Monday, June 29, 2015

We’re on the Move...

The very latest news from January Magazine can now be seen here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fifty Shades of Bad Reviews

Is anyone at all surprised that E.L. James’ fourth book in her Fifty Shades of Grey series is getting hammered by critics? After all, a lot of ink has been spilled between here and 2011, when Fifty Shades of Grey (Vintage) was first (self) published. From the BBC:
Grey re-tells the events of James's 2011 original from the perspective of its antagonist, Christian Grey.
The book, writes the Evening Standard's David Sexton, “loyally repeats every line [and] every excruciating email.” 
According to the Telegraph, the result is "as sexy as a misery memoir". "How often do Ana's cheeks flush pink?" writes Bryony Gordon in her one-star review. "How many times does she make him feel ten feet tall?
"And he really should go and see someone about all that prickling his scalp does."
Almost universally crap reviews haven’t done much to hurt sales of the book, including on Amazon, where reader reviews seem to be falling neatly into two categories: rapturous five star reviews from big fans of the previous trio of books featuring these characters (“This is great. Christians POV makes him more humans [sic]. Those who have read the book, u must read this one.”) and solid single star reviews from readers who seem to have had trouble restraining themselves from tossing it out the nearest window. (“This is like reading the original 50 shades of grey with a touch of Tourette’s.”)

Boiled down: a whole lot of readers love the new book because it’s just like the old ones. A smaller number of readers hate the new book because it’s just like the old ones. And professional reviewers in general don’t like the book because the writing is pretty terrible, just like the old ones. ’Nuff said.

James Salter Dead at 90

American literary legend James Salter died at home in Sag Harbor, New York, last Friday.

Wikipedia described Salter as “one of the most artistic writers of modern American fiction,” adding that the author was very critical of his own work:
… only his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime comes close to living up to his standards. Set in post-war France, A Sport and a Pastime is a piece of erotica involving an American student and a young Frenchwoman, told as flashbacks in the present tense by an unnamed narrator who barely knows the student, also yearns for the woman, and freely admits that most of his narration is fantasy. Many characters in Salter's short stories and novels reflect his passion for European culture and, in particular, for France, which he describes as a "secular holy land.
The New Yorker sends Salter off lovingly in a piece by Nick Paumgarten:
He had just turned ninety, nine days before. “This birthday somehow came sooner than I thought it would,” he told the German magazine Stern, which referred to him in a way that most of our own obituarists have not, as a bestsellerautor. “I had expected to be in my eighties for longer. I would say that I am a jaded man beyond most expectations, but, like everyone else, I still have hope.” 
He celebrated his birthday last Saturday in Sag Harbor, on eastern Long Island, at the home of Maria Matthiessen, the widow of Peter Matthiessen, who died last year. (“We drank together, sometimes quite a bit,” Salter wrote, in a remembrance. “We got old.”) It was a dinner for about two dozen friends, one of whom wrote me Friday night, “He looked fit and very happy in the white linen suit he only wore on special summer nights. He was sharp as a briar and very funny with his acknowledgment of all the speeches. He was particularly animated later about a gift from someone:  a 1946 edition of Melville’s Billy Budd, Foretopman. He seemed hugely optimistic that night about a bit more time on earth.” 
Less than a week later, he suffered a heart attack at the gym. It was over. The news, in its way unexpected, felt like one of those breath-stealing turns out of Light Years, his masterpiece, or All That Is, his final work.  


Apple Swiftly Bows to Singer’s Argument

Sunday was full of Tweets and Facebook posts and news items everywhere about singer Taylor Swift putting her well-shod foot down with regards to an announcement that Apple would not be paying artist royalties on a new streaming service the company was hatching.

Taylor announced Sunday morning that she would be withdrawing her new album from the service, not for her own earnings, but for “the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt.”

Apple wasted no time in responding. From CNet:
Apple Music has quickly reversed its position on royalties for artists in the wake of the high-profile protest from artist Taylor Swift. 
The popular singer-songwriter had taken to Tumblr on Sunday to tell her fans in a blog post that she would be withdrawing her album "1989" from the Apple Music streaming service when it launches next week.
When the subscription-based streaming service was announced at Apple's recent WWDC, the iPhone maker said it was offering a three-month free trial of the service for users. In her blog post Swift noted that during that trial Apple would not be paying royalties on any tracks that were streamed. 
"I'm not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months," Swift wrote. "I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company."
The full story is here. The Washington Post adds their version here.

