Friday, September 19, 2014

Crime Fiction: The Good Life by
Frank Wheeler Jr.

(Editor’s note: The following review comes from Steve Nester, 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 Kevin Cook’s non-fiction work, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America.)

Sometimes to do the right thing, a lawman must cross the line and do dirty with the bad guys, and nobody knows that better than Sheriff Earl Haack Jr., of Linden, Nebraska. Plainspoken and direct, his daddy was a lawman who gave him the job and taught him to be a cop in the way that makes the most sense in a world that will never be tamed. “Remember, Junior,” Dad said. “Order comes first.” This means that to keep the right side of the law safe, a cop sometimes has to step over the line and bring the fight to the criminals -- and take some of their profits in the process.

Frank Wheeler Jr.’s The Good Life (New Pulp Press) is a modern-day Western in which the classic land-grab of ranchers and railroads routing dirt farmers and other decent folk has been updated. Now we’re given feuding drug dealers at war with each other over territory, while they go up against politicians looking for election-year publicity and underpaid police wanting a piece of the action. Junior does a good job keeping the animals in line and lining his pockets, but when it comes to women, he’s a bit fleeceable.

While serving as a detective in Denver, Colorado, he busts an Argentine college student named Camila for cocaine possession. It’s love at first offense, and Junior ends up marrying her. But she was in the deal for a green card only, and carries on an affair right under Junior’s nose. Camila eventually leaves Junior to return to South America, nearly wrecking him. Camila also knows how some cops can work with drug dealers, and that Junior is one of those people. She’s always thinking.

Junior’s in the middle of cleaning house when he’s tipped off that Nebraska’s attorney general needs a big bust he can show proudly to voters in advance of his upcoming re-election fight, and he intends that bust to take place in little Linden. The problem is that Junior already took out the AG’s fall guy. Junior’s plan was to quietly make the local drug establishment go away, then put his own people in to run the organization. Now he must steer the state police to a new target, a guy in Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital. Just as he has his head together, though, Camila shows up again, ostensibly because her wealthy father cut her off, but also packing plenty of the coochie-coochie that Junior can’t resist. Even so, Junior learned his lesson and he’s not buying it. When an assassin breaks into Camila’s apartment and uses her as a human shield, Junior sees it as a “gift from God,” and attempts to line up a shot that will kill them both. This story hinges on why she returned to Junior, and when she’ll play her hand.

What’s hindering Junior’s shady organization is a spy on the inside. The obvious suspect is Camila. A stranger comes to town and Junior takes notice, casting more doubt upon her. But when hog-tied and helpless, Camila comes clean. She tells Junior she represents a South American cartel that’s looking to move in and play ball with Junior -- Camila assured the cartel that she’d get her husband on the team. She owes El-Perro Negro, her boss in South America, for the death of his young cousin. But there is an insurance policy: a thug named Andres -- the stranger -- who’s in Linden to make sure Camila does the right thing, and he must be dealt with.

As far as Junior is concerned, feeding the state police the middle man in Lincoln, as well as his supplier in Chicago, in order to do business with the source in South America sounds like a good plan. In the meantime, there’s a mole to locate as Junior and his half-brother, Mikey, and second cousin Eddie continue to cull the weak, the unwary and the useless. The dealers Junior thinks he can use are asked to leave the country for a while. When they return they’ll have jobs.

The imagery in The Good Life is of Nebraska during harvest time, all corn stubble and chill, and like the best of Hemingway, death lingers in the background, built into the scenery. “Air smells like chaff,” and the reaper is on the prowl, hanging in the breeze. There’s some great good-ol’-boy repartee here, and the beauty of this genre, or at least of country boys cracking wise, is the brevity and pith of their observations and wit.

Junior Haack is a realist, and takes the course of action that makes the most cold-blooded sense, whether it’s beating the screw-up Mikey to knock some sense into him, allowing Camila -- the woman who hurt him so much -- to return to his life and (by his standards) change it for the better, or murdering and dismembering the competition. Despite everything, he’s still able to get a good night’s sleep.

Says Junior: “What I’ve come to understand about murder is its necessity. And if something is necessary, why regret it?” ◊

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Can’t We Just All Get a Long (List)?

Two quite different long lists of book prize contenders have been announced this week. First off, we have the rundown of nominees for the 2014 National Book Award for fiction, as reported by The New York Times:

An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine (Grove Press)
The UnAmericans, by Molly Antopol (Norton)
Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
Redeployment, by Phil Klay (Penguin Press)
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf)
Thunderstruck & Other Stories, by Elizabeth McCracken (Dial Press)
Orfeo, by Richard Powers (Norton)
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Some Luck, by Jane Smiley (Knopf)

The Times adds that “Five finalists in four categories--young people’s literature, poetry, nonfiction and fiction--will be announced on Oct. 15, and the winners will be recognized at an awards gala on Nov. 19 that will be hosted by Daniel Handler, a.k.a Lemony Snicket.”

Meanwhile, The Rap Sheet brings word that the British Crime Writers’ Association has released its long list of nominees for the 2014 Dagger in the Library award, intended to honor “an author’s whole body of work to date, rather than a single title.” The contestants (chosen this year by readers voting online) are listed below, together with the names of their usual publishers:

M.C. Beaton (Constable & Robinson)
Tony Black (Black and White Publishing)
Sharon Bolton (Transworld Publishers)
Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
Mari Hannah (Pan)
James Oswald (Michael Joseph)
Phil Rickman (Corvus)
Leigh Russell (No Exit Press)
Mel Sherratt (Thomas & Mercer)
Neil White (Sphere)

A short list of Dagger in the Library nominees will be announced on November 3, with the winner slated to be revealed during an event in London in late November.

READ MORE:What Do This Year’s Wildly Disparate National Book Award Longlists Mean?” by Elisabeth Donnelly (Flavorwire).


Monday, September 15, 2014

Crime Fiction: Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot
by Reed Farrel Coleman

(Editor’s note: This review comes from Lee Goldberg, the author of Mr. Monk Gets Even and -- with Janet Evanovich -- the forthcoming Fox and O’Hare thriller, The Job. Goldberg and business partner Joel Goldman recently launched the Brash Books line of crime novels.)

Robert B. Parker died in 2010, but his characters Spenser, Jesse Stone and Virgil Cole have lived on in new books by other authors. Ace Atkins pulled off a miracle by writing two Spenser novels that could have been mistaken for the work of Parker himself … and in his prime. Michael Brandman’s three Jesse Stone novels were awful, not just bad attempts at imitating Parker, but horribly written books by any measure. Robert Knott’s first Virgil Cole book, Ironhorse, was a decent western, but unremarkable and certainly not up to Parker’s level (his second Cole book, Bull River, was a definite step up and, wisely, a few steps away from attempting to imitate Parker). And the less said about Helen Brann’s Silent Night -- a misguided attempt to finish the book Parker was writing when he died -- the better.

