Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SF/F: Lovecraft’s Monsters edited by Ellen Datlow

I can’t imagine that there is a serious reader of SF/F and horror fiction in the English language that does not know Ellen Datlow’s name.

Not only is Datlow a sharp and observant writer, for 30 years she has been one of the ranking editors in the genre. She was the fiction editor at OMNI and is the editor of over 50 anthologies, many of which have been featured somewhere in January Magazine over the years. (Often under my byline. And I’ll admit it: I’m a fan.) So needless to say, when a book with Datlow’s name on the cover enters my world, I sit up and pay attention.

In this case, though, there was more than one reason to take notice. In Lovevcraft’s Monsters (Tachyon), Datlow brings together some of the top SF/F and horror writers working today and has them play in Lovecraft’s bizarre world. And that’s a delight. To see the likes of Neil Gaiman, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Bear and many others writing what is, in one way, very much like Lovecraftian fanfic is very little short of wonderful.

Nor is this Datlow’s first foray in this sub-sub genre. In 2009 she edited Lovecraft Unbound, a book that contained “mostly new stories inspired by Lovecraft.” In Lovecraft’s Monsters, Datlow says she feels she has pushed “thematic boundaries to the breaking point,” with stories from some authors not known for the type included in the anthology.

The stories are weirdly wonderful. But so, also, is the artwork: spectacularly rendered original illustrations appear throughout John Coulthart.

If you loved Cthulhu, Shoggoths, the Deep Ones and the other monsters that haunted Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s sad and creepy vision, you’ll gobble up Lovecraft’s Monsters.

Labels: , ,

This Just In… Sports Day by David John

Kevin Norris is a psychopathic killer, but a killer with a difference. He kills losers. Not just ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill losers, he’s quite specific about that. All his victims are Sports losers. Whatever their chosen game, if they play and lose; he kills them, pure and simple.

But Kevin is also particular about how they die. It must be slow. Painful. Appropriate. Whatever they play is how they die. Age and sex play no part in his choices either. They lose: They die. End of story.

An Essex police detective honed on tough streets of Sheffield and London is assigned to the case. But with a total lack of forensic evidence the only clue seems to be a calling card left at each murder with a strange epithet typed on it. Could this be a hint to the killers identity or is it a red herring?

As the body count rises and the murders become more sadistic it’s a race against time to stop the killer before he is replaced. But just as that seems likely, events take an ominous twist leaving him facing his own personal dilemma; one with deadly consequences if he fails proving that, in life as in sport, winning really is everything.

You can order Sports Day here or in the UK order here. ◊

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


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

OED to Go Out of Print?

It looks like tough days ahead for the Oxford English Dictionary, for decades the final word on words. Though in all fairness, it’s never been an easy haul.

The first edition, published in 1858, took 70 years to complete. The current edition, volume three, is currently 20 years behind schedule, though maybe it doesn’t matter. New OED editor, Michael Profitt, says it’s possible that edition will never appear in print. From The Telegraph:
It is the world’s most definitive work on the most global language, but the Oxford English Dictionary may be disappearing from bookshelves forever. 
Publishers fear the next edition will never appear in print form because its vast size means only an online version will be feasible, and affordable, for scholars.
It’s all academic for now anyway, they say, because the third edition of the famous dictionary, estimated to fill 40 volumes, is running at least 20 years behind schedule. 
Michael Proffitt, the OED’s first new chief editor for 20 years, said the mammoth masterpiece is facing delays because “information overload” from the internet is slowing his compilers. 
His team of 70 philologists, including lexicographers, etymologists and pronunciation experts, has been working on the latest version, known as OED3, for the past 20 years.

This Just In… A Peasant’s Guide to Canada by Lyn Marsh

Lyn Marsh’s grandparents emigrated to Canada after the trauma of the Finnish Civil War. They brought with them resources and skills essential for survival in an evolving and sometimes hostile environment.

The reinvention of one woman’s life on a farm in Ontario since the 1960s is inspiring -- a revelation of landscape, family, career and evolutionary psychology. Woven with Canadian literary history, stories of danger and grace, hardship and plenty, education and tragic loss, as well as the laughter and love of children and horses, A Peasant’s Guide to Canada is a unique celebration of what is possible to recover when all that once was is lost.

You can order A Peasant’s Guide to Canada  here. ◊

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


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Doctorow Wins Library of Congress Prize

E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, World’s Fair) has been awarded the 2014 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Previous winners have included Isabel Allende, Philip Roth and Toni Morrison. According to the New York Times Artsbeat blog:

[Doctorow] said the prize was particularly important to him because the nominees are chosen by past winners and other esteemed authors and critics. “To have the regard of one’s peers is immensely moving,” he said.

Doctorow will receive the award in a ceremony at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington on August 30th.

Doctorow’s newest book, Andrew’s Brain (Random House) was published in January. The London Sunday Times got hyperbolic about the book, calling it “A tantalising tour de force … it fizzes with intellectual energy, verbal pyrotechnics and satiric flair.”


This Just In… Kurt, Gert, Jazmine, And Bagel by Irene Dolnick

Brrr! Jazmine is feeling cold, hungry, and lonely -- and when she passes a picture window and sees her two friends, Kurt and Gert, in the warm, cozy house, she also feels a bit jealous! But this little dog will soon meet a handsome black and brown beagle named Bagel, who knows what it’s like to be alone. 

Join Jazmine and Bagel as they form new friendships and embark on new adventures together! It’s a story that will delight children of all ages and remind us of the importance of friends.

You can order Kurt, Gert, Jazmine, And Bagel here. ◊

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


Friday, April 18, 2014

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez Dies at 87

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, one of the giant’s of contemporary literature, passed away yesterday at home in Mexico City. He was 87. The author had been struggling with lymphatic cancer since 1999.

