Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: Eragon: Collector’s Edition by Christopher Paolini

The story of how Eragon (Knopf Books for Young Readers) came to print is as magical as anything that happens in this fantastical series.

Los Angeles-born, Montana-raised and entirely homeschooled, Christopher Paolini was 15 when he began to write what would become Book One in the Inheritance Cycle.

Paolini and his family self-published the book in 2002, selling almost 10,000 copies through a concerted family effort to move the book. Then the big break: bestselling author Carl Hiassen was vacationing in Montana. A bookseller gave the author a copy for Hiassen’s then 12-year-old stepson. The kid loved the book, and said it was even better than Harry Potter. Hiassen called his editor at Knopf who didn’t waste a lot of time in signing this wunderkind with a pen to a publishing contract.

Knopf released their first edition of Eragon in 2003 when Christopher was 19. The rest, as they say, is history. Within six months, the Knopf edition had sold a million copies and his second novel, Eldest, sold close to half a million copies within a week of publication, making it the fastest selling title in Knopf’s history. Now not quite 30, Paolini is given rock star treatment when he makes public appearances: greeted by screaming fans in the thousands.

This 10th anniversary collector’s edition of Eragon was released in October of this year, very much with the holiday buying market in mind. The book is bound in faux-leather embossed with gold foil. Inside are six original colour illustrations by award-winning artists: Michael Hague, Donato Giancola, Ciurelo, John Jude Palancar and Raoule Vitale. It all makes for a pretty expensive package, but this is likely intended to be a gift for someone who already know and loves Paolini’s work and will cherish this special edition.

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Holiday Gift Guide: A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

It’s gotten so I look forward to Anne Perry’s annual Christmas offering almost as much as my beautifully decorated tree, plum pudding and my children’s faces on Christmas morning. It’s become another tradition, for me and a personal treat. And, truly? I should wait and see if it appears under the tree, but I never do. (And so it never does.)

A Christmas Hope (Ballentine) is Perry’s 11th Victorian Christmas mystery and, like the others that have come before, it is charming and dependable. Pretty much, really, just the way Christmas should be.

Claudine Burroughs is dreading Christmas. It is, to her, the worst of all seasons, forcing her to face up to the fact that the dreams and aspirations she’d held earlier in her life are fading fast, along with -- she fears -- the faint good looks she had. The coming of Christmas only serves to remind her of all she has not -- and likely will not -- attain.

This is the mood she is in when she meets Dai Tregarron at a party. He is a poet who makes her feel a glimmer of the spirit she once had. An hour later he is accused of a horrible crime: killing a young prostitute who had been smuggled to the party. Claudine believes in Dai’s innocence and sets out to prove it and in the course of her investigation, she discovers secrets that will shock her fashionable London set to its core.

Thank goodness, however, it is Christmas, the season of miracles, and anything is possible. Claudine is able to come up with a resolution that not only clears her new friend, but celebrates the best of the season in a number of ways.

Perry’s many fans know that her Christmas books do not feature the very best of her writing or the snakiest of her plots. However, they are warm, charm-filled and absolutely of the season. Happy holidays! ◊

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Animals Were Harmed During Filming of The Hobbit, Life of Pi and Others

For decades film-goers have been comforted by the American Film Association’s friendly shield at the end of movies. It’s meant to reassure us that, no matter what horrors we’ve witnessed on screen, innocent animals weren’t harmed for our entertainment.

It turns out, though, that those reassurance’s might be as fake as a Hollywood ending. An explosive feature in The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week pointed out that, all too often, the assurances that American Humane Association have been giving just aren’t true. The piece leads with two horrid incidents on recent blockbuster productions: the near-drowning of the tiger during filming of Life of Pi in 2011 and on the 2012 production of The Hobbit, a reported 27 animals perished during the creation of the film, “including sheep and goats that died from dehydration and exhaustion or from drowning in water-filled gullies, during a hiatus in filming at an unmonitored New Zealand farm where they were being housed and trained.”
A THR investigation has found that, unbeknownst to the public, these incidents on Hollywood’s most prominent productions are but two of the troubling cases of animal injury and death that directly call into question the 136-year-old Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit’s assertion that “No Animals Were Harmed” on productions it monitors. Alarmingly, it turns out that audiences reassured by the organization’s famous disclaimer should not necessarily assume it is true. In fact, the AHA has awarded its “No Animals Were Harmed” credit to films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production. It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren’t intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren’t rolling.
The stories are shockingly -- and unacceptably -- numerous.
The full scope of animal injuries and deaths in entertainment productions cannot be known. But in multiple cases examined by THR, the AHA has not lived up to its professed role as stalwart defenders of animals — who, unlike their human counterparts, didn’t themselves sign up for such work. While the four horse deaths on HBO’s Luck made headlines last year, there are many extraordinary incidents that never bubble up to make news.
A Husky dog was punched repeatedly in its diaphragm on Disney’s 2006 Antarctic sledding movie Eight Below, starring Paul Walker, and a chipmunk was fatally squashed in Paramount’s 2006 Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure to Launch. In 2003, the AHA chose not to publicly speak of the dozens of dead fish and squid that washed up on shore over four days during the filming of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Crewmembers had taken no precautions to protect marine life when they set off special-effects explosions in the ocean, according to the AHA rep on set.
And the list goes on: An elderly giraffe died on Sony’s 2011 Zookeeper set and dogs suffering from bloat and cancer died during the production of New Regency’s Marmaduke and The Weinstein Co.’s Our Idiot Brother, respectively (an AHA spokesman confirms the dogs had bloat and says the cancer “was not work-related”). In March, a 5-foot-long shark died after being placed in a small inflatable pool during a Kmart commercial shoot in Van Nuys.
All of these productions had AHA monitors on set.
I have a dear friend who, for years, has insisted on not watching films that included animals, saying she never felt confident that no animals were, indeed, harmed in the creation of the movie. While it’s distressing that she was right, her “no animals” stance would seem to have been the right one. At least for the time being, because until Hollywood sorts out how they can truly assure us that “No Animals Were Harmed” in the making of films, I suggest we not pay to see films featuring animals. Ever.

