Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fiction: A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones

The purpose of the anthology A Book of Horrors (St. Martin’s Griffin) would seem to be, at least in part, to take a stab back at all those sparkly vampires. “What the hell happened to the horror genre?” editor Stephen Jones asks in his introduction. “These days our bloodsuckers are more likely to show their romantic nature, werewolves work for government organizations, phantoms are private investigators and the walking dead can be found sipping tea amongst the polite society of a Jane Austen novel.”

While Jones acknowledges an audience for that sort of horror fiction, he makes it clear that sort is not his sort… nor is it what you’ll find in A Book of Horrors, a space where Jones has come to “reclaim the horror genre for those who understand and appreciate the worth of a scary story.”

And there is much here to be scared of. Jones opens with a story by the master, Stephen King, in good form here with “The Little Green God of Agony.” Included, also, are stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Peter Crowther, Angela Slatter, John Ajvide Lindquist,  Elizabeth Hand and others.

Tired of sparkly vampires and romantic werewolves? The antidote is here. If you don’t find something here to scare you, probably nothing will. ◊

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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Holiday Gift Guide: True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps by Gianna Sobol and Alan Ball

True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps (Chronicle Books) represents the ultimate creative full circle. What is now an immensely popular television series began as the Southern Vampire Mystery Series by Charlaine Harris. The first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, debuted in 2001. Then came True Blood the television series in 2008. And now, four years later, we have the -- wait for it -- cookbook, co-authored by associate produced Gianna Sobol and creator, writer and producer of the series, Allan Ball. As such, this is an official series cookbook -- quite a few steps beyond “inspired by” -- and thus includes cast photos and production stills, and writing (ahem) straight from the mouths of Sookie and her pals.

Of course, being that producers and television writers tend not to be noted chefs, the authors had some help with the actual recipes. Though attributed to various series characters, the recipes were actually created by  Marcelle Bienvenue, co-author of the bestselling New Orleans heritage cookbook, Cooking Up A Storm.

Those venturing this far will find fairly standard Southern fare bedazzled with dark titles: Corn Bread of Life, Drop-Dead Tuna Cheese Casserole, Did I Kiss Your Grits?, Another Dead Chick-en Sandwich, Killer Lemonade and so on.

The recipes are fun if unexceptional, but the production values are high. Fans of the series will love this one. ◊

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, October 30, 2012

Will Ferguson Wins 2012 Giller

Though until now he has perhaps been best known for his debut work, 1997’s Why I Hate Canadians, Will Ferguson has been given the nod for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s richest literary award.

Ferguson wins for his novel, the thriller 419 (Viking Canada/Penguin Canada). The announcement was made at a nationally televised dinner and awards ceremony hosted by CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi and attended by more than 500 members of the publishing, media and arts communities.

Ferguson takes home the $50,000 prize, with the remaining four finalists receiving $5,000 each.

Those finalists were:
Alix Ohlin for her novel Inside, published by House of Anansi Press
Nancy Richler for her novel The Imposter Bride, published by HarperCollins Publishers
Kim Thúy for her novel Ru, translated by Sheila Fischman, published by Random House Canada
Russell Wangersky for his short story collection Whirl Away, published by Thomas Allen Publishers


Penguin and Random Merger Will Create Global Publishing Giant

News that the merger of Random House and Pengiun Books will go forward has all facets of the industry speculating on how this marriage between giants will impact the book business.

But The Telegraph broke the worst news of all: one of the best ever opportunities for a pun has been missed. There will be no Random Penguin, as so many had hoped. And no Penguin House. Instead, as Katherine Rushton notes in The Telegraph, “the merged company will be more conservatively christened Penguin Random House.”

As Rushton points out, as currently planned, Penguin Random House will have between 25 and 30 percent of the global publishing market, though “considerably more in certain genres such as travel, where Random House owns Fodor’s guides and Penguin has Rough Guides and Dorling Kindersley.”

Though the papers have been drawn and the merger seems likely to go forward, “This deal feels like a dead cert for referral to the competition authorities.”

The fact that regulatory approval will be required is a given and industry analysts anticipate that we aren’t likely to see that until well into 2013, though Rushton doesn’t see it as a huge hurdle:
At the moment, Pearson and Bertelsmann are both confident that they will win approval, but analysts think there is a 50/50 chance that the company will be forced to sell off some of its “imprints”, such as Ebury or Viking, which operate like fiefdoms within each publisher, each with their own style and list of books. Paul Richards, an analyst at Numis, draws parallels with Universal’s recent £1.2bn takeover of EMI, which only won regulatory approval on condition that Universal sold off valuable labels.
Even with that obstacle to get through, according to The New York Times, the merger isn’t much of a surprise:
Facing [new media] challenges, the major publishers have been expected to join together, getting smaller in number and bigger in size. The other four houses among the so-called Big Six are also owned by larger media conglomerates: HarperCollins, which is part of News Corporation; Macmillan, owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck of Germany; Hachette, whose parent company is Lagardère of France; and Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS. They could all now face increased pressure to consolidate in response to a combined Penguin Random House. 
“I wouldn’t be surprised if all the major trade publishers were having conversations like this,” said Ned May, an analyst at Outsell, a research firm. “I would expect to see similar realignment.”
HarperCollins has already signaled its interest in consolidation. News Corporation approached Pearson informally over the weekend to explore its own bid for Penguin, and that interest sped up what was already an expedited process with Random House, said one executive briefed on the negotiations. Now that Penguin is out of the picture, News Corporation will most likely be looking for a new partner for HarperCollins.

