The science fiction and fantasy community is mourning the loss of another huge personality, writer Tanith Lee, who died on Sunday, May 24, at age 67. She died in her sleep following a long illness.
An incredibly prolific author who wrote in various fantasy and horror genres, Ms. Lee wrote in a very poetic style and covered many themes and topics that other author and publishers of the day shied away from: sexuality, feminism, eroticism, weird fantasy, gothic mythos, lesbianism, isolation. Despite her over 90 novels and 300 stories, and being awarded two World Fantasy Awards and a British Fantasy Award (the first woman to do so, in 1980), she reportedly had many other works “just sitting in her cupboard” for wont of a publishing deal.
She was born in London on September 19, 1947, to a pair of professional dancers. Her family moved a lot, and she suffered from an undiagnosed form of mild dyslexia which kept her from the printed word until her father taught her to read at age 8. From that point on, she became an avid reader, ranging from “weird” fiction of the likes of Theodore Sturgeon to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to the works of William Shakespeare. Her mother also would regale her with fairy tales, many of her own invention, with her own unique twist to them.
Ms. Lee published her first work – a short story – at age 21, and her first novel three years later; a children’s book, The Dragon Hoard. Her first adult novel, The Birthgrave, was published in 1975. She continued writing voraciously, and in 2013 the World Fantasy Convention awarded her its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award; she also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 from the Horror Writer’s Association.
In her 1986 novel Delirium’s Mistress, one of the five works that make up her “Tales from the Flat Earth” series, Ms. Lee wrote, “Time is endless and ours. Love and Death are only the games we play in it.” Here’s hoping that wherever she is now, Tanith Lee is still at play. We who remain in this reality will miss her unique voice.
The Dead Lands
Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: April 14, 2015
When author Stephen King endorses a newly released book with, “Good God, what a tale. Don’t miss it,” a reader has a pretty good indication that they’re in for a ride.
He was right.
Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands is yet another post-apocalyptic thriller set after a pandemic has decimated the human race. But don’t let that rote description deter you from reading this suspenseful and entertaining book. To say The Dead Lands is about the post-apocalypse is like saying The Lord of the Rings is about a megalomaniac bent on world domination. That may set the stage but there is oh, so much more to the story, such as an epic quest involving a harrowing journey, mutant monsters, magic, love, and yes, cruelty, horror and heartbreak.
It’s been 150 years since the flu hit the American Midwest. No one knows the origins of the virus; perhaps sabotage, perhaps an accident gone horribly wrong, perhaps simply the way of things. But it started near the USDA labs in Ames, Iowa, and before anyone knew what was happening it had spread to Minnesota, to Wisconsin, to Illinois and Missouri, beyond. Where the flu hit, infrastructure crumbled, electricity died, panic ensued.
Then things got worse.
Then the horizon flashed, the air trembled, as if beset by constant thunderstorms. These were nuclear warheads. China was the first to fire. Then Russia. The United States responded in turn. And soon Britain and India joined them. The missiles scorched the sky, made blackened craters out of cities. When New York and then Boston vanished in a fiery pulse, the Atlantic Ocean poured into their smoldering craters and the steam of millions of ghosts blurred the sky. The nukes were meant as a last-ditch inoculation, to cease the spread of the virus, but they only hurried along the death of the world.
Now, a few thousand souls whose forbearers survived the pandemic and the nuclear strikes exist in an enclosure surrounding what used to be downtown Saint Louis. Named Sanctuary, it’s primitive and dirty yet self-sustaining, with “laws, elections, currency, farms, wells, markets, a hospital, a prison, even a museum that offers the vestiges of the lost world.” Outside the walls of Sanctuary are the Dead Lands, a desert-like wasteland full of mutated horrors and living nightmares.
Not that life in Sanctuary is a picnic, either. Lingering nuclear fallout ensures that cancers and genetic mutations are rampant in the population. It hasn’t rained in months and the wells are drying up for the first time in generations. The new Mayor makes promises but never seems to act on anything and his deputies quell public unrest with increasing brutality. But worst of all is how small the world is for those born in Sanctuary – their entire lives are spent inside the walls with no chance of escape, no sense of freedom, no change from one day to the next. No one is allowed outside the gates of the city; no one, except for sanctioned rangers, and those who have been sentenced to death via the fangs and talons of the mutated creatures who rule the Dead Lands.
Then one day a mysterious girl shows up on horseback outside the gates of Sanctuary – a stranger, a mutant, with eyes that are completely black. She is immediately suspect: an agitator, a terrorist, someone to upset the way of things. Before she can even state how or why she is there, she is taken down by arrows, thrown into prison, slated for execution.
But to sentinel Wilhelmina Clark – who goes only by Clark – this is an opportunity to put a plan in motion. For some time now, Clark has been plotting to leave Sanctuary, to find out what lies beyond its walls, to discover whether or not anything lives beyond the Dead Lands. Now she has proof that there are others out there, proof in this dark eyed mutant girl named Gawea who comes from a mysterious place known as Oregon.
Clark and her half-brother York free Gawea and slip out of Sanctuary to join the others in their party: Reed, a ranger and Clark’s sometimes lover, an older woman known only as the doctor, and Meriwether Lewis, the curator of the museum who knows more about everything than anyone else and who proves to be the pivot on which the story spins. Gawea has promised to lead them to Oregon, a populated land she says is green and rich and thriving. The expedition has no idea of the dangers that lie before them, and only a scant idea of what dangers lie behind them. But they never considered the dangers that lay within them.
It’s hard to put The Dead Lands into a tidy category. It is set in a dystopian future, so that suggests it is the speculative branch of science fiction. It incorporates superstition, legend, magic and an epic journey, which smacks of fantasy. While there is no direct parallel between events in The Dead Lands and the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s, the knowing nods between them give the story an interesting – and clever – historical dimension. There is mystery, and action, and thrilling twists and turns, especially with the characters that remain in Sanctuary after Clark and her company slip away. And there are monsters, suspense and terror, and more than a smidgen of blood and gore and cruelty to assuage the tastes of any horror aficionado.
It might seem like a novel with that many stylistic threads would be confusing and chaotic, but author Benjamin Percy keeps the rustic grit of his dystopian world at the core of the story, which grounds it and gives it an unblinking legitimacy; the narrative is never allowed to fritter off into cosmic shenanigans, there is no cavalry waiting just over the hill. All the action is brass tacks; sentimentality will get you killed. Death does not always come to those who deserve it , but it does come, and it is not precise and antiseptic, but brutal and messy, and sometimes agonizingly prolonged and cruel. In this world, no one would expect anything else.
And yet, and yet there is also a current of hope that runs through the narrative. It is hope that spurs Clark and company on when it seems like all is lost, it is what drives them into the Dead Lands in the first place, more than curiosity, more than wanderlust. Hope for a better life, for a realization of worth, for fulfillment of a destiny. Hope for those left behind in Sanctuary. Hope for America. Hope for the world. But with so much betrayal, with so much corruption, with so much harshness within and without, it may just be a fool’s hope after all.
To find out, you’ll have to read The Dead Lands for yourself. But that shouldn’t be a tough call. After all, Stephen King was right, indeed. Good God, what a tale. Don’t miss it.
When we think of books, we think of words. Of course! Words contain the idea, the grace, the feel, the story. But in many, many books, artwork is a partner to the story. Book covers, illustrations, promotions – these can really enhance what we read, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genre.
The Spectrum Awards were established “to promote the fantastic arts and provide an annual showcase for contemporary artists.” From the Spectrum website:
Believing that there was a tremendous amount of high-quality fantastic-themed art work created each year that somehow wasn’t being represented in other annual art books and shows, Spectrum was established in 1993 by Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner with the intent of providing creators with a regular showcase for the best fantasy, science fiction, horror, and otherwise uncategorizable artwork created each year.
The 22nd Spectrum Award winners were announced on May 23 at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event held in Kansas City, Missouri. We’ve posted a few of the winners here, but we urge you click here to visit the Spectrum blog, written by Spectrum director John Flesk, to view all the gold (winning) and silver (runner up) literary art work.
Congratulations to all the winners, runners up, and indeed, to all the nominees!
Please indulge me if I repost a Gimbling in Wabe from back in 2012, but today is so beautiful, and the sunshine and birdsong are beckoning me to the porch, and life is so short… sitting down to write is simply impossible today. But this one is pretty good, I think!
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It happened again this morning. I had taken the Mighty Belle out for our morning walk to the park, and something caught her eye – something that could have been squirrel shaped and was therefore worthy of chasing. This made her very, very happy, because for her, nothing exists that is better than the chasing of a squirrel. Not even dinner.
This morning was pretty good for me, too. Finally, the weather was something resembling spring, and even though there was a chill in the air left over from Monday’s four inch snowfall (which, thankfully, is almost melted already), the sun was shining and there was great promise of a lovely day to come. The park grass was greening, and the birds were singing. We had the park to ourselves for the moment, so there was sound (always, in the city, there is sound) but it was a relaxed, expectant sound; no honking, no raised voices, no thumping car stereos, just the distant rumble of traffic and lots of glorious birdsong, the jangle of Belle’s tags. I had ditched my winter coat for a much lighter jacket; optimistic, perhaps, but a necessary vote of confidence in the day – days – to come.
So Belle had “treed” her squirrel shaped thing (I’m not even sure there was a critter involved, but that wasn’t the point – it’s all about the chase!) and was loping around, sniffing at the ground, at trees, with a big goofy grin on her face. I decided to call her back to me – not that she was ranging too far, but the idea of a romp in the park is that she get exercise, and she loves, loves, loves to run, but usually has to have a reason to do more than gambol. So I called her back to me – and that’s when it happened.
The perfect moment. That moment when she came flying back to me, skimming across the turf, running as fast as she could, flat out, and her tongue was lolling and her smile was huge, and her eyes were focused on me, and she was running back to ME, because she loves, loves, loves me. Even better than chasing squirrels. And for one, fleeting, glorious moment, life was perfect.
Perfect moments. I wasn’t always aware of them, I’m afraid. Years ago, it seemed like I was walking on the slope of a huge, dark abyss. I was unable to climb out of a darkness that spread out before me, that made my steps, my progress in life, seem futile and bleak. Youth was behind me, old age was looming, responsibilities anchored me firmly in place and yet life was in continuous motion that was slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) slipping out of my control. The world was in turmoil, mankind seemed destined for a triumph of crass greed, political machinations, disconnect and suffering beyond my ability to alleviate, save for frantically trying to ensure my family was always, always, happy and content – yet those times seemed to be so very sporadic and occasional.
Then one brutally cold winter’s night, I had to slip outside for a moment to clear my head. I’m not sure what drove me out into the bitter cold – internalizing the 10:00 p.m. news, perhaps, or a particularly hateful exchange witnessed on Facebook, perhaps the inability to grasp a task set before me or a scary shift in the family dynamic (or possibly all these things) – but I needed some quiet, some calm. So I bundled up and headed into the frigid darkness of my own backyard to disconnect for a bit, and to just be quiet.
What I walked into was a wonderland. The snow that had fallen earlier in the day had crystallized into an amazing, sparkling landscape, prisms twinkling under the faint alley lights like a frozen fairy land, with some fat flakes still lazily falling from their perches on power lines and tree branches. The air was still, and hushed, as if holding in abeyance everything except this place, this “now”. I gasped, amazed at what I was seeing, and the cold deftly whisked my breath away, replacing it with the cleanest, purest air imaginable. It was at that point, in the dark, in the cold, as a witness to such intense beauty, that I realized I was standing in a perfect moment. A single moment when life, right then, right there, is perfect. A moment when the heart swells because it seems like it simply cannot hold everything it has been given. For just a moment, before everything else rushes back in and reminds us that we have worries and cares, for one sparkling, intimate, isolated moment, life is perfect.
It hit me, then, that perhaps the reason why happiness always seems to be just outside of our grasp, regardless of how hard we pursue it, is simply because our focus is wrong. That life, with all its complexity, cannot sustain unabated happiness for too long, and in the assumption that it should, we get caught up in despair and a sense of futility, concluding instead that we will never be truly happy. Either/or, black/white, have/have not.
Instead, we need to recognize that life is full of perfection – but that it is contained in moments, rather than in hours, days, years, lifetimes. That at any given time, we may find ourselves part of a perfect moment, and it is these moments of gratuitous joy that define our lives, not the things we own or the status we have gained or lost, or never had a chance of at all. And these moments are equal opportunity moments – they come to those who have eyes to see them, senses to feel them, regardless of circumstance or wealth or influence, unbeholden to place or advantage or entitlement.
You know them, these perfect moments: waking up to birdsong, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting into an open car window as you drive, or the smell of freshly cut grass. The soft light caressing your daughter’s cheek as she works on homework at the dining room table, or the equally soft breathing of your children as they sleep with abandon, vulnerable, after a day of playing at the zoo, or the park, or the State Fair, or at Grandma and Grandpa’s during the family 4th of July picnic. The unexpected compliment received, or given. The joyful shock of recognition when a long forgotten but beloved song plays on the radio. A rookie’s first home run in the Majors. Actually seeing a shooting star, or being far enough from the city lights to see the cacophony of stars overhead in the night sky. The feel of lush grass – or squishy mud – between your toes.
You can try to manufacture these perfect moments, but most often they come unbidden, unlooked for, or at least spontaneously. And the best thing is – the more you do look for them, the easier they are to recognize. Then you understand that life truly is a miracle, meted out in perfect moments that may occur anytime, anywhere, unannounced, fleeting, but always, always possible. Not sustainable, no, but also not finite. And so often, so simple. Sometimes as simple as a big, goofy dog, flying, flying towards you across the soft muddy turf of spring, with joy and love in her eyes.
Over at The Millions, LitStack contributor Lauren Alwan looks at the use of colloquial titles in literary fiction. Her “brief history” includes an analysis of titles, including works by Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, and Richard Ford. Here’s a preview:
There is a certain power in hearing phrases we know and may have used ourselves. When a title speaks to us in everyday language, it’s not so different from any voice aiming to get our attention. I read a colloquial title and hear a speaker with an urgent message.
The Best American Essays, 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed
The Best American series, which in 2014 featured editions of short stories, travel, mystery and sports writing, along with comics, infographics, nonrequired reading and other genres, has become an institution on its own. My introduction to Best American was through the short fiction series, and a now-classic edition edited by Tobias Wolff. The stories chosen that year (1994), such as Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t,” “Things Left Undone,” by Chris Tilghman, and Laura Glen Louis’ “Fur,” made up my introduction to contemporary short fiction, and it’s no accident, I think, that those voice-driven, deeply intimate stories instilled in me a very specific excitement about what a short story could do.
It’s with some embarrassment I confess my introduction to the essay series (which launched in 1986) turned out to be 2013’s, edited by Cheryl Strayed (the series editor is Robert Atwan). And yet, I feel that in a similar way, the essays n that volume will turn out to influence me in a similar way. Strayed has selected a range of voices, each with its intimate, usually confessional tone, and as she notes in the introduction, “made me feel, for the brief time I spent reading them, as if the rest of the world had fallen away.”
Still, the subjects couldn’t be more different. From Walter Kirn’s great “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon,” to Zadie Smith’s meditation on Joni Mitchell, “Some Notes on Attunement,” the investigations run from deep in memory to responses to the cultural moment. And while the term “essay” has become increasingly broad, the selections here encompass a dizzying set of categories—memoir, creative nonfiction, cultural and historical interrogations—it seems to have become an umbrella designation for a range of approaches and sensibilities, and extends to essays that are downright story-like.
