Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Detectives in a Literary Deathmatch

Okay: so it’s silly as anything, but still kind of fun. In an all out battle between good ol’ Sherlock and everyone’s favorite Miss Marple, who would kick whose keister? Undaunted by anything as tedious as reality -- or a definite lack thereof -- Andrew Losowsky, books editor at the Huffington Post, set about trying to find the answer:
It began, as so many things, with an argument. One of those tedious ones, you know how they go: who would win in a fight between this fictional character and that? We enjoy these half-drunken amicable disagreements, not least because they rely on obscure knowledge of the personality traits of figures who never existed.

Our conversation turned to literary detectives. What would happen, we mused, if there were some kind of futuristic deathmatch between them? Who would win?
Well, who would? Sam Spade? Nancy Drew? Maigret? We’re not going to give anything away: it’s a mystery, after all. But you can read Losowsky’s conclusions here.

Holiday Gift Guide: Everyday Exotic by Roger Mooking and Allan Magee

“One person’s exotic is another person’s everyday.” That’s the basic premise behind Everyday Exotic (Whitecap) as well as the television show that spawned this new book.

Host of the show and co-author of the book, Roger Mooking was born in Trinidad and Tobago, raised in Edmonton, Alberta and somehow the culinary traditions of both are seamlessly fused into the cuisine he coaches. Imagine for a moment a smooth and elegant Celeriac soup served with Gorgonzola Garlic Bread. Somehow for me this simple pairing beautifully showcases Mooking’s food ethic. These are classic flavors, remimagined… and suddenly the everyday becomes exotic.

Bringing it all home once more, Mooking’s preamble to Potato Gumbo:
I love the deep, deep flavors of cajun food. French cooking can have very subtle flavours, but Cajun just smacks you in the head. Every now and again a smack in the head is a good thing.
Again, the recipe here is both easy and startling, the resulting soup surprisingly smooth and surprisingly good. The adventure continues: Shoreline Fried Halibut served with Tofu Fries and Soy Sauce Aioli and Mushy Edamame. Nori-Crusted Salmon served with Soba Noodle Salad and Green Tea. Lamb Kabobs with Tamarind Sauce and Black-Eyes Peas and Rice.

In a different era, we might have disparagingly rolled our eyes and called such concoctions fusion. But this is more than that. This is beyond fusion. These are quite often strong, but natural flavors, put together in interesting and sometimes surprising ways. More: Mooking’s instructions are clear and, considering the complicated-seeming nature of the recipes, they are surprisingly simple. The design of the book is straight-forward, the photographs good and the production values high.

If you have in mind to try something just a little bit -- or a lot! -- different, Everyday Exotic is a very good 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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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life (Go Away!) by Meghan Rowland and Chris Turner-Neal

It’s true: the best of the season can bring out the worst in everyone. If the person you’re buying for is a candidate for The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life (Adams Media) you probably don’t need much prompting. We all know at least one of those “Bah! Humbug!” sorts. The only thing often missing for this sort of friend or relative is the perfect gift. And now? Here it is! From the book:
The Misanthrope’s Prayer

Lord, grant me the irritability to deal with those people I cannot avoid, the flight-reflex to avoid those people I can, and the impatience to get it all over qui
While the book is obviously tongue-in-cheek, there is a ring of truth to what is being shared here and true misanthropes will know the difference.
When traveling abroad, you begin to realize how very lucky we Americans are. Not because of our political freedoms, our wealth, or our safety, but because our urban poor are amazingly meek compared to those in other parts of the world.
If any part of that tickles your funny bone, you can see where this is going. If it sickens, upsets or otherwise makes you uncomfortable, it’s possible you’re not a misanthrope, but why spoil everyone’s fun?

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New Today: The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are unlikely to wait and ask questions before grabbing a copy of her latest, The Scottish Prisoner (Delacorte). And the end of November release date ensures that this meaty hardcover will be showing up in a lot of holiday packages.

Fans who do rush out for this newest Gabladon will not be disappointed: the author serves up not only her usually engaging melange of history, mystery and time travel, The Scottish Prisoner features many of Gabaldon’s best-loved characters, including perennial favorite hot Scott Jamie Fraser.

This time out Lord John and Jamie are thrown into each other’s company on a journey to Ireland which proves to be, if anything, even more magical and mystical than Gabaldon’s 18th century Scotland.

The Scottish Prisoner is good enough to read like a swansong: it collects the best of everything Gabladon has ever done and offers it up in a wickedly complex novel that will delight hardcore fans. The big question: what on Earth will Gabladon do next? ◊

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


Monday, November 28, 2011

Pierce’s Pick: Utu by Caryl Férey

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Utu by Caryl Férey.
Set in New Zealand, Utu follows Paul Osborne, who’s called back to the Auckland police force from a bender in Sydney to take over an investigation by Jack Fitzgerald, an ex-colleague who committed suicide. But probing Fitzgerald’s death will introduce Osborne into a mystery involving Maori discontents, revenge and political corruption.
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

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Holiday Gift Guide: Chicken Poop for the Soul: A Year in Search of Food Sovereignty by Kristeva Dowling

From the land that brought you the 100 Mile Diet, Kristeva Dowling takes it all a step further, getting back to the land in a very determined way in order to control what gets to her table.

For her it began with a labor strike and a resulting lack of produce at her grocer’s. “It was this revelation that made me begin to question the necessity for Canadians to have pineapples in January.” The road she created when she started her journey, though, was not the one she had anticipated:
When I started off on this journey I thought that I would simply be growing my own food, learning to process and preserve it and quietly eating it. I didn't think the act of drinking milk would become a political debate. I didn't count on becoming hot and bothered about farmers' right to farm and consumers' right to choose…. My life, and the simple act of eating, has taken on a richer meaning. I now live and eat more consciously.
Chicken Poop for the Soul (Caitlin Press) for the soul charts that journey, following Dowling as she heads to the land and, in all ways, starts a new life. Dowling’s wordsmithing is not as elegant as one could wish, but it is heartfelt and well-remarked and researched. Readers with a commitment to finding the best paths to local and organic eating will find much to enjoy here, and perhaps occasionally shake their heads at the stupidity of government and a culture that often seems to be entirely populated by sheep.

In some ways, Chicken Poop for the Soul has it all: the politics, production and even preparation of food. From rants to recipes, Dowling has it all covered. ◊

India Wilson is a writer and artist.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Children’s Books: All Good Children by Catherine Austen

In Catherine Austen’s new novel we spend a lot of time breaking out of dystopia. The story harkens back to the very best elements of Ira Levin’s 1975 novel (later made into a couple of astonishingly bad movies) Stepford Wives.