While the media speculates and the media giants reimagine themselves, Publishers Weekly points out that, aside from Frankenstorm, it’s business as usual in New York.

Jason Ashlock, an agent and founder of Movable Type, who spoke on the record, said that it would be very difficult to ignore two of the biggest publishing houses when shopping a project. For now, Ashlock, like others, are betting on what this unified super-publisher might look like. "Though we can't and won't know how the two companies will structure their divisions once all is revealed next fall or winter, we can guess, and my bet is that the strength of the big divisions will remain. [In other words], I can see Penguin becoming two or three groups alongside Crown, Doubleday/Knopf, and Little Random. It's difficult to ignore Random House and Penguin when submitting a property."

Regardless of how Penguin Random House is actually structured, though, Ashlock said agents need to be focused on the bigger picture. The more important thing is "projecting what the landscape will look like in two years when all this shakes out. That's where agents have to put a lot of their thinking: as consolidations continue, it is not going to be a seller's market."

Meanwhile, PW reports on how Hurricane Sandy has impacted the NYC publishing scene here.


Fiction: Doppler by Erlend Loe

In a world gone mad for all literature with the smack of Scandanavia, Doppler (Anansi) seems at first like a sharply sweet joke. Canadian publisher, Anansi, calls Doppler an “enchanting, subversive, and very unusual story of one man and his moose.” Think of Doppler as Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the 21st century, but with a moose calf called Bongo, Scandinavian hipster attitude and a sharper narrative flow.

Stricken beyond pain by the death of his father, Andreas Doppler leaves everything behind -- home, family, job -- in order to live in a tent in the forest.
I realize that my behavior has been very trying for my wife and I’ve tried to explain that my little adventure has nothing to do with her …. At the start she suspected I had something going with another woman, but she doesn’t think so any longer. Now, in a sense, she has resigned herself to the fact that I live in a tent in the forest.
Doppler is witty, sly and surprising. And it’s slender enough, once you begin, you might never have to put it down. ◊

Jones Atwater is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Reading on a Desert Island. In a Storm.

True to form, Flavorwire rises to the occasion by coming up with a reading list to help people get through the storm currently threatening the American Northeast.
In case you haven’t heard, a massive storm is slated to sock the Northeast over the next two days as Hurricane Sandy, combined with a wintery cold weather system (that’s why it’s earned the seasonally-appropriate nickname “Frankenstorm”) threatens to slam into us. If you live anywhere on the East Coast or thereabouts, we imagine you’ll be wanting to stay inside for the foreseeable future, so we’ve put together an essential stormy weather reading list to get you in the hurricane mood and keep you busy while the weather rages. The lights might go out, but books don’t run out of batteries. Just don’t forget the candles. 
Flavorwire’s selections include Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man, Bleak House by Charles Dickens and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, because, “Maybe this massive storm has actually come to snatch us up and deposit us in the Land of Oz, where we will defeat evil witches and make best friends with large felines. Hey, we can dream, right?”

The full piece is here.

Cookbooks: The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe by Mark Reinfeld

Part of living vegan is giving stuff up. At least, that was true until fairly recently, when a larger number of people than ever before became interested in a plant-based diet. In the past few years, we’ve been deluged with vegan cookbooks. Obviously, some of these are better than others.

Mark Reinfeld’s books are generally among the good ones. What sets  Reinfeld’s books apart is his welcome old-school approach to an entirely new school subject.

Award-winning chef Reinfeld has written or co-written half a dozen vegan-focused books. Most of them have been deeply concerned with the nuts and bolts of his topic and have been delivered in a very traditional way. This is also true of his latest book, The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe (Da Capo Lifelong), which, as the title suggests, revisits classic favorites and remakes them for a meat-free version of the 21st century. And thus we have Faux Gras, an entirely vegan version of foie gras made with walnuts and mushrooms; a completely vegan Horchata and even Baked Vegan Schnitzel, a healthful animal-free version of an Austrian speciality. And while it’s obvious that tofu baked in tahini and cornflake coating is never going to taste like veal -- nor should it! -- the satisfaction here comes from trying something entirely different and yet completely healthful, while offering something really new and out of the ordinary to your friends and family.