Now along comes Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot (Putnam), a new Jesse Stone novel composed by Reed Farrel Coleman. I should admit a personal bias right off: Coleman is a friend of mine and I am a fan of his work. When I heard he was taking over from Brandman, I was thrilled. I had high hopes for what a writer of Coleman’s skill would bring to the series, and those hopes have not just been met, they have been exceeded. I’m sure I am not going to be the first, or the only, person to declare that he has saved Jesse Stone. His new tale is not only better than Brandman’s three Stone books (which isn’t setting a very high bar), but even better than the last few Stones written by Parker himself.

Coleman has saved Jesse Stone by embracing the character, not by imitating Parker’s writing style. He’s done it by making Stone his own. He has fleshed out Stone’s world, and his inner life, in so many ways. His first smart move was making the crime story in Blind Spot personal, one that goes to the root of Stone’s character, and that allows Coleman to reboot this series, to reintroduce the protagonist, his past and his relationships, and tweak them a bit along the way. He leaves the Stone series in much better shape than Parker left it (and let’s just pretend the Brandman novels were a bad dream, OK?).

This new book begins at a reunion of players from Stone’s short-lived time in professional baseball. The reunion occurs at the same time as a murder in Paradise, the small Massachusetts town where Jesse serves as chief of police. I won’t go into a summary of the plot, but I will say it gives Coleman ample opportunity to explore Jesse’s character in interesting ways.

There are many references in the story to past Stone tales -- a gift to longtime fans, though Coleman is not pandering to them. He’s anchoring his first Stone yarn in the old, paying his respects but saying “we’re moving on.” Those references to past events and characters are the only nods he makes to Parker. You won’t find any imitations of Parker’s distinctive writing style and banter, something only Ace Atkins has dared (and brilliantly succeeded) in copying. Coleman wisely writes in his own voice, one tweaked a bit to suit Jesse Stone but close enough to Parker’s sensibilities that it feels comfortable, familiar and just right.

My favorite thing about Blind Spot is seeing how Coleman makes everyone human, especially the bad guys, which is not something Parker ever did. The bad guys in Parker’s novels were often punching bags for either his supremely confident heroes’ fists or their wit, but they were not living, breathing people.

For Jesse Stone fans, Blind Spot is cause for celebration and, based on the final pages, perhaps some apprehension, too … at least until Reed Coleman’s next Stone novel is released. ◊

(This review appeared originally in Lee Goldberg’s blog.)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

New This Week: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I wonder if David Mitchell likes the fact that when he publishes a novel, it’s an event. I mean, suddenly everyone is talking about his work. Everyone is either full-on loving it or not getting it at all. If I think about the rush for advance copies last June, when Random House gave away a few hundred copies of his new novel, The Bone Clocks, it’s probably a good indicator of the pandemonium that’s just ensuing now that the book has hit the shelves.

The Bone Clocks is a book about family, seen mostly through the life-lens of a girl named Holly Sykes. Holly is a force of nature. In its most basic terms, this novel is the story of her life, told in six big sections -- each a novella on its own. Holly narrates the first and the sixth, and the others are handled by people whose lives intersect hers at critical moments for both her and the novel’s development.

Mitchell, true to form, has folded in the normalcy of Holly’s life -- and really, the normalcy of all his characters’ lives, even if for them normal isn’t what it is for us. Conquests of success, sex, an advantage, an explanation, true love. His characters are after all sorts of things, but it’s Holly’s own search for meaning that drives this book -- and her life -- forward. In that sense, she’s everywoman. We learn about her escapades as a teenager, the disappearance of her brother, her experiences with mystical beings she doesn’t understand, and the success and notoriety she earns after she writes a book about the voices she hears in her head. And about those voices: They provide the entrée into the novel’s deeper layer, about an occult war between mystical beings who hold the keys to immortality.

As he did with Cloud Atlas, Mitchell assembles his story in multiple layers. There’s what we read about, what’s going on day to day -- and then there’s what really going on, the stuff of year to year and lifetime to lifetime. This layer illuminates a new set of characters and provides more information about what motivates the characters we already know. The present and the future are bound by the time between them. In the same way, there’s what we know and what we don’t -- and something binds them, too.

The Bone Clocks is about all of that. It’s about the here and now, and it leaps forward to decades from now, when the world has morphed into something we recognize yet is also very different. In that sense, it’s also a post-apocalyptic novel. On top of all this, but unmentioned in the novel itself, is the fact that characters from other Mitchell novels make appearances. Sometimes cameos, sometimes major roles, these appearances are the threads that begin to bind his works together into a larger whole. Much as Mitchell’s novellas comprise his novels, it’s starting to look like his novels comprise something much larger.

I could go on and on about the terrain The Bone Clocks covers, but you should discover it on your own. No spoilers here. As I was, you’ll be mesmerized by Mitchell’s sentences. He knows how to create one and how to use one. Reading him is like watching a master craftsman build furniture. Whatever its form, he gives it his all -- and his all is hypnotic.

The Bone Clocks is a wondrous, wonderful work. A testament, after all of its astounding literary pyrotechnics, to the simplest thing: family. For Holly Sykes, family is everything. This book is about its power, its pull, its push, its intoxications, and the nameless magic that inspires us to shape our lives the ways we shape them. ◊

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gone Over Gone Girl

It seems to us that the hype for the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 debut novel exceeds pretty much anything we've seen for a while. Right now it almost seems possible that the film will do as well as the book. (Which was very well, indeed.)

Next up in the ever-growing lineup of Gone Girl stuff to look at is this television spot for the film, which opens October 3rd. The spot offers more glimpses of a steamy Ben Affleck and a few more clues: did Nick do it? Or not?


Monday, August 25, 2014

Crime Fiction: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

(Editor’s note: The following short review was written by Hannah Stevenson, who comes from Bridport, Dorset. She studied undergraduate English Language and Literature at the University of Chester and is currently working on a Masters in English at Exeter. Her main research focus has been the similarities between very different styles of detective fiction, such as hard-boiled and Scandinavian crime tales.)

Fans of the Harry Potter series will doubtless already be tearing through J.K. Rowling’s latest foray, The Silkworm (Mulholland), which she wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. After the lukewarm reception given her first non-Potter novel, 2012’s The Casual Vacancy, Rowling has moved on to crime fiction, with this new book being the follow-up to her first Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013).

Once more we’re placed in the company of Cormoran Strike, the illegitimate son of a rock star, who’s now a wounded military veteran turned perfectly dysfunctional detective. The Silkworm finds him accepting the case of a missing writer, Owen Quine, whose delusional wife is tired of taking care of their disabled daughter alone. The ensuing investigation turns up many people who resent the self-centered Quine, but it’s Strike’s hunch regarding a house Quine co-owned with an ex-friend that finally leads this sleuth to the gruesome discovery of the author’s mutilated corpse. As police begin probing the homicide, they settle their focus firmly on Quine’s spouse, whose attitude is both surly and distracted.