At the center of the 21st century, select children of the well-behaved city of New Middletown line up and take their medicine. The treatment turns them into the well-mannered and obedient citizens the city has come to expect. Best friends Max and Dallas watch in panic as friends and siblings are turned into well-behaved “zombies.” What can they do about it? Clearly nothing, because they can see that something larger than themselves is at play.

It will surprise no one at all that Catherine Austen, author of All Good Children (Orca), studied political science and environmental studies. And it seems possible that, unlike many in her graduating classes, Austen is actually using what she learned for something: imagining this dystopic future where the unimaginable has become the norm.

The readership age here is intended to be young adult, but anyone who enjoys being taken out of their every day should find lots to recommend about All Good Children. ◊

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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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poet Ruth Stone Dead at 96

Celebrated poet Ruth Stone died at home of natural causes in Ripton, Vermont, on November 19th. Born in June of 1915, Stone was 96 when she died. From The Huffington Post by way of AP:
Widowed in her 40s and little known for years after, Ruth Stone became one of the country's most honored poets in her 80s and 90s, winning the National Book Award in 2002 for "In the Next Galaxy" and being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for "What Love Comes To." She received numerous other citations, including a National Book Critics Circle award, two Guggenheims and a Whiting Award.
In a lovely obit, Hillel Italie writes:
Her poems were brief, her curiosity boundless, her verse a cataloguing of what she called "that vast/confused library, the female mind." She considered the bottling of milk; her grandmother's hair, "pulled back to a bun"; the random thoughts while hanging laundry (Einstein's mustache, the eyesight of ants).

"I think my work is a natural response to my life," she once said. "What I see and feel changes like a prism, moment to moment; a poem holds and illuminates. It is a small drama. I think, too, my poems are a release, a laughing at the ridiculous and songs of mourning, celebrating marriage and loss, all the sad baggage of our lives. It is so overwhelming, so complex."
The Poetry Foundation described Stone as “an important, if relatively unknown, American poet.”
Commenting on the "odd neglect" of this "major talent, "Sandra Gilbert mused in Women's Review of Books that "sheer bad luck" is in part to blame for Stone's obscurity.
You can read more about Stone’s work and life here.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Fiction: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

As I write this, it is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I have just finished reading Stephen King’s new novel about a man who goes back in time to try to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from firing the three bullets that would change the world, 11/22/63 (Scribner). What a ride!

When high school teacher Jake Epping is convinced by a dying friend to step into the past, he has no idea how much he’ll actually change it -- and what those changes will mean to the rest of the world.

It’s no secret that King knows how to weave a tight story in short form, and of course many of his novels are classics. But some of his books are, well, daunting. There was The Stand, as brilliant as it was long. It, which exhausted me before I finished. Under the Dome, 2009’s examination of the population of a small town when a strange dome is lowered over it, trapping them inside. And now there’s 11-22-63, which, at almost 900 pages, approaches epic status.

So what does happen when a guy steps back in time from 2011 to 1958, with the goal of stopping Kennedy’s assassination? For King, it involves five years of life beforehand, proving Oswald’s lone-gunman status. But five years is long enough; Jake can’t just sit around, marveling at how life was simpler then, with none of the modern conveniences. No, what Jake must do is build a life -- to pass the time and to understand it. And it’s that life, really, and how it shuffles with his weaving himself into Oswald’s life, that this book is really about.

The frame is the events of Dealey Plaza -- but the picture inside that frame is something quite different. This is an adult novel that speaks of real relationships, real love; the dialogue and cultural touchstones feel like vintage King. No one is better at zeroing in on the detail that gets us to ooh and aah and maybe even shed a tear as we remember. But this goes beyond it. Far beyond.What’s so wonderful is King’s take on what happens when changes are made in the past. An early subplot has Jake insinuating himself into the family of a man he knows in 2011, making changes to that man’s tragic story. It’s a test, of course, Jake’s dry run: What will happen when he makes changes in the past… and how will they affect the future?

The JFK aspect of this book, for all the hype, is the smallest part of it. Is it cool to see what happens? Well, yeah. We’re all suckers for all things JFK. Does Jake get to stop Oswald? I’m not telling. But this book isn’t really about Oswald and JFK; it’s about a man who agrees to undertake a world-changing mission, then comes to understand how that mission changes his own life -- and possibly the lives of everyone on the planet -- and possibly the existence of the planet itself.

is a surprisingly layered, complex story about the small part we all play in this thing called life. It’s also about the idea that each part may not be as small as we think it is; each one may, in the end, be a tiny, though essential, factor in the future we all share. In a way, it’s that tale about the butterfly that flaps its wings in Iowa and causes a tidal wave in Japan (there are countless variations) -- except each one of us, in turns out, is a butterfly. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Lost Kerouac Novel Found

Forty years after his death, the first novel by the author of On The Road was found by the writer’s brother-in-law.

The Sea Is My Brother (Penguin Classics) is based on his Kerouac’s time as a merchant seaman. According to the BBC, the book features “correspondence with his best friend Sebastian Sampas and recalls his ‘life and experiences’ at sea, says the book’s editor Dawn Ward.”
"This book is really quite important as it shows how Jack developed his writing process," she says.

"The letters that support this period, show that he and Sebastian were reading very important writers and playwrights of the time. They were paying attention to changes in literature styles and autobiographical works."

Ms Ward says the work is especially poignant as he "opens up and shows a side to him that we don't normally see in his books."

The manuscript, which was was discovered in the writer's archive by his brother-in-law, came as a surprise to Kerouac experts, Ms Ward says.

"It was referred to briefly in letters, but nothing that led anyone to believe that there was this really large volume."

Holiday Gift Guide: The Wizard of Oz: A Scanimation Book by Rufus Butler Seder

There’s something charmingly nostalgic and convincingly high tech about artist, inventor and filmmaker Rufus Butler Seder’s Scanimation books. Take his interpretation of The Wizard of Oz (Workman) for instance. It is, in all ways, a perfect little package. A delight. Even before you open the book, the glittery red of Dorothy’s shoes glints at you from the cover. But then you do open the book, and the shoes -- with Dorothy’s feet inside -- they move.

The book, created under license to Turner Entertainment and The Wizard of Oz (™), depicts 10 scenes from the classic film. The farmhouse being carried away. Dancing Munchkins. Scarecrow doing a jig, and so on: all beautifully rendered in Scanimation, a Seder-developed technology that makes the pictures seem to actually move.