If opting for a vegan lifestyle has left you missing some of the flavors from your youth, The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe will probably not be able to assuage them 100 per cent. But in a sea of vegan Spanish Omelettes, Vegan Bouillabaisse, French Onion Soup and Scottish Crumpets, you’ll be having too much fun enjoying all the new flavors to really miss too many of the old ones. ◊

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

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Faulkner Estate Sues Sony Over Quote

The estate of William Faulkner would seem to have opened up a real can of worms with a lawsuit agains Sony Pictures Classics over a Faulkner quote paraphrased in Woody Allen’s Academy Award-nominated film Midnight In Paris.

Faulkner Literary Rights filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Mississippi for copyright infringement, commercial appropriation and violation of the Lanham Act.

“Sony’s actions in distributing the Infringing Film were malicious, fraudulent, deliberate and/or willful,” reads the complaint. “Sony did not have Faulkner’s consent to appropriate William Faulkner’s name or his works for Sony’s advantage.” From Deadline:
In Midnight In Paris, Gil Pender, the disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter played by Owen Wilson, says, “the past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.” The rightsholder say the slightly paraphrased quote could “deceive the infringing film’s viewers as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association between William Faulkner and his works, on the one hand, and Sony, on the other hand.”
The words, as written by Faulkner in 1950’s Requiem for a Nun, are, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio’s position is firm:
In a statement, a representative for the studio said: “This is a frivolous lawsuit and we are confident we will prevail in defending it.  There is no question this brief reference (10 words) to a quote from a public speech Faulkner gave constitutes fair use and any claim to the contrary is without merit.”

Friday, October 26, 2012

Young Adult: The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

It seems ironic that the author who suffered a scandal for weaving too much fiction into his memoir should come back as part of a writing team that claims no earthly connection. Some would say there is room for scandal at the heart of Full Fathom Five, the writer’s factory Frey set up to create new projects. We won’t go into that here, as it’s been well covered in the press and may, in any case, be old news. The new news is the master creation: under the pseudonym of Pittacus Lore, Frey and other of his factory writers recreated themselves as the author of the bestselling Lorien Legacies. The author’s bio looks like this:
Pittacus Lore is Lorien’s ruling Elder. He had been on Earth preparing for the war that will decide Earth’s fate. His whereabouts are unknown.
Which, of course, does not even play at truth, or even reality, but rather enhances the story that Frey and company have come to tell. Fair ball? I’m not really sure, but if the wildfire sales that have driven this series for the past few years are any evidence, Frey is onto something here. After all, everyone knows: kids dig pretend.

The Rise of the Nine (HarperCollins) is the third book in what is being forecast as a six book series. Readers who have been following the exploits of Number Four are in for a shock about Sarah and will get to finally uncover the identity of Number Eight.

Science fiction at its finest is spirit lifting and mind-expanding. This isn’t that. The Rise of Nine is both compelling and contrived: an odd combination that apparently works for a large number of readers. In fact, over 1.25 million readers have tuned into this exciting series already, a number no doubt fueled by the 2011 Michael Bay film based on the first book, I Am Number Four. While the film made bags of money, the critics heaped it with vitriol and the books are somewhat like that: forgettable, overwrought space schmaltz that, nonetheless, have a huge following.

If you take all of that as read, we’ll be hearing a lot more from Pittacus Lore as time moves on. ◊

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

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Genre Wars: Another Chapter

In a blood pressure raising piece on The New Yorker’s blog, Arthur Krystal astonishes by drafting a piece that seems to intentionally insult anyone who reads it.

In “It’s Genre. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It!” Krystal writes:
What I’m trying to say is that “genre” is not a bad word, although perhaps the better word for novels that taxonomically register as genre is simply “commercial.” Born to sell, these novels stick to the trite-and-true, relying on stock characters whose thoughts spool out in Lifetime platitudes. There will be exceptions, as there are in every field, but, for the most part, the standard genre or commercial novel isn’t going to break the sea frozen inside us. If this sounds condescending, so be it. Commercial novels, in general, whether they’re thrillers or romance or science fiction, employ language that is at best undistinguished and at worst characterized by a jejune mentality and a tendency to state the obvious. Which is not to say that some literary novels, as more than a few readers pointed out to me, do not contain a surfeit of decorative description, elaborate psychologizing, and gleams of self-conscious irony. To which I say: so what?
There’s more of this -- a lot more -- but be careful to grab a mittful of Lisinopril before reading. Your blood pressure might demand it.

