Sunday, September 30, 2012

Children’s Books: The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger

Breaking the rule that says the first of a trilogy is the best, the third book the popular Origami Yoda series has come out, and I thought that this was the best one yet! This addition to the trio was full of hilarity and kept me hooked throughout the whole book, with interesting stories and fun concepts. Tom Angleberger has continued his streak of wonderful books with this great story.

The star of The Secret of the Fortune Wookie (Amulet) is ... well, a Fortune Wookie: a cootie catcher designed to look like the famous character Chewbacca from Star Wars. This time, our origami wielder is none other than Sara, the girlfriend of our main character, Tommy. She lets the students ask questions, which are answered with roars and are translated by the Fortune Wookie’s friend, Han Foldo. But, while the students have fun with the Fortune Wookie, the infamous Harvey is trying to prove that all this origami stuff is fake, and that he’s been right all along. Meanwhile, the star of the first books in the series, Dwight and Origami Yoda, are trapped at a fancy private school where everyone has picked up on making Star Wars origami, making Dwight miserable and no longer unique. Read Secret of the Fortune Wookie to see how everything is resolved. Is Harvey right? Is the Fortune Wookie real? Will Dwight escape from private school?

Tom Angleberger is the praised author of the first two Origami Yoda books, Horton Halfpott and Fake Mustache. He lives in Roanoke, Virginia, with his wife, CeCe Bell. He works for the newspaper, The Roanoke Times. ◊

Ian Buchsbaum is a kid who loves to read. In fact, the only thing he loves more than reading is writing. He loves writing about books -- and he’s already writing one of his own.

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In Barclay We Trust

Over at The Rap Sheet, Ali Karim spends some quality time with novelist Linwood Barclay, an interview that seems to have come about because Karim was simply so blown away by the author’s latest book, Trust Your Eyes (NAL). Writes Karim:
During the experience of reading this new novel, I found myself laughing, touched, puzzled, and horrified. Even as someone who can usually see well beyond technical misdirection in narratives, this book’s twists got me every time. There’s no deus ex machina deployed by Barclay. The clues are clearly visible and in plain sight; but as the book’s title suggests, you have to trust your eyes. That’s something I failed to do. Although this is not a puzzle book, per se -- because its characters are fully realized, breathing a compassionate dimension to every chapter -- it is still a work of labyrinthine plotting, containing all the defects and nuances of human nature.
The interview runs in two parts, here and here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Non-Fiction: Choose the Life You Want by Tal Ben-Shahar

I once had an idea for a novel where the plot hinged on a choice made in the first chapter. I might still write the thing one day, so I won’t divulge any more than that. But the notion of making choices every day -- every moment, really, of every day -- is something that’s intrigued me for years. Not only as a dramatic device, but as a device we use (even without thinking about it) to build one’s life. 

Tal Ben-Shahar, author of the new book Choose the Life You Want (The Experiment), would agree.

Choose the Life You Want strives to help us face the choices every day with confidence and courage. Subtitled “101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness,” each of this book’s brief chapters offers a quote, a touch of therapy, and a story that links the thoughts to real life.

The three work together to paint a picture about a particular fork in the road. Take Chapter 21. “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness” (Charles Spurgeon). Can you choose happiness? It turns out you can, yes. You can choose to be happy with what you have and what you can do, rather than worrying about what to acquire next. And Chapter 43. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” (Annie Dillard). Are we to choose what we want to do over what we need to do? What are the factors -- and responsibilities -- that can help us make such choices more wisely?

Other topics in this wonderful book are forgiveness, playfulness, being positive, recognizing wonder, being open to criticism, the power of thinking, joy, letting go, relationships, pursuing your passion, venturing beyond your comfort zone, smiling and spirituality. Rather than a bunch of mini-lectures that intimidate more than illuminate, Choose the Life You Want is the kind of book you can flip through at random, letting your fingers do the walking -- and the choosing, if you will. At every stop along the way, you’ll find wisdom and inspiration, two key ingredients in life’s everyday recipe. ◊

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview: Matt Bondurant

As the film version of his sophomore novel begins drawing rave reviews, Matt Bondurant sits down with January Magazine contributing editor MaryAnne Kolton to talk about his own view of his life and work:
Matt Bondurant is passionate about life, writing and open water. His third novel follows the hugely successful The Wettest County In the World, now a riveting film called Lawless. 
His new novel, The Night Swimmer, is a richly textured journey of a young couple, Fred and Elly. This powerful tale of melancholy, goats and the dark waves off the southern coast of Ireland, caught me up and held me in its net until the very last page.
You can read their engaging exchange here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bookstores That Started Out as Something Else

One of my favorite bookstores is located on the tiny island of Galiano, just off Canada’s westernmost coast. It’s a small store for a small place -- Galiano’s year round population tops out somewhere around 1100 -- but the store’s renown stretches far beyond the confines of the island.