From a contemporary standpoint, it would seem that the essay is a kind of literary rock star, and with a charismatic forefather in Montaigne, but according to series editor Robert Atwan, that was not always the case. During his years as a grad student of literature in the 1940s, the essay had a very different standing:
…literary works then were so exclusively identified with poems, novels, and plays that the privileging [of fictive over nonfictive works] barely went noticed. When int eh mid-sixties I took a seminar on Ralph Waldo Emerson with the brilliant critic and quintessential Emersonian Richard Poirier, we concentrated on Emerson as a thinker and a prose stylist, as the central figure of American literature, but I don’t recall a single bit of discussion that regarded Emerson as an essayist, as a writer wholly engaged with a particular literary genre….Essays were a minor genre, at best…
In Strayed’s selections you’ll find remembrances of the counterculture sixties, a memoir of a harrowing car crash, a nostalgic look at an out-of-print encyclopedia, and a heart-rending remembrance of a father unable to love his wife and daughters.
The finalists for the 2015 John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for the best science fiction novel published in 2014) and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (for the best short science fiction of 2014) were announced earlier this week. Finalists include:
I love a good book cover, because the artwork itself tells a story. Lately, I found a few covers that made me want to buy the given title right away, not even a question. The Horror by Randy Shaffer presents well with a cover containing elements of simplicity, subtlety, and composition considering the placement and style of the graphics on either end of the traditional “bloody hand-print” feature. The latest collection by Stephen Graham Jones titled After the People Lights Have Gone Off has a close-up of a dilapidated haunted house that well represents that realistic “next door” fear factor so popular lately, and for pure fun, there’s the woman with the look of shock on her face on the cover of Stephen King’s Joyland. Of course, there have been so many classic executions of cover-art through the years it would be impossible to give proper tribute in one little blog entry, but for giggles it might be fun to move past “horror” stuff for a moment, and give a shout-out to E.L. James for the eerie theater mask cover art for Fifty Shades Darker. Maybe it is not the most intricate artistic presentation, but considering the dynamics of the shadows and silvers, it makes one stop and say, “Hmm..what is this?”
On the other hand, book covers and genres can be deceiving, and in saying this I am not making the claim that I do not like the cover art for my latest novel, The Witch of the Wood. On the contrary, I admire the artist Hippocampus brought in to represent my character April Orr, the lovely shape-shifter coming on from our hidden past to execute her sweet revenge. It is colorful, unique, and most of all seems to contain a “wow” factor that makes the work attractive. In terms of genre, I similarly do not mean to deconstruct the horror category. I love horror. It interests me for any number of reasons, including the idea that one can alter timelines as well as put characters into bizarre situations that test their morals and resolve.
It is just that one can look at the cover of The Witch of the Wood, and assume any number of things the book is not, like “Witch-Porn,” or “Splatter-Farce.” I would hope that Witch is an absolute page turner with attractive characters drawing the reader into moment after moment of pleasurable amazement. The book is an exercise in chain reaction, one shock leading to the next, all with beautiful women along the way metaphorically winking at the male readers and pouting and raising their chins at the females. And as for “horror,” I do not quite know what that is at the moment. There are so many sub-genres that I am inclined to say that horror is the spice, the condiment, the accent behind a good story where interesting characters walk on the dark side.
So, what is your favorite cover for a book put out in the last decade? How about your favorite classic cover-art? Is there a cover you recall that advertised one thing, yet wound up yielding “different goods?” And finally, was what you found inside a dud or a pleasant surprise?
Michael Aronovitz published his first collection titled Seven Deadly Pleasures through Hippocampus Press in 2009. His first novel Alice Walks came out in a hardcover edition by Centipede Press in 2013, and Dark Renaissance Books published the paperback version in 2014. Aronovitz’s second collection, The Voices in Our Heads was published by Horrified Press in 2014, and the above featured novel, The Witch of the Wood, came out through Hippocampus Press recently. Aronovitz’s first young adult novel Becky’s Kiss will be appearing through Vinspire Press in the fall of 2015 and his third hard core adult horror novel titled Phantom Effect will be published by Night Shade Books in the fall of 2015. Michael Aronovitz is a college professor of English and lives with his wife and son in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. His website is michaelaronovitz.com.
The Girl on the Train
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Rachel Watson may not have hit rock bottom yet, but she’s pretty darned close. Her husband Tom divorced her after having an affair and then marrying “the other woman”. She had started drinking back when she and Tom had tried and failed to start a family; now drinking is a constant part of her life, and it’s often not a pretty thing. She lost her job after a three hour liquid lunch and an embarrassing drunken harassment of a client. She’s getting older, she’s getting heavier, she’s disappointed virtually everyone she knows, and yet she just can’t give up the past, she just can’t seem to move on.
She lives in the second bedroom of a kind-of friend from college, Cathy; it was only supposed to be for a few months, until she got back on her feet after the divorce, but now it’s been two years. In order to hide her job loss from Cath, Rachel rides the train to and from London every week day: the 8:04 in the morning, and the 5:56 in the evening.
Riding the train has become the only dependable thing in Rachel’s life. She takes comfort in seeing the same faces every day, even if she doesn’t interact with them. She enjoys seeing the same houses go by (one of them is the house she used to own with Tom; he still lives there, now with the “other woman”, Anna, and their infant daughter). But her favorite house to watch is the one that is across from the signal light where the train often has to sit for a few minutes before moving on. It is just up the street from her former home, and in it live a young couple that she has dubbed “Jason” and “Jess”. In her imagination Jason is a kind, protective doctor helping others in times of need; blonde, waifish Jess must have been an artist, or in the fashion industry. In Rachel’s mind, they love each other very much; in fact, she believes that they are the perfect, golden couple.
While we’re stuck at the red signal, I look for them. Jess is often out there in the mornings, especially in the summer, drinking her coffee. Sometimes, when I see her there, I feel as though she sees me, too. I feel as though she looks right back at me, and I want to wave. I’m too self-conscious. I don’t see Jason quite so much, he’s away a lot with work. But even if they’re not there, I think about what they might be up to. Maybe this morning they’ve both got the day off and she’s lying in bed while he makes breakfast, or maybe they’ve gone for a run together, because that’s the sort of thing they do. (Tom and I used to run together on Sundays, me going at slightly above my normal pace, him at about half his, just so we could run side by side.) Maybe Jess is upstairs in the spare room, painting, or maybe they’re in the shower together, her hands pressed against the tiles, his hands on her hips.
Then one Friday morning, Rachel sees Jess in her garden but the man with her isn’t Jason. (“He’s a family friend; he’s her brother or Jason’s brother… He’s a cousin from Australia, staying a couple of weeks; he’s Jason’s oldest friend, best man at their wedding.”) But then they kiss “long and deep”, and the train pulls away from the light, with Rachel’s world rocked to its core as her carefully crafted illusions start to shatter. And that’s only the beginning of what is to come, as the next day, the woman that Rachel has christened Jess disappears.
The Girl on the Train is a riveting, fast paced psychological thriller that seems simplistic on the surface, but continues to lead the reader down a rabbit hole where nothing can be assumed or taken at face value. Told from three different viewpoints – Rachel, Megan (aka “Jess”) and Anna (the “other woman”) – insights intersect but never interact, and every time a piece of the puzzle is pushed into place, another level of complexity is revealed.
While there are no overt red herrings in The Girl on the Train, because we see the story unfold from the eyes of broken, fragmented people, we are only given broken, fragmented information to go on. At times this can be frustrating (for instance, Rachel constantly promises herself and others that she will stop drinking merely to rationalize her way to a drunken bender a few days – or hours – later, which almost without exception undermines whatever intentions she may have had – you want to just take her by the shoulders and shake her until she realizes how stupid she’s being), but then we realize that this, too, is part of the larger story. This is human frailty. This is how life often plays out, not just how its plays out in the pages of a mystery novel.
And the pacing of the novel is exceptional. Just when we feel like we’re going in circles, the center starts to unravel and the action accelerates, with some answers clicking into place but others blossoming anew. The ending of the book is quite amazing because it hits at so many different levels – sometimes at assumptions we didn’t realize we were carrying until they are dispelled. That, my friends, is mighty fine writing.
No, I’m not talking about civil unrest, political wrangling, professional sporting adulation, haute cultural stimulation or jaded, cynical urban ennui.
I’m talking critters.
Earlier this week, a bald eagle flew into the dog park that the Mighty Belle and I frequent during the week, and roosted in a tree there. A flyover by an eagle or a hawk is not uncommon here in Minneapolis, even in the heart of the city, but having one of these magnificent birds actually land less than 20 feet away is not something you see every day. Or even every year.
The majestic raptor sat for about 15 minutes, ignoring the squawks and occasional dive bombing feints by a handful of the local red-wing blackbirds who have claimed shore space along the lake across the street from the park as their territory. But what I found just as amazing was the fearlessness of a couple of Baltimore orioles who undoubtedly had built a nest nearby. These robin-sized birds, resplendent in their orange and black plumage, hopped from branch to branch deep in the tree, inches from the huge eagle, berating it with sharp voices and snapping beaks. The stoic eagle seemed to give them no mind, but after minutes with no let up in the harassment, it spread its mighty wings and launched itself from its resting place, lazily gliding away over the treetops.
It’s not the first time I’ve stopped to watch charming avian behavior this week. Last Saturday, Belle and I were romping in another no-leash dog park just south of the city, this one a whopping 25 acres at the city’s edge, complete with wooded areas and a big pond/small lake that dogs are welcome to splash and swim in. Across the pond a stately white egret was wading with its serpentine neck and long stick legs. As Belle cavorted in the water with some doggy pals, I watched the egret slowly make its way along the farther shore, occasionally holding as still as a statue then suddenly stabbing the water with its long, sharp beak. Sometimes after doing this it would simply shake the water from its head, but a few times it flipped what I assumed was a small frog down its throat. Success! Before too long, though, it flew away with a languid flapping of wide wings. Predators don’t seem to stay in one place for too long.
Belle and I encountered another critter that morning – a muskrat. I didn’t notice it at first, but Belle sure did. The poor thing was backed up against the perimeter chain link fence, its glossy brown furry body bunched up in a defensive posture, its teeth bared against the incursions of a curious dog that meant it no harm – not that it knew that. Once I got close enough to investigate and saw that the little creature, about the size of a small cat, still had some fight to him, I called Belle off and watched him for a while. I pitied the poor thing – he obviously had been cornered against the fence earlier, and probably was sick or injured; he had no means of escape and I imagined in the course of the morning a more rambunctious group of dogs would pass by and not be so kind to him. I wished I had a pair of stout gloves on me so I could pick him up and pitch him over the fence to the relative safety of the meadow beyond the gate so he could die in peace, but I didn’t, so all we could do was walk away and wish that his death would come quick and easy. Life is hard for creatures in the wild, even a wild as contained and controlled as an urban dog park.
Further around the pond we found the remains of a good sized turtle. It had been dead for a while, the flesh of its distended head and legs desiccated but the shell gleamed agate-like in the morning sunshine. It was on its back – whether it had flipped and been unable to right itself or had been cast up that way after succumbing was impossible to say, but even in death it held a regal beauty. We left it and walked on. Well, I walked on; Belle streaked through the trees and snuffed mightily in the undergrowth, enjoying the freedom of exploration without the constraints of a leash. We came across emerald green lichen glistening in sun, and a fallen tree that’s insides looked like they had tumbled out and spilled next to the woodland path, soft golden cubes of inner bark more beautiful than a sculptor’s skilled hands could ever hope to achieve. A dusky grey dove flew in and perched on a branch just above my head, cooing softly and adding its delicate wonder to the morning.
This truly is a wonderful time of year, this early spring. The mornings are cool and fresh, the air light and free of annoying bugs that will appear far too soon as the days get warmer. The squirrels are active and abundant, much to Belle’s delight – she loves to chase squirrels! And this year, we’ve already seen an explosion in neighborhood bunnies. Probably a harbinger of nature out of balance (unlike previous years, we’ve had multiple sightings in our own backyard; we think a family is living under our porch), it still brings a thrill to walk into the backyard and startle a few furry beasties in the thickening grass. Oftentimes the rabbit – or even rabbits – will freeze in the typical “if I don’t move, they won’t see me” behavior until Belle ambles too close, and then they are off like a shot.
Just this morning, when Belle and I were walking in the “back 40″ of our local dog park, we heard a disturbance in the woods beyond the fence. The sounds were indistinct but indicative of a struggle, almost like voices grunting in conflict. Drawing closer, we found two good sized raccoons in a fierce territorial battle in a tree not more than 15 feet away; as we watched (well, I watched – Belle barked and pranced excitedly) they crashed out of the tree and onto the ground, rolling in the leaves and grasping for purchase, coming up biting. This was not an amorous struggle! They paid us no mind, perhaps realizing that we were safely out of the way beyond the fence, but not wanting to tempt fate – or animalistic aggression – I moved away, calling for Belle to follow, which she did after running along the fence for a few more seconds. Whatever dispute the raccoons were having, it seemed to be over quickly. No one else who wandered back that way mentioned any kind of disturbance.
Every time I think of urban ‘coons, I remember the spring night a few years ago when I was sitting on my porch late, unable to sleep, and became aware of a tiny raccoon cub that was wandering along the edge of the street, calling out for its mother. It was so small, it couldn’t get back up over the curb, not for want of trying! It scrabbled along down the far side of the street, trying and failing to get back to the safety of the grass. Not wanting the little critter to be hit by a car – we live on a pretty busy street, and it was only a matter of time before one would pass by, even this late – I walked across the street intending to move it to the boulevard. But once it saw me walking towards it, the bitty thing must of thought of me as its savior, for it made a beeline for me, squeaking plaintively.
Despite it being so little, I didn’t want to handle bitsy thing – this was a wild creature, after all! Perhaps it was ill or injured! I might just make matters worse! But it was so tiny and so innocent. I couldn’t let it just flail about in this big, cruel world. So I thought I would pick it up and bring it home, put it in a large plastic tub we had on our porch, take it to the DNR in the morning. They would know what to do with it. They would do whatever needed to be done.
I reached down and gathered the little ball of fluff into my arms. As soon as I picked it up, it grabbed on to me as best it could, its cries turning into babyish grunts of relief. It’s tiny head burrowed into the crook of my elbow, and its tiny claws – which were still soft and harmless – grasped tightly on to my arm. Such a precious, precious thing!
But as I walked back across the street towards my house with the baby raccoon nestling in my arm, I heard a deep throated hiss coming from the bushes by my neighbor’s house. My steps faltered – even in my urban naiveté, I knew this sound. This was a dangerous sound, the sound of warning, the sound of a mother who didn’t know and didn’t care if I was trying to help, who only knew that I had her baby.
I took another few steps and the hissing came again, followed by a deep growl. Now I could see the mother at the corner of my neighbor’s house, her eyes illuminated by the street light. She was flanked by two other babies, and puffed up as big as she could make herself. She was formidable as she stared right at me. Despite my fear, my heart swelled at the ferocity of a mother’s love. “Here you go, mama,” I whispered, and gently tossed the raccoon cub in her direction.
The baby landed softly in the grass and immediately dashed over to its family. Instantly I was forgotten as the raccoon mama turned away from me, cooing at her errant baby, fussing and snuffling at it. Then as suddenly as they had appeared, they all melted into the night, although the gentle trilling of the mama coon lingered in the dark.
