Monday, April 30, 2012

Books That Sound Interesting, But That
We’ll Probably Never Get Around to Actually Reading: Manhunt

This coming Wednesday, May 2, will mark one full year since Osama bin Laden, notorious head of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, was killed in a mysterious Pakistan compound during a bold military operation ordered by President Barack Obama.

Now comes Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad, in which author Peter L. Bergen promises to reveal many things about the late terrorist mastermind that we didn’t know. From the publisher’s synopsis:
Here are riveting new details of bin Laden’s flight after the crushing defeat of the Taliban to Tora Bora, where American forces came startlingly close to capturing him, and of the fugitive leader’s attempts to find a secure hiding place. As the only journalist to gain access to bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound before the Pakistani government demolished it, Bergen paints a vivid picture of bin Laden’s grim, Spartan life in hiding and his struggle to maintain control of al-Qaeda even as American drones systematically picked off his key lieutenants.

Half a world away, CIA analysts haunted by the intelligence failures that led to 9/11 and the WMD fiasco pored over the tiniest of clues before homing in on the man they called “the Kuwaiti”--who led them to a peculiar building with twelve-foot-high walls and security cameras less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy. This was the courier who would unwittingly steer them to bin Laden, now a prisoner of his own making but still plotting to devastate the United States.

Bergen takes us inside the Situation Room, where President Obama considers the COAs (courses of action) presented by his war council and receives conflicting advice from his top advisors before deciding to risk the raid that would change history--and then inside the Joint Special Operations Command, whose “secret warriors,” the SEALs, would execute Operation Neptune Spear. From the moment two Black Hawks take off from Afghanistan until bin Laden utters his last words, Manhunt reads like a thriller.
But the headline above a report about this book on the Web site Scrape TV reveals that Bergen has gone far beyond the usual scope of reporting here, to reveal a few facts and foibles that we could’ve gone our entire lives without ever knowing:
Certainly the best revelation of all, though: “Bin Laden also reportedly used Just for Men hair dye to keep his greying beard black, presumably to make the ladies happy.”

READ MORE:Timeline: The Hunt for Osama bin Laden,” by Judd Legum (Think Progress).


Friday, April 27, 2012

Biography: Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Paris in Love (Random House) is a book about living the dream. The fact this it was penned by a writer of talent and intense charm makes spending a year in the city of love with her and her family both sweet and remarkable.
In a single week in November, I missed up immanent with imminent, paramount with tantamount, and soup with soup. I addressed my friend Philip as “Paris,” and I put a roll of paper towels in the dishwasher, rescuing it in the nick of time. In the middle of the night, I came to the stark conclusion that my brain must be dying.
With a serious medical diagnosis forcing her to take a good look at her life, professor and New York Times bestselling romance novelist Eloisa James quit her job, sold her house and dragged her family to Paris for a year. While there, James participated and observed, her eyes sharp and her heart open. It’s a lovely journey.
This morning I dropped Anna off at school, then walked across the Siene on a lavishly gilded bridge. The wind was fiercely chilly, but the sky bright blue, and the way the sun shone on the river and danced over all that gold leaf opened a door straight from winter to a slice of spring.
Paris in Love is comprised of snippets from James’ Twitter feed, updates from Facebook as well as longer essays about all aspects of James and family’s Paris year. The resulting book is part travel guide, part diary and -- inexplicably -- part letter from a friend. ◊

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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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fiction: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

It’s impossible not to think of Donna Tartt when you read Benjamin Wood’s debut novel. The Bellwether Revivals (M&S, S&S, Viking) introduces us to 20-year-old Oscar Lowe, a nursing home assistant at Cambridge, where he meets brother and sister Eden and Iris Bellwether. Oscar falls quickly for Iris, a medical student, then joins her in her worry about her brother, Eden, who believes he can use his music to heal.

Though we are guided through the novel by Oscar, it is Eden who most captures are attention and imagination. He is charismatic, certainly. But is he also a genius, or mad… or both? And if this is so, how about others in the history of music and of healing?

The Bellwether Revivals is a very good first novel, but it’s not the book that it might have been. That resemblance to Tartt’s The Secret History is, unfortunately, fleeting. One gets the impression of influence rather than inspiration. (Though that’s not always a bad thing.)

It’s easy, sometimes, to get lulled by the rhythms of Wood’s easy prose. He hasn’t taken any risks here, but that, too, is all right. It’s a straightforward enough story, classically told.

