Frank’s Diary, the success of these books shows that even people paid to evaluate the commercial potential of a work of art sometimes underestimate the most valuable title.
The full piece is here.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Non-Fiction: Always On by Brian X. Chen

It seems hyperbolic to say that the iPhone has changed everything and yet, in a very real way, how can you not? We, all of us, remember a time when a phone was just a phone. It rings. You answer. Say hello. But in a world of smartphones, talking on it the is the very least of what we do. In Always On (Da Capo) his very smart and eloquent book, former Macworld associate editor and current contributor Brian X. Chen is succinct, lucid and often fun. “In many ways the iPhone is the first gadget to come close to fulfilling our dreams of the perfect device,” Chen writes and -- dag nabit, he’s right! And even when he compares the iPhone to “Dick Tracy’s radio communication wristwatch or James Bond’s lock picking, fingerprint-scanning cell phone” he doesn’t lose our interest, nor is he far from wrong.

With all of the information in the world available 24-hours a day and with apps able to perform more than 400,000 functions available for the device, how could the iPhone do anything but change the way we live? Nor is Always On (Da Capo) another love letter to Apple. While certainly not a luddite and demonstrably in the know about both technology and Apple, Chen manages to step back far enough to think about some of the potential downsides of smartphone technology and their impact on our lives. After all, as Chen points out, quoting neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell, “The idea that new technology is ‘over-loading us’ in some way is as old as technology.”
Back in 1565 Swiss scientist Conrad Gessner authored a book criticizing the printed book, stating that information over would overrun modern society. Then hundreds of years later … naysayers blasted education for being a risk to mental health. An 1883 article … claimed that schools ‘exhaust the children’s brains and nervous systems with complex and multiple studies, and ruin their bodies by protracted imprisonment.’”
If you love your iPhone and think it’s the greatest invention since sliced cheese, Always On is for you. If you loathe the very idea of the iPhone and think it’s going to ruin the world, Always On is for you, too. Chen’s book is simply that marvelous: even-handed, engaging and informative, it looks at all sides of a tricky but interesting questions and makes a few assumptions that will surprise you. I suspect Always On is a much more important book than Chen’s friend-in-the-bar tone might suggest.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Art & Culture: The Great Folk Discography: Pioneers & Early Legends by Martin C. Strong

If the name Martin C. Strong is familiar to you, it’s likely you are a serious music fan of some kind. It’s possible you’re even some sort of music geek. Strong is developing into the guy when it comes to encyclopedic books about various branches of music. Thus far he has authored or been part of The Great Rock Discography, The Essential Rock Discography, The Great Metal Discography, The Great Psychedelic, The Great Alternative and Lights, Camera, Soundtracks.

To all of this he now adds the first volume of The Great Folk Discography, which focuses on Pioneers and Early Legends. Volume Two: The New Legends, is due out in December of this year. Long story short: the music lover in your life might be very happy come Christmas.

Meanwhile, though, folk enthusiasts will find their cup running over. If you want to know about folk music -- names, dates and places -- it’s here. The only thing that will surprise you is the depth of this book and the amount of material it includes. If you’re like most people (and I imagine myself in that particular crowd) you’ll first think: “Folk music? How much can there possibly be to know?” As it turns out, the correct answer is: “A lot!”

Don’t misunderstand: this is not a sort of gentle biography that makes for easy, novel-style reading. This is page upon page (upon page upon page) of carefully notated entries on… well… everything when it comes to folk music. Things you have forgotten. And, more likely, things you didn’t realize there were to know. If it’s folk, it’s here. ’Nuff said: if this is the book for you, you’re probably already halfway to the bookstore to secure your copy. ◊

Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in the Chicago area, where he works in the high-tech industry. He is currently working on a his first novel, a science-fiction thriller set in the world of telecommunications.