I sat on my porch a while longer after that, ears straining to hear sounds that were no longer there, still feeling the soft scratching of those tiny claws on my skin, the nuzzling of the little head into my elbow, the soft fur and the racing heart calming under my stroking fingers. It had been a magical few moments, made even more wonderful by the best of all possible outcomes. I had been a savior, but in helping one of the wild creatures that share my world, I was also blessed. For a few moments in the dark of the night in the inner city, all was right with the world.
And when you watch a bunny “frozen” in your back yard, when you look to the sky and see a bald eagle gliding by, when you hear the blue jays calling in the evergreens and see the flash of a crimson cardinal, or simply hear the chirp of a common sparrow, even in the heart of the densest borough, when you realize you are just one small part of a larger whole, you realize what a wonderful world it truly is. And how special it is to be part of it.
This collection of essays came about by accident, Zadie Smith tells us in the foreword, but the voice and curiosity behind it makes this read seamless and satisfying. My hope, as a reader of essays, is to learn something, whether the topic is snow camping or religious fanatics or Monarch butterflies, but I also hope to learn something personal, something about the speaker who knows these things. And with Smith, whether the subject is Nabokov or Forster, her person is an intrinsic part of each smart interrogation.
The book is divided into sections: Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, Remembering. Smith dips into culture and modernity, the writing life, personal history, and current and classic literature, including Kafka, Foster Wallace, Zora Neale Hurston. In “Middlemarch and Everybody,” Smith provides a thorough and elegant case for George Eliot’s empathic treatment of her characters by way of Henry James (who thought the novel “too copious a dose of pure fiction”), and Spinoza’s concept of conatus, or self-striving. That quality of doing good for society by doing good for the self, Smith shows us, can be found in the novel’s many characters, more than a few of which James deemed insufficiently complex. Eliot was nothing if not an empathic, an all-inclusive writer, and Smith shows us how how radical a thing it was, in 1873, to take that approach, one that laid the groundwork for twenty-first-century novelists.
Smith excels at effortlessly unpacking complex subjects. From the foreword, we know many of the essays were commissioned: “I replied to the requests that came in now and then. Two thousand words about Christmas? About Katharine Hepburn? Kafka? Liberia? A hundred thousand words piled up that way.” There is the essay on Forster, of whom Smith has a strong and longstanding affinity; a moving personal history in “Smith Family Christmas”; and a trio of essays on film, including a great dispatch from the Academy Awards, “Ten Notes on Oscar Weekend,” an essay so effacing yet razor sharp in its tone, I can’t imagine any other writer narrating the spectacle that is Academy Awards:
Hollywood has many tiers. Sitting by the pool are hot girls in bikinis and their jock guys, ordering twenty-dollar cocktails and lobster maki rolls, watching the dreamy water of the Hockney pool lap at the edges of the terra-cotta tile surround. Nobody swims. A young black couple, dressed in the Versace knockoffs they believe appropriate to this scene, pose in a lounger and get a waitress to photograph then, living the dream. This is repeated several times that afternoon, by Italians, English, Australians. Everybody speaks of the Oscars, loudly. It’s the only conversation in town.
Here too is a version of a lecture given to the students of Columbia University’s writing program in 2010, now a staple of online creative writing links. “That Crafty Feeling” features Smith’s classic perceptive yet personal delivery in which she advises on a range of issues: starting, finishing, influences, routines, writerly devices. It’s all there in wonderfully digestible nuggets of common sense and humor. For example, the term for setting aside a draft for a spell before revision is called, “Step Away From the Vehicle.”
Watch Zadie Smith deliver the lecture, “That Crafty Feeling,” here.
Six years ago, deep in the swamps of Louisiana, Delilah’s face was marred forever at the hands of her sisters by the point of her mother’s kitchen knife. Despite her protest, her parents insist she make haste in finding a husband. But finding a husband isn’t an easy feat with a scar running the length of your face.
Porter Jeansonne keeps to himself. He lives in his mansion, set apart from the town he’s grown to detest. One night, walking through the town, seeking to collect a debt, he hears a man selling off his daughter in the most deplorable part of the darkened streets. He chooses to take pity on her and set her free from her despicable family. Until he sees her face.
He then knows that maybe she is the mend for his haunted heart.
I am a stay at home mom from the South and wife to the most giving and hardworking husband ever. I love to cook and try out new recipes even if they don’t always turn out like I want them to. I refer to my kids lovingly as the Three Stooges as they are constantly coming up with new ways to wreak havoc in the house. Most recently that included putting a rubber-band on the kitchen sink sprayer so it would douse me when I did the dishes. I love to go to roller derby bouts and read in my spare time. I write mostly at night when the house is silent and I can sneak cookies without having to share! If you’re into stalking, try under the Cypress trees in the swamps of Louisiana, but watch out for gators!!
The Buried Giant
Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: March 3, 2015
It’s the dusk of Arthurian England; an uneasy peace lies over the land. Britons Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, leave their village to travel to the town where they believe their estranged son lives. Their memories are cloudy, but this is not merely due to their age – it is an affliction that appears to have gripped all of Britain. It has caused them to be unsure of even the reality of their son, or the cause of their estrangement. Yet they find life as it is untenable, and even an uncertain journey gives them focus as they cling to each other through the bond of lives long shared.
The couple comes across others in their travels, such as a Saxon warrior, a knight of the Round Table and an orphaned boy whose deceptively placid eyes seem to hold the world in abeyance, but for the most part they rely mainly on themselves. Beset by dangers both physical and mystical, they eventually discover that the reason for their forgetfulness is not merely old age, but a magical spell that has been placed on the very breath of a dragon by none other than the great sorcerer Merlin. This discovery draws them in to witnessing dangers and adventures of honor and deceit based on buried animosities and bygone obligations, yet none of the threats prove more dire than that which they themselves face in confronting their own past.
Acclaimed author Kazuo Ishiguro has crafted in The Buried Giant a tale that is equal parts fantasy and literary fiction, full of ogres and dragons, knights and witches, but centered on his constant themes of memory and loss. Indeed, the honorable Saxon warrior Wistan and the good knight Sir Gawain (now a relic of the past, almost Don Quixote-like in purpose) may be clear in the tasks set before them, but acknowledge that the world may not be the better for it should they succeed. Still, the idea of turning from their purpose is unconscionable.
Yet always, at the heart of the story is the relationship between protective Axl and feisty Beatrice. Their affection for each other resonates, even when they bicker, even when ghosting memories suggest that their past may have held strife, anguish and hurts that each may have visited upon the other. Yet now, at this point in time, their greatest fear is that they may be separated. Beatrice, who suffers from an unknown malady, is the one who pushes them forward, but it is Axl who protects them from the dangers that may lurk in the shadows.
There were numerous instances of a traveler glancing back to the companion walking behind, only to find the latter vanished without trace. It was the fear of such an occurrence that compelled Beatrice intermittently to ask as they walked: “Are you still there, Axl?” To which he would answer routinely: “Still here, princess.”
The somewhat formal, dreamlike prose of The Buried Giant, and the almost melancholic feel of the story keep the fantastical elements from an excitement that may be expected from a novel that is so steeped in myth and lore. The focused, even flat narrative keeps the reader’s attention fastened on Axl and Beatrice who are, in the words of The New York Times, “two people who are now past all adventure.”
But although the surface of The Buried Giant may seem gray and inescapable, the idea that lies at its heart is immense: no matter how we struggle to cling to that which we hold dear, can one truly be anything other than alone? Do we triumph, or do we merely acquiesce?
This is a book that on the surface, may fail to excite. It may inspire respect more than enthusiasm. Yet it is haunting and beautiful, full of gradient grayscales that despite vibrancy, paint a deep and abiding picture full of underlying pathos, not to be missed.
Shirley Jackson wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as the well known short story, “The Lottery.” To honor the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, the juried Shirley Jackson Awards were established in 2007 to recognize outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.
The nominees for the 2014 Shirley Jackson Awards were announced last week. They include:
Emily St. John Mandel has been awarded the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award for her genre-arching novel, Station Eleven.
In the novel, the world has come to an end as we know it. A deadly virus has eradicated over 90 percent of Earth’s population within the space of a few weeks, too quickly and too thoroughly to allow for a measured or choreographed response. Yet Station Eleven is much more than a handful of survivors’ stories of endurance. It’s more than a reinvention of society following unspeakable tragedy, and it is not a tale of bloody retribution. Terrible things do happen, yes, and there are heart pounding dangers. But the greatest peril may not be where our civilization is going, but what parts of the past we cling to.
Station Eleven beat out M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn, Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water and Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August to nab the award.
The juried Arthur C. Clarke Award, as noted on its website, “is given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant given by Sir Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987 to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.” Last year’s winner was Ann Leckie’s Auxillary Justice.
Upon hearing that she had won the award, Ms. Mandel tweeted, “Oh my god. I am slightly beside myself over here.”
Congratulations to Emily St. John Mandel, and Station Eleven!
This Gimbling in the Wabe was first published for Mother’s Day 2014.
I was watching television the other day when an ad came on informing me that for this Mother’s Day, “smart phones trump flowers”, suggesting that in order to show your mother how much you appreciate her, you need to give her not flowers, but a smart phone. Another ad on another day shows women being presented a bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day, their mouths open in what at first seems to be a display of joyous surprise but slowly morphs into a yawn, suggesting that truly loving families wouldn’t bore their moms with the same old dull gesture, but instead, should treat her with an edible bouquet of specially cut fruit on sticks.
I’ll tell you what I would like for Mother’s Day. It’s not a smart phone or an edible bouquet, not designer perfume or a Pandora bracelet bauble. Not even flowers.
But first – a true story.
It was the early 1990s and I worked in the Minneapolis office of a multi-national accounting firm, supervising a department that handled mail services, the file room, supply procurement, shipping and receiving. At that time there were four others in the department, or had been before one left and we had to find a replacement. This was before HR worked with support services; their focus was solely on “professionals”. We were left to our own devices. Usually our ranks were filled by referrals, positions shared by word of mouth – someone’s cousin or friend, often some acquaintance from other companies. I had procured workers before from delivery drivers we had gotten to know, former summer interns, college buddies. I don’t remember there ever being job postings in newspapers or resumes arriving in the mail, and this was before the advent of internet job boards. Unemployment was low, no one was really scrounging for work.
I remember that there were two people on the housekeeping staff that we saw regularly; good people, reliable, hard working, cheerful. I asked them if they were interested in working for us. Indeed, they were: it would be a step up, better pay, more reliable hours, benefits. We had to talk quietly, though; if their bosses got word that they were thinking of jumping ship, things could go poorly for them. I slipped them applications; we’d be doing interviews shortly and hiring within a few weeks.
But they both disappeared. Their applications never arrived. I asked around; one of them had been transferred to another building where he had been given more responsibility, the other one, a woman, had simply disappeared. I put out word that we needed to hear from them quickly, but never did. We ended up hiring someone else, a referral, out of the two other applications we did receive. He was a good worker, ended up staying with us for over 20 years.
Fast forward a few years; five, I think, maybe a few more. One of our offices in on the East Coast had been sued in a job discrimination suit, an accountant had maintained that she had not been hired because she was black. Because of the suit, the Department of Labor cast out a net to scrutinize hiring practices in other offices, and due to a low percentage of minorities in our office, we drew their attention.
For some reason I still don’t fully understand, the DOL did not concentrate on the lack of minorities in the auditor, tax accountant or management consultant ranks, instead deciding to investigate the lack of diversity in the mail room – something that seemed somewhat discriminatory in and of itself. And, even though I had no hiring or firing authority, I was the one who was questioned due to the one fellow that had been hired years ago in my department. The man we hired was white, the two people I had invited to apply but never interviewed were black.
For two days, six hours a day, I was taken to a small conference room and interrogated by a smug DOL agent as to why I hadn’t tried harder to find the two black potential candidates. Without any support from my office manager (who was in charge of hiring and firing, but never interviewed) or the controller (who was interviewed for one hour) or from anyone in HR (who I never heard from throughout the entire ordeal) I had to undergo a series of questions that I answered honestly, but under a cloud of confusion. Told to bring my personnel records with me, they were promptly confiscated although they contained nothing about the people who were part of the investigation. I never got them back. (When I protested, I was told that they were the property of the DOL even if they were not relevant to the investigation; my boss informed me after the fact that I had erred in bringing them into the conference room in the first place.) I was drilled about hiring practices, and had to repeat over and over that I had no authority to hire anyone, and that I had been not been given any training on hiring practices.
The questions got increasingly more personal. My moral integrity was called into question, and I was told to my face that I was a bigot. The implication was that I had sabotaged the black applicants by not making enough of an effort to find them (despite trying to recruit them in the first place). At the end of the day, I would burst into tears when picking up my kids at daycare, wondering if I really was as terrible a person as the DOL agent was implying that I was. Through this entire ordeal, I was never counseled, consoled, or even approached by my boss or anyone else in the firm. I felt totally isolated, utterly alone.
Why do I bring this up when I’m supposed to be writing about Mother’s Day?
Here’s why. The judgment of the DOL investigation took years to be handed down. In that time, my national firm had proactively responded to the charge of impropriety by putting in place much stronger protocols for hiring, and a much clearer line of responsibility for documentation and retention of documentation. The HR department took over all aspects of the hiring process, from posting job openings to vetting candidates to interviewing, as well as all decision-making with an eye towards ensuring parity and balance, not just in support services but across all disciplines. I still was involved in the interview process, but truly could only recommend candidates. As more regulations were introduced into the marketplace, the firm embraced the additional processes, and supervisors and managers alike were trained in a myriad of ethical procedures meant to protect and promote workers.
One day our new HR director called me into his office to let me know that the investigation from so many years ago had been concluded and the ruling was that no wrong-doing had taken place, even though there were recommendations to be put into practice regarding recruitment and hiring, many of which had already been implemented. By this time, I thought I had put it all behind me. But as I was getting ready to leave his office, the HR director stood and looked me right in the eye, and said, “I just want you to know, none of this was your fault. You did nothing wrong.” And he meant it. Suddenly, even after so many years, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, a weight I didn’t even know I was still carrying. As my eyes filled with tears, I realized just how badly I had needed to hear those words. Not for vindication. Not for a sense of justice being done. Just for it to be acknowledged that I had done nothing wrong.
That still remains one of the most powerful personal moments of my life.
So here’s how my story ties in to Mother’s Day. On Sunday, I don’t want gifts, large or small. I don’t want flowers. I don’t want anything that comes from a sense of obligation, from a rote “today is the day we make the effort” sort of thing. That’s not for me. If that sort of ritual benefits anyone, it benefits my family, lets them off the hook, gives them the sense that they have gone through the right motions to fulfill their obligation to convention. Not that I wouldn’t appreciate whatever effort they want to make, but it’s not what I want.
What I really want for Mother’s Day is for someone to look me in the eye and say, “Mom, you done good.” I want to know that even though I’m not a very good cook and am a terrible housekeeper, that even though sometimes I’m incredibly clueless or obtuse or simply insensitive, that even though I sometimes lose my temper when I shouldn’t, or raise my voice when I shouldn’t, even though I snore (supposedly) and too often forget things I should have remembered, even though I fall short in ways both big and small, that in my kids’ eyes, that in my husband’s eyes, I’ve done good. That they are glad I’m their mother. Not out of a sense of obligation, but out of a genuine appreciation for who I am and what I have done, what I have tried to do, in my role as mom.
I want acknowledgement.
Oh, and having someone else make dinner, that would be nice, too.
So if your mother is anything like me, forego the flowers. Heck, don’t even give her a card and a “thanks for being my mom”. Instead, give her a hug, a big one, unsolicited, unasked for, unexpectedly. And while you’re giving her that hug, whisper in her ear, “You know, I think you’re a great mom.” Acknowledge her. And mean it.
