Saturday, October 30, 2010

Children’s Books: Don’t Touch That Toad & Other Strange Things Adults Tell You by Catherine Rondina

When I was a kid, my world was made of misinformation. In fact, I still occasionally come across bits of stuff my mother told me that were out and out lies. My husband laughs at me at those times. “You actually believe that?” And I can’t help but feel a bit silly, even when he reassures me that his disbelief stems from the fact that he knows me -- in most regards --- to be an intelligent woman so how can I actually believe -- for example -- that consuming cheese late at night will give me bad dreams? Or if you swallow chewing gum, it will take years upon years to digest.

If I’m being fair, I guess I’d be forced to admit that it’s possible that at least some of the misinformation my mother fed me was fed to her by her own mother... and her mother and so on. Still, I can’t help but think how different things might have been if I’d had a copy of Catherine Rondina’s Don’t Touch That Toad & Other Strange Things Adults Tell You (Kids Can) a whole book dedicated to clearing up the odd and ill-conceived things parents sometimes tell their children.

A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. (False says the book.)

Bats fly blind. (Again false.)

A chicken can live without its head. (True. But not for very long.)

Each strange thing a parent might tell you is followed by a page of explanation. These explanations are, perhaps, a bit oversimplistic, and sometimes even preachy. For instance on the entry for the gum is your gullet, the response is False: chewing gun won’t last for years in your stomach. But even so, the book warns, swallowing the stuff might be a mistake, after all, “Even though it won’t get stuck in your stomach for years to come, chewing gum can cause problems to your teeth. So try to chew only sugarless gum., and don’t have more than one or two pieces a day. Oh, and when you’re done, spit it out into the garbage!” Though I’m not sure why, since we’d already established that swallowing the stuff wasn’t going to hurt you anyway. (I mean, it is or it isn’t: one can’t really have it both ways.)

Few of the explanations take into account the tiny grain of truth that get things like this started. For instance, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is judged false. Yet it doesn’t take a scientist (or a doctor) to tell you that eating fresh fruit every day will, in fact, keep you healthier. On the other hand, many answer move beyond true or false and the book offers information, then leaves room for children to decide for themselves.

All in all, it’s a fun little book that children 7-10 are likely to enjoy. after all, what kid doesn’t love knowing something his or her parent does not know? ◊

Monica Stark is an American writer and editor and a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Cookbooks: Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey Through Northeastern Italy by Elisabeth Antoine Crawford

One of the things that’s so amazing about Italian cookery is that it really does seem infinitely variable. After all, one would think, how many Italian cookbooks do we actually need in the English language? Yet -- with obvious exceptions -- we see book after wonderful book that exposes us to a new, lesser explored wrinkle that opens a new culinary journey for non-Italian cooks.

Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey Through Northeastern Italy (Equilibrio) is a good example. Because it explores the food of a very specific and off-the-beaten track piece of real estate in Northeastern Italy. From the introduction:
Tucked away between mountains and sea in Italy’s extreme northeast corner, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a veritable melting pot of cultures. Today, the only clear boundary lines are political: those that separate Italy from the neighboring countries of Austria and Slovenia, those that mark the boundaries between Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Italy’s Veneto region, and those that delineate Friuli’s four provinces: Trieste, Udine, Gorizia, and Pordenone.
As a result, the food of the region reflects just about all of factors you might expect. Imagine, gnocchi stuff with prosciutto and cheese; pork stew with pancetta and cinnamon; cheese-filled polenta balls and hearty bean and vegetable soups remarkable for their use of local ingredients.

Though Flavors of Friuli is definitely a cookbook, as much as that it is a tourbook: a gentle yet thorough introduction to a region not as well known as so many others in this country that has been remarked on for wonderful food for centuries.


Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

BEA and ALA Will Not Merge... For Now

Despite indications to the contrary, BookExpo America and the American Library Association’s annual meeting will not combine. At least, not yet. From Publishers Weekly:
A BEA spokesperson said that while negotiatings over co-locating the two events have been tabled for now, BEA would be open to re-opening talks at some future date if there was enough interest from all parties. For now, the different groups will see if there are other areas where they can work together.
It’s possible that discomfort with the possible merger from both librarians and booksellers may have soured the deal:
When word first leaked in early September that Reed and ALA were talking about holding BEA and the ALA annual meeting together, there was a mixed response from the various stakeholders, ranging from New York publishers unhappy over the prospect of picking up stakes and travelling the country as part of a movable event, to librarians and booksellers who were concerned a combination would be too large and their needs ignored. Still, as recently as two weeks ago, it appeared the deal would go through, but the combination of some resistance from the major houses and unease from libraries killed an agreement.

Next year's BEA will be held May 24-26 in New York, while the ALA annual convention is set for June 23-28 in New Orleans. ALA midwinter will be held in San Diego January 7-10.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fiction: Blood Lite II: Overbite edited by Kevin J. Anderson

I am not a big fan of themed collections of short fiction. They often seem to me to be like restaurants positioned in tourist areas: with so much emphasis on location, location, location, the food is often entirely overlooked. With themed collections, with so much emphasis on staying on task and on track, it seems that it is easy for writers and editors to lose sight of what must be their most important goal: to enlighten or entertain readers with compelling works of short fiction.

So it is with Blood Lite II: Overbite (Gallery), a follow-up to a mildly successful collection published in 2008. Though the book bills itself as a collection of horror fiction -- and while it is, in fact, published under the “Horror Writers Association Presents” banner -- as the title suggests the fiction in Blood Lite II falls on the soft side of horror. Even the names of the contributors tell that story: Kelley Armstrong; L.A. Banks; Allison Brennan; Heather Graham; J.A. Konrath; Sharyn McCrumb and others contribute to a collection that calls itself “humorous horror,” two words that, under most circumstances, should not go together.

Hardcore horror fans will want to give this one a miss. However other readers looking for seasonal fare “accompanied with a does of humor to tone down the terror” will find much here to like.

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Galaxy Shortlists Announced

The shortlists of nominees for the United Kingdom’s 2010 Galaxy National Book Awards were announced yesterday. Here are the adult fiction lists:

Sainsbury’s Popular Fiction Book of the Year:
Dead Like You, by Peter James (Macmillan)
The Ice Cream Girls, by Dorothy Koomson (Sphere)
Jump! by Jilly Cooper (Bantam Press)
One Day, by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Red Queen, by Philippa Gregory (Simon & Schuster)
Worth Dying For, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)

National Book Tokens New Writer of the Year:
Patrick Barkham, The Butterfly Isles (Granta Books)
Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto & Windus)
Katherine Webb, The Legacy (Orion)
Rebecca Hunt, Mr. Chartwell (Fig Tree)
Natasha Solomons, Mr. Rosenblum’s List (Sceptre)
Simon Lelic, Rupture (Picador)

International Author of the Year:
Colm Toibin, Brooklyn (Penguin)
Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (Fourth Estate)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Quercus/MacLehose Press)
Kathryn Stockett, The Help (Fig Tree)
Emma Donoghue, Room (Picador)
Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (Tuskar Rock Press)

Waterstone’s UK Author of the Year:
Tom McCarthy, C (Jonathan Cape)
Maggie O’Farrell, The Hand That First Held Mine (Headline Review)
Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog (Doubleday)
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Sceptre)
Rose Tremain, Trespass (Chatto & Windus)
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)

There are also categories for non-fiction, biographies, food and drink, and children’s books. The Galaxy National Book Awards were formerly known as the Galaxy British Book Awards (the “Nibbies”).

