Friday, October 17, 2014

Crime Fiction: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg

(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 Frank Wheeler Jr.’s new novel, The Good Life.)

Longtime mafia hit man Sal Cupertine knows that once somebody “dictates the terms of your survival … you’re a dead man.” By that measure it would seem that Sal, the protagonist in Tod’s Goldberg’s wise and witty new novel, Gangsterland (Counterpoint), is as dead as them come.

After being set up by his mob-boss cousin to make a drug deal with three federal agents -- “Donnie Brascos,” as he calls them -- Sal murders those agents to avoid being captured, and is thereafter (for his own good) swept out of Chicago and sent to Las Vegas, the city that keeps “meth hours” and where a newspaper column reports on gangsters like “they’re members of a boy band.” Sal’s given a new face and a stack of texts on Judaism, and is told by his handlers (owners, really -- it seems cousin Ronnie sold him to the crooked Rabbi Kales and his even more crooked son-in-law, strip-club owner Bennie Savone) that if he wants to live he is now going to be “Rabbi David Cohen.” Resilient, and with a wife and son back in Chicago to whom he plans one day to return, Cupertine/Cohen gets the message. In the meantime, the FBI is calling him dead a bit too hastily, and a renegade ex-fed, whose poor planning was somewhat responsible for the massacre of those three other agents, sets about to “clear his name.” Cohen sits tight and tries to figure the angles as a new member of the “Kosher Nostra.”

Rabbi Kales attempts to inculcate Cohen into his faith in order to make this whole arrangement work. And at some levels Cohen connects, seeing his choice of obedience to a crime family that considers him an expendable commodity, always looking over his shoulder for a gun barrel, as farcical when compared to the existential plight of the Jews -- “pursued for being born,” as Kales tells Cohen. In the criminal world Cohen left behind, human relations is a “Ponzi scheme.” No one is trusted and all are eventually betrayed, killed by anyone who thinks they might be a threat or a potential witness.

Kales knows Cohen is a horrible man who’s made “terrible choices.” But Cohen is a jaded observer of human nature, and he knows that for Kales to have been given his own congregation by his criminal son-in-law, he had to make some pretty egregious choices himself; the means will always justify the ends, especially where criminals are involved. “If you did a little bad for a greater good and the only people who got hurt were people who decided to get involved with a bunch of gangsters, wasn’t that a net positive?” Cohen ponders. Of course it was. And some of the choices Kales has made allow Cupertine/Cohen to return to the game of being a criminal and making money, which is what he does best other than killing people. Much to Cohen’s surprise, Kales’ family-run funeral home also happens to be a crematorium for mafia murder victims and an illegal organ-harvesting operation. A professional killer could make himself of use there.

Bennie Savone gets the new Rabbi Cohen as “Jew’d up as possible” before presenting him to the congregation. For a stone-cold killer, Cohen doesn’t do a bad job at his unexpected new job, even when he’s counseling Bennie’s wife, who knows her husband is an outright crook and is ready to leave him. Cohen begins at times, in offhand ways, to see the world as a series of Talmudic parables, and his new learning “fill[s] his brain with whole new pathways of thought,” whether he likes it or not. Cohen hasn’t gone soft, just perhaps a bit more introspective; but as a hardened realist, he still views his new perspective as a bit “ludicrous.”

In Goldberg’s story, wisdom is tempered with humor and irony, as when Cohen makes up for his lack of book-learning and quotable, comforting tidbits from holy texts by drawing on popular-culture sources, finding “that if he paraphrased Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen it generally had the same effect.”

In Las Vegas it’s not difficult to see that many crimes are not immune from the ameliorating vicissitudes of time. “You didn’t need a gun to rob someone anymore, you just needed a spreadsheet,” says Cohen. Las Vegas to him is now a theme park, he thinks -- Gangsterland, where tourists put on gold chains and black silk shirts and ape Tony Soprano. Cohen isn’t going legit -- just maybe a bit more legit. And with cousin Ronnie in touch, and hopes of getting Bennie and Kales out of the way fast, he begins to plot the rest of his life. ◊

READ MORE:The Best Place to Hide a Body? Just Ask Writer Tod Goldberg,” by Michael Shaub (Los Angeles Times).

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

New This Week: I’m the Man: The Story of that Guy From Anthrax by Scott Ian

Scott Ian must be one of the hardest working guys in metal. The rhythm guitarist cofounded the iconic metal outfit Anthrax with some high school buddies in 1982. That formation would lead to the beginning of the thrash metal movement along with Megadeath, Slayer and Metallica.