The Bellwether Revivals is available now in Canada and the U.K. In the US, look for from Viking is June. It’s a worthwhile novel, but it won’t stop your heart. Too bad, really because -- for a moment? -- I wanted it to be stopped. ◊

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.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Subversive Dr. Seuss Classic Banned for School

Is Dr. Seuss subversive? Well… maybe. But isn’t that half the fun? Not according to the Prince Rupert, British Columbia school district who recently banned Seuss’ Yertl the Turtle from district classrooms. From The Globe & Mail:
The quote in question – “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights” – comes from Yertle the Turtle, the tale of a turtle who climbs on the backs of other turtles to get a better view.

In the midst of a labour dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the province, the quote was deemed unsuitable.
The Globe story is here while The New York Daily News sneers prettily here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Classics to Ring in a Green Year

Books with a green theme are all the rage and you don’t have to go far to find something new and interesting. But Alison Reeger Cook takes a different approach for the Gainesville Times and puts together an interesting list of Earth Day Classics.

These are the books that helped lay the foundation for how she looks at life now. The ones that taught her “the importance of living in harmony with Mother Earth.”

Here is Reeger Cook’s list. You can read more about the books here.

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

If You Can Make It There: Making it Now and Then As A Writer in the Big Apple

Comparing details from their biographies with prices and facts from the present day, Brent Cox concocts an engaging piece for The Awl called “What It Cost Eight Women Writers To Make It In New York.”
In 1967, Patti Smith wrote in Just Kids, she was considering a move to New York City. "I had enough money for a one-way ticket. I planned to hit all the bookstores in the city. This seemed ideal work to me." Twenty-seven years before her, in 1940, Shirley Jackson and her soon-to-be husband Stanley Hyman graduated from Syracuse and moved to New York. According to this biography, "For quite some time they had known exactly what they were going to do: move to New York City, live as cheaply as possible, take menial jobs if necessary and wait for the Big Break. Not just wait—push for it."
The costs are high, the rewards often slim and, as Tama Janowitz warns, “As for advice, I only offer this: Mamas, don’t let your daughters grow up to be writers.” Even so, quite a lot of them do. In addition to Janowitz, Cox herds in facts and advice from Dorothy Parker, Zora Neale Hurston, Shirley Jackson, Gael Greene, Patti Smith, Susan Sontag and  Kate Christensen. Says Cox:
The list of authors discussed here isn't meant to be exhaustive, or even authoritative. There are many, many writers that could have been included in this survey, and any such omission is not intended as a slight (except to Ayn Rand, of course). Also different biographies are less forthcoming than others when it comes to specific dollar amounts, which was sometimes a factor in choosing subjects. Our intent here was simply to pick a writer or two from enough different eras to give a sense of what's been involved in moving to the Big Apple to make it (or otherwise) over the past century.
It’s an entertaining piece that I suspect won’t dissuade or persuade anyone. Even so, the journey is a lot of fun. It’s here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Non-Fiction: The Lean by Kathy Freston

Always on the look-out for what is going to be happening next in books on food and diet, I knew I was spotting a winner when I saw The Lean (Weinstein Books) by Kathy Freston the author of the bestsellers Veganist and Quantum Wellness.

The Lean capitalizes on a couple of ideas Freston seems to have been developing in her earlier books, one that’s done no harm at all by her movie star sparkle. On the cover of the book, Freston, clad all in white, leans on a white wall, every lean inch of her looking slouchily healthy.

“There’s something about the word lean that I adore,” Freston enthuses in the book, “and everywhere I go, other people seem to love it, too. In fact they kind of open like flowers in sunshine -- I think because it’s such a mellow word, an easy word. Nothing about it feels forced …. In my previous books … I talked about leaning in the direction of change and finding yourself making quantum changes in your lifestyle without much effort.” Because, she adds, “weight loss is one of those changes that we can lean in to as well.”

That’s pretty much the thrust and the heart of The Lean. You want to be more lean? Then lean into Freston’s healthful principles of lifestyle and diet. “Happiness keeps us away from the cookie jar,” she promises at one point. “Change starts with the decision to change,” she says at another.

With a diet plan, some recipes and the motivation of her perfect, glowing skin smiling back at you from the dust-jacket, there really seems nothing to lose here. Or, depending on how you look at it, a lot to lose. But everything to gain. ◊

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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Orange Prize Shortlist Represents Wide Field

The shortlist for the rich and prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction was announced in London yesterday and both new and established authors were represented. Among the nominees were Ann Patchett who was nominated this year for State of Wonder. Patchett won the Orange Prize in 2002 for Bel Canto.

“This is a shortlist of remarkable quality and variety,” commented bestselling novelist and Orange Prize judge Joanna Trollope. “It includes six distinctive voices and subjects, four nationalities and an age range of close on half a century.”

The Orange Prize was established in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible. It is awarded annually for the best novel of the year written by a woman.