Gabo, as he was widely and affectionately known, was strongly identified with magical realism. His best known novels were One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) but he was prolific in various forms though when he won the Nobel Prize in 1982 it was “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts.” From a lengthy piece in The Guardian:
The Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, who unleashed the worldwide boom in Spanish language literature and magical realism with his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, died at the age of 87. He had been admitted to hospital in Mexico City on 3 April with pneumonia.
Matching commercial success with critical acclaim, García Márquez became a standard-bearer for Latin American letters, establishing a route for negotiations between guerillas and the Colombian government, building a friendship with Fidel Castro and maintaining a feud with fellow literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa that lasted more than 30 years.
Barack Obama said the world had lost "one of its greatest visionary writers", adding that he cherished an inscribed copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude, presented to him by the author on a visit to Mexico. "I offer my thoughts to his family and friends, whom I hope take solace in the fact that Gabo's work will live on for generations to come."
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said yesterday via Twitter: "A thousand years of solitude and sadness at the death of the greatest Colombian of all time. Solidarity and condolences to his wife and family ... Such giants never die."
We wrote about the author’s path to literary greatness on his birthday last year. You can see that piece here.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gone Girl Trailer Offers Clues

It seemed as though mere moments after the release of the upcoming film based on Gillian Flynn’s wonderful 2012 novel, Gone Girl, analysts were -- well -- analyzing. For instance, the Hollywood Reporter suggests that viewing the footage of the trailer offers up eight big plot clues:
Directed by David Fincher, Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. At first Nick seems like a forlorn husband, his strange behavior soon makes him a suspect. The trailer for the New Regency/20th Century Fox feature shows the increased pressure he feels as the police and media begin to turn on him as they search for "Amazing Amy."
See all of the clues THR spotted here. We previously wrote about the project here.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Author, Naturalist Peter Matthiessen Dies at 86

A three-time winner of the National Book Award and co-founder of The Paris Review, novelist Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday. He was 86. 

A noted naturalist, Matthiessen is most strongly identified by his lyrical non-fiction on environmental topics, though his fiction and non-fiction sometimes overlapped. From The New York Times:
He holds the distinction of being the only writer to win the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction. And his fiction and nonfiction often arose from the same experience.
His fourth novel, “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” (1965), grew out of his reporting for “The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness” (1961). The novel, set in the Peruvian wilds, depicts the interaction between missionaries and tribesmen — at one point Mr. Matthiessen, an early user of LSD, has his protagonist drink a native hallucinogenic brew — and Western civilization’s damaging impact on primitive peoples. A film adaptation directed by Hector Babenco was released in 1991.
Mr. Matthiessen’s fifth novel, “Far Tortuga” (1975), was inspired by a New Yorker assignment in which he reported on the vanishing Caribbean tradition of turtle hunting. Highly experimental — it drew on recordings of sometimes cryptic Caribbean dialogue — the novel drew mixed reviews.
He delved into another isolated world for his late-career “Watson” trilogy — “Killing Mister Watson” (1990), “Lost Man’s River” (1997) and “Bone by Bone” (1999) — parts of which he compressed into one long opus, “Shadow Country” (2008). It won a National Book Award, though many critics thought a reworked version of previously published fiction did not deserve the honor.
Matthiessen co-founded The Paris Review in 1953, and he went on record as saying that he used the literary journal as a shield to cover his covert activities after being recruited by the CIA:
“I used The Paris Review as a cover, there’s no question of that,” he told The New York Times in 2008 after his C.I.A. connection had been discussed in “Doc,” a documentary film about Mr. Humes by his daughter Immy Humes. “But the C.I.A. had nothing to do with Paris Review.”That assertion was challenged in 2012 by an article in the online magazine Salon; drawing on The Review’s own archives, it suggested that there were C.I.A. ties that had bypassed Mr. Matthiessen or had outlived his two-year relationship with the agency.
“I was getting information on people,” Mr. Matthiessen told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2008. “I was a greenhorn.” He described the episode as “youthful folly.”
Matthiessen was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. He died in hospital near his home in Sagaponack, New York. His final novel, In Paradise (Riverhead), will be published today. Again The Times:
His last novel, “In Paradise,” tells the story of a group that comes together for a meditative retreat at the site of a former Nazi death camp. Such retreats were familiar to him. He regularly welcomed Zen students to a zendo, a place of meditation, on his grounds.
“Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2002. “We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past. Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.”


This Just In… Toxic Distortions by Teddy Goldstein

Winner of the 2012 USA Best Book Award in the Historical Fiction e-book category.  

1965. London. Dr. Michael Turner receives a lawyer’s letter. Misty photographs -- a three-year-old boy with long blond hair; a teenage girl full of hope; a woman in her 20s, faded dress, slim frame, hollow cheeks, haunted eyes.

Michael is drawn inexorably into his past. To the stench of potato-sacks, the perfume of almonds and cinnamon, the kiss of a fairy princess, the barking of dogs, the screech of trains, a woman tearing at his shirt, her wail of loss. Paris.

Delphine looks at her lost child and finally understands her courageous act of madness. Frankfurt. Franz watches television. Thick smoke rising from a brick chimney. No, not Auschwitz. A cremation. His cremation. Geneva. Vittorio entwines two silken puppets in a splaying of legs, a lifting of buttocks and weeps for his unfaithful wife. Hampstead. A journal spews thick torpid pitch as it hisses in the flames. The hissing turns to popping. The popping to crackling. The crackling to wailing. Ghosts are set free.

WARNING: This novel contains sexually explicit material

You can order Toxic Distortions here. Visit author Teddy Goldstein 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.


Monday, April 07, 2014

Death Is Not the End

(Editor’s note: Following the release last month of Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, a novel starring Raymond Chandler’s most famous private investigator, Philip Marlowe, Kevin Burton Smith -- a sometime contributor to January and The Rap Sheet, and the editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site -- sat down to make a close examination of that novel, looking to see how it compared with vintage Chandler. His thoughts appear in the essay below, which appeared originally on his own site.)

And the latest dead author spinning in his grave? Raymond Chandler. In the last few years, we've been subjected to an orgy of literary reincarnation, as beloved detective characters created by equally beloved authors who are long dead, recently dead or nearly dead, are exhumed and once again forced to go through their paces.

Spenser, Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, Sid Halley, Sam Spade and Jesse Stone have all been resurrected lately (or will be shortly) with varying degrees of success. In a few instances, the results have been honorable and respectful -- sincere and heartfelt tributes and debts repaid by current authors to their own personal literary heroes.

But most cases seem to be more about, or even exclusively about, the bottom line: grab a hired pen, squeeze out a book with the deceased author’s name and their character in extra-large type featured prominently on the cover, slip in a more discreet byline for the actual writer, and turn a quick buck while the franchise still has name value. It’s a formula the always commercially savvy (and still living) James Patterson has milked well in the last decade or so; when/if he eventually kicks the bucket, his literary output won’t significantly suffer.

