Thursday, January 31, 2013

This Just In… Loathe Your Neighbor by D.A. Cairns

David Lavender is a man with a talent for making bad decisions. In his 40th year on planet Earth, a dangerous restlessness overwhelms him, and, as his marriage crumbles, and a dispute with his neighbor escalates, he responds to theses crises in his life with characteristic folly.

Frozen out by his mysteriously indifferent wife, Lilijana. Baited by his cantankerous stepson, Tomo, and alternatively supported and rebuked by his two best friends, Matt and Chalkie, will David successfully negotiate the minefield which his own discontent constructed, or will he destroy himself and everyone around him?

“This second novel from D.A. Cairns mixes wry, sarcastic humor with infidelity and neighborhood drama. David Lavender’s constant preoccupation with his neighbor, whom he’s dubbed the Chainsaw Massacrer of Chinaman’s Hollow, and his frustrated sexual passions lead him down a road of risk, betrayal, and violence. In a way, he betrays himself by becoming someone he never imagined he’d be. His life is not far removed from everyday human experience, but it's about to change drastically -- and not for the good. This is a bold, compelling read with well-drawn characters anyone can relate to: friends, family, a lover and, above all, neighborhood enemies.”  -- Jeanne Haskin

You can order Loathe Your Neighbor here. Visit D.A. Cairns on the web here. ◊

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


Birthdays for Lomax, Mailer and O’Hara

I’ve been writing about birthdays with a slow sort of regularity for January Magazine for many years. One of the things that’s struck me about this exercise is the discovery, very early on, that big talent tends to run in clumps.

For instance today, the 31st of January, is the birthday of three writers with very big shoes: Alan Lomax (Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads, Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp) was born on this day in 1915; Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead, The Executioner's Song) in 1915 and John O’Hara (Appointment in Samarra, A Rage to Live) in 1905.

Each of this trio are very well known, but if you’d like to know more about them, follow the link from their name.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pride and Prejudice at 200

Two hundred years after Jane Austen penned Pride and Prejudice, the regency comedy of manners has never had a larger following or longer legs.

If you weren’t sure about this before, you can be now. Yesterday marked the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication date and the international outpouring for Austen’s most famous creation was breathtaking.

If you’re an Austen fan, you can still jump on the bus. The Guardian offers up some new takes on a classic here, while The Huffington Post mixed it up fast and slick here and Slate gives us the very best of the many, many P&P covers here. The Vancouver Sun’s Pete McMartin tries to explain the enduring qualities of this now-ancient story while both the BBC and the CBC try to answer the same question with video segments.

It’s possible that The Telegraph gave the whole issue of P&P’s 200th the widest berth, with a piece called “30 great opening lines in literature,” that merely begins with Austen. Though, upon consideration, the first line of Pride and Prejudice doesn’t go very far to explaining the enduring nature of this classic: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

And so we dance.


This Just In… Cracking the Code: Spreading Rumors by Kris Yankee

When Toby Karlson, aka TK, is at the wrong place at the wrong time, he goes from cool kid to total outcast with just one hip check.

Sixth-grade orientation was scary, but TK didn’t realize it would change his life. Now he has to hang out with the smartest and geekiest kid in school, while dodging the school bully and his posse. If TK were on the ice, he’d know exactly what to do. But this is life and not a hockey game. Can TK get his good-guy status back at fifth-grade camp?

“Hockey is not just a sport that teaches kids how to play a game, it teaches a lot of life lessons including how to conduct yourself off the ice. TK demonstrates the different life lessons he's learned through hockey in his own wacky way in Cracking the Code: Spreading Rumors.” -- Scott Wedgewood, 2010 New Jersey Devils 3rd draft choice 84th overall, 2012 Team Canada World Juniors Bronze Medalist

Cracking the Code: Spreading Rumors is full of ac­tion, adventure, and fun as Toby Karlson learns how to handle enemies, make friends, talk to girls, and just plain fit in. Hockey fans will be cheering with every turn of the page as Yankee has created a winner of a series!” -- Kari Lee Townsend, National Bestselling Author of The Fortune Teller Mysteries and Digital Diva.

You can order Cracking the Code here. Visit Kris Yankee on the web here. ◊

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


Globe and Mail Cuts Book Section… Until it Bleeds

Sad to report that the Globe and Mail, once Canada’s most important newspaper, has further cut its books section. According to NOW Toronto, “Editor Martin Levin and assistant editor Jack Kirchhoff will no longer serve in their posts, leaving the national newspaper without a literary editor.”

Levin told NOW that the paper is bowing to the perceived endless need for celebrity gossip. “It’s all about celebrity now and being the first one to come out with a review, as if the first review is definitive. But a book review should be only an opening salvo, the beginning of a conversation.”

You can read NOW Toronto’s coverage here. Catch up with the Globe’s pathetic remaining books reportage here.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Publicity 101

We see a lot of books for potential review at January Magazine. A lot. Most often, review books arrive with minimum fanfare. A book, a press release in an envelope of a suitable size to accommodate both. Truthfully? We like it that way. We tend to note the aberrations, though. For instance, the single book that arrives in a box big enough for 10 will make us frown. (And it happens far, far more often than it should.) And the occasional book that arrives defaced (generally in ballpoint: “For review purposes only,” as though the sender were afraid and untrusting of sending the book out alone into the cruel world) will make us frown. And over-the-top press releases -- die cuts, too many pages, too much stuff -- displeases us nearly as much as books that arrive with bad press releases.

What’s a bad press release? One that doesn’t describe the book in your hand, or one that offers insufficient information… or too much. It’s a difficult balance, but you know it when you see it and anything so ample it looks as though it were designed to line a marketing person’s pockets is more than enough.

Then there are the gifts. In 2012, people know better than to try to win us with cars or trips, but we’ve seen far, far more than our share of chocolate over the years. Badly made stuffed toys are never a good idea, but we’ve seen lots of those, too. And what’s badly made? Something not even good enough for a child to play with… or a dog.

Generally we can tell when a book is getting a really big push when we see multiple copies prior to publication. For instance, by the time the sixth copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage rolled into our offices back in 2010, we knew that Ballantine figured they had a winner on their hands and were putting a serious push on that book. To be honest, it paid out, too. By the time the book was in stores, everyone in our offices (and most of our partners and offspring) had read the book and was talking about it. In fact, on publication day, my son updated his Twitterfeed and Facebook status with “Where were you when the lights went out?” which had been the publicity pitch that accompanied all of those ARCs out into the world.

All of these recollections were sparked by the arrival of a June 2013 release called Taipei by an author Vintage is calling “one of our most discussed and polarizing writers” and the “Confessor of the Millennial Generation.” And, in truth, there has been a fair amount of buzz around 29-year-old Tao Lin’s career thus far, but the powers-that-be at Vintage seemed determine to push it to the next level. And how do I know this? The package that arrived with this novel about “family, relationships, accelerated drug use, and the lingering possibility of death,” included an orange prescription bottle filled with brightly colored “pills.” (The office staff suspects Skittles. This writer has no experience with that genus and so can not comment absolutely.)

What was most interesting for us about this package was that it worked. The ARC is of the most undistinguished kind: simply printed and with a generic, temporary cover. The press release is competent, but doesn’t oversell. Three sides printed on two pages including an introduction, a bio and some review quotes. Basic stuff, professionally presented. Other than a (clearly fictional) warning about the “round multi-colored tablets” within, the drug label contains all of the important information, shared just as a real prescription label would. The title, the author’s name, the publisher, release date, ISBN and (so important!) the name and contact information for the publicist are all included, but skillfully. It’s a game we’re playing here, but a sharp one. A message is being sent about the book in a way that is both memorable and cost-effective.