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Waterproof Paperback Available Next Summer

This would have been a good idea a decade ago: a book so waterproof it can be be left out in the rain or dropped into the tub. Now it just feels a little too little too late. From The Telegraph:
A clear wax sealant will prevent running ink and stop pages from becoming soggy and tearing when wet.

The tough polymer coating is tear-resistant and promises to increase a title's shelf-life by up to 200 per cent.
Since all the exciting news right now is around electronic books, maybe we don’t need a paperback that will last longer and be better, maybe we need an e-reader that can be dropped from a diving board or withstand a monsoon. After all, paperback sales are down across the board, and it’s not because books aren’t waterproof; it’s because a lot of the kind of readers who buy paperbacks are now buying books electronically and popping them onto readers. So maybe a special polymer coating for your iPhone? Or a waterproof cocoon for your Kindle or Kobo? Something, anyway, that will lift current in-demand technology beyond the place where it now hovers.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sheer Sheenius

The big news isn’t that reality star and one-time vampish ingenue Denise Richards has written a book. It’s that her ex-husband, former Two and a Half Men star apparently gone mad, Charlie Sheen, likes The Real Girl Next Door (Gallery) when we’d expected… well… more madness. And what do we get? Endorsements via the Twitterverse. But if Richards is at all like most new authors, she’ll take her kudos as they come. From iVillage:
“Your book rocks!” Sheen, 45, tweeted to Richards, 40, on Friday. “Never thought I’d say it... but loved it D! xo c”

Sheen accompanied the compliment with a link to the book, along with the hashtags #HotMomma and #KeepItInTheFamily.

So what does Richards’ memoir say about her famously unstable ex? She does dish a bit of dirt, like the fact that his one-time bachelor pad “was decorated entirely in black,” with a panic room, a bulletproof bedroom door and a fire pole in the closet for quick escapes. She also describes their seriously unromantic-sounding first date: watching the World Series on TV while each eating their own plastic-wrapped diet meals.
The Real Girl Next Door was published last week.

Meanwhile, when Two and a Half Men comes back this fall, it will be without Sheen. The rumor mill is saying that his Charlie Harper character will be killed off in a two-episode season opener. It’s no secret that Ashton Kutcher is set to replace Sheen, although just how they’ll fit Kutcher into the show is a closely guarded secret.

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Children’s Books: Mole Hunt by Paul Collins

In Mole Hunt (Ford Street) the critter being referred to, Maximus Black by name, isn’t the blind, digging creature but the spy kind. Only in his teens, Maximus Black is a brilliant cadet in RIM, a galactic spy agency. That is, until he commits a murder or two and plays with some advanced technology as part of his plan to dominate the galaxy. But Maximus is not without opposition. Anneke Longshadow, another star recruit, whose guardian he’s wiped out, knows he has to be stopped before he finds some frightening information left over from the old Empire, information that will allow him access to battleships of a kind no one is able to do any more.

Mind you, the technology in the universe of this YA space opera is pretty advanced in its own right. Even death doesn’t have to be permanent if you know how to make the right arrangements.

There’s some fascinating world-building here. This universe has an elaborate system of law and order: or should that be disorder? While the heroes/anti-heroes are running around breaking into bases, exploding things, nearly killing each other, whatever world they’re on gets on with its own daily life, generally a pretty grubby one. Big corporations run things and send out assassins against each other. Even the CEO of one of them isn’t safe from the others. If the board don’t like what you’re doing, you can expect a lot worse than a large dismissal payout. If you’re an ordinary person on the street, you’re probably safe enough: unless Maximus Black gets to you.

The action, which alternates between the two main characters, is non-stop. Nobody seems to eat or sleep, except Anneke, and every time she stops for a rest, something disastrous happens. I can see this as a graphic novel, complete with explosions and crashes every other page. It reminds me, in some ways, of those Mad Magazine cartoons, “Spy vs Spy.”

Oddly enough, dreadful as Maximus is -- and at this stage, at least, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever -- you still want to see him escape whatever fix he has gotten himself into. Anneke does manage to outwit him a number of times, but she isn’t actively trying to kill him.