Previous winners are Téa Obreht for The Tiger’s Wife (2011), Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna (2010), Marilynne Robinson for Home (2009), Rose Tremain for The Road Home (2008), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun (2007), Zadie Smith for On Beauty (2006), Lionel Shriver for We Need to Talk About Kevin (2005), Andrea Levy for Small Island (2004), Valerie Martin for Property (2003), Ann Patchett for Bel Canto (2002), Kate Grenville for The Idea of Perfection (2001), Linda Grant for When I Lived in Modern Times (2000), Suzanne Berne for A Crime in the Neighbourhood (1999), Carol Shields for Larry’s Party (1998), Anne Michaels for Fugitive Pieces (1997), and Helen Dunmore for A Spell of Winter (1996).

In case you’re wondering about the “Orange” in “Orange Prize,” it is the key brand of the France Telecom Group. According to a release, they have “almost 131 million customers, the Orange brand now covers Internet, television and mobile services in the majority of countries where the Group operates.” You can read more about the company, as well as the 2012 nominees, here.

The award ceremony will take place in The Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, on 30 May 2012. The winner will be presented with a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze statue known as the Bessie and created by artist Grizel Niven.

The 2012 shortlist is as follows:
  • Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
  • The Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright
  • Painter of Silence, by Georgina Harding
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
  • Foreign Bodies, by Cynthia Ozick
  • State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett


Monday, April 16, 2012

No Fiction Pulitzer Prize for 2012: Judges “Couldn’t Agree”

For the first time since 1977, no Pulitzer Prize will be awarded in the coveted fiction category because, according to The Daily Beast, judges “couldn’t agree” on the winner.

The field wasn’t large, with only three books making the finals: Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and David Foster Wallace’s posthumous The Pale King.

Since the the Pulitzer prizes began in 1918, the fiction award has been withheld nine other times including, as the Los Angeles Times points out, in 1941 when “the committee’s recommendation of For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway was deemed offensive by the president of Colombia, and no award was given.”

Books in other categories were awarded. George F. Kennan: An American Life, John Lewis Gaddis received the prize for biography; in history, the prize was given to Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable; the Pulitzer for general non-fiction went to Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern and Life on Mars, by Tracy K. Smith was awarded for poetry.

The complete list of winners is here.


Knock Off Books Fooling Consumers

You get what you pay for. If you buy a “Gucci” handbag for a fraction of the expected cost on Canal Street, you should not express surprise when the purse doesn’t last as long is not, in fact, made by Gucci at all.

The thing about that knock off handbag is you probably have to go out of your way to get and find it. In the wild west of 21st century online booksales, however, it turns out that is not the case. From Forbes:
There are a number of books on Amazon with similar titles to much more popular ones. Fifty Shades of Grey, the steamy romance novel that has created buzz around the world, is the No. 1 selling book on Amazon. Also available on Amazon: Thirty-Five Shades of Grey. Both books are written by authors with two first initials – E. L. James and J. D. Lyte – and both are the first in a trilogy about a young girl who falls for an older, successful man with a taste for domineering sex. The publisher of the bestseller Fifty says the book is "a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever." The author and publisher of Thirty-Five, which came out in early April, apparently believe that description fits their book as well, word-for-word. Also selling on Amazon is I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Twilight New Moon. Neither is the book you are likely looking for.

And if you want to buy bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow on Amazon, be careful where you click. A number of Amazon shoppers looking for the book by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman ended up with Fast and Slow Thinking by Karl Daniels, which until recently was also on Amazon. Says Kahneman of his doppelganger, "There is no such expert, it's a rip-off. The comments on it are quite amusing – rather shocking that Amazon allows this sort of thing."

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Titanic 100 Years on: An Interview with Author Hugh Brewster

If you’re wondering why, for the last few days, you’ve been hearing about the Titanic everywhere you turn, it’s because April 15th marks 100 years since that “unsinkable” luxury liner hit an iceberg and slipped below the waves during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.

So much about the Titanic has kept our attention since. The fact that she was the largest ship afloat at the time of the accident and that more than 1,500 people lost their lives when she went down. Also because it was the maiden voyage of this wonderful luxury ship, and the sailing was a glamorous social event; millionaires and celebrities were on board for the all-important first Atlantic crossing.

So here we are, 100 years later, still shaking our heads and still, in a way, wondering if there are parts of the mystery yet to be unraveled. Just as author Hugh Brewster’s new book about the Titanic, Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage, sets sail senior editor J. Kingston Pierce had a chance to talk with him and discovered that there are. Writes Pierce:
Powerfully and, at times, poignantly composed, Gilded Lives contributes a depth of human character and humility to the Titanic story we all know. Brewster makes excellent use of first-hand accounts from the Titanic’s survivors to re-create what life was like aboard that White Star liner as she rushed toward America. He enlivens his narrative with intriguing asides that place the reader within the culture of that long-ago period, having to do with Edwardian fashion trends, the ship’s rococo accoutrements and even the 1906 murder of renowned Manhattan architect Stanford White. His reconstruction of the vessel’s ultimate, anxious moments and the subsequent rescue of its lifeboat- and boat-scrap-borne castaways is especially captivating. And in a postscript, Brewster tells what became of a some of the cabin-class travelers who lived through the ordeal of April 14-15, 1912 -- some of it good news, some quite the opposite.