There’s no better Mother’s Day gift you could give.
Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House
The moral of this story might run be careful what you wish for, especially if the house you get doesn’t live up to the fantasy you’ve been harboring. For Meghan Daum, novelist, essayist, L.A. Times columnist and extreme home aficiando, the pursuit is ninety percent of the game. Dreaming of houses, looking at houses online, making the rounds of open houses, even property stalking is all part of the condition Daum refers to as “house lust.” And we’ve all been there—I know I certainly have—pining after a place because it embodies the ideal life that might be lived there.
I bought a house because I was thirty-four years old, had been self-employed most of my adult life, had never been married, was childless, had no boyfriend nor any appealing prospects in that department, and was hungry to the point of weakness for something that would root me to this earth.
Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House is a kind of residential coming of age story, in which Daum tells of how she came be a homeowner. She also tracks growing up in places that never quite lived up to the dream and her formidable mother’s influence in seeking and improving the many homes the family occupied, from Texas to New Jersey.
There’s an inherent narrative to be found in the places we’ve lived, the serial addresses are a document of our peripatetic student years (or, in Daum’s terms, “tapestry-covered, grad-student-style impermanence”), to the single years of work and career, and if we’re lucky, to a relatively stable adulthood. It’s all there in the places we’ve lived, though through it all, Daum is plagued by a persistent nagging sense that there’s a better house down the block, or uptown, or on the coast. It’s that hankering for the indescribable transformation arrival to a new place brings, and it drives this memoir of house-yearning.
…this is the story of what happens when, for whatever reason, your identity becomes almost totally wrapped up not in who you are or how you live, but in where you live.
Daum, the author of a novel (The Quality of Life Report) and an essay collection, My Misspent Youth, has a confessional, chatty style that complements her subject. After all, what is a house but details? Post and beam, tongue and groove, flooring, cabinetry, the colors of the walls and the contours of the land it sits on. And though the detail can at times overwhelm, happily this tale of what it’s like to settle for—and settle down—shows us what it’s like when the house-hunting stops and life finally begins.
Meghan Daum’s new collection of essays, The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion, in due to be released in November.
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched in October 2013 and quickly became an Amazon bestseller.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.
She is currently living under teenage rule alongside her husband in southeast Louisiana.
The Only Ones
Two Dollar Radio
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Books where you “hear” the story through the “voice” of the main character are a dime a dozen. Books where that voice seems to actually belong to someone real are rare, but author Carola Dibbell has managed to create one such authentic voice -bizarre as it may sound to our ears – in Inez, the narrator in her speculative fiction debut novel, The Only Ones.
Inez’s voice is bizarre to us because of the world in which she lives – barely lives. It’s our future world, one that has been decimated after a plague – or rather, a raft of plagues – has swept through, drastically culling the population and breaking the infrastructure onto which most of society still clings. New infections, and reintroduction of old infections, has made survival a stoic affair, especially for those who having grown up knowing little else.
Inez is an anomaly – a “hardy”: someone who is immune to infections. Not only is she immune to the most virulent of infections that killed off most of humanity (and livestock), but it seems that she is immune to all infections; the genetic holy grail known as a Sylvain hardy. Not that many people are aware of what a Sylvain hardy is, or even care. Although Inez makes a living by taking jobs such as cleaning up bio-hazardous areas and being a medical test subject (selling off blood, urine, even teeth), a sputtering system of communication and lack of fusion in the intellectual community (if there even is one) not only let her fly under the radar, but don’t even have the radar set to take advantage of her rarity.
Eventually Inez is hired by an upstate former veterinarian named Rauden Sachs and a loosely knit group of bio-geneticists to be a sample donor for their off-the-grid experimentation of manipulated reproduction. The scientists move into fairly murky (but well intentioned) ethical waters and end up marketing Inez’s genetic material to a grief-stricken mother who had very suddenly lost all four of her cherished daughters. But the deal goes sour, and suddenly Inez finds herself responsible for the leftover “Product”: a child, a baby girl that she names Ani.
Now the solitary woman who has been on her own since age ten must raise a child in a dysfunctional and often absurd world (although infrastructure is shaky and uncertain and any “safety net” exists mainly through neighbors and word of mouth, bureaucracy is as strong and daunting as ever). It’s a frightening and meager future, but if it’s all you know, can there be any fault at not expecting anything of grace or beauty? And perhaps the scariest part of this is that we can recognize more of Inez’s world than she would recognize of ours.
Inez (who goes by “I”) is a remarkable protagonist. She is illiterate, but smart in her own interior way. Her logic is strange to us, yet strong; her confidence is unwavering even as she questions her own decisions and abilities. She may doubt herself and outcomes, but even that doubt is full of bluster and a kind of admiring wonder, rather than acquiescence. She has a voice full of swagger and slang, cadenced street talk and studied nonchalance. But she is also full of poignancy, and her life is full of pathos, even if she has no idea what that may be. (Author Dibbell, best known mainly as a music critic with a specialty in the punk music genre, says on her website she says that in her works she looks for “common ground between feminism and gonzo”; those proclivities are well represented in The Only Ones).
The landscape pulls its own strong focus, as well. Taking place in New York – both the City (specifically, Queens) and upstate New York, the lay of the land is based on real places, real neighborhoods, real streets, real landmarks. The image of our New York already is one of vitality and decrepitude, and that is accentuated in The Only Ones, with an emphasis in decrepitude. Especially compelling were the passages where Inez must struggle with different modes of transportation to get to where she needs to be; the sheer weight of the time and effort it takes for her to get to her various jobs, to get Ani to school, to get food, is a study in heroism (yet not unfamiliar to the single parent of limited means in our own society). Still, the tenacity and stoic fortitude of the City’s inhabitants plays out without apology or resentment. It is, simply, life.
The Only Ones is not a simple read; it would suffer if it was. Without preaching and even the barest nod at ideology (Rauden and his cohorts have to deal with religious vigilantes known as the Knights of Life who roam the countryside on horseback), subjects such as genetic manipulation, cloning, school exclusivity and government ineptitude are touched upon but remain on the periphery of the heart of the story, which is Inez. It is her voice that pulls you in.
Sit back, and listen. She has a fascinating tale to tell.
The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the shortlist for its 2015 awards. The Locus Awards are determined by polling the readers of Locus magazine (subtitled The Magazine of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field). Locus was founded in 1968 and the awards themselves were first handed out in 1971.
The shortlisted nominees for the 2015 Locus Awards include:
The Girl at Midnight
Random House Children’s Books
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All humans but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known. When a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, Echo must help the people who have aided and cared for her.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it. But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they
seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.
To celebrate the Blog Tour for The Girl at Midnight, Random House Children’s Books is offering TWO print copies to US and Canadian residents. Comment below for your chance to win!
Jacaranda Cherie Priest
Release Date: January 31, 2015
When are we going to learn? You don’t use ancient artifacts as household decorations, you don’t plow over native burial grounds, and, as Cherie Priest so articulately shows us, you don’t cut down a jacaranda tree that honors the dead and has been nourished by tears of sorrow to build a luxury hotel. Is anyone surprised when this doesn’t turn out well? Yet like a train wreck, we just can’t look away.
Jacaranda is a coda at the end of Cherie Priest’s well received Clockwork Century steampunk series, which includes such notable works as Boneshaker, Dreadnought and Fiddlehead. Honestly, though, there is no need to be familiar that series to thoroughly enjoy Jacaranda; there are some crossover characters, some references to its environment and an overall rustic feel, but nothing that will keep the uninitiated from thoroughly enjoying Jacaranda on its own.
The premise of the novella is not unexpected: it’s 1895, and a priest, a nun and a lawman have arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas, to discover why so many people are dying at the posh Jacaranda Hotel. The deaths are viciously brutal, and obviously supernatural in origin if not in delivery (many of the deaths are gruesome suicides). Additionally, a hurricane is bearing down on the island, making it as dangerous to leave the hotel as it is to stay.
But what is so wonderful about Jacaranda is not the premise of the story – it’s how Cherie Priest tells it. She writes with a lyricism that entices without shying away from the truly horrific. I especially appreciated how she did not spare the reader the gristly details of the evil that occurs in the hotel, but the descriptions of those horrors were always genuine, never gratuitous, no matter how shocking. In contrast, the gradual revelation of her characters’ backgrounds and their motivations was pert near poetic, making us sympathetic to their plight without becoming bogged down in sentimentality. Those are very difficult balances to keep in a book where horror exists both on the surface and within more insidious depth of malice, but Ms. Priest navigates them masterfully.
The ending was somewhat abrupt and I didn’t feel like every question had been answered by the time the final page was turned, but that was better than drawing out an ending after the storm has passed. (Who wants to stick around for the mopping up afterwards, anyway, save those who have nowhere else to go…)
Every time I read something by Cherie Priest, I am struck with just how talented of a writer she is, and how rich her imagination runs. Jacaranda is no exception. (Check out our reviews of Maplecroft, Boneshaker and Dreadnought, as well as our interview with the author herself.) If you haven’t read Cherie Priest yet, or if you have read some of her works but not Jacaranda, then put it on your TBR list straight away! Your only excuse for not doing so is if there’s a hurricane coming and you happen to find yourself stuck in a strange hotel. In that case, you might just have bigger issues to contend with (and the Lord have mercy on your soul). Seriously, though, read this book!
It’s going to be a pretty short Gimbling in the Wabe this week, not because I’ve suddenly lost my gift of gab, or had an epiphany that brevity really is the soul of wit. It’s because what I feel like addressing is quite simple.
It started with a sudden hoopla on social media about how J. K. Rowling had divulged that she didn’t read “chick lit”, fantasy or science fiction. One would think that the end of times had come with all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that occurred on Twitter and Facebook and the like following this acknowledgement. How could the Queen of All That Is Cool and Right With the World not like fantasy or science fiction? Hadn’t she written one of the most fantastical literary series ever known to fankind? How could Jo do this to us???
I’m not sure why this “disclosure” is resurfacing now. Maybe it’s because the television adaptation of her first post-HP work (The Casual Vacancy) debuted recently on the BBC, so this quote got dredged up during the trolling that many media sites do when trying to generate a buzz. Who knows? But the damning quote of the moment actually came during a 2012 interview Ms. Rowling gave to the New York Times:
(Question:) Any literary genre you simply can’t be bothered with?
(J. K. Rowling:) “Can’t be bothered with” isn’t a phrase I’d use, because my reading tastes are pretty catholic. I don’t read “chick lit,” fantasy or science fiction but I’ll give any book a chance if it’s lying there and I’ve got half an hour to kill. With all of their benefits, and there are many, one of the things I regret about e-books is that they have taken away the necessity of trawling foreign bookshops or the shelves of holiday houses to find something to read. I’ve come across gems and stinkers that way, and both can be fun.
In that same interview, she invokes works by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, political journalist Auberon Waugh and crime writer Val McDermid, mourns that she feels her response to poetry is “inadequate”, says she’d like to meet Charles Dickens if forced to pick one writer to meet (narrowly beating out Colette), that Jo March from Little Women is the character she most admires, and if she could be any literary character, she would be Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, “naturally”.
What’s not to be admired in admissions such as these? How can anyone wring their hands if their literary hero shows such diverse and erudite tastes? Do any of these insights make the Harry Potter books any less wonderful? Does her candid and honest answers diminish any of her works whatsoever, whether they be Harry Potter or The Casual Vacancy or her Coroman Strike novels?
No, not in the least. What an author reads and enjoys personally has no bearing on the merits of what they write. If J. K. Rowling has never and will never read The Mists of Avalon or I, Robot or American Gods, one thing is certain: this “omission” certainly didn’t hinder her from producing what many feel is the superlative fantasy series of all time.
After all, she’s didn’t say that science fiction and fantasy (and, okay, chick lit) are inferior to what she prefers to read. They simply don’t interest her, as a reader. Period. No qualification attached.
It’s like the brouhaha that erupted about a year ago when Ruth Graham wrote in a Slate article that “you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children,” which sparked a furious debate on whether adults should be reading YA literature. This formed the basis for another Gimbling in the Wabe that I wrote in June 2014, and my response then is basically the same as it is today.
It doesn’t matter.
It really doesn’t. You like what you like to read, period. If you push yourself outside your casual boundaries, so be it, good for you. But what you read purely for enjoyment? That’s yours, regardless of qualification or critique from anyone else, for any reason. And it’s all good.
J. K. Rowling herself once said, “I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” Not “a good book as long as it’s not fantasy or science fiction.” Simply, “a good book.”
Uh huh. Like I said. Now – go out there and read something magical; read something that, for you, is good!
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.
We are giving away ONE print copy of THE INVENTION OF WINGS to US residents. Please comment below for your chance to win!
In the frenzy that was my final term of grad school, I signed up for a seminar on Spring and All, by the classic American poet, William Carlos Williams. It would have been fine had I been studying poetry, but I was on the fiction track, and so began my dizzying encounter with this seminal work. For a good portion of that seminar I was completely lost, but reader, I’m hear to say I love this book, and it’s now among my favorites.
The volume, first published in 1923, is one of the major collections published by Williams (who was born in 1883), who is perhaps the best known of contemporary literary physicians, one that defined him as a major influence of the American Modernist movement. While his peers, like Pound, lived and worked abroad, finding influence in European and Asian forms, Williams intently remained in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, aiming to forge a distinctly American language—raw, vernacular, reflective of the time and place in which he lived. And he achieved it in Spring and All, which is a hybrid form of both poetry and prose.
Even if you don’t know the collection, you likely know it’s most well-known poems, I and XXIII. The first, the title poem begins:
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind.
Or the its most well-known poem, The Red Wheelbarrow:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
During that grad seminar, I clung to the familiarity of those works, and yet there were other pleasures, less understood by me in my reading, but which all the same stunned with impressions, objects, moments. “Civitas,” the instructor stated, was the locus from which Williams meant to make his art—a language arising from, and for, the social body. The patient in the ward, the overworked hospital staff, each poem was Williams’ attempt at a new American form, revivifying a desolation of consciousness. Williams rejected the European-influenced, elevated images and tone, and like American realist painters of that post WW1 period, found meaning and relevance in the realistic, in unembellished subject and form that reflected a contemporary consciousness.
Williams famously described his creative method as “No ideas but in things,” and though I struggled with the form his ideas took, his work taught me how life is contained in things, and in voice on the page.
Watch Allen Ginsburg read from Spring and All, here.
It would be a superlative world if the collective “we” would fess up. We’ve done posts before that were meant to inspire. We’ve quoted some of the most beloved, some of the most “important” writers in history. But let’s face it — not every “great” writer has been read by the masses. We wish that were true, but one brief gaze at lists like this might give you an indication of just how many truly gifted writers have published during the past century and still haven’t been widely read. Oh, sure, to our professors and like-minded literary-loving friends we may fib and say we’ve read the greats, but honestly, there are just some “classics” that we haven’t tackled yet.
So with this inspirational post, we’ve quoted writers who you might be more familiar with. Sit back and read the wisdom that comes from steampunk, fantasy, horror and yes, even literary novelists. What do you think, LitStackers? Are your favorite writers on this list? We want to hear from you!
The Galaxy Game
Release Date: January 6, 2015
Have you ever read a book where you weren’t exactly sure what was going on? Where you could follow the big picture, but all the little details – and there were a heckuva lot of little details – seemed just beyond your grasp? I have, and it drives me crazy; nowadays, I don’t even usually finish books like that.