Nor is the phenomenon limited to private detective fiction, or even crime fiction. Science fiction and fantasy series have gone on long after the original creators have shuffled off this mortal coil (read #447 in the Dune trilogy yet?), and lately we’ve seen P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertie put through their paces again by Sebastian Faulks (who also resurrected Ian Fleming’s James Bond a few years ago). Hell, even the Bible has been brought back new and improved, this time presumptuously sporting the byline of a couple of holier-than-thou TV producers.

In an era when attention spans are measured in 140 characters (or fewer), it seems that name recognition -- and the bottom line -- may be all that matters. The actual writing? What are you, a commie?

Plus, someone’s widow may need new kitchen curtains.

* * *

The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black, which digs up Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe, at least eschews the typographical sleight of hand -- Chandler’s name appears nowhere on the front cover.

But it’s not hard to predict how Chandler would feel about this latest desecration. The Anglophile with the literary ambitions might be momentarily pleased that Booker Prize-winner John Banville had tackled Philip Marlowe (Chandler had almost as high an opinion of himself as we did), but the eternally grumpy and fault-finding author -- once he realized he himself wasn't even mentioned on the cover -- would no doubt still have found the effort wanting, as indeed he felt about most things in life. And I tend to agree with Ray.

Twenty-five or so years ago, to mark what would have been the 100th anniversary of Chandler’s birth in 1888, there were a couple of major projects released: Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration, a collection of original short-stories featuring Marlowe produced by some of the most-celebrated P.I. writers (and unabashed Chandler fans) of the time; and, more controversially, the novel-length completion of Chandler’s Poodle Springs, by Robert B. Parker, the creator of Spenser, who attempted to do what even Chandler had given up on: marrying off Marlowe. It was probably a lose/lose situation. Even had Chandler himself completed it, fans would have screamed bloody murder, but I always felt Parker did pretty well with the cards he’d been dealt. And at the time, who would have been better suited than Parker to write about a private eye in a long-term romantic relationship? Plus there’s no doubt that Parker, like the authors featured in the short-story collection, were the true literary descendants of Chandler. Affection and a sense of respect permeated both projects, and while nobody aspired to ape Chandler outright, the influence was obvious.

And because everyone’s heart seemed in the right place, those books felt “special.”

All of which brings us to The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black (the name Banville uses for what he calls -- with a wink -- his “cheap fiction”), which doesn’t feel particularly “special.”

Oh, it’s not the quickie rip-off it might have been, but neither does it seem like much of a literary valentine. Nothing in Black’s acclaimed series of six books about Irish pathologist Quirke recalls Chandler, except perhaps for a sense of brooding loneliness and the 1950s setting. But is that enough?

For those looking for a “Chandleresque” period-piece pastiche -- or just a good old ’50s-era detective yarn of the kind that “they just don’t write anymore” -- this may suffice. Most of the tropes one would expect to see in such a tale are here: sleazy rich people, femmes fatales, sexual treachery, colorful thugs and a tarnished knight going down those mean streets looking for a dragon or two to slay.

But after 60 years or so, should there be more? Chandler contemporaries such as Howard Browne, Dolores Hitchens and Leigh Brackett, and even Ariel S. Winter, in his wonderful The Twenty-Year Death from a few years ago, have already pretty much claimed that turf, creating their own Marlowe-like characters but putting their own spin on him, imitation perhaps being a more sincere form of flattery than impersonation.

Black, though, isn’t offering us a Marlowe-like character. He’s serving up Marlowe himself, one of the most analyzed, studied and debated characters of the genre; the Hamlet of detective fiction, created by one of the most instantly recognizable stylists crime fiction has ever produced.

And the results are, well, mixed. At times The Black-Eyed Blonde is crippled by an almost slavish attempt at impersonation, injecting far more Chandleresque wisecracks and similes into the mix than the surgeon general would recommend, and Black’s insistence on weaving in as many shout-outs as possible to Chandler’s other Marlowe novels (particularly 1953’s The Long Goodbye), something Chandler rarely did, grates more than gratifies. We hear all about Bernie Ohls and Linda Loring and Terry Lennox far more often than we really need.

We get it, we get it. We’re supposed to think we’re reading Chandler.

But we’re not.

* * *

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the story.

Black’s a better plotter than Chandler was, but nobody really read Chandler for the plots, anyway. Or at least the plots alone. And the plot of The Black-Eyed Blonde, while engaging, seems both too familiar and, worse, too obvious. The Irish author drops clues all about the place, as though he were being paid by the pound.

And while Black works hard at nailing the voice, he plays a little loose with Marlowe as a man. Although he loosened up a bit in later novels, Marlowe was still something of an old-fashioned guy when it came to ideas about romance and sex. As Chandler once famously stated about his ideal of the detective hero, he might “seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin.”

I’m pretty sure that Marlowe would not have his head turned so easily (or quickly) by his rich and seductive (and married) new client, Clare Cavendish, the young black-eyed blonde of this new book’s title. Especially when it becomes clear that he’s still carrying a torch for the lovely and willing Linda Loring, who desperately wants to marry him. And particularly when he discovers that Linda and Clare are close friends. How is that going to work out? Marlowe as a perpetually horny schoolboy unable to control his own libido -- read it here first.

After almost two decades in the shamus game at the time this book takes place, wouldn’t Marlowe have smelled something fishy? Certainly fans who’ve been reading this sort of book for 60 years or more certainly would.

Almost from the start, when she waltzes into Marlowe’s office, asking him to find Nico Peterson, the man she claims she had an affair with, we know Clare’s going to be trouble.

The plot tumbles along, and we get to meet some interesting characters: eccentric rich people, colorful thugs, hard-bitten cops and sinister men and women with too many secrets and too few scruples. We soon discover everyone thinks Nico is dead, the victim of a hit-and-run incident, a detail Clare didn’t think worth mentioning at first. But by then Marlowe’s already besotted. He continues working the case, and as the lies and betrayals pile up, I began wishing Black wasn’t trying so damn hard to be Chandler.

In fact, my admiration for Chandler was probably the reason I couldn’t let myself just be carried away by the story. It’s the many “Hey! Look at me!” instances where Black falls short that weigh this novel down. He didn’t take a loose thread Chandler left dangling and run with it, as Parker did; nor did he use a Chandler-like character to tell his own story. No, he’s purporting to be Chandler.