Soon after I finished reading
Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage, I tracked down author Brewster to ask him about the source of his interest in the Titanic, what he’d learned from composing this account, and some of the mysteries that, even a century later, surround what National Geographic calls “the mother of all shipwrecks.”
The results of that exclusive January Magazine interview are here. Meanwhile, because of his longstanding passion for all things Titanic, Pierce rounds up related and inspired reading material here.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Drama, Skullduggery and Disaster at Sea

Since I claim a longstanding interest in the story of the luxurious Royal Mail Steamer Titanic, which -- 100 years ago this coming weekend -- sank in the North Atlantic after colliding with an iceberg, it was with great pleasure that I recently put together a collection of non-fiction books, for Kirkus Reviews, about that vessel and her heartbreaking, chilly fate. You’ll find that piece here.

However, there have also been a number of novels written over the last few decades that use that White Star Liner’s tragedy as their setting or jumping-off point. I’d hoped to mention some of those in my Kirkus piece, but did not find room. So I’ll list six of them below, for the benefit of other Titanic buffs.

Raise the Titanic, by Clive Cussler: This is the grand-daddy of Titanic thrillers and Clive Cussler’s third novel featuring “renowned adventurer” Dirk Pitt. Originally published in 1976 (nine years before oceanographer Robert Ballard finally located the wreck of the RMS Titanic), Cussler’s tale is built around a seemingly far-fetched plan to resurrect the Titanic from its resting place 2.5 miles down in the Atlantic and recover a rare mineral called byzanium, which was being smuggled into the United States when it was lost with that ocean liner’s sinking in 1912. Byzanium, we’re told, is vital to a Pentagon project designed to halt incoming ballistic missiles. Pitt is engaged to hoist the ruined ship from its watery resting place -- if he can find it, and if he can then avoid Russian saboteurs bent on foiling his mission in order to maintain the worldwide balance of power. Raise the Titanic was turned into a 1980 feature film, but I remember the book as being soooo much better than that adaptation.

The Company of the Dead, by David Kowalski: This new work comes from the speculative-fiction end of the stacks. First-time novelist David Kowalski spent eight years developing a scenario in which a time traveler ventures back to the decks of the Titanic in 1912, determined to save that elegant liner. But just when he thinks his plan has succeeded, something else goes amiss, and the vessel’s four-day maiden voyage ends in catastrophe, after all. Except this time, a few passengers who perished on the original crossing make it home safely, including New York real-estate magnate John Jacob Astor IV, who -- after the United States is split asunder by an early 20th-century Southern secession -- is chosen as the third president of the northern Union. By the time 2012 rolls around, the world is an almost unrecognizable place. Imperial Japan occupies much of what we know as the U.S. West Coast, along with New York City (over which float giant airships). Mexico dominates Central and South America, while Germany controls central Europe and most of Africa, and a tsar still rules the Russian Empire. Perhaps most unbelievably, Tom Clancy (yes, that Tom Clancy) is the incumbent president of the Confederacy. Now into this bizarro world comes Joseph Kennedy, a Texas war hero and the grand-nephew of John F. Kennedy, who, with reluctant assistance from a descendant of the Titanic’s second officer, Charles Lightoller, and in the face of personal danger, plots to “restore history to its rightful order.”

The Titanic Murders, by Max Allan Collins: It was in a 1905 short story titled “The Problem of Cell 13,” published in the Boston American newspaper, that Georgia-born mystery writer Jacques Futrelle introduced Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, a literary detective also known as “The Thinking Machine,” because he solved puzzles through the persistent application of logic. Futrelle went on to compose additional short stories and seven novels, and would almost surely have produced more, had he not perished on the Titanic at age 37. Almost a century later, another crime-fictionist, Max Allan Collins, penned The Titanic Murders (1999), the first of his half-dozen “disaster mysteries.” In this paperback, “Jack” Futrelle is given new life and a new assignment: to solve the slaying of a blackguard named John Bertram Crafton, who’s approached several wealthy passengers on board, offering to hush up exaggeratedly negative “facts” from their pasts -- for a fee. Futrelle is recruited by Captain Edward J. Smith to investigate Crafton’s demise, much to the irritation of J. Bruce Ismay, president of the company that owns the Titanic, who is on board and just wants to keep the whole affair hush-hush. Collins’ portrayal of the relationship between Futrelle and his wife, May, is charming, and he avoids letting this tale slip too far into coziness by interjecting a goodly amount of gossip and scandal, as well as a second murder and even a séance, into his plot.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy, by William Seil: Onboard wrongdoings are also the focus of this sprightly novel, originally released in 1996 but brought back into print last month as part of Titan Books’ The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. Author Seil imagines Holmes and Doctor John H. Watson boarding the Titanic in April 1912 as part of a covert government mission. In the guise of a naval commodore, Holmes seeks to protect a pretty young female secret agent who’s carrying important submarine plans to the United States. When those plans are filched, Arthur Conan Doyle’s two sleuths must sift through a catalogue of likely suspects that includes the brother of Holmes’ late nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. The big question: Can the Great Detective finish his mission before an iceberg finishes the Titanic?