For kids who like action, action, action. ◊

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, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at

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Heyer Biography Points Finger at Cartland

A biography of Georgette Heyer that will be published this coming autumn reveals that the author was livid at Dame Barbara Cartland in the 1950s for lifting some of her work. The Guardian explains:
Angry at the similarities between Cartland's Knave of Hearts (“When it was discovered that the notorious Duke of Melcombe had become the guardian of Ravella Shane, Society was shocked. For the Duke was a gambler, a roué, a man not to be trusted, while Ravella was young, innocent, beautiful and rich”) and her own These Old Shades, Heyer told her agent “I think I could have borne it better had Miss Cartland not been so common-minded, so salacious and so illiterate. I think ill enough of the Shades, but, good God! That 19-year-old work has more style, more of what it takes, than this offal which she has written at the age of 46!”
Though Cartland and Heyer never duked it out, Heyer later said that, though Cartland didn’t acknowledge the accusations, “the horrible copies of my books ceased abruptly.”

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller
by Jennifer Kloester will be published in the UK in October.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Fiction: Tales From My Hard Drive by Megan Karasch

At the very beginning of Tales From My Hard Drive, Melissa comes home from breakfast at an irritatingly hip Los Angeles noshery just in time to bust her husband playing at Cirque de Soliel with another woman in the backyard. “I left the house moments after I saw her run through the side gate and flee the scene, the driver of a pornographic hit-and-run, leaving me, the mangled victim, to clean up the mess.”

But Melissa opts not to hang around, heading instead to Manhattan in order to establish herself as “a forty-year-old writer in a city run by the young and hip.” The best she can do is find work as a cyber-dater for a newspaper where she will anonymously date and harshly review a city full of Mr. Wrongs. Unsurprisingly, it’s not long before she finds a Mr. Right or two. Or maybe not.

Though the set-up is slightly silly, the execution is quite charming, in a distinctly smart and sophisticated kind of way. Author Karasch is, apparently, a lawyer turned writer turned lawyer-writer (or something very like that) and so she comes by the smart and sophisticated honestly, an acerbic wit seems to be all her own. Both she and Melissa see humor in places not everyone would. The result is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny as we move through the 21st century dating world with a woman who has been out of circulation for a decade and a half, experiencing everything for the first time.

Tales From My Hard Drive is fun, fresh and absolutely current. Take this one to the beach: it’ll be tough to go wrong. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Cookbooks: Esquire: Eat Like A Man edited by Ryan D’Agostino

As anyone who has spent serious time around a large number of cookbooks can tell you, the whole home chefing thing is a pretty sexist place. Not the world of professional chefs, obviously, where a large number of the big honchos in well known kitchens are male, for whatever reason. Even so, by and large, the idea remains that home kitchens are for girls and, since boys are stupid, they’d best stay out of there anyway. I’m just sayin’.

Naturally, and of course, all of this is a lot of hooey. There is simply no reason on Earth that men can’t be competent in the kitchen. As proof, if proof were needed, I could go back to the whole professional chef example. But I won’t. I became a fair hand in the kitchen back in my single days, and I remain calm and competent to this day. At the same time, I remember workplace lunch times when I was single. The people I worked with would marvel aloud at the concoctions I’d cook up for myself, sometimes even professing that they didn’t believe I could be doing it myself. And since my job was in the art department and I got paid to make stuff, I never really understood this. How did they figure I could manage to execute a complicated design to the specifications of their clients and salespeople, yet not manage a simple -- albeit beautiful -- sandwich?

All of this came back to me when I sat down with Esquire: Eat Like A Man (Chronicle ) a book which, despite its sexist premise and blow-hard execution is filled with the kind of food most men I know would certainly eat and enjoy. Created by the Esquire editorial team, the recipes come from chefs said team respects. “And each of the recipes was also tested by Esquire’s male editors,” writes editor in chief, David Granger, “at home in their modest kitchens for their friends and families.”