This is an important issue and an in-depth and well done piece. You can see the whole of it here.

Editor’s note: It’s true that, aside from the mention of a few movies based on books, the connection in this piece to January Magazine’s mandated subject matter is tenuous, at best. Even so, we feel the need to do what we can to move word of this as far as possible. Animal cruelty is not okay, no matter what form it takes. Tell your friends.


Cowboy Author’s Catalina Home Reduced by $10 Million

One of the first millionaire authors, Zane Grey was perhaps the most prolific and well known author of western novels.

Though he started out as a dentist, by the time of the publication of his 10th novel in 1912, Riders of the Purple Sage, he was a bestselling author, now attributed with creating much of the mythos on which tales of the west are based.

Grey was prolific. In fact, though he died in 1939, his publisher had sufficient manuscripts on hand that they were able to publish a new Zane Grey novel every year until 1963.

Grey was born in Ohio in 1872. He moved his family to California when he achieved success as a novelist because he wanted to be closer to the film industry. Over time, almost 50 of his novels were adapted for the screen.

Though Grey’s primary California home was in Altadena, the author built a fantastic getaway on Catalina Island, which is about 20 miles off the coast. An avid sportsman who loved to fish, Grey fell in love with the island and built a pueblo-style home on a half-acre plot on the island in 1926. The romantic 16-room home situated on a Catalina hilltop with a magnificent view of the ocean provided Grey with the perfect place for trysts with his many mistresses while his wife, Dolly, and his children stayed at Altadena.

The house was converted into a hotel after Zane’s death in 1939 and has been in the same family for over 50 years. According to Top Ten Real Estate Deals, the property is currently on the market for $6.5 million. A real deal, when you consider the was originally listed at $16.5 million several years ago.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Maltese Falcon Fetches Over Four Million at Auction

In Dashiell Hammett’s classic 1930 novel, The Maltese Falcon, all of the action focuses around running down a priceless statuette that (spoiler alert!) in the end, turns out be a valueless fake.

A prop falcon was commissioned for the 1941 film version of The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart. Actually two of them. But the one used in the filming -- complete with dents from where Bogart dropped it -- sold at auction this week for more than double the original $1.5 million dollar estimate Bonhams had put on the bird.

The movie memorabilia auction, conducted by Bonhams and curated by Turner Classic Movies was offering other items of significance in Hollywood. The negligee Vivien Leigh wore while playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind brought $56,250 while Coppola’s notated screenplay for The Godfather fetched $22,500 and the 1940 Buick Phaeton used in Casablanca sold for $487,650.

There were some bargains, too. An Esther Williams sequined bathing suit sold for $3125 while an Edith Head costume sketch for Mitzi Gaynor’s outfit in The Birds and the Bees went for just $750. but it was the falcon that was expected to draw the most excitement, and it did selling for $4,085,000. From the auction catalog:
One of two known cast lead statuettes created for use in John Huston's screen version of The Maltese Falcon, the "bent tail feather" bird, and THE ONLY STATUETTE CONFIRMED BY WARNER BROS. ARCHIVES AS HAVING APPEARED ON SCREEN. 
Humphrey Bogart plays San Francisco detective Sam Spade in John Huston's directorial debut. Spade tangles with three nefarious characters played by Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, all of whom are chasing a statuette they believe to be a gold and jewel-encrusted figure of a falcon, but which ultimately is revealed to be made of lead. 
You can view the auction catalog online here.


Thanksgiving Reads

Between too much turkey, too much family and possibly too much time on our  hands, the chance to get caught up on reading at Thanksgiving is a real and appealing possibility. With that in mind, Flavorwire introduces us to “10 Perfect Books to Cozy Up to As You Cook, Eat, and Drink This Thanksgiving.”
If you’re stuck indoors for the rest of this week due to family Thanksgiving obligations or fear of the storm that’s supposedly approaching -- or because you’re simply trying to avoid the world -- a good idea might be to just spend your time off reading books. 
Of course, being Flavorwire, the methodology is a bit dodgy, but brief entries about the value of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Mikhail Bulgakov’s A Country Doctor’s Notebook -- among others -- provide fodder mean for some holiday reading in different flavors of classic.

The piece is here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fiction: The Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch

There’s something pleasing about fiction that focuses on the premise of a self-help book that actually helps. Or doesn’t. Self-help in action explored in fiction is just a fun and satisfying idea. Will Ferguson’s 2001 novel Happiness(™) (which was first published as Generica) played with this idea most successfully. Someone writes a self-help book that actually works… and the world is changed.