But it happened to me recently while reading Karen Lord’s new novel The Galaxy Game – and I absolutely loved it.
So what is different about The Galaxy Game than all those other meticulous, complicated books? Pretty simple, really. The author doesn’t go out of her way to explain the world, because her characters are too busy living in it. And since it is such a wonderfully realized world, to be constantly reminded that we are outsiders looking in would have been disingenuous. So, we hold on by our fingertips and enjoy the ride.
It’s hard to even explain the book in other than really broad strokes, but I’ll try. Set far in the future, there are a handful of inhabited planets (both natural and terraformed) of which Terra is one of the oldest in various states of development and alliance. We meet Rafi and Ntenman, two boys attending the Lyceum on Cygnus Beta, a school for the psionically gifted. But undeveloped Rafi – who’s not exactly from a stellar background, although his homestead (extended family) is well known and well connected – is perceived by some to be a potential threat, so he is subjected to controlling techniques that not only are humiliating, but cause him horrendous nightmares.
The only real release Rafi has is Wallrunning – a team game of “speed and agility played on vast vertical surfaces that are riddled with variable gravity fields” (I think of it as a kind of group parkour where the vertical playing field moves and flows). Diminutive Rafi isn’t all the good at it, but on the Wall he feels free. Beefier Ntenman, from an established merchant Ntshune family, isn’t all the good at it, either, but he’s much more outgoing and confident than Rafi, and can afford better equipment, so his participation on the team is welcome.
Eventually, however, Rafi cannot take the stigma he lives under at the Lyceum – or the tensions he has to navigate at home – and, aided by some sympathetic relatives (who point him in the right direction then look the other way), he leaves his homestead and his estranged mother, and clandestinely flees to Punartam where he can have himself declared an adult and try to make a life for himself. Ntenman, also bored at the Lyceum, follows Rafi (Ntenman is not big on rules, which with his gregarious and somewhat roguish nature, often does him well), where both young men’s futures turn in ways neither of them could ever have imagined.
Full disclosure: that synopsis is a cop out. There’s so much more going on than what I’ve outlined, so many secondary characters that may not have as much page-time but are nevertheless integral to what is occurring, and what is occurring is a swirling stew of political and socioeconomic happenings that incorporate amazements such as mindships (sentient creatures, handled by a rare breed of especially gifted – and fiercely independent – human pilots, which provide interstellar transportation by, in effect, biting passengers and injecting them with a kind of coma-inducing toxin), and strict societal norms that govern everything from honorifics to “kinship contracts” (of which marriage is only a tiny, almost insignificant part) to what one wears, where one goes and even what pins or ribbons should or should not be added to lapels or belts. This is a world where not only the physical and the emotional aspects of life need to be taken into account, but also the telepathic and the empathetic aspects, with all their rules and dictums and civilities…. like I said, it’s complicated.
And it’s wonderful.
But to dig a little bit further: why is such a complex and elaborate narrative so good? Because it all fits. It works. Even without understanding every bit of it, it feels coherently whole without having to manufacture bits to explain other parts, or work really hard to attempt to have it make sense. It may not be intuitive, but it makes sense.
And whereas other authors would spend an extraordinary amount of time building explication into their story, Karen Lord doesn’t spend time explaining much to us. If a character is learning something, we learn something along with them, but if it’s something they intrinsically understand, then we are meant to simply learn off their cues. (Such as when Ntenman makes fun of Rafi when he unknowingly commits what feels like a country bumpkin faux pas in highly structured Punartam society – we learn along with Rafi just why what he’s done is considered embarrassingly naive; without Ntenman’s reaction, we would have no indication the depth of the social relationships that exist.)
So we get the sense that we have actually entered this world in which we are strangers. It’s not a tale being crafted for our sensibilities, it’s a world – or worlds – into which we have slipped, and we have to learn from observation, not explanation. Sometimes it’s bewildering, yes, and often we have to hold situations and reactions – even on the part of the main characters – in abeyance before we can make sense of them. But with the thoroughness of Ms. Lord’s imaginings, it’s an exhilarating experience.
It wasn’t until after I had read the book that I came to realize it actually had a kind of precursor novel in Karen Lord’s 2014 work, The Best of All Possible Worlds. While The Galaxy Game is not a sequel to this earlier book, it apparently does have some of the same characters and employs the same universe. According to some reviewers, reading The Best of All Possible Worlds makes The Galaxy Game more… understandable.
Doesn’t matter. To push a metaphor, reading The Galaxy Game is a journey worth taking, even if you can’t read the roadmap that tells you where you’re going. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery, and eventually not having a destination won’t matter anymore. It’s all good.
Although this will post the day after William Shakespeare’s birthday, I’m writing it on the anniversary of the day that we assume he was born, so I feel like just grabbing all sorts of wonderful things about the Bard and posting them in one place. Why? Because I can, and, well, because it’s William Shakespeare, and it’s his birthday. He would have been 451 today, but you know, he’s going to live forever.
I mean, even his birth and death are beyond the realm of imagining. We assume that he was born on April 23, 1564, not because we have any record of his birth anywhere, but we do have a record of his baptism occurring on April 26, and children at that time were typically baptized when they were three days old (apparently enough children died in their first few days of life that it wasn’t really feasible to be baptizing them before they were three days old… an interesting and disturbing thing in and of itself). And if indeed he was born on April 23, in Stratford-upon-Avon, then it’s extremely poignant that he also died on April 23, in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1616. He was only 52, which wasn’t so young back then, but seems awfully young to me today.
And yet… despite not traveling far in his lifetime, despite not having a lot of experience with women (that we have any evidence of), despite living in a time where his options were pretty limited, he turns out to be one of the most complex, most amazing, most fantastically talented people this world has ever produced (assuming he is what we popularly believe him to be; today, on his birthday, I’m not entertaining notions of his being a fake, or a front, or a forgery, or a combination of people – although I might entertain that he had access to a Tardis, or something mind blowing like that…)
I mean, do you even realize just how much of our language today is beholden to William Shakespeare? He brought into usage or invented over 1,700 of our words – common words. Words such as grovel, moonbeam, equivocal, frugal – and generous! – madcap, swagger, summit, addiction, advertising… Eyeball! Gloomy! Cold-blooded, bloodstained, obscene, torture, assassination. But also majestic, tranquil, amazement, radiance… Fashionable. Zany. Elbow! Skim freekin’ milk. (Okay, so the “freekin’ ” part was mine, but he coined “skim milk”. And buzzer. And blushing. And birthplace…)
Plus, there are so many phrases that we used without thinking about them, that came from Shakespeare. Sure, we all associate “To be or not to be” with him, or “This above all, to thine own self be true”, or even “… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” But these also came from the Bard: “too much of a good thing”, “laughing stock”, “the clothes make the man”, “as luck would have it”, “one fell swoop”, “green-eyed monster”, “pitched battle”, “good riddance”, “mind’s eye”, “it’s Greek to me”, “heartsick”, “break the ice”, “naked truth”, to “breathe one’s last”, “fair play”, “fancy free”, “eat out of house and home”, “the game is afoot” and “the game is up”, “method in his madness”, “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve”, “melted into thin air”, “lackluster”, “heart of gold”, “strange bedfellows”, “catch a cold”, “wild goose chase”, “housekeeping”, “refuse to budge an inch”, “dead as a doornail”, “foregone conclusion”, “to give the devil his due”, “love is blind”, “for goodness’ sake”….
And then, there are the insults. Oh, those glorious, wondrous insults! Insults such as:
“Thou art as loathsome as a toad.” (Troilus and Cressida)
“I had rather be a tick in a sheep than such a valiant ignorance.” (Troilus and Cressida)
“Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.” (Troilus and Cressida)
“Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit, for I am sick when I do look on thee” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
“When he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast.” (The Merchant of Venice)
“Beg that thou may have leave to hang thyself.” (The Merchant of Venice)
“There’s many a man hath more hair than wit.” (The Comedy of Errors)
“She’s the kitchen wench, and all grease ; and I know not what use to put her but to make a lamp of her and run her from her own light. I warrant, her rags and the tallow in them will burn a Poland winter. If she lives till doomsday, she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world.” (The Comedy of Errors)
“No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip, she is spherical, like a globe, I could find out countries in her.” (The Comedy of Errors)
“You talk greasily, your lips grow foul.” (Love’s Labour Lost)
“A most pathetical nit.” (Love’s Labour Lost)
“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” (Julius Caesar)
“Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough to mask thy monstrous visage?” (Julius Caesar)
“You kiss by the book.” (Romeo and Juliet)
“She hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults.” (Two Gentlemen of Verona)
“You, minion, are too saucy.” (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)
“Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.” (King Lear)
“Thou are the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.” (King Lear)
“Think’st thou, though her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell?” (The Taming of the Shrew)
“Away, you three inch fool.” (The Taming of the Shrew)
“Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous.” (As You Like It)
“‘Tis such fools as you that make the world full of ill-favour’d children.” (As You Like It)
“I do desire we may be better strangers.” (As You Like It)
“Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.” (As You LIke It)
“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” (Macbeth)
“A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)
“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)
“Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)
“To say nothing, to do nothing, to know nothing, and to have nothing, is to be a great part of your title, which is within a very little of nothing.” (All’s Well that Ends Well)
“Thou poisonous bunch-back’d toad!” (Richard III)
“Thou art unfit for any place but hell.” (Richard III)
“Thy mother’s name is ominous to children.” (Richard III)
“Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!” (Henry IV Part 1)
“That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?” (Henry IV Part 1)
“You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!” (Henry IV Part 1)
“Thou leather-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch.” (Henry IV Part 1)
“Peace, ye fat guts!” (Henry IV Part 1)
“You are as a candle, the better burnt out.” (Henry IV Part 1)
“There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” (Henry V)
And my personal favorite: “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!” (Henry IV Part 2)
They almost make me wish I could get mad enough at someone to use these! Alas, I tend to live and move amongst those that I hold in higher esteem than these insults warrant.
But then…. ah, but then, we can always return from the silly, from the fleeting, from the snippets of fun and fancy, to the sublime. To the real reason why Shakespeare is such an icon. To the plays. To the sonnets. To the words, words, words.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
I have no idea if William Shakespeare was a happy man; I hope he was. I have no idea if he knew just how good he was; if he really knew or if he just blustered that he was, or if his talent isolated him. I wonder if he had doubts, if he looked to the sky and despaired of his place in the universe, or if he often found himself transcendently happy. In the end, all we have is his words, those words that have touched so many of us.
And all I have left, is gratitude. “I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks, and ever thanks.” Twelfth Night
Release Date: March 10, 2015
I didn’t really know what to expect from Genevieve Valentine’s third novel, after reading and enjoying her 2014 book, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. That one was a sensitive, somewhat nostalgic retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale of “The 12 Dancing Princesses”, set in New York in the Roaring 20s.
What I got in Persona was a taunt, gripping, amazing read that was a flawless synthesis of politics, glamour, suspense and intrigue. Oh – and it was unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I’m still reeling. And dang, I’d sure like to reel some more.
It’s the near future of our world, and politics has evolved into a game of stylized and cutthroat diplomacy. Gossip and policy go hand in hand, in a smooth synthesis of the superficial and the deeply entrenched. Think of “Entertainment Weekly” in the role of “Newsweek”, or if politics were curated by Facebook rather than a more, um, legitimate means. (Perhaps that not being so hard to imagine is part of what fuels the suspense.)
Suyana Supaki is the Face of the United Amazonian Rainforest Coalition (a country made up of the unification of Brazil and Peru), and operates within the realm of the International Assembly (think the United Nations, but with teeth…. fangs). She’s pretty enough, and charming on camera (which is 90% of diplomacy, she has been told), she appears to be the perfect mouthpiece for the UAFC and yet she’s sharp as a whip underneath her polished veneer, even though she’s still very young. The UAFC used to be a rising player at the IA until a bombing scandal by an eco-terrorist group had their so-called allies scuttling away like roaches under a bright light. Suyana lost her handler in the bombing, the only person that she had come close to trusting since she had been recruited to be a Face.
Her new handler, Magnus – she doesn’t trust him at all, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s even finagled her into a possible physical contract with Ethan, the US Face, which is quite a coup as the US is one of the Big Nine who hold virtually all the power in the IA. It’s possible that the US is pulling lots of unseen strings behind the scenes with this move, positioning itself for some major PR push, but if the public sees Suyana and Ethan as even a potential couple, it has to bode well for upcoming votes and further liaisons. Magnus and Suyana head to the hotel where the contract negotiations are to take place – a “first date”, as the rest of the world sees it.
Outside the hotel, a lone photographer lurks in the adjacent alleyway. He’s a free-lance “snap” in a world of networked competitors, and he’s been following Suyana Supaki on a hunch that the assignation she’s on carries more weight than it appears. His name is Daniel Park, and he has his own reasons for staying off the grid. But suddenly, what had been a scheduled and routine afternoon erupts in gunfire, and a wounded Suyana is lurching into the alley where Daniel has been steadily clicking away. Torn between hope that he’s gotten some lucrative photos of the actual assassination attempt (or is it just a publicity stunt?) and a humanistic need to help the wounded young woman who, due to the continuing gunfire, appears to still be in danger, he ditches the camera (but not before pocketing the memory card) and they run.
Welcome to the first 18 pages.
The writing in Persona is just superb. It is sparse and concise, conveying much within few words, which is exactly why this novel succeeds on so many levels. The world in which the book revolves is superficially bland and processed, yet every word spoken, every gesture, heck, every nuance has a meaning that speaks volumes in the pointedly unacknowledged yet highly scrutinized actions that happen behind the scenes. How Ms. Valentine is able to covey the depth and complexity of such a society without rambling on and muddying the prose is simply inspired.
She’s very stingy in explaining her characters, as well, which really helps to crystallize the focus of the story. We get to know exactly what we need to know, and not much more – and yet, it is this dearth of explanation that makes what we do see so very rich. The only characters we learn much about are Suyana and Daniel, and the depth in which we get to know them feels incredibly intimate. Yet their interactions with the other players in the book – and each other – bristle with intent and personality.
While Daniel is an intriguing character, and a lot of the action hinges on his reactions, it is Suyana who grounds the novel. She is such an amazing heroine. Young, idealistic yet realistic, entrenched in the theatrics of her position and yet completely aware that they are necessary theatrics, she is a young woman who grew up in difficult circumstances and has been meticulously groomed to play a role for a few years that is rife with political manipulation – of her, and by her. Yet she would fall flat if that were all she was. There is so much more to this character, other aspects of who she is and what she does and why she does it, that opens up the story to so much more intrigue, so much more connivance, so much more spirit and strength – and this, this is another way that Persona excels.
I know that we’re not even halfway through 2015, but I’ve already got Persona pegged as one of my favorite books of the year, and I can guarantee that I’ll be watching Genevieve Valentine to see what she comes up with next.
So there I am, in a small hotel between the Costa Brava and Sitges, once again unpacking the bag I’ve carried through France and Spain. It’s been five weeks, and by now the contents are painfully familiar: five t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, and various smaller items, including an excellent pair of sandals purchased on the beach in Antibes. At each small hostel and posada, I’m unpacking and packing in the same order, because that’s the only way everything fits into the bag.