Winners will be announced during a November 10 ceremony, to be produced by Cactus TV (and shown in the UK on November 13). The public will subsequently be invited to vote online for the Galaxy Book of the Year, with that final result to be declared on December 13.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poking at Points

When George W. Bush’s long-awaited memoir comes out early next month, comedians everywhere will have a field day. At least, that’s what comedian Dean Obeidallah posits today in a Huffington Post “sneak preview” of Decision Points (Crown):
November 9 is a big day for comedians-that is the day George W. Bush’s new book comes out. Yep, George Bush “wrote” a book. (Pause for laugh.) And the book is 512 pages long. (Pause for bigger laugh.)

You see how easy those jokes were-it reminds me of the good ole days when George Bush would provide us comedians with material on almost a daily basis. To comedians across the country, George Bush wasn’t just the President of the United States, he was “comedy gold.” Little did I realize when Bush left office, how hard it would be to write jokes about President Obama after all that Bush had given us.
Crown has released a book trailer-style video (included below) and it would seem to confirm Obeidallah’s thoughts. Meanwhile, the ex-president is scheduled to appear on Oprah and with Matt Lauer on the Today Show in the week Decision Points comes out. Is he likely to appear, also, on The Daily Show in an effort to flog his book? We’re thinking maybe not.


Cookbooks: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

If you had ever thought your might like to make bread but you didn’t know quite where to start, Tartine Bread (Chronicle Books) will provide that beginning. Luscious, lucid, well illustrated and well conceived, Tartine Bread begins with the basic constructs of bread making, then brings you along from there.
The “Tartine Bread” approach follows a loose set of concepts that we introduce in a single “basic recipe” and then build on throughout the book. As you gain an understanding of how bread “works,” you will be able to make adjustments in timing and technique to achieve a broad range of results.
This very sane approach is carefully photographed throughout Tartine Bread so that fledgling bakers can not only read about bread-making, they can also see the hand-movements that get the job done. And while all of this sounds -- and is -- very effective, none of it comes close to describing the artistic flight that is Tartine Bread.

Slow food enthusiasts will appreciate Robertson’s careful and caring approach. “This is a baking guidebook to get you where you want to go,” Robertson writes at one point. And it is. But it’s so much more, as well.

Author Robertson is considered by many to be the top bread baker in the United States. Photographer Eric Wolfinger not only has a terrific eye, he is a bread-making apprentice at Robertson’s Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Together they have created what I predict will become the bible in this field. If you will only allow yourself a single book about making bread, Tartine Bread should be that one.

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Non-Fiction: How the Scots Invented Canada by Ken McGoogan

There is a certain delicious levity in Ken McGoogan’s newest book. A certain hands-on-hips insouciance that fans of his sterling quartet of books on arctic exploration might not be expecting. I imagine that will be okay, though. For one thing, How the Scots Invented Canada (HarperCollins) should win the award-winning author busloads of new fans.

Informed, at least in the embryonic stage, by those very books on exploration as well as the slivers of Scottish blood in his own veins, McGoogan (Lady Franklin’s Revenge, Fatal Passage) takes a Bryson-like approach to his topic, jumping in with both feet and spinning out on a journey beyond any at which the staid cover might hint. McGoogan skillfully weaves his careful research through his personal journey through Scotland to look at his own tartan roots and those of his wife, as well as to find answers to a few key questions: “Why did so many Scots emigrate in the first place? And how was it that, once in Canada, they had proven so influential?”

McGoogan begins by acknowledging that there may well be other perspectives, “Yet the title of this book ... declares my bias, and I have refused to let fairness take the fun out of the tale.”

While this is, to a certain degree, entirely true, anyone at all familiar with McGoogan’s work knows that there is a reason he has become one of Canada’s most respected popular historians and that, even so, he sells quite a few books.

Despite the delicious levity in entirely appropriate places, and beneath the somewhat silly title, How the Scots Invented Canada is a serious -- sometimes even scholarly -- work and the author has done his research and shares it skillfully. McGoogan points out that the Scots were the first group of settlers to introduce the political and cultural diversity that would become the cornerstone of how Canadians see themselves. “Today,” McGoogan writes, “thanks to Scottish Canadians ... we can champion Canada as a coherent, pluralistic nation, and as the world’s first post-modern state. Aye, and if we look back to the earliest days, we can see, step by step, how the Scots invented Canada.” ◊

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

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crime Fiction: Faithful Place by Tana French

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, Gretchen Echols reviews Faithful Place by Tana French. Says Echols:
On a frigid December night 22 years ago, teenager Frank Mackey left his gritty Dublin neighborhood, intending to run away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly. They planned to get married, find good jobs and not look back again toward the poverty and unforgiving reality of their lives on Faithful Place.

But Rosie never showed up for their meeting.


She’d previously been forbidden by her father from associating with Frank. So the young man just assumed that Rosie had had second thoughts about hooking up with him, and had instead lit out for England on her own. Frank wasn’t about to be stopped by this unexpected turn of events. He was already bound and determined to leave Faithful Place, and even without Rosie at his side, he kept on going.

Now flash forward two decades. Frank Mackey is a cop, a member of the Dublin Murder Squad, working in the undercover unit. He has a 9-year-old daughter, Holly, who is the light of his life. And he is determined that she won’t ever be exposed to the sorts of horrors he once experienced with his own family, back in Faithful Place.

The trouble is, most roads lead in two directions -- and Frank is about to revisit the past he hoped to leave behind forever.

Faithful Place is Irish author Tana French’s third novel (following 2007’s In the Woods and 2008’s The Likeness), and certainly her best one yet. Narrated by Frank Mackey, it is a masterful tale of forbidden love, family loyalties, sibling rivalries and sins of the fathers extending their injurious reach into the next generation.
The full review is here.

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SFF: The Last Man Anthology edited by Hunter Liguore

If you’re looking for a happy little collection of speculative fiction, keep on going: The Last Man Anthology (Sword and Saga Press) is certainly not that. In fact, quite the opposite is true. After all, the subtitle promises “Tales of Catastrophe, Disaster, and Woe.” While that’s a tall order to fill, the collected authors take a stab at it and they don’t do badly, at that.

As the title implies, the collection was inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel, The Last Man. From the introduction:

... it’s important to mention that Shelley’s vision was both prophetic and haunting. We’ve witnessed plagues that have been detrimental, and always have the threat of a super strand virus that could wipe out civilization. What would our world look like with three-quarters of the population buried, or even worse, what if there was only one man, as Shelley described?
Just for kicks (!) editor Hunter Liguore includes a “Timeline of Catastrophe, 2000-2010.”

“The timeline that follows is incomplete,” the text warns, “but serves as a record for the immensity of disasters for the current decade across the globe.” And so we have Air France Flight 4590 crashing in 2000, the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the ferry that sank off the African coast in 2002 killing 1863 people... I could go on, and Liguore does: so much more that by the time we get to 2010 with Haitian earthquakes and Brazilian floods, Chinese oil spills and Icelandic volcanoes, our eyes are glazing over and our hearts are screaming: “No. More. Please.”

No doubt, that is the desired effect of The Last Man Anthology: to wring the reader’s heart and mind and leave them weak with relief that, when the last page is turned, the world is still sitting here, most of the occupants intact, sharing the air the reader breaths.