Top Books We Don’t Finish

This one is making the rounds again, so let’s have another poke. I mean we love lists, right? But since the article is pretty much without qualification or meaningful explanation, it’s tempting to write off The Telegraph’s list of “Top Ten Books We Never Finish” but, honestly? The list resonates for me. What about you?

1. Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
2. Capital by Thomas Piketty
3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
4. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
6. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
7. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
10. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I mean, the Clinton. Obviously. You want to, but you just can’t get there. Infinite Jest is one I’ve been taking runs at for years and, though I love the writing I read, I just can’t seem to make myself read all of it. A Brief History of Time, if you haven’t gotten to it by now, you might as well free that shelf space up. I don’t think Fifty Shades of Grey was ever meant to be gotten through. The Great Gatsby is another I’ve made valiant attempts at. Truly. But something in the writing fails to hold me. Am I deficient? Honestly: does it hold you?

You can see the list and The Telegraph’s explanations with regards to the individual novels here.

Germans Wait Until Late for Erotic E-Books

Want to buy an erotic e-book? If you’re in Germany, you’ll have to wait until after 10 PM. Good-E-Reader has the story:
The German Publishers & Booksellers Association have mandated that all e-books that aimed at adult audiences cannot be sold until after 10 PM. This includes romance, erotica and any e-book whose metadata classifies it as not being suitable for minors.
The full piece is here.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pelecanos and Simon Turn to Porn

Author-turned-TV-guys David Simon (Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets) and George Pelecanos (The Double, Shoedog) are preparing to embark on a dark journey with their old friend HBO (The Wire, Treme) in the form of a new HBO series about the porn industry, though it’s not a done deal.
 Assuming HBO opts to move forward with the entry, titled The Deuce, it will chronicle the legalization and subsequent rise of the porn industry in New York’s Times Square from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. Also explored: the rough-and-tumble world that existed in midtown Manhattan until the rise of HIV, the violence of the cocaine epidemic and a rejuvenated real estate market ended the bawdy turbulence. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Simon acknowledges that he and Pelecanos were hesitant to take on the project when they first heard from one of their Treme location managers, who'd been researching the life of a man who had been one of the mob fronts on 42nd Street during that era. "He said, 'You’ve got to hear the guy’s stories,’" Simon recalls. "George and I looked at each other and said, 'I don’t wanna make a porn show. … I’m married with kids and lawn furniture. I don’t want to go there, man. That’s dark.'” 
The full piece is from The Hollywood Reporter and it’s here.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Kung Fu Panda III Teaser Trailer

Whatever else Kung Fu Panda III has, it’s got some serious pedigree. Coming January 29, 2016, it’s being produced by DreamWorks Animation and Oriental DreamWorks for distribution by 20th Century Fox.

Kung Fu Panda III is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, co-directed Alessandro Carloni and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, produced by Melissa Cobb, and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro.

This is, of course, the sequel to 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2, and is the third installment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. The film features voice work of  Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Rebel Wilson, Bryan Cranston and J. K. Simmons.

New Fifty Shades Novel Not Stolen, Say Police

Somewhere out there, it’s possible that Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are having newly layered encounters that most people have not read yet. But police in North Kent, England say they don’t think so. From The Evening Standard:
Lawyers acting for publisher Penguin Random House told the press last week that a copy of new book Grey had been stolen, and warned against purchasing or printing the unlawfully obtained text, which is due for release on Thursday.
A crime report was made to Kent Police that some packaging was found to be damaged and a copy of the novel missing.
However, the force today said there was no evidence of any crime being committed, though it declined to elaborate further.
Publisher Penguin Random House denied the possibility of a publicity stunt intended to get book sales rolling.

Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian goes on sale today.

This Just In… Nobody's Children By Hana Hindráková

When David, John and Susanne are orphaned, they end up in the hands of their cruel uncle. The boys decide to run away, promising to return for their little sister. Unfortunately they have no idea what is about to happen to her. And their own wishes for a better life in Nairobi dissolve into thin air, as they find themselves pressured into becoming members of a gang of street children. But hope springs eternal...