(Right) Raymond Chandler

The real Raymond Chandler was notorious for his sometimes sloppy treatment of Los Angeles, playing fast and loose with place names and street locations. Black has no such problem; he eagerly shows off his research. (Marlowe at one point makes a pointless aside about Chandler Boulevard -- no relation -- that’s too cute by half.) Black’s penchant for period-perfect celebrity name-dropping (Errol Flynn, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc.) is something else Chandler never shared. When Chandler bothered to take a shot at a well-known target, it was more subtle; a poke at a cop named Hemingway, not the writer himself.

Chandler fudged the details and made the City of Angels come vibrantly alive; Black nails down the details but turns it into a vacation slideshow.

And this novel’s ending seems too bleak, too cynical for later-period Chandler, which this is clearly meant to be.

The real failure here, though, is the lack of (for a better word) romance. Even at his most angry and cynical, Marlowe was a believer. Beyond anything else, there is no echo in this book of romance or beauty; no reverberation of the battered and bruised but defiant ideals that Marlowe clung to throughout Chandler’s work. Yes, he loves Linda, but hoo-boy, let’s forget all that. That black-eyed blonde is a hottie.

In the noirish conclusion of The Big Sleep (1939), Marlowe muses on how far he’s fallen from his ideals, and how he was now “part of the nastiness.” The Black-Eyed Blonde doesn’t even seem to acknowledge that fall.

It would be too easy to simply dismiss The Black-Eyed Blonde as lacking, then, that “music heard faintly around the edge of the sound” (as Chandler described love). But without those ideals, however bruised and tattered they may be, Marlowe seems curiously and disappointingly hollow. Yet, from reading some of his Quirke books it’s clear to me that Black/Banville knows the melody well; it’s just that, unlike Chandler (or Parker), he seems to be having trouble with the words.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Today’s Quote: Frank Zappa


“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” -- Frank Zappa


This Just In… Goodbye, Elaine by Francis Nehilla

Why aren’t children told the truth? There are bad people in the world and bad things can happen to you that mommy and daddy can’t fix.

Most people meander through life, but not Elaine. She had life thrown at her from all directions from an early age. Childhood disappointments and sexual encounters long past buried in the subconscious caused recurring behavior into adulthood.

As an adult, balancing family, work and life brought her to the breaking point. Continuously confronting obstacles in her quest for happiness and unconditional love, Elaine eventually overturned her neurotic behavior and inhaled life like fresh air.

You can order Goodbye, Elaine here. Visit author Francis Nehilla on Facebook here. ◊

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


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Trailer Released for Lehane’s The Drop

Sopranos star James Gandolfini, who died last June, stars in the Dennis Lehane-written The Drop, a feature film scheduled for release this coming September.

The source material is a Lehane short story called “Animal Rescue” which first appeared in Boston Noir (Askashic Books, 2009).

The official bumph says that The Drop is “a new crime drama from Michaël R. Roskam, the Academy Award-nominated director of Bullhead. Based on a screenplay from Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone), The Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters -- “money drops” -- in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood's past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living -- no matter the cost.”

Since we’re big fans of both Gandolfini and Lehane around here, we can’t wait. The official trailer is below.

Labels: ,

This Just In… The Apple Picker’s Daughter by Anne Brooke

Born in the 1960s on a UK apple farm, Clare Rivers is a girl out of time, living in a family and a world that makes little sense to her.

Determined to carve out her place somehow, and with her deep love of her father to see her through, Clare begins a unique journey to discover the reasons for her own existence. If she can. However, accompanied by the oddities of family, school and the strange lyrical life of the apples, can Clare really find a place within herself to call home?

This novel will appeal to lovers of rural life, recent history and a child’s quirky but clear-sighted view of the adult world.

You can order The Apple Picker’s Daughter  here. Visit author Anne Brooke 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.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Worst Book Cover Ever?

As all booklovers know, you’d have to go a long way to pinpoint the very worst book cover of all time. This has become even more true since self-publishing started to boom and, at the same time, everyone’s nephew got Adobe InDesign.

So there are some truly terrible covers out there. It’s tough to decide which is the very worst. And then? The Korean translation of a western classic gets a cover that pushes it way up the list.

Though the cover for one of the Korean translations of The Diary of Anne Frank would be horrific for any book in any language, there’s something really revolting about this nubile and seductive young woman on the cover of the heartfelt scribblings of the girl who died in a concentration camp after writing her innermost thoughts and dreams in her diary while living in an Amsterdam attic during the period her family was being hunted by the Nazis. 

As Kotaku, who shared the photo, points out:
Usually, covers of The Diary of Anne Frank feature black and white photos of its author, Anne Frank. Or, you might see tasteful illustrations. You don’t usually see photos like this! 
So while this is probably not the worst book cover ever, between the inappropriate illustration and the typo in the English portion of the typography (we can’t proofread the Korean, so we’ll just have to assume it’s okay) we have to vote this one up pretty high. (Or low, as the case may be.)


This Just In… On the Pineapple Express by H. L. Wegley

In one of the most beautiful places on earth, the ugliest of crimes holds young, innocent lives in its evil grip.

An intercepted cell-phone call from a remote area on the Olympic Peninsula tells beautiful, brilliant NSA researcher, Jennifer Akihara, that a group of girls will soon be sold into slavery by human traffickers. She enlists her fiancé, Lee Brandt, to help find the holding location and convince the FBI to intervene.

With the clock ticking off the last few hours before both the sale of the girls and the arrival of a deadly storm, and with international criminals pursuing them, can Jennifer and Lee save the girls, or will their wedding plans be cancelled ... permanently?

You can order On the Pineapple Express here. Visit author H. L. Wegley 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.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fiction: The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Watching a marriage grind to its painful, soul-shattering conclusion should not hold moments of strong wit. Yet Jenny Offill’s shimmering second novel not only manages this, it elevates domestic fiction to its highest possible form.

Slender, tiny (fit it easily in your bag for your daily commute) The Dept. of Speculation (Knopf) is barely a novella in length, yet it packs an epic whallop. It does this by way of emotional miles covered as we follow our nameless narrator through the final days of an unsatisfying marriage and the reawakening of a woman who has been emotionally sleeping through the common catastrophes of contemporary relationships. “The wife’s” marriage is crumbling, her career is stalled, her baby has grown to take over a huge portion of her life. She is unsatisfied, stagnating and -- as it is for all of us -- every day just takes her closer to death.