The stories Liguore has chosen to feature here span nearly 200 years and include the work of some very evocative names: H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, C.J. Cherryh, Emily Dickinson, D.H. Lawrence, Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe and many others -- in all, 39 contemporary and classic writers, connected here by their ability to look at doom and then, inexplicably, to look away.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

New in Paperback: Spooner by Pete Dexter

Out today in paper, National Book Award-winning Pete Dexter’s tragicomic Spooner (Grand Central). The author of Paris Trout approaches his fiction with the same abandon. From January Magazine’s 2009 look at the hardcover edition of this book:
Dexter is vivacious and his voice is light and bright but he manages at the same time to bring his words home with some weight. Not everyone can manage this neat feat: light and bright and weight.

To my mind, the story in Spooner is less important than the journey. We are immersed in the troubled life of Georgia-born Warren Spooner. A coming-of-age story on one level. The tale of the possible connections between men on another. But this is Pete Dexter, so it’s really none of those things. And more.

There are whispers that Spooner is at least semi-autobiographical. “The novel he was born to write,” says his publisher. Never mind that: the book is terrific. If you’ve not read this National Book Award-winning author before, Spooner is a great place to start.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Art & Culture: Ghosts by Jon Izzard

The only thing confusing about Jon Izzard’s Ghosts (Spruce) is who the book was created for. While some booksellers have presented this as a work for children nine-to-twelve, my own take is that this book covers enough ground in a serious enough way that it's a terrific resource for anyone with an interest in this topic. After all, ghost hunting is hardly a childish pursuit and it seems to me that anyone who cares about such things will learn a few things from Ghosts.
Life after death is the cornerstone of popular religions: from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, to Hinduism and Buddhism. For millennia, we have been taught that we each have a soul that continues our existence long after our body is laid to eternal rest.
Even so, don’t get the idea that Ghosts is an exercise in ideology or even theology. It’s not.
What if there was a ghost beside you, right now, reading over your shoulder? How would you know? And should you thrill with excitement at meeting a great mystery. or cringe in fear at the chill of its charnel breath on your neck?
Ghosts combs through the stories and the stacks of information and looks for the things that connect them: the common threads, if you will, that bind all of these tales and beliefs together. It mixes up pop cultural references from films and television, literary references and folklore and what it comes up with is an interesting exploration -- in text, photos and classic illustrations -- of a phenomena of interest to a great many people. ◊

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

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Cookbooks: Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free by Karen Morgan

Let’s face it: it’s very difficult to make the words “Gluten Free” seem sexy. This is partly because of the way they sound -- how can “gluten” even sound appetizing? -- but also because most of us have had less than sterling experiences with food advertised in this way.

These are the main factors that contribute to the surprise you feel when you encounter Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free (Chronicle Books) by Karen Morgan. At first glance, it appears to be one of those superlative cookbooks that tantalize you with recipes for desserts that cause you to gain weight just by looking at them. In many ways, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free is exactly that. But it’s also more. Or maybe less? All of which was Morgan’s plan for the book:
At the time of my diagnosis [with an auto-immune disease] in 2002, the available gluten-free products were so unsatisfactory, I took it upon myself to do something about it.
And what she did was quite a lot: living and working in France, a blog, an online bakeshop, and now, this gorgeous book.

This is gluten-free baking gone practically mainstream; a book stuffed full of all the favorites those who must avoid gluten miss the most: Sunday Morning Pancakes, Popovers, Scones, Pound Cakes, even Éclairs and Parfaits. Recipes for the kind of things people who can’t have them want the most, made with sensible and mostly easily attainable ingredients described in a straight-forward manner.

Everyone who likes baking will enjoy this book: great pictures, good, solid recipes, interesting new ideas. But for people who have to have gluten-free? It might just change their life. ◊

Monica Stark is an American writer and editor and a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who Hates Mick Jagger?

Regular readers may already have gleaned that I am a big fan and regular reader of Vanity Fair magazine (at least, I am when they’re not doing inexplicable puff pieces on tabloid fodder “artists” like recent VF cover girl Lindsay Lohan. But that’s likely the topic for a different piece).

My VF fangirl status made it a fun jolt to see a stream of traffic heading January’s way over the last week, where I got another jolt: the VF Daily piece that was leading readers to January was from a book by my relative, Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards. The Vanity Fair Daily piece is called “Boy, Do I Hate Mick Jagger” and it’s really a rundown of Life (Little, Brown), Richards’ new autobiography, out next week. From the piece in question:
Though fans are likely to be pleased by Richards’s salacious revelations and frank assessments, bandmate Mick Jagger, whom the author describes as “unbearable” and refers to as “Brenda” and “Your Majesty,” is not. The same can be said of Yoko Ono, as Richards characterizes her former husband John Lennon as “a silly sod, in many ways.” It appears that the stuff of Life stands on the scurrilous side of the continuum of rock-star confessionals.
Zoiks! The Vanity Fair Daily piece is here. The reason Vanity Fair was referring to us was a 2008 January Magazine review of the Slash autobiography, Slash which is here.

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Rohinton Mistry Book Banning Causes International Furor

The banning by the University of Mumbai of Rohinton Mistry's Booker-nominated 1991 debut novel, Such a Long Journey, has drawn international attention, as well as outrage from writers organizations in the Canadian author’s country. The Writers’ Union of Canada and PEN Canada have called on the University of Mumbai to reverse its decison. From CBC:
A university vice-chancellor in Mumbai pulled the book from a second-year bachelor of arts reading list last month because of complaints from students who support right-wing political party Shiv Sena.

Mistry's novel follows the story of a family struggling to get by in 1970s India, and there are descriptions of Shiv Sena's violent tactics.

PEN Canada said it was “deeply concerned” at reports of book-burning and censorship at the University of Mumbai.
But as Nina Martyris points out in The Guardian, some good is likely to come from all the attention:
If there is a redeeming feature to this sorry episode, it is the quality of protest it has provoked. Redeeming because the Shiv Sena, which has a reputation for violence, is rarely countered. An online petition is being circulated, book readings held and bookstores deluged with orders for the novel. In a written statement, Dr Frazer Mascarenhas, the Jesuit principal of St Xavier's College which Mistry attended and where Aditya Thackeray is currently enrolled, asked the all-important question: "Is it not unreasonable, that literature is banned merely because it dares to critique us?"

Mistry sent in his response from his home in Canada. In an eloquent and erudite statement that was carried on the front pages of India's leading newspapers, Mistry recalled Rabindranath Tagore's rousing poem about freedom. In stinging but measured prose, he admonished the vice-chancellor for being "silent on the matter of moral responsibility". He did not name the vice-chancellor, addressing instead the high office of the chair and the "abuse" of its powers. For the young Thackeray, he had some haunting Conradian wisdom: step back from the abyss, or go over the edge.
The response from Mistry that Martyris mentions is included in a press release from the author’s Canadian publisher here. January Magazine’s 2003 interview with Mistry is here.