The New Yorker blog piece is here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Penguin House? Random Bird? Rumors of Random/Penguin Discussions Confirmed

The bookworld has been atwitter today with chatter that publishing giants Random House and Penguin have been discussing a merger. As of Thursday afternoon, we have confirmation from the source that the talks, at least, are true. Earlier today, Pearson issued the following statement:
Pearson confirms that it is discussing with Bertelsmann a possible combination of Penguin and Random House. The two companies have not reached agreement and there is no certainty that the discussions will lead to a transaction. A further announcement will be made if and when appropriate.
Publishers Weekly, always ready with book-related numbers, gives us a taste of what such a merger might mean:
If a deal does go through, it will unite the two largest trade houses in the U.S., including the two dominant publishers of mass market paperbacks. In 2011, Random House had worldwide revenue of 1.75 billion euros ($2.2 billion at current exchange rates) while Penguin Group had total sales of 1.04 billion pounds ($1.70 billion at current rates). Their combined American operations would have sales of about $1.8 billion, giving Random House Penguin about a 16% share of the trade market based on BookStats industry estimates of trade sales of just under $12.5 billion (excluding religion). With that type of market share, it would be difficult for Amazon, or any other online retailer, to turn off buy buttons if they disagreed over some business decision, one analyst noted. The combination would also have enough financial heft to increase direct-to-consumer efforts beyond the struggling Bookish. Others see this as a move to plug some holes in both companies' worldwide operations, although both publishers have well-established businesses in the major English-language countries.
You can see all of the Publishers Weekly piece here. Quill & Quire comments here.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Biography: John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger

No one writes biography quite like Harlow Giles Unger. His last half dozen or so books have brought as many long dead presidents back to something like literary life.

I loved 2010’s Lion of Liberty, an action-packed portrait of Patrick “liberty or death” Henry. James Monroe, Lafayette, Noah Webster, John Hancock, George Washington and others all have been breathed to life for us with skill and vigor and Harlow Giles Unger’s well seasoned pen. The first few words of John Quincy Adams (Da Capo) illustrate Unger’s skill: in a very few words he tells us everything we really need to know about his subject, introduces the idea of why we should care and teases us to go on:
He served under Washington and with Lincoln; he lived with Ben Franklin, lunched with Lafayette, Jefferson, and Wellington; he waked with Russia’s czar and talked with Britain’s king; he dined with Dickens, taught at Harvard, and was an American minister to six European countries. He negotiated the peace that ended the war of 1812, free the African prisoners on the slave ship Amistad, served sixteen years in the House of Representatives, restored free speech in Congress, led the antislavery movement…… and …He was the sixth President of the United States.John Quincy Adams was all these things -- and more.
Interestingly, if one moves from this concise beginning to the first line of the first chapter, one gets a more dramatic reading:
“Mr. Adams!” the old lady shrieked. “You’re embarking under very threatening signs. The heavens frown, the clouds roll, the winds howl, the waves of the sea roll upon the beach.”
As the country rolls towards election, looking over our shoulder can be an interesting -- and sometimes even helpful -- exercise. And, as usual, Harlow Giles Unger delivers some of the best.

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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The Birth of a Literary Prize

There are times in life when we are galvanized by inequity. So it was for a group of women who were touched by a panel at the recent Vancouver Writers Festival and determined to do something to right a perceived wrong.

The Writers Festival panel looked at facts: since 1901, the Nobel Prize for Literature has only been taken home by a woman a dozen times. In Canada, the prestigious Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour has been awarded to only five women since 1947. Of the Giller Prize’s 19 winners, seven have been women and much less than half of the winners of the Governor-General’s Award for English-Language Fiction have been women.

On hearing these facts and others, something in the women in the lecture hall stirred. As poetically described by Marsha Lederman in the Globe and Mail:
The rain was teeming that night, but the real storm was happening onstage at the Vancouver Writers Fest: Five women, including the founder of the U.K.’s Orange Prize for Fiction, were discussing the state of affairs for female writers. It was not a happy tale: There is extreme gender inequality in the awarding of literary prizes both internationally, and in Canada.
Thomas Allen Publishers’ editorial director, Janice Zawerbny, was in the audience that night. She told The Globe that she was “shocked and dismayed. I just felt compelled to take action.”

And she did.
Over dinner with [novelist Susan] Swan and others in Vancouver this past weekend, Zawerbny hatched a plan -- a prize for female writers of fiction in Canada. Back in Toronto this week, she gave it a name: the Rosalind Prize for Fiction.
“I didn’t want to put ‘women’ in the title. I wanted it to be a fiction prize,” said Zawerbny, 44. The prize is named for Rosalind, the intelligent, resourceful and witty protagonist of Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. A secondary reference is to the British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin, who made critical, but overlooked contributions to the discovery of DNA.
And while plans and corporate sponsorship are still being worked out, the inaugural Rosalind Prize will be awarded in 2014.

The full Globe piece is here.

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Fiction: The Little House Books: The Library of America Collection by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Caroline Fraser

In 2012, books are easy and everywhere. They are downloadable and sometimes disposable. And even while the world goes mad and the book world rocks on its heels, there has never been a time where the entire planet has been more literate. And I can’t imagine there’s ever been a time when we talk about books quite this much.