The Scanimation technology uses moire lines to create the illusion of motion, and it does it very well. Turning a page, a striped decoder layer slides across a scrambled image, revealing a series of sequential images to the eye. The result? Motion, or a really good illusion of it.

This isn’t the first Rufus Butler Seder book we’ve seen. Previously, he has done Scanimation books on Star Wars, a galloping horse and a few others. The Wizard of Oz seems the most polished to me, though. And certainly, the most fun to share with kids. Do it this holiday season. This is a tough one to resist. ◊

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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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: Piece of Cake! by Camilla V. Saulsbury

Here’s the scenario: you’ve been invited to a holiday dinner and it was requested you bring some type of dessert. You really would like to make a cake, but every time you think about all those bowls and all that mixing, you sit back down and start thinking about buying something rustic enough to pass off as your own. Then guilt sets in, and it all begins again.

It was times like these that I thought about when I first encountered Camilla Saulsbury’s Piece of Cake! (Robert Rose). The book is based on an old premise whose time has come again. For Saulsbury, the book began when she encountered Wacky cake, a way of baking that came together during the Depression and then the War, when things like eggs and butter and cream were dear or impossible to find. Saulsbury explains the encounter in her introduction:
Wacky cake (also known by the appellations War Cake, Depression Cake, Joe Cake, Dump Cake and Crazy Cake) is an incredibly simple chocolate cake that can be mixed, baked and served from the same pan…. Adding to the wackiness, the cake contains neither dairy nor eggs and depends on a vigorously bubbly reaction between vinegar and baking soda … to make it rise.
Not all the recipes in Piece of Cake! are for Wacky cake. There just wouldn’t be enough material for a whole book. While Wacky cake and a few close cousins are included -- and even highlighted -- many of the recipes in the book do require eggs or dairy or both. The connecting item is ease. As the sub-title promises: one-bowl, no fuss, from scratch cakes. Easy as a mix, but homemade. Over 175 recipes in all.

Company coming? Bring it on! ◊

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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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pern Creator Dead at 85

It seems that there is a little less magic in the world today, since we got the news of the death of Anne McCaffrey.

Best known for her award-winning and bestselling Pern series, McCaffrey has said that her best novel was 1960’s The Ship Who Sang.

According to her publisher’s blog, McCaffrey, 85, died at her home in Ireland Monday “shortly after suffering a stroke.” Her health had been declining over the last few years, something the author reported on herself on her own blog. In December of 2009, she wrote that things had been difficult. “As for writing this year, sadly, that takes energy and I just don’t have as much of it as I’d like.” Fortunately for her fans, lacking the energy to embark on new projects herself, McCaffrey started a series of collaborations, notably with her son, Todd (Dragonriders of Pern) and award-winning author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (Barque Cats).

McCaffrey’s first novel, Restoree, was published in 1967. Since then, she has written over 100 books. According to Locus, McCaffrey “was the first woman to win both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards, with Weyr Search (1968) and Dragonrider (1969) respectively. Pern novel The White Dragon (1978) was the first hardcover SF novel to make the New York Times bestseller list.

Earlier this year it was announced that the characters of Pern would finally be making it to the big screen. Back in April, Collider had this to say:
Screenwriter David Hayter (X2, Watchmen) has been tapped to write the screenplay for the adaptation of Anne McCaffrey’s sci-fi/fantasy series The Dragonriders of Pern. Hayter will adapt Dragonflight, which is the first in a series of novels that began in 1968 and continue to this day. Dragonflight centers on “an elite group of warriors who take to the skies on the backs of giant, fire-breathing, telepathic dragons to save the wondrously exotic planet of Pern from a terrifying airborne menace.”
So sad that, after many years of waiting for it to happen, McCaffrey won’t get to see her wonderful creatures take fight.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

“In the beginning, there were dragons: proud, fierce, and independent. Their scales were like gems, and all who gazed upon them despaired, for their beauty was great and terrible.”

Inheritance (Knopf) is the fourth and final book in wunderkind Christopher Paolini’s heart-stoppingly good series. It finishes this deeply imaginative story in a satisfying and completely creative way.

Looking back it seems that Eragon, the first book in the series, was a genuine hit practically from the moment it was published by Knopf in 2003. The reality is quite different.

Convinced that their son had created a masterwork, Paolini’s parents self-published Eragon. In 2002, Carl Hiassen’s stepson bought the book and loved it and brought it to his stepfather’s attention. Hiassen concurred and brought the book to Knopf. And the rest, as they say, is history with Eragon spending 121 weeks on the New York Times Children’s Books Best Seller list and the first three books in the series have sold over 25 million copies worldwide.

Fans of this popular series will be glad to find a copy of Inheritance under their tree. ◊

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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Michael Moore Set to Help Local Library

To promote his new book and help save his hometown library, author and filmmaker Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) has donated 2000 copies of his new book, Here Comes Trouble (Grand Central), for a library fundraiser in Flint, Michigan. The book will be on sale that night only for $12. while Moore does a signing with all proceeds to benefit the Flint Public Library. From an area NBC affiliate:
"As a kid there really wasn't a more exciting place than the library. To walk into the library and just have everything in the world on thes shelves.

Moore said he was a regular at the Davison and Flint Public Libraries growing up.

"My mother taught me to read and write before kindergarten and that happened because she took us to the library all the time."
Moore will be at Flint’s Whiting Auditorium tonight.


The Official Notable Books of 2011

The New York Times Sunday Book Review delivers its annual list of notable books of the year. In the 100 books mentioned in the 2011 list, there are some surprises, but not many.

The list is here. If you’re looking for their Gift Guide, that’s here, while ours is here and ongoing.

New in Paperback: The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel earlier this year was one of those quiet arrivals that seems to build on its own steam. A scant seven months later, Rasmussen is poised on the brink of something huge and the gorgeous new paperback -- out today from Broadway Books -- reminds readers that the book is a Ladies’ Home Journal Book Club pick. It’s also been selected for the Target Emerging Authors Program. That kind of firepower will ensure that The Bird Sisters -- and Rasmussen -- get a lot of attention. And that’s a good thing: it’s a terrific book.

What starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill coming of age story rapidly develops into something quirkily and charmingly other.

Though the book opens in the present, where we meet Twiss and Milly in their twilight years, most of the book occurs in 1947 during a summer that will alter their lives forever. Though many forces are in motion, their cousin Bett, newly arrived from Minnesota, seems at the very center of things that will impact on their previously idyllic-seeming lives.

The story is sharply character-driven, almost in the extreme. But what really makes it work is Rasmussen’s delicate, careful prose. The Bird Sisters is a beautiful book. ◊

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, November 21, 2011

Crime Fiction: Death Plays Poker by Robin Spano

You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can’t necessarily take the trailer park out of the girl. That’s the subtext of Robin Spano’s second Clare Vengel novel, Death Plays Poker (ECW).