It was Ian who got the idea to get together with rap supergroup Public Enemy back in 1991 to record and then tour. He was also one of the founders of Stormtroopers of Death which fused hardcore punk with thrash metal for the birth of crossover thrash. In 2001, Ian became host of Rock Show for VH1. He hosted 48 episodes, interviewing many iconic guests including The Cult, Tenacious D, Ozzy Osbourne and others.

There’s more. Quite a lot of it. Ian is accomplished and passionate and seemingly always up for a challenge. What you might not know is he’s also tremendously funny, with a bright take on life that not only seems unexpected in a heavy metal icon, but that shines through every page of I’m the Man (Da Capo) Ian’s newly released biography. As he writes early on in I’m the Man:
I didn’t get into music for pussy. I got into it for music. Sure, there were girls along the way, but not like there were for those '80s hair bands. For the longest time, thrash metal was a dude scene; if there were any chicks at the show, they were usually dragged along by their boyfriends. Basically, I’m a guy who made a name for himself by working my ass off.
It sets the tone. Anthrax fans will enjoy Ian’s candid insights and surprisingly charming take on his full metal life.

Now 50, the metal legend is married to Pearl Aday, daughter of Meat Loaf and an accomplished musician in her own right. (Ian supported her on guitar on her album, The couple have one child, a son Revel Young Ian, born in 2001. ◊

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This Just In… Echoes of Light: Book One of the Luminous Legend by Jeffrey Pawlak

When a malevolent force descends upon the kingdom of Tordale, young Alamor is called to seek out the most sacred source of magic ever known -- the Radiant Gems. To acquire them, he needs to tap into the dormant magic within his spirit. It is an endeavor that he has failed at once before, and that failure has haunted him ever since.

If Tordale is to know peace again, Alamor must overcome all of the doubts and fears that have cast his life into turmoil. He will journey to all corners of the realm -- Sleekleaf Forest, the Arid Reaches, the Tower Mountains -- while meeting creatures who wish to help his cause, and monsters who will try to end it. Along the way, he may discover that there is an even greater power than magic in the world.

You can order Echoes of Light here. Visit author Jeffrey Pawlak 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.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cookbooks: 250 Best Meals in a Mug by Camilla V. Saulsbury

The fact that this book is even called for is a sign of the times. Single family households who barely have time to eat, let alone shop and cook, want solutions to keep their bodies going. After all, knowing all of your take out numbers by heart can only get you so far. Enter 250 Best Meals in a Mug (Robert Rose).

To be clear, for the most part, these recipes are real and whole foods. As the author points out, “Most of these meals can be created from scratch in less time than it takes defrost a processed store-bought meal.”

So what can you make in a mug? As it turns out, pretty much everything from Manhattan Clam Chowder to Moroccan Date and Chickpea Tagine, Quiche, Chile Rellenos, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Paella, Risotto, Tabbouleh, Shrimp and Grits and even the delectable Mexican beef stew, Caldillo.

The emphasis here is on individual portions that will get you right through your day, from breakfast to dinner.

Another tightly written volume from Saulsbury, who is the author of several others from Robert Rose. ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine.

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This Just In… Here I Stand by Jillian Bullock

The extraordinary true story of Jillian Bullock, a young, African-American woman who grew up during the 1960s and 70s with her mother, Janet, and her white stepfather, Jake, a member of the Philadelphia Italian Mafia and film enthusiast.

After his death, and when her mother kicks her out, Jillian becomes homeless at age 15. In order to survive the streets, she resorts to drugs, criminal activity and prostitution. However when she gets pregnant at 16, Jillian knows she must work to transform her life, not only for the sake of her unborn child, but to fulfill Jake’s dying wish for her to become a filmmaker and a screenwriter.

Jillian fights to get off the streets, kick drugs and complete high school. She defies the odds by getting an internship at the Wall Street Journal while she studies communications and film in college, and raises her young son. Jillian continues to work to fulfill her stepfather’s dream and dying wish for her to become a screenwriter and filmmaker.

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.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Cover Designers Challenged

Book cover designers might want to mount up in order to participate in Edinburgh-based Floris Books’ second annual contest to discover “talented new cover designers and illustrators.”
The Prize challenges amateur designers and illustrators across Scotland to design the cover for a new edition of the classic Scottish children’s novel The Hill of the Red Fox by Allan Campbell McLean. The book will be published by Floris Books -- complete with a cover designed by the winning artist -- in autumn 2015 as part of their Kelpies range of Scottish children’s novels. 
The winner of the Kelpies Design & Illustration Prize will receive £250, and will work with Floris Books to produce the book's final cover, which will have worldwide exposure.
First published in 1955, The Hill of the Red Fox is a classic Cold War spy novel set on the Isle of Skye. Floris are looking for an action-packed winning design that will bring the book's sense of intrigue and mystery to life for a new generation of readers.
You can read more here.