I thought of this recently when a friend, just back from a writers’ conference, mentioned a term used in workshop: “unpacking.” As in, This story concludes without fullyunpacking. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the term, and the similarities between unpacking on a trip and unpacking a story. In the fictional journey, the story is the bag and the necessary items are carried inside it. I like thinking of a story as being “unpacked” rather than, say, “composed.” To unpack a story suggests a different approach, one in which detail lies hidden and waits to be discovered by the writer. There are numerous terms to describe how a story advances: narrative arc, plot points, conflict and resolution, the narrative dream. Unpacking doesn’t so much rely on the conventional arc—exposition, climax, denouement—but on the detail that moves it along.
From my travels I’ve learned that ease of unpacking depends on a few basic principles, so it might be useful to consider the essentials when embarking on a narrative journey.
1. Choose carefully.
Limit what you bring. Allow yourself only what is necessary and which will serve efficiently. Then, in the long-honored tradition of travelers, reduce that amount by half. Remember, traveling light always makes a trip more enjoyable.
2. Stay organized.
Keep the most important items near the top so they can be unpacked first. These are items you don’t want to search for, or lose beneath things you will not use very much. Weightier items are best placed farther down and incidentals in side compartments.
3. Leave extra room
Like the sandals I bought in Antibes, one is certain to encounter the unexpected. Bringing too much will not only weigh you down, but take up room for those things you didn’t know you’d find. Leave sufficient space for discovery.
4. Bring your favorite things.
This is a great piece of packing wisdom I heard once from a well-traveled friend, and have followed ever since. Given the limitations, be sure to choose things you really love. This makes the journey that much more personal and pleasurable.
Unlike an actual journey, a narrative journey should not be planned too well, for it can be death to a story to know too much in advance. A story exists whole in an unknown place, and it’s the writer’s job to travel there and find it. Like many a hotel room, and so many of my drafts, the process can be messy, with details scattered everywhere until I’ve figured out exactly what needs to be unpacked.
So here I am, in the middle of a long revision, having just removed half of what seemed important at the start. The premise has been simplified, the events limited, and some surprising facts uncovered. It’s been a long and roundabout journey, and I’m almost near the end, having unpacked nearly everything of consequence in this fictional world—though not quite everything. Which brings up one more point. At the conference, my friend raised a question, wondering when, in the context of unpacking, a story was finished. The answer came simply enough, “When everything has been unpacked.”
*This post originally appeared on LitStack in March 2012*
The Just City Jo Walton
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
I don’t know Jo Walton personally, but somehow I get the feeling that she’s one of those writers who thinks, “I wonder what it would be like, if…” and then goes out and writes about it. Gleefully. A youngster who is a precocious reader and knows heaps about science fiction? Throw in modern fairies and Welsh traditions and come up with a Hugo and Nebula award winner in Among Others. Wonder about what it would be like if one woman lived two dimensionally contiguous lives? Add in provincial British attitudes and an unapologetic and loving lesbian relationship and you have My Real Children. Your publisher takes essays you’ve written for their blog over the years and binds them together into a fascinating discussion on the science fiction and fantasy genres? Sure! Call itWhat Makes This Book So Great, why don’tcha?
So when robots showed up in her book about the Greek god Athena establishing a city based on Plato’s teachings, I took it all in stride. A fun loving, joyful skipping stride.
Yes, the premise of The Just City is that Pallas Athene and her brother Apollo decide they want to experiment with Plato’s teaching, so she spirits away, from different ages and different cultures, 300 adults (who have prayed to her for deliverance) to become teachers to thousands of children (who she is saving from a life of slavery or other discrimination) to the volcanic Mediterranean island of Kallisti to establish a city where the precepts of Plato’s Republic will be the main statute that will strictly shape every aspect of their lives.
Apollo, for his part, is troubled. He has realized that there are some things that mortals understand better than gods, and that realization has rocked his immortal world. So he decides to put aside his athanasia and be born as a mortal, as one of the children inhabiting the City, so he can experience what it is to be human. Only Athene (who also takes on the guise – but only the guise – of a mortal) knows his true nature.
We also meet one of the Masters (teachers), Maia, who had been Ethel in her previous life. (All citizens of the City are given Greek names and told to forget their previous lives.) She had been a young British woman in the Victorian era who despaired of the lack of opportunity afforded to her due to her sex – but in the City, she has the same opportunity as the men (well, kinda sorta). Then there is eleven year old Simmea (who had been Lucia), who lived in ancient Egypt, but whose family had been killed; she was being sold into slavery before her transportation to the City. In the same “shipment” with her is young Kebes (formerly Matthias), who despite the change in circumstance continues to feel like his passage to the City was simply trading one type of slavery for another.
And yes, there are robots, or “workers”, that do all the heavy lifting and the work that no one else wants to do… until a surprising development forces the inhabitants of the City to question the very core of their beliefs.
Throughout the book, there are scads and scads of discussions on justice, freedom, personal integrity, equality and how best to boost the excellence of the City, all within the precepts of the writings of Plato, some of which are squirmingly difficult for characters and readers alike. But there is also a celebration of female empowerment, touching coming-of-age stories, invited conflict when Sokrates (who we better know as Socrates, the real life philosopher who was often critical of Plato) arrives at the City and stirs things up, and lots and lots of confusion and frustration and angst about eros (sexual love, as opposed to philia – brotherly love – and agape, which is unconditional love unattached to sex).
Who would have thought that Plato could be so entertaining?
Well, Jo Walton, for one! Me, for another, and I know nothing about Plato, not really. Although I know who Plato is, basically, I’ve never read any of his writings, and I’ve never really studied his philosophies, or any of the ancient Greek ideologies – one of the great lacks in my education (that honestly, I’ve rarely cared about missing). But other than wondering in some of the more contentious debates whether or not I should have been able to actually take a side, I never felt a lack while reading The Just City.
And not even then, not really.
While when experiencing The Just City, a reader can’t help but learn a lot about Plato, and about proper debate and what it means to strive for excellence outside of the self, the story is so much more than that. By putting intelligent, open minded people from many different historical periods (from ancient times all the way past our own time) together to overcome obstacles that have stymied humanity throughout the ages, we get to see a unique take on the attempt to create utopia – and to see just how unattainable it seems to be even when everyone involved has the same goal.
Fascinating. And entertaining. And highly, highly original.
In other words, Jo Walton, at her most gleeful. I think Plato – and even Socrates – would have been proud.
I can still recall first reading Stuart Dybek’s classic short story “We Didn’t” in Antaeus (Issue No. 70, Spring 1993), dumbstruck by the beauty of the images—the teenagers on the beach tangled in their Navajo blanket, the coconut suntan oil and lip gloss-colored lake along the beach at day’s end, when “only the bodies of lovers remained, visible in the lightning flashes, scattered like the fallen on a battlefield…” *
The Chicago-born Dybek has published five short story collections: 2014’s Paper Lantern: Love Stories and Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories, along with Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed With Magellan; and two volumes of poetry: Brass Knuckles and Streets in Their Own Ink. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a 1998 Lannan Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Award, among many others. Considered a master of the short story genre, Dybek’s lyric prose combines a strong sense of place with evocative, emotionally charged imagery. And The Coast of Chicago, chosen in 2001 as the inaugural selection for One Book, One Chicago, the city’s collective reading project, is a contemporary classic.
Dybek’s voice is famously gritty and tender, and the stories here are set primarily in the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods of Chicago where Dybek grew up: in the Catholic churches and butcher shops and factories and dead-end streets, all portrayed with vivid and dreamlike detail. The stories in The Coast of Chicago do not strictly adhere to traditional realism, though there is that too: the blown out streets, as in the epic “Blight,” and the lovely spiraling memories in a cup of coffee in the classic “Pet Milk.”
But it’s the leaps of imagination that make The Coast of Chicago so believable. A classic of this collection, “Hot Ice,” is a fabulist tale that tells of a local legend, a girl “frozen in a block of ice” by her father after she tragically drowns and rumored to be hidden in a local ice house. After years of hearing the rumors, three Chicago youths who go looking for her.
The saint, a virgin, was uncorrupted. She had been frozen in a block of ice many years ago.
Her father had found her half-naked body floating facedown among water lilies, her blond hair fanning at the marshy edge of the overgrown duck pond people still referred to as the Douglas Park Lagoon.
That’s how Eddie Kapusta had heard it.
One of the best definitions of magical realism I’ve read comes from Debra Spark. In her essay, “Curious Attractions: Magical Realism’s Fate in the States,” Spark spells out what makes the premise both magical and real. The term magical realism, it turns out, is credited to Latin American critic Angel Flores, first mentioned in a paper presented at the Modern Language Association conference in 1955. As Flores found, and Spark explains, “magical realist stories often had one element that could not be explained away by logic or psychology and once the reader accepted that as a ‘fait accompli, the rest [of the story] follows with logical precision.” It turns out that fait accompli is the thing I’ve loved about the style, that the magical simply happens, and the narrative follows in accordance, and as Spark says, “adheres to logic and natural law.”
“Hot Ice” meets Flores’ criteria for magic realism—the virgin in a block of ice cannot be “explained away,” and like so many of Dybek’s stories, moves seamlessly from gritty realism to realism of the incomparably magical sort. Drawing on his childhood and youth in the Chicago neighborhoods of Little Village and Pilsen, Dybek shows us “…the Greek butcher shop on Halstead with its pyramid of lamb skulls,” and the stained glass window of an angel at St. Procopius, “its colors like jewels and coals,” and the fait accompli in the story’s central image, the saint trapped in a block of ice.
The Coast of Chicago also contains contemporary masterpieces like “Chopin in Winter,” and “Death of a Right Fielder,” along with a series of interconnecting vignettes and Dybek’s singular use of language and image.
Also here is the classic “Pet Milk,” as perfect as a story gets. It centers on the narrator’s memory of the canned milk swirling in the grandmother’s instant coffee, an image that spawns other images, her ancient yellowed radio “usually tuned to the polka station, though sometimes she’d miss it by half a notch and get the Greek station instead.” One image leads to another, and in a structure the writer Maud Casey brilliantly described as a spiral, like the swirling milk of the title, the images wind gradually inward to the story’s final moment.
Thanks to our friends at Penguin Random House for giving you LitStackers the chance to win one of THREE print copies of Charlaine Harris’ Midnight Crossroad in celebration of the paper back release to US and Canadian residents.
To qualify, comment below.
ABOUT MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD
Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.
There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).
Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth…
ABOUT CHARLAINE HARRIS
Charlaine Harris is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse fantasy/mystery series, the Aurora Teagarden, Harper Connelly, and Lily Bard mystery series, and Midnight Crossroad, the first Midnight, Texas, novel. She has lived in the South her entire life. Find her online at www.charlaineharris.com.
Her admirers include Richard Ford, Grace Paley and Robert Stone, but American fiction writer Gina Berriault may be one of most revered writers you’ve never heard of. Cynthia Ozick described Berriault as the quintessential writer’s writer—the recipient of professional admiration and “dim public recognition.” Though I’d say she’s a writer for anyone who loves precisely crafted, beautiful prose.
Berriault, who died in 1999 at the age of seventy-three, wrote prolifically. The author of four novels and three stories collections, she also taught at the University of Iowa and San Francisco State. Her last book, the consummate collection Women in Their Beds: New and Selected Stories (Counterpoint Press, 1996), contains many of her best known short works, including “The Stone Boy” (adapted to film in 1984 starring Robert Duvall). Of the collection the New York Times said, “In these 35 stories, one struggles to find a sentence that is anything less than jewel-box perfect.” My favorite, “Who Is It Can Tell Me Who I Am?” features Alberto Perrera, the effete librarian facing a financially precarious retirement. There are hallmarks to a Berriault story—she lived and worked in and around San Francisco, and the City is often present in her stories, a character in itself with its windblown streets, beaches and cypress along the cliffs. But more than that, Berriault was always an advocate for the outsider, and her characters are often caught between conventional society and existential crisis—such as the controlled librarian Perrera, whose life among books comes into question with the appearance of a homeless and tubercular young man who wants to make the library his home. Berriault writes the outcast and misunderstood—though never sentimentally—along with the tragic desires of the more fortunate.
Among her many awards, Berriault was a recipient of the 1997 Rea Award for the Short Story and was praised by jurors Ozick, Tobias Wolff and Andre Dubus. Though Berriault’s quiet collection were not immediately discovered—Gary Amdahl notes the book went unreviewed for months—but we can be glad now that it was.
Release Date: January 27, 2015
They’re lying to you. Whoever wrote the back cover copy and the PR blurb-age wants you to think that Gemini Cell, the fourth in Myke Cole’s “Shadow Ops” series (and a precursor to the first three books) is a military sci-fi novel, and it’s easy to see why. It’s full of Navy SEAL tactics and discipline, military procedure and weaponry, terrorism and counterterrorism, special ops, and a whole lot of things getting blown up.
But at its heart, it’s a love story. Not a romance, but a true love story. The love of country from one who has chosen to give their lives for its welfare. The love of a band of brothers, thrown together and reforged as a fighting unit, committed to the operation and to each other. The love of a father for his young son. But especially, the love between two people that transcends separation, even death.
But the things-getting-blowed-up parts are pretty good, too.
Myke Cole definitely knows what he’s talking about when he writes about fighting forces. He’s currently a lieutenant with the United States Coast Guard Reserve and works for the NYPD, commanding a boat squadron responsible for search and rescue and maritime law enforcement in the waters around New York. He has served in Iraq, two tours as a security contractor and a third as a Department of Defense civilian. His military voice is authoritative and genuine. So are the fantastical aspects of his story – and the love story, as well.
In Gemini Cell, we are introduced to Petty Officer First Class James Schweitzer, Navy SEAL and consummate warrior. His sniping ability is keen. He’s well liked by his commanders and the men in his squad. He has a four year old son and a pink-haired, tattooed artist wife who takes no crap and yet still exudes a strong femininity. They are deeply in love.
But in life, bad things still happen to good men, and Jim inexplicably is attacked in his own home by some very bad guys out for revenge. After heartbreakingly watching his wife and son cut down, he himself is overpowered and a bullet to his head ends his life. But not his story.
Jim is raised from the dead to become an operative of the top secret project, Gemini Cell, which uses the occult – magic – to partner his enhanced commando body with an ancient warrior spirit: the jinn, Ninip. With an Egyptian sorcerer as handler, and driven by rage and despair at the decimation of his family, Jim uses his fighting know how and military discipline, coupled with the jinn’s supernatural power, to strike against international threats from those who are also looking to exploit the resurgence of magic in our world (the Reawakening of the “Shadow Ops” series).
Yet despite death and reanimation, Jim cannot be separated from his basic humanity, that which made him the man he was. Even as his body is driven to do unspeakably brutal things in the name of national security, and his mind is tortured by the memory of his wife and child, he chafes against being treated as a singular fighting machine and begins to question the purpose and motives of those who control his destiny.
I will admit that the whole “reanimated dead soldier as a super soldier” had me worried at first; there’s so much that can go wrong with such a potential trite concept. And, not having read any of Mr. Cole’s “Shadow Ops” books before, I didn’t know what to expect. But so many people whose opinions I respect had gushed over this book, I felt I had to check it out.
I’m happy to report that all those accolades were correct. Gemini Cell is exceptionally written, gripping, exciting, and compelling. The military operations feel authentic, the emotional turmoil resonates without becoming cloying. The central love story, the one that anchors the book, is handled with sensitivity – just enough sentimentality to make it relatable without going over the top and stopping just short of becoming maudlin. It’s not often that a love story can be this powerful without it being overwhelming, or dissolving into an unpalatable syrup.