In her second outing, undercover cop Clare has been loaned to the RCMP to solve a string of murders taking place within the tightly closed world of professional poker. Clare goes undercover as a trust-fund baby trying to show daddy she can make her own way ... by playing cards. The biggest problem might just be that Clare isn’t exactly sure what a poor little rich girl might act like, eat, drink or wear. Although Clare’s fish-out-of-water concerns allow for some convenient expository moments, it becomes a little difficult to believe that this 23-year-old protagonist would worry that she is so very different from Tiffany James, the 23-year-old rich girl she’s supposed to be. In my experience, 23-year-olds have very different concerns utmost on their minds.

This matter of the depth of Clare’s concern that people believe her as Tiffany is, however, a quibble. Spano does a convincing job of dropping readers into the dog-eat-dog-eat-cat world of professional poker, where a killer has been knocking off players one by one in their hotel rooms during tournament play. Among the victims is an undercover policeman whose death encourages fellow cops to bring in someone under an even deeper cover: enter Clare as Tiffany. The matter of unraveling the killings is complicated still further by a cheating ring that may or may not be connected to the deaths. Meanwhile, “the Poker Choker” continues upping his headcount and the pressure on Clare to deliver the killer is intense.

Spano brings together an interesting set of characters in what becomes, in some ways, a closed-room mystery. Might the culprit be George, the poker blogger whose play is never quite up to snuff? Or Fiona, the gorgeous broadcaster who has made a career out of following the tour? Is it Joe, the pretty boy whose combination of good looks and good luck make him seem an unlikely suspect? Or maybe has-been Mickey, whose luck seems due to run out?

While the tour moves from Niagara Falls to Vancouver, Clare’s concerns are pulled between solving her case and staying on it, while various of her handlers seem convinced that she isn’t up to the job and perhaps lacks the right stuff to match the fluke of solving her first case, last year’s very engaging Dead Politician Society.

No sophomore slump here: Spano has delivered an engaging second novel. ◊

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


Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday to Margaret Atwood

It’s difficult to believe that the divine Miss Atwood turns 72 today. Difficult because, as we’ve said often enough in reviews and interviews, the author’s voice is as vibrant and variable now as it was 20 and even 30 years ago. One could argue that it is more so: Atwood writes with the verve of someone still pushing towards the zenith of her powers.

The Writer’s Almanac gives us some background:
It's the birthday of Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood (1939), born in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father was an entomologist, and she spent a good deal of her childhood out in the woods with him as he did field work. The family moved frequently, from Ottawa to northern Quebec to Toronto, and Atwood was 11 before she attended a full year of school. She read a lot as a child, but didn't dream of becoming a writer at first; her earliest career aspirations were to the visual arts. "All writers, I suspect -- and probably all people -- have parallel lives, what they would have been if they hadn't turned into what they are," she told The Paris Review in 1990. "I have several of these, and one is certainly a life as a painter. When I was 10, I thought I would be one; by the time I was 12, I had changed that to dress designer, and then reality took over and I confined myself to doodles in the margins of my textbooks." She began writing poetry in high school, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe; by the time she was 16, she knew she wanted to be a writer.

Her novels, like The Handmaid's Tale (1983) and Cat's Eye (1988), frequently question or criticize social institutions. "I grew up in the woods outside of any social structures apart from those of my family. So I didn't absorb social structures through my skin the way many children do. If you grow up in a small town you instinctively know who is who and what is what and whom you can safely be contemptuous of."
You can read January Magazine’s 2000 interview with Atwood here.

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Holiday Gift Guide: Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath by Tony Iommi

When it comes to rocker biographies, the 2011 winner is former Black Sabbath lead guitarist, Tony Iommi’s Iron Man (Da Capo). This is the whole package: Iommi is candid, engaging and celebrated and that’s exactly the right combo for this sort of book.

Though it’s Iommi’s autobiography, this is also the story of Black Sabbath, one of the most celebrated and seminal rock outfits of all time. And on this journey we take with him we discover that our wildest imaginings about sixties and seventies rock n’ roller behavior were only scratching the service. The biggest mystery of Iron Man soon comes to be: how did these guys manage to even live through these adventures, let alone finally get inducted into the rock n’ roll hall of fame.

Early on Iommi tells a story of waking up in a hotel room in Adelaide in 1971 with producer/manager Patrick Meehan and a girl.
Meehan went: “She’s dead.”

Oh, fucking hell, I thought, Christ, she’s dead. She’s dead!

I could see the headlines: “Girl found dead in hotel room with two guys.” I just thought: they’ll think it’s us!

Meehan went: “We got to get rid of her! We got to get rid of her!”

His idea was to throw her off the balcony and say that she had fallen off it. We were really high up. The thought of it now is absolutely frightening, but in my panic I went along with it. We got her to the balcony, we were trying to pick her up and then… she came round.

“Bloody hell, she’s alive!”

She was probably high on drugs, but, we could quite easy have just tossed her off of there and I would have become a twenty-two-year-old murderer.

“But your honor, she was dead already!”

I bet that girl doesn’t even know what happened. I’ll probably be arrested now. She will read this book and come out of the woodwork: “Yes, there he is!”

“It was Meehan! It was Meehan!”
This pace and verve as well as the sense of reckless endangerment of self and anyone who crossed his path at a certain time in his life permeates Iron Man. And somehow, even the worst stories, like that one, are a lark: youthful high-spirited high jinks aided by the sort of luck one never recognizes at the time.

Trashed hotel rooms, dismembered sharks and Ozzy Osbourne mooning everyone all the time (“I’ve seen Ozzy’s are more times than I’ve seen my own!”) Iommi writes with a sort of breathless intensity (and an awful lot of exclamation marks!) and we end up panting on the sidelines, just reading to catch up.

Despite the near-murder described above, Iommi is a likable correspondent and you don’t mind spending time in his presence for the duration of the book. If you only buy one rock biography this season, for so many reasons, it should be this one. ◊

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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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fiction: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Who’s to say, when we start a life, where we will end up? What will we do? What will we regret? What, if anything, will we understand? These are a few of the questions posed by Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Award-winning novel, The Sense of an Ending.

At just 160 pages or so, the book is deceptive. It’s spare but not sparse. It’s short but not light. Instead, it is a rich tapestry of starts, stops, decisions, regrets, misunderstandings, resentments and rapprochements, all concerning an Englishman named Tony Webster and some of the people in his life, notably his first lover and his ex-wife.