In the present economy it must be taxing for publicists to come up with ideas that are both original and -- let’s be honest -- cheap. The package for Taipei succeeds on both fronts. After all, how much can some bottles and a few bags of candy cost anyway? And -- bonus! -- both of those things (even together) are light and so don’t cost much to mail.

Will it work? Well, it’s already started, hasn’t it? Actually, it started almost as soon as the package opened and I Instagrammed photos of the included elements for this piece… which meant my personal Twitterfeed and Facebook followers got on early glimpse of Taipei. The book will be assigned, of course. It probably would have been in any case: it’s going to be an important book and, according to the press release in my hand, Tao Lin is one of the most “brazen and inventive talents writing today.” Even so, without that pill bottle, you wouldn’t be reading me or anyone from January saying that until much closer to publication time.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a call to publicists to start sending gifts. Far from it. As I said earlier, in general, those don’t work very well at all. But in an industry pushed, at its heart, by creativity, it’s engaging to see that creativity happening at all levels. And half a year from now? We’ll all see how (and if) a cheap bottle of candy impacted the sales of the book. ◊

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


Children's Books: 33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy

In this heartwarming a story, we learn that -- as the book says -- friendships don’t always last forever. Morgan and Sam, best friends since first grade, have a date with destiny. Because in 33 minutes, Morgan is going to kick Sam’s butt. Taking TAMADE (The Absolute Most Amazing Day Ever [The day they became the best team ever in Alien Wars history by playing through the entire game in one day]) and their history into consideration, you’d never think these two would become worst enemies. All Sam is trying to do is delay the fight to figure a way to save his butt, try to act as smooth as possible around the pretty girl, and to just make ends meet with Morgan. Read along as we hear Sam’s commentary during the countdown and him recollecting on his experiences with Morgan.

33 Minutes (Aladdin), by Todd Hasak-Lowy, is a hilarious story depicting how quickly friendships can fall apart. It hilariously shows the types of people you’ll find in middle school: the nerd who you’d rarely see doing any sports (I consider myself to be one of those); the smart girl that is attractive to the nerd; the troublemaker who influences big, tough kids to do pranks and the suspension worthy feats so they don’t have to; and the all around jock who turns on their friends. 33 Minutes skillfully doesn’t take away from the story when going into a flashback, and always keeps the reader interested by adding in creative and funny doodles, and reminiscing all the good times the ex-friends used to have. I give this book five stars out of five, recommending it to anyone who is going into or already in middle school, bullied children, or anyone who wants to learn how cope with a “friendship breakup.”

Todd Hasak-Lowy is the author for multiple adult novels, such as the Task of This Translator. He is currently living in Illinois with his wife and two daughters, teaching Hebrew Literature at the university of Florida. ◊

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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This Just In… Until My Soul Gets It Right: The Bibliophiles: Book Two by Karen Wojcik Berner

You can’t run away from yourself.

Catherine Elbert has never been good at making decisions, whether it was choosing an ice cream flavor as a small child, or figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. The only thing Catherine knew for sure was there had to be more to life than being stuck on her family’s farm in Wisconsin.

While watching a PBS travel show, Catherine becomes entranced by Portland, Maine. The ocean. The lobsters. The rugged coast. Nothing could be more different from the flat, nondescript farmlands of Burkesville.

Despite her parents threatening to disown her and her brothers taking bets on how many days until she comes home, Catherine settles on Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland.

She is finally free. Or so she thought.

Until My Soul Gets It Right is about growing up, making peace with your past, and finding a little love along the way.

You can order Until My Soul Gets It Right here. Visit author Karen Wojcik Berner here. ◊

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


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Just In… Road Trippn' by Sean McLaughlin

Intimately narrated by its mystical protagonist, John McParadise, a restless writer from Cleveland, Ohio, Road Trippn’ tells the tale of a prescient young man awakening to the joys, passions and sorrows of life, love, and the gradual reality of visions and uncanny events that will forever alter the psychic landscape around him.

Feeling alienated from a split with his high-school sweetheart, John begins experiencing vivid reoccurring dreams, the first of which provides a haunting vision of Judgment Day. Under the maddening influence of the dreams, combined with a timely reading of Kerouac’s On the Road, John begins keeping a dream notebook, writing poetry and developing his own brand of mysticism.

Inspired by a pair of offbeat companions who decide to set out wandering the country and “possibly ending up picking cherries for an uncle in Montana in time for the harvest,” John and several other quirky cronies, including his rebellious younger brother Thomas, embark upon their own series of trips, both externally and inward, spanning the country and culminating in the virile streets of Times Square a month prior to the deadly attacks of September 11th in search of what only they could find.

You can order Road Trippn' by Sean McLaughlin here. ◊

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


Friday, January 18, 2013

Books to Film: John Dies at the End

Back in 2009 I quite liked a breakout bestseller called John Dies at the End by an author who was billed as David Wong, but wasn’t. In part, this is what I said:
At a time when many writers are pushing at the edges of the novel, trying to redefine what the word means and what it is, David Wong sort of does. This comes in part from the publication history of his first novel, John Dies at the End (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne), one of those weird Internet success stories you hear about. In fact, this might be one of the best yet.
John Dies at the End started out as a Web serial in 2004. The story appeared in book form for the first time in 2007, as a paperback from “Horror and Apocalyptic Book Publisher” Permuted Press, an independent publisher whose area of specialization you can pretty well guess at. John Dies at the End would have fit right in with their line.
As fun a success story as that was, as it turned out, it was only going to get better. That 2009 novel did very well and was published in multiple forms. John Wong (actually senior editor and columnist at, Jason Pargin) came up with a sequel, the also quite successful This Book is Full of Spiders, published last fall. By then, the film version of John Dies at the End had long been completed. In fact, it was screened at Sundance last January and goes into general release next week: on January 25th. And, from everything I hear, director Don Coscarelli’s (The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) John Dies at the End has been quite faithful to the novel.

The action in John Dies at the End all centers around soy sauce, a mysterious and fairly unstable drug that alters not only the mind, it seems to have an effect on time and eventually opens a portal to a pretty hell-like place. After you take it, in the book Wong tells us, “You might be able to read minds, make time stop, cook pasta that’s exactly right every time. And you can see the shadowy things that share this world, the ones who are always present and always hidden.”

Despite the screwball-sounding premise, the novel version of John Dies at the End has some genuinely frightening moments. From everything I hear, the film version does, as well. Though reviews thus far have been mixed, this is not the sort of film that will live or die by advance notice. And despite the fact the film is currently available streaming on Amazon and iTunes, moviegoers will determine this one’s fate after January 25th.

Meanwhile, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin, have released a movie tie-in edition of the book. Nothing new there but the cover which includes illustrations of the movie’s stars including Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown.

My 2009 review of John Dies at the End is here. ◊

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

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

This Just In… Images of Silence by D.S. Kirchen

Amy Stuart is running away from her past, convinced that if she can put some distance between herself and the events that nearly destroyed her, she’ll be okay.

Distracted mid-flight, she gets caught up in the middle of a family saga involving a man and his young son. Now employed as their governess, Amy diverts her attention to uncovering the reasons for the strange dynamics in the household. But there are obstacles: rigid rules, fiercely guarded secrets, and a dangerous sense of evil that pervades.