You can order Nobody’s Children here. Visit author Hana Hindráková 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.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Gaiman’s American Gods Heads to TV

A television series based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel, American Gods, has been given the greenlight for Starz television. Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (The River, Heroes) are writing the adaptation and, along with Gaiman, will serve as executive producers. Gaiman told Variety his emotions on the project were running the gamut:

“I am thrilled, ‎scared, delighted, nervous and a ball of glorious anticipation. The team that is going to bring the world of ‘American Gods’ to the screen has been assembled like the master criminals in a caper movie: I’m relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands. Now we finally move to the exciting business that fans have been doing for the last dozen years: casting our Shadow, our Wednesday, our Laura. 

Now that it’s a done deal, the real work begins:
Starz said series production would be begin once producers land their leading man for the role of  Shadow Moon in the saga about a war between traditional gods from mythology and contemporary, materialistic deities. Shadow Moon is an ex-con and bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, an older god in the guise of a conman.
January Magazine’s review of American Gods is here. An interview with Gaiman from the same time period is here.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Terry Gilliam’s Real Life Holy Grail

With a mystique almost as great as anything Orson Welles ever worked on, Terry Gilliam has a seemingly cursed real holy grail of a film that now may finally get to be made. From Film Buzz/Uproxx:
One of the most widely-seen making-of documentaries ever made, 2002’s Lost in La Mancha documented Terry Gilliam’s cursed attempt at adapting Miguel Cervantes for his film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Gilliam became the perfect parallel for Don Quixote himself until eventually, beset by a wide variety of problems, the film was ultimately scrapped, resulting in a record $15 million insurance claim.
Just a few years later, Gilliam’s lead actor, Heath Ledger, would die halfway into Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, proving that Terry Gilliam may be the unluckiest director who ever lived. Nonetheless, he’s still the guy who made Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Brazil, and Amazon was willing to tilt at his windmill, offering Gilliam a deal that will allow him to finally make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — assuming he doesn’t get hit by lightning or his set invaded by newts or something.
The full story is here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Cookbooks: Grilling With House of Q by Brian Misko

This time of year, barbecue books tend to show up in anxious clumps. Summer is coming, sure. But so is Father’s Day and that means potential gift giving because the cliche is based on reality: dads love to cook and consume meat!

So barbecue is a strong and consistent niche in the cookbook market and, like all niches, some books are better than others. And what makes better? For me, it really always comes down to that all-important trinity: better recipes, great photos and pure innovation. You can kind of fake the first two -- and lots of books have both. But you can’t fake true innovation. I mean, let’s face it, how many ways can you grill a steak? Well, several, actually. But once you pick the one you like and get good at it, you’re good to go. And, honestly, a lot of books get the basics right. But to go to the next level? Well, most of the time you have to go somewhere else.

When it comes to grilling, Grilling With House of Q (Figure.1) is that somewhere else. First of all, it meets the first two criterion hands down. The recipes are thorough, friendly and lucid. The photos are very good: appetizing, appealing, even a teensy bit avant-garde. But the recipes themselves, and the thought and care put into them are beyond what you might be imagining. Sure: cook a steak. But here cook it half a dozen ways, depending on cut, method, preference.

And then we go beyond steak. Way, way beyond. My favorite of all of these is… well, redonkulous. I have not yet had time to make Dinosaur Eggs but I will. And when I do… look out! They are egg-shaped meatloaves stuffed with cream cheese, cheddar, jalapeno peppers, bacon and some other great stuff. I’m going to need to include a photo, because I swoon when I look at them. I can hardly wait to try.

More from the OTT innovation department: Cheese-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs, Jalapeno and Cheese Cornbread Waffle Burgers, Cranked-Up Meatloaf (more bacon involved here), Spinach-Stuffed Pork Chops, and a barbecue infused classic Mac ‘N’ Cheese that puts all those lobster mac and cheese pretenders in the shade.

I could go on, really. Nothing here is exactly as you’d expect it to be, but neither is it the sort of jumped up different that cookbook authors sometimes do just to pointlessly make it their own. (Pointlessly because, if it isn’t better, why bother?) Everything here is thoughtful and creative. I loved the Grilled Pumpkin-Stuffed French Toast. (Think about it. No. Really.) And the Bacon Baklava made my head spin as it did for everyone at the party I brought it to. The Brussels Sprout Coleslaw is delicious and surprisingly vegetarian. At a time when almost everyone is stuffing bacon into Brussels Sprouts, Misko, of course, is not.