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This Just In… Saints in the Shadows by Alana Cash

Maud Strand has an idyllic life with her parents in New Orleans, surrounded by family and friends. From childhood, she has had prophetic dreams which benefit Adele, the family housekeeper, who does a little gambling. Maud attends Catholic schools and explores the occult as a teenager.

In college she’s traumatized by the sudden death of her father in a car accident. She and her mother both wallow in grief for a year, but Maud begins to feel alienated from her mother, Celia, especially when she starts dating a tourist from Montana. When Celia begins talking about remarriage, Maud moves to New York.

Maud has a secret, something she can’t remember, and this secret is running her life. And, she’s angry because on the day her father died, she believes someone stole his trumpet from the front seat of his car.

In New York, Maud meets Lina Sandor who makes her living as a psychic under the name Madame Budska. But Madame Budska is no ordinary psychic because her New York clients are a billionaire hedge fund manager, a political kingmaker, a studio head, a TV talk show host, and a crazy college professor.

After a few months, Lina asks Maud to take over the psychic business while Lina goes away for a couple of weeks for what she calls “the big reveal.” Very reluctant at first, Maud finally agrees and begins training for the job. Madame Budska teaches Maud to “listen until you hear” and “look until you see.” And as Maud does that, she has powerful dreams that give her deep insight into the behavior of the influential people she is meeting.

What Maud wants is to be able to dream about the dead so that she can talk to her dad. It’s this desire that leads Maud through a dark tunnel from which she must learn to escape on her own.

You can order Saints in the Shadows 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.

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Former Trump Exec Denies Drugging Competitor

The trouble with writing a book about lies and liars is that it may be tough to verify your source material. You can see this perfectly clearly in Vanity Fair contributor Vicky Ward’s The Liar's Ball: The Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World's Toughest Tycoons (Wiley), which will be out August 20.

Former trump exec, Abe Wallach, denies ever drugging a rival to help make a real estate deal happen. From The Real Deal:
In the book, which is about the sale of the GM building, Ward recounted a story in which Wallach allegedly drugged a rival during a long-haul flight to Asia. 
“I swear on the grave of my parents, that story is not true,” Wallach told The Real Deal.  
Instead, he explained, Ward took the story from Wallach’s written memoirs. The memoirs, he said, contained embellished and, in some cases, fabricated stories that he inserted in order to entice a publisher to someday buy his manuscript. “The key thing most publishers told me was, ‘You need to jazz up the book,’” he recalled. “So I started looking at what I could do to jazz it up.”  
Wallach said he showed Ward his draft to help her piece together some of the facts for “Liar’s Ball.” He claims that she quoted portions of his book, but presented his stories as truthful, which some are not. And, he said, she got the story about the sleeping pills from a chapter on the Plaza Hotel, not the GM building. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

This Just In… Thirteen Days in Milan by Jack Erickson

Sylvia de Matteo, an American commercial photographer and single mother, is taken hostage by terrorists during a political assassination at Stazione Centrale, Milan’s main train station.

Moments later, a Paris-bound train with Sylvia's ten-year old daughter and fiance aboard departs the station without Sylvia.

Sylvia is seized at gunpoint, thrown into the back of a van, blindfolded, beaten, and driven to a warehouse where she is imprisoned in a cell.

When the terrorists discover Sylvia's father is a wealthy Wall Street investment banker, they demand a ransom for her safe release.

You can order Thirteen Days in Milan here. Visit author Jack Erickson 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.

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Biography: John Marshall: The Chief Justice who Saved the Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

One gets the feeling that Harlow Giles Unger gets material for new book topics while researching still other books. What else could explain this prolificacy? Unger has delivered truly stellar biographies year after year on such diverse characters as John Quincy Adams and George Washington, to name just two.

While Unger is not the only biographer dealing with material steeped in American history these days, he is certainly in the very top tier of those who do. Not only that, despite a publishing schedule that has seen Unger produce more than 20 books, his work remains highly readable and even interesting. As anyone who has read historical non-fiction will tell you, that’s a tall order. Even for someone not publishing as frequently as this author does.

In John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved a Nation (Da Capo), Unger puts his laser sights on the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, John Marshall, who served in that position from 1801 to 1835. As Unger’s subtitle suggests, some of Marshall’s decisions were pivotal… though mostly unpopular and he remains the longest serving Chief Justice in American history.