Barnes sketches Tony’s years in broad strokes, in little more than an outline. Tony’s schooling, his first girlfriend, his subsequent relationships, his marriage, his work, his divorce, and the latter years of his life. When I say broad strokes, I mean broad. While Tony’s schooling and first girlfriend are given the early part of the novel, almost everything else is summed up in a few paragraphs, all except for the latter part of his life, which occupies most of this novel. It’s here, when Tony is what might be called old but not elderly, that his search for answers takes hold of him like nothing else in his life ever has.

Written in the first person, with a sort of blasé intensity, if that’s possible, Tony discusses his life as if he were looking at a painting he knows intimately. As if he’s painted it himself. As if it’s not a work in progress, but a finished work that warrants close, almost microscopic examination.

In one way, The Sense of an Ending is a Renoir-type Impressionist painting: all swaths of color, one blending and sometimes crashing into another. In another way, it’s more like Seurat: it’s not the brushstrokes that matter, but the dots. Every detail. What happened to Tony’s marriage? What happened with his first, earlier, girlfriend? And why did his close friend commit suicide, ending abruptly a life of such promise?

What happened appears to be the key question here. Tony seems to believe that by knowing what happened, he will also understand what happened. This point is the core of the novel, the desire for knowledge, but it ends up a shattering disappointment because it isn’t true; knowing does not necessarily provide understanding. But as he pulls this tightly wound knot apart, Barnes uses language that’s forthright, almost matter-of-fact. In Tony’s voice, there is great pain behind each word, as if he is struggling under the weight of what the words mean as much as what they say.

What this wonderful, heartbreaking novel shows us -- what Tony learns, eventually -- is that knowing something may provide a certain clarity, but not the kind one yearns for when examining one’s life so closely. One wants answers, yes, but answers require more than facts. Facts may give one the sense of an ending, surely, but only that. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Illiad by Homer translated by Stephen Mitchell

If high school literary abuse makes the very mention of anything by Homer cause your eyes to roll up into your head, you’re in for a treat. In this new translation of The Illiad (Free Press) author Stephen Mitchell starts things off on a wonderful note. “We return to the Illiad because it is one of the monuments of our own magnificence. Its poetry lifts even the most devastating human events into the realm of the beautiful, and it shows us how vast and serene the mind can be even when it contemplates the horrors of war.”

It is this sort of care and passion that have seen Mitchell move towards becoming one of the significant translators of his time. His translations have included Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh, The Bhagavad Gita and The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

But it is not just the clarity of thought and language that make this a better English language translation than the ones you might have tackled back in high school. It’s actually better researched, as well. This is the first translation based on the work of preeminent Homeric scholar Martin L. West who brings previously omitted material to the table, resulting in a text that is, in some ways, thematically altered from any you might have read -- or tried to read -- before.

But nothing trumps Mitchell’s language here and his understanding of the text. “Of course,” he writes in the introduction, “we can only perceive in the Illiad what we bring to it, and there are as many ways too see it as there are minds that see.”

In his new translation, Mitchell brings us his vision. And that clarity? It brings us what he sees. ◊

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

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Let’s Make Poetry Cool

What or who could make poetry cool? If you had to come up with a single name, Brian Eno would not be a bad place to start. Especially since he’s been working on a project that means to do pretty much that for the last 10 years.

To hear a snippet of the “poetry music” Eno has created along with British poet Rick Holland for Eno’s new EP, Panic of Looking (Warp Records), check Lucy Jones’ column in the Telegraph.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: a Chat With Jeff Kinney

It was like a rock concert. A thousand kids, siblings, and parents, all gathered on sidewalks outside the Barnes & Noble in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Outside, even on this warm night, a pile of snow, with fake snowflakes sprayed by a special machine, and a massive luxury bus decorated with Wimpy Kid art on all sides. And at four o’clock sharp, the rock star emerges from it: Jeff Kinney, author of the bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The crowd goes wild. Then Jeff introduces two surprises: the lead actors from the two Wimpy Kid films released so far (a third is on the way), Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron.

Why is all this happening? Because the new book in the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever (Amulet Books), hit stores on November 15, and Cherry Hills was the first stop on a multi-city tour.

My son Ian, 11, is perhaps Jeff Kinney’s biggest fan. When we got approved for a short interview with the author, Ian stepped up and took over.

Ian: What inspired you to write Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

Jeff: I would say that I was inspired by a failure of my own. I wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist, but I couldn’t break into the business, and so I started writing these books instead.

Ian: How much longer do you plan on doing Wimpy Kid?

Jeff: That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I think that every good piece of creativity, like a television show or a comic strip, has a life span. And it’s hard to figure out what that life span is, when you should walk away. And I think that might be between seven and ten books for me.

Ian: What’s your biggest achievement with Wimpy Kid?

Jeff: I think getting published at all, because it’s hard to get published. And I didn’t think I had a prayer, so the day that I got my book in the mail was just probably the best day of my life. I knew I had accomplished something pretty great.

And the book? Ian’s already read a good chunk. His verdict? It’s a quick, fun book that’s full of funny, smart jokes and stories that Jeff Kinney creates in the mind of Greg Heffley. Read it now! ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane by Patrick Lane

If the person on your list has a particular interest in Canadian poetry, The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane (Harbour) is a handsome and complete collection.

For many years considered by many to be one of his country’s leading poets, Patrick Lane was born in Nelson, British Columbia and currently lives in Victoria. In the time between he has lived many places all over North and South America. And he’s crafted a lot of words. The author of 27 books of poetry, a novel, a short story collection and a memoir. In a career that spans over 50 years, Lane has won every award available to him, including the Governor General’s Award, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
Winter is silence
when ice gathers on crows’ wings
and nothing can be salvaged from dreams.
The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane provides a fantastic overview of Lane’s awe-inspiring body of work and brings together, as the preface tells us, “all the poems that Lane wants to preserve,” some of them revised for this publication. ◊

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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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New this Month: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve been following the work of fantasy author heir apparent Brandon Sanderson since 2009’s Warbreaker. Though Sanderson hasn’t been around very long, his impact on the fantasy genre has been intense and far-reaching. Something likely to continue when he completes Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Even if Sanderson were not a terrific writer in his own right, being tapped to complete Jordan’s work would make this an author worth watching. And in all ways, he is.

The Alloy of Law (Tor) will do nothing to turn fans away. The fourth book in Sanderson’s highly acclaimed Mistborn series, this new novel zooms us 300 years ahead of the most recent Mistborn novel, The Hero of Ages.