Allison Winn Scotch’s The Theory of Opposites (Camellia Press) is sort of the reverse. The daughter of a bestselling self-help author writes a book that proves her father’s theories wrong. Dad’s book? Is It Really Your Choice? Why Your Entire Life May Be Out of Control. While daughter, Willa, whose perfect life has suddenly come unglued, writes the book that contradicts all of theories her father posited. (And, you guessed it: Willa calls her book The Theory of Opposites.)
If you were to believe my father -- and many people do -- you would believe that there is no such thing as coincidence. That life is a series of intentional moments that lead us from one of the next, each one ping-ponging us from one destiny to another, all of which carry us on a wave of life up until the inevitable: death.
In a nutshell, my dad is the guy who has more or less eliminated the idea of free will and has instead doomed us all to fate, to that old and ever-present irritating adage: everything happens for a reason. (Air quotes.)
Allison Winn Scotch’s fifth novel is smart, charming and a bit of a romp. If your taste in reading runs to RomCom-style literature (think Jennifer Cruisie, Sophie Kinsella or Jodie Picoult in her less serious moments) you are likely to enjoy 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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Monday, November 25, 2013

Writer’s Studio: Avoid Writing Mistakes That Make Your Fiction Suck

Avoiding serious suckage should be any writers Job One. Sure, there is so much that is important. So many things to do and not do to create work that seems real to the reader. Things to elevate your words and lift your characters off the page. But before you get anywhere near any of that you need to start with the basics: making sure your work doesn’t suck.

Ernest Hemingway was very good at
creating writing that did not suck.
Here Script magazine looks closely at this very issue. Though this piece relates specifically to writing for the screen, there’s a lot here that all writers should be paying attention to in their fiction. Some you may already be watching for, but a few you might not have ever considered.

Though this advice doesn’t have all the smoothness or even the snap we got used to from dear old Elmore and -- certainly -- not all of it applies to work that is meant for the page, not the screen, there’s a surprising amount that does apply to all types of fiction. For instance:
4. The scene begins at the very beginning of the exchange, rather than the middle. Yes, many conversations begin like this in real life. But on the page, it’s crushingly dull. Instead, enter the scene mid-conflict by jumping in as late as possible (without being confusing). Then, make sure to exit the scene before it’s all wrapped up neatly. This leaves some tension to push the reader into your next scene.
And another:
8. We’re introduced to too many characters on the first page. Introduce us to just a few characters at a time. It’s like going to a party: If the host tells you everyone’s name at once, you won’t remember a single name. But if you start by talking with just two or three people, then move on to the next small group, you’re way more likely to get to know and care about each individual.
The full piece is here.


Hunger Games 101

Are you behind on your Hunger Games reading? But you don’t want to let on how much you don’t know about Suzanne Collins’ three-book franchise. Still, everyone is talking about it at work.

If any of that sounds familiar,  CNN provides  your first line of defense. It’s a sort of Hunger Games 101: a breezily written piece -- complete with one of those irritating slide shows -- that will bring you right up to speed. Here, for instance, is a comment on the HG’ love triangles:
So there's this girl Katniss and she's a total badass, and she's basically best buds with the male version of her, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), but she gets sent off to the Hunger Games with Peeta, saves his life a million times and now all the viewers want them to be an item. So they sort of are. Besides fighting for basic survival, the Quarter Quell gives them more time together to explore their relationship, for real and for the cameras. The love triangle is what grounds the entire series in reality, and it ain't over until it's over, so don't expect anything to be decided halfway through the series' four-movie run.
With rundowns like that, you won’t flounder long. Meanwhile, the second film in the series, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, opened this past weekend to numbers that exceeded even optimistic expectations. From Entertainment Weekly:
Only three films have ever opened higher than Catching Fire: The Avengers ($207.4 million), Iron Man 3 ($174.1 million), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million). Many prognosticators (this one included) thought Catching Fire might surpass Iron Man 3‘s opening earlier this year, but the superhero sequel had the notable advantage of 3-D ticket sales, and Catching Fire fell short. Still, if estimates hold up when final grosses are released tomorrow, Catching Fire will have bested The Dark Knight Rises as the highest 2-D opener of all time. Rises pulled in $160.9 million during its opening weekend in 2012. Even without 3-D appeal, Catching Fire played very well on IMAX screens. The large-screen format accounted for $12.6 million of its domestic debut.


This Just In… 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker

Britain has many well documented, yet strange traditions such as Bog Snorkelling, Bonfire Night, Cheese Rolling and Haxey Hood. This book describes 40 more traditions in a similar vein, all of which are less well known.

Read about Turtle Rinsing in London, Arrow Catching in Staffordshire, and Animal Gambling in the Forest of Dean. Discover where a Duck Quacking contest, a Pipe Cleaner Festival, and a Thimble Throwing competition take place. Marvel at people’s spitting, blowing, and digging exploits.

All the stories are distinct and can be read independently; this is a book for the busy individual who has a spare five or ten minutes to discover the secrets of Biscuit Rolling.

You can order 40 Humourous British Traditions here. Visit author Julian Worker 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 or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cookbooks: Feast by Sarah Copeland

“There is so much good food in the world,” Sarah Copeland begins. She says a lot more but, in so many ways, that is the guiding idea behind Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite (Chronicle Books).

Copeland explains that she came to vegetarianism slowly, having been raised by people from farm families. “Sunday mornings smelled like bacon,” she writes in Feast. Her lifestyle change came on gradually, for both health and moral reasons, becoming vegetarian was “a very natural, gradual shift.”

The challenge, for her as well as for many people whose eating lives are charting a similar course, is how to fill the table with delicious and varied foods and flavors 365 days a year. The resulting quest ended up with the ultimate creation of the beautiful and practical Feast.

What’s the bottom line, she asks? “I always say, ‘Eat cake and vegetables!’ Eat wonderful, delicious, healthful foods, mostly vegetables, and leave a tiny bit of room for dessert.” The balance of Feast backs this axiom, with gorgeous recipes for whole food -- mostly vegetables -- along with enough other stuff for interest and diversity.