Unsinkable, by Dan James: I first heard about this brand-new UK release from the blog Shotsmag Confidential, which posted a backgrounder by author James (who has previously published mysteries under the byline “Dan Waddell”). I have not yet acquired a copy of Unsinkable, so I’ll offer here a plot synopsis that was featured this week in Crime Fiction Lover’s wrap-up of five maritime mysteries:
It’s April 1912 and Titanic is on its maiden voyage. Among those on board are a former Special Branch police officer, Arthur Beck, as well as the female journalist Martha Heaton. She’s looking to make her name as a serious correspondent. However, somewhere in the ship someone with murderous intentions is lurking, and Beck and Martha must work together to find the killer before they have a chance to strike.
That certainly sounds like a book worth adding to my shelves.

Every Man for Himself, by Beryl Bainbridge: A Whitbread Award winner and a finalist for the Booker Prize after it was first published in 1996, Every Man for Himself is a much quieter novel than those mentioned above. Yet, as The New Yorker proclaimed last month, it remains a “masterful vision of the Titanic’s voyage.” Bainbridge captures the optimism, grandiosity and horrors of this ocean liner’s all-too-brief excursion with drama equal to that of many non-fiction works on the same subject. Her story follows a youthful Harvard graduate named Morgan, apparently the nephew of banker and financier J. Pierpont Morgan, who was rescued from an impoverished, abusive boyhood and is still trying to get used to the largely lackadaisical existence of an heir. He has recently been employed as a lowly apprentice draughtsman at Harland and Wolff, the Belfast-based firm that built the Titanic, where he came to admire that ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews. Now he’s sailing home to New York aboard White Star’s biggest, boldest creation, gossiping and flirting and generally living the high life along the way. But his pursuit of a coolly beautiful socialite ends in shock, and the Titanic’s foundering tests his inner fortitude at the same time as it exposes faults in the Edwardian class system. Every Man for Himself is a coming-of-age yarn that has aged well.

Believe it or not, these picks hardly scratch the surface of Titanic-related fiction. You might also enjoy The Titanic Secret, by Jack Steel; The Dressmaker, by Kate Alcott; From Time to Time, by Jack Finney; Murder on the Titanic, by Jim Walker; The Ghost from the Grand Banks, by Arthur C. Clarke; Something’s Alive on the Titanic, by Robert Serling; and Allan Wolf’s innovative novel-in-verse, The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic.

If I’ve forgotten to mention any Titanic novels you think particularly deserving of attention, please feel free to let me know in the Comments section of this post.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Children's Book: Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

Tom Angleberger has once again written an amazing children’s comedy that finds kids in adult or silly situations. Fake Mustache (Amulet Books) is a mesh of many things -- including fairy tales and politics. This book has a little something for everyone: comedy, action, fantasy, suspense, surprises, doodles and much more! Not to mention all the different forms of writing.

This book is told from two people’s points of view, has a bit of screenplay writing, televised news, and helpful illustrations to perk up readers’ attention even more. The book promotes many products -- real and made-up, such as a mustache and other incredible toys -- with such creativity that kids will laugh their heads off. Angleberger has even been able to set it up for a possible sequel.

Fake Mustache is about how a fake mustache is all you need to rule the world. Lenny Flem Jr. and his friend, Casper Beuge, go to a toy store in hopes of getting a good bargain. Casper is intrigued by a deluxe handlebar mustache and buys it. That week, a short, mustachioed man goes around robbing banks with brainwashed minions. It doesn’t take Lenny long to put two and two together. He and his new friend, teen cowgirl Jodie O’Rodeo, must stop Casper from brainwashing and taking over the rest of the world.

So, the question stands: Is a fake mustache really all you need to rule the world?