Delving deeper into the mystery, Strike discovers that the circumstances of Quine’s murder copy those in the final scene of a libelous, unpublishable novel he’d been working on -- one that threatened to disclose the carefully concealed secrets of many people within his circle, including members of the publishing industry. Myriad suspects thus come into play, from the author’s embittered agent to the staff at Quine’s publishing house. Quine had more enemies than friends, it appears, and as Strike tries to move forward with the case, he is hindered at every turn by those adversaries, all of them fighting to prove their own innocence and question someone else’s.

Rowling’s real skill here is to be found in the way she sets her tale. She elicits a brilliant sense of the ingrained grime of Quine’s world, moving Strike through a succession of identical offices, apartments and posh Devonshire townhouses. Free of the need to distinguish one of those places from another, she can let her animosity toward nearly all of her characters filter through more clearly.

Although The Silkworm is no groundbreaker, it is certainly a solid literary effort, one that’s likely to leave fans hungry for a third Strike outing. ◊

Labels: ,

Monday, August 18, 2014

Way Too Much of a Good Thing

I began paying attention to the annual, altogether whimsical Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest back in 2009. Sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University, it’s named for George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), whose 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, began with the oft-ridiculed phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Ever since 1982, organizers have asked people to submit the worst opening sentences from never-to-be-completed books. This year’s contest featured categories ranging from Adventure, Crime and Children’s Literature to Historical Fiction and Purple Prose.

The 2014 grand prize winner was Elizabeth Dorfman of Bainbridge Island, Washington, who picks up the understandably pitiful sum of $150 for her groaner of an entry:
When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered--this had to mean land!--but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.
Naturally, after such a start, I must highlight a few other category victors and runners-up. Here’s St. Petersburg, Florida, resident John Holmes’ first-place Historical Fiction entry:
In the late 1480’s, one of Henry VII’s spies in Milan picked up on what Columbus was up to, caught a gypsy caravan to Barcelona, a strawberry wagon to Lisbon, a crazy noble’s carriage to Marseilles, a worn stagecoach to Paris (which broke down), a hike to Calais, a rowboat to Southampton, arriving in London a year after Columbus landed in America, the imminent sailing for which the next year the spy, by now headless, had come to report.
Terri Meeker of Nixa, Missouri, claimed second-best honors for this submission in the Purple Prose category:
Cole kissed Anastasia, not in a lingering manner as a connoisseur might sip a glass of ’82 La Pin, but open-mouthed and desperate, like a hobo wrapping his mouth around a bottle of Strawberry Ripple in the alley behind the 7-11.
Winning this year in the Crime category was Carl Turney of Bayswater, Victoria, Australia. Here’s his submission:
Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing … he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world.
Suzy Levinson of Sunnyside, New York, took the top prize for Science Fiction with this deliberately peculiar entry:
The spaceship hovered like a saucer, only rounder, deeper, the product of an unholy union between dessert plate and finger bowl, as any of the villagers familiar with traditional service à la russe dining could plainly see.
And State College, Pennsylvania’s Stan Hunter Kranc captured the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award for this excessive bit of writing:
As he girded himself against the noxious, sulfurous fumes that belched from the chasm in preparation for descent into the bowels of the mountain where mighty pressure and unimaginable heat made rock run in syrupy rivers, Bob paused to consider the unlikely series of events that had led him to become the Great God Vulcan’s proctologist.
Click here to read (or groan at) all of this year’s top contenders.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Behind Prison Walls

Since its completion in 2002, the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp--an American military prison located inside the older Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, on an island off the southeastern coast of Cuba--has reportedly received 779 male inmates. Hundreds of detainees have since been sent to other destinations. But not until now has a “Gitmo” inmate released a book about his experiences at that facility. As The Christian Science Monitor explains,
Canongate has just announced that it will publish “Guantánamo Diary,” the prison memoirs of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the first Gitmo account to be released by a detainee still imprisoned at the camp.

“Guantanamo Diary” will be published simultaneously around the world on Jan. 20, 2015, as part of an international campaign to free Slahi, who has been held at the camp since 2002 despite never having been charged with a crime. Little, Brown has acquired the U.S. rights to the book, The Bookseller has reported.

The memoir details the harrowing conditions to which Slahi was subject, including beatings, sexual humiliation, and round-the-clock interrogation. Slate published an excerpt of the memoir last year.
The Monitor’s Husna Haq tells more here. And copies of Guantánamo Diary, edited by Larry Siems, can already be ordered here.


Saturday, August 09, 2014

From Retreat to Resignation

Thank goodness for Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, which reminds us that it was on August 9, 1854 -- 160 years ago today -- that Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, his book of reflections upon living simply in natural surroundings, was first published. The Almanac explains:
Walden described two years in Thoreau’s life, during which he lived in a cabin by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, on land that belonged to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the spring of 1845, Thoreau borrowed an ax from Bronson Alcott and began clearing white pine for a space to build his home. The one-room cabin was 10 feet by 15 feet and cost $28 to build.

Thoreau never claimed that he would be a total recluse during those years; he wrote in
Walden: “I am naturally no hermit.” There were busy roads nearby, and he lived just a mile and a half outside of Concord. He went to town to see friends, do laundry at his parents’ house, or purchase supplies, and his friends often stopped by to see him -- Emerson of course, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Alcotts. …

People regularly asked Thoreau questions about the day-to-day details of his life at Walden: what he ate, whether he got lonely, how he made a living, and how much money he spent. In February of 1845, Thoreau agreed to give two lectures in Concord about his life at Walden, focused on his personal economics. By the time Thoreau left Walden Pond in 1847, he had compiled his journal entries and lectures into a rough draft of the book that would eventually become
Walden. He wrote: “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”
Today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac also notes that it is the birthday of English author Izaak Walton (The Compleat Angler). And it was 40 years ago when Republican U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal and with impeachment proceedings against him set to commence in the House of Representatives, became the first and only American chief executive to resign the office. You can watch his announcement of that decision by clicking here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Peripatetic Detective

For once, it seems, I am perfectly positioned to appreciate an itinerant display of particular interest to crime-fiction aficionados. As the Mystery Scene blog explains, the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, which debuted at the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology in Portland last year, and is traveling through 2017, will make a stop in my hometown of Seattle about 26 months from now. The schedule shows it opening at the Pacific Science Center on October 13, 2016. Do you think it’s too early yet to buy tickets?

An article published back in March of this year in The New York Times defined the scope of this presentation: “From original manuscript pages from ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ to props from the current BBC hit ‘Sherlock,’ the exhibition aims to engage all levels of enthusiasts. Galleries feature an examination of [Holmes creator Arthur] Conan Doyle and late 19th-century London, the science behind the Holmes stories, and pop culture artifacts, past and present. There is also an immersive interactive Victorian-era murder mystery that visitors are asked to solve, clue by clue, after an introduction to Holmes’s scientific methods of crime-solving.”