Misko’s take on the classics of barbecue are here, too. Pulled pork. Competition-style brisket. Slow-Smoked Ribs. It’s all here, beautifully documented and properly presented.

Misko is a former software salesman from Surrey, British Columbia who became entranced by the barbecue he tasted while traveling in the United States on business. For the last decade, he’s been one half of a competition BBQ team called House of Q. The team has won serious prizes at some of the top barbecue competitions in the world. Just a couple of peeks at Grilling with House of Q will show you why. ◊

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


True Detective Season Two: Can Pizzolatto Do It Again?

As we move toward the debut of season two of True Detective, everyone is asking the same question: can Nic Pizzolatto do it again?

Undeniably, he had the right formula in the first season. The world sat on the edge of its seats while Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson fumbled towards enlightenment. The easiest thing in the world would have been to put together a second season that used some of the tropes developed in the first. Pizzolatto wasn’t having any of it. According to all sources, for season two he's ripped everything up and started again. Writing for Vanity Fair, Rich Cohen describes what for many in Hollywood seems like madness.

The second season of True Detective dispenses with just about everything that made the show a hit: character, plot, setting. Though Nic pitched it this way from the start—each iteration will be a new story with new actors—the success of Season One makes it all seem a little nuts.

Though there are detectives in season two, this is not a detective story as much as it is a human one. So why detectives?
“It puts you in everything,” he explained. “That’s why they’re great engines for stories. They go everywhere. A detective story is really just the way you tell a narrative—you start with the ending. At the end, this person is dead. Now I’m going to go back and piece together the story that led to it…. It’s about the final unknowability of any investigation.”
As we discover, Pizzolatto was an academic first. But writing called early:
At Louisiana State, he found the canvas too confining. His best pictures were like stills from films that had never been made. He learned to write in order to finish the stories glimpsed in his art. Action and violence, the gun moll, the cheap wisdom—it was all there from the start. He got a creative-writing M.F.A. at the University of Arkansas, which led to teaching, fooling with phrases between office hours—the wild young prof who is a shade too intense. He took jobs at the University of North Carolina and the University of Chicago, selling stories on the side, small literary magazines, big literary magazines, The Atlantic Monthly. After publishing a collection in 2006—Between Here and the Yellow Sea—he began work on a novel. Soon after it was finished, he had the first of a cascade of epiphanies: I hate this book! It’s lifeless and nowhere and dead. Scribner was ready to publish, but Nic killed it. Because screw this and hell no. At that moment, he decided to take the life he wanted rather than settle for the life he had.
But with a child on the way, Pizzolatto got down to business and wrote Galveston, his first book, published in 2010.

A New York Times review by Dennis Lehane seemed to secure the younger writer’s future. Lehane wrote: “Galveston, in its authenticity and fearless humanism, recalls only the finest examples of the form. Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past and David Goodis’s Down There, Carl Franklin’s One False Move and James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia.”

But even Lehane’s stamp of approval wasn’t enough to move the book. “Of course, artistic approval is not the same as commercial success,” writes Cohen. “As good as it was, the book did not sell.”
Which led to Nic’s second epiphany: if you want the big audience, you have to go where the people live, which is in front of the TV. Nic had fallen under the spell of a new kind of show by then, the cable epic that unfolds in chapters. TV was experiencing a renaissance. Florence in the 1500s. They were building cupolas and domes. “The Sopranos was the first shot across the bow,” he told me. “Deadwood and The Wire continued that upper trend of layered, textured, ambitious, character-driven, adult storytelling.”
And the rest is pretty much history. (And what is not history is covered in Cohen’s piece.)

Season Two airs later this month. We’ve previously written about it here and here. Time will tell if Pizzolatto will be able to duplicate his earlier success. And with less than two weeks to go, it’s not really much time at all. Meanwhile, Cohen’s excellent Vanity Fair piece reflects far, far more than has been excerpted in this space. You can find it here.