Unofficial bookstore mascot, 
Meow Meow, shown here keeping 
his typical sharp eye on the operation. 
David Middleton photo.
Situated in a charming old house on what passes for Galiano’s main street, Galiano Island Books is owned by a brilliant, well-traveled and educated couple for whom owning a vibrant bookstore was a dream and is now a passion. The store is staffed by intelligent well read individuals who offer opinions on what they have read and liked as well as what they figure you might like, as well. The store is small, but stuffed to the rafters with well-chosen inventory: the former living room houses the main collection. What might once have been a dining room is home to books for kids and a solarium off the back offers a great spot for the readings the store offers often and with pride.

Is the fact that this exceptional store is housed in a non-traditional venue part of its successful formula? I couldn’t say for sure, but there’s something about walking into that homey, bookish space -- especially on a blustery winter day -- that is indescribably comforting and customers invariably talk about the experience... and come back.

This was all brought to my mind a few days ago when Flavorwire ran a piece on “10 Awesome Bookstores Repurposed from Unused Structures.” I love the premise and the way it gets one thinking:
Despite the media-fueled fear that they’ll all be abandoned buildings themselves someday soon, brick-and-mortar bookstores are also recycling spaces, cleaning out old factories, theaters and even boats, and filling them up with books. What could be better? 
Indeed! You can see Flavorwire’s 10 contenders here. Meanwhile, do you have a favorite bookstore in a repurposed or revitalized space? While we’re not sure that anything could ever compete with Hudson, New York’s The Spotty Dog Books & Ale (books and ale under one roof? Hooyah!) but our ears are open. If you have a favorite, let us know about it!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Not Exactly the Front Lines

Congratulations to David Abrams, a longtime contributing editor of January Magazine, whose first novel, Fobbit, is being released this week by Grove Press/Black Cat. Here’s the publisher’s description of its plot:
Fobbit \’fä-bit\, noun. Definition: A U.S. soldier stationed at a Forward Operating Base who avoids combat by remaining at the base, esp. during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011). Pejorative.

In the satirical tradition of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, Fobbit takes us into the chaotic world of Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Triumph. The Forward Operating base, or FOB, is like the back-office of the battlefield -- where people eat and sleep, and where a lot of soldiers have what looks suspiciously like an office job. Male and female soldiers are trying to find an empty Porta Potty in which to get acquainted, grunts are playing Xbox and watching NASCAR between missions, and a lot of the senior staff are more concerned about getting to the chow hall in time for the Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood special than worrying about little things like military strategy.

Darkly humorous and based on the author’s own experiences in Iraq,
Fobbit is a fantastic debut that shows us a behind-the-scenes portrait of the real Iraq war.
You can read more about Abrams’ work on Fobbit in his own blog, The Quivering Pen. His backlog of book reviews for January can be enjoyed here. Other of his stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander and The Greensboro Review.

READ MORE:Fiction: ‘Numb,’ by David Abrams” (Salon).

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Monday, September 03, 2012

All Hail the Hugos

Authors Jo Walton, Kij Johnson, Neil Gaiman and Ken Liu, along with the TV series Game of Thrones and Doctor Who, are among the recipients of the 2012 Hugo Awards, given out annually by the World Science Fiction Convention (aka “Worldcon”). Presentations were made yesterday during Chicon 7, held in Chicago.

Best Novel: Among Others, by Jo Walton (Tor)

Best Novella:The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, September/October 2011)

Best Novelette: “Six Months, Three Days,” by Charlie Jane Anders (

Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)

Best Related Work: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight (Gollancz)

Best Graphic Story: Digger, by Ursula Vernon (Sofawolf Press)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss; written by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R.R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten and Alan Taylor (HBO)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): “The Doctor’s Wife” (Doctor Who), written by Neil Gaiman; directed by Richard Clark (BBC Wales)

Best Editor (Short Form): Sheila Williams

Best Editor (Long Form): Betsy Wollheim

Best Professional Artist: John Picacio

Best Semiprozine: Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.

Best Fanzine: SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo

Best Fan Writer: Jim C. Hines

Best Fan Artist: Maurine Starkey

Best Fancast: SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente

The John W. Campbell Award for the best new professional science-fiction or fantasy writer of 2010 or 2011, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award): E. Lily Yu

A full rundown of this year’s Hugo finalists can be found here.