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes is currently situated at Columbus, Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry through September 1. After that, it will relocate to the following locations:

• October 9, 2014: St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis, Missouri
• February 12, 2015: Perot Museum of Nature & Science,
Dallas, Texas
• June 11, 2015: Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana, California
• October 15, 2015: Denver Museum of Nature & Science,
Denver, Colorado
• October 13, 2016: Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Washington

Additional stops may be added at a later date.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

My TV Book Addiction

(Editor’s note: Perhaps not surprisingly, author-screenwriter Lee Goldberg -- who’s concocted scripts for such TV series as Diagnosis: Murder, Spenser: For Hire and Monk, and penned more than a dozen Monk TV tie-in novels -- is a big fan of television history books. In the piece below, he assesses the strengths [and often multiple weaknesses] of several entries in that specialized genre. He wants it known that he purchased all of these books. They were not provided to him for review.)

I have an addiction -- I love books about television, even if they are about shows I don’t like or have never watched. I buy them on the off-chance I will learn something about the business, or about production, or about writing that I didn’t know before. I especially like books about old TV shows, because then I also learn something about television history. I’m telling you all of this so you’ll understand what possessed me to buy Jonathan Etter’s 640-page book devoted to Here Come the Brides, a boring, utterly forgettable Western series that lasted a mere two seasons in the late 1960s and is known, if at all, for a catchy theme song (“Seattle”) and for featuring Bobby Sherman and David Soul among its cast.

I don’t care about the show -- the few episodes I’ve seen were lousy -- but I really liked Etter’s Gangway, Lord: The Here Come the Brides Book: A Behind-the-Scenes History of the 1968-70 ABC-TV Series from those crazy folks at BearManor Media (they’ve got to be crazy to publish books like this … but I love them for it). So why did I like the book if I could care less about the show? Because it’s packed with fascinating information about other shows. For instance, William Blinn, the creator of Here Come the Brides, spends a lot of time here talking about writing the TV series Bonanza and Shane, and that’s great stuff. And Brides star Robert Brown talks about almost starring in Hawaii Five-O, and his work on the unsold pilots The Yellow Bird, with Carroll O’Connor, and Colossus, with William Shatner, among others. So it’s for those golden nuggets that I was willing to slog through seemingly endless, pointless chapters about actress Bridget Hanley (who?) and her marriage to director E.W. Swackhamer, or the tragic details of Mark Lenard’s multiple melanoma that took his life long after the series was over. This book desperately needed a good editor, but I’m glad it didn’t have one, because it’s the stuff that had nothing to do with the show -- the stuff that should have been cut -- that I liked best. If you are one of the dozen living fans of Here Come the Brides, you will absolutely love this book. Every episode is examined in-depth and every regular and guest cast member, and almost every crew member, with the possible exception of the caterer, is interviewed about his or her life and career.

Here’s the irony, though, of my liking a book so much about a show that I could care less about: I bought David R. Greenland’s The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western, also from BearManor Media, because I love Gunsmoke (1955-1975), and yet I got nothing out of it at all. It’s a pointless book, a bland rehash of material presented better, and in more depth, by other books about the show. Oddly enough, Greenland acknowledges that fact in his preface: “By 2006, three books about the show had reached the marketplace, and even I conceded that the world did not need another.” Yet, he wrote one anyway, and shouldn’t have bothered, because he adds nothing new or particularly interesting to our understanding of the series. It’s filler masquerading as content. Unlike the Here Come the Brides book, there’s no gold here about other shows to make it a worthwhile purchase. Skip it.

Martin Grams Jr.’s The Time Tunnel: A History of the Television Series (BearManor) is much like the book on Here Come the Brides. It’s a massive work (nearly 600 pages in length) about a TV failure (The Time Tunnel lasted a single season, from 1966 to 1967) that’s packed with lots of interesting information … about director-producer Irwin Allen and his other shows and about the TV landscape of the late 1960s. Everything you could possibly want to know about Time Tunnel is here, from the original pitch to information on all of Allen’s attempts to do another time-travel series after it was cancelled; from the number of pages shot on a particular day to the cost of individual props; from the notes written by ABC-TV censors on each script to lists of the stock music cues in each episode; from exhaustively detailed synopses of each broadcast episode to detailed descriptions of the episodes that weren’t shot. There’s almost too much stuff. It’s as if Grams decided he had to put every single fact that came across his desk into this book just because he had them. The upside is that there’s something for everybody here, whether your interest is in TV production accounting or screenwriting. The downside is that it makes for tedious reading, even if you are really into the show or into TV history.

As I said, I love BearManor Media; it, and to a lesser degree, McFarland & Co., are my pimps. BearMedia publishes TV books that no right-minded publisher would ever touch. Who else would release books about the Western Temple Houston or the sitcom Good Morning, World, two shows that barely survived for a single season each back in the 1960s (and that I’ve never even seen)? You could probably fit all the potential readers of these last two books comfortably in a motor home for a dinner party.

Jeffrey Hunter and Temple Houston: A Story of Network Television, by Glenn A. Mosley, is a mess of a book (though it’s much better than his volume about the TV series The Deputy). As the title suggests, this work isn’t quite sure what it’s about. Is it about actor Jeffrey Hunter? Is it about Temple Houston (1963-1964)? Or is it about network television? Basically, it’s three lengthy magazine articles -- one on the very short-lived Temple Houston, one on the aborted Robert Taylor Show and one on Jeffrey Hunter’s disappointing career, all of them stitched together into a thin, and yet very padded, book. Still, the stories of Temple Houston and the never-aired Robert Taylor Show are fascinating, and with a cover price of just $14.95, this book is well worth the time for any student of TV history to read.

The more apt title for this book might have been A Perfect Storm of Bad Decisions. It recounts how Warner Bros. chose to replace the president of its TV division with actor-director Jack Webb, how NBC decided to cancel the drama The Robert Taylor Show four episodes into production without ever airing an episode, and how the network’s determination to rush Warner Bros./Four Star’s Temple Houston into production to fill the void, doomed them all. Mosley sums it up in his introduction.
In making the decision in the manner that it did, NBC effectively sealed the fate of two television franchises. The Robert Taylor Show would never see the light of day and, in the end, Temple Houston hardly stood a chance. NBC, Warner Brothers, and even Four Star would all end up in weaker positions as a result … Temple Houston has most often been dismissed as simply a failed, one-season Western on television. Fair enough -- so it was. But the story of Temple Houston is more than that; it is also the story of the intersection points between careers, Hollywood Studios, and network television.
And it’s a great untold story, one full of mistakes that neither NBC nor Warner Bros., or any other network or studios for that matter, learned from … and so were doomed to repeat many times over. There’s a lot of filler in this 154-page work, but on the strength of the Temple Houston and Robert Taylor Show stories alone, I recommend it for your TV reference book library.