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Edgar Allan Poe and Scrabble

Is Edgar Allan Poe the reason the board game Scrabble was invented? According to Mental Floss, it was!
More than 150 million Scrabble games have been sold since Alfred Butts invented it in 1938. Every hour, approximately 30,000 people start a game, which you can buy in 29 different languages. It has inspired countless fights about spelling and proper nouns, and has taught people how hard it is to use the letter “q” in a word if you lack access to a “u” as well.But none of this would ever have happened had Butts not been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. In Poe’s short story “The Gold-Bug,” published in 1843, a character solves a cipher that is based on the popularity of English letters. “Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e. Afterwards, the succession runs thus: a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z,” he wrote.
The full story is here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

CBC Cuts Evan Solomon and January Remembers

In Canada this week, Evan Solomon’s firing by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is the biggest entertainment deal going. We’re not going to belabor the story, or even repeat much of it at all. (If you’re in Canada, you can't open a paper or turn on a news program without hearing the story. If you’re not in Canada, you probably won’t even care.) But the National Post offers up these bare bones quite succinctly:
CBC severed ties with Solomon barely an hour after the Toronto Star alleged the 47-year-old took advantage of his position to broker lucrative art deals between a friend and wealthy interview subjects. Power and politics, indeed.
Solomon has denied any wrongdoing and has turned to his union, the Canadian Media Guild, to examine his options.
January Magazine interviewed Solomon in mid-1999 when Crossing the Distance, his first novel, was published. This week, snippets of that interview have been quoted far and wide. From deep in the Post piece quoted above
After attending high school in Toronto, Soloman studied English literature and religious studies at McGill University, a reflection of his interest “in myth and ritual,” as he explained in an interview with January Magazine about his first novel.
“It strikes me that storytelling has always been a sacred thing. The act of literacy was an act of power and through stories we conveyed all of our moral meanings and our power structures and who we were,” he said. 
“Being a journalist you’re telling a story. You’re purveyors of story. That’s our job as journalists.”
A lot of other media outlets used parts of the above quotes, but Jewish culture and lifestyle magazine Forward got a little more creative:
A graduate of McGill University in English literature and religious studies, Solomon once attributed his desire to pursue a career in journalism to his Jewish faith. “I’m Jewish and even as a Jew the people of the Book — the act of the rite of passage into Judaism — is a Bar Mitzvah. You have to learn to read,” he told January Magazine in 1999. “The Jews were the first tribe to have literacy as a rite of passage, which I think is really interesting. So for me all of those things are connected. Being a journalist or an editor or starting a magazine or writing fiction, which I’ve always done. It all has to do with stories.”
And though January’s name got bandied around a lot this week, while journalists searched for Soloman, all of them left the very best quote from that interview behind. Here is is:
Balzac loved writing. He wrote 52 books or something. I write a lot. I can't help it. If you could choose a career, no idiot would choose writing because it's thankless, it's hard, it's basically not a great job. But you do it because that's what you're wired up to do. That's your gig. That's what I'm here to do. When I was writing the book, my family would say, "Why are you doing this? It's killing you? Take a vacation." But this makes me happy. I take a vacation and I go write. I'd rent a cabin and I'd go write for two weeks. Even if I might be kind of broody and moody and an asshole, or something. I've gotten happy.
In light of the events of this week, it seems possible Solomon is holed up in a cabin somewhere. (I certainly would be, in his shoes.) And if he is? Chances are, he’s writing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

New in Paperback: Alex’s Wake by Martin Goldsmith

Survivor guilt is the tragic thread that winds through much of Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance (Da Capo) by Martin Goldsmith (The Inextinguishable Symphony). A single paragraph in the introduction sums that feeling up almost too eloquently:

With the help of my wife and my therapist, I came to recognize a rhetorical question that hung over me like the mist that follows in the wake of an ocean liner: “How can I ever be truly happy, how can I ever deserve happiness,” I would say to myself, “when my grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz?”

In some ways, that is the theme of Alex’s Wake: the author’s coming to terms with the loss of several family members under horrific and inhuman conditions. Appropriately for this particular trip, the author quotes Martin Buber as the first chapter ends: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

If Alex’s Wake is not sunshiny reading, it is definitely thought-provoking and carefully researched. Goldsmith brings us the Holocaust in a way you've not seen in textbooks as the story he tells reverberates through his own consciousness. The horror, yes. And the guilt.

It is not a spoiler to tell you that Goldsmith does find a bright point when a memorial plaque to his grandfather becomes the touchstone that allows the grandson freedom from at least some of the guilt he has been feeling.