Previously betrayed by her instincts, Amy wavers just long enough to let her quest for answers lead her to a point of no return. The more information she learns, the farther she actually gets from the truth. And yet, the people around her and their facades begin to crumble and expose themselves. Suddenly, her life is in as much danger as Dean and Bryson Wilde’s, and she has no choice but to see it through to the terrifying and deadly end.

You can order Images of Silence here. ◊

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


Nobel Winner Walcott Protests

Nobel Prize-winning author Derek Walcott is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. According to Caribbean Book Blog:

If there’s one thing that pisses off Derek Walcott, it’s the Caribbean governments’ blatant disregard for the development of the literary arts and their seeming indifference to the plight of the region’s writers and artistes.
This isn’t a new theme for Walcott. He has often been vocal in his criticism of the government of his homeland, St Lucia, “citing the absence of a theatre and a museum on the island – to this day -- as a shame and a betrayal of the people.”

But recent transgressions have the writer, who will be 83 this month, more riled than ever.
“I don’t want to make a judgment that is going to incriminate any one party or any government. Saint Lucia is going through a very tough economic crisis and naturally the arts suffer. What we have to do is keep thinking that no matter what the crisis, the arts are a necessity. But we have to have the money to sustain them. So, yes, more should be done but we need to look for subsidies for sustaining the arts. We still do not have a museum or a theatre – and that’s criminal. And no party should excuse itself for not doing that for the people. These things are not for the artistes, they are for the people of Saint Lucia.”
Walcott was a bit more acerbic when he was informed that the year-old St Lucia Labour Party government had created a new ministry called the Ministry of Creative Industries. He seemed shocked at the title. 
“That’s the name of a ministry? Someone who was creative did not do it? It’s not a nice title. I don’t know what creative industries means!”
Walcott, who is in St Lucia for Nobel Laureates Week, became even more upset when a reporter told him about a new multi-million dollar luxury resort dubbed Freedom Bay that is about to be built in Soufriere, on the island’s west coast, in the vicinity of the celebrated Pitons. It is near a UNESCO World Heritage site that the author helped work to protect in the early 1990s.

In addition to the Nobel Prize for Literature, Walcott’s illustrious career has included the Cholmondeley Award, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, the T. S. Eliot Prize and in 1972 he was named as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. He is currently Professor of poetry at the University of Essex.

The story in Caribbean Book Blog is here.

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This Just In… Participants of the Project: The INCE Trilogy Episode 1 by D.S. Kirchen

The Circle of Power is comprised of five friends in their late 20s who share a common history of having been placed in the same institution as teenagers. As wards of the state, the institute had taken control of their medical care and saved their lives. They are a fiercely bonded family that stays in close quarters, as each struggles to be an individual in his or her own right:

  • Dakota is looking for love in all the wrong places. 
  • Halp is the cynical sex addict who is too smart for his own good. 
  • Skipper has legitimate mental difficulties resulting from the plate in her head. 
  • Rafe is the resident romance writer (he’s gay, but he writes hetro stories). 
  • Alfonz is the grounded and sensible one who just wants long term stability. 

The fact that they have strange prosthetic implants in various places in their bodies, some of which seem to give them a literal boost in physical ability, is a topic that is rarely discussed. The fact that they are being tracked and monitored by “The Institute” all these years later eludes them. And the fact that they are pawns in a very sinister game could and very likely will destroy them.

You can order Participants of the Project here. ◊

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


A Birthday for Brontë

Anne Brontë, the youngest of the famous Brontë sisters, was born in Yorkshire, England, on this day in 1820. According to The Writer’s Almanac:
She was meek and more religious-minded than Charlotte or Emily and little is known about her life compared to the lives of her sisters. As a child, she was closest to Emily, the youngest of her older siblings. Together they played with toys, made up stories about them, and began to write them down. They created an imaginary world called "Gondal," which provided the setting for the first of Anne’s known poems, "Verses by Lady Geralda" (1836) and "Alexander and Zenobia" (1837).
Though less modest of the sisters’ publishing efforts get the most play, Anne poetically participated in an early example of self-publishing. The efforts of the sisters were not well rewarded.
In the summer of 1845, Anne, Emily, and Charlotte found themselves at home together without work. They decided to put together a book of poems they'd written over the past five years. They told no one what they were doing. Anne and Emily each contributed 21 poems and 19 were Charlotte’s. The sisters agreed to publish under pseudonyms and Charlotte arranged publication of The Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell through Aylott & Jones, at the authors' expense. The cost of publication was 31 pounds, 10 shillings—about 3/4 of what Anne's annual salary had been as a governess. On May 7, 1846, the first three copies of the book were delivered to the Brontë home. The book received three somewhat favorable reviews and sold a total of two copies.

After the lackluster sales of their book of poems, the talented trio turned their efforts to writing novels. And though Anne would see some success, she was always overshadowed by her older siblings.
The sisters turned to writing novels. Charlotte’s The Professor and Emily’s Wuthering Heights reflected both Gothic and Romantic ideas. Anne was more of a realist and began Agnes Grey—based on her experience as a governess—with the words, “All true histories contain instruction.” 
The three manuscripts made the rounds of London publishers for a year. In the meantime, Charlotte wrote and published Jane Eyre (1847). Two months later, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were published, in December of 1847. Most of the reviewers' attention was given to Wuthering Heights and the wildly successful Jane Eyre.
Still, it was as a novelist that Anne would receive her widest recognition and her second novel, 1848’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a success right out of the gate, though it would also bring controversy.
The heroine, Helen Huntingdon, leaves her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supports herself and her son by painting while living in hiding. In doing so, she violates social conventions and English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence apart from her husband. It was later said that the slamming of Helen Huntingdon's bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England. 
In the second printing of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë responded to critics who said her portrayal of the husband was graphic and disturbing. She wrote, "Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts—this whispering "Peace, peace," when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."
Anne Brontë died of tuberculosis in May 1849, a year after Emily’s death.  “While on her deathbed,” says Writer’s Almanac, “Anne’s last words, whispered to Charlotte, were, ‘Take courage.’”

The Writer’s Almanac, a terrific resource, is here.

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This Just In… The Rainbow Alchemist by Martin Bueno

A young girl mutters a mysterious chemical formula in her sleep. Is she dreaming or is this message from beyond? Graham, an aspiring politician is caught up in his curiosity in the occult, an obsession which will ultimately decide his career and fate. Graham’s devoted secretary and companion is skeptical about anything to do with mysticism but finds herself unwittingly drawn into this magical world. Who are the speakers and why do they communicate through the young girl and a mannequin who stands proud on the porch of the Old Antique Store?

Martin Bueno’s debut novel, The Rainbow Alchemist, takes place in Toronto, Ottawa and New England and has all the intrigue of a new-age fantasy complete with a deep trance psychic, a Harvard chemistry professor and a lawyer determined to benefit from the formula.

You can order The Rainbow Alchemist here. Visit author Martin Bueno on the web here. ◊

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


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fiction: Tiger Rag by Nicholas Christopher

You know it’s going to be a good year in fiction when the very first book you read in the year has the fine, sweet notes of Nicholas Christopher’s searing and beautiful Tiger Rag (Dial Press).

Jazz myths loom large in Tiger Rag, a book that is at least thinly based on  the life of jazz legend Buddy Bolden. I say “thinly” because, truly, not a lot is known about Bolden. His star burned hot, swift and terribly sad. Born in 1877 in New Orleans, at the age of 30 he was committed to the  Louisiana State Insane Asylum at Jackson where he stayed until his death in 1931 at the age of 54.