Even though this is a Mistborn novel, those who haven’t been following this series can enter here because, since the action in The Alloy of Law is set so far in the future, this book really does stand alone.

A note here, though: if you haven’t been reading this series, you might want to reconsider: it has been terrific in every way. This is epic fantasy with a strong steampunk vibe. Science, magic and technology all have a place in this strong and original series. Don’t miss it. ◊

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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Governor General’s Literary Award Winners Announced

The names of the 2011 winners of Canada’s most prestigious literary prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, were announced this morning. The 14 winners -- one French, one English in seven categories -- each take home $25,0000.

In addition to the monetary award, each winner will receive a specially-bound copy of the winning book, created by Montreal bookbinder Lise Dubois. The publisher of each winning book receives $3,000 to support promotional activities. Non‑winning finalists receive $1,000 in recognition of their selection as finalists, bringing the total value of the awards to approximately $450,000.

Though there were few surprises in the awards 75th winning field, there were many firsts and 11 of the 14 winners were first time winners.

In a somewhat ironic turn, winner Charles Foran is being celebrated for his work on a book about a past Governor General Award winner, Canadian author Mordecai Richler who won in 1968 and 1971.

Also noteworthy, the winning author in the French-language non-fiction category, Georges Leroux, also wrote the original version of the book translated by Donald Winkler, which is this year’s winner in the translation (French to English) category. This is the first time this has happened since the translation category was created in 1987.

The seven English and seven French awards are given to authors, illustrators and translators in the categories of fiction, poetry, drama, non‑fiction, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation. The names of the winners and titles of their works are listed below along with peer assessment committee members’ comments for each work, supplied by the Canada Council.

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, will present the Awards on Thursday, November 24 at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall, the official residence and workplace of the governor general.

The 2011 Governor General’s Award Winners


Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (House of Anansi Press)
Brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters are at the centre of this “great greedy heart” of a book. A rollicking tale of hired guns, faithful horses and alchemy. The ingenious prose of Patrick DeWitt conveys a dark and gentle touch.

Perrine Leblanc, L’homme blanc (Le Quartanier)
In L’homme blanc, Perrine Leblanc invites us to travel to a period in history in which a profoundly human character achieves universal status. This novel teaches us that we can never predict destiny, and that even white itself can have varying degrees of whiteness.


Phil Hall, Killdeer (BookThug)
Killdeer by Phil Hall realizes a masterly modulation of the elegiac through poetic time. It releases the personal from the often binding axis of the egoistic into that kind of humility that only a profound love of language – and of living – can achieve.

Louise Dupré, Plus haut que les flammes (Éditions du Noroît)
Plus haut que les flammes is a collection of admirable restraint, where the everyday is interspersed with memories of the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Louise Dupré explores and questions the experience of pain evoked by places of extreme horror, and uncovers a deeply human truth.


Erin Shields, If We Were Birds (Playwrights Canada Press)
If We Were Birds is a bold and brilliant retelling of a classical myth. The language is poetic and contemporary. Erin Shields creates a haunting and viscerally impactful play about the sexual politics of war. She invites us into a world of complicated family relationships, dangerous sexuality, revenge and fierce loyalty.

Normand Chaurette, Ce qui meurt en dernier (Leméac Éditeur / Actes Sud)
With Ce qui meurt en dernier, Normand Chaurette creates disturbing and mysterious moods in a polished, chiselled language. His almost surgical style paints the portrait of a woman who struggles with her desire to please. The beauty of the writing serves the play’s thesis wonderfully.


Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life & Times (Alfred A. Knopf Canada)
Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran is biography as high art, illuminating not only the character of Canada’s most provocative writer, but also, in the most vivid and compelling fashion, the times and places in which he lived. This is a grand, sweeping work that sets the standard for future literary biography.

Georges Leroux, Wanderer : essai sur le Voyage d’hiver de Franz Schubert (Éditions Nota bene)
Almost a year after Beethoven’s death, Schubert, suffering from a concealed affliction, saw his own death approaching. Winter Journey is the pretext for a fine requiem in white that Georges Leroux has penned in a lovely, pitch-perfect book. Musing on human suffering as a philosopher, incorporating poetry and photography, the author gives us a sumptuous meditation on existence.

Children’s Literature — Text:

Christopher Moore, From Then to Now: A Short History of the World (Tundra Books)
From Then to Now: A Short History of the World, by Christopher Moore, is a fascinating examination of the evolution of human civilization that is global in its span and inclusive in its outlook. The energetic narrative tells a story that rivals the very best fiction.

Martin Fournier, Les aventures de Radisson - 1. L’enfer ne brûle pas (Les éditions du Septentrion)
With Les aventures de Radisson, Martin Fournier skilfully measures the suspense of his tale, and more than succeeds in transcending the dryness of a historical character. He depicts the adventures of Radisson, the rebellious adolescent who will pay for his boldness. An almost ethnological initiation into the Iroquois culture of the time – the French language at its best.

Children’s Literature — Illustration:

Cybèle Young, Ten Birds, text by Cybèle Young (Kids Can Press)
Ten Birds is a whimsical, surreal visual riddle. A disarmingly simple story becomes a complex discussion of the adjectives used to “pigeon-hole” individuals in society. Cybèle Young’s beautifully crafted pen and ink images describe a journey to simply cross a river. Ironically none of the birds can fly, but ultimately the simplest answer may be the best.

Caroline Merola, Lili et les poilus, text by Caroline Merola (Dominique et Compagnie, a division of Éditions Héritage)
By playing with a familiar theme, Caroline Merola succeeds in drawing us into her universe filled with astonishing contrasts. She stages simply-drawn characters in a lush, generous forest. Lili et les poilus is a work full of dynamic compositions, with profound and luminous colours that are applied with unbridled energy.


Donald Winkler, Partita for Glenn Gould (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
English translation of Partita pour Glenn Gould by Georges Leroux (Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal)
Partita for Glenn Gould, Donald Winkler’s translation of Georges Leroux’s brilliant essay, shines with the musicality of language that reflects Gould’s life and creative discovery. Winkler expresses the depth of feeling and baroque complexity of the original text with impressive sensitivity, dexterity and precision. A masterful performance, at once learned and lyrical, it is a tour de force.