A day that starts with Country Eggs and Gravy with Arugula is an indulgence even carnivores are likely to enjoy. There’s nothing missing here from the perfect country breakfast. At least, there’s nothing missing that anyone will notice!

I loved the Polenta with Winter Salad, Poached Egg and Blue Cheese. It’s a super satisfying cold season meal that puts together several things in a way I would have never considered. (Polenta in salad? Hmmmm. And then: of course!)

But my favorite, in a book filled with innovations and great ideas, is Spring Vegetable Paella. Here Paella celebrates the first gorgeous vegetables of spring rather than an abundance of fish and shellfish and the resulting dish is glorious.

A dessert section is thoughtful and complete, the Vegetarian Larder chapter gives thought to important ingredients like non-dairy milks, plant-based proteins and other considerations for cooking that is healthful and mostly free of animal products. Another section, Prep School, deals with basic preparations that will simplify all of your cooking. How to supreme an orange, make a cauliflower steak and buy, store and clean asparagus and many other small things that add up to a lot of great information.

There were a couple things that I did find disappointing in Feast. First, as I’ve noted before, fish is not a vegetable. So a few recipes that include salmon and halibut in what is billed as a vegetarian cookbook are not welcome. Second (and this is a personal pet peeve that you might not share!) the words “barley” and “risotto” don’t belong together in one recipe. Risotto is made with arborio rice. Period. (Call me old school if you like, but there it is.) Make a risotto with barley and it’s something different… and not quite right.

Beyond these quibbles, I have nothing but good things to say. Feast is beautifully photographed, the recipes are innovative as well as clear and well-shared. If you’re newly vegetarian (or on that path) and pondering what next to put on the table, have a good look at Feast. (Just avoid the fish.) ◊

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


“World’s Biggest Bookstore” Will Close in February

The Toronto retail space at 20 Edward Street, just north of Toronto Eaton Centre, that has billed itself as “the world’s biggest bookstore” since the early 1980s has been sold to developers. The bookstore currently there will close early next year.

Though the space has housed an Indigo Books for the last several years, the space was initially purchased by Jack Cole, founder of Coles Books, back in 1979. Coles Books was an important Canadian retailer. And if “Coles Notes” are familiar to you, Jack Cole was one of the reasons why. But according to Jack’s son, David, the sale doesn’t go against dad’s wishes. From the Toronto Star:
Property owner David Cole, son of Cole Books founder Jack Cole, who died in 1997, said the sale is pending. He said the story that his father was adamant that the site would always house a bookstore is an urban legend.
“I was with my dad the day he bought it in 1979. My dad would have wanted what was best for his family,” said Cole.
The store at 20 Edward St., a short block from the Eaton Centre, opened in 1980 and was a tourist attraction for many years. A former bowling alley, the space is a somewhat awkward 64,000 square feet over three levels, including an alcove on the second floor.
It’s not actually the world’s biggest bookstore. There is a Barnes & Noble in New York City that is more than twice as large. But it still houses a vast number of books, including a wall of Shakespeare, a wall of poetry and another dedicated to Manga. It has long rows of fiction, including a Star Wars section.
And, like Sam the Record Man, which closed in 2007, and Honest Ed’s, which has been sold to a Vancouver developer, the World’s Biggest Bookstore was a brash, quirky retailer that for a long time anchored Toronto’s retail landscape.
The new owners say they have “no finalized plans or intentions for the property” at the moment, but anticipate adding it to their portfolio.


Holiday Gift Guide: Painters and the American West: Volume II edited by Joan Carpenter Troccoli

Art books make terrific gifts. Though they can be a little heavy for mailing, it’s easy to tailor your choice to the person you’re gifting, though finding the right art book for the right art lover is a big part of getting it right.

It seems to me you’d have a tough time going wrong with Painters and the American West: Volume II (American Museum of Western Art). It’s an impressive -- almost epic -- book, beautifully produced and lovingly annotated. It’s just a splendid art book, from any angle.

In a foreword, scholar and curator John Wildmerding offers literary and cultural context for the collection on view here. What started as the Anschutz Collection became Denver’s American Museum of Western Art in 2010, a stroke creating it as one of the foremost institutions to house a collection of the art of American West. And though that’s a compelling picture, Wildmerding insists it isn’t the complete one:
Through the collection’s concentration on the western story of the nation, we come to see what is distinctive as well as derivative about the region’s art, how it possessed its own vision while belonging to a larger American culture.
Because it is both a massive and luxurious book, the editors have been able to push the idea of “art book” to its widest edge. Examples of art by virtually every important western artist have been included, as well as many, many of the less important ones.

Each image reproduced gives context to a larger picture still as various important time periods in the shaping of the American west are explored, both historically and visually, through the art of that region and/or time. The result is… well, fantastic. Painters and the American West succeeds on virtually every level: art book, visual history and unthinkably heavy calling card for a museum that is one of the best of its kind in the world. ◊

Jones Atwater is a January Magazine contributing editor.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oxford Chooses Word of the Year

And the winner is… “Selfie”. Sure there were other words, but none of them stood a chance against the ultimate winner for 2013. From the Oxford Dictionary blog:
The decision was unanimous this year, with little if any argument. This is a little unusual. Normally there will be some good-natured debate as one person might champion their particular choice over someone else’s. But this time, everyone seemed to be in agreement almost from the start. Other words were considered, as you will see from our shortlist, but selfie was the runaway winner. 
Oxford defines “selfie” as:
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website:
occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary
Glad we cleared that up.