And I gotta say that, of all the books skewed in this way that I’ve ever seen, this one is the most manly. This is big, robust food. And there’s lots of meat so manly vegetarians will likely want to find their own book. Each recipe includes a difficulty scale, which makes it easy to see at a glance if the recipe you’re looking at is appropriate for your skill level. The book would also seem to be geared at the guy who cooks occasionally and so is not thinking a whole lot about health or fitness while working with the book. At least that’s the idea I got from recipes like Duck-Fat Potatoes (a quarter cup of duck fat to cook a pound of potatoes), Bourbon and Brown Sugar Salmon, Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken, and a whole bunch of sandwiches so decadent, it’s hard to choose just one or two but certainly the French Toast BLT with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette is close to the top of the heap. Stuffed Meat Bread (pretty much as it sounds) comes an easy second.

As time goes by, I don’t know how much I actually use Eat Like A Man, but I’m going to keep it around. It’s actually a very good all around cookbook, with strong versions of American classics and the kind of food a lot of us wish we could eat every day… if we weren’t keen on watching our girlish figures! ◊

David Middleton is art director of January Magazine as well as editor of the art and culture section.

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Mourning Camelot

Though the literary connection here is not as strong as it would have been had the series been based on Jack Whyte’s terrific books, I have to express my bellowing outrage at the cancellation of Camelot, a superbly acted, written and directed series. It focused on the early part of the classic Camelot tale and starred Eva Green (Casino Royale), Josephy Fiennes (Flash Forward) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

Camelot: the First Season is now available on DVD and it’s well worth watching but -- alas -- it will be the only season because the network announced they won’t be ordering further episodes.
In the wake of King Uther’s sudden death, chaos threatens to engulf Britain. When the sorcerer Merlin (Fiennes) has visions of a dark future, he installs the young and impetuous Arthur (Bower), Uther's unknown son and heir, who has been raised from birth as a commoner. But Arthur's cold and ambitious half-sister Morgan (Green) will fight him to the bitter end, summoning unnatural forces to claim the crown in this epic battle for control. These are dark times indeed for the new King, with Guinevere being the only shining light in Arthur's harsh world. Faced with profound moral decisions, and the challenge of uniting a kingdom broken by war and steeped in deception, Arthur will be tested beyond imagination. Forget everything you think you know… this is the story of Camelot that has never been told before.
The series is well worth the unfortunately not terribly long amount of time it will take to watch it. One of the wonderful things here has been the costume design and art direction. I’m almost certain that I’ve seen some of the fantastic dresses created for Green in Pre-Raphaelite paintings and, in fact, the entire production seems steeped in the rich and beautiful images and textures from that particular school of art.

Though the Starz network has cited scheduling conflicts for some of the main stars of the show as one of the reasons for not continuing production, there have been rumors that Camelot couldn’t stand the heat shed by another costume-rich drama, HBO’s King of Thrones based on the best known work by George R.R. Martin. The series debuted around the same time as Camelot, but quickly picked up a rabid following.

I have yet to watch even a single episode of Game of Thrones, which stars Lena Headey, Jack Gleeson and Sean Bean. But since the series was renewed for a second season not long after its premiere, it seems likely it will be around long enough for me to sneak a peak.

Meanwhile, though, I’m still in mourning for Camelot and I’m having a tough time imagining anything will come close. Fiennes was mesmerizing as Merlin and Green was an evil nemesis worth keeping an eye on as Morgan Pendragon.

Pierce’s Pick: The Hand That Trembles by Kjell Eriksson

This week J. Kingston Pierce chooses a new work by Swedish veteran crime fictionist, Kjell Eriksson. Says Pierce:
Police detective Ann Lindell is already tackling the mystery of a severed female foot found in an area of Uppsala, Sweden, that’s dominated by single men. But then a second, related case comes her way: the sighting, in India, of someone closely resembling a county commissioner who went missing from Uppsala years ago.
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here.

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