Like Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Offill takes a topic -- and, truly, an angle -- that is so everyday and puts it under a narrative microscope that reveals what we hoped all along: there are stripes of extraordinary in all of us. And that which on the surface can appear humdrum, doesn’t need to be viewed through a kaleidoscope to have its full colors revealed.

This is Offill’s second novel. Her debut work, Last Things, was lauded, awarded and over 10 years ago. Let’s hope she doesn’t make us wait so long again. ◊

India Wilson is a writer and artist.

Labels: ,

This Just In… Handbook of Nothin’ by N. K. Wright

The year is 1972. Against the stormy backdrop of a nuclear arms race, Watergate break-ins, the Vietnam war, and indescribable acts of terror, a teenage boy lives out his simple, rural life. But despite his seemingly tranquil farm life, “Nothin’ Right” -- as he’s known to many of his seventh-grade classmates --faces trouble on numerous fronts and against several adversaries.

Can a resourceful farm boy solve his own epic problems when the often-violent world around him is on the verge of self-destruction? Handbook of Nothin’ is a 1972 snapshot of rural western America as told through the experiences of a 13-year-old junior high boy and the scrawled pencil drawings in his school notebook. It is written for middle-grade readers, but is fun for older groups as well, including anyone who lived in the 1970s.

You can order Handbook of Nothin’ here. Visit author N. K. Wright 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.


Quote of the Day: Ayn Rand

“A creative man is is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” -- Ayn Rand

American novelist, philosopher, screenwriter and playwright Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum in St. Petersburgh, Russia, where she achieved some success as a writer before coming to America in 1926. Her best known works, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, identified her as the founder of the philosophical movement called Objectivism.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Winter is (Finally!) Coming

Winter is coming, and not a moment too soon, as Game of Thrones fans around the world hyperventilate for the release of season four on April 6th. If we weren’t sure about how well the series based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels was doing, the cover of the April issue of Vanity Fair confirms it. Even Downton Abbey hasn’t achieved that. Yet.

If you need a hit of Game of Thrones’ goodness to keep you going until the series opener, you don’t have to look far. There are tributes, parodies and other tie-ins everywhere. There’s even a Belgian math teacher who is using the television series as a threat. According to Mashable, the teacher, who has read the books, threatened the students with spoilers if they didn’t quiet down.
Unsurprisingly, the teacher saw immediate results. When the skeptical pupils tested his nerve, he promptly wrote out all the names of the characters who perished in Season 3. Any students who hadn't seen the Red Wedding yet were undoubtedly traumatized.
The Vanity Fair piece on the series is online here. We wrote about the possibility of a big screen version here.  You can view the Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards parody video here.

This Just In… Ned & Rosco by Robin Robinson

Ned & Rosco is the first book in a series. This book stars two unforgettable characters and is filled with beautiful illustrations and humor that will thrill both young children and adults.

Ned is an introverted turtle who has always longed to study butterflies in a meadow across the forest. On the day he does, he meets Rosco, an extroverted puppy. Through their adventures, they find their differences are at times irritating but in the end beneficial to both. Here is a story about human personality and how two friends learn to appreciate and respect their differing gifts.

You can order Ned & Rosco here. Watch the free video book version here. ◊

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


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dueling Jungle Book Films Get Ready for Production

There are currently two film projects based on The Jungle Book, the collection of short stories written by Rudyard Kipling, in pre-production. Andy Serkis, who played the CG-created Gollum character in the Lord of Rings films, will direct a live action Jungle Book for Warners.

The stories center on Mowgli, an orphan raised by wolves. The boy befriends Baloo the bear, Bagheera the black panther and the ferocious tiger Shere Khan. The stories were originally published in magazines in 1893 through 1894.

Disney is working on a live action Jungle Book which is currently in casting. Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man) will direct. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Putting Serkis in the director's chair is outside-the-box thinking, yet not far-fetched. Jungle Book would be Serkis' feature directorial debut after directing second unit on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies, the third of which Warners is due to open in December. Some of the shoots involved the creation of elaborate and lively action sequences. For example, Serkis helmed the widely praised barrel-chase sequence in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. 
Jackson entrusted Serkis with the job after Serkis developed a command of CG technology through his acting work not only in LOTR, but also in Jackson's King Kong, Steve Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and the new Planet of the Apes movies.
And Warners’ version, at any rate, is likely to be a darker Jungle Book than those whose experience of Rudyard Kiping’s stories are based on Disney’s 1967 animated classic.
Warners is sticking closely to the source material, which is darker than most people know, seeing as how most of the knowledge of the material is distilled from Disney's 1967 animated classic. The Warners movie hopes to explore life-and-death issues and be true-to-life in portraying animal behavior. Hiring Serkis, who has pioneered lifelike animal behavior and characterization with his performances in such movies as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is seen as an important first step.

Labels: ,

This Just In… The Cat That Went To Homecoming by Julie Otzelberger

The Cat That Went To Homecoming is the coming of age story of Ellen Jones, an overweight teenage girl from a single family home. She is under constant attack by her peers, bullied because of her weight and her family’s poverty.

Through volunteer work with her cat, Hershey, Ellen finds self-esteem and the courage to stand up to her bullies. Along the way, she discovers what true friendship and forgiveness are and tells us how Hershey became The Cat That Went To Homecoming.

The Cat That Went To Homecoming addresses many serious social issues including family separation, bullying, homophobia, social isolation, and depression. The compelling story is also about fun, friendship, and forgiveness.” -- Paula Scott-Ginn, Pet Partners Marketing Coordinator

You can order The Cat That Went To Homecoming here. Visit author Julie Otzelberger on the web here. ◊

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


Friday, March 21, 2014

“Poo Wins Prizes”

A couple of fast facts:

1. There are books out there on every topic, and…
2. Some of them are kinda nuts.

Seemingly in celebration of these two things, the UK’s Diagram Awards annually honor the oddest title of the year. The winner usually receives, “ a fairly passable” bottle of claret, according to Horace Bent, of The Bookseller.