Sadly, I can’t be as complimentary of Good Morning, World (BearMedia), by Tim Colliver, who wrote this very thin, heavily padded book because the short-lived, 1967-1968 CBS sitcom about a radio station inspired him to become a DJ. The problem is, that show just wasn’t very good and there wasn’t anything remotely interesting about it on any other level. As both Joby Baker, the long-forgotten star of the series, and the author of the book put it:
[Baker] also thought the scripts could have been better … a lot better.

“The reason I had trouble memorizing the lines is that they were horrible fucking lines.” … Throughout the course of the series, Baker thought the scripts were “corny” and the show “not really funny at times.” In all fairness, in looking back on the episodes now that they are on DVD, he was on to something.
Which begs the question, why write a book about a lousy show? Or better yet, why read one? My answer to both questions is: don’t. ◊

(This review has been edited from a two-part post that appeared originally in Lee Goldberg’s blog -- part I here, part II here.)

Labels: ,

Monday, August 04, 2014

Going to Extremes

Having long been intrigued by historical arctic adventure tales, I listened enthusiastically this last Saturday as National Public Radio host Scott Simon interviewed Hampton Sides, author of the new non-fiction work In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette (Doubleday). Sides, who was previously best known for his epic tale of the Old West, Blood and Thunder (2007), spent three years researching and writing In the Kingdom of Ice, which tells of a hopeful but doomed, 1879 expedition to the North Pole, financed by loopy newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett and led by Jeannette Captain George Washington De Long.

Earlier today, the Amazon blog Omnivoracious hosted another interview with Sides. Two parts of that exchange between Chris Schluep and the author convinced me this book must soon be added to my library.
CS: Describe your research. Was there a key piece that made you think "now I know how to frame this book"?

HS: In the early going of my research, I lucked into one of those priceless situations that I think all of us historians dream about: An invitation from a little old lady to come sift through a trunk full of yellowed letters that she had literally rescued from her attic. In this case, the trunk contained the personal papers of Emma De Long, the wife of the
Jeannette expedition’s captain, George De Long. Once I read the stuff, I knew that I’d found a powerful new way to frame the book: It was not just an adventure tale, but a love story as well. Emma De Long’s letters to her husband, and his letters to her, are elegant, eloquent, and moving, and as the drama unfolds, they become truly heart-wrenching. Really, that trunk full of papers formed the emotional spine of the book. …

CS: Did your work on the book lead you to draw any conclusions about climate change?

HS: Yes. One of the big problems that climate change researchers have grappled with is finding a way to know what the polar ice cap truly looked like a century ago in order to compare it with today’s Arctic ice conditions. To understand that, you’d have to go back in history, build a research station, and dangerously trap it in the drifting icepack for years.

As it happens, the
Jeannette kept meticulous records of the ice as it drifted two years, and a thousand miles, across the frozen sea. After the ship sank, De Long’s men lugged dozens of heavy meteorological logbooks containing troves of information about the icecap and Arctic weather -- the hard-won product of their daily labors for two years. When they reached Siberia’s shores four months later, De Long buried those logbooks in the sand, and miraculously, they were later found by Navy rescuers, eventually ending up in the National Archives in Washington, where they’ve gathered dust for 135 years. Over the past year, however, NOAA scientists have digitized those logbooks, and have been analyzing De Long’s data. The story they tell is a sobering one: The polar ice cap, at least in that 1,000-mile swath of the High Arctic, has shrunk, weakened, and thinned far more dramatically than anyone realized.
You can enjoy reading Omnivoracious’ entire interview here.


Monday, July 28, 2014

John Shaft’s Mixed Parentage

For years rumors have swirled around about how journalist-turned-author Ernest Tidyman didn’t write all seven of the Shaft novels carrying his byline, but instead turned to ghost writers for substantive work on at least the later entries in that series. Now Steve Aldous -- who is working on a book about Tidyman’s tales of New York City private eye John Shaft and the films those tales inspired -- delivers a fascinating, well-researched piece in our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, that looks back closely at Tidyman’s authorial efforts. Aldous explains at one point:
The success of the films Shaft and The French Connection -- for the latter of which Tidyman received an Academy Award (as well as an Edgar Allan Poe Award) -- significantly increased demands for his time and encouraged him to branch out further into other film writing and production. He set up Ernest Tidyman Productions and began to spread his time across a number of developing projects. The increasing workload encouraged Tidyman to hire writers to help out -- particularly with continuing the Shaft book series.

Tidyman had sketched out story ideas for three further
Shaft books, which he wanted to produce in quick succession so they would fall within the timeframe of MGM’s options agreement. He recruited two writers to help: Robert Turner, a vastly experienced author of pulpish fiction (The Girl in the Cop’s Pocket, etc.) and a contributor to many of the pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s; and Phillip Rock, a screenwriter who had also worked on a number of novelizations in the early 1970s (including an adaptation of Dirty Harry). Tidyman had previously used Rock on his novelization of High Plains Drifter, the screenplay Tidyman had written for Clint Eastwood’s 1973 Western.
For all fans of Tidyman’s mostly out-of-print books or Richard Roundtree’s Shaft film series, this piece is well worth reading.


Monday, July 21, 2014

James Garner Dead at 86

So sad to hear of the passing of actor James Garner (The Rockford Files, Maverick). Garner was 86 and died of natural causes.

Partly through the eternal Rockford Files and partly due to the fact that Garner was immensely popular with his peers and friends throughout his career, there has been a tremendous outpouring of grief in the media following the actor’s passing.

To my eye though, no looks at Garner’s life vis-a-vis his career are as poignant as what was put together by Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce, who interviewed Garner back in 2011. You can read Pierce’s words on the topic here.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

This Just In… Roastmaster (A Coffee Novel) by Janice Lierz

The seventh sister is over the moon for a Costa Rican coffee farmer...

In the spring of 1984, John Mallory, the seventh sister in a coffee family dies a legend when she is uprooted from Kansas City and travels to a coffee farm in Costa Rica to become a roastmaster.

Eighteen years later, Capri is connected to her dead aunt through a surreal sense of smell. When Capri runs away with her boyfriend, she unearths John Mallory’s story and the myth of the Pleiades, a cluster of blue stars known as the Seven Sisters. But her quirky mother, grandfather and five aunts fear love will also lead Capri to an early grave.

A heartwarming story about family bonds, sisters, coffee and the never-ending love of parent and child. It’s a novel about falling in love -- and the different journeys life takes us on… A tale for those who know magic can be found in the bean of a fruit.

You can order Roastmaster here. Visit author Janice Lierz on the web here. ◊

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


Thursday, July 10, 2014

George RR Martin Insists He Will Finish Series

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is unimpressed with critics who say he’ll never finish his saga. In fact, he has a few choice words. Well, one anyway.