Tom Angleberger is the author of many children’s novels,including Horton Halfpott and the Origami Yoda series. Like many authors today, he is a cartoonist who’s been able to incorporate his art into his stories. While the Origami Yoda books have doodles in the margins, Fake Mustache has huge, full-page, hilarious pictures to show readers what characters look like and to help understand what’s going on.

If you like Origami Yoda, you’ll love Fake Mustache. It’s fun and addictive from beginning to end. ◊

Ian Buchsbaum is a kid who loves to read. In fact, the only thing he loves more than reading is writing. He loves writing about books -- and he's already writing one of his own.

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Crime Fiction: Breakdown by Sara Paretsky

(Editor’s note: The following piece comes from Jim Napier, a Quebec resident and newspaper columnist. His book reviews have been featured in several Canadian papers and on such websites as Spinetingler Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Shots, Crime Time, Reviewing the Evidence, and Type M for Murder. Napier also has an award-winning crime-fiction site, Deadly Diversions.)

Chicago-based crime writer Sara Paretsky has long dominated the contemporary hard-boiled private-eye genre with fast-paced tales featuring her indefatigable, often headstrong sleuth, V.I. Warshawski. With more brass than a two-dollar watch and an attitude that would wear down a KGB interrogator, V.I. is a one-person wrecking crew, cutting through the carefully constructed edifices that shield bad people in high places, and leaving destruction, but also light, in her wake.

In Breakdown (Putnam), V.I. is summoned by her cousin Petra to find a group of seven pre-teens who’ve gone missing. Warshawski soon finds herself in an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Chicago in the midst of a summer storm and (if you’ll excuse the expression) the dead of night. Wearing a sodden party frock and grungy trainers, the 50-something P.I. is in no mood for being messing with when she runs across those seven youngsters holding a vampire ritual and trying to call up Camilla, Queen of the Dead. The kids get more than they bargained for when they stumble upon a corpse impaled on a piece of rebar and lying on a slab, the dead man’s blood still fresh. Making matters worse, someone has heard the commotion and called the cops. V.I. manages to get the kids away from the crime scene and back to one of their parent’s apartment, but not without incident: one of them claims to have seen someone, likely the killer. Even more disturbingly, another member of the group lost her cell phone in the cemetery: the girl may have photographed the killer, and if so, her phone could be used to track her down.

Undaunted by a little mud and murder, V.I. finally makes her way to the ballroom event where she’d been headed before receiving Petra’s frantic call. The object of attention is Wade Lawlor, doyen of the political right and host of a media-dominating TV show on the Global Entertainment Network. Lawlor has the public’s ear, and his word can make or break anyone with political ambitions. He’s hitched his wagon to local senatorial candidate Helen Kendrick, another right-winger, whose fortunes stem from her husband’s corporate interests. Lawlor has supported a group that, among other right-wing endeavors, disputes President Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship, and he and Warshawski are light-years apart in their thinking. They trade thinly veiled insults, and before long V.I. has made yet another important enemy.

V.I. is attending this ballroom function at the request of Murray Ryerson, a journalist with whom she’s worked on a number of investigative pieces. Murray’s latest cause is the plight of the mentally ill, both on and off the street. The project piques V.I.’s interest, not least because she has a good friend from her college days who has spent most of her own life battling mental issues. When V.I. learns that Lawlor helped to axe Ryerson’s investigative series before it even got off the ground, her hackles are raised. Lawlor’s favorite pastime is washing other people’s laundry in public. Does the media mogul himself have something to hide?

Despite its cosmopolitan air, the Windy City is really just one big -- if not always happy -- family, and V.I. soon discovers that the victim in the cemetery has ties to the law firm presided over by her own ex-husband. Adding further to the rapidly expanding fog of conflicting interests, one of the girls she found at the cemetery is the daughter of Sophie Durango, who’s running for the same senatorial seat sought by Lawlor darling Helen Kendrick. When Lawlor goes after Durango on his show, Warshawski decides it’s time to get involved.

In Breakdown, author Paretsky weaves a wide-ranging tale involving death in an abandoned graveyard, the all-too-cozy relationship between politicians and the media, and the plight of the mentally ill into a single fast-paced plot. In the hands of a lesser writer this ambitious project might well have degenerated into a tangled skein of storytelling threads, but Paretsky pulls it off in trumps. Breakdown is a timely yarn, given the current electoral circus in the United States, and Paretsky’s political arrows strike all too close to home.

Like her plucky protagonist, Sara Paretsky has lost none of her edge.

READ MORE:The Lady Speaks Her Mind,” by Jim Napier (Spinetingler Magazine).

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Snoop to Release Book You Can Smoke

We’ve all heard of smoking hot books, but this is off the hook. From Time’s newsfeed:
Snoop is releasing Rolling Words: A Smokable Songbook, which is made of the rapper’s new Kingsize Slim Rolling Papers, featuring lyrics to classic songs like “Gin and Juice,” “Still a G Thang” and “What’s My Name.”