“The public have chosen wisely,” writes Bent on How to Poo on a Date’s 2014 win. “Not only have they picked a title that truly captures the spirit of the prize, they have selected a manual that can help one through life’s more challenging and delicate moments.” From We Love This Book:
The book, by Mats & Enzo, published by Prion Press, topped a public vote to find the oddest title, in one of the closest contests in prize history. In the end, How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers' Guide to Toilet Etiquette, took home the title with 30 per cent of the vote, beating into second place Are Trout South African? by Duncan Brown (Pan South Africa) and The Origin of Feces by David Waltner-Toews (ECW Press), which both captured 23 per cent of voters.
The rest of the shortlist was made up of early frontrunner Working Class Cats: The Bodega Cats of New York City by Chris Balsiger ands Erin Canning (One Peace Books), with 14 per cent; Pie-ography: Where Pie Meets Biography by Jo Packham (Quarry) with 6 per cent ; and How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God by Ian Punnett (Harmony Books), with 4 per cent of the votes.
Nor is How to Poo on a Date the author’s first run at the prize. How to Poo on Holiday, How to Poo at Work and How to Bonk at Work, were all previously nominated for the prize.

The Diagram Prize was founded in 1978 as a way of relieving boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair by Diagram Group co-founders Trevor Boundford and Bruce Robertson.


This Just In… Five Corners: Book One of the Marked Ones by Cathi Shaw

Growing up in a sleepy village untouched by distant wars and political conflicts, it was easy for Thia, Mina and Kiara to forget such horrors existed in the Five Corners. That is until the dead child is found; a child that bears the same strange birthmark that all three sisters possess. A Mark their mother had always told them was unique to the girls.

Kiara’s suspicions grow as their inn is soon overrun with outsiders from all walks of life. Strangers, soldiers and elders who all seem to know more about what is happening than the girls do.

After Mina barely survives an attack in the forest, the sisters are faced with a shattering secret their mother has kept from them for years. As danger closes in around them, the sisters are forced from their home and must put their trust in the hands of strangers.

With more questions than answers, Kiara finds herself separated from everyone she loves and reliant on an Outlander who has spent too much time in army. She doesn’t trust Caedmon but she needs him if she has any hope of being reunited with her sisters and learning what the Mark might mean.

You can order Five Corners here. Check out the Five Corners Tumblr blog 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.


Game of Thrones May Head to Big Screen

As season four of the immensely popular television series, Game of Thrones, gets underway, author George R.R. Martin told a New York premiere audience that a larger screen may be necessary to do justice to the full series. From The Guardian:
He also hinted at the possibility of movies based on the Tales of Dunk and Egg, a trilogy of spin-off novellas set 90 years before the events on Game of Thrones in the mythical land of Westeros.
“It all depends on how long the main series runs,” Martin told The Hollywood Reporter. "Do we run for seven years? Do we run for eight? Do we run for 10? The books get bigger and bigger (in scope). It might need a feature to tie things up, something with a feature budget, like $100 million for two hours. Those dragons get real big, you know."
While it appears no deals have been made, according to The Hollywood Reporter, there are some good possibilities:
Warner Bros. would be the natural fit for a studio partner. Warners released the two films based on the long-running HBO series Sex and the City and is behind the upcoming big-screen adaptation of Entourage. The studio also knows how to market a dragon tale, with its The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug having earned nearly $1 billion worldwide.
You can see a trailer from season 4 of Game of Thrones below.


Tolkien Translation of Beowulf Will Debut in May

Though the manuscript has been talked about for years, J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of the old English epic poem Beowulf will be published in May.

“The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work,” says the author’s son, Christopher, who also functioned as editor of the book, “very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication.”

But as special as a Tolkien translation of Beowulf would be, there’s more to this book even than that. “This edition is twofold,” says Christopher, “for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.”

And another treat, yet: the book also includes the story “Sellic Spell.” Written by Tolkien, it suggests “what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the ‘historical legends’ of the Northern kingdoms.”


Thursday, March 20, 2014

This Just In… Social Death by Tatiana Boncompagni

Gone Girl meets Gossip Girl in this gripping new mystery about the murder of a beautiful socialite and the scandalous secret she carries to her death.

When veteran news producer Clyde Shaw is called to the scene of a grisly murder on the Upper East Side, she thinks it’s just another high-profile crime, the kind she’s built her high-powered career on -- except the murder victim is Olivia Kravis, the daughter of Clyde’s billionaire boss and best friend since childhood.

As a high-stakes network ratings war begins, Clyde’s own privileged yet troubled past comes back to haunt her. She’s forced to choose between finding her best friend’s killer and losing everything -- her job, her reputation, even her life. Long-guarded secrets. Millions at stake. And only Clyde holds the key to unlocking the truth.

You can order Social Death here. Visit author Tatiana Boncompagni 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.


James Patterson by Number

Since 2001, James Patterson has been the bestselling novelist in the world. If the somewhat hyperbolic-sounding bio on his web site is to be believed, “In 2011, it was estimated that one-in-four of all hardcover suspense/thriller novels sold was written by James Patterson, he is the first author to achieve ten million ebook sales, and he holds the Guinness record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers of any author.”

The Telegraph looks at Patterson’s astonishing success (as well as some of the whys and hows) in a piece that includes the statistics below.

James Patterson in Numbers:
First novel: The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)
Number of novels, including forthcoming ones, to date: 130
Number of James Patterson pages published: 45,651
Years working entirely as an author: 18
Number of James Patterson series: 10
Number of co-authors: 23
Total book sales: Approximately 300 million
Number of New York Times hardback bestsellers: 76
Number of consecutive New York Times bestsellers: 19
Cost of second home: $17.4 million
Number of full-time publisher employees dealing solely with Patterson's work: 3 (plus assistants)
Maximum length of outlines for co-authors: 50 pages
Years spent publishing novels: 38

Monday, March 17, 2014

Feminism, Optimism and Genuine Creativity Fan Current Dystopia Craze

As fans get ready for the release of Divergent, the first film based on Veronica Roth’s popular novels set in a dystopian Chicago, in a recent piece for Wired, Devon Maloney examines the way dystopic storytelling has morphed and come to rule in recent years.