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He Left His Heart in San Francisco

Just returned from Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, January senior editor J. Kingston Pierce raps up his journey on The Rap Sheet, with a lengthy narrative that includes mention of lots of January and Rap Sheet friends and contributors, with photos!
... it was a thrill to be in San Francisco last week among myriad friends and acquaintances. Most of my life at the moment seems to be spent in relative isolation, as I’m parked behind a computer, batting out magazine articles, books, and blog posts. But for the four days of Bouchercon 2010, I didn’t write a single damn word. Instead, I basked in the company of other obsessive readers, pleasant folk such as Janet Rudolph (the editor of Mystery Readers Journal), George Easter (of Deadly Pleasures renown), Rap Sheet contributor Kevin Burton Smith (who’s also the editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site), “cultural anthropologist” and noir film guru Eddie Muller (whose excellent essay about San Francisco’s contributions to crime fiction appeared in the Bouchercon program), and authors Kelli Stanley (City of Dragons), Gary Phillips (Freedom’s Fight, The Underbelly), and Mark Coggins (The Big Wake-Up).
The Rap Sheet Bouchercon round-up is here.

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A Birthday for Ursula

It is the birthday of National Book Award-winning author, Ursula Le Guin, born on this day in Berkeley, California, in 1929.

Today’s Writer’s Almanac tells us how the author grew up as the daughter of a famous anthropologist:
But as a kid she was more interested in science fiction. Every so often, she and her brother would pool their pocket change and buy a 25-cent science fiction magazine like Astounding Stories or Thrilling Wonder Stories. Young Ursula thought that she could write quite a bit better than some of the writers in those magazines, so at the age of 11 she wrote a science fiction story about the origin of life and a time machine and sent it off, but it was rejected.
The path, however, had already been laid in and, of course, Le Guin’s assertion had been correct: she really could write quite a bit better than a lot of people. But first, however, there would be education:
She went to Radcliffe, where she studied French, Italian, and Renaissance literature, and went to graduate school at Columbia. From there, she headed off to France to study the poet Pierre de Rosnard, and it was on the boat to Paris that she met the historian Charles Le Guin, and they fell in love and got married a few months later. They have lived in the same house in Portland, Oregon, for more than 50 years.
Le Guin’s stories began to be published in the 1960s, along with “a handful of science fiction novels.”
Then a publisher asked her to write a fantasy novel for kids 11 and older. She didn’t know anything about writing for kids. She said: 'I went home, and thought about kids. Boys. How does a boy learn to be an old guy with a white beard who can do magic? And there was my book.'
The book in question, published in 1968, was A Wizard of Earthsea. Many novels have followed, along with Hugo, Nebula, the Newbery and even the National Book Award.

Photo Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Non-Fiction: Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book and The Pink Ribbon Diet

This month is the 25th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which began in October of 1985. Though the battle has not been won, in the last quarter century, great strides have been made in both the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. This growing awareness has played a part in that.

In the fifth edition of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, out this month from DaCapo, Love writes about the “shift in the paradigm we use to think about the breast and its problems. A slow revolution, you could say, and a good example of how these things happen.”

Love stresses that the revolution has happened since the first edition of the book was published 20 years ago and that, perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned that “all breast cancers are not the same” and that it’s of utmost importance to match the treatment to the cancer, rather than the “more is better” approach of yore.

In addition, Love stresses that we now have a better -- if imperfect -- understanding of the way lifestyle and diet factors into breast cancer. The resulting book is much, much larger than previous editions. The New York Times has called it “the Bible for women with breast cancer.” I would hazard it is even more than that: an owner’s manual for breasts, if you will, since the emphasis here is not only on treatment and cure, but on detection and prevention. We don’t know as much we will about breast cancer, but knowing even this much is a powerful tool for health.

To that end, The Pink Ribbon Diet (DaCapo) is an interesting -- and surprisingly rationale -- book. Subtitled A Revolutionary New Weight Loss Plan to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk, the author writes that since “published research from around the world confirms the relationship between being overweight and the likelihood of developing the disease,” that thin may ultimately be back in.

Aside from all of that, authors Mary Flynn and Nancy Verde Barr’s guide to diet, weight loss and food is sane an approachable. The Pink Ribbon Diet is an interesting book about food. Even if weight is not a concern, but you want to make a lifestyle choice for health, you will learn a great deal from this book. How to eat better, make better food choices and, with 150 recipes, how to create all of the food you need in your own home.

And the underlying message in both books is a good one to share: for October and every month, a growing awareness about breast cancer brings us ever closer to understanding the disease and a cure. Reading can be a terrific start, but so can giving: this month, find a charity in your community and pledge towards a cure. ◊


Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books. She is also a proud supporter of Prêt-a-Pour Tea, a high tea and high fashion fundraiser, working for a cure.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In a Festival Season

Twenty-two years after it began in 1988, the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival has become an important event on the world literary calendar. Under the eye of artistic director Hal Wake, the festival brings together nearly 300 volunteers whose job, in part, is the care and feeding of 100 international and Canadian authors as well as thousands of book lovers who come to see their favorite authors and learn about new books and publishing trends.

The annual festival, which begins today, attracts over 14,000 visitors. It will run until October 24th featuring authors from Canada, the US, the UK, Italy, France, Ireland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

Participating authors in 2010 include four who have been nominated for this year’s Governor General’s award -- Sandra Birdsell, Emma Donoghue, Drew Hayden Taylor and Kathleen Winter -- and two who have been shortlisted for this year’s Giller Prize: Sarah Selecky and Kathleen Winter.

Also in attendance will be past nominees for the Booker Prize Ali Smith, Andrea Levy, David Mitchell, Andrew O’Hagan and Yann Martel, who won the Booker Prize in 2002.

Complete program details and ticket information are available at www.writersfest.bc.ca.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fiction: Sarah Court by Craig Davidson

If your taste in fiction runs to the disturbing, dark and at least partially weird, chances are you’ve heard of ChiZine Publications -- CZP -- a young imprint that is nonetheless producing startlingly beautiful books of starkly, darkly literary quality. So dedicated is ChiZine to producing “dark genre fiction” that are works of art, each edition is released in three formats simultaneously: trade paper, e-book and a limited edition, signed hardcover.

Sarah Court, new last month, is a great example of all of these things. The cover is evocative and perfectly rendered, with careful embossing bringing home the design.

Nor does the book so covered disappoint. The work of urban journalist Craig Davidson, Sarah Court is a collection of connected stories, all focused around Sarah Court:
...a ring of homes erected by the Mountainview Holdings Corporation. Cookie-cutter houses put up quick .... A town unfurling along Lake Ontario. Once so polluted, salmon developed pearlescent lesions on their skin. Ducks, pustules on their webbed feet. They seizured from contagions in their blood. Children were limited to ten-minute swimming intervals.

You really are such magnificently grim bastards. Trashing utopia is how you party.
This is a good excerpt, I think, because it demonstrates so much of what makes Sarah Court a remarkable book. Davidson’s prose has a swift, raw power. A muscularity, some would say. There is dark humor here, certainly. But an innate humanity, as well, though it almost seems at times the author tries to hide that fact: festoon it with dark pathos and grind it beneath booted feet. ◊

David Middleton is a graphic designer and photographer and the art and culture editor of January Magazine.

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New in Paperback: Occult America by Mitch Horowitz

About a year ago, we liked Occult America quite a lot when it came out in hardcover. The paperback edition, out this month from Bantam, should just make it easier to take this interesting little book by by Tarcher/Penguin editor-in-chief Mitch Horowitz on the bus.

As the title implies, Horowitz’ book looks at how the occult has impacted the development of the United States. (Hint: More than a little.)