BTW: the photo above is from Acceleroto who recently released a smartphone app called “Cat Selfie.” I’m not going to explain what it does. (“Put your cat in control.”) But if you’re guessing, you’re right.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Screenwriter Syd Field Dies at 77

Syd Field, considered by the global film community to be the guru of screenwriting, died of hemolytic anemia at his home in Beverly Hills yesterday, surrounded by family and friends. He was 77.

Field was an internationally bestselling author for almost four decades. Field wrote Screenplay (1979), The Screenwriter’s Workbook (1984), Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Hollywood (1989), Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay (1994), The Screenwriter's Problem Solver: How To Recognize, Identify, and Define Screenwriting Problems (1998), Going to the Movies: A Personal Journey Through Four Decades of Modern Film (2001) and The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting (2003).

From Deadline:
He began his career in the shipping department of Wolper Productions before going on to research and write for the original Biography television series, among other Wolper productions. During his career, Field chaired the Academic Liaison Committee at the WGA West, was a lecturer on the faculty at USC and AFI and has been a special script consultant to 20th Century Fox, Disney Studios, Universal and Tri-Star Pictures. He was inducted into the Final Draft Hall of Fame in 2006 and was the first inductee into the Screenwriting Hall of Fame of the American Screenwriting Association. He was also a special consultant to the Film Preservation Project for the Getty Center.


Holiday Gift Guide: The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield

The title goes quite beyond explaining the book. The Secret Museum: Some Treasures Are Too Precious to Display (Firefly). But the book is about the museum you never see. The objects that are, for various reasons, tucked out of sight, hidden in secret locations and kept from public view.

Author Molly Oldfield tells us that all museums have these things: items too precious, or secret or controversial to be viewed by the steaming masses. “Usually there is more hidden than there is on display,” she writes in The Secret Museum. “There are all sorts of reasons why.”

Items that might be too fragile or too precious or simply too large, as is the case of a blue whale in the National Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh.

At the Royal Geographical Society in London, one will not see Livingstone and Stanley’s hats.

If you go to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm you also won’t see Alfred Nobel’s will (the museum is just too small for the atmospherically controlled display case that would be required to make it possible).

At the Royal Opera House in Kent, England you won’t see Dame Margot Fonteyn’s tutu from when she danced  the role of Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty in 1946. (A madly big deal at the time.)

At the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo you won’t see the logbook of the Kon-Tiki Expedition and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London you won’t see the flag from the battle of Trafalgar.

In total, Oldfield looks closely at 60 items museums are keeping mum about, while mentioning many more. Those who love secrets, museums or just a twisty tale of the entirely true variety will enjoy The Secret Museum. ◊

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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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing Dead at 94

Doris Lessing, the author of over 50 novels died at home earlier today. She was 94 years old.

The Toronto Star summarized beautifully:
Doris Lessing, the Nobel prize-winning, free-thinking, world-travelling and often-polarizing author of The Golden Notebook and dozens of other novels that reflected her own improbable journey across the former British empire, died Sunday. She was 94.
Her publisher, HarperCollins, said the author of more than 55 works of fiction, opera, nonfiction and poetry, died peacefully early Sunday. Her family requested privacy, and the exact cause of death was not immediately clear.
Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. She was the oldest person to have been awarded the prize, as well as the 11th woman. At the time she said, “I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.”

The British author was best known for The Golden Notebook, which many consider to be one of the most important feminist novels ever written. The novel was published in Britain and the United States in 1962, though it was not published in Germany or France for another 14 years due to material that was thought to be too inflammatory.


This Just In… The Brotherhood of Purity by Thomas DiCarlo and Connie Atkinson

The Brotherhood of Purity is the first thriller in a series set on the world stage of global intrigue. The story follows the transformative journey of an American investigative journalist as he races against the clock to stop the most relentless terror machine the world has ever produced.

With only days to unravel the Brotherhood of Purity’s secrets and crack the code that could save thousands of lives. the journalist finds he may change his own fate as well as that of the man he is desperate to stop.

Embark on a journey into the mind of a terrorist and discover whether mankind can build a world at peace and how the mystical sometimes intervenes in our human odyssey.

You can order The Brotherhood of Purity here. See more about the book 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 or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nobel Laureate Chat… 30 Years On

In a literary meeting the likes of which has seldom been seen north of the 49th parallel, this is one interview worth revisiting.

In 1973, Graeme Gibson (Five Legs, Communion) sat down with writer Alice Munro (The View From Castle Rock, Dear Life) to talk about the things that made the future Nobel laureate tick.

Gibson, who is a celebrated writer in his own right and who has been Margaret Atwood’s life partner since around the time this interview was conducted asked, among other things, about how writing was important to Munro. She answers:
God.. do you mean why do I do it? I don’t know if I can get at that. I always have done it. It’s... do you mean is it important as a kind of therapy? No, that’s not it. I don’t know why it’s important. I don’t understand this. I know that I’m never not writing, so that I’m not just sort of turning out one book and then taking a rest and then turning out another book. I’ll never live long enough to deal with all the ideas that are -- things that are working, because I write very slowly and things, with me, things sort of jell very slowly. But there are always things there that just -- well I’m thinking of a thing I’m working on now which I haven’t really begun to write much of at all, and it just, it exists and so I’m going to have to put it down or forget it. If I can.
The interview is one of 11 originally published by House of Anansi Press back in 1973 as Eleven Canadian Novelists. To help celebrate Munro’s recent Nobel Prize award, Anansi is re-releasing Gibson’s interview with Munro as an e-publication. The taste of Gibson’s book is a tempting one, though. Who wouldn’t love to see a republication of the full book which includes interviews with Margaret Atwood, Austin Clarke, Marian Engel, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence and others? Meanwhile, we’ll have to settle for this tantalizing taste.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Biography: Under the Eagle by Samuel Holiday and Robert S. McPherson

Former soldier Samuel Holiday and history professor Robert S. McPherson get together to tell Holiday’s amazing story in Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday Navajo Code Talker (University of Oklahoma Press).