There’s certainly been no shortage of Holocaust recollections, but this is an especially good one. Available now in paperback, and you can find it here. ◊

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What Color Is Winter? Westeros Through Your Crayolas

We reported a while ago that coloring books are the Next Big Thing. In case you weren’t sure, though, the Los Angeles Times has said that Bantam is gearing up to publish a Game of Thrones coloring book written by series author George R.R. Martin.
It's being touted as an "adult coloring book," which will not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Martin's famously violent books or the somehow even more violent HBO show based on them.
In an election year, though, it’s unsurprising that publishers aren’t restricting themselves to coloring books based on super-violent television series.
There are also coloring books, not necessarily aimed at adults, featuring presidential candidates such as Ted Cruz and Hillary Rodham Clinton. (In the latter, you can color the former secretary of State's pantsuits with whichever shade you like.) And then there's "Color Me Drunk" and "Unicorns Are Jerks," neither of which are probably appropriate for your kindergartner.
When it comes to the Game of Thrones coloring book, though, get your crayons ready for the autumn.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Ellen to Produce Naomi Novik Novel

Ellen DeGeneres is known for many things, but her foray into feature filmmaking is quite new. Still the comedienne and television host is known for successful entertainment undertakings and there’s no reason to think her latest project won’t be a winner.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. “won a heated bidding war for the movie rights to Uprooted, the new fantasy novel from Hugo Award-nominated Naomi Novik, the author behind the dragon-laced Temeraire books.”

DeGeneres will produce with Jeff Kleeman, her partner at A Very Good Production. Apparently, it was Kleeman who “identified the book and brought it to DeGeneres.”

Uprooted (Del Rey) was released on May 21, “Novik taps into her Polish roots to tell a YA story with tendrils in fairy and folk tales.”

The plot centers on a young woman named Agnieszka, who lives near the border of an evil wood, with only a wizard named Dragon who seems to keep the danger at bay. The price for the man’s protection is that a woman from the village is sent to serve him for 10 years, and to everyone’s surprise, the rather plain Agnieszka is selected. Thus the adventurous journey begins.

You can see the full piece here.


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Fiction: The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh is not an acquired taste. But no matter what he’s writing about, he is consistent. He draws his images and ideas with big, bold lines liberally lubricated with profanity. If you liked or loved Welsh’s previous dozen novels -- Trainspotting, Filth, Glue and Skagboys among them -- then you will also like The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Doubleday) which is as smart, dark and nasty as any of his previous novels.

Now all of that is a relief, actually. When I heard that The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins was set in America, I’d feared that, nearly two decades after Trainspotting, Welsh’s debut novel, the author might have mellowed. But fear not. Welsh is as sharply observational in his latest novel as he has been throughout his career. Only this time, Welsh brings his laser eye to Miami and tells a tale that is one part bizarre crime fiction, one part celebrity culture observation and one part pure new world madness.

A Miami Beach-based personal trainer disarms a gunman and, overnight, she is cast as a hero. But the “crazed gunman” turns out to have been the victim of child abuse and the men he was chasing are serial pedophiles. When one of the pedophiles attacks someone, the hero’s transformation to villain is complete

Welsh tells his story with his usual verve and dark humor, but his sharp observations on American culture create an almost transparent sub-plot and, in so many ways, it becomes quickly apparent that The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins might be Welsh's best book yet.

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Cookbooks: Honey by Angelo Prosperi-Porta

Want a sweet secret? There's probably more to every aspect of honey than you imagine. As much as anything, author Angelo Prosperi-Porta writes, Honey (Touchwood) is “about the time-honored ancient relationship between humans and honeybees.”

There is no question that honey is a winner in the kitchen. As Prosperi-Porta writes:
Though honey is of course still a sugar, just in different form, it is the healthier option -- a natural whole food, it is rich in minerals and vitamins. And you need less of it to achieve the same level of sweetness.”
Though Prosperi-Porta explores some of the environmental reasons to consider bees and honey, he is a chef and this is a cookbook and so his highest concern is delicious food. And there’s lots of that in Honey. In all 85 recipes, both sweet and savory, that showcase the delicate flavor of honey.

My favorite of the 85 recipes are simple twists on unexpected flavors. For example, Grilled Radicchio with Honey, Garlic and Pine Nuts produces truly beautiful and different side dish. I’ve been making it non-stop since Honey fell into my hands. Likewise, Grilled Fresh Peaches could not be more simple and there isn’t actually a lot of honey in the recipe, but there is no doubt that it changes this classic up considerably. And in an entirely good way. Fresh Fig and Brie Bruschetta takes a classic and hoists it to a whole new level. Honey and Lemon-Brined Roast Chicken Legs are ridiculously simple and yet distill something you thought you knew into a whole new experience. And so easy!