Into this climate of literature that is easily and inexpensively available, books that are beautiful and special begin to make more and more sense. Some publishers are answering this call, producing lovely and precious hardbound versions of books that will likely mostly sell electronically.

Over the past few years, The Library of America has been picking up steam in bringing to market an increasing number of books so lovely and well thought out they seem precious. The nicest of these I’ve seen has been the recently published collection called The Little House Books, which of course brings together all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels that focus on that familiar Little House on the Prairie as well as some related writings. Included in the collection are: Little House in the Big Woods (1932); Farmer Boy (1933); Little House on the Prairie (1935); On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937); By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939); The Long Winter (1940); Little Town on the Prairie (1941); These Happy Golden Years (1943), and the posthumously edited and published The First Four Years (1971).

Published in a charmingly bound two-volume set, The Little House Books includes a newly researched chronology of Wilder’s life and career and some historical notes.

Missing, from my viewpoint, was an essay by editor Caroline Fraser, that might have offered contemporary comment on the work she has here bound together. Other than that, The Little House Books offers another opportunity for those who loved these books as children to gift them beautifully to a new generation of readers. ◊

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

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New This Week: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The Art Forger (Algonquin Books) is one hell of a novel. This thriller by B.A. Shapiro is set in the world of fine art -- the finest, actually. It’s a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of museums and throughout the art business. And yes, it is a certainly a business, where prowess isn’t just about the art itself, but in owning it. It appears that what we know about art isn’t always factual; art, like so much else in life, is all about the story, and the story is all too often about hiding the truth.

This tale is told through the eyes -- and in the light, nothing’s-gonna-faze-me voice -- of a woman named Claire Roth, the art forger of the title. By day she copies paintings for an online business, all on the up-and-up (it’s not a crime to copy a painting). Her specialty? Works by Edgar Degas. But there’s more to Claire than how she pays her rent. There’s also her past and a scandal that’s not quite old enough for people to have forgotten. It seems she painted a painting someone else took credit for -- it hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art -- and when she blew the whistle, no one believed her.

Now, as this new book begins, Claire is approached by Aiden Markel, a well-known gallery owner, who asks her not to copy a Degas ... but to forge one that was stolen from Boston’s famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. It’s when Markel produces the stolen Degas that everything begins to get a little wonky for Claire -- and undeniably magnetic for the reader.

The Art Forger is simply a terrific novel, and it’s also a how-to manual for fine-art forgers. Author Shapiro (through Claire) knows a thing or two about what it takes to forge a painting convincingly. Why the brush strokes matter. How to age a painting so it looks like it was made a century ago. How to fake-out the professionals who authenticate paintings. She also knows about the art business: how museums and galleries work, why hanging a forgery as the real thing is sometimes actually desirable, and much more. What’s pretty darn amazing is how Shapiro teaches us all of this while also weaving a pretty darn wonderful read. Her plotting is crisp and clever, her characters are well-drawn, and the layers of moral and practical predicament Claire gets herself into are nothing to envy. Often, she’s as up-against-the-wall as the paintings themselves.

The Art Forger is part Indiana Jones adventure, part Da Vinci Code conspiracy yarn, and part college-level art class. So yeah, it’s got great parts -- and even so, it’s much greater than their sum. ◊

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D&M Publishers Enters Protection

Sad news from Vancouver, Canada, yesterday. D&M, one of the country’s most respected publishers, has filed for creditor protection. From Quill & Quire:
The Vancouver-based firm announced late Monday that it has filed a notice of intention under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. According to a statement, the company intends “to carry on its operations during this restructuring process” and has enlisted Bowra Group “to locate an investor or purchaser for its assets.”s filed for bankruptcy protection.
The move will directly impact both the Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone Books imprints, but not subsidiary New Society Publishers, which is a distinct legal entity.

The Globe and Mail covers the announcement here, while Quill & Quire adds their voice here.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Crime Fiction: Beach Strip by John Lawrence Reynolds

Although there is no shortage of women authors whose protagonists are male, the reverse is seldom true. The Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin once told me that it was difficult for male writers to write convincingly from a woman’s perspective. We discussed why that was, and decided, somewhat disturbingly, that in many cases men simply weren’t as perceptive as women. We moved on from that dark thought, and let the issue drop.

But it looks as though in at least one case, we were wrong. After an almost 10-year hiatus from writing crime fiction, Canadian author John Lawrence Reynolds has turned out a new novel, Beach Strip (HarperCollins Canada), and it’s a winner. It features a woman as protagonist -- and it’s told from a first-person point of view. For good measure it contains not one, but two finely etched portraits of sisters, very different women, each convincingly done.

Gabe Marshall is a police detective, and after he and wife Josie have each put failed previous marriages behind them, they are trying to carve out a measure of happiness in a modest beach cottage on the shore of Lake Ontario that serves as their refuge from a troubled world. Or they were, until one horrible evening when Josie returns home to find officers swarming over the site, marking off a grassy section of the beach with yellow tape, and inside that Stygian landscape, Gabe Marshall lying among the grass with a bullet in his brain.