The things we do know about Bolden are shrouded in mist and mystery and the talented cornetist left no known recordings. None documented, that is. Rumors of his recordings still beat hot in the jazz community today. So it is that Christopher comes to embed unanswered questions and bits of intrigue into his own deeply felt version of what-might-have-been.

One of the myths is that Bolden made a recording in 1904 -- “Tiger Rag” -- that was subsequently lost in the intervening years. Christopher turns the mist into a Holy Grail of a tale that stretches from New Orleans in 1900 to present day Florida where a once-prominent anesthesiologist is dealing with the death of her career and the collapse of her family. On a trip to New York, the doctor and her jazz pianist daughter, a recovering addict, discover family links to the lost cylinder containing Buddy Bolden’s mythical recordings.

Christopher is the author of several beautiful books including The Bestiary, A Trip to the Stars and Franklin Flyer.  Those familiar with Christopher’s work will find a gentler, more refined soaring of the imagination here. This is not the stark magical realism encountered in The Bestiary or A Trip to the Stars. In some ways, the author stays pretty close to the straight and narrow here, at least comparatively so. Still, there is magic in Tiger Rag. And it’s not just in the plot. Christopher is the author of five other novels as well as books of poetry and a non-fiction work about noir. Tiger Rag seems perfectly the product of an author with this background and these interests. It is at times poetic in its beauty. It is thoughtful -- even contemplative, even while it is dark. And there is enough truth here to set you on your own journey of exploration. This is a gorgeous, memorable book peopled with characters so lifelike their pain seems contagious. I can’t encourage you strongly enough to take Christopher up on the offer of this magical ride. ◊

Sienna Powers is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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This Just In… The EDGE of Trust by KT Bryan

When EDGE operative Dillon Caldwell was given a mission to infiltrate the Sanchez Drug Cartel and bring down its head, Rafael Sanchez, Dillon figured it would be a long, grueling year that he might not survive. He had no idea it would be three horrific, gut-churning years, or that the price paid for his efforts would be a nightmare worse than abject failure.

Then, after his cover was blown, he watched in horror as his wife was slain in front of him. His parents were next. And his sister, who died, broken and burning, in his arms.

In The EDGE of Trust, Dillon, wracked by loss and guilt, is nearly rabid in his hunt for Sanchez, intent on ending his reign of terror. What he finds along the way, though, will change everything Dillon thought he knew to be true. Washed up on a nearby beach, badly beaten and suffering from exposure, is the woman he thought dead for the past twelve months. His wife Sara is alive.

Dillon’s stunned relief and joy are short-lived, however, shredded by the razor-sharp fangs of betrayal and kept secrets, scorched by the obvious disdain from a woman who may as well be a stranger. And if that’s not enough, not only is Sanchez is still out there, but Dillon can’t even trust the people he works for. Not when they kept the truth about his wife from him, not when someone on the inside burned his cover.

He’s got a sadistic, murderous drug kingpin after him and someone from his own country betraying him. He’s got a wife who is alive, but looks at him with loathing. And he’s got the knowledge that, despite all his best efforts, he has failed every single person he loved. Struggling with that burden is bad enough, but Dillon’s plate isn’t yet full. The stakes that he’s played with for three years are raised higher still when he finds out that Sanchez has something of his, something Dillon didn't even know existed. And it’s a game-changer in every way.

“If you’re looking for a darkly thrilling read as unpredictable as it is emotionally wrenching, look no further. With The EDGE of TRUST, KT Bryan deftly delivers all that and more. Adventure, betrayal, revenge and redemption— you'll find it all in The EDGE Of TRUST.” -- USA Today

You can order The EDGE of Trust here. Visit author KT Bryan on the web here.◊

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


Fiction Trends for 2013: Editors Share What’s Hot and What’s Not

What will top fiction editors be looking for in 2013? An interesting article on the Andrew Lownie Agency’s blog talks to several of the top editors of fiction in the United Kingdom… and comes up with not much that is new.

Unsurprisingly, editors are mostly looking for good books and strong stories. Transworld’s Sarah Adams says, “Forgive the clichés, but I’m looking for compelling storytelling, quality writing and a killer concept that taps into our everyday fears.”

Marcus Gipps, editor at Gollancz/Orion Books imparts what may be a top secret: “As always, as with any editor, what I’m looking for are books that make me fall in love with them.”

Alison Hennessey at Harvill Secker agrees. “Like all editors,” says Secker, “I’m looking for brilliant writing and clever plotting, and I’m also looking for originality and ambition.

John Murray publisher Kate Parkin, points out books aren’t the only thing changing. “Although the ways in which publishers ensure authors connect with their audience are being transformed at unprecedented speed, readers want what they always did: stories that compel and intrigue and transport.”

Read the full piece here.

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This Just In… The Lordlings of Worship by Cameron Leigh

The Lordlings of Worship and their Catastrophic Mindrides is the first book of an epic trilogy by Cameron Leigh that spans four thousand years to tell the story of Texas Pastor Brix Brighton, a combat veteran of World War II and of Israel's War of Independence, and Alan Taveler, who has just returned from captivity in Pakistan with a sudden hunger for the Bible that leads him to uncover concealed knowledge that the alphabet is the code-key to the Creation Code. Alan Taveler is genetically programmed to disturb the past in order to give Brix Brighton a chance to save the future.

The Bible cautions that life is a thriller and all humans are in it. Possessing just a fragment of the Creation Code, supremacist empires of religion have relentlessly pursued concentrating power, owning the mind and directing the will of all mankind. Now in the 21st century, they finally have the technology to prevail by creating a surveillance state.

You can order The Lordlings of Worship here. Visit the web site for the book here.◊

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


Libraries Without Books

Ever since e-books began to assert their dominance, people have been talking about the library of the future: a bookless place about books. And as ill-conceived as the idea will appear to booklovers nearly everywhere, Bexar County, Texas is about to lead the way to a brave yet strangely bookless new library. This coming fall they will open Bibliotech, the first completely digital public library in the United States. From My San Antonio:
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is an unabashed book lover with 1,000 first editions in his private collection, but even he sees the writing on the wall.
Paper books have lost their allure, and future generations may have little use for them, Wolff contends. 
So when he embarked on a mission to create a countywide library system, he decided it should be bookless from the start.
Wolff credits late Apple founder Steve Jobs and the Apple Store or inspiring Bibliotech.
Inspired while reading Apple founder Steve Jobs' biography, Wolff said he envisions several bookless libraries around the county, including in far-flung suburbs. 
“It's not a replacement for the (city) library system, it's an enhancement,” Wolff said.“People are always going to want books, but we won't be doing that in ours,” Wolff said.
You can read more here.

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This Just In… The Grave Blogger by Donna D. Fontenot

The scenic bayous and small towns of South Louisiana hold hidden dangers beyond those you might expect in a tangled tale of mystery and suspense.

Raya, a freelance writer and blogger, researches cold cases for true crime websites. One case in particular, the Bayou Family Slaughter case, stirs macabre memories, but are they real or imagined? Determined to uncover the truth, she heads to the small town of St. Felicity to investigate the 20-year old Bayou Family Slaughter case.

Raya gets help from Nick Simoneaux, a young St. Felicity detective who is also investigating the cold case, but is Nick hiding family secrets from Raya? Is there anyone in St. Felicity she can trust, or is a murderer still living in this quaint old town -- waiting and watching?

“Memories that quietly tiptoe into your darkest nightmares.”

You can order The Grave Blogger here. Visit author Donna D. Fontenot  on the web here. ◊

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


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Da Vinci Code Author to Debut New Book

Earlier today Sonny Mehta, Doubleday publisher and editor-in-chief, announced that Inferno, a Da Vinci Code sequel, will be published on May 14th.