For one thing, Maloney notes, in a world that has itself become pretty dystopic, the success of the genre becomes easier to understand:
In a post-Harry Potter world where YA fiction is mega-franchise fodder, feminist sci-fi authors descended from the Atwood school—albeit with decidedly less sexual themes—have produced some of the most popular books of the past decade, nearly all primarily geared toward young adult readers. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy—the harbinger of the dystopian YA craze—has put approximately 65 million copies into circulation in the U.S. alone; the first two movie adaptations have already grossed more than $800 million together domestically (and the third book, Mockingjay, will be adapted into two films over the next few years, making the franchise a multibillion-dollar machine). There’s Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy, and Marie Lu’s Legend, and of course, Veronica Roth’s Divergent. 
But though on the surface it would seem that feminism is one of the ruling factors, there’s more at play here than even that. Perspective is one factor. The current wave of successful “dystopian” books and movies “are being judged by a dystopian standard that hasn’t really evolved to meet an era in which dystopia is all around us. These books succeed largely because, unlike the traditional understanding of the genre … they offer hope to the young living in our real-life dystopia, where there’s rarely optimism to be found.”

And there are other factors, including the fact that the audience this media is aimed at is constantly in flux and, maybe even more importantly, vital, new voices can have something genuinely fresh to say:
But through the cries of market saturation and copy-paste plotting, the people behind this newest vision of young gloom remain (perhaps obligatorily) optimistic. “A lot of people said ‘sword-and-sandal’ was completely dead, but then we did Gladiator,” says Divergent producer Douglas Wick. “People said vampire stories were dead before Twilight. People said you couldn’t revive Batman and then Chris Nolan came along. There’s always some genuinely creative person, not a duplicator, who can make something fresh again.”
Meanwhile the Neil Burger-directed film based on Roth’s first novel is scheduled for to be released this coming Friday.  The cast includes Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort and Kate Winslet.

Maloney’s full piece is here.

Labels: ,

New in Paperback: Butterfly People by William Leach

Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World (Vintage) isn’t really about butterflies. Well, it is. But, also, it is not. More to the point, though, it sears deeply into the lives of middle class America in the 19th century when a newly industrial population began having the leisure to explore the natural world in ways that hadn’t been possible ever before.

The capture and collection of these “flying flowers” became a national pastime, heralding a time of change in America in every imaginable way. But first -- and at the heart -- the creatures who moved so many to such passion. Author William Leach, a one-time collector himself -- understands better than most and draws us a picture:
In the nineteenth century, many Americans … encountered the butterflies, among the most evolved in terms of beauty, by some accounts, of all creatures. By beauty here is meant not merely the wings, however beautiful they may be, but the metamorphosis (from the Greek for “changing form”) and life history of the insect from the egg and caterpillar to the pupa and adult, as well as the butterfly in relation to a world full of other life.
Columbia University history professor Leach has proven himself to be an able storyteller before. His Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (1993) was a National Book Award finalist.

I loved Butterfly People for Leach’s deft ability to bring a whole time and culture to vivid life. As with the best of history, Butterfly people not only brought a whole period to fascinating life, it made me examine aspects of myself and my attitudes to the natural world though a lens that had been altered, perhaps forever. ◊

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

Labels: ,

This Just In… Vengeance by Denise Tompkins

The demons that haunt you don’t have to be your own.

The Niteclif Evolutions, Book 3

Maddy Niteclif’s world has changed so radically she’s no longer sure she recognizes the face staring back at her in the mirror. Pale skin, wide eyes, new scars, and even newer wounds. They’ll heal. It’s the invisible wounds -- the ones that disfigure the soul -- that pose the most danger.

Hell’s higher thinkers have organized. They’re seeping into the paranormal world, bypassing easy targets as they run larger prey to ground. Maddy is caught in a mad scramble to identify the next target before the demons find the individual. But when the demons’ mark is someone from under her roof, she finds just how far she’ll go to protect those who belong to her.

Maddy is about to learn the most difficult lesson yet: loving someone, seeing his scars ripped open and watching as he’s driven to his knees…it hurts. To save his life means she’ll have to sacrifice the only other man she’s ever loved. There’s only one guaranteed way to ensure both men survive, but it will require the ultimate sacrifice. Herself.

You can order Vengeance here. Visit author Denise Tompkins 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.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath Avery has just started university, living on campus. Her twin sister, Wren, has decided that after a lifetime of doing everything together, they will not be sharing a room; she’s keen to meet new people and have new experiences.

One thing they have always done together is write fan fiction (or fanfiction, as it’s called in this novel). Not just fanfiction, but slash fiction, the kind that has gay relationships between the two leading male characters. 

Cath is working on her magnum opus, Carry On Simon, a novel set in the World of Mages, a world not entirely unlike that of a certain boy wizard in our own universe (and actually, Harry Potter exists in the Fangirl universe too). It has to be finished before the final novel comes out in a few months, or it will be forever AU (alternative universe to all you mundanes out there). Cath has signed up for a unit in Fiction Writing, though, and has a ten thousand word major project to write as well, and the ideas just aren’t coming. Meanwhile, there’s all this stuff going on in Real Life: Nick the gorgeous guy in her writing class who writes everything in second person present tense and won’t let go of his notebook, even when they’re writing together. Reagan, her roommate, who smokes and goes out a lot, but who drags Cath out of her hiding place to take part in campus life. Levi, her boyfriend (or is he?) who has a sunny nature and suffers reading issues. Cath and Wren’s father, a loopy advertising man who eats frozen meals when he’s eating at all and needs to be checked up on. Stuff, you know?

First, a confession: I wanted to review Fangirl (MacMillan) because I know about fan fiction. I even know about slash fiction, though I don’t read it. But I did write fan fiction for many years, at least 150 stories, set in the universes of Star Trek, Blake’s 7, Robin Of Sherwood, Dr Who (one or two).  I stopped writing it when I ran out of ideas and then people started paying me to write. I won the Mary Grant Bruce Award for children’s fiction, using a story based on an idea I’d originally had for a fan story, though I ended up writing the non-fan version first.

But like Cath, I found that when you’re writing in someone else’s universe, it’s very hard to think of anything else, or to get ideas for anything else. I don’t regret the experience. It taught me a lot of writing skills, including characterization, development, short story writing, even how to write book reviews. There wasn’t an entire Internet fandom in those days, but there was plenty of feedback of a kind you don’t get in other kinds of writing. You could start a writers’ group, but that can be ineffective. But eventually, I had to focus on other writing, that might actually pay. I still read fan fic, though, and am amazed at how big it has become since the Internet came along.