His death seems clearly a suicide, and Josie’s immediate thought is that somehow Gabe discovered that she was having an affair with one of his fellow officers. When her sister from Vancouver, British Columbia, descends on Josie to help, she notices an expensive ring that Gabe had recently given Josie. It’s way beyond what a policeman could plausibly afford. Josie is evasive, uncertain how Gabe had acquired it. Unspoken between these sisters is the question: Had Gabe been on the take, and was the ring somehow implicated in his death?

Despite questions from the investigating officers and a media scrum that lays waste to her privacy, Josie somehow makes it through the next few days. When the bullet that killed Gabe is traced to his own gun, and paraffin tests reveal that he fired the weapon, Josie still denies that it was suicide.

Refusing a departmental ceremony, she has Gabe’s remains cremated, and then takes his ashes past a nearby drawbridge to a canal, intending to return them to the natural environment they both loved. She hears a man’s voice telling her he knows what happened, but the drawbridge horn sounds, warning that the bridge is about to be raised; it almost knocks her over with its force, and causes her to drop the box containing Gabe’s remains. When she recovers, the man who spoke to her is nowhere to be found. She runs home to regain her bearings, and only later returns to recover the box of ashes. But she finds more than she expects: the body of a man at the foot of the canal, his head crushed by the bridge’s massive concrete counterweight. Is this a macabre accident, or did the man really have something to tell Josie about her husband’s death?

Before her quest is over, Josie will fight a police department that has made up its mind about Gabe’s death, and be forced to enter the shadowy world of his work. While getting to the bottom of things she will grapple with a druggie who shows up at her front door and a prowler in her backyard, and she will confront a local crime boss who is either her worst enemy or a valued friend. And in the process, Josie Marshall will learn that betrayal takes many forms, sometimes that of the person closest to you.

Author Reynolds is a seasoned professional, and it shows. A former president of the Crime Writers of Canada, and a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel, he has half a dozen crime novels under his belt. Beach Strip is an engrossing tale, with a strong sense of place and characters that are both believable and engaging. Nicely paced, with several twists and a story line that will hold the reader’s attention, it marks the welcome return of an accomplished writer to Canadian crime fiction. Let’s hope there are many more of Reynolds’ books in the offing. ◊

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction reviewer based in Quebec. His book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian papers as well as on such websites as Spinetingler Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Shots, Reviewing the Evidence and Type M for Murder. Napier also has an award-winning crime-fiction site, Deadly Diversions.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mantel’s Sequel Sets New Man Booker Record

The second book in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy fictionally chronicling the life of 16th century English statesman Thomas Cromwell has become the first sequel to ever win a Man Booker.

The first installment, Wolf Hall, won three years ago. This year’s winner, Bring Up the Bodies, drew fine praise from the Man Booker judges. From The Guardian:
The chairman of the Booker judges, Sir Peter Stothard, called Mantel "the greatest modern English prose writer" working today, and said she had "rewritten the book on writing historical fiction"."We are very proud to be reading English at the time she is writing. I don't think I've read any English novelist in recent years who has such complete control over the way she uses prose to do what she wants to do, like a singer or a pianist," Stothard said. 
Mantel wins in a tight field that included Will Self’s highly favored Umbrella; The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng; Deborah Levy's Swimming Home; and two debuts: Alison Moore's The Lighthouse and Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis.

Mantel, who has embarked on writing the third instalment, said the award was a "vote of confidence" and "act of faith". But is it not also enormous pressure? She told journalists: "When I start writing it I'll forget all of this because every day has its new problems … it's you struggling with your subject matter and a blank screen."

She said Bring Up the Bodies was "a more fully achieved book than Wolf Hall. Formally, it probably has the edge."


Young Adult: Blood Storm by Rhiannon Hart

In Blood Storm (Random House Australia) Princess Zeraphina and Rodden, the King's right-hand man, are both “harmings,” a kind of vampire who isn’t actually undead, but does need blood; it doesn’t have to be human and they make the most of small creatures such as rabbits and squirrels. But now beggars and other unlikely-to-be missed folk have been found drained of blood in the streets. Sailors and their ships are going missing.

In Blood Song, the previous book, Rodden and Zeraphina made their way north to Lharmell, home of the vampires, and stopped a mass Turning, killing the leader of the harmings. Back then, the harmings weren't too bright, but now someone is actually planning. They have to be stopped, but Rodden's kingdom has been refusing to believe anything is wrong and Zeraphina's mother wants her to come home and get married. And they are both running short of yelbar, the stuff they need to tip their arrows if they're going to kill the horrors up north...