Unger looks at the whole of Marshall’s life and concludes that some of the decisions he made on the bench would have far-reaching effects. Some of them impacting us even today. Beyond his work on the bench, Marshall made other contributions to society.  He was an officer in the Revolutionary War and distinguished himself mightily. He was a member of Virginia's constitutional convention, a lawyer, a congressman, diplomat and was for a tim U.S. Secretary of State.

Unger’s book is a fair, lucid and highly readable look at the life of a quietly remarkable man. ◊


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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Thursday, October 09, 2014

This Just In… Waking Reality by Donna LeClair

In 1963, the State of Ohio v. Bill Bush murder trial turns the lives of an ingenuous family into nightmarish chaos after a police sergeant viciously murders three members. Waking Reality divulges the astonishing way authorities force protective custody, the distressing repercussions, and startling revelations. It is a story of life at its best and worst.

Spanning 50 years, the author splices suspense and fairy tales into a spinetingling memoir that is equal-parts family saga, psychotherapy and jigsaw puzzle. Waking Reality stumbles down the dark alleys of America and into the invisible lives of the homeless while rummaging through the lonely streets of rejection and into the raw trap of abuse and addiction. Constantly transforming, it travels inside a living breed called family and the ties that bind them.

You can order Waking Reality here. Visit author Donna LeClair 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.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

New Crime Fiction Festival Will Launch in Vancouver

In Canadian book-publishing circles, Alma Lee’s name is synonymous with successful book-related events. This is because back in 1988, Lee was one of the first out of the box with what has become an international phenomena: the literary festival.

Lee stepped down as creative director of the internationally renowned Vancouver International Writers Festival in 2005, in part for health reasons. Since then, she’s had a liver transplant followed by a successful recovery. Where some might take the opportunity to grab a deep breath, Lee has launched herself at yet another project that shows every sign of being world class and internationally recognized: CUFFED, the Vancouver International Crime Fiction Festival. The first CUFFED will take place March 11-13, 2016, on Lee’s old stomping grounds, Vancouver’s Granville Island. “I know it seems far away,” Lee says about the dates, “but believe me from starting something like this from scratch, I know how long it takes.”

And Lee and company aren’t messing around: starting from the beginning with  a stellar venue, strong support from the publishing community and writers including Linwood Barclay, Ian Rankin, Quintin Jardine and others.

Though some will feel the shift from running a literary festival to one focused on crime fiction is an intense about-face, Lee doesn’t think so. “The more I talk to people and friends about reading, the more I found out that people are really keen on crime fiction, so I don’t think we will have difficulty in finding an audience.”

Beyond building a potential audience, Lee herself loves the genre and has always been a strong supporter. “Many people think [crime fiction is] a “guilty pleasure.” Not me. I am an eclectic reader, but crime fiction is a pleasure, not one I feel guilty about. I think some of the best writers are writing in the genre.”

You can read more about CUFFED on its Web site. Feel like supporting the festival’s growth? A crowd-funding campaign has been set up here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Stars of the Party

Earlier this year, Kirkus Reviews announced the creation of the Kirkus Prize, “one of the richest annual literary awards in the world.” Flavorwire explains that “in order for a work to be eligible, it needed to receive a Kirkus star (denoting quality) and to be published between November 2013 [and] November 2014. The judges ended up sifting through quite a few books: 266 fiction; 225 nonfiction, 446 children/teens; and 70 self-published Kirkus Star titles. The winners will be announced at a special ceremony in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, October 23, 2014.” Below are the finalists.

Fiction:
The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (Simon & Schuster)
Euphoria, by Lily King (Atlantic Monthly Press)
All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu (Knopf)
Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton (Houghton Mifflin)
The Remedy for Love, by Bill Roorbach (Algonquin Books)
The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters (Riverhead)

Nonfiction:
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)
Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, by Leo Damrosch (Yale University Press)
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert (Holt)
The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science, by Armand Marie Leroi (Viking)
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty (Harvard University Press)
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau)

Young Readers’ Literature:

Picture Books:
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)
Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual, by Kate Samworth (Clarion)

Middle Grade:
El Deafo, by Cece Bell (Amulet/Abrams)
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza, by Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Young Adult:
The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, by E.K. Johnston (Carolrhoda Lab)
The Freedom Summer Murders, by Don Mitchell (Scholastic)

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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?” ◊

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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).

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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.)

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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. ◊

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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?

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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. ◊

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com.

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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.

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