“Mysteries can be found wherever you look,” Horowitz tells us early on, “especially when you’re not sure what you’re looking for.” There is much in Occult America that is more grounded, less esoteric, but what could be more filled with poetic truth?

Occult America is fantastic: interesting, entertaining, enlightening, sometimes even moving.

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A Canadian Motorcycle Diary

On Sunday my charming local bookstore hosted an event featuring esteemed Canadian author, Derek Lundy (The Bloody Red Hand, The Way of a Ship). Lundy was reading from and discussing his most recent book, Borderlands: Riding the Edge of America (Knopf Canada). This author has been prolific in producing intelligent, well-researched books on a wide variety of topics. Books that cut beautifully to the very essence of the matter at hand.

This time out, Lundy did it up old school, loading his gear onto a Kawasaki 650 cc “Thumper” motorcycle and heading for the open road. The road in question was vast and daunting: in all a “15,000-kilometer trek to observe and explain the American obsession with security.”

Lundy, who is Canadian but started out Irish, brings a delicate eye and a seasoned pen to his travels as he motors along the very bottom and top of America, thinking about how things were and are and how they still might be.

“The periphery of a place can tell us a great deal about its heartland,” Lundy writes, “along the edge of a nation’s territory, its real prejudices, fears and obsessions -- but also its virtues -- irrepressibly bubble up as its people confront the ‘other’ whom they admire, or fear, or hold in contempt, and know little about. September 11, 2001, changed the United States utterly and nothing more so than the physical reality, the perception -- and the meaning -- of its borders.”

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Belva Plain Dead at 95

Belva Plain, whose novels sold millions of copies in the latter part of the 21st century, has died at home in Short Hills, New Jersey on October 12th. She was 95 years old.

Plain’s first novel, Evergreen, was published in 1978, spent over 60 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and went on to be made into a mini-series starring Joan Allen and Armand Assante in 1985. Plain’s novels, which often dealt with young Jewish heroines overcoming unbelievable odds, were often dismissed by reviewers. From Plain’s New York Times obituary:
The critics were often unimpressed by Ms. Plain’s novels. In a review of “Harvest” in 1990, Webster Schott described Ms. Plain’s books as “easy, consoling works of generous spirit, fat with plot and sentiment, thin in nearly every other way and almost invisible in character development.”

Such opinions did not stop millions from enjoying her books; readers’ comments on Amazon often speak of them as “big, cozy reads.” That would have pleased Ms. Plain, who saw nothing wrong with being entertaining. “Even the real geniuses, like Dostoyevsky, entertained,” she said.
The Times said Plain was obsessed with telling a different kind of story:
“I got sick of reading the same old story, told by Jewish writers, of the same old stereotypes — the possessive mothers, the worn-out fathers, all the rest of the neurotic rebellious unhappy self-hating tribe,” she said. “I wanted to write a different novel about Jews — and a truer one.”
Plain was best known for the Werner Family Saga, which included four novels: Evergreen (1978); Golden Cup (1986); Tapestry (1988) and Harvest (1990). But there were other 18 other novels, as well, some of them huge sellers, most recently 2004’s Crossroads.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Children’s Books: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

It does not matter -- it should not matter -- that Behemoth (Simon Pulse) is simply one of the most beautiful books you’re likely to see in this format. From the strikingly beautiful cover design, through the remarkable end-papers, the clear and careful typography and even Keith Thompson’s wonderfully illustrative pen and ink sketches.

It does not matter -- and it should not matter, and yet all of these things are indicative of the care and thought that’s gone into every semi-colon of Behemoth, the second installment in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.

And though Behemoth is aimed precisely at the young adult market, steampunk fans everywhere are likely to enthuse about the book that confirms what I’ve been suspecting for a while: steampunk is back, but with a vengeance.

Behemoth offers up the further adventures of Alek, heir to the Austrian throne and, when we last saw him, prisoner of war and Deryn, a girl who has posed as a boy to gain entrance to the British Air Service.

In the best traditions of steampunk, the world Westerfeld has created here is familiar, yet everything is slightly askew. There is about Behemoth the scent of alternate history, but with a definite difference. A high stakes adventure, with just a dusting of romance. We’ve always known Westerfeld was a contender, but Behemoth really brings that home. ◊

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

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Cookbooks: The Comfort of Apples by Philip and Lauren Rubin

It’s possible I’d like The Comfort of Apples (Lyons Press) a whole lot better had it been given a different title. As things are, the title of this homespun apple cookbook is a little too close to food maven Ruth Reichl’s fabulous 2001 memoir, Comfort Me With Apples. The books could not be more unalike. Still, it’s difficult to not make the connection, like calling a book Peace of War or Punishment with Crime. It’s not the same thing at all, but the resonance is unmistakable.

Unsurprisingly for a book with a title this derivative, The Comfort of Apples is not as wonderful as one might expect. For a book that focuses on that most common of fruit, The Comfort of Apples features a surprising number of recipes that include meat and a surprising number of these recipes don’t include apples at all. For instance Crispy Duck and Egg Scramble doesn’t even sound good -- at least, not to me -- and the apple shows up in the form of two cups of cider which you reduce to a syrup. The whole production seems a little contrived and over the top for what is, essentially, scrambled eggs.

Like that earlier dish, Miso and Apple-Marinated Hangar Steak is too fussy and contrived, and the apple portion of the recipe seems like an afterthought. Seriously: does anyone at all think that a cauliflower-apple puree served with chimichrri sauce sounds like a good idea for a perfectly innocent piece of beef? And does Smoked Trout Mashed Potatoes sound good to you? Even with -- especially with? -- cider, there are certain simple things best left simple. Fish mashed potatoes would seem to me to be one of those.

Unsurprisingly, the non-savory offerings in The Comfort of Apples are far superior to those offering strange combinations of potatoes, apples, fish and meat. French Toast Tarte Tatin, for example, is a wonderful idea even if, here again, a simple thing is made to be quite complicated. German Apple Pancakes and Apple Pancakes are both tried and true combinations, actually quite well described here and the Potato and Apple Latkes almost make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Overall, though, The Comfort of Apples was a disappointment to me. The best recipes were competent versions of standards I’ve seen described just as well in other books. For the most part, though, the book offers complicated preparations of recipes I can’t imagine anyone would ever want to make: Crostini with Clams, Bacon, and Apples. Tea-Steamed Duck with Cool Cucumber. Apple Risotto and one of the most complicated-looking recipes for gnocchi I’ve ever seen.

Hobby farmers with bushels of apples that they need to figure out what to do with might find recipes of use here but, for most of us, there are better and easier books. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Fiction: Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

In a publishing era when anything that even whiffs of Stieg Larssen seems to draw attention, it’s not surprising that John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2005 novel has been polished up, dusted off and has found its way back to the top of the pile.

A thoughtful, though horrific, contemplation on life after death (or perhaps more accurately, life beyond death) there is often something philosophical in Lindqvist’s thoughtful prose. And there are zombies. And, somehow, the two things are not mutually exclusive.
One single muscle in a person’s body. A speck of dust in time. And the world is dead. David stood next to her bed with his arms by his sides, the headache burning behind his forehead.

Here lay his whole future, everything good that he could even imagine was gone from life. Here lay the last twelve years of his past. Everything gone; and time shrank to a single unbearable now.
This is David, identifying his wife’s corpse at the hospital. And what we witness here is a husband’s natural grieving. His wife is dead, her face and apart of her body torn away in an accident.

