Friday, December 27, 2013

Fiction: Happy Mutant Baby Pills by Jerry Stahl

(Editor’s note: This review comes from Steven Nester, a resident of Austerlitz, New York, and the host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a weekly Internet radio show heard on the Public Radio Exchange [PRX]. Nester is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Rap Sheet, Mystery Scene and Firsts Magazine. He last wrote for January Magazine about Robert Stone’s Death of the Black-Haired Girl.)

Jerry Stahl throws a bucket of acid in the face of corporate America with Happy Mutant Baby Pills (Harper Perennial), his rant-raving eighth novel. Stahl’s message is simple but horrifying: today’s corporations are poisoning the users of their products, yet the victims don’t seem to care. For instance: As long as jet planes can get us around the country quickly (as they spew contrails of deadly poisons into the friendly skies), and chemical companies can keep our lawns weed-free (while poisoning us), have no fear. Dow and Monsanto might be filling our body with carcinogens, Stahl tells us, but Big Pharma will gladly sell us the cure. And if there’s nothing wrong with you? Well, then, Big Pharma will happily invent a syndrome for you. Happy Mutant Baby Pills is Silent Spring on hard drugs and attitude, only instead of birds dropping from the sky it’s the human race that’s going to take the hit.

The plot and characters here are as edgy and disturbing as one could expect from Stahl (the author of Permanent Midnight, I, Fatty, etc.). Lloyd is a neurotic and self-loathing heroin addict who writes the fine print for pharmaceutical companies, stating that the wonder drug you might be taking could also produce birth defects, make you cranky, turn you into a werewolf, you name it. As a junkie, Lloyd will do whatever and go wherever is necessary to keep the drugs coming, which makes him the perfect follower; and fortunately for the reader, drugs don’t dull his intelligence or his outrage.

Lloyd meets a woman named Nora at an Occupy L.A. event. She tells him that she writes sarcastic greeting-card messages. Lloyd falls for her. He ends up murdering an innocent man in a bathroom stall at her behest, and the pair then take it on the lam. Lloyd is the inebriated yet cerebral tour guide in this picaresque road trip of a novel, which gives Stahl plenty of opportunities to ridicule everything he observes.

Nora is the one driving Happy Mutant Baby Pill’s plot, and when she reveals her agenda to Lloyd, readers will watch in morbid fascination as the train jumps the track in slow motion. Readers are also likely to thank God that Nora is nothing but a fictional character. For it turns out that Nora is pregnant. She tells Lloyd she plans to call attention to the danger of consumer chemicals on humans by ingesting everything she can get her hands on to create a mutated baby, “one hundred percent USDA approved.” As hideous as it sounds, the humor prevails. “If this were NASCAR, I could have a sponsor name on every deformity, one per tumor,” says Nora.

The anger in these pages is righteous, and the scolding and bile are tempered by absurdity. Stahl, whose style is hallucinatory and searing, belongs in company with other American satirists, his work comparing nicely with the yucks of Sinclair Lewis, the anger of Lenny Bruce and the surreal schtick of William S. Burroughs. He understands the same thing those giants did: If you’re not going to entertain, no one’s going to stick around for the tongue-lashing. The same thing applies to honesty. Stahl’s self-deprecation is legendary and he never sacrifices artistic merit for speaking the truth.

When Stahl riffs on dope addiction he’s unbeatable, even though its ground already covered. The genius of Stahl is that he never repeats himself. Like William Faulkner’s well-trodden Yoknapatawpha County, Stahl’s riffs seem new with every book.

Fact and fiction are continuously conflated within the plot turns of Happy Mutant Baby Pills, including a torturous encounter with a real California sheriff’s deputy who allegedly fired a tear-gas canister at an Occupy Berkeley protester, nearly killing him. The book’s title reminds one of Mad Man actress January Jones, whose strange-but-true homemade vitamin pills -- concocted from her newborn baby’s placenta -- sound kookily innocuous when compared with how Big Pharma plays the game. The seeming insanity of the multibillion-dollar prescription-drug business is pointed out by Stahl’s sounding off on antidepressants that can cause users to turn suicidal: “I have the condition, I want to get rid of it, so I take the medication to make it go away and -- Pfizer meet Job! -- inflict upon myself the exact thing I want to eradicate.” Take Lyrica, for instance, the treatment for restless knee syndrome. One of the side-effects is “feeling high.” Who in these casually scrupulous times, Stahl muses, wouldn’t admit to restless knees just to catch a buzz?

“What are we now,” Stahl proposes, “but our symptoms?” Throughout Happy Mutant Baby Pills Nora and Lloyd ingest vast quantities of illegal drugs. What they are trying to medicate is the effects of the human condition -- the pain, uncertainty, personal demons -- and it’s a long and varied list, as everyone knows. So, I guess, they’re just human, and they need really strong medicine in order to cope. Lloyd puts it all in perspective: “Heroin. Because once you shed your dignity, everything’s a little easier.”

One last thing: If you’ve been pacing at the maternity room door for the last several paragraphs, I’m not going to open it for you. But I will say that, like many satirists, Stahl is an optimist at heart. After Nora’s baby girl is born, Lloyd opines that “if ten years from now, it turns out she can repel fleas, is that so bad?” ◊

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This Just In… Buried Secrets by Amanda Cozyn

Buried Secrets opens with the introduction of Shafik and his murder at Parliament House in Cape Town, South Africa. We then learn about Susie, a ghost who will sometimes help solve a little mystery. Shafik has died and there is a treasure left and it’s up to Sergeant VanBeeck and Shafik’s wife, Jesse,  to find it. The story then finds us at the kidnapping of Hanna. She finds herself tied up and beaten in a tin shack in the middle of nowhere. Will she get out in one piece to tell the tale? The story takes a turn when Nanna is tied to a chair and Jesse is being assaulted on a picnic. Hanna and her two best friends have to find a yellow envelope. Who tells them where it is? After finding more evidence Sergeant VanBeeck and Jesse find themselves in Cairo. What are they doing there and who do they see? The final chapter finds Jesse in shock while Sergeant VanBeek questions Jesse’s sanity.