Inferno will see the return of The Da Vinci Code’s protagonist, symbologist Robert Langdon. The book is set in Italy and centers on the mysteries surrounding Dante’s Inferno. Inferno will be published by Doubleday simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada where it will have a first printing of four million copies. It will be published in the UK by Transworld on the same day.

Author Brown himself comments on the material. “Although I studied Dante’s Inferno as a student,” he says, “it wasn’t until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante’s work on the modern world. With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm… a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways.”

The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003 and spent 144 weeks on The New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestseller list. According to the publisher, The Da Vinci Code is the bestselling adult hardcover of all time with 81 million copies in print worldwide. It is also one of the top ten most read books in the world along with The Bible, Harry Potter and Gone with the Wind.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fiction: As Close As You’ll Ever Be
by Seamus Scanlon

(Editor’s note: This review comes from New Yorker Marcelle Thiébaux, the author of The Stag of Love and last year’s historical romance, Unruly Princess).

Seamus Scanlon’s 23 stunning tales in his debut collection, As Close As You’ll Ever Be (Cairn Press), feature prize winners among them. About a third have appeared in literary magazines.

A Galway-born writer of bardic storytelling gifts, as well as a New York City professor and award-winning librarian, Scanlon creates a contemporary mythology of butchery, trouncings, shootouts and skull splittings in a parade of glorious violence perpetrated by righteously angry boys. These young warriors live and die in Ireland’s Belfast and Galway, and in a bar on Dorchester Avenue in South Boston called the Banshee. Weapons of choice can range from an axe to a Luger to cyanide. The young fighters and killers are motivated by family feeling, political injustice or sheer need.

Scanlon’s salty wit and gallows humor pervade his rich, sensuous, gut-warming prose. With all the graphic spillage of gore, there’s often an ironic detachment and a sense of history that carry his work to a realm of quirky grandeur. Style and language engage the reader; for instance, where the authorial voice achieves an incantatory resonance: “Pirates once our forefathers were. Snipers once we were. Soldiers true once we were. Heroes once we were for the Kings and Queens of England, for Dublin Castle.” Scanlon’s poignant young heroes of today bear psychic scars: “the hieroglyphs of near-death etched on him forever”; “Melancholy was imprinted on his face. The typical Irish tattoo.” The inspired boy gunmen of the Galway housing projects show an undaunted bravado against oppressors, sires and step-sires that evokes the bloody deeds of the giant-slaying lads and cattle-raiders of ancient Celtic folklore.

The narrator of the story “The Witness,” scornfully labeled a “college-educated prick” and decorated with school honors, confides that he was also “hard-wired for violence and gunplay” at an early age. He joins a gang robbery engineered by a manic ex-con, the psycho Pig McCann. The gang trashes an establishment called The Tote near the Galway racetrack, during which they execute a crime gorgeous in its viciousness. Afterwards, the narrator -- who has a moral sense after all -- delivers a shock conclusion and crowns his act with a wisecracking proverb.

In “The Perfect Son,” a young Irishman comes home to his long-suffering but still fine-looking mother. He confronts his father, who is near death. The childhood abuses and shattered bones the son once endured at the old man’s hands are something he can’t forgive. Techniques found in early Celtic and medieval poetry come into play with rhyme and alliteration in Scanlon’s rhythmic prose at a moment of jaw-clenching emotion: “[H]e locked me out, he knocked me out ... I killed him in my heart each day ... Child fantasy fermented into foulness.” At the mother’s bidding, the son grants the father a grueling death.

Girls have an important presence here, too. Scanlon displays his range of genres, veering to the farcical in “The Butterfly Love Song,” in which the girl-shy hero slinks over to the house of 14-year-old Lucy. He must keep a command-performance date with this formidable pagan goddess: “A rocker, king of the girls, smoker, brawler, sullen, muted, raging.” From the sofa the hero jumps ceiling-ward, a teacup flies, the television topples throwing sparks, and Lucy’s mom trips over Killer, the growling black Alsatian. The shivering hero awaits the ire of Lucy’s brothers. In tragic contrast is the superlative “My Beautiful, Brash, Beastly Belfast.” Before her brother’s eyes, the young girl Bridie takes a fatal bullet on the bridge of her nose. The flow of the girl’s “bright black-red blood” in the street and into her house remains unstaunched in the boy’s consciousness. The strength of his hatred for her killers drives him to plot his revenge with an exalted, near-religious fervor. He meditates on the beauty of his firepower, “the muzzle flash elegant, tapering into a jagged white corona of light ...”

In the tender concluding story, “On Her Birthday,” a man who’s been battered and stitched in many an old skirmish visits his failing mother, her “once-lustrous intelligence ravaged” and her memory gone. He takes her on a country outing. The narrator dwells, like Proust and Joyce, on the poetry of place names -- Navan and Trim, Newry, Ballinasloe, Salthill, then Tuam, Claremorris, Callow Lake, Cullneachtain. Motoring through Ireland’s history-drenched landscape, he recalls that one stretch was the haunt of 18th-century highwaymen in tricorn hats. His automobile is an “Opel Vectra sailing through the seas of the dark.” The image recalls what Scanlon tells us earlier, that the brash boys of Ireland claim descent from seafaring rovers.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

This Just In… I, Win: My Journey as a Disabled Woman Living in a Non-Disabled World by Win Charles

Author Win Charles details her absolutely amazing life in her autobiography, I, Win: Hope and Life, My Journey as a Disabled Woman Living in a Non-Disabled World.

A lifelong sufferer of cerebral palsy, Charles lived her life in a way that many people cannot imagine. Cerebral palsy can affect many areas of a person’s life, such as speech, movement, hearing and seeing.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of being a person with cerebral palsy, Win chose to treat life as the gift it truly is. Instead of drowning in her sorrow and wishing she could change the cards that were dealt to her, she instead faced life head on, with vigor and strength of spirit that is rarely found. Inspired by her mother, who was her sole caregiver for twenty three years before she sadly passed away in August of 2010, Win found a reason to make her life both inspirational and moving, not only for others who suffer from cerebral palsy, but for those who don’t, as well.

All too often, people can take life’s gifts for granted. Many people will never know firsthand the trials and difficulties faced by the author. However everyone, everywhere, can benefit and draw courage from her tale of incredible determination against the challenges she faced. Choosing to dedicate the book to her mother, Charles tells her story not only for those who have cerebral palsy, but for others as well, in order to let them inside the world of someone who suffers from this disease.

Extraordinarily touching, powerfully moving, and never less than inspiring, I, Win is a book that will reach the hearts and minds of all readers. No matter their particular difficulties, all can draw inspiration from Win’s sunny and positive outlook on life.

You can order I, Win here. Visit author Win Charles on the web here. ◊

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

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Charles Taylor Prize 2013 Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the prestigious Canadian Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction were announced in Toronto yesterday. According to the organization:
The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing and emphasizes the development of the careers of the authors it celebrates. All five finalists will be supported by extensive publicity and promotional opportunities, including a mid-cycle author event. 
 The Prize is awarded annually to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception, the winner receives $25,000 and the remaining finalists each receive $2000.
Now in its 12 year, the $25,000 prize will be awarded on March 4th.

This year’s jurors read and reviewed 129 Canadian-authored non-fiction books submitted by 43 publishers from around the world.