This novel is better than the first. The universe is more developed and we learn why the south part of the continent is colder than the north, and it isn't because Antarctica is nearby. We learn about Rodden's past, which isn't pretty.

Despite the pretty cover, Blood Storm is not a standard paranormal romance; it's an action adventure with romance in it, although Zeraphina's love for Rodden is an important part of her motivation. The heroine is not a Mary Sue, nor a Chosen One, and if she's good with a bow and arrow, she has earned it with a lot of practice; any other abilities she has are the result of being a harming, if a special harming who has experimented. She also has a brain she is willing to use. ◊

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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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New This Week: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Well, finally! In June 2010, I wrote here that I’d just read The Passage, Justin Cronin’s kick-ass post-apocalyptic vampire thriller, and that he’d delivered an ending so powerful that I hated him for it. After all, we’d have to wait two damn years for more.

Turns out we had to wait two damn years and three months. The nerve!!

Anyway, the wait is over. I’ve read The Twelve (Ballantine), and it’s wonderful. Was it worth the wait? Oh, yeah. This time around, Cronin has shaken things up a bit. If you’re expecting The Twelve to simply pick up where The Passage left off, I’ve got some bad news for you. Instead, Cronin jumps forward in time. We get a good, hard look at the aftermath of what was about to happen at the end of The Passage -- but we don’t actually see it happen. Instead, and more elegantly, we see who it killed, the lives it tore apart, and the narrative strands it knotted up.

For much of this book, Cronin jumps back and forth between characters, crafting scenes that are sharply written and even more sharply plotted. There’s a chess game going on here, and Cronin is both players. He seems to want you to luxuriate in this novel, soaking up character, motivation and conflict. And there’s plenty of all three. What I really, really like about The Twelve is that while it’s connected to The Passage -- significantly -- it isn’t a retread. It’s not just more of the same. It assumes we know something about this world and these people, but at the same time, somehow, it operates in such a way that you’re always suspicious. Do you know what you think you know? As it turns out, the whole virals-ransacking-the-world thing is just the surface story. There’s a lot more to what’s going on than meets the eye. Best of all, the villains this time out aren’t the virals we’ve come to know and fear. The Passage expertly drew the conflict between humans and virals. It was a very detailed, desperate primer on how to survive. The Twelve expertly does something else. It asks the question: what now? And as it strives for an answer, it serves up a new group of villains: other survivors.

This new novel is as much about political lust as bloodlust. The humans’ hunger for power as much as the virals’ hunger for sustenance. In a way, Cronin seems to be asking, who are the real vampires here? Who’s sucking what out of whom? The virals suck blood, and it’s violent, merciless. But the politicians suck something far more valuable: life itself. And it’s just as violent and probably even more merciless.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of blood here. But most of the moves and shakes aren’t about avoiding the virals. If anything, The Twelve is more subtle. Even with all its darkness, it’s about love, where The Passage was about fear. The worst part: the third and final book, The City of Mirrors, isn’t due till 2014.

Damn that Justin Cronin! ◊

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Children's Books: Freakling by Lana Krumweide

“If everyone is special, is anyone really special?” — Anonymous

The famous phrase is what  Lana Krumweide’s Freakling (Candlewick) is about. In the future, there is an isolated metropolis called Deliverance where everyone has a telekinetic power called psi. Taemon is an 11-year old boy who's finally starting to get the hang of using his power. Meanwhile, his older brother, Yens, torments him and is believed to become the new successor of Deliverance, otherwise known as the True Son. But what is unknown is Yens has true evil inside him, and unfortunately, everyone but Taemon is blind to that. Yens soon goes as far as almost killing his brother, which gives Taemon the ability to kill him. But Taemon can't do it, and the inner force that controls everyone's psi, takes Taemon's away. In Deliverance, those without psi are sent to colony of past psi-wielders, where they live in harmony with their hands.

Taemon decides to keep his loss of power in secret, and trick everyone into thinking he still has powers. But he soon becomes to cocky, and his secret is revealed at a sporting event. Taemon is immediately taken from his still loving family and is put into the colony. All because of Yens.

After reaching the colony, Taemon realizes that being powerless isn’t so bad, and is in fact better than having psi. He befriends plenty of people, and chooses to become the apprentice of a blacksmith. But soon, one of his friends tells him a secret that could cause all evil to break loose if psi-wielders found out. And, if it wasn’t obvious enough, Taemon accidentally lets the secret out, leading to all hell breaking loose.

Freakling is an amazing story about what happens when superpowers get out of hand. Ben Parker wasn’t wrong when he said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Five stars. You’ll be intrigued at every turn, wanting to read more and more. It was full of wonderful ideas and things that you wouldn’t think of. For example, you wouldn’t think of it as a bad thing if the people of Deliverance knew how the body worked. But Krumweide was able to think of the perfect reason: if they know how the body works, they can use that information for dangerous things. Detailed descriptions and flashbacks are always fun, getting you excited on why and how everything came to be.