Moving from Holiday’s childhood in rural Utah to the depths of the United States’ campaign in the Pacific during World War II when Navajo men were enlisted so the Marine Corps could use their native language for secret communication on the front.

Under the Eagle is deeply compelling. From the majesty of Monument Valley and the enchantment of beliefs very different from those likely to read the book, to the horrors of the Pacific theatre and back to an awkward readjustment in a world in which nothing is altered yet everything seems strangely changed.

Though there has been some discussion about code talkers in recent years, Under the Eagle touches on aspects that others haven’t brought us. The authors incorporate not only Holiday’s own life and background, but elements of Navajo beliefs and culture. This comes from Holiday’s own thoughts that the journeys he made as a soldier were “as much mental and spiritual as … physical.”

Though movies and books have gone before, Under the Eagle provides the only account of a code talker from the code talker’s own perspective. The view from that angle is riveting. ◊

Jones Atwater is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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This Just In… The Tragedy of Fidel Castro by João Cerqueira

When God receives a request from Fátima to help prevent a war between Fidel Castro and JFK, he asks his son, Jesus, to return to Earth and diffuse the conflict.

On his island, Fidel Castro faces protests on the streets and realizes that he is about to be overthrown. Alone, surrounded, and aware that the end is fast approaching, he plays his last card. Meanwhile, Christ arrives on Earth and teams up with Fátima, who is convinced she can create a miracle to avoid the final battle between JFK and Fidel Castro and save the world as we know it. At the end, something really extraordinary happens!

Humorous, rich with metaphor, and refreshingly imaginative, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro was chosen as the book of the year by Os Meus Livros magazine and the third best translation published in the United States by ForewordReviews magazine.

You can order The Tragedy of Fidel Castro here. Visit author João Cerqueira 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 or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Strangers on a Train on Stage

If you’re going to create a new iteration of Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel, Strangers on a Train, you’d better go hard or go home. The book itself is critically acclaimed, sure. On the surface, it is a novel of suspense but, quite beyond that, there is social and human subtext that only seems to deepens over multiple reads. But that’s just the beginning. Strangers on a Train has been imitated, parodied and adapted probably even more than can be determined.

Most notably, of course, was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film. The movie starred Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, and Robert Walker, and writers hired to work on the film included none other than Raymond Chandler. He wasn’t on the project long, though. The only input Chandler got from Hitchcock after handing in the first draft of his adaptation was firing. After the film came out, Chandler sent the director a note. “Dear Hitch,” he began, “Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I’m not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They’ll know damn well I didn’t. I shouldn’t have minded in the least if you had produced a better script -- believe me. I shouldn’t. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place?”

Accusations of skim milkiness not withstanding, the film was both critically and publicly acclaimed and remains one of the most referenced noir films of all time.
First edition cover.

Following in these famous footsteps, a stage version of the novel opened on the London stage on November 2nd.  Laurence Fox, Jack Huston, ChristIan McKay, Miranda Raison, Imogen Stubbs and MyAnna Buring are starring in the Craig Warner (The Last Days of Lehman Brothers, Codebreaker) stage adaptation. The play is directed by Robert Allan Ackerman (The Ramen Girl, Filthy Gorgeous). The play will run at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End until February.

From Broadway World:
A seemingly innocent conversation soon turns into a dangerous reality for Guy Haines (played by Laurence Fox) when he meets Charles Bruno (Jack Huston) on a train journey. Ahead lies a deadly nightmare of blackmail and psychological torment that threatens to cost Guy his career, his marriage and his sanity. His choice: to kill, or to be framed for a murder he didn't commit.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Crime Fiction: Saints of the Shadow Bible
by Ian Rankin

Fans of Scottish police sleuth John Rebus will be delighted to learn that he’s once again front and center in Ian Rankin’s brand-new novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible (Orion). The book’s title refers to the very first CID team Rebus was assigned to, and the legal tome that allegedly guided their work, the Scottish Criminal Law. But back in the day, their guiding principle was “ignore the law, just get results,” so they made up the rules as they went along. Three decades later their tactics are coming back to haunt them; and with Rankin’s other, more recently introduced protagonist, Inspector Malcolm Fox, on the case, there’s no prize for guessing who’s caught in the middle.

After retiring (in 2007’s Exit Music) and then serving as a civilian consultant to the Lothian and Borders Police, former Detective Inspector Rebus is back in harness, but at a price. He’s taken advantage of a scheme to rejoin the force, but has had to accept a demotion to detective sergeant as part of the bargain. He’s investigating a cold case -- a wife reported missing more than a decade ago -- when he’s called to the scene of a car crash. A Volkswagen Golf has gone off a narrow country road at speed, hitting a tree head-on. Rebus and his now-superior officer, DI Siobhan Clarke, arrive to find that the driver, Jessica Traynor, has already been carted off to a hospital with minor injuries. As a lorry driver prepares to haul away the ruined car, they look over photographs taken by the first officers on the scene. Everything seems normal enough; perhaps the woman had been the victim of road rage, or had simply been distracted at a critical moment. But two things bother Rebus: the photos show one of the woman’s boots in the passenger-side foot well, and the car boot, or trunk, was closed. It had been opened, though, by the time the cops turned up at the crash site.