The Finalists for the 2013 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction Are:
  • The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca, by Carol Bishop-Gwyn (Cormorant Books)
  •  Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King, and Canada’s World Wars, by Tim Cook (Allen Lane)
  •  Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page, by Sandra Djwa (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
  •  Leonardo and The Last Supper, by Ross King (Bond Street Books)
  •  Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy, by Andrew Preston (Knopf Canada)

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The Best of the Worst Book Covers

The Guardian books blog sallies into a field of best ofs with a discovery of a blog that specializes in worst ofs. Or, as the Guardian itself says, “The best crap book covers”:
I’ve said it before and I'll say it again: I love crap book covers. And my favourite romance blog Smart Bitches Trashy Books has just pointed me in the direction of a glorious new source of awfulness: Lousy Book Covers (tagline: "Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn't mean you SHOULD").
Alison Flood’s Guardian piece is here. You can find the Lousy Book Covers microblog here.

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This Just In… Dissever by Colee Firman

Addison Sanders is pretty comfortable spending her days with her grandfather at his centuries old estate, nestled in the snowcapped mountains. But all that changes when she wakes up to find the entire estate has been moved to a mysterious tropical location, right in the middle of a busy tourist town on the ocean.

Addy is forced to untangle a web of lies and secrets spun over centuries, ultimately putting her at the center of a power struggle a millennia in the making.

With her grandfather gone and the power and secrets of her family up for grabs, placing her trust in anyone could lead to disaster. The guy who’s never so much as given her a second glance is suddenly by her side through it all, leaving her questioning his motives. Betrayed by old friends and leery of new ones -- she’s left to cut through the lies and deception to get to the truth.

Addy discovers that sometimes it’s better not knowing and misery really does love company in Dissever, Book One of the Unbinding Fate Series.

You can order Dissever here. Visit the Unbinding Fate web site here.

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

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Best Books of 2012

Best Books of 2012

This is the moment all of the writers and editors of January Magazine have been working towards all year. The moment when, after a mountain of reading and a gargantuan effort, we stand aside after 12 dizzying months, and introduce you to our picks for the best books of the year.

You’ll find a few words about our methodology, as well as links to all the lists, here.


Best Books of 2012: Fiction

This is the Best Fiction segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2012 feature. Also available are our picks for best non-fictionbest SF/F, best books for children and young adults best crime, mystery and thriller fiction of 2012, in two parts: one and two. As well, here are the best cookbooks of 2012. 

12.21 by Dustin Thomason (Dial)
12.21 is by one of the authors of The Rule of Four, Dustin Thomason. When I picked it up, I expected it to be good -- but I didn't expect to be drawn into its tale of lost secrets, conspiracies and treasure. This is a tale of what might have happened on December 21, the date the Mayans predicted the world as we know it would come to an end. 12.21 starts with the death of a man from a condition that prevents him from sleeping. His brain goes wild, his systems shut down, and all is lost. It seems like an isolated incident, and then the cases begin to pile up. That’s when the hero, Gabriel Stanton, gets involved, pulling in Mayan expert Chel. Will they fall in love? Will they find a way to save the world from itself? Come now. What do you think? -- Tony Buchsbaum

Antigonick (Sophokles) by Anne Carson, Illustrated by Bianca Stone, Design by Robert Currie
While the e-book revolution has a lot to answer for, it’s not all bad. One of the bonuses that we’re seeing is that the success of electronic books has forced segments of the publishing industry to examine the very meaning of the word and to reimagine what a book can and should be. Are there some things that an electronic book can’t supply? What are they? Increasingly, we’re seeing more beautiful books. And even more that just have something different about them. Something that would not translate properly into electronic form. Antigonick is a really terrific example of this. Here Pushcart Prize-winning author and poet and classical scholar, Anne Carson, does an innovative translation of Sophocles’ Antigone. As well, the text is hand-lettered by Carson and collaborator and designer, Robert Currie. The translations are accompanied by beautiful and whimsical illustrations by Bianca Stone. The resulting book is stunning, luminous and  delightful, even if Carson’s translations have drawn controversy from certain quarters. Velum pages, a hard board cover, quirky hand-lettering and illustrations; this is not a book that would have been published in quite this form even a decade ago. But now, in a book world shifting and bending to capture each new wave, we are given the occasional gift. Antigonick is a very special one. -- Linda L. Richards

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (Harper)
There’s a lot going on in this marvelous novel, which shifts back and forth in time and space between half a dozen international locations; most of the story, though, gets started in a small coastal village in Italy in 1962, when a beautiful young American actress arrives to recuperate from distressing news. Dee Moray enchants all the men she meets: the ambitious yet modest proprietor of “The Hotel Adequate View”; the would-be-hotshot from Hollywood in charge of handling her crisis; and even the great Richard Burton, who’s filming Cleopatra nearby. Events set in motion by the lovely starlet’s visit spin in kaleidoscopic fashion throughout the novel, which takes readers from Seattle, Washington, in 1967, to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2008, to Sandpoint, Idaho, in the recent past and to present-day Los Angeles -- though not necessarily in that order. People not even born when Dee Moray made her fateful Italian trip become entwined in her history: a desperate wannabe-screenwriter, a disillusioned studio “development-girl,” a might-have-been singer-songwriter. Meanwhile, the older characters continue exploring their ongoing life stories: the hotel-keeper, the movie hot-shot -- and Dee Moray herself. Scenes from a community-theater play, chapters from someone’s unfinished World War II novel and a section of a movie mogul’s memoir are all incorporated into the gifted Mr. Walter’s well-crafted text. Part satire, part metaphor, part fable, part romance -- Beautiful Ruins is terrific: a one-of-a-kind delight. -- Tom Nolan

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro (Knopf/Doubleday Canada)
In the 14 stories that comprise Dear Life, Alice Munro is coming home. Brilliantly. Few contemporary writers have done as much for short form fiction as Munro who often reveals as much by what she does not say as by what she does. The stories in Dear Life are shorter than we’ve seen from this author in the past. Even so, each one impresses itself upon us with the weight of spirit of a well executed novel. Such is Munro’s power. The last section of the book is skillful, but will be frightening to fans with its promise. “The final four works in this book are not quite stories,” Munro writes. “They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last -- and the closest -- things I have to say about my own life.” These final “stories” have the feeling of plain truth even if, as Munro herself says, they are not quite. (Unless maybe they are.) And here, as in the actual stories at the beginning of the book, Southwestern Ontario is one of the major players in this stunning collection. Or, rather, it is the magnet, the destination, the presence at journey’s end. -- Sienna Powers

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison (Random House)
Enchantments is a beautiful, and often surprisingly touching, book that focuses its historical view on final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire. Harrison has proven herself adept at involving us in weirdly angular family dramas which she does here again. After Rasputin is hauled dead from the river, his 18-year-old daughter, Masha, takes his place at the bedside of the hemophiliac Romanov prince, Aloysha. Her mission is to help heal the prince and, with him, the empire. We all know how that turned out. Even so, Enchantments is an unlikely and strangely beautiful love story. Harrison’s growing army of fans will not be disappointed with Enchantments. The writer here gets back to the her historical roots to very good effect. -- Monica Stark