But what impressed me the most in Gemini Cell was Jim’s struggle to come to grips with his reanimation, and the continuing conflict of sharing a consciousness – and a body – with a brutal, literally blood-thirsty entity with its own motivations and wiles. In lesser hands, this juxtaposition of modern soldier with ancient jinn might have become a boring litany of discipline versus slavering, but author Cole manages to give a depth to both entities as well as their connection, rather than simply pitting them one against the other, and blessedly without the cop-out of a coerced harmonizing. Folded in with this conflict is a riveting vision of the afterlife and the challenge of retaining a sliver of self when so much has been taken – all masterfully done in Gemini Cell.
It’s not often that you get a hard core military thriller (and there’s plenty of hard core blood and guts in this novel) with fantasy overtones that ingratiates seamlessly with the story, as well as an emotional core that gives all of us a touchstone to anchor ourselves to. But all of these come with this novel.
Seeing the success of Gemini Cell, and given that the other “Shadow Ops” novels delve even deeper into a magical Reawakening replete with superheroes and the supernatural, I think I may just have a few more trips to the library coming up, and a whole new literary obsession to explore.
Aces Abroad: Wild Card IV
Edited by George R. R. Martin
Re-release Date: January 13, 2015
In the 1980s, a group of New Mexico residents, many of them writers, were involved in a superhero role-playing game, grand mastered by author George R. R. Martin (of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fame). From what must have been many lively and enjoyable meetings came a compelling idea: why not turn these created characters and their world into a series of books? And rather than have one person write it for everyone involved, why not have it be a “mosaic novel” as a shared world anthology, with each person writing a contributing story from their creation’s perspective, moving the over-arching theme along via multiple viewpoints, with one voice recurring throughout, knitting them together into one cohesive whole?
The result is “Wild Cards”, a series of books – 22 at last count – all set in a familiar yet alternate universe where an alien virus, inadvertently unleashed in 1947, had devastating effect on those stricken. Christened the Wild Card virus due to its unpredictability, ninety percent of those contracting the virus died (or “drew the black queen”). Of the ten percent that survived, 9% mutated into deformed creatures known as “jokers”, while the remaining 1%, declared “aces”, gained amazing – and sometimes troubling – superpowers. A few of these aces whose powers were considered useless (such as being able to grow body hair at will) were dubbed “deuces”.
The first book, Wild Cards, was published in 1987. Over the years, more anthologies, novels, ibooks, comic books and short stories were published through 2014, shepherded by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass, with other major contributors including Roger Zelazny, Lewis Shiner, Walter Jon Williams, Leanne C. Harper, Chris Claremont, Victor Milán, John J. Miller and Daniel Abraham. (Interestingly enough, Neil Gaiman approached Martin with an idea of a superhero who lives in a world of dreams; when it was declined, he went on to publish the idea himself, as the original Sandman graphic novel.) All the books exist along the same timeline, within the shared universe. Many of the original characters make appearances throughout, some are virtually constant. It’s an amazing collaborative project.
Now, in 2015, Tor Books has reissued Aces Abroad: Wild Card IV (originally published in 1988), adding two new chapters from authors Kevin Andrew Murphy and Carrie Vaughn. In it, a delegation of American politicians, jokers, aces and journalists are on a globetrotting, five month long fact-finding mission on the behest of the World Health Organization. It’s been 40 years since the wild card virus was first unleashed, and different countries treat those afflicted in vastly different ways: some victims are vilified and even eradicated; elsewhere, they are (supposedly) integrated into mainstream society. Some of the aces, especially, even become celebrities, or are worshiped as the embodiment of prophecy.
But how aces and jokers are treated in Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Syria, Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia (yes, Czechoslovakia – this is 1987, remember?), Japan, Germany, France and elsewhere, is only the public side of the story (although that part is often fraught with peril). The personal stories of the likes of Senator Gregg Hartmann (who has Presidential aspirations – and secrets just as large), Peregrine, with her lovely presence and delicate, flight laden wings that makes her a media darling, nine foot tall Troll, whose thick green skin and ogre-ish look belie his down to earth sensibilities, and of course, Dr. Tachyon, the Takisian geneticist and powerful telepath who works (often) tirelessly to help assuage the effects of the virus that his people unleashed, loom just as large, threatening to change the course of not only their own lives, but the entire course of civilization.
It’s very interesting to read a work, set in 1987 and published in 1988. Even with being rereleased this year, the sentiments are often slightly unfamiliar, more confrontational and more sexist than what our modern, politically correct sensibilities have come to expect. Although this is a work of speculative/science fiction, with a lot of fluidity in the historical timeline, the basic governments and political movements remain intact, and that at times can be somewhat startling to the modern reader, in a very beguiling way. There is a sense of, “oh, was life really like this?” Sometimes the answer is no, but most of the times it is yes. After all, Soviet Russia had not yet fallen, the Berlin Wall was still intact, Afghanistan was controlled not by the Taliban but by the USSR, the Middle-East had yet to explode, Palestine was beginning a new intifada against Israeli occupation, Reagan sat in the White House, Gorbachev in the Kremlin; the Cold War was in full swing. By couching the stories within the political intrigue of the time, yet focused within a globe-wide altering event, we are in a constant state of retro-fantasy, which is utterly fascinating.
The stories themselves are somewhat uneven. Some are downright riveting, whereas others feel like they have been lifted from the worst of the b-grade action movies of the time. Some of the characters are hard to swallow as being completely unbelievable, even for a mutant/superhero, but others will resonate with a humanity that has been just as affected by the virus as corresponding physical attributes. The sex – and yes, there is a fair amount of sex in many of the chapters – is universally trite or shocking (as one would expect of speculative sex written almost three decades ago) but that in and of itself lends much to the stories.
I was quite drawn Carrie Vaughn’s contribution, “Always Spring in Prague”, where one of the protagonists was a young American woman – a joker, with one arm that morphed into a tangle of snakes at the elbow – who had fled her privileged home to find a welcoming community in the Czech revolutionary underground. Her need to be accepted for who she is, not for what she is, was poignant and relevant. But I think my favorite was Kevin Andrew Murphy’s “Warts and All”. It may not be the strongest chapter, dramatically or thematically, but the image of a huge, orc like creature being beset by trails and tangles of butterflies is precious. How Mr. Murphy was able to weave those images into deeper intrigue and even pathos is quite enjoyable. (Interesting – I just realized my two favorite sections were the ones more recently written….)
Aces Abroad was my first foray into the Wild Card universe, but now that I have stuck my toe into its waters, I do believe that I will continue to seek these books out. Maybe it’s my own role-playing background, but I find the entire impetus to the series to be quite captivating, and the result to be energizing, coming from so many different yet shared perspectives. Then again, there are a few story lines that weren’t resolved at the end of the book, and I keep wondering if Senator Hartmann really does run for President, or will the others find out about….. oh, wait – spoilers! Wouldn’t want to do that, now, would I? You’ll just have to explore this universe on your own, and make your own discoveries. But I can guarantee, it will be a fun ride.
We are so excited about this upcoming release from LitStack friend and extraordinary YA debut author Chris Ledbetter. If you love YA, mystery and suspense, then you will devour Drawn from Evernight Teen. Look for Drawn launching in June.
Synopsis Caught between the sweltering fall landscape of Wilmington, NC beaches and southern illusions and expectations, all sixteen year-old Cameron Shade thinks about is art. That, and for Farrah Spangled to view him as more than just a friend. Cameron longs to win her heart through art.
After several warm interactions with Farrah, including painting together at the beach, Cameron discovers just how complex Farrah’s life is with her boyfriend and her family. Following a tense run-in with Farrah’s father, she forbids Cameron to ever speak to her again, but Cameron’s convinced there’s more behind the request.
To impress Farrah with a last-ditch effort, Cameron sketches her portrait. But the sketchbook he uses hides a dark secret. Farrah’s now in grave danger because the sketch he drew of her siphons her real-life’s soul into the sketchbook. Cameron now has twenty days to extract Farrah. To save her, he must draw himself into the book.
If he fails… they both die.
About the Author Chris Ledbetter grew up in Durham, NC before moving to Charlottesville, VA in 11th grade. After high school, he attended Hampton University where he promptly “walked-on” to the best drum line in the CIAA. And, without any prior percussion experience. He carried the bass drum for four years, something his back is not very happy about now.
After a change of heart and major, he enrolled in Old Dominion University and earned his degree in Business Administration. He’s worked in various managerial and marketing capacities throughout his life. While teaching high school for six years in Culpeper, VA, he taught business management, business law, marketing, and sports marketing, and also coached football.
He has walked the streets of Los Angeles and New York City, waded in the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and climbed Diamond Head crater on Hawaii and rang in the New Year in Tokyo, Japan. But he dreams of one day visiting Greece and Italy.
He’s a proud member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and a strong supporter of the Need for Diverse Books. As a self-described, young reluctant reader, he writes young adult stories specifically to reach other reluctant readers. As a participant in the prestigious Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, he was blessed to be mentored by Suzanne Morgan Williams, 2012 SCBWI member of the year.
He now lives in Wilmington, NC with his family, including three cats.
Erin Entrada Kelly
In Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut novel, Apple Yengko is a typical American adolescent. Except that she is Filipino. And she is ranked number three on the mean boys’ Dog Log, a hypothetical list of the ten ugliest girls at Chapel Spring Middle School.
Apple and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when Apple was four years old. All she brought with her was a postcard and a cassette tape of the Beatle’s Abbey Road album, which had belonged to her father, who died of a brain aneurysm before they immigrated. Apple loves the Beatles. Her favorite song is Blackbird Fly and her favorite Beatle is George Harrison.
Once you listen to the Beatles, you can’t go back. They’re the best rock band that’s ever lived, in my opinion.
Apple longs to get a guitar and learn to play so she, too, can be a rock star. But her mother refuses to buy her a one.
Apple is friends with Alyssa and Gretchen and the three of them always got along well. But now they are in middle school, and her friends have changed. All they care about is boys and being popular. Like most middle school children who strive to such status, Alyssa and Gretchen follow the social mandate that says one must shun, ridicule, and otherwise torment other students who seem different or weird. At Chapel Spring Middle School, one such student is Heleena; quiet, shy, and overweight. The other kids call her Big-leena. In her heart, Apple knows it’s not right. But she doesn’t want to alienate Alyssa, who seems poised to climb the social ladder.
One day, a new kid named Evan Temple shows up at Chapel Spring. He, too, is different. But Apple is drawn to him. Unlike most of the other kids, Evan doesn’t care what people think about him. And he’s not afraid to stand up to the bullies.
Through a series of embarrassing events, Apple comes to realize that her friends, especially Alyssa and the creepy boys she adores, are jerks.
Sometimes it feels like the Beatles are the soundtrack to my life. Sometimes it feels like music is the only thing that saves me, especially in moments like this, when my so-called best friend is ready to tell me how ugly I am.
She becomes good friends with Evan and Heleena, and through them she discovers what true friendship means. A music teacher also befriends her, loans her a guitar, and gives her lessons at lunch time. Not surprisingly, Apple has a natural talent.
Throughout the story, like many real-life middle-schoolers, Apple struggles with her identity and self-esteem. She is ashamed of her Filipino heritage and the nickname she was given at birth. She hates her dark slanted eyes, her straight black hair, and her thin figure. Apple has a habit of labeling everyone by “three IFs” (interesting facts). Evan and Heleena help Apple discover the value of her uniqueness and her own self-worth. By the end of the story, Apple lists her own three IFs like this: I was born on an island in the Philippines. I can play any Beatles song on the guitar. My name is Apple.
Blackbird Fly beautifully illustrates multi-cultural diversity and the importance of acceptance. The story is fictional, but Kelly’s portrayal of a young girl who immigrated to American with her mother loosely parallels the author’s own life. Kelly is a Filipina-American who was raised in south Louisiana by a mother who was the first in her family to immigrate from the Philippines to the United States. Kelly also realistically depicts life in middle school. Kids that age want to fit in and be accepted. They care about what other people think about them; about who’s “popular” and who isn’t. They want to have friends, but they often don’t know how to be a good friend. Loyalties can be fickle, at best. And adolescents can be relentlessly cruel in their own quest to be noticed and accepted. All that angst, as well as an uplifting positive ending, comes to life in Blackbird Fly.
This book releases March 24 and has already garnered much attention. Blackbird Fly was chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2015. The Southern Independent Booksellers Association listed it with their OkraPicks: Best Books of the South. And it has starred reviews from the School Library Journal and Kirkus Book Reviews. Highly recommended for middle grade readers.
My favorite short stories all seem to have qualities in common: something singular happens to a character, usually out of nowhere; the setting is exceptionally vivid—almost a character in itself; and the narrator can shift easily from the deepest parts of the character to a span of godlike distance. It’s this last point that usually contains what I consider the gem of a reader’s experience: wisdom. Jean Thompson’s stories are bursting with it, wise things that strike with a clarity because they are so true, yet were never so clearly, sensibly uttered.
It’s hard to believe Thompson’s collection is fifteen years old. Released to wide praise in 1999, with many of its stories having already found esteemed homes in places like The New Yorker, Ontario Review, Story, and Ploughshares, and reprinted in the Best American Short Stories 1996, each one still reads as though written just now. And yet there are no iPhones, no screens, no political or historical markers. Thompson’s stories, like those of Flannery O’Connor, are driven purely by character.
But back to wisdom. In the story, “A Rich Man’s House,” a recently divorced woman is asked by her neighbor, the rich man of the title, to feed his cat while he goes on a fishing trip. She’s our point of view character, but she goes unnamed. The rich man has a name, Kenneth Dacey. So does his caretaker, Jesse. Yet despite our unnamed female narrator, who is feeling a test of her worth in the wake of her divorce, is portrayed with a clarity that eludes that of the rich man and his house full of stuff. When Dacey gives her a tour before his trip, she finds herself feeling bereft at the ranging, empty house filled with unused, expensive things:
When I got back to my house, it had a welcoming look to it. Your own unhappiness is always preferable to someone else’s, just as you sleep better in your own bed, even alone.
The feelings prompted by the rich man’s house make her wish her husband was still at home, so she could tell him about it. “I imagined scenes like that more and more, and remembered less and less of the things that had happened between us. It was a different phase of loneliness, the one that came after the sharpest edges had worn off.” Anyone who’s undergone loss has felt that way, felt the sharp edges being worn away by memory, but luckily, we have Thompson who is able to say it.
A classic of the collection, “All Shall Love Me and Despair,” concerns Annie, and her love for Scout. They’re young, and to help beat Scout’s heroin habit, they’ve come to a seaside town in Oregon from Chicago, driving a stolen car. Because Scout was ill from withdrawal, Annie drove alone: “The trip from Chicago is something Annie can uncover like a scar on her body when she wants to remind herself that she can do anything. She drove every mile of the way. Even when Scout was well enough to sit up and look around him, she was the one who drove.”
There’s the skill of showing the reader what she knew but never put into words, but showing her what she didn’t know, and in a way so clear, it’s instantly known. Thompson has that gift for defamiliarization, as here, in describing Scout’s drug paraphernalia:
The needle always looked clean, no matter where it had been. Nothing could be cleaner than its thin bright nakedness, its silver eye, its spike. Scout let it fall to the floor. His eyes rolled back in his head like heavy silver pinballs. A piece of indifferent Chicago sky hung in the window. The room smelled of gas and sugar, a closed wintertime smell.