You can order Buried Secrets 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, December 23, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Children’s Books

This is the Books for Children and Young Adults segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2013 feature. You can see our picks for the Best Crime Fiction of 2013 here and Best Cookbooks of 2013 here. Still to come are our choices of the Best Non-Fiction and Best Fiction. -- LLR

A Long Way Away written and illustrated by Frank Viva (HarperCollins Canada)
Like Along a Long Road, his award-winning debut storybook in 2011, designer Frank Viva’s A Long Way Away captivates. This is innovative children’s storytelling at its very finest. Read it one way and an alien will find his way from space to Earth’s deep sea. Read it the other way, and a sea creature is embarking on an alien adventure. The cleverness of the design boggles the mind of adults, though I’m quite sure it will enchant the young children the book is intended for. -- Monica Stark

Allegra by Shelley Hrdlitschka (Orca)
Music is the connective tissue of Shelley Hrdlitschka’s ninth novel, Allegra. A performing arts high school is not proving to be the school Allegra dreamed about. She had imagined being able to dedicate herself completely to dance, which is her passion. It’s been a rude awakening. It’s still school, and not only must she deal with the cliques and mundane classes she’d have to take at other schools, here she is also expected to come out with a well-rounded arts education and that’s not what she had in mind at all. She is disconsolate when she’s forced to take music theory, something she’d figured she was beyond. But she finds herself surprisingly fascinated, not only by the material, but by the interesting and attractive young teacher presenting it. I liked Allegra a lot. Allegra herself is engaging enough to be a welcome companion and while some parts of the conclusion seem inevitable from the beginning, there are enough twists to make the outcome interesting. And it satisfies. -- Sienna Powers

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Eleanor & Park is so much better than it needs to be, it takes one by surprise. Though the book is aimed at young adult readers, this is the sort of ageless story that needs no limits. Readers of all ages who enjoy having their hearts touched will like this one. The pair in the title are a brace of 16-year-olds who are deeply in love. They are intelligent teens and understand that, for so many reasons, the deep attachment they feel can not last. Even so, they give into the things that call them and have a go. Eleanor & Park follows up Rowell’s debut: 2011’s smart and wonderful Attachments. No sophomore slump here. Eleanor & Park is a biography of a first love: poignant, heartfelt, ultimately doomed, but absolutely unforgettable. -- Sienna Powers

Fairy Godmothers Inc. by Jennifer Wardell (Jollyfish)
Though Jennifer isn’t the first writer to take run at fracturing a fairytale, in her debut novel, the Utah lifestyle reporter brings something new to a timeworn subgenre. Seasoned fairy godmother Kate has just gotten a choice assignment: client Rellie (you can guess what that’s short for) isn’t sure about what her happily-ever-after should look like. Meanwhile the prince Kate produces for her client is more interested in the fairy godmother than the would-be princess. It all goes to show: relationships really can be complicated! This material could easily have felt trite and old, however Wardell manages to deliver enough unexpected twists and surprise turns that we feel we really are reading something fresh and new. This is a surprisingly sophisticated romp through one of the favorite children’s stories of all time. -- Monica Stark

Flora’s War by Pamela Rushby (Ford Street)
It’s 1915. Teenage Australian girl Flora is in Egypt with her archaeologist father. Suddenly, there’s a war on and she will have more to worry about than this season’s dig and the cute boys she might meet at the balls and armies in Cairo. There are a lot of wounded soldiers being brought into town. To be daring, she has taken driving lessons and now, they will come in useful as she volunteers as a driver. This is another fine piece of historical fiction from one of Australia’s two top writers of history for children and teens, the other being Jackie French. -- Sue Bursztynski 

Freaking Out: Real-Life Stories About Anxiety by Polly Wells (Annick)
Anxiety impacts millions of young people. Maybe that’s always been true, but it’s never been more true than now. On reading writer and producer Polly Wells’ Anxiety, one can’t help but think that one thing that might be terrific for young people with anxiety is reading about other people with the same concerns. One of the things that can be very powerful in all of our lives is the realization that we are not alone. Wells here collects stories from 13 adolescents. These kids are all very different but seeing their stories here between two covers is potentially reassuring, as is a resource guide to help young people find their own solutions. -- Sienna Powers

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (Margaret K. McElderry)
I’ve been a huge Susan Cooper fan since The Dark Is Rising. This one is set not in Cooper’s native England, but in America, where she has lived for many years. The story is seen from two different viewpoints, that of  a Native American boy, Little Hawk, and an English boy, his friend, who lives in a new Pilgrim settlement. John, the English boy, is unlike most of his compatriots. He sympathizes with and respects the indigenous people and watches with horror what is being done to them. The book is full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of Native American life and belief and, this being a Susan Cooper novel, it has fantasy elements, but I can’t tell you what without spoilers. -- Sue Bursztynski 

Keala Up a Tree by Patricia McLean (BeachHouse)
There is something endlessly inviting about Patricia McLean’s debut work, Keala Up a Tree, a story about a little girl -- Keala -- who calls upon all of her Hawaiian animal friends to help Gecko find a home. This is a charming story that sweetly conveys the enchantment and beauty of Hawaii in a way that will make readers in colder climes -- children and adults alike -- yearn for the magic of Hawaii. Both collectors and pint-sized adventurers will love this one. -- Linda L. Richards

Muybridge and the Riddle of Locomotion by Marta Braun (Firefly)
For artists and illustrators, Eadweard Muybridge changed everything. The photographic work he did in the early days of photography helped us understand ourselves better, not to mention the world around us. Finally, through the amazing still photographs he took in series -- horses at high speed, people walking, running, boxing, riding -- were mysteries were solved in viewing his photos. Questions people had always asked were answered conclusively. Later he would invent the Zoopraxiscope, his “projecting magic lantern” so people could view the results of his experiments: moving pictures! Marta Braun has captured all of this beautifully in a book appropriate for kids nine and up. (But adults will enjoy it, too!) -- David Middleton

My Life As an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin)
Candice Phee has been given an assignment by her English teacher: write a list about her life from A to Z. Being a nerd, she decides to do it as a book. Candice has a highly over-the-top life, with her father and uncle (known as Rich Uncle Brian) not talking to each other about a patent her father believes his brother stole from him, a goldfish called Earth-Pig Fish. A friend she calls Douglas Benson From Another Dimension because he believes firmly that he’s from an alternative universe and keeps trying to return by jumping from a tree every night. And the odd thing is, he may be telling the truth: the author let’s you make up your own mind on that. Touching, funny and sad all at once. -- Sue Bursztynski 

The First Third by William Kostakis (Penguin Australia)
Bill, a nice Greek boy with an over-the-top family, has been given a bucket list of tasks by his dying grandmother, his yia-yia. They include finding a nice girl for his (gay) older brother and bringing him home, finding a new husband for his mother, simple stuff, really. A lovely, heartwarming, funny and sad story, and semi-autobiographical, inspired by his loving family. When the author visited my school, he was swamped by female fans who had loved the book and were relieved to discover his grandmother was alive and well (she called while they were with him). The fact that he’s young and gorgeous didn’t hurt. -- Sue Bursztynski 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Walker Books Australia)
Ashala Wolf is a girl with special powers who has been hiding out in the wilderness with other children and teens of her kind. Each has a single power. Ashala’s is Sleepwalking, which enables her to create real things in her dreams. In a world which has recovered from the devastating effects of climate change and pollution, everyone lives happily except those with powers, who are locked in detention camps. Ashala’s “tribe” has been a thorn in the side of the administration. Now she has been captured and it’s time to break her through interrogation. This was nothing like The Hunger Games, but it had about it many of the qualities I loved about that series. The first of a series. -- Sue Bursztynski 