Recently interviewed by Swiss newspaper, Tages-Anzeiger, Martin blew his cool when asked if he thought his health would allow him to finish the saga.
During an interview with Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, 65-year-old Martin was asked what he thought about people who wonder if he’ll live long enough to finish the series (presently two books shy of Martin’s projected goal. “I find that question pretty offensive.”
You can see the full interview here. See January Magazine’s 2002 interview with Martin here.

This Just In… Here I Stand by Jillian Bullock

Here I Stand tells the gut-wrenching and compelling real-life story of a young, African-American woman fights to overcome life with the Philadelphia Italian Mafia, rape, homelessness, drugs, and prostitution to fulfill her dream to become a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, a screenwriter and a filmmaker.

With determination to live, despite the odds against her, Jillian Bullock’s harrowing account tests the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual being of someone who refused to fail.

Through real strength, resilience, perseverance, and what she calls “fighting spirit,” Jillian transformed her life to become a successful businesswoman, journalist, screenwriter, competitive martial artist and boxer, fitness expert, author, actress, empowerment speaker, award winning filmmaker, while raising three children as a single parent.

Jillian’s ability to survive under the most horrific and extraordinary circumstances to go on to completely transform her life makes Here I Stand such an unforgettable story.

Since the book was independently published in 2012, Jillian has been generating great sales and has sparked interest from a few producers in Hollywood, who are interested in turning her memoir into a feature film.

You can order Here I Stand here. Visit author Jillian Bullock 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, July 04, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

Summer Gathering, when the rebels of Shadowfell are planning to challenge the evil King Keldec, is approaching rapidly. Caller Neryn, with whom we have made a long journey, still has two Guardians to go before her training is complete. But the White Lady, Guardian of air, is not in the best state. The Master of Shadows(fire) is a trickster who may or may not advise her on how to protect the rebels’ Good Folk allies from cold iron, which makes them sick and can kill them. Worse, Keldec now has his own Caller, who is less scrupulous about what he does to the Good Folk he calls. Neryn’s beloved Flint, the rebels’ double agent, known to his comrades as Owen Swift-Sword, is fed up with his life at court and what he's forced to do as an Enforcer, but has no choice. Can he trust his closest friends in the Enforcers or not? 

The story in Raven Flight (Knopf) has been built up over the last two books in this series. Here it comes to a dramatic climax. Neryn has to make some decisions she doesn’t necessarily like. At the same time, she meets people from the other side whom she can like and respect and even finds herself, at one point, pitying the king and wondering what he might have been like under other circumstances. 

You do tend to forget the heroine is only 16, especially in a world where that’s an age where you might easily be married, but I think that any teens who have read the other two books will be happy with this one. 

Don’t read this without having read the first two books, but if you haven’t, I do recommend this series. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at

Labels: , , ,

This Just In… EXODUS 2022 by Kenneth G. Bennett

Joe Stanton is in agony. Out of his mind over the death of his young daughter.

Unable to contain his grief, Joe loses control in public, screaming his daughter’s name and causing a huge scene at a hotel on San Juan Island in Washington State. Thing is, Joe Stanton doesn’t have a daughter. Never did. And when the authorities arrive they blame the 28-year-old’s outburst on drugs. What they don’t yet know is that others up and down the Pacific coast -- from the Bering Sea to the Puget Sound -- are suffering identical, always fatal mental breakdowns.

With the help of his girlfriend, Joe struggles to unravel the meaning of the hallucination destroying his mind. As the couple begins to perceive its significance -- and Joe’s role in a looming global calamity -- they must also outwit a billionaire weapons contractor bent on exploiting Joe’s newfound understanding of the cosmos, and outlast the time bomb ticking in Joe’s brain.

You can order EXODUS 2022 here. Visit author Kenneth G. Bennett 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, July 03, 2014

Iconic Authors Who Didn’t Like Each Other’s Writing

Think six degrees of Kevin Bacon… but with authors who didn’t like each other’s work. Visually maps it all out in a splendid infographic.

“For every great author, there’s another great author eager to knock him or her down a few pegs. Although the writers on this map are typically deemed canonical by literary tastemakers, there wasn’t much mutual admiration amongst them.”

Apparently, D.H. Lawrence trashed both Herman Melville and James Joyce, who was also loathed by Virginia Woolf. A lot of people didn’t care for Hemingway (not a big surprise) among them Gore Vidal, Nabokov and Faulkner.

The coolest part: click on the connective arrows to see what each writer didn’t like about the other. There are, as Visually suggests, some way harsh comments. For example, of D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad said, “Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”

OK, truly? I can't see the benefit of having this particular bunch in an infographic. But it looks cool, it draws your eye and, like everything else Visually does, it’s stylish and makes you think for a moment or two. Maybe that’s enough.

See the full and interactive version here.

January Magazine & CASL (Your Action is Required)

Only in Canada, you say?

Because we take an international view to literature in the English language, not all of our readers realize that January Magazine is based in Canada, but we are, even though our contributors and our readership is around the world.

On July 1, new legislation came into effect in Canada requiring everyone who uses e-mail to update their readerships to have a higher level of demonstrated consent from those who will be receiving the e-mail communication.

Everything we send out to readers has been going via RSS for the last few years and in order to sign up to get that mail-out, you have given what is now being called implicit permission. By this time in 2017, we’ll be needing explicit permission from our readership to continue mailing to them. You’ll be hearing from us in future about that.

For the time being, we’re asking that you consider this notice as your implied consent to continue receiving our electronic communications.

If you do not wish to continue receiving news from January Magazine and you’ve received this in e-mail, please reply and your name will be removed from the list.

Of course, you have the option of unsubscribing at any time by following the appropriate link at the bottom of any message from us.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Redford to Bring A Walk in the Woods and Climb to Conquer to the Screen

Robert Redford is set to produce a film adaptation of Climb to Conquer, journalist Peter Shelton’s 2003 WWII biography. The story is about the 10th Mountain Division who scaled rock walks at Riva Ridge to conquer a previously untouchable German position. Some experts have claimed it was this pivotal climb that enabled the Allied forces to move forward to ultimate victory.

According to Variety, Kurt Johnstad (Act of Valor, 300: Rise of an Empire) is in discussion to write the adaptation.

Meanwhile, Redford isn’t letting any moss grow on him waiting for the project to come together. He’s currently busy working on the screen version of another, although very different, biography. This one is based on Bill Bryson’s 1997 book, A Walk in the Woods.

Variety reports that Redford has held the film rights since 2005 and that, at various time, Larry Charles, Chris Columbus and Barry Levinson have “been in negotiations to direct at various points.” Things are looking up now, though. From Variety:
Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman and Kristen Schaal have joined Robert Redford in the independent drama “A Walk in the Woods.”
Wildwood Enterprises and Route One Films started production Monday on the film, an adaptation of travel writer Bill Bryson’s memoir. Ken Kwapis (“He’s Just Not That Into You”) is directing from a script by “Little Miss Sunshine” writer Michael Arndt.
Nick Nolte will also star.


This Just In… Baudelaire’s Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven

It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.