Maryse Warda, Toxique ou L’incident dans l’autobus (Dramaturges Éditeurs)
French translation of The Toxic Bus Incident by Greg MacArthur
Toxique ou L’incident dans l’autobus is an effective and deftly-honed translation. The language is incisive, imbued with an oral character that is perfectly suited to the theatrical text, and skilfully renders the dense and sober style of the original. Maryse Warda says a great deal in few words, in language that delivers the essential.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Pierce’s Pick: Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison.
Set during the 1960s, Harrison’s debut crime novel follows John Estem, a bookkeeper who steals money from Martin Luther King Jr.’s organization, only to be found out by the FBI and coerced into playing informant against America’s most prominent civil rights leader -- a man whose reputation the feds hope to destroy.
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don’t Bother Me with Facts

Though Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly seems to posture as a paragon of knowledge, his new book, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever (Henry Holt), might just offer up a few lessons in taking what you read -- or hear -- with a grain of salt. After all, it’s one thing to mangle historical fact on television where few people other than Jon Stewart seem to be keeping track. When you write a book, though -- particularly one that positions itself as being somewhat scholarly -- the bar is higher. People sometimes actually even check on what you’ve written.

That’s what happened here. It turns out that, among other things, the book O'Reilly co-authored has been banned from Washington’s Ford Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot. From a piece by the Washington Post’s non-fiction editor, Steven Levingston:
The crime? O’Reilly and his co-author Martin Dugard have displayed a serial disregard for historical fact.

For a purported history of the assassination — an “unsanitized and uncompromising ... no spin American story,” as the authors put it, “Killing Lincoln” is sloppy with the facts and slim on documentation, according to a study conducted by Rae Emerson, the deputy superintendent of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, which is a unit of the National Park Service.
There’s more -- actually quite a lot of it -- and it’s here.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Copy That

The mini-scandal surrounding first-time novelist Q.R. Markham (aka Quentin Rowan), who’s been accused of plagiarizing the work of previous authors in his new spy thriller, Assassin of Secrets, continues to be fed by the print and online press. The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the controversy here, while Edward Champion looks at the numerous read-alike passages here.

READ MORE:Q.R. Markham’s Plagiarism Puzzle,” by Macy Halford (The New Yorker); “Assassin of Secrets” and “Highway Robbery: The Mask of Knowing in Assassin of Secrets,” by Jeremy Duns (The Debrief); “The Markham Affair,” by Duane Swierczynski (Secret Dead Blog); “Borrowing from Bond: The Amazing Q.R. Markham Plagiarism Scandal,” by Allan Massie (The Telegraph).

Cookbooks: 300 Best Potato Recipes by Kathleen Sloan-McIntosh

The cover is not a clue. In fact, it’s misleading, playing in as it does to so many people’s idea of what a potato should be: shoe-stringed, then boiled in fat until golden brown. And, sure: while, like most people, I respond well enough to a properly french fried potato, there is so much more to this at once humble and noble vegetable than that.

Food journalist, author and restaurateur, Kathleen Sloan-McIntosh, maintains a gently instructive yet always affectionate tone throughout 300 Best Potato Recipes (Robert Rose), a book that covers every aspect of potato lore and cookery about as completely as one could ever desire.

From simple mashes, “roasties” and baked potatoes through to complicated main-dish concoctions, Sloan-McIntosh leads us on a cheerfully carb-laden adventure. “No other vegetable,” the author tells us, “and few foods in general -- incites passion as strongly as the potato.” And is that true? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the important thing is, Sloan-McIntosh believes it, making her the correct guide for this particular journey.

The recipes are well constructed and properly shared: clear instructions are numbered and easy to follow, variations are offered (an there are enough of them that 300 is likely a low estimate of what’s on offer) and tips are included where appropriate (which appears to be pretty much with every recipe).

A few favorites: Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream. Green Chili Chicken Curry with New Potatoes. Lemon Potato Salad with Shrimp. In fact, potato salad lovers will do well here: the potato salad section is extensive and wildly varied: I adored a bistro sausage and potato salad that included roma tomatoes and leafy lettuce and a char-grilled potato and chorizo salad nearly knocked my socks off. But for basic combined with elegant, I’d serve fingerling potato salad with tarragon cream to almost anyone. And those are just the very tip of the potato: the list of salads made with earth apples here is deep.

If you’ve ever wished you had a wider repertoire with potatoes, then this is the book for you. ◊

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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Children’s Books: The Outcasts by John Flanagan

The Outcasts, which is book one of the Brotherband Chronicles, is a spinoff from John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, through which I’m currently making my delighted way.

I admit I had only rea
d the first book in that series, The Ruins Of Gorlan, when I read this, and saw some resemblance to that book, although it’s set in another country, Skandia, the Norse analogue, rather than Araluen, which is clearly Britain.

Hal Mikkelson is the son of a Skandian warrior and his Araluen wife, who was brought to Skandia as a slave, then bought and freed. Hal’s widowed mother is now running a successful food shop.

Boys of Hal’s age are required to undertake training in the skills they will need as warriors -- fighting, ship-handling and so on. It involves being divided into teams called brotherbands, which live, train and work together in a sort of boot camp and compete for the prize at the end. The only problem is, brotherband teams are the same in Skandia as they are in the average school in our world: there are always the ones nobody wants on their side, who are left over when the choices have been made.

Hal is part of a group nobody else wants, for various reasons. There’s a boy who has a tendency to lose his temper, twins who are always fighting each other, a thief and other unpopular boys. But Hal has something the big lumbering types don’t have: a brain. He’s an inventor who has built a boat much more efficient than the traditional Skandian wolfship, among other things. His Heron team may have more of a chance than they think.

Like Ruins of Gorlan, this book has a hero who isn’t a tall, muscular warrior type, but has a friend who is. Like the Ranger’s apprentice Will, he has other skills he can use. And like the first Ranger’s Apprentice novel, it’s about the training and not a lot happens till near the end, but stick with it. It’s an introductory volume that concentrates on building up the characters and the background. Somehow, the book manages to end on a cliffhanger and I fully expect a much more action-packed sequel.

You just have to love the Skandians, despite their culture of “liberating” stuff from outside and then getting upset when someone steals from them. Their idea of battle tactics is, “Charge!” By the time of this novel, there’s an Araluen archer team in the town of Hallasheim, started at the end of the fourth RA novel, Oakleaf Bearers, when Will, his mentor Halt, Will's friends Horace and Evanlyn, helped push back Temujai (Mongol) invaders.

Things I really like about The Outcasts and the original series: the character development, the humor, the believable societies, the way it feels like history set in another world rather than standard fantasy. I love the world-building. I love the fact that even Flanagan’s heroes make mistakes, sometimes with hilarious results, such as the mayhem that results from Hal’s attempt to supply his mother with running water in the kitchen.

I do advise you to read the original series to get more of a feel for this universe, not to mention the great fun of the series. It’s well worth the effort. ◊

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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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Esi Edugyan Wins Canada’s Richest Literary Prize

Esi Edugyan has won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel Half-Blood Blues (Thomas Allen).