War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel LaFrance (Annick)
Though I’m still slightly torn about whether or not the making of a child soldier is appropriate fodder for a graphic novel aimed at young adult readers, the combination of Sharon E. McKay’s powerful prose and Daniel LaFrance’s luminous illustrations is just right in War Brothers, originally written in traditional novel form and published in 2008. Storyboard and graphic artist LaFrance brings the story to life with richly vivid illustrations. Shown are the abduction, training and ultimate escape of 14-year-old Ugandan Jacob, an apparent composite of children McKay interviewed several years ago who had been kidnapped then trained as soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army under the infamous Joseph Kony. These components -- strong story, powerful storyteller, talented artist -- make for a winning combination. -- Monica Stark

Where Beauty Lies by Elle and Blair Fowler (St. Martin’s Press)
So, obviously, Elle and Blair Fowler’s tales of the London sisters shouldn’t make anyone’s best of lists. What is this but teenerati? No one should care about this stuff. And yet. I just simply can’t get enough. Nor am I alone, both books in the series have been well-reviewed by some pretty significant outlets. I don’t care about that, either. What I do care about? What are Ava and Sophia London up to this time? And the second book in the series (after Beneath the Glitter) more than delivers. This time out it’s New York City during Fashion Week while the London sister’s brand, London Calling, rockets skyward. It’s a heady ride and pretty much devoid of fiber or any type of real nutrition but, hey: everything in life can’t be good for you, right? -- Monica Stark

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Cookbooks

This is the cookbook segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2013 feature. You can see our picks for the Best Crime Fiction of 2013 here. Still to come are our choices of the Best Non-Fiction, Best Fiction, Best Books for Children and Young Adults. -- LLR

Jones Atwater is a musician, sports fanatic and struggling author. He lives in Ohio with his Fender Stratocaster, Pearl, and his cat, Rhea.

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook by Brent Ridge, Johh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck (Rodale):
If desserts are the food that floats your boat, as they do me, you will love The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook, no question. This is a stunning book. I just don’t know how else to say it. A perfect selection of recipes, from totally over-the-top to basic and down to earth. Wonderful photos by Paulette Tavormina. Sensible organization. (Not always a given.) And -- most important of all to me -- the feeling that anything that will be attempted will be successful. If your tooth is of the sweet variety, this one should be at the top of your list.

Guy Gourmet by Adina Steiman and Paul Kita (Rodale) 
There was a time that cookbooks aimed entirely at men would be composed of stacks of recipes for huge portions of fatty foods -- mostly meat -- and how to put them together easily into different, now edible stacks. And, truly, that time wasn’t so very long ago. Despite its manly appearance, Guy Gourmet (Rodale) is a different sort of animal. While the design, presentation and even food choices all seem pretty testosterone-led, the emphasis here is on lean and healthy. Not surprising, in a way, considering the book was prepared by the editors of Men’s Health. But even that phrase has different, deeper connotations than it used to. Men have different expectations of themselves these days and most often “strong” and “lean” are included in the definition. And though the recipes are top-knotch and spot-on -- carefully selected for flavor, leanness and ease of preparation -- in some ways, they are not the heart of this book.

Whiskey: Instant Expert by John Lamond (Princeton Architectural Press)
This is the tiniest book that I could imagine being considered for the Best of the Year but, despite it's tiny size (pocket-sized, really) it packs a powerful punch. Considering the topic, that shouldn’t be such a surprise, I guess. Whiskey includes everything you need to know in a handy and intelligently put-together guide. Which whiskey comes from where? Which distilleries are important in what country? What can you expect from this whiskey or that one? Casks, blends, malts: if it’s a question about whiiskey, the answer is here and ready to access elegantly.

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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.

Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts by Cree LeFavour (Chronicle)
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. The recipes are sharp, modern and tempting. Despite this, they are also, for the most part, surprisingly simple: the methods fast and fussless. The ingredients lists 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. This is one of the good ones.

Moosewood Restaurant Favorites by The Moosewood Collective (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Moosewood has perhaps been the top vegetarian destination in the United States for four decades. And among a certain set, even if you’ve never thought of visiting Ithaca, New York, to partake of Mollie Katzen’s actual Moosewood-prepared food, some form of Moosewood cookbook has been part of the vegetarian’s cookbook library during all that time. Moosewood Restaurant Favorites is a far-cry from the earliest Moosewood efforts: mimeographed backroom affairs with little hand-drawn illustrations to show technique and even food. This Moosewood cookbook is as bold and sophisticated as the vegetarian movement itself has come to be, reflecting all sorts of palates, appetites and preferences. And if you are that rare creature: a vegetarian who has never heard of Moosewood, get ye to a bookstore now: you’re in for an incredible surprise.

One Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder (Chronicle)
In our culture, we are obsessed with time. Because of this, it is inevitable that some of the basics begin to become neglected. Unfortunately, one of the most basic basics of living that often gets left behind is eating properly. I know affluent, professional people whose evening meal is a constant decision about which take-out place to frequent on which particular evening. And no matter how good the take-out, there’s a part of me that really thinks that all that food made with only sustenance in mind (no thought for either love or health) just can’t be good for you. In One Pan, Two Plates, Carla Snyder not only addresses these very basic concerns, she does something about it. “I can’t help you with your laundry or bills,” Snyder warns in her introduction, “but One Pan, Two Plates can help you get a healthful meal on the table in less time and with less cleanup.” The book is focused on making beautiful one dish meals for two people -- a couple, perhaps or a parent and child -- but some of these would be terrific for a single, as well: dinner tonight and lunch for one reheated at work tomorrow. Either way, life gets a whole lot healthier.

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Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

The Best Things You Can Eat by David Grotto (Da Capo Lifelong)
Since before the book came out in January, 2013, I have adored The Best Things You Can Eat. Of everything I read this year, it’s the one book I went back to again and again. What’s the best thing to eat if you have a cold? What can you eat to help prevent cancer? What will help bad breath? High blood pressure? Settle an upset stomach? This is not you mother’s nutrition book. Almost everything here feels fresh and surprising. For instance: here’s something I’m sure you did not know. What will help you fend off cavities? Cheese! It helps improve overall oral health by preventing loss of minerals in the teeth. And what will help you sleep? Lettuce! With that in mind, wrap some cheese in some lettuce and settle in. This is a terrific book.