Arriving at the hospital to interview Jessica, Rebus and Clarke discover that her father has beaten them to her bedside. Owen Traynor is from London, a financier with access to a private plane. He’s understandably protective of his daughter, and anxious that the detectives don’t make more than necessary out of the roadway incident. But he does put them on to both Jessica’s flat-mate and her boyfriend. They leave wondering just who had been at the wheel before the collision. Their take on the situation does not improve when they learn that Owen Traynor has a short fuse: an investment deal in the south had gone sour and an investor had ended up in intensive care after a falling-out with the entrepreneur.

Jessica’s boyfriend turns out to be Forbes McKuskey -- student and son of Patrick McKuskey, the Justice Minister for Scotland and a prominent figure for the Yes side in the upcoming vote for Scottish independence. Both Forbes and Jessica’s flat-mate, Alice Bell, deny knowing anything about Jessica’s crash. But when Forbes’ father is beaten and hospitalized in a coma, suspicion falls on Traynor.

While all of this is going on, Professional Standards officer Malcolm Fox is mulling over his impending reassignment back into the ranks of the detectives he’d spent the past several years investigating. He knew he’d be shunned at best. Not a prospect to relish, then.

Before he leaves, however, Fox has been given one final assignment. Elinor Macari, the Solicitor General for Scotland, has tasked him with looking into a 30-year-old case: a low-level scumbag named Douglas Merchant had been murdered, and a man named Billy Saunders was arrested for the crime by Rebus’ old team. When it was discovered that crucial evidence in that case had been compromised, Saunders had walked, and the senior officer had resigned. Although the rest of the team members have since retired or died, Rebus alone remains on the force.

The whole thing spells trouble for John Rebus. Fox wants his cooperation in the cold case, and his former colleagues, if not exactly friends, expect Rebus to contain the investigation. Rebus is left pondering whether his return to active duty was a good idea after all.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll undoubtedly repeat it again someday: Ian Rankin is a master of layered plotting and nuanced characters, and his riveting dialogue never fails to hold the reader firmly in his grasp. Consider the following barroom exchange between Malcolm Fox and John Rebus:
‘You’re just barely back on the force. Something like this could jeopardize that ...’

‘What you’re saying is, if I help you I can be written out of the story?’

‘You know I can’t make those sorts of promises.’ But Fox’s tone of voice hinted otherwise.

‘And all I’d have to do is grass up some of my oldest friends?’

‘I’m not asking for that.’

‘You’re a piece of work, Fox. And let me tell you something I do know.’ Rebus was sliding out from the pew, getting to his feet. ‘You’re a baw-hair away from having served your time in The Complaints. Means you’ll be back in the fray soon, surrounded by people like me -- fun and games ahead, Inspector. I hope you’re not averse to a bit of ruck and maul ...’

‘Is that a threat?’

Rebus didn’t bother answering. He was sliding his arms into his coat. The pint was where he’d left it, not even half-finished.
No better crime writer exists today. Period. ◊

NOTE: A U.S. edition of Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible is due out in mid-January of next year from Little, Brown.

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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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Camus at 100

Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize-winning author, journalist, and philosopher who died in 1960, would have turned 100 on November 7th.

Camus was born in French Algeria in 1913 and died in the Burgandy region of France. Camus’ centenary is being celebrated widely in France. According to Publishing Perspectives, “Books have been published and re-issued and events are ongoing to commemorate one of the country’s preeminent intellectuals. From BD (graphic novels) to a film adapted from one of his short stories (starring Viggo Mortensen) Camus’s body of work provides endless inspiration and food for thought.”
Three years after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the French writer and political philosopher, Albert Camus, died in a car accident at age 47 along with his publisher, Michel Gallimard. The unfinished manuscript of what would become his posthumous novel Le Premier Homme (The First Man) was recovered from the wreckage.
The novel was finally published in 1994.

In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for “his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

You can see a list of events planned for the centenary here.


This Just In… So What! Stories or Whatever! by G J Griffiths

Hilariously funny one moment and thought-provoking the next. These are poignant and graphic tales with an unexpected twist near the end.

So What! Stories or Whatever! is a collection of takes about the people who are found in a contemporary high school. It generally follows the early and subsequent career of Robert Jeffrey as he attempts to prove to himself that he can motivate the children he teaches to want to learn about science -- and maybe become scientists one day. All through the book we are made aware of the joys and disappointments experienced by pupils and their teachers.

With over 20 years of teaching experience, G J Griffiths brings some of the stories about the children he taught. So What! Stories or Whatever! is an amusing and often sobering book. Parents, teachers, pupils and students will all recognize the characters and their tales. A timely illustration of what is to be found in the classrooms of any contemporary high school.

You can order So What! Stories or Whatever! here. Visit author G J Griffiths 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 or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.


Monday, November 04, 2013

New This Week: Lazy Days by Erlend Loe

Last year I was enchanted by Norwegian novelist Erlend Loe’s English language debut, Doppler. This year I am equally impressed by Lazy Days (Anansi), a bestseller in Norway as Stille dager i Mixing Part when it was published in 2009.

If anything, Lazy Days is even more quirky and subversive and (okay, I’ll just say it) funny than Doppler. The premise is dark… especially for a book so comedic.