As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and séances.

The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire’s controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet’s exact handwriting.

Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind’s Perfume.

Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III.

A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.

You can order Baudelaire’s Revenge here. Visit author Bob Van Laerhoven 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 25, 2014

Fiction: The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

Already a publishing sensation in Europe, Joel Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Penguin) is one of those books everyone has been talking about. It’s a novel held aloft by a lot of hype, and much of it is even deserved. It reads fast. It’s got an intricate plot, and it’s been compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- though in truth it has none of that book’s urgency or bowstring tautness or even its unspeakable violence. What it does have is a boatload of characters you come to care about and a story that will keep you guessing. It even tries to give itself some meaning. What more could you want?

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a novel about perception. Dicker, in his first novel, reveals that he is a master at creating perception based on perspective. Whereas most novels are told from one point of view, this one is told in several, all happening at once -- or what seems like at once.

The plot centers on three people: Marcus Goldman, a young novelist whose college professor inspired him to become a writer; Harry Quebert, the professor, a successful novelist now enjoying his twilight years; and Nola Kellergan, the young woman Harry loved, but who was murdered 33 years ago, leaving him alone and destroyed.

The story jumps back and forth in time constantly between 2008 and events leading up to Nola’s murder in 1970. In short, filmic scenes, we spend a lot of time with all three of them, as well as with many other members of the small New Hampshire town where they live. Much of the book follows Marcus’s investigation into Nola’s murder, trying to uncover secrets that both bind the town together and threaten to rip it apart at the seams. We read many parts of the story over and over again, from different points of view, and each time a new detail or motivation or lie is revealed. There are assumptions, there are lies, there’s regret, there are actions and consequences, and there is, eventually, truth. They say that there are three versions of any story: what I think happened, what you think happened, and what actually happened. This book is about all three, except there are more like twenty.
This is why I say the book is about perception. There can be only one truth about who murdered Nola -- as well as why and how -- but the novel offers up many of them before we finally learn the one that really matters. Dicker’s gift is that he doesn’t seem to be playing with the reader; instead, he’s having fun with his characters, and we’re just watching. He knows these people, and he wants them to know the solution as much as they themselves do -- and as much as we do.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is terrific fun -- and it deserves a place in your beach bag.
Now, having said all that, I also have to stand back and wonder why I wasn’t blown away, as I thought I would be -- and as the hype assured me I would be. As involving as it is, I have to admit that sometimes this book is written in a way that makes what’s happening in Somerset sound like a badly written arc of As the World Turns. I attribute this, at least some of it, to the translator. His take has turned what could have been a tight, relentless thriller into a book that’s, well, not so thrilling. Captivating, yes. Fun, yes. But shocking, disturbing, dark, like Steig Larsson’s trilogy? No.

The action unfolds at a few key locations: the town’s diner, Marcus’ house (he borrows it from Harry), another house or two, the roads in and around town. You get the whole small-townness of the setting, the closing of the ranks as an outsider comes poking around. There’s serious threat, and there are serious secrets that beg to be uncovered once the clues are assembled. But they’re assembled, it all comes to a close so nicely. So neatly. What I wanted was a loose end or two. I wanted messiness, especially from such a messy tale.

Peppered throughout are tidbits about writing gleaned from conversations Harry had with Marcus when Marcus was his student. Harry tells him how to write a novel, a novel people will lose themselves in, a novel people will talk about. Much of the advice makes sense, and I suppose Dicker follows all the advice well, because I was drawn in, intrigued, and pretty well satisfied. But still, except for a few choice moments, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair feels very surface to me, very shallow, and that’s a shame. Because I think it’s more than that, and I think Dicker set out to do more than that. In a way, the tidbits, while interesting, undermine the tale they’re meant to illuminate. They’re almost a series of winks from the author that in some small way taint the novel itself. They don’t break the fourth wall, but they very nearly do, the way, say, blood spatters on a camera lens remind you that you’re watching a movie, when that’s the last thing you want.
Le Journal du Dimanche, in France, said: “If you dip your toes into this major novel, you’re finished; you won’t be able to keep from sprinting through to the last page.” The sprinting part is true. But to call The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair a major novel is the problem. It’s big, at 643 pages. But major? I wish.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This Just In… Deathbed Dimes by Naomi Elana Zener

Deathbed Dimes exposes the reality that if you can outlive your relatives, friends, and sometimes even strangers, your odds of hitting the inheritance jackpot are better than playing the lottery.

Joely Zeller is a beautiful and ambitious 32-year-old attorney who is the only daughter of a Hollywood firm royal. She’s determined to build a successful career, find love, and get married, all without her family’s help.

To emerge from under her parents’ cloud of notoriety, Joely fled to New York upon graduation from Stanford Law School to practice Estates and Trust law at a blue-chip Wall Street law firm. Enduring 90-hour workweeks for the next eight years, she sacrificed her love life (jilted by her fiancé for his best man) only to have her career efforts foiled by her incredibly incompetent male counterpart. Joely then sees her golden ticket to self-actualization. A serendipitous encounter with a former professor reminds her that with the impending, inevitable demise of aging baby boomers, an unprecedented wealth transfer is beginning to take place. With her experience and her Hollywood connections, she could start her own law firm back in Los Angeles. With her two best friends and former law classmates as partners, Joely sets about helping the recently disowned, dispossessed, and penniless sharpen their claws as they stake their claims to the fortunes of their dearly departed. ◊

You can order Deathbed Dimes here. Visit author Naomi Elana Zener 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.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bringing More Characters Back to Life

Most readers have probably forgotten Carolyn Weston (1921-2001), but she was the author of three novels featuring a pair of Santa Monica, California, police detectives, Sergeant Al Krug and Detective Casey Kellog. The first of those, 1972’s Poor, Poor Ophelia, inspired the 1972-1977 ABC-TV drama The Streets of San Francisco.

Now comes word that Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, the writers behind Brash Books, a new crime-fiction imprint, have acquired Weston’s police procedurals, and plan to republish Poor, Poor Ophelia in 2015. What’s more, Goldberg tells me in an e-mail note, “we own [the three books] outright. So we are planning to continue the series with new novels. We’re in talks with an established female crime writer now about it. We haven’t decided whether to keep them in the ’70s in Santa Monica, or move the setting to San Francisco … or make a big leap and bring them to present-day San Francisco. It’s not as strange as it sounds. [Ed McBain’s] 87th Precinct books spanned decades, but the characters didn’t age. Same goes for Nero Wolfe. So moving our characters to present day, without aging them, has some precedent.”

We’ll let you know more about this as we hear it.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New in Paperback: Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (Moonlight Hotel, The Man Who Tried to Save the World) brings the gravitas of an accomplished novelist and war correspondent to Lawrence in Arabia (Anchor Books).

This is a stellar look at some of the major issues in the Middle East and the influence that early 19th century outsiders, including Lawrence of Arabia’s TH Lawrence, had on the direction in which the modern Middle East was formed.