And then she opens one eye.

And it’s not just David and his beloved Eva that this is happening to. It’s happening throughout the whole city: the newly departed are sitting up and demanding to be noticed, much to the joy and then terror of their families.

Handling the Undead (St. Martin’s Press) is a frightening, thoughtful book. The two things should not go together and most of the time they do not. Lindqvist pulls it off, though. These are not the garish, neon zombies you’ve encountered in English language fiction. These are proper Swedish zombies, starkly nuanced, fully realized, frighteningly rendered. You might not ever sleep again. ◊

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

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fiction: Sandra Beck by John Lavery

John Lavery, an accomplished and acclaimed crafter of short stories, makes the transition to the longer fictional form with a novel structured not unlike some of the stories he’s told in the past. Fans will delight, however, because -- of course -- there’s a lot more of it.

The title’s Sandra Beck is, in a sense, all women to everyone. Specifically, though, she is wife, mother, daughter and flawed human whose story is here told by just about everyone but her. Clearly, the form invites narration of questionable veracity. The storytellers are themselves part of this story and their own experience clouds what they see and what they share. Not unlike life.

And then there is the language. Most of the time Sandra Beck (House of Anansi) feels like music. Lavery swings us along with the master’s sure touch and it is always a pleasure to swing right along with him. Here, in the opening scene, we see Sandra for the first time, through the eyes of her daughter, Joseé:
I woke in my saltwater room, a bed-dweller, bottom-feeding in the warm sheets.

Shhh.

I heard my mother’s footsteps on the frozen beach outside my room. The hallway, I mean. My girl’s-gills filled up with happiness, a happiness indistinguishable from my mother herself.
Building a portrait of a person through the eyes of other people sounds very much like a writerly exercise and, to some degree, one never experiences anything in Sandra Beck that makes one think that this is not true. At the same time, though, this exercise seems to bear fruit. Almost every page of Sandra Beck is a delightful surprise.

Lavery, who lives in Gatineau, Quebec, is the author of two short story collections: Very Good Butter and You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off. Sandra Beck is his first novel.

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Children’s Books: The Tilting House by Tom Llewellyn

There is something vaguely Halloweenie about The Tilting House (Tricycle Press) Tom Llewellyn’s debut novel. In truth, however, this might just be because the focus is on a strange house, which seems always to be a device that gets pulled out around this time of year. Something to do with turning inwards when the weather turns cold but, whatever the case, The Tilting House is actually a book that would work well in any season.

The gentle mystery in The Tilting House is all wrapped up in the Peshik family’s new home, a house where nothing seems to be quite as it should. Cryptic diagrams and writing are scribbled on the walls, the floors tilt inward and a rat family, led by rodent patriarch Mr. Daga, all contribute to making the family’s early days in their new home uncomfortable. But then it seems possible they should have read the writing on the wall: quite literally:
We bought the house. For that price, Mom said she could get used to the tilt and the scribbles. I think she realized that Dad was right: We'd never be able to afford a house half as big on Dad’s art museum salary and the money Mom made working part time a the school office. We were doomed to live in a dumpy tilting house.
Llewellyn deals with his mysteries handily and with room to spare, leaving things open enough that one gets the idea a sequel or four might be in the offing. But the Peshik family is interesting enough -- and pleasant enough -- that the thought of future visits is not a distressing one.

The Tilting House is a pleasing mix science and suspense. Kids eight to 11 should eat this one up.

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Fifth Novel in Stieg Larsson’s “Trilogy” Confirmed

The story is unraveling, one careful piece at a time, not unlike a nest of subplots in one of the author’s own books.

The latest piece of author Steig Larsson’s posthumous story is that rumors of a completed novel to follow the trio started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, has been confirmed by the author’s family. From the New York Times:
So said Mr. Larsson’s brother, Joakim, in an interview on CBS that was broadcast on Sunday.

“I got an e-mail from Stieg 10 days before he died, where he said that book four is nearly finished,” Joakim Larsson said in the interview, which also included his father, Erland.

“To make it more complicated, this book No. 4 — that’s book No. 5,” he added. “Because he thought that was more fun to write.”
But, in reality, it’s even more complicated than that. Larsson, who died in 2004, prior to the publication of the first book in his now internationally bestselling Millennium series, appears not to have made financial provisions for his longtime companion, Eva Gabrielsson, and thus the huge windfall associated with the hot international franchise has been going to Larsson’s family. (Though, in fairness, what new author anticipates the sort of attention this series has drawn?)

So for yet another part of the plot, it turns out the previously “rumored” manuscript is actually on a laptop in Gabrielsson’s possession. Not only does it seem unlikely she’ll give it up, the family is reportedly saying they won’t allow the book to be published.

Nor does it seem as though the story will quieten down anytime soon. Swedish productions of film versions of the first two books in the series have met with international acclaim. A Hollywood adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is set for a December 2011 release starring Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Secondary roles are yet to be confirmed.

The plot thickens.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crime Fiction: The Body and the Blood
by Michael Lister

Florida writer Michael Lister returns in his new novel to the life of troubled prison chaplain John Jordan. When we encounter Jordan in The Body and the Blood (Five Star), he has been clean and sober for some time and is even reconciling with his estranged wife, Susan. That’s a good thing, since Susan’s father, Tom Daniels, is a senior official at the Potter Correctional Institution, where Jordan works.

This story begins with the sister of inmate and artist Justin Menge paying him a visit for the first time in four years. Menge was accused of molesting the grandchildren of a powerful sheriff, Mike Hawkins, in neighboring Pine County. But Menge’s sister now believes he’s innocent, and she may have the evidence to prove it. Furthermore, Chaplain Jordan learns that his erstwhile father-in-law is more than happy to help her. It seems Menge has agreed to testify against the man who raped Daniels’ wife, Susan’s mother.

What brings Jordan and Daniels -- previously adversaries in this series -- together is a flyer announcing that a murder will take place during a Mass in Potter’s Protective Management wing. PM, as Protective Management is known, is where inmates are put when they don’t want to play the gang-like games of the general population in a maximum-security prison. Menge, being a convicted molester, is among the PM residents. Another is Juan Martinez, who seems to have gotten away with savaging Mrs. Daniels after a bank robbery gone wrong. Unfortunately, the authorities haven’t been able to prove Martinez’s guilt, because Daniels’ wife -- horrified and sickened by the attack -- destroyed all of the evidence in order to cleanse herself.

Not long after Jordan finds the threatening flyer, Justin Menge is slain. This despite the fact that Jordan, Daniels, two guards and several inmates were all able to see down Menge’s corridor, and witnessed nothing of the violence.

There are plenty of suspects in the murder. Martinez is one, as the dead man had threatened to testify against him. But then there’s Menge’s lover, Chris Sobel, himself a killer, who liked the idea of leaving prison with an artist such as Menge to start over. His proximity to Menge at the time of the murder makes a lover’s spat seem likely. Outside the prison, members of the Hawkins family would have liked nothing better than to see Menge pay dearly for mistreating their young Pine County relatives. And Sheriff Hawkins’ son is doing time in the penitentiary -- a son who is a bit too racist and homophobic even by Pine County standards. (Sort of like Huck Finn’s dad was too much of a bigot even for the Antebellum South. Scary, eh?)