Crackers & Dips by Ivy Manning (Chronicle)
Though appetizer books come and go, Oregonian food columnist Ivy Manning’s approach to the very esoteric topic of crackers and dips is fresh. More to the point, perhaps, in no time at all it feels essential. Even those who are not devout fans of crackers will find appealing recipes in this book, many of them so incredibly easy, it doesn’t even begin to feel like cooking. (Just cutting and toasting and maybe drizzling. Things that everyone can do.) And “dips” really puts too fine a point on the thing. Dips, spreads and even some things that could be best considered pates and encompassing the entire range of eating style, from vegan to full on carnivore. This is an interesting, lovely and useful cookbook in a well-produced package. I liked it a lot.

Virgin Vegan: The Meatless Guide to Pleasing Your Palate by Linda Long (Gibbs Smith)
If you are considering veganism or have already made that leap, you’ve already examined the reasons why. And closely. What remains may well be just how to make it work in your life. A vegan start-up guide is called for. Enter Linda Long, the author of Great Chefs Cook Vegan and herself a long time vegetarian. If you’re going to take a single book into your new vegan lifestyle, Virgin Vegan would not be a bad way to go. Long starts things off with concisely shared basics: a few thoughts on the ethics of it all. A few more on what veganism actually is. Then on to the basics of the vegan pantry. Then what to do when you’re in a restaurant or traveling. For new vegans just starting on what can be a challenging journey, Virgin Vegan is a terrific first step.

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Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of a dozen books, the most recent of which is the mystery novel Death Was in the Blood.

Feast by Sarah Copeland (Chronicle) 
Author Sarah 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 -- tempered with other wonderful things that make for interest and diversity.

The Deerholme Mushroom Book from Foraging to Feasting
by Bill Jones (Touchwood)

There are as many books about mushrooms as there are, well… mushrooms. And like those mushrooms, some are just more collectible and digestible than others. My own collection of mushroom books -- field guides and cookbooks -- is pretty respectable. I love edible mushrooms and I love learning about them, thus feel I can state with some authority that, when it comes to cooking with mushrooms, The Deerholme Mushroom Book is better than the best of them: a golden chanterelle in a forest of slippery jacks.

The White Spot Cookbook by Kerry Gold (Figure 1)
Readers who didn’t grow up in Western Canada can pass this one by: The White Spot Cookbook will not have deep resonances for you. That, of course, is one of the reasons I loved the book. Produced to coincide with the restaurant chain’s 85th anniversary, it includes the very best recipes from White Spot’s kitchens, past and present, as well as a textual and visual history of this iconic family eatery. Gold has done a great job of translating decades of restaurant kitchen recipes for the home chef. And the history as well as celebrity input (Michael Buble, Pat Quinn, Red Robinson and others) and terrific photos and anecdotes bound together in a really well-produced book make this a very special entry into the annals of  British Columbia’s culinary history.

Modern Native Feasts by Andrew George Jr.
(Arsenal Pulp Press)

Whatever you have in mind when you conjure up the image created by the title Modern Native Feasts, you won’t be imagining anything quite like this. Chef George has taken the best of his indigenous Canadian culture and traditions and fused it with his modern training, plus a generous helping of very real talent and created a cuisine that, while it may be distinctly his, could feasibly represent a beautiful -- and delicious -- future. George’s first book, A Feast for All Seasons, is considered the definite contemporary guide to the food of indigenous North American cultures. Modern Native Feasts puts George’s personal touch on every dish. This is sophisticated contemporary food perfectly informed by the chef’s heritage and own sensibilities. I love this one for subtle commentary on what can occur when the best of all cultures are blended together with sense and love.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist
by Tim Federle (Running Press)

The most difficult thing about Tequila Mockingbird was knowing where to categorize it. I’m still not sure I got it right. Drinks, bar snacks and literature are mixed here with the precision and flare of a perfect martini. A former Broadway dancer, (you might have seen him in The Little Mermaid or Gypsy) Federle’s more recent jam has been award-winning books for children, the newest of which will be Five, Six, Seven, Nate! due out January 2014. Tequila Mockingbird is something else again. Sixty-five classic cocktails paired with eloquent and engaging musings on some of literature’s favorite works. As the flap copy says, “You fought through War and Peace, burned through Fahrenheit 451, and sailed through Moby-Dick. All right, you nearly drowned in Moby-Dick, but you made it to shore -- and you deserve a drink!” A couple of hints: A Rum of One’s Own; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita; Vermouth the Bell Tolls. Enough said: dust off the cocktail glasses and get reading.

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Vancouver and Montreal Named Best Libraries

Vancouver Public Library.
Where are the best libraries in the world? According to a new German study, the two top libraries in the world are in Canadian cities. The Vancouver Public Library says:
Scholars at Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf have named the public libraries in Vancouver and Montreal as the No. 1 libraries in world cities -- topping a lengthy list that includes libraries in New York, Boston, London, Barcelona, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Researchers in the university’s department of information science analyzed the services and spaces -- digital and physical -- of public libraries in 31 major centres around the world, exploring how they support the digital, learning and creative fabric of their cities.
Vancouver and Montreal libraries were tied for the top spot. Libraries in Chicago, San Francisco, Shanghai and Toronto rounded out the top five in the research, which was published in this month’s edition of Libri: International Journal of Libraries and Information Services. 
“Vancouver is a world-class city and we’re extremely pleased and humbled to be recognized as a top world-class library,” says VPL chief librarian Sandra Singh.
Although the criterion were lengthy and varied, the best indication of why Vancouver tops the list is found later in the same release.
A new survey from Mustel Group conducted for VPL earlier this fall, for instance, illustrates that VPL is essential to learning and development in Vancouver.
That survey found that 78 per cent of Vancouverites have visited the library in the last year; that’s an increase from 74 per cent in 2010. 
Among other highlights: 62 per cent of residents say they would simply not read the books they do if they couldn’t borrow them from VPL; 49 per cent would not be able to enjoy the movies or music they do without VPL.
VPL has overwhelming support from residents, suggests the survey data: 94 per cent support spending tax dollars to continue library services even if they don’t use the library themselves. This is solely owing to the benefits the library provides to the community.


This Just In… Wise at Any Age by Kaitlyn Hatch

All too often wisdom is associated with how many years we have lived, rather than the lessons we have learned. Logic says that the older we are the more experiences we have and therefore, the more wise we must become. But we only gain wisdom when we learn from our experiences and to do that we must reflect, explore and contemplate.