“This thing can also be smoked with some of your finest, where you at or however you at,” Snoop explains in a promo video. The book is made of hemp material, a twine cover and perforated rolling-paper pages, and you can even strike a match across the spine, thanks to its special surface — multipurpose!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New This Week: Ison of the Isles by Carolyn Ives Gilman

In 2011, I was captivated by Carolyn Ives Gilman’s introduction to the Forsaken Isles. While choosing the book as one of my top reads of the year, I said that “Isles of the Forsaken is not one of those works of fantasy that you just fall into. Like some of the very best of the genre, you really have to work at it for a while to discover the richness. It’s a whole new world, after all. One with four races and a lot of strife and conflict. An imperial technocracy is pushing out an ancient culture and author Carolyn Ives Gilman captures the nuances of this conflict perfectly.”

In many ways -- and as appropriate -- the author’s follow-up to that novel, Ison of the Isles (CZP) is exactly like that. Only different.

This time out, the politics are more developed and the the machinations are deeply in play. Revolution has broken out in the Forsaken Isles and the islanders have risen up in one disjointed whole in order to drive away the Inning Empire. However they know they will never present a united front until they have an Ison to lead them: something that is easier said than done.

Like the first book, Ison of the Isles is not the sort of SF/F you fall into quickly and follow easily. Like the best of the genre, you spend some time orienting yourself in a world so complete, it's easy to get lost. As a result, if you’re looking for an easy read, you might do better to keep looking. If, however, you’re ready to be fully carried away, Ison of the Isles is a good choice. Ives Gilman builds her world with a muscular poise that is so graceful and authoritative, it seems easy in its confidence. ◊

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, April 09, 2012

Bestselling Mystery Authors Get on the Bus

In an era when the book industry seems constantly brimming with gloomy news and various variations on news of a falling sky, word about Atria’s Mystery Bus Tour is strangely uplifting.

The premise is astonishingly simple… almost old-timey, really. Atria, a division of Simon and Schuster is stuffing four accomplished mystery writers on a bus and sending them on an eight day tour that will hit a dozen cities and cover close to 2500 miles.

Low tech though the idea might be, it won’t exactly be a covered wagon. Paul Olsewski, Atria’s director of publicity has said the authors will be aboard a “luxury executive coach with WIFI, so the authors will be able to interact via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube on the road.”

I’m guessing, too, that with this particular group, there’s going to be some fun: M.J. Rose (above left on base) is talking up Lost Fragrances; Swede of the moment Lisa Marlund (keyboards) is chatting up Last Will; William Kent Kruger (lead guitar) will be talking about Northwest Angle; and John Connolly (drums) is promoting Burning Soul.

The tour gets rolling April 11th. With the starpower being hauled around the country on that bus, you can anticipate lots of traditional media coverage, but the social media machine is already cranking, based out of a micro blog on Tumblr and the obligatory Facebook page.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Fiction: The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino

I’m generally not a fan of single-family tragicomic novels in which the family in question is hit from all sides, only to emerge more or less triumphant at the end, rich with life lessons. (Maybe that makes me a bad person.)

Still, Kris D’Agostino’s The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac (Algonquin), a tragicomic novel in which one family is hit from all sides, only to emerge more or less triumphant at the end, rich with life lessons, is pretty damn good.

Narrated by Calvin Moretti, the middle child, the story is told in vignettes, all conveyed through his early-20s, pot-and-online-porn-induced malaise about his job, his prospects, his money, his relationships with his parents and sister and brother, and his life in general. Cal’s whole take on things is laid back to a fare-thee-well, and I got the feeling, while reading, that he might just as soon have stayed in bed all day and done nothing at all (that is, more pot and more porn). What keeps him going, it seems, is probably the desire to simply keep moving; like a shark, he knows that if he stops, he dies.

Cal’s dad, a sidelined airline pilot, is having serious health problems. His brother is either a shit or a nice guy, depending on the chapter. His sister, still in high school, announces she’s pregnant. And his mother, sometimes desperately, sometimes with a put-upon resignation, is just trying to keep it together -- “it” being herself sometimes, her family at others.

D’Agostino crafts these people with an unrelenting eye and ear for detail. Still, the more I read, the more I found myself frustrated by the very thing I liked. I felt for these people, but I wanted to take them all by the shoulders and shake them. Frankly, every last one of them needs a good spanking.

Cal works at school for special needs kids, and the scenes there are illuminating and heartbreaking. But oddly -- and certainly purposely -- the kid with the most special needs is Cal himself. The problem is, there’s really no one to help him through this black (and/or bleak) period of his life. Ambition has left him. His family is no longer what he thought it was. Neither is he. And the hits keep coming, leading this aren’t-families-funny novel inevitably to its aren’t-families-tragic ending.