The writing here is breathtaking (and the book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2013) and the research it must have taken actually set me aback: this is an intricate work, well beyond the scope of anything you’re imagining.

As a biography of Lawrence, it would have been superb, but Lawrence in Arabia is so much more: offering an illuminating visit to a time and events that still cause ripples across the region and with a contradictory character whose actions continue to cause controversy 80 years after his death. ◊

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.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

SF/F: The Very Best of Tad Williams by Tad Williams

Though certainly not the household word that Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin has become, Tad Williams is one of the icons of the fantasy world.

Since the publication of his first novel, Tailchaser’s Song, in 1985, his dozen novels, eight works of non-fiction as well as the inclusion of his short fiction in various magazines and anthologies have showcased his thoughtful and imaginative prose.

The Very Best of Tad Williams (Tachyon) showcases the work of this engaging author. Most of the stories collected here have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Bound together in this way, though, they create a sort of living retrospective of the author’s work. Obviously, Williams’ many fans will eat this up. However, those who have been thinking about reading some of his work but have been hesitating will find this book a great indoctrination, especially since many of his novels are massive in both size and scope. Beginning with a more bite-sized stories may well appeal to those wary of making the huge time investment into most of Williams’ novels.

And it won’t surprise Williams’ fans one bit to hear that the author may well be on the cusp of an even broader readership. Williams’ very charming debut novel, Tailchaser's Song, a fantasy set in a world peopled (ahem) by cats, is currently under development as a feature-length animated film. More news on that as it develops. ◊

Labels: ,

This Just In… Thicker than Blood by Joshua Sanofsky

Life just keeps getting more complicated for Journeyman Mage Alys Kinnear.

Arrested for the destruction of her home town, Alys is soon tasked with one of her most dangerous cases to date. A series of grisly slayings in London, all with mysterious ties to Alys and her familiars, causes Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Ben Donovan to enlist the aid of the Yard’s prime suspect... Alys herself! But does the good detective have an ulterior motive for wanting to work so closely with her?

You can order Thicker Than Blood here. Read about Family Ties, the previous book in this series 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.


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Book Expo 2014: Report from the Floor

by Tony Buchsbaum

Every year at this time, the book universe gathers to celebrate itself (and why shouldn’t it?) at Book Expo America. This is the spot to be if you’re a book lover. But good luck getting in. It’s not open to the public -- except for a little bit. But more on that later.

This year, BEA was held at the massive Jacob Javits Convention Center in NYC. In years past, Javits was filled to bursting with BEA-ness. More recently, it’s been a bit smaller, mostly confined to the main exhibit hall and select meeting rooms downstairs.

What happens at BEA? Books. This is where publishers from all over the world showcase the big books coming out between spring and Christmas. So it’s around six or seven months of bestsellers-to-be, all revealed at once in one form or another. By which I mean, glossy jackets displayed in fancy digital frames at one end, and deluxe, hard-to-get-your-hands-on advance copies at the other. Oh, and it also means book-world celebs: authors, movie and TV and music stars, all crashing into one giant melting pot of literary yumminess.

The big publishers -- Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and their ilk -- hand out advance copies or arrange them in neat stacks on the floor, free for the taking. Think: kid in a candy store where your money’s no good. Some only give out books when their authors do signings in the booth or at one of the 20 autographing tables where the lines can range from, say, two people to 200.

When a publisher brings in a movie star or Anne Rice or Pat Conroy or some other name author, there’s a line. A long one. When they bring in a debut novelist with no name but an interesting book, it’s more manageable. Either way, it’s a blast. You get a few precious seconds with your favorite author, and then you get a signed book that feels like a bar of gold in your hand.

This year, Billy Idol and Jason Segel signed little previews of their books. Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch signed posters. Jodi Picoult, Alan Furst, Karin Slaughter, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Ben Mezrich, Tracy Letts, Colm Toibin and a starfield of other authors came to sign advance copies of their new books for adoring fans -- and by adoring fans I mean booksellers, librarians, VIPs and members of the press.

Every year, there’s one book everybody wants but relatively few actually get. Two years ago, that book was The Twelve by Justin Cronin. This year, it was The Bone Clocks by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell. (I, for one, can’t wait to read that one.)

A walk through the aisles reveals editors, publishers, agents, publicists and authors. Unless you know their faces, you spend a lot of time with your eyes cast down so you can read their badges. It’s kind of funny, actually, how eye contact is made only when you know the face -- or suddenly, the name. Either way, it’s great fun.

This year was also the inaugural year for BookCon. This one-day public event was held inside the exhibit hall. For around 30 bucks anyone could come in, mingle, attend some very cool star-studded Q&A sessions and grab books.

When people who love to read come together with those who write, there’s a genuine frisson. When a kid who loves to read comes face-to-face with the author of her favorite book, prepare for wide eyes, some respectful screaming and sometimes tears. To people who love to read, authors are rock stars. BookCon brings them together, and everyone wins. Readers, authors and publishers.

Across BEA and BookCon, the highlight events were a reception for Hilary Clinton, whose new book, Hard Choices, will be out in a week; separate events headlined by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler; a session in which John Green schmoozed with the director of The Fault in Our Stars about making the movie; and one more in which David Mitchell gave away some secrets about his writing process. And on and on and on.

In a word, this year’s BEA was pretty awesome. Next year’s will have a new world of treasures. If you can snag a ticket, do. I’ll see you there.


Non-Fiction: Keep Your Brain Young by Fraser Smith and Ellie Aghdassi

Keep Your Brain Young (Robert Rose) was hanging around my desk for a while before I realized it was, among other things, a cookbook. “You are what you eat,” reverberated through my mind.

Prior to that I’d thought it was just my editor’s barb that I was no longer as young and sharp as I was when I started writing for January Magazine many moons ago and high time I began looking for ways to keep the old thinking machine sharp and strong.

And then I peeked inside.
This book offers the promise of protecting, repairing, and enhancing your mental health while coincidentally improving your general physical well-being.
Which sounded like a good start.

Before we get to food, of course, there’s a whole lot about the diseases associated with aging, how they progress and what causes them. Don’t kid yourself: this is not cheery stuff, but as Smith notes at the very beginning of Keep Your Brain Young: “It is a fact of life -- we are all going to age.” I would add, “If we’re lucky.”

Part 2 of the book deals with “Smart Nutrients,” how to get them and what the lack of them can cause. Then the “12-Step Healthy Brain Diet Program,” which leads quite naturally to Part 5: “Menu Plans and Recipes for a Healthy Brain” which is a good two thirds of the book.

In addition to recipes, meal plans are included and encouraged, but the recipes take center stage. Nutritional information is included on each recipe page as is a detailed ingredients list and clear instructions.

Keep Your Brain Young is a useful and informative book both for those dealing with specific age-related ailments as well as those many of us who are enjoying the privilege of growing older. ◊

Labels: , ,