Bror Telemann is obsessed with celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. An obsession which comes to a head when Bror takes his family on a holiday to the Alpen spot that he believes spawned the birth of the Nazi movement. Bror is in love with everything British. Nina, his wife, loves everything German. So their Alpen vacation is bound to tension-filled… especially when Bror spends all his time virtually stalking the delectable Nigella.

Lazy Days is told primarily in unadorned dialogue between husband and wife. On the surface of things, not very much at all is happening, but it is Erland’s skill that he can move things along so forcefully without much apparent motion. This scene from early in the book:
Did you buy any red wine?
It’s on the worktop in the kitchen.
But, darling, this is German wine. 
I don’t like it when you call me “darling.”
I thought we loved each other.
Of course we do.
So what’s the problem?
You say “darling” when you’re annoyed, imagining that your on-the-surface friendly tone will give the impression that your aggression is subdued and under control. But the effect is quite the opposite. It has nothing to do with your love for me, even though you may think so.
I want wine, Nina, not a discussion about you and me.
The wine’s on the worktop.
As with Doppler, there is something darkly charming about Lazy Days, but also unexpected. It observes post-modern family life and the effects of celebrity culture and asks you to draw your own conclusions. Is it brilliant? It may be brilliant. But it is also funny as hell. Don’t miss it. ◊

Jones Atwater is a regular contributor to January Magazine.

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Cookbooks: Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts by Cree LeFavour

Every successful cookbook has something that sets it apart. Sometimes it's the unique world view or experience set of the author. (Think Anthony Bourdain.) Sometimes it’s the chef’s celebrity status. (Martha would work here as well as any other. After all, we only need to drop that one name.) But for some -- and this is a surprisingly small group -- it is nothing beyond the food. Food. Glorious food.

Cree LaFavour is like that. If you weren’t sure, you can see it repeatedly demonstrated in Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts (Chronicle Books). The recipes are sharp, modern and tempting. Despite this, they are also, for the most part, surprisingly simple: the methods are fast and fussless. The ingredients lists are short and sweet. The resulting book is redolent of all of these things and the very essence of food as it should be now: fresh, simple, delicious and -- where possible -- local.

To this end, LeFavour spends a fair amount of time at the beginning of our journey with her explaining which fish and shellfish can be “eaten in good conscience” and why. It’s clear that the author is deeply concerned with sustainable seafood and her reasoning and solutions are a valuable addition to Fish.
There’s no getting around it: these days you really need to know where your fish came from because this more than anything else is likely to determine if it’s been conscientiously farmed or fished.
LeFavour is no-nonsense in this regard and she demands sustainable seafood, and no excuses. There are other sections on buying and storing and cooking seafood, but they are less revolutionary. It’s not that it’s all been said before, but it’s kind of all been said before. But sustainability in a cookbook? That’s a newer idea and I found it both interesting and refreshing to read about it in this context.

But, again, it is in the actual cookbook section of Fish that LeFavour really shines. A few favorites: the Sweet and Sour Slaw is ridiculously simple and delicious and I suspect it will become one of my standards. Four easy ingredients. One simple method. One wonderful and healthful slaw. Amazing.

On the other end of the complicated scale, I loved Los Gatos Ceviche. It’s an entire meal: Lime-Tortilla Soup, Guacamole and handmade chips. It is not difficult, but it is unbeatable. The Yellowfin Tuna Sliders are really different and, yet again, not difficult to pull off beautifully. And when it comes to dishes with a big “wow” factor suitable for entertaining and that won’t challenge you when hosting a dinner party and trying to focus on your guests, try the Mussels with Cream, Saffron, and Angel Hair served with Garlic Toast and Grapefruit-Fennel Salad. The presentation is gorgeous and the flavors work so well together, they’re unforgettable.

All in all, Fish is one of the best cookbooks on the topic I’ve seen. Great recipes, most of which even a real novice could pull off successfully and, at the core of it all, an eye to sustainability. This is one of the really good ones. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He recently completed a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Friday, November 01, 2013

Hunger Games Sequel Expected to Be Large at the Box Office

What’s bigger than the box office opening of  The Hunger Games in March of 2012? How about the opening of that film’s sequel in November 2013?

According to Variety, when The Hunger Games’ sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, comes to a theatre near you on November 22nd, the film will earn between $140 and $150 million when it opens. Some sources predict the opening will be even better than that: perhaps even “north of $160 million during its first three days domestically.”

If that happens, it will have eclipsed The Twighlight Saga: New Moon’s opening weekend of $142 million. From Variety:
Catching Fire will have a tough time catching the two biggest Stateside openers of all time, “The Avengers” ($207 million) and “Iron Man 3″ ($174 million), both of which bowed in 3D during the summer.
Meanwhile, Variety has some terrific background on the entire Hunger Games film franchise here.


This Just In… Bloomed and Final Harvest by Damien W. Green

When 34-year-old William Cooper returns to his grandparents’ farm for the first time in 20 years, a farm he remembers from his youth as “a magical place that stood as a cornerstone in my life,” it is not only a place to bury his father but also to reawaken his lost self.

William falls back in time to when he and his brother Joseph visited the farm for the last time, where he faces the one ghost that has haunted him for the last 20 years.

In Final Harvest, William's grandfather, James Cooper, tells the story of how he met his wife Elizabeth. He recalls his wandering youth, his search for a home, his search for love and the fragility of that love once found. “For he knew how the promises we make at night in our lover's embrace shine like bright stars and angel's eyes, but he was also aware how daylight can steal them away from our lips, come morning.”

You can order Bloomed and Final Harvest here. Visit author Damien W. Green 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 or for a small fee. Want to see your new book included? Ordering details are here.