The announcement of the largest annual literary prize in Canada was made at a black-tie dinner and award ceremony hosted by Jian Ghomeshi and broadcast live on CBC. The Scotiabank Giller Prize awards $50,000 to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English and $5,000 to each of the finalists.

Of the winning book, the jury wrote:
Imagine Mozart were a black German trumpet player and Salieri a bassist, and 18th century Vienna were WWII Paris; that’s Esi Edugyan’s joyful lament, Half-Blood Blues. It’s conventional to liken the prose in novels about jazz to the music itself, as though there could be no higher praise. In this case, say rather that any jazz musician would be happy to play the way Edugyan writes. Her style is deceptively conversational and easy, but with the simultaneous exuberance and discipline of a true prodigy. Put this book next to Louis Armstrong’s ‘West End’ -- these two works of art belong together.”
Also nominated:
David Bezmozgis for his novel The Free World (HarperCollins)
Lynn Coady for her novel The Antagonist (Anansi)
Patrick deWitt for his novel The Sisters Brothers (Anansi)
Zsuzsi Gartner for her short story collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (Hamish Hamilton Canada)
Michael Ondaatje for his novel The Cat’s Table (McClelland & Stewart)


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Bill Clinton’s Back to Work: What Are the Best Bits?

With former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s new memoir, Back to Work (Knopf), out today, everybody is looking for the best bits. The Daily Beast delivers:
In a country looking to regain its economic mojo and self-confidence, it’s easy to imagine why Americans might look back fondly at Bill Clinton, who oversaw an era in which the U.S. felt safe, victorious, prosperous, and assured. With those emotions in short supply—along with jobs, credit, and a host of other things—Clinton’s back on the scene with a new book, Back to Work. The volume is basically a longer version of a cover story the Man from Hope wrote for Newsweek back in June. So what’s in the director’s cut? We read Back to Work and picked out the best parts.
Discover what The Daily Beast thinks are the juiciest parts of Back to Work here.

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Pierce’s Pick: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis.
“After helping an estranged friend retrieve luggage from the Copenhagen train station, only to discover a naked child in the suitcase, Nina Borg is drawn into a dangerous world as she tries to identify the boy and keep him safe from the people who trapped him, and who will now kill to get him back.”
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

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Art & Culture: Everyday Eden: 100+ Fun, Green Garden Projects for the Whole Family to Enjoy by Christina Symons and John Gillespie

When it comes to gift giving, Everyday Eden (Harbour) is on a par with the best of travel and food books. Whether or not your giftee has any intention of gardening (or traveling or cooking) sometimes it’s nice to just curl up with a great book on the subject and imagine what profound change you could manifest in your life… if only the weather would change and you could pry yourself out of your chair! And when it comes to that sort of book, Everyday Eden is one that may well make it worth the effort.

The cover is a little misleading: Everyday Eden looks quite a bit like a garden book. A good one, but still. Even the most cursory glance, however, shows you how little you knew. Want to make a terrific barbecue rub? A lavender wreath? An herbal sea salt scrub? Ferns from cuttings? Salad dressing? A stylish frozen ice bowl? Grow moss. Or a live willow fence. This is a fantastic book, filled with great ideas and as good -- and probably better -- than any book I’ve seen in this category.

Artfully photographed and lovingly created, give this to the person on your list with an artsy leaning or the green-focused family truly trying to recreate their space as their own. ◊

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, November 07, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: Archie: The Married Life

It’s a sliding doors world for Archie Andrews in Archie: The Married Life (Archie Comics) where we look at two possible realities for the eternal teen as he moves into adulthood. In one thread he marries the rich and sultry Veronica Lodge. In the other, he ties the knot with perpetual girl next door, Betty Cooper.

In both possible realities, we see the well-loved characters respectfully and interestingly treated. Long-time fans of the Riverdale teens won’t feel alienated by either the stories or the artwork. The comic retains the wholesomeness that brought the series such a large fanbase throughout its 70 year history, while gently moving it -- finally! -- into another era of his life.

This is the first dozen issues of the Archie: The Married Life comics bound into a single paperback volume. The resulting graphic novel will please old and new fans alike. ◊

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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Friday, November 04, 2011

Cats in High Places

Though we’re still collecting data on your favorite bookstores (and thanks for continuing to send them in) we loved reading about the bookstore cats featured in NYU LOCAL.

“One of our favorite parts of New York City,” the piece begins, “is its many independent bookstores. Even more than these bookstores, we love their cats.”

The piece, appropriately enough called “Kitty Porn” profiles several of the city’s most highly regarded bookstore cats, including Holly, at right, of Babbo’s Books on Prospect Park West.

Meanwhile, we’ll be rounding up all of your votes for favorite independent bookstore in the world during the holidays. Let us know about the stores you love and why -- with pictures, if possible. We already know there will be some surprises!

Are We Sick of Celebrity Excess?

At a time of international financial crisis and lots of attendant personal strife for many readers have we, as a culture, finally lost our taste for empty tales of pointless riches and celebrity excess? With sales in the usually dependable category of celebrity biographies down almost by half, that would seem to be the case. From The Telegraph:
According to industry figures quoted in The Bookseller, sales of biographies and memoirs fell by 43 per cent in October compared to the same month last year.

Publishers released the usual glut of celebrity books at the end of September in time for the lucrative Christmas market. Although books were released by bankable stars like Paul Scholes, the footballer, and MIchael Buble, the singer, industry experts said that no books were released by “national treasures” such as Keith Richards, whose autobiography was a best-seller last year.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

SF/F: All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

Lev AC Rosen’s debut is smart, thoughtful and even oddly timely. An intelligent, muscular work of steampunk with a strong central female character and a full load of steam. A great balance and a perfect mix.

Violet Adams is a genius. A brilliant inventor and maven of all things mechanical, she wants nothing more than to attend London’s prestigious Illyria College, a scientific academy. But since it’s the Victorian era and a world that is strangely different and oddly the same, Illyria won’t accept Violet because she is a woman.

Undeterred and determined but this sexist turn, Violet decides to register as her twin brother, Ashton. Getting in as Ashton is not as difficult as Violet fears. Her troubles really begin once she’s in, including a couple of romances that could be problematic no matter what happens.

All Men of Genius (Tor) is funny, smart and charming. Rosen creates his steampunk world with care, then tells his story with conviction. Violet is a wonderful character and Rosen’s debut should find favor with a wide swath of readers. In a year filled with great steampunk, All Men of Genius can be included with the very best. ◊

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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