Wise at Any Age invites the reader to explore the many avenues to gaining wisdom, regardless of age. It is written in an accessible way, and includes a multitude of different tools and paths to appeal to all learning types.

You can order Wise at Any Age here. Visit author Kaitlyn Hatch 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, December 19, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Crime Fiction

Editor’s note: This is the first segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2013 feature. Still to come are our choices of the Best Non-Fiction, Best Fiction, Best Books for Children and Young Adults, and Best Cookbooks. Look for them in the coming days. -- LLR

Ali Karim is The Rap Sheet’s always-too-busy British correspondent, a contributing editor of January Magazine and the assistant editor of Shots. In addition, he writes for Deadly Pleasures and Crimespree.

Bear Is Broken by Lachlan Smith (Mysterious Press):
A debut legal thriller, reminiscent in tone of early works by John Grisham and late ones concocted by Michael Connelly, Bear Is Broken reeks with the cynical authenticity of the games cops and lawyers play. At its core, this is a compassionate tale of two attorney brothers in San Francisco, with the younger one, Leo Maxwell, seeking to discover who shot his elder sibling, Teddy (that name explaining this book’s title). It seems star defense lawyer Teddy was preparing to wind up the case of Ellis Bradley, a man accused of marital rape, when over lunch with Leo one day in a crowded restaurant, he suddenly takes a headshot from an unidentified assailant. With Teddy left in a coma and fighting for his life, Leo finds himself alone. The local police aren’t going out of their way to solve this crime, as Teddy, in the past, had often come into conflict with the boys in blue as well as his fellow legal representatives. That means Leo, who’s only recently passed his bar exams, must do what he can to piece together the mystery of who wants his brother dead -- an effort that will expose family secrets and some uncomfortable truths.

Dead Lions by Mick Herron
(Soho Press):

A surreal, cynical, yet amusing look at the world of British intelligence, Herron’s latest novel picked up the Crime Writers’ Association’s Goldsboro Gold Dagger Award this last fall. Its narrative focuses on the losers at Slough House, a group of misfits or “slow horses” who have been transferred from active MI5 operations due to internal politics, their messing up, outright incompetence, alcoholism, et al. Things take a curious turn when slow horse and legendary slob Jackson Lamb decides to delve into a lackluster case -- the death, by heart attack, of retired cold warrior Dickie Bow. Lamb worked with Dickie in Berlin, and starts to suspect something more sinister than a natural death. Lamb and his colleagues soon find themselves back in action, embroiled in a looking-glass world that features KGB undercover agents, a Russian oligarch, a text message on a mobile phone and the ghost of a fabled Soviet spymaster who may not be real. Told through shifting points of view, Dead Lions boasts an amusing, serpentine plot that takes readers as far from the glamorous world of Ian Fleming’s tuxedo-wearing spy as could be imagined.

Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley (Harper):
This fourth novel featuring modern Botswana police detective David “Kubu” Bengu opens with two ostensibly unrelated and disturbing incidents, both of them kidnappings of schoolgirls from two different places; each “snatch” leaving a vacuum within the families left behind. Local cops, struggling through a combination of a lack of will and a lack of resources, are unable to locate the perpetrators. Then, months later, Detective Kubu -- while chomping his biscuits and singing along to The Barber of Seville -- watches politicians battle for supremacy in the upcoming elections with disdain and cynicism. Kubu is especially troubled by the corruption endemic in a country ruled by superstition and violence; and he thinks he spots links between all of this and those schoolgirl abductions. The divergent plot strands here slowly start to weave together, though it is sometimes hard to anticipate and identify where they join. South African writers Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who pen this series as “Michael Stanley,” offer short and surgically edited chapters, suffusing their twisted plot with valuable social commentary.

Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime):
Joyland is a shining example (pardon the pun) of King’s skill as a short-fiction author. Set in 1973, in North Carolina, it’s a coming-of-age tale based around college student Devin Jones, who is working at an amusement arcade for the summer in order to help fund his education. In the back story we learn of Devlin’s emotional attachment to a girlfriend in New England, who seems to be wearying of the young student. There aren’t many things that could be sadder than the hopeless desperation of a boy’s first love. But in tandem with this, Devin must deal with leaving his widowed father, who also clings to the love of his life -- Devin’s mother, now long gone -- and finds himself bewildered and confused by the uncaring hand of fate. King’s narrative details Devin’s summer doings -- not only his entertaining escapades and encounters with quirky characters, but also his investigation of the legendary “Funhouse Killer.” For it seems that, along with the sounds of the carnival beat, the sawdust underfoot, and the aroma of candy floss and hot dogs, there lurk dark and terrible secrets in Joyland. This is accomplished storytelling by a writer who, after decades of publication, can still produce a work that stops you dead in your tracks and forces you to question what it means to be human.

Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press):
A husband-and-wife pair of academics, Samuel and Sandrine Madison, work at Georgia’s Coburn College and share what to all outward appearances is a successful marriage, one that has resulted in a grown-up daughter and seeming happiness. However, that tranquility is shattered when the beautiful Sandrine is found dead, an evident victim of suicide, brought down by vodka and Demerol. Members of the local community are shocked by the professor’s passing, which rapidly spawns a murder investigation as the police -- and later an overzealous prosecutor -- zero in on Sam Madison as the prime suspect in his wife’s demise. The cloud of the death penalty casts an understandably dark shadow over both the defendant and his legal team. Cook constructs his narrative like a courtroom drama, but this novel offers a much more compelling tale about what actually led to the death of Sandrine, a woman as enigmatic as the ancient history she taught and brooded upon. Cook deftly explores the question of what we truly know about the people we love -- and, in reflection, what we truly know about ourselves. This novel was published in Britain as Sandrine (Head of Zeus).

* * *

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 maintains an award-winning crime-fiction site, Deadly Diversions.