The PM guards wouldn’t give even mall cops any reason to worry about their jobs. So it falls to Jordan and Daniels to investigate this crime, at the same time as Jordan attempts to reunite with Susan. Susan helps things along by announcing she’s pregnant. What hinders their reconciliation, though, is her insistence that Jordan leave Potter County for Atlanta, Georgia, where she runs a successful public relations firm. Coloring both the investigation and their marriage is the severe denial and trauma suffered by Susan’s mother.

In Chaplain Jordan, Lister paints a vivid portrait of a man who has conquered his addiction, but still has to face the causes of it. The protagonist’s temper occasionally flairs, and at one point, he slugs an inmate. It the same raw nerves that once drove Jordan to drink that now threaten to undo all the progress he’s made.

Jordan, by the way, isn’t your conventional clergyman. Not only does he refer to God as “She,” even in conversations with the prison’s part-time Catholic priest, but his father is the Potter County sheriff, and Jordan himself is a former deputy. So his investigation of Menge’s death isn’t the work of an amateur sleuth blundering haplessly into a crime. Daniels wants his son-in-law along ostensibly because Jordan is still, at heart, a cop, yet the inmates have come to trust him.

Lister puts a lot of coincidences into The Body and the Blood that could have derailed it in the hands of a lesser author. Fortunately, Lister handles them well. The story is not as edgy as his most recent Tyrus Books offering, Thunder Beach (2010). Instead, it’s comfortable, like an entry in a series that’s been around awhile and is more interested in keeping its fans than grabbing new ones. Still, Lister is one of the better writers working today. He doesn’t skimp on story development or the consequences of actions. Regular characters change and fall apart. And where this tale is at its best is in Jordan’s interactions with prison inmates. Some profess a disappointment when the chaplain tells them he’s not superior to them, that he struggles to be a better person every day in just the same way they do. What really disappoints them, though, and what the author portrays best, is how Jordan fails as often as he succeeds.

Fortunately for us, in this book, Lister succeeds. ◊

Jim Winter is a writer, reviewer and occasional comedian in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he does tech support for an insurance company. He’s a regular contributor to Crimespree and an occasional contributor to both The Rap Sheet and the comedy podcast The Awful Show.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Spec Thief Revealed

Controversy has swirled since author Jonathan Franzen’s (Freedom, The Corrections) famous glasses were stolen right off his even more famous mug at a book launch in London earlier this week. It turns out, however, that the truth is a lot less exciting than all the spec speculation might have led us to believe.

The culprit turned out to be James Fletcher, a 27-year-old post-grad from Liverpool who is, at present, studying computational aerospace design at Imperial College London. In an odd tell-all column for UK GQ, Fletcher tells of his drunken masterminding of the crime:
We stumbled across this event whilst in a cab on the way through to Kensington and when stopped at the door, not quite dressed for the occasion, a bit of wavy hand rhetoric was enough to let us through into the private party. We sat drinking excessive champagne for a while and talking to some of the guests there until I realised just how dull it all was. If you're going to gatecrash a party, the highlight of it surely can't consist of several predictable nervous speeches and vacuous conversations. So I decided to do something.
You can read more about what he did here. We previously covered the spec theft here.

Cookbooks: A Trio of Baking Books Set Our Sights on the Holidays

As the temperature drops, families -- especially those with young children -- start to think about baking. After all, what says “holidays” quite like something you made with your own hands? And if small children can participate at some level, so much the better.

Three recently published books seem sure to be favorites with kids and adults alike. All three are brightly illustrated and include clear instructions for projects seemingly meant to delight a child’s heart.

Cake Pops (Chronicle Books) by Bakerella is all about a new-to-me artform: essentially tiny decorated cakes on a stick. The book takes you all through this new cakeform developed by Bakerella and discussed on her blog of the same name. All of the knowledge is here for hundreds of creative, delicious projects with your children. The book is both thorough and esoteric. Have fun!

No Bake Gingerbread Houses for Kids (Gibbs-Smith) describes a more traditional form of edible craft art that children will enjoy. This book, too, takes readers through every step of author Lisa Turner Anderson’s no-bake recipe for fun. But don’t feel you have to wait for the holidays for this one: Turner Anderson includes instructions of Dracula’s Castle, a Silly Polka-Dot House, a Pink Castle in the Clouds, a Haunted Mansion and others that would be great for birthdays, Halloween and other holidays where tiny, edible houses are desirable.

Where the previous two titles struck me as being very child-focused and appropriate, Very Merry Cookie Party (Chronicle Books) will appeal to all types and age of bakers, provided they enjoy thinking about and making seasonal treats. The subtitle promises to show you “How to Plan and Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange” and it actually does do that but, for me -- and I suspect most readers -- that will not be the central pull towards this book. I have, in my time, seen a great many cookbooks featuring cookies but it seems to me that this one is the best, in several ways. First of all, the cookies all look delicious. That might sound self-evident -- who creates a cookie book with unappetizing photos, after all? But you might be surprised! So the photos are great, but also the instructions are straight-forward, even for complicated confections. Also, contemporary interpretations of classics are right on the money. Malted Milk Chocolate Cookies, for instance, are a very good innovation. The Stain-Glass Ornament cookies are beautiful and brilliant and the Father Christmas S’Mores are a dead-simple rendition of the campfire classic.

I liked all three of these books very much. With so little overlap between them, and with the holidays zooming at us full speed, there seems no reason not to get all three!

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa Awarded Nobel Prize

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa (Death in the Andes, The Feast of the Goat) today became only the second South American author in history to be awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature. From The New York Times:
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy praised Mr. Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”

Mr. Vargas Llosa, 74, is one of the most celebrated writers of the Spanish-speaking world, frequently mentioned with his contemporary Gabriel García Márquez, who won the literature Nobel in 1982, the last South American to do so. He has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, inc
luding “The Feast of the Goat” and “The War of the End of the World.”
Vargas Llosa had not been among the favorites for this year’s prize. Earlier this month, the U.K. bookmaker, Ladbrokes, had the author down as a 45-1 shot and an October 6 article in OpenSalon on Nobel odds didn't even mention the winning author, instead discussing favorites Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore), Joyce Carol Oates (We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde) and many, many others. But not Mario Vargas Llosa who many considered to be too political to be considered for the win.

The Wall Street Journal took Vargas Llosa’s win as the chance to point out that this is the only case in which two Nobel laureates have come to blows:
It’s not too often that a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature has decked another soon-to-be Nobel laureate, leaving him bleeding and with a black-eye at a red carpet event. That’s exactly what happened three decades ago between Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, and Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, who won the Nobel in 1982.
It happened at a movie premiere in Mexico City in 1976, long before either author had added the word “laureate” to their CV. But though we know when it happened, no one -- other than the two literary heavyweights themselves, presumably -- know exactly why.
The two authors have never discussed the scuffle publicly, sparking endless speculation about the motives behind Vargas Llosa’s attack. By most accounts, however, it was not politics that ended their friendship, but matters of the heart involving a woman. That’s explanation that biographers of García Márquez find more plausible.