Fobbit by David Abrams (Black Cat)
The publication and universal adoration of David Abrams’ debut novel, Fobbit, was especially gratifying for January Magazine: not that it was a surprise. Abrams is a January alum and we’ve known and appreciated his brilliant pen for a long time. When the rest of the world applauded him, there wasn’t much we could do beyond nudge each other knowingly, saying, “See?” While everything we’ve seen that Abrams has written over the years has been gorgeous, Fobbit is, in addition, a genuinely important work of fiction: something you just don’t see every day. A 21st century M*A*S*H or Catch-22, Fobbit brings us the absurdity of the Iraq war, from a very special perspective. Fobbit is a perjoritive term that describes soldiers in Iraq who seldom leave the (relative) safety of the Forward Operating Base, or FOB. Abrams understands this beat: he worked it himself. Abrams has said that the blueprint for the novel which would become Fobbit was the journal he kept during 2005 when he joined the 3rd Infrantry Division and deployed to Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kirkus managed to nail the book in a couple of lines: “Sardonic and poignant. Funny and bitter. Ribald and profane. Confirmation for the anti-war crowd and bile for Bush supporters.” Succinct but well-placed. Those ready to laugh through the heartbreak of war will like this one very much. Meanwhile, because we know some of Abrams’ secrets, we are privy to the fact that there are more gorgeous novels to look forward to in the not-too-distant future. All we can say is: bring it! -- Linda L. Richards

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin) 
Heading Out to Wonderful is exactly that. Wonderful. That is, it’s filled with wonder. Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife, has once again dug beneath the surface of lives, unearthing mystery and motive that, when combined, drive this impressive, hypnotic tale relentlessly forward. The year is 1948, in a gorgeous Virginia valley. Charlie Beale comes to town with two suitcases, one filled with cash, the other with knives. Slowly, with patience and an understanding of how small towns work, Charlie weaves his way into the lives of the town folk. He leads a quiet life, causing few if any ripples, but still touching lives every day, most notably Sam, the young son of his employer, and Sylvan, a young bride who’s determined to live more a Hollywood life than that of a small town. These three characters, each an opposite of the others, come together in an explosive tale that seems part fairy, part cautionary. But no matter how you read it, it’s gorgeous. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Husk by Corey Redekop (ECW)
No one watching such things in Canada doubts his voice or his vision: Corey Redekop has emerged as one of THE young writers to watch over the coming few years. His debut, Shelf Monkey, has been equally lauded and trampled, but the trampling has contained such vitriol, you just knew you had to pay attention. His sophomore effort, Husk, delivers a similar blend of humor and thought-provoking observation. This time out, however, Redekop finds those observations in a strange but surprising place. Strictly speaking, Husk is a zombie novel. At least on the surface. The narrator and protagonist, Husk, is an “everyzombie” and Redekop instantly and without apparent effort does the impossible on the very first page: he makes Husk sympathetic. Think about it: a sympathetic zombie. How does that even work? The book opens thus: “I miss breathing. Sounds stupid, yes. Autonomic system was always there for me. Did the work whether I remembered to inhale or not. Took breaths in and out unfailingly. Never let me down …. Something that was always there. Like sunsets. Rainbows. Complex if I ever thought about it, but why would I? Taking things for granted is a core component of the human experience.” As charming as these early observations may be, they do not a book from zombie perspective a story make and some of Husk gets very dark and very violent, indeed. But the most trenchant observation about Husk comes from the wonderful Andrew Pyper (The Killing Circle) who called the book “Camus meets Palahniuk." That’s possibly all the information potential fans for Redekop’s work will need to rush out to get a copy. -- Linda L. Richards

Illuminations by Mary Sharratt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
I was both moved and surprised by Mary Sharratt’s novel of Benedictine abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, an extraordinary woman of the Middle Ages. One could not anticipate this majesty and drama. There are no bodices to be ripped here: no kings or dukes and nary a white horse in sight. Even so, Illuminations is riveting, following von Bingen through a harsh childhood to becoming basically imprisoned as a young nun to emerge as one of the significant voices of the 12th century. von Blinngen composed sacred music, wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, medicine and human sexuality. An intellectual who had few peers during her lifetime, Sharrat (Daughters of the Witching Hill, The Real Minerva) depicts von Bingen as deeply human. Illuminations is unforgettable. -- Monica Stark

Mother & Child: A Novel by Carole Maso (Counterpoint)
Carole Maso’s sixth novel is a gorgeous contemplation of motherhood. Part memoir, part flight of fancy, Mother & Child is lyrical and luminescent. “If the mother and the child flew high above the world in an airplane of some sort, they would see below them a field of wool. The clouds are like that.” This is Maso’s first novel since 1998’s lovely though largely unremarked Defiance, which was a darkly powerful novel. In some ways, Mother & Child is just as powerful, but it is yang to Defiance’s yin; a surreal exploration of the mother-daughter bond; a meditation on life, death and the very beauty and fragility of existence. -- Linda L. Richards

Mr. Blank by Justin Robinson (Candlemark & Gleam)
I don’t really believe in them, but I always like a good conspiracy theory. I’m not talking here about those propounded by the birthers or the 9/11 truthers; those people can go to hell. Instead, I mean conspiracy theories involving secret societies, the Kennedy assassinations (my favorite John Kennedy one? Elaborate suicide), the moon landings and Area 51. I also love the Weekly World News. Justin Robinson’s Mr. Blank is a thriller that’s like candy for the conspiracy theorist. It’s about the mysterious “Guy” of “They” that we’ve all mentioned at least once, the person who makes things keep going and has connections to just about everything ... and now somebody is trying to kill him, and since he works for everyone, the list of suspects is endless. The story is very funny and quick, with great popular cultural references, both those that are easy to spot and others so obscure, they feel like they were written by a real pop-culture nerd (and not just for the purpose of pandering, as CBS-TV’s Big Bang Theory so often does with its references). Amazingly, author Robinson -- like Donald E. Westlake and Ross Thomas before him -- manages to juggle the numerous and various balls in his plot without dropping any; quite a feat. But what really sold me on this novel? The notion that monsters like Bigfoot, called Cryptids, exist ... but vampires are complete myths. If you liked The X-Files, Fringe, The Middleman, Warren Ellis’ Planetary or Brian Azzarello’s brilliant conspiracy crime thriller, 100 Bullets? You'll love this debut work. -- Cameron Hughes

One Good Hustle by Billie Livingston (Random House Canada)
January Magazine has been following Billie Livingston’s career closely since we interviewed her while she was promoting her exquisite debut novel, Going Down Swinging, back in 2000. Her second novel, Cease to Blush, was one of this magazine’s best books of 2006. Her third novel, Greedy Little Eyes, won the prestigious Danuta Gleed Award. But even with all of its celebrated and award-winning predecessors, Livingston’s fourth book, One Good Hustle, may be the best of the bunch thus far. Sixteen-year-old Sammie Bell prides herself on knowing the score. The daughter of a brace of grifters, Sammie finds herself feeling like a fish out of water when her con artist father lands in jail and her mother is sliding into a haze of alcohol and depression and Sammie finds herself ensconced into a friend’s loving family. Though part of Sammie really wants to be normal, she fears her genetics and her upbringing set her too far apart. Set in the 1980s, Livingston handles her historic material with the same aplomb she brings to the emotion. One Good Hustle is sharp and sweet and Sammie Bell proves to be one of those memorable characters readers are searching for every time they open a book. -- Linda L. Richards