The Good Father by Noah Hawley (Anchor):
Dr. Paul Martin is living a nightmare. His son, Daniel, has dropped out of college and disappeared for months at a time, only touching base occasionally. Then one afternoon the family is having a casual conversation when the TV news intrudes: a U.S. senator and leading presidential candidate has been shot and killed at a political rally in Los Angeles. Within minutes Secret Service officers appear at Martin’s door and demand that he come with them. The assassin has been arrested and identified. It’s his son. Eloquent in its depiction of a father’s agony, The Good Father is a powerful and insightful psychological thriller. Author Hawley skillfully explores the impact of a tragedy with historical proportions that no one in the family saw coming, and that turned them, overnight, into national pariahs. Unable to accept his son’s guilt, and desperately wanting to believe that he had been at worst a patsy for others, Paul Martin begins a cross-country odyssey to prove his son’s innocence. It is a journey that will cost him his job and test the strength of his marriage, and before it is over the New York-based rheumatologist will prowl the backlands of America where Daniel spent his final months in search of answers that his son is unwilling to give.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday):
Ten years after the end of the Second World War, someone is targeting members of an aristocratic Tuscan family. One victim has already been viciously killed, her heart carved from her chest. Detective Serafina Bettini will struggle to understand the events that have lead to a series of brutal slayings, and to prevent the killer from striking again; and in the process she will be forced to relive her own past during those turbulent times. This is an atmospheric historical thriller that skillfully explores the conflicting tensions of an occupied people trying to come to terms with events they cannot control, at a point where their actions can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Orion, UK):
Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus is back in harness and investigating a cold case, when he’s called to the scene of a car crash. Something about it doesn’t add up, and Rebus finds himself at odds with the driver’s (if she was driving) overprotective father, a man with both powerful connections and a short fuse. Complicating matters, Rebus’ old nemesis, Complaints Inspector Malcolm Fox, is investigating him -- or at least his old team. He’s been tasked with reviewing a prosecution that went wrong 30 years earlier, and as the only copper from the team still serving, Rebus is caught in the middle, with both his loyalties and his own head on the line. Fine, nuanced writing by a master of his craft.

The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins, UK):
Diamond Dagger Award winner Andrew Taylor has applied his formidable research and writing talents to serve up a compelling tale of greed and violence during the turbulent years of the American Revolution. London clerk Edward Savill travels to New York City to verify the claims of dispossessed Loyalists who find themselves on the wrong side during the American War of Independence. After a member of a family he’s staying with disappears behind rebel lines, and a body is discovered in the notorious slums of Canvas Town, Savill becomes involved. A fascinating take on ordinary people caught up in the sweep of events that will shape a new nation.

The Whisper of Legends by Barbara Fradkin (Dundurn):
Police Inspector Michael Green finds himself completely out of his element when he learns that his teenage daughter has gone missing in the northern Canadian wilderness. When the local head of the RCMP refuses to launch a search, Green takes matters into his own hands. His decision forces him to confront several of his own demons, including fear of flying and trying to cope in a hostile environment the Ottawa-based officer knows absolutely nothing about. Enlisting help from sympathetic locals, Green stumbles on one man’s quest that reaches back decades -- an obsession that will cost people’s lives. Well-researched, well-crafted and utterly convincing.

* * *

J. Kingston Pierce is the editor of The Rap Sheet, the senior editor of January Magazine and the lead crime-fiction blogger for Kirkus Reviews.

A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby (Atria/Marble Arch Press):
Inspired by an actual post-World War II crime, this yarn focuses first on the strangled corpse of a woman, discovered at a London bomb site in 1946. Busby then backtracks to explore the life of 43-year-old Lillian Frobisher, who spent part of the recent conflict entertaining forlorn servicemen, and isn’t happy to see her comparatively dull, middle-class husband return from army duty. Busby’s account of Lillian’s hard route to an untimely end, and her report of the efforts by a police inspector to unearth Lillian’s double life, lend complexity to this literary mystery. It is further enriched by its portrayal of the weary lives of Londoners suffering through postwar economic austerity.

Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan (Simon & Schuster, UK):
It’s 1914 and Dr. John H. Watson -- having fallen out with his storied comrade in crime-solving, Sherlock Holmes -- returns to army duty, re-commissioned as a major in the medical corps, and dispatched to the front lines of World War I as “an expert in the new techniques of blood transfusion.” But after a sergeant’s peculiar demise raises doubts about Watson’s practices, and then other similar deaths occur, Watson begins digging for answers, only to discover a killer with some longstanding grievances to exercise. Ryan does a superior job of capturing Watson’s voice, and the physician’s association with an unconventional volunteer nurse is well constructed. I hope this pair will be rejoined in Ryan’s sequel, The Dead Can Wait, which is due out in the UK in January.

Irregulars by Kevin McCarthy (New Island, Ireland):
From the author of 2010’s Peeler comes this sequel featuring now former Royal Irish Constabulary sergeant Séan O’Keefe. Unemployed since the 1922 partition of Ireland, he agrees to help a Dublin brothel madam, Ginny Dolan, locate her teenage son, who may have joined the ranks of republican guerrillas (aka “Irregulars”) opposed to the terms of that partition. O’Keefe’s original motive for taking the case is to pay back a vague debt his father owes Dolan, but as the ex-peeler -- aided by both the madam’s chief leg-breaker and an increasingly disillusioned undercover detective -- goes about his investigation, he gains a front-row view of Ireland’s escalating civil war and discovers he hasn’t completely lost interest either in exacting justice or recovering his hope for a better life.

Little Green by Walter Mosley (Doubleday):
After barely surviving a car accident at the end of his last adventure, 2007’s Blonde Faith, Los Angeles private eye Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins takes on a new assignment: locating Evander “Little Green” Noon, a man of 19 or 20 (“but he’s immature for his age”) who disappeared after calling his mother to tell her that he’d met some girl on the Sunset Strip. Jacked up on a “voodoo elixir,” Easy sets off in a bright red 1965 Plymouth Barracuda to bring Evander home -- and in the meantime, protect the young man from folks who would rather he ceased breathing immediately. As the case unfolds, Easy will rub elbows (and more intimate body parts) with free-spirited hippie chicks, run afoul of gun-wielding thugs and do his best to hide a small fortune in tainted cash. Little Green reminds me why I fell in love with Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series many moons ago.

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):
Eighty-two-year-old Sheldon “Donny” Horowitz is a retired, widowed, and Jewish watch repairman living well out of his element. His beloved granddaughter, Rhea, has moved him from New York City to Oslo to be with her and her new Norwegian husband, Lars. She fears that Sheldon -- congenitally insolent and cranky in often comic measures -- is fast slipping into dementia, since he claims to have been a sniper in the Korean War, rather than a mere file clerk. But after a Kosovar war criminal murders Sheldon’s neighbor and tries to take her son, it falls to our octogenarian philosopher-hero to flee with that boy, dodging cops and killers and, if disaster doesn’t intervene, finally deliver himself from the guilt he’s borne for his own son’s death. Ripe with memories of wars long ago fought and regrets insurmountable, this is a remarkably moving, memorable debut thriller.

* * *

Mike Ripley is an award-winning British mystery writer and, for 10 years, was the crime-fiction critic for The Daily Telegraph. He has devised and taught a course in Creative Crime Writing for Cambridge University and writes the scurrilous “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots. (The books below were published in the UK in 2013 and are listed here with their British publishers.)

Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan (Simon & Schuster):
What better place for a psychopathic killer to get away with murder than on one of the greatest murder sites in history: the Western Front in the middle of World War I? Enter Dr. John Watson, flying solo (almost) as an army doctor, to take up the case. Along the way there’s a subplot involving an attempt to assassinate a well-known public figure (who became even more well-known during World War II) and much illuminating material about the role and status of women, especially those who worked as nurses. An intelligent, atmospheric thriller of which Arthur Conan Doyle would surely have approved.

Death on Demand by Paul Thomas (Bitter Lemon Press):
Proving that there’s far more to New Zealand than Hobbits, Dwarves and Dragons, that godfather of Kiwi crime brings back his wonderful, anarchic Maori cop, Tito Ihaka, after far too long away. And he has the chops to defy Elmore Leonard’s basic rule of writing by having a 25-page prologue! This is a frenetic, action-packed, highly convoluted tale of crime and skullduggery, red in tooth and claw. Ihaka is a wonderful creation and the plot, which meanders through police politics, gangsters and blackmail, comes together with the satisfying click of a new round being chambered.

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Orion):
Edinburgh’s Detective Inspector John Rebus (now technically back from retirement as a sergeant) is something of a National Treasure in Britain, though of course that may change if Scotland votes for independence next year. For the moment, however, he’s back doing what he does best: shaking things up. It’s good to see such a brilliant character getting older, but no wiser; raging against the machine of injustice wherever it confronts him. And in this book, it’s a case from Rebus’ past -- in which he just might be a suspect -- that comes back to haunt him.

Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith (Simon & Schuster):
How does Martin Cruz Smith do it? Not only has he created one of the great fictional detectives of the last 30 years in Russian investigator Arkady Renko, but he keeps his hero abreast of (and usually fighting) the changing face of modern Russia. His latest novel tackles whistle-blowing, political corruption on a mega-scale, police in-fighting and the jockeying for position by oligarchs and gangsters, who are often indistinguishable. Gripping stuff and so slick Cruz Smith makes it look easy.

The Windsor Faction by D.J. Taylor (Chatto & Windus):
A very “literary” novel about ... well, I suppose about apathy, boredom and powerlessness, masquerading as a what-if historical thriller set in a 1939, when we find Edward VIII (minus Mrs. Simpson) sitting on the throne. This work will not satisfy the reader looking for an alternative history of Britain in World War II. (Len Deighton claimed that high ground years ago.) But, though its short on thrills and action, this is a novel ripe with fascinating characters and beautifully -- in parts, very beautifully -- written.

* * *

Kevin Burton Smith is a Montreal-born crime writer and critic currently looking for an honest glass of beer in Southern California’s High Desert. In the meantime, he’s working on the Great Canadian Detective Novel, writing features for Mystery Scene magazine and contributing too infrequently to The Rap Sheet. Not incidentally, Smith is also the founder and editor of that invaluable resource, The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

American Death Songs by Jordan Harper (Beautiful Trash):
Television writer (for The Mentalist) Harper shows he’s capable of more than air-brushed crime stories for mass consumption. He tears into the guts of something in the night, darker and more alive, in this astounding collection of mostly crime-based short stories featuring people ruining other people’s lives -- and their own. There’s no Vaseline on the lens here; just the unflinching, hard-edged poetry of bad luck and bad choices, be it a fat girl’s desperate dreams of romance or a loser’s last shot at some kind of redemption on a lonely stretch of back road, set to a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack. Turn it up.

The Creep by John Arcudi
(Dark Horse):

This moving graphic novel is more -- much more -- than a cheap riff on the old “defective detectives” gimmick. Big Apple gumshoe Oxel Kärnhaus is the eponymous creep of the title, a big, hulking brute with a face only a mother could love; the victim of a debilitating, disfiguring disease. A lifetime of insults, pain and loneliness have left Oxel a brooding, desolate man, but the chance for salvation -- and maybe even love -- comes when an old girlfriend begs him to help her find out why her teenage son committed suicide. Was it grief? Guilt? Shame? This book’s clean, sensitive artwork, by Jonathan Case, brings the emotional wallop of the answer down with a hammer.

The Double by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown):
Pelecanos’ game plan may not have changed much over the years: some taut, diamond-hard prose, careful attention to clothes, cars and music as social and cultural indicators, men doing what they gotta do -- all leading to an inevitable (and inevitably violent) showdown worthy of a spaghetti western. But this time Pelecanos digs deeper, rocks harder and let’s the hellhounds howl louder. Hip young Iraq vet-turned-freelance investigator, Spero Lucas, hot on the trail of a stolen painting, may think the war’s over, but the war’s not over with him. Men do what they’ve gotta do, but Pelecanos dares to ask why.

Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackman (Soho Crime):
Improved medical technology and body armor mean more American military troops come home alive, if not necessarily whole, and Brackman’s poignant novel tears right into it; it’s the perfect companion piece to George Pelecanos’ PTSD-laced The Double. At least in Brackman’s yarn, Ellie McEnroe, who left a big chunk of her leg back in Iraq, knows she’s damaged. An ex-pat living in China, she agrees to look for an old army buddy’s missing brother. But China’s a big country, and as the foul-mouthed, pill-popping vet travels from tourist trap to toxic wasteland and back, her journey becomes one of disenchantment, frustration and anger, even as she admits that she likes “having something to do. Something that matters.” This book -- and the fingers it points -- matter.

Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton (Marian Wood Book/Putnam):
With “Z” looming at the end of her particular fiction-writing road, Grafton hangs a left, unleashing this collection of Kinsey Millhone short stories. That’d be noteworthy enough: they’re tough, polished P.I. gems, with not a loser in the bunch. But it’s the “and Me” half of this work, consisting of 13 loosely connected vignettes tracing the author’s own troubled childhood, written in the years following her mother’s death, that will keep you reading into the night. Grafton knows that not all crimes involve guns or bodies, and it’s the author’s acknowledgement of “all that rage, all that pain” that has made the Millhone series one of the greatest in American detective fiction.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Change and Its Aftermath

We’ve been so busy lately putting together January Magazine’s “Best Books of 2013” package (expect to see the results rolling out soon), that we almost missed a significant anniversary.

It was seven years ago today that January’s main page was transformed into a blog, giving us more flexibility in what (and how often) we could post. Since then, we’ve experimented with a variety of story lengths and types, and introduced new critics into the mix. But we have never lost the original intent of January Magazine, which was -- and is -- to explore new and significant books, and write both well and entertainingly about them. We are pleased that you’ve stuck with us for this wonderfully long ride.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Actor and Memoirist Peter O’Toole Dead at 81

So very sad to say good-bye to Peter O’Toole, whose piercing blue eyes have haunted movie-goers since he played the title role in Lawrence of Arabia back in 1962.