Whatever the cause, the incident ended the close friendship between two heavyweights of Latin American letters. The two are believed to have never exchanged a word since then.
Heidi Johnson-Wright interviewed Mario Vargas Llosa for January Magazine in 2002. That article is here.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Art & Culture: Building One Fire by Chadwick Contassel Smith and Rennard Strickland

Building One Fire (University of Oklahoma Press) is an astonishing and illuminating book. Bringing together the culture, art and philosophy of the Cherokee Nation in a single volume, Building One Fire celebrates the memory of the Cherokee people while creating a permanent record of their art, recollections and teachings.
Like Native people in the past, we are able to use such things as the turning of the seasons to understand ourselves. We can do this because the universe in all its splendor and complexity is reflected within our own beings.
While much of the art included in this beautifully produced book is contemporary, the 200 pieces of art by 80 artists speak to the meaning of being Cherokee today. For the rest of us it provides a rare and well curated glimpse into a world most of us have seen all too little of. ◊


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

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Giller Prize Shortlist Announced

The Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s richest literary award, announced the finalists for their 2010 prize this morning.

The finalists were selected by Canadian broadcaster and journalist Michael Enright, American writer and professor Claire Messud and award-winning author, the UK’s Ali Smith.

The shortlist was chosen from 98 books submitted for consideration by 38 publishing houses from every region of the country.

The winner of this year’s prize will be announced on November 9th at a black tie dinner and award ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.

The 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists are:

David Bergen, The Matter With Morris (Novel published by Phyllis Bruce Books/HarperCollins)
Alexander MacLeod, Light Lifting, (Short story collection published by Biblioasis)
Sarah Selecky, This Cake is for the Party, (Short story collection published by Thomas Allen Publishers
Johanna Skibsrud, The Sentimentalists, (Novel published by Gaspereau Press)
Kathleen Winter, Annabel, (Novel published by House of Anansi Press)

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New Today: Frankenstein’s Monster
by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

It seems unlikely that the timing of this seasonally appropriate novel is an accident. But even though Three Rivers Press is flogging Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe as “the perfect Halloween read” and even though the book is, in fact, a sequel to Mary Shelley’s classic and original Frankenstein, Heyboer O’Keefe’s novel is as much art as artifice: in many ways it’s a beautiful and stunningly original book.

Picking up where Shelley’s story left off, the monster is struggling with his humanity (just like in the movies, right: he was always struggling with humanity). The monster is also looking for Captain Robert Walton, who overheard Doctor Frankenstein’s last words and vows to fulfill the dead man’s wishes.

Told in the monster’s own humanly inhuman voice, it’s impossible at times not to feel both revulsion and sympathy.
There is so much death in me I would not be surprised if a ghost had come to lay claim to my heart. Whose heart was it? I had none of my own. A thousand ghosts might haunt me, each one rightfully seeking its hand, its eye.

Some unearthly darkness has crawled out of the night to haunt even my waking hours. I date not turn around to see.
Though author Heyboer O’Keefe is the author many books for children including Death by Eggplant and Hungry Monster ABC, Frankenstein’s Monster is her first novel for adults. As accomplished and ambitious as this novel is, however, I hazard it will not be her last. ◊

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

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Now in Paperback: Pink Brain Blue Brain by Lise Eliot

All new operators of tiny babies should be required to get their hands on a copy of Pink Brain Blue Brain by Dr. Lise Eliot, something that will be easier now that this spiffy paperback edition has been released by Mariner.

Eliot, is an associate professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and a mother of three. It’s hard to know which of these qualified her more to write Pink Brain Blue Brain and to make the observations she passes on to us here. One can only suspect that both the mother and the scientist was called on to witness here.
The reality, judging by current research, is that the brains of boys and girls are more similar than their well-described behavioral differences would indicated.
What’s this? No more Venus and Mars? Exactly.
Just as boys’ and girls’ bodies start out more androgynous than they end up in adulthood, their brains appear to be less sexually differentiated than adult men’s and women’s.
In a nutshell, Eliot tells us that the difference between the brains of boys and girls is less important and less pronounced than what we do with them: that the infant brain is a receptive little box that clamps onto the shapes we assign them.

I paraphrase and simplify greatly, but you get the idea. Most importantly: none of this is what Eliot expected to find in her research. The results will make you scratch your head and think. And, as I said as I began here, Pink Brain Blue Brain is an absolute must for those who have babies in their care.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Breaking News: Franzen’s Famous Specs Stolen

As I write this, the story is breaking on Twitter and none of the major media outlets have filed yet but the flurry of tweets by eyewitnesses would seem to confirm the news.

Apparently author Jonathan Franzen (Freedom, The Corrections), in Germany promoting his book at the Frankfurt Book Fair, had his glasses stolen, and a ransom note left in their place.

“Poor Jonathan Franzen,” @LondonReview tweeted. “A man just ran up to him, pulled the glasses off his face, and legged it out of the room... At his own party!” And later, “Franzen tried to give chase, but the man had disappeared.”

While @gnei11 tweeted, “Someone ran into the Franzen event, stole the glasses off his face and left behind a ransom note asking for $100,000.”

Why does drama always seem to follow this particular author around?

Editor’s Note: Here’s what happens when you pull the details from Twitter. The event wasn’t in Frankfurt, as previously reported, but in London. Publishers Weekly has now filed their story and, among other things, had this to say:
To ward off any accusations, noted Franzen-Frenzy-opponent Jennifer Weiner Tweeted, “I am in London, but had nothing to do with FranzenGlassesGate. I’m much more interested in swiping Galassi’s monocle (he has one, right?)” Watch out Galassi!
The PW piece (with super amusing artwork) is on their blog and it’s here.

Non-Fiction: Four Word Self Help by Patti Digh

The entire philosophy behind Four Word Self Help (Skirt) is summed up in a Lin Yutang quote at the beginning of the introduction: “The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” On the path to writing this book, author Patti Digh (Life Is A Verb, 37days) gave up cream and sugar, clothing with patterns and toxic people.
Sure... life is complex -- but will complex solutions help? No. Will looking outside ourselves for answers help? No. Will looking to gurus help? No. But looking inside will.

And if that sounds oversimplistic, well... it really kind of is yet that’s part of the book’s charm.

“Sit in the sunshine.”

“Create a safe space.”

“Always assume positive intent.”

“Speak up for someone.”

And so on, on almost any topic you can imagine. Digh’s four word self help sayings are broken up by faintly related essays -- well-crafted and thoughtfully placed -- and the book is illustrated by artwork sent to her by the readers of her blog, 37days. The resulting book is lightweight -- physically and spiritually -- but also faintly reassuring. So “fill up your tank” and “stop all your whining,” and live simply and intentionally with Digh’s considered help. ◊

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

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New in Paperback: The Midnight Guardian by Sarah Jane Stratford

New in paperback from Griffin Trade, last year at this time, January Magazine contributing editor Lincoln Cho liked The Midnight Guardian well enough at its debut, even while he wondered if the world really needed any new vampires:
A sort of alternate history, with vampires, The Midnight Guardian opens on Hitler’s Germany, right at the bloody center of the Second World War. By 1940, Hitler has managed to kill all the vampires in Europe and Britain’s vampires are outraged and incensed and determine to disrupt the Nazis from their course of destruction.

Stratford’s story is tight and she can certainly write but one just wonders if -- really? -- the world is ready for still more vampires after we’ve seen so very many. Still The Midnight Guardian is a worthwhile and in some ways thought-provoking book.
The paperback imagery is way racier than that which graced the hardcover. That classier cover can be seen along with Cho’s original review here.

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