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie (Orbit)
I seem to be reading a lot of Westerns lately. Good ones. This pleases me, for the older I get, the more I appreciate the genre. After all, the majority of crime novels are just modern Westerns. I picked up Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country not too long ago. It’s a very classic Western type of story. The hero(ine)’s family is kidnapped and she sets out to get revenge. What makes this tale different is that it’s really a fantasy with an Old West setting. It feels just real enough to remind me of “Too Tough to Die” Tombstone and Gold Rush-era California, but boasts enough of the fantastic to give it flavor, and a nicely noirish aftertaste to boot. I can see why my friend Lauren and other women I know like Abercrombie so much. In the almost hilariously misogynist fantasy genre, Abercrombie manages to write great females, first Monza Murcatto from the 2009 revenge novel Best Served Cold, and now, in Red Country, Shy South, who manages to seem realistically feminine as well as tough. I loved both her and her craven stepfather, Lamb (his name quickly becomes ironic, and he reminds me some of True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn). Fans of Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy will be delighted to realize who he is, as it’s gradually revealed in the novel; but if you’ve only read this one book, you’ll be fine. Lamb is the archetypical old guy with a mysterious and bloody past, like Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny in Unforgiven. He and Shy make a most compelling pair, with the female character doing most of this yarn’s heavy lifting. Red Country is violent, but credibly so. I kind of wish the author had stuck to old, slow-loading but powerful guns instead of swords, but he makes the incongruousness of sword-play in an Old West setting work. This seems to be the most filmable of Abercrombie’s novels thus far (I can already see an older actor like Bruce Willis or Jeff Bridges playing Lamb). It’s also pretty funny. Abercrombie has always been skilled at developing characters, but like many fantasy writers, his dialogue was somewhat stilted. In these pages, though, the dialogue feels naturalistic and real. I became a Joe Abercrombie fan after reading his bloody and brutal war novel, 2001’s The Heroes (which Time magazine described as something like what Lord of the Rings might have been, had Akira Kurosawa written and directed it). If you appreciate Kurosawa, Sergio Leone and Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, you’ll like Red Country. -- Cameron Hughes

Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez (Viking)
A completely captivating, slow-moving thriller about what makes people violent and how one person's violent tendencies can spread to others, like a virus. The story’s initial murders start adding up fast, and two French cops are on the trail of the killer, working to unravel a tale that spans 50 years. The two copes, Franck and Lucie, both have damaged souls, in need of love and understanding as much as a solution to this case. They’re captivated by its twists and turns, and you will be, too. Thilliez’s writing, translated by Mark Polizzotti, is crisp and sure, and though the story unfolds in short chapters, I found myself reading only one or two at a time, to drag out the suspense even more and increase my pleasure. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Devoted by Jonathan Hull (Dancing Muse)
Jonathan Hull is a writer whose work I always give my full attention. Hull writes beautifully. Searingly. Heartbreakingly. I find it difficult to review Hull’s work: it impresses and touches me so completely, I find I must struggle against hyperbole. Hull’s 2000 debut novel, Losing Julia, was a masterwork. His third novel, The Devoted, lives up to this author’s previous work. It moves us from wartime Italy to the American west and through the lives of three families struggling with various aspects of devotion. Hull spent a decade as a correspondent for TIME, including three years as the Jerusalem Bureau Chief. “Fiction seems far better equipped to get at the deeper and more compelling truths of life,” Hull wrote several years ago, “our unspoken fears and hopes, our secret desires, how we make sense of our lives.” The Devoted once again brings home the truth of those words. It’s a wonderful, memorable book. -- Linda L. Richards

The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta (Bloomsbury)
It is a mystery to me that people do not clamor over Dan Vyleta’s every printed word. In my opinion, Vyleta’s writing is muscular, yet lyrical and the stories he chooses to tell resonate through history. The Quiet Twin is a fully nuanced nightmare of reality. Set in Vienna in 1939, it is not immediately apparent that an apartment building is either a metaphor for or a microcosm of the rise of fascism in Europe. But it is not the topic that makes this book a complete and perfectly wrought work of literary genius. Or maybe more accurately, it is not just that. Instead, as with his debut work, Pavel & I, Vyleta starts us off thinking we’re involved in a particularly good war-time thriller. It’s not until we’re deeply involved with Vyleta’s completely compelling story that we realize that more is going on here than meets the eye. The Quiet Twin is a searingly good book. It’s even better than Pavel & I, a book I found nothing short of astonishing. It astonished me also that, in the US, The Quiet Twin is published as a paperback original. Read it now, while Vyleta is still our secret. If there is justice, that will not be the case for long. -- Linda L. Richards

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon (Random House Canada)
No one does historical fiction like Annabel Lyon. Her stories not only have historical significance and cultural relevance, they leap with humanity and verve and life. Lyon’s second novel, The Sweet Girl, is the story of Aristotle’s daughter, Pythias, who battles everything -- even the gods -- to find her way in the world when her father dies. The Sweet Girl follows up Lyon’s starkly successful The Golden Mean and those who adored that book will find a familiar cadence here. Some could find that cadence jolting and, to tell the truth, it all could have gone very badly: this ancient Greek voice speaking in modern tones. Yet somehow, Lyon makes it not only work, but triumph. “The first time I ask to carry a knife to the temple,” opens The Sweet Girl, “Daddy tells me I’m not allowed to because we’re Macedonian.” And so we are given access to the inaccessible: an ancient girl with a modern heart. And it all works beautifully. Almost like magic. Will Lyon follow this diptych with yet another book from the era? Personally, I think it could go either way. Certainly there is room here and stories yet untold, though these two books together make a perfect set piece. Like many of her fans, I’m anxious to see what Lyon decides. -- Sienna Powers

The Tinsmith by Tim Bowling (Brindle & Glass)
Though The Tinsmith opens on the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War -- the bloodiest battle in American history -- Tim Bowling’s newest novel mostly takes place a couple of decades later, in the salmon canneries along the Fraser River. This is familiar ground for Bowling, who grew up in the British Columbia Delta regions he writes about here. But that was a long time ago. Bowling has since become not only a respected novelist, but a somewhat celebrated poet. His strong connections to a poetic past resonate most vividly in The Tinsmith, a book that manages to be deeply interesting, searingly beautiful and historically compelling. The Tinsmith touched me completely. It seemed to me the best type of adventure story for the modern man. -- David Middleton

The Twelve by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)
After a two year wait, I read Justin Cronin’s follow up to The Passage and it was 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 The Twelve, 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. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (Little, Brown)
In another life, Maria Semple wrote for some of television’s funniest and best loved shows including Mad About You, Ellen and Arrested Development. With that sort of background, it’s not surprising that Semple’s books are both deeply human and witty to the point of of being occasionally laugh out loud funny. We laugh, sure. But it’s partly because we know we laugh at ourselves. In Semple’s second novel, fiercely intelligent and mildly manic Bernadette outsources every aspect of motherhood that she can to a company in India so that she can avoid human interaction as much as possible. But when Bernadette’s best laid plans go awry and she is forced to do some serious human interactaction on all of her familial and professional fronts, Bernadette disappears, leaving her confused husband and daughter behind. Where’d You Go Bernadette is charming, funny and, in the end, thoughtful and lovely. -- Sienna Powers

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon (Ballantine)
Twenty-two years into her marriage and Alice Buckle’s life is unravelling. Her marriage is dying, her kids don’t need her much anymore and her job doesn’t do anything to fill the holes in her heart. A marriage survey Alice finds and in her spam folder ultimately leads her on a path of self-evaluation she could never have anticipated. She is “Wife 22” in the study and she knows her caseworker only as “Researcher 101” but through a series of carefully posed, insightful questions, Alice begins to see herself and her life in a new light… and the light isn’t always good. Gideon is the author of The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily After, fingered as a book of the year by both NPR and the San Francisco Chronicle. Wife 22 seems like the perfect fictional companion to that book and why not? Following a memoir that did as well as that one with a quirky feel-good coming-to-middle-age story seems almost like natural progression. -- Monica Stark

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