The Irish-born actor died Saturday after a long illness. He was 81. The Guardian remembers him in a poetic obituary which begins thus:
Katharine Hepburn, his consort in The Lion in Winter (1968), once told Peter O'Toole that he was profligate with his talent as an actor. But perhaps O'Toole's metier was always risk. Even in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), when he was not quite 30, he looked like an elegant wreck, dipped in suntan, his eyes full of fever. O'Toole, who has died aged 81, made his height, his giddy conviction and his theatricality hold that epic together. He was a freed bird in white robes, yet he shuddered like a schoolboy at the thought of torture.
And the Entertainment Weekly blog got downright hyperbolic when they announced that O’Toole, “arguably the most strikingly charismatic, most eerily handsome, most preternaturally gifted actor of his acting generation, died Saturday at a London hospital at age 81.”

The actor was the author of two books. Loitering With Intent: The Child was published in 1992 and chronicles O’Toole’s childhood. It was as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year when it was published. In 1996 he published Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice, which covered his years spent training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There was talk that O’Toole had been working on another installment in his Loitering series of memoirs a few years ago, and it’s clear there’s a lot of material that wasn’t covered in the first two. Hopefully that material surfaces and we are gifted with Loitering with Intent: The Master. At least.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

This Just In… War of the Wildlands by Lana Axe

Unrelenting war between humans and elves threatens to destroy the forest forever.

A tyrant king has declared war on the elves and will stop at nothing to see them annihilated. Despite fighting savagely to defend their homes, the elves are outmatched by vicious attacks from highly skilled battle mages. The elven clans must join forces to have any chance of survival against the ruthless king’s army.

Meanwhile, a young half-elf is forced from the human world he has always known and travels into the Wildlands to seek out his elven kin. Along the way, he learns to draw on the magic within himself to craft weapons of tremendous power. When war arrives on his doorstep, he must choose whether to stand with the family he has always known or the elves who share his blood.

You can order War of the Wildlands here. Visit author Lana Axe 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.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Jason Segel to Play David Foster Wallace

I can’t help but think that Jason Segel will be terrific as David Foster Wallace in a planned biopic based on a book I liked a lot back in 2010.

Even though, as the Los Angeles Times points out, Segel has “made a career out of playing adorable goofy guys,” interviews and subtext in some of his film roles reveal the possibility that we will be treated to a more thoughtful and darker side of Segel as he plays the brilliant author who killed himself in 2008.

The film is currently being called The End of the Tour and covers a five day period that Wallace spent with writer David Lipsky, on assignment for Rolling Stone while DFW was promoting Infinite Jest, the book that brought him fame. For various reasons, the piece never ran but after Wallace died, Lipsky turned the extensive material he had into a surprisingly vibrant book. As I wrote in my review, “Lipsky is a skilled interviewer and a terrific writer and so what we end up with is far, far beyond what might be expected. One of the great literary minds of his generation speaking frankly and at length with an award-winning journalist who, himself, has a great deal to say.”

The Wrap tells us that James Ponsoldt will direct from a script by Donald Margulies. Jesse Eisenberg (above left) will portray Lipsky. Production is scheduled to begin early in 2014.


This Just In… The Weight of a Feather & Other Stories by Judy Croome

“The promise implicit in an anthology is that it aspires to present something different, unexpected” -- Joyce Carol Oates (Introduction to The Oxford Book of American Short Stories)

From the classical form of “The Weight of a Feather',” first published by The Huffington Post (2013), to the suggestive allegory of “The Leopard and The Lizard,” this collection of short stories by South African author Judy Croome is an ideal mix of the familiar and the startling. These vibrant slices of life testify to the mysterious and luminous resources of the human spirit. Whether feeling the harrowing emotion in “The Last Sacrifice” or the jauntiness of “Jannie Vermaak’s New Bicycle,” the reader will delight in a plethora of stories that cross boundaries to both challenge and entertain with their variety.

You can order The Weight of a Feather & Other Stories here. Learn more about author Judy Croome 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, December 12, 2013

Return to Manderley

A few days ago, when we wrote about how NeoMam Studios in the UK have created floorplans of classic literary houses, the illustration we used was of Daphne DuMaurier’s Manderley from her wonderful classic thriller, Rebecca.
DuMaurier on the staircase 
of the house that inspired

Author and essayist V R Gaitonde contacted us via Twitter about the house that was the real life inspiration for that almost mythical mansion.

In a piece for The Prague Review last month, Gaitonde wrote:
The opening sentence of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca has stuck in readers’ minds ever since the novel was published 75 years ago.  Manderley, the sprawling mansion where Rebecca is set and which exerts its own powerful presence in the novel, sometimes warm, often sombre, is popularly believed to be based on Menabilly, the manor that the du Mauriers lived in for two decades from 1943 to 1969. An early Georgian manor in Fowey on the southern Cornish coast, the estate has long been the seat of the Rashleigh family, who were powerful merchants from the time of Henry VIII. But when the Rashleighs stopped living in the house on a regular basis, it went to seed. They rented it to du Maurier, who renovated it from her own purse.
The piece is lengthy and complete and goes way beyond a portrait of an important house. It looks at DuMaurier’s life and loves, and Hitchcock’s own attempts at creating the mansion at Rebecca’s core. It’s a terrific essay and provides plenty of fodder for those who have dreamt of going back to  Manderley, again and again. You can find it here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Authors: “Surveillance of Personal Data is Theft”

Over 500 authors have made “a stand for democracy in the digital age” by signing a petition “to launch an appeal in defense of civil liberties against surveillance by corporations and governments.”

The authors who have signed include Nobel Prize Winners Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, Günter Grass and Tomas Tranströmer. Other signatories include Umberto Eco, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Daniel Kehlmann, Nawal El Saadawi, Arundhati Roy, Henning Mankell, Richard Ford, Javier Marias, Björk, David Grossman, Arnon Grünberg, Angeles Mastretta, Juan Goytisolo, Nuruddin Farah, João Ribeiro, Victor Erofeyev, Liao Yiwu and David Malouf.

The pledge is powerful and is reproduced here intact. You can add your signature electronically on


Petition by Writers Against Mass Surveillance

In recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your e-mail, your social networking and Internet searches. 

It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership with Internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption and behaviour. 

The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested. 

This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.

A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.

To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.

  • Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion. 

  • Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical  triumphs, the presumption of innocence. 

  • Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.

  • Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.


WE CALL ON ALL CITIZENS to stand up and defend these rights.

WE CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of protecting civil rights in the digital age, and to create an International Bill of Digital Rights. 

WE CALL ON GOVERNMENTS to sign and adhere to such a convention.

Sign the petition here.