So I can relate to Cath and her fannish life. And it’s nice that the author doesn’t say, “Ha ha, this nerd needs to get a life and leave fandom!” Cath eventually finds that she can do both, and have a life with friends and a boyfriend and all. The author even mentions in the FAQ at the end that people are already writing Fangirl fan fiction and she is absolutely delighted about it -- and that she started writing this when she was reading stacks of Harry Potter fiction online. I liked the regular quotes both from the Simon Snow novels and Cath’s fan fiction, between the chapters. The whole book was gentle, charming, funny and sad, all at the same time.

I did think that there would be a campus fan club for such a popular book series -- actually, Cath’s university seems strangely lacking in clubs and societies, but it’s a real place, so maybe it doesn’t have them.

I enjoyed Fangirl and I think I can persuade some of my fan writing students to read it too. ◊

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, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at

Labels: , ,

This Just In… Figs, Vines and Roses by Joy M. Lilley

Figs, Vines & Roses follows the privileged life of the heroine Isabella and her brother Clarence. It meanders through their young lives, their adolescence and schooling, describing the joys and the dramas along the journey.

The huge divide between the wealthy and those living in poverty are discussed along with the vast differences existing between them.

The Merryweather family decide on a move from the Black country to the South of England and to Kent. It is here that Isabella falls deeply and secretively in love with a man who her family would consider a totally unsuitable partner.

Their lives become both complicated and tragic, Isabella against all the odds of a rich woman working, becomes a teacher and she continues to take the reader into her later life within this role.

You can order Figs, Vines and Roses here in the UK or here in the United States. Visit author Joy M. Lilley on the web here. ◊

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


Thursday, March 13, 2014

New This Week: The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

Though it felt like a long wait since Juliet, Anne Fortier’s 2010 debut, The Lost Sisterhood (Ballantine) seems absolutely worth it. Once again we have stunning historical detail, though this time with a strong thread of fantasy: or so many of us have been led to believe.

As the book opens, we meet bright young thing Diana Morgan, a philologist at Oxford University with a personal fixation on the Amazons that her colleagues find ridiculous. Morgan’s fixation has a strong foundation, though: an eccentric grandmother who thought that she herself was descended from the Amazons.

Diana’s beliefs seem vindicated when a mysterious organization invites her to consult on an excavation that will prove the Amazons existed.

In another thread, we meet those elusive and legendary Amazons as they begin their trek in North Africa and set out, accompanied by great danger and exciting adventure, on a mission of revenge.

One of the things that made this literary journey so enjoyable is the fact that there just hasn't been much fiction about the Amazons, though myths abound. Fortier leads us through largely uncharted territory as we follow her tribe of warrior women from North Africa on an indirect journey to their ultimate home.

The Lost Sisterhood is a perfectly fleshed out embodiment of a bit of lost history it would be wonderful to be able to believe. ◊

Labels: ,

This Just In… The Shell of a Person by Lance Pototschnik

“Never have disgusting, miserable living conditions been so funny. When someone finally finds a way to send back a report from hell, I hope it will be Lance Pototschnik. Except this guy is going to heaven, for the way he writes.” -- The Kindle Book Review 
“Welcome to beautiful Costa Rica! Come and experience our diverse wildlife. Exhume nests of dead baby turtles and stay up all night while mosquitoes elicit blood from your very soul! Indulge in the local cuisine. Eat rice and beans until the malnutrition engenders hallucinations! Travel west to Guanacaste, to the peninsula that pokes into the Pacific like a fang. Lose yourself on the remote, cocoa-dust beaches, where rare sea turtles drag themselves from the seething ocean to nest. Camp beside the water to leave civilization and all its cheerfulness behind. Burn bucketfuls of used toilet paper, shiver in an infested bed and pump your bathing water from a putrid hole... every single day for weeks!”

Lance Pototschnik and his friends must have booked their trip with that agency. Their incredibly affordable “vacation” was meant to be a relaxing time to meditate on the direction of their languid, aimless lives. Instead, they are introduced to hell and the insane diversity of its tortures.

Marooned on a remote sea turtle conservancy with a handful of fellow unanchored souls, Pototschnik, in his debut memoir, ponders who he is and what he is likely to become. In Pototschnik, those who have fallen prey to the desolation of broken dreams, the young and the listless, find a voice to cast out demons and turn them into laughs. Through his own outrageous tale, Pototschnik offers the questions of the brooding, the concerns of the anxious and the hopes of the hopeless in a witty, irrepressible voice that will not shame them.

Beneath its shell, this rollicking, episodic story is also a treatise about finding your purpose, realizing your full potential and learning to love your own life.

You can order The Shell of a Person 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.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Where Is My Jet Pack? (Weaponized Cat Edition)

Many of those who grew up with 1960s pop culture have long complained about the technological promises that weren’t kept. In particular, the jet pack. Whole books have been written on the subject. Now a 16th century manuscript that has been gaining some attention seems to be indicating that the idea of jet packs might go further back than previously thought. Much, much further. From The Guardian:
You're a 16th century German prince plotting to crush a peasant rebellion, or perhaps you're leading an army against the Ottoman Empire or settling a score with a rival nobleman. What's a guy looking for a tactical edge to do?
The answer, of course, is rocket cats.
Fanciful illustrations from a circa-1530 manual on artillery and siege warfare seem to show jetpacks strapped to the backs of cats and doves, with the German text helpfully advising military commanders to use them to "set fire to a castle or city which you can't get at otherwise".
But, of course, things are often not quite what they seem and Australian researcher, Mitch Fraas, gave himself the task of discovering what was true in the illustrations. After an initial struggle, Fraas feels he’s uncovered the answer:
According to Fraas's translation, Helm explained how animals could be used to deliver incendiary devices: "Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited."
In other words, capture a cat from enemy territory, attach a bomb to its back, light the fuse, then hope it runs back home and starts a raging fire.
 Fraas said he could find no evidence that cats and birds were used in early modern warfare in the way prescribed by Helm.
"Sort of a harebrained scheme," he said. "It seems like a really terrible idea, and very unlikely the animals would run back to where they came from. More likely they'd set your own camp on fire."
So much for weaponized cats. And, the last time we looked, we still didn’t have our jet packs, either.