Lana Krumweide is an article writer and poet for various children's magazines, including Highlights, Spider, Babybug, and others. This is her first book. She lives in Richmond, Virginia. ◊

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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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Billionaire Art Collector Buys Phaidon

It just can’t seem anything but good that high-end art press, Phaidon, has a new boss. The new owner is Leon D. Black and his family, and Black is the same billionaire art collector who was rumored to have purchased Munch’s Scream for $120 million last year. It would seem to follow that anyone willing to drop an extreme fortune for some paint and canvas will do the right thing by a respected publishing outfit. Not everyone would.

Richard Schlagman, who has owned Phaidon since 1990, seems to agree.
“The decision for me to part with Phaidon was not an easy one,” Schlagman said in a statement. “Once taken, however, the profile of the ideal buyer in my mind was exceeded in reality by Leon Black and his family.” 
According to GalleristNY, Black is “the founder of the New York–based Apollo Global Management private equity firm and is worth around $3.5 billion, according to Forbes. That makes him the 330th richest person in the world, by the magazine’s calculations.”

Black has said he anticipates future growth for Phaidon, “including through the ongoing development of its publishing program, further geographic expansion, and the launch of digital products.”


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Cookbooks: Humphry Slocombe by Jake Godby, Sean Vahey and Paolo Lucchesi

Never mind the season or the temperatures out of doors, ice cream is a year ’round affair for many of us. Even so, I’m not sure anyone is ready for the “ice cream counterculture revolution.” And yet here it is.

Humphry Slocombe is an ice-creamery in San Francisco’s Mission district. (Of course. If you were going to start an ice cream counterculture revolution, where else would you hang out your shingle?) And it seems almost needless to add that neither of the ice cream geniuses behind the store is called either Humphry nor Slocombe, much less both of those names together. Jake Godby and Sean Vahey opened Humphrey Slocombe late in 2008 with the idea of keeping as clear as possible from the “happy-happy-joy-joy” that ice cream shops often try to project. And they have.

On the way there (and one the way to here) they have, in some ways, completely reinterpreted the idea of ice + cream, as witnessed by a blurb for this book from Ferran Adrià: “I see this as my little child, in a way. This is fantastic.” Consider yourself forewarned.

Did you ever think bacon would be good in ice cream? Yeah? Well then, how about prosciutto? Humphry Slocombe includes recipes for both. Beets, saffron, beer, corn, mushrooms, miso, black olives and many other surprising flavors can -- and do -- show up in the book. What also shows up is some solid advice, including what ice cream machine to buy for home use and what to do if you don’t have a machine at all, yet still insist on making ice cream. (There's a technique, and they share it.)

If you like ice cream, you probably don’t need this book, but if you looooooooove it enough to put your energy into making some that really stands out, then Humphry Slocombe might well be for you. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a January Magazine contributing editor.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Fiction: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

It’s hardly news that The Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown), J.K. Rowling’s first novel intended for adult readers, emerged last week at the top of the charts. And yet news it is. From The Guardian:
J.K. Rowling went easily to the top of the fiction charts on Tuesday with The Casual Vacancy notching up first week sales of 124,603.
To put that in context, the figure is ten times bigger than the number two book, Bernard Cornwell’s 1356, which sold 12,231, according to data supplied by Nielsen Book Scan, and more than 20 times bigger than the next new entry, Jackie CollinsThe Power Trip. It also makes Rowling’s book number 25 in the year to date’s fiction tables and number one in the year to date hardback fiction table.
The book, Rowling's first foray into adult fiction, is the fastest selling hardback novel since Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which sold more than 550,000 in its first week of sale in 2009.
Despite stellar sales, Rowling’s first foray into fiction not-for-children is drawing criticism, not all of it good.

The Guardan’s Theo Tait observed that “The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it’s not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny.”

Deepti Hajela, writing for The Associated Press, was even more generous. “So look,” wrote Hajela, “here’s the thing: This. Is. Not. A. Children’s. Book. If you're looking for what made Harry Potter magical -- Wizards! Spells! Flying Broomsticks! -- you're not going to find it. If you're looking for what makes J.K. Rowling magical -- emotion, heart -- you will ...”

The New York News’ Sherryl Connelly’s view was more dim. “The Casual Vacancy, which one bookseller breathlessly predicted would be the biggest novel of the year, isn’t dreadful. It’s just dull.”

Writing in The Daily Beast, Lucy Scholes calls The Casual Vacancy “a bleak and depressing portrait of contemporary rural British society, featuring graphic sex, violence, and drug use, and peppered with foul language,” making it obvious why a lot of readers expecting the magic and innocence Rowling delivered previously have come away from the book frothing mad.

Clearly, this novel of middle-class turpitude in a small British town is not going to be for everyone. But considering it’s come from the woman who has given us so much magic, it’s certainly worth a second look.