The book is beautiful, inspirational and the recipes I tried all work, just as expected. If you thought there were no new ideas for cooking with honey, think again… and get Prosperi-Porta’s book! ◊

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Jacqueline Woodson Named Young People’s Poet Laureate

The Poetry Foundation names a Young People’s Poet Laureate every two years. In 2015, the $25,000 laureate title has been awarded to Jacqueline Woodson.

“Jacqueline Woodson is an elegant, daring, and restlessly innovative,” says Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito.“So many writers settle on a style and a repertoire of gestures and subjects, but Woodson, like her characters, is always in motion and always discovering something fresh. As she once told an interviewer, ‘If you have no road map, you have to create your own.’ Her gifts, adventurousness and generosity, suggest she will be a terrific young people’s poet laureate.”

Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of more than 30 books for children and young adults, including From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (1995), which was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and won a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; Miracle’s Boys (2000), which won the 2001 Coretta Scott King Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Hush (2002), a National Book Award finalist; Locomotion (2003), also a National Book Award finalist; Coming on Home Soon (2004), a Caldecott Honor Book and a Booklist Editors’ Choice; and Behind You (2004), included in the New York Public Library’s list of best Books of the Teen Age. Three of Woodson’s books have been named Newbery Honor Books: Show Way (2005), Feathers (2007), and After Tupac & D Foster (2008). Her recent books include the young adult novel Beneath a Meth Moon (2012) and Brown Girl Dreaming (2014), a novel in verse about Woodson’s family and segregation in the South, which won a National Book Award and was named a Newbery Honor Book.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Woodson described how she wrote the book: “As I interviewed relatives in both Ohio and Greenville, S.C., I began to piece together the story of my mother’s life, my grandparents’ lives and the lives of cousins, aunts and uncles. These stories, and the stories I had heard throughout my childhood, were told with the hope that I would carry on this family history and American history, so that those coming after me could walk through the world as armed as I am.”

Woodson was awarded a Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, a St. Katharine Drexel Award, and an Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers’ Literature. Jonathan Demme is adapting Beneath a Meth Moon for the screen. Woodson currently lives in Brooklyn with her family.

“Woodson’s lyrical, deeply empathetic work is enthralling to all readers, making her the ideal ambassador for young people’s literature,” said Katherine Litwin, Poetry Foundation library director. “We couldn’t be more honored and excited to have her join us for the next two years in this important role.”

In recognition of Woodson’s achievements, the Poetry Foundation’s web site is featuring her in a Poetry off the Shelf podcast and an interview.

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Fiction: Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones

 When I read The String Diaries earlier this year, I was simply amazed. I’d expected a thriller. What I didn’t expect was something as exceptionally well-written. 

Stephen Lloyd Jones, a British marketing executive, has managed to create a tight, sometimes ultra-violent tale crafted with all the emotion and color of a heightened romance. And then I discovered Written in the Blood, the sequel. I started it with a certain apprehension. What I didn’t want was a sequel written for the sake of writing a sequel: a retread; a bland reimagining of the first. What I got was none of those things. Far from a drab retread, Written in the Blood is bloody brilliant, a furthering of the original, an enhancement written with the same keen attention to an endless series of gorgeous details.

Lloyd Jones loves color and texture and subtlety. He loves tingling the reader’s senses in the most extraordinary way. Blood gives him all the chances to tingle them that Diaries did, except that now he has his heroines are losing even more -- which, given the losses in the first book, is saying something.

One of them travels far and wide this time, feeding the author’s imagination as much as the reader’s. The two books are complex tales of love, heartbreak, and revenge that traverse generations. There’s a secret society, and more than a little malevolence in some characters’ ability to transform their bodies to look like other people. One of these shape-shifters, Jacab, drives the action as he searches across time and geography for both love and vengeance, and the young woman he’s after, Leah, can almost smell him getting closer and closer. So can we. This elaborate cat and mouse game is wonderfully realized and hits almost every note perfectly and never disappoints. Lloyd Jones leads the reader into his characters’ minds and memories and even their eyes, with descriptions so glorious that they’re sometimes gasp-inducing.