I was shocked by the ending, but not surprised -- if that makes any sense. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t think D’Agostino would do it. It pulls too many heartstrings, it’s too deliberate, and this is something I thought he would shy away from. But like the book’s cover image, a house that pops up when you open the pages, unfolding before your eyes, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac is a book that offers new bits of life’s cruel reality and unspeakable joy at every turn. ◊

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Children’s Books: In the Beech Forest by Gary Crew, illustrated by Den Scheer

In the Beech Forest (Ford Street) is not the kind of picture book you read to your five-year-old. It’s aimed at an older age group, around ten upwards. If you can bring yourself to part with the book, you can give it to your older child.

The storyline is simple: a boy leaves behind his computer games for a walk in the beech forest.
“A beech forest,” his father told him. “Antarctic beech: ancient, primal. The oldest of trees.”
But as the artwork suggests, he doesn’t really leave the computer games behind. Among the gnarled roots of these ancient, primal trees a damsel confronts -- and defeats -- a monster that might be a part of the towering trees. By the end of his walk, the boy will have a more positive view of the forest and the earth of which we are all a part.

So, what happens when a well-known writer of dark YA tales combines with a young artist who completely understands his theme? You get a book that is beautiful to look at and teaches you something at the same time.

Den Scheer’s exquisite sepia-to-color pieces don’t simply illustrate the text, they interpret it. Computer game monsters that fight in the forest of the boy’s mind are nevertheless a part of the forest through which he is walking. The style suggests woodcuts. Each piece of text or art is framed in stone, with fossil leaves hinting at how very ancient the forest is. And this artist is 18. Lucky Ford Street to have become her first publisher!

If this book doesn’t end up on next year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlist or the Crichton Awards for new artists, there is no justice! ◊

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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Big Six Find E-Books Profitable

Big publishers are finding that electronic books are generally more profitable than their print counterparts, according to Paid Content.

Here’s the thing, though: since production costs on e-books are fixed and distribution costs pretty much nonexistent on what planet is this news? Especially since, in many cases, they’ve been able to hang onto electronic rights that a more prepared marketplace would not have allowed them to hoard. The fat lady has not sung yet, but the piece in question is here.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

New This Week: Floating Like the Dead by Yasuko Thanh

In 2009, Yasuko Thanh won the coveted Journey Prize for “Floating Like the Dead,” the title story of her debut collection, published this week by McClelland & Stewart. Like most of the stories collected here, the title piece deals with outcasts, expats and people otherwise outside of the mainstream in some way. Sometimes the distance is emotional, though in the case of “Floating Like the Dead” it’s a physical remove: the story -- strangely moving, distinctly compelling -- is about a leper colony off Canada’s west coast near the beginning of the 20th century.

Thanh’s writing is exploratory, capricious and memorable. And also, for a writer at this stage in her career, it’s quite celebrated. In addition to the $10,000 Journey prize, she’s been a finalist for some of Canada’s most significant awards for short fiction. A novel, Teddy’s Blow-Off Attraction, is complete but no announcement has been made. But the existence of the book is a comfort: once you’ve read Floating Like the Dead you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll be able to hear more of Thanh’s quirky, resonant in the not-too-distance future. ◊

India Wilson is a writer and artist.

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

And the Best Literary April Fool Goes to…

Though this bit of news from Locus got bounced around enough on Twitter that it was pretty clear a lot of people thought it was real, the other sentiment in the Twitterverse was sadness that it wasn’t.

The item was posted at a little after eleven this morning, under the byline of one L. Ron Creepweans:
Margaret Atwood Launches New SF Magazine

Toronto: Today Booker Prize-winning novelist Margaret Atwood announced that she was launching a new science fiction magazine, Loquacious Cephalopod.

“I’ve always been gratified by the unconditional love I’ve received from the science fiction community for works such as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, and Loquacious Cephalopod is a way to return that love. We’re interested in running the very best space opera, planetary romance, and especially hard science fiction. I’m going to fight Stanley Schmidt tooth and nail to get the very best hard SF available!”
While Atwood fans might wish that it were true, here’s some Atwood news that is: Breakthrough Entertainment has optioned the author’s award-winning children’s series, Wandering Wenda and Friends, for development as an animated series for preschool children. No word on when the series might go into production or air.

But back to both Twitter and Atwood, here -- because she’s awesome -- are the author’s Twitter-shared picks for best of the worst of April Fools: the great spaghetti harvest from Ecology and a list of the top 100 April Fools day hoaxes of all time from the Museum of Hoaxes.