With equal exuberance, he paints lovely internal narratives and external worlds, and the story happens where the two intersect. On nearly every page of both of these novels, I was touched deeply by the key relationship that is their true link: the one between novelist and novel. Truly, The String Diaries and Written in the Blood comprise a love story between the man and his words. ◊

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

In Literature, Do Women Have Cooties?

Novelist Nicola Griffith (Slow River, Ammonite, The Blue Place) analyzed the last 15 years’ results from a bunch of the heavy hitting award programs: Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics’ Circle Award, Hugo Award and Newbery Medal. With data in hand, she reached some startling conclusions:
… when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women. Either this means that women writers are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find women frightening, distasteful, or boring. Certainly the results argue for women’s perspectives being considered uninteresting or unworthy. Women seem to have literary cooties.
See the full results of Griffith’s research as well as her interesting and in-depth conclusions here, on her blog.

Fifty Shades of Sell-Through: New Grey Novel Will Publish in June

Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James has announced a new book for her series of internationally bestselling erotica novels.

We cannot critique as we have not read, but we’ll let her publisher crow about the new book. (Because a whole lot of people seem to care a whole lot.) This from Vintage/Anchor:

On social media earlier today bestselling author E L James announced that she will release a new version of her worldwide bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey -- this time written from Christian Grey’s point of view.  The new book, titled Grey, will be published on June 18th -- a date that devotees may remember as Christian’s birthday.
 Since the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2011, thousands of readers have written to James requesting Christian’s POV. On the opening page of Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, James writes, “This book is dedicated to those readers who asked…and asked… and asked… and asked for this.” In the new work, she will offer her fans the opportunity to see the world of Fifty Shades anew through the eyes of its intriguing and enigmatic protagonist.
“Christian is a complex character,” said James, “and readers have always been fascinated by his desires and motivations, and his troubled past. Also, as anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows, there are two sides to every story. It’s been a great pleasure to return to my happy place -- writing, being with Christian and Ana in their universe, and working with the fantastic team at Vintage.” 
Readers know Christian as someone who exercises control in all aspects of his life. His world is neat, disciplined, and empty -- until the moment that Anastasia Steele stumbles into his office. What is it about her that captivates him? Why can't he forget her? He is swept up in a storm of emotion he cannot comprehend and cannot resist.

“Fifty Shades of Grey is a love story that has enthralled readers in a way that few books have,” said Vintage Books publisher and James's editor, Anne Messitte, “and when Erika mentioned to me that she wanted to explore Christian’s viewpoint and re-open the story, I was incredibly excited for her and for her readers. This book has all the compelling attributes of its predecessors, and I can't wait for Fifty Shades fans to experience the work again from a perspective they have long desired.”

“Given the secrecy and immediacy of the publication, we've worked hard to ensure that the book will be well represented in the retail marketplace on June 18th,” said Tony Chirico, President of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
The Fifty Shades trilogy -- Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed -- has reached worldwide sales of more than 125 million copies, and become one of the most successful publications in the history of book publishing. Like the earlier books in James's trilogy, Grey will be published in original trade paperback format and as an eBook by Vintage Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House. Audio and Spanish language editions will also be available. 

Grey will be published simultaneously by Penguin Random House UK on June 18th.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Authors at Work: Anne Tyler Doesn’t Need Inspiration

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Anne Tyler (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons), recently told The Huffington Post UK that she quite often writes “completely without inspiration.”

"The only reason I begin a book is that I love the act of writing. So for the first month I sit at a bare desk beneath a large window - always in the morning, my mind shuts down by early afternoon - and I force myself to come up with something to write about."
"I'll think, 'maybe this could be a book about an old person at the end of his life' or 'maybe it's about someone who thinks his wife has returned from the dead'.
She says it's "mechanical" at the start and likens it to pushing puppets around a stage.
"But eventually I'll have manufactured a skeleton of a story, and then I begin thinking about exactly who my characters are. That's the important part. I get to know them intimately - are they spenders or savers? Enjoyers or non-enjoyers? How do they feel about their siblings? 
"Most of these details will never be mentioned in the novel, but knowing them helps me figure out what the characters are likely to do in any given situation," she adds.

There’s much more in the full piece, and that’s here.

Tyler’s most recent novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, a multigenerational family saga set in Baltimore. The book was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) in April. A Spool of Blue Thread is Tyler’s 20th book.