In the best short stories, we watch the characters in extremis, subjected to so much ill fate, and that is where the heart of story beats. The title story in Who Do You Love taken from the Bo Diddley song, centers on a suicidal social worker, Judy Applebee. The character, as Thompson describes, is one “who is crippled by her lack of self love.” Judy’s alienation runs deep, from her relationship with her mother, to her boyfriend, to her clients at the agency. One evening, she wanders into an expensive store in a shopping mall, caught up in imagining what her life might be like if only she could change its terms. Briefly, she wonders what it might be like to work in a place where people buy expensive things, rather than, as she does, counsel bereft people. Just then, Judy catches sight of her own face in a mirror:
Her hair was lank as if she’d sprayed it with a hose. Her face was bare, shiny, more unnatural somehow than the clerk’s layers of cosmetics. The flesh was spread unevenly over the bones, like cold butter on bread.
Thompson is gifted putting her character’s through dire straits, illuminating setting, and finding the barest, starkest undercurrents in the human experience. That makes her stories unforgettable. As bleak as the terms might be, there is a crazy amount of love in these stories. And not just between characters, but of a writer for the act of storytelling. With Valentine’s Day coming up, this would be the perfect gift.
Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: July 8, 2014
I’ll admit it – I’m not reticent about jumping on the bandwagon sometimes, even if it’s just because someone says “Jump On!”. If I wasn’t, I would never have picked up Edan Lepucki’s post-apocalyptic story California, and that would have been a shame.
California was plucked out of relative obscurity when television personality/pundit Stephen Colbert crusaded against behemoth bookseller Amazon.com by extolling his viewers (and over 6 million Twitter followers) to buy Ms. Lepucki’s debut novel. California had been picked somewhat at random from the Hatchette canon (Hatchette being Amazon’s main target and Colbert’s own publisher) by Sherman Alexi, an author (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) whose works were also languishing from the bookselling spat. Stating that the conflict between Amazon and Hatchette “is toughest on young authors who are being published for the first time,” Mr. Colbert ensured that California would quickly became one of the most pre-ordered first novels in Hatchette’s history (Little, Brown and Company is part of the Hatchette stables).
While I don’t exactly consider myself to be part of the Colbert Nation, I’m not above sticking it to the man (well, kinda, sorta), especially when books are involved, and especially when new authors are suddenly thrust into the fairy tale spotlight. It took a while, but I finally was able to get my hands on a copy of California.
What I found was surprising and unexpected. Knowing that it was set in the not-so-distant future when the world-as-we-know-it is no more, I expected a book full of struggle-for-survival spine tinglers. Instead, California is much more low key than most post-apocalyptic stories; the emphasis is not on horror of environment, or threat from contagion or biology going off the rails. The young married couple at the center of the book, Frieda and Cal, are fairly secure, given the circumstances.
Those circumstances include an almost complete collapse of the world’s infrastructure (it’s telling that I don’t exactly remember the cause – that’s not what’s important in this book) and society’s response: the rich retreat behind the secured walls of newly established “Communities”, virtually untouched by scarcity and lack of amenities due to their huge reserves and access to technology, while the rest survive as best they can, scratching out a living or fleeing the crumbling cities which are now devoid of electricity, the internet and communications, running water, social services, central government. Then there is the radical element, a holdover from the militarization of the 99%-ers splinter groups, who vow a continuation of their campaign against the “haves” and the “have nots” by covertly working – sometimes artfully and sometimes violently – to break the status quo and level the playing field for all.
Frieda’s charismatic older brother, Micah, had been one such radical. Honed by the ideology embedded in the traditionalist, agrarian-based college he attended (where he was Cal’s roommate -that’s how Frieda and Cal met) and flamed by the fervor spouted by a shadowy organization known as “the Group”, Micah had violently sacrificed himself to the cause by becoming a suicide bomber, the first one in L.A. Losing a brother in such a way, to such a cause (which Frieda and Cal still believed in, although not embracing the Group’s methods), at such a cost made their choice to leave the crumbling city behind and take their chances in the wilderness an easy one to make.
Due to Cal’s training, Frieda’s down to earth nature, and their being deeply in love (at the very heart of this book is a love story), the couple found survival to be acceptable, even at times exhilarating. While most of their lives were dictated by necessity, they could still appreciate the life around them and lean on each other for support and companionship. Yet they had been alone for over two years, and isolation is not a normal human condition, so when they realize that they are not the only ones in this inner wilderness their curiosity leads them to seek out others who also are looking to find purchase in this new civilization. But will finding others protect them, or leave them more vulnerable?
The action in California unfolds slowly, simply, and the characters are far more “real” than deep or dramatic or riveting. Cal and Frieda feel authentic, and the times that they are at odds seem especially tragic due to this connection we can make to them. The confusions and misunderstandings that come about due to a lack of communication (or an unwillingness or inability to pry), and the danger of secrets – even for “safety’s sake” – are given an unique play in California, but they reverberate in each of our own experiences. It definitely is a book of similarities, which makes the differences that arise so much more jarring.
Even though California is set in a dystopian future, don’t expect terrible or terrorizing anomalies there, either. As with Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent 2014 novel, Station Eleven, which also shuns a typical post-apocalyptic scenario, there are no zombies or mutants or parasitic threats in California. The biggest threat is, and continues to be, humanity’s own attitude of entitlement, and how the perceived threat to home and family and freedom can be twisted to not only justify the means, but change the very definition of home and family, and convolute the value of freedom. The question then becomes not one of survival, but survival at what cost?
If I had one bone to pick with California, it would be the ending. After so many pages of a slow building of attachments and attitudes, it seemed like the ending wasn’t very rewarding and left quite a few questions in its wake. Although the larger story arcs were satisfied, there was a myriad of small ones left hanging, or in the worst cases were resolved but without adequate time to absorb and respond to them. Since those “small” story arcs are the most involving to the reader, this lack gave a feeling of deficiency to the ending. It’s not that the writing was rushed, really, but with the meandering pace of the earlier chapters, the conclusion had a definite sense of being incomplete (without a hint of a sequel, which also would have felt off base).
Still, California got under my skin. As with the final section in David Mitchell’s masterful novel The Bone Clocks, this is a vision of the future that feels uncomfortably plausible, which is in and of itself lends a undercurrent of terror to the book. There is no real sense of fear in turning the next page, but there is small hope, either. Yet still, we are compelled to turn that next page. Because, no matter how small, there is always hope, if not for us, then for what will – if we are lucky – come after, once the price is paid.
The Associated Press is reporting that a second novel written around the same time as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” discovered last fall, from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Harper Lee, will be released in July. “Go Set a Watchman” was completed by Lee in 1950, but set aside and is somewhat of a sequel to Lee’s classic novel. It is only the second novel that the 88 year-old has published.
Of the new novel, Lee said: “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort[…] my editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout. After much thought and hesitation, I shared [Watchmen] with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will not be published after all these years.”
To date, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has over 40 million copies in print worldwide and is now considered a classic in literature. “Go Set a Watchman” is set in Lee’s beloved Maycomb, Alabama, during the mid-1950s, twenty years after “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Instructions: Everything You’ll Need to Know on Your Journey
Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess
How do you write a recommendation for a book that probably has less words than this recommendation? That’s the dilemma I had once I decided to recommend Neil Gaiman’s poem-as-book, Instructions: Everything You’ll Need to Know on Your Journey. But then on second thought… I stopped worrying about it.
This slim volume (at less than three dozen pages) may not seem like much, but true to form for literary arch druid Gaiman, the story is ever so much bigger on the inside (inside the cover, that is). How Mr. Gaiman is able to take such simple words and string them together in such simple ways to put forward such simple ideas that nevertheless carry such deep, complex and universal significance is nothing more than magical.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
Add in a delightful feast of illustrations by the incomparable Charles Vess – who as an artist is as much a master with his pen and ink as Mr. Gaiman is with his words – and you have perfection squared. The two go so very well together.
Instructions is a small story meant to be shared. This week I urge you to read it for yourself, then pass it on to your closest friends, and encourage them to pass it on to their closest friends, and so on and so on. Then all of us can stride forward confidently in all of our journeys.
The new year has arrived. So has a new reading list. Here’s some of what I’m looking forward to in 2015—a mix of releases and classics I didn’t quite get to in 2014, and some great new books scheduled to arrive in the new year.
The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontës, and the Importance of Handbags, by Daphne Merkin. It’s Merkin’s first book in fifteen years, listed a Best Book of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly as one that “Includes profiles of Richard Burton, Bruno Bettelheim, Mike Tyson, and Cate Blanchett, as well as essays on Anne Carson’s “unclassifiable” poetry, the books of W.G. Sebald, and the resiliency of Jean Rhys (who ‘speaks to the inner bag lady in all of us’).”
The Unspeakable, Meghan Daum’s new essay collection. In these ten new works, says Amazon, “old encounters with overdrawn bank accounts and oversized ambitions in the big city have given way to a new set of challenges.”
My Struggle, Books One and Two. The first two installments of the six-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard. First released in Norway from 2009-2011 (and recently translated to English by Don Bartlett), the third volume in English translation has just been released. Knausgaard, who has been called the Norwegian Marcel Proust, had me hooked from the first lines: “For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.”
Purity, Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel is due out in September, his first since 2010’s Freedom. The Guardian describes the story as “a young woman searching for her father, moving from America today to South America and East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall,” and the publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux calls Purity a “stylistic departure.” As a big fan of The Corrections, and the essay collection How to Be Alone, I can’t wait.
I love the premise of Megan Mayhew Berman’s new story collection Almost Famous Women. The stories center on, well, women who were just that. Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra. Oscar Wilde’s troubled niece, Dolly. West With the Night author Beryl Markham. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma. The book has just been released, and was recently described by NPR as “fictionalized accounts of real-life, risk-taking women who have largely been forgotten, and now are re-imagined.”
I’m definitely late to All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. This World War II novel of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France, has been been called “stunning,” “ambitious,” and an “instant New York Times bestseller.” The book has also jumped in sales since being a finalist for this year’s National Book Award. Doerr, known for his gorgeously crafted prose, deserves every bit of the praise.
Finally, the classic that has managed to be off my radar for far too long, Ford Madox F
ord’s The Good Soldier. Written in 1915, the impressionistic tale of a soldier, Captain Edward Ashburnham, and his wife Leonora in the aftermath of WWI has long been on my list. Finally, I bought the book over the New Year’s weekend and greedily devoured the introduction, in which Ford is quoted as saying that he looked back on the novel “into which—after more than twenty years of authorship—he put ‘all that I knew into writing.'”
She’s dead-set on giving one bullheaded cowboy the boot.
Welcome to Pistol Rock, Texas where everyone knows secrets last about as long as the sporadic west Texas rain showers.
Laney Briggs has long been considered reckless, but she’s turned herself around—she’s respectably engaged and she’s become a Pistol Rock deputy sheriff. Everything’s fine until a dead body turns up and her ex, Texas Ranger Gunner Wilson, decides to stick his boots into the town’s first murder case.
Laney will be damned if she lets Gunner trample all over her turf and her chance at a quiet, contented life. His seemingly endless ability to undermine her resolve and her libido was only outdone by her constant urge to butt heads with him. But when the bodies start to pile up, Laney has to ask the lethal bad boy for a hand—and a truce in exchange for his help.
Having an ex-boyfriend as an ally might not be the best idea, but Laney has always been pretty reckless…
Falling for Her Soldier
She fell for the nice guy, but will she fall for the real guy?
Ex-ballerina Ellie Bell has twenty-four days left until her self-imposed man-less year is up. No more falling for the wrong kind of guy—charming, sexy, bad. Why can’t she find someone sweet like Charlie Johansson, her soldier pen pal? His e-mails meant the world to her, and she can’t stop thinking about him…until she meets Hunter, whose muscles and cocky smile threaten to have her relapsing.
Before Charlie “Big Game Hunter” Johansson’s last tour of duty, he’d gone through women like crazy. But after connecting on a real, emotional level via letters with his best friend’s sister, Charlie’s ready for a relationship—with Ellie Bell. But then her brother introduces him as Hunter. Proving he’s no longer a player by becoming Ellie’s dance partner for an Army benefit seems like it could convince both siblings he’s changed, but the harder he falls for Ellie, the harder it is to come clean. Can he convince her to fall for the real him before it’s too late?
Reunited in Danger
Keely Allen’s life goes into a tailspin when her adoptive father is viciously attacked. And the detective who offers to help her? None other than the sexy, love ’em and leave ’em man who once broke her heart.
Homicide Detective Logan North carries a haunting secret that has always kept his emotions on lockdown. But when he is forced to work alongside his former lover, the heat is still there between them, burning hotter than ever. Logan is determined to keep the luscious and tempting Keely at a distance…but he made a vow not to leave until all are safe.
On their race to solve the tangled web of crime, drug deals, and human trafficking, dangers abound—both to their lives…and to their hearts.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO OUR WINNER.
The Elusive Wife (Marriage Mart Mayhem #1)
Jason Cavendish, the Earl of Coventry, is trying to discreetly locate his unwanted and abandoned bride among London society to request an annulment. However, he doesn’t remember what she looks like because he was blind drunk at his arranged wedding and hasn’t seen her since. The fascinating Lady Olivia has captured the Earl’s attention. Newly arrived from the country to stay with her school friend for the Season, she is appalled to discover that her husband, Lord Coventry, doesn’t even recognize her. She’s not about to tell the arrogant arse that she is his wife. Instead, she flirts with him by night and has her modiste send her mounting bills to him by day. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… Too bad this woman finds her husband nearly irresistible.
A stolen woman of rare qualities…
Seized by marauders and taken to the icy northlands by the wolf-eyed Viking warrior, Helena will do whatever it takes to earn her freedom and return to France.
A mighty Viking Chieftain…
Betrayal has turned Hakan’s heart to ice, but the spirited Frankish maid warms him in a way he’s never known. The spell she weaves leaves them both breathless, but can he keep his promise to return her home even if it means he’ll lose his precious jewel forever?
Just for the Summer
Dani Sullivan has come to Lake Bliss to write her latest cookbook and take a breather. After the year she’s had, she deserves a summer retreat to reevaluate priorities and make peace with past decisions. But from the moment single dad and sheriff Matt Reagan shows up, she has a hard time convincing herself that a life away from Lake Bliss could beat the life she might have here.
Recently divorced Matt is ready for a new relationship, but he doesn’t want short-term—his son needs permanence, and so does Matt’s heart. Unfortunately, it’s the smart-mouthed and sinfully sexy Ms. Sullivan who catches his eye. But when Matt learns Dani’s secrets, will he still want her to stay? Or will her chance for love last just for the summer?
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO OUR WINNER.
This paperback bundle is open to ONE winner in the US and Canada.
Always on My Mind
Grand Central Publishing
After dropping out of pastry school and messing up her big break on a reality cooking show, Leah Sullivan needs to accomplish something in her life. But when she returns home to Lucky Harbor, she finds herself distracted by her best friend, Jack Harper. In an effort to cheer up Jack’s ailing mother, Dee, Leah tells a little fib – that she and Jack are more than just friends. Soon pretending to be hot-and-heavy with this hunky firefighter feels too real to handle . . .
No-strings attachments suit Jack just fine – perfect for keeping the risk of heartbreak away. But as Jack and Leah break every one of their “just friends” rules, he longs to turn their pretend relationship into something permanent. Do best friends know too much about each other to risk falling in love? Or will Jack and Leah discover something new about each other in a little town called Lucky Harbor?
Goddess With a Blade
Rowan Summerwaite is no ordinary woman. Physical vessel to the Celtic Goddess Brigid and raised by the leader of the Vampire Nation, she’s a supercharged hunter with the power to slay any vampire who violates the age-old treaty.
A recent string of murders has her at odds with Las Vegas’s new Scion, the arrogant and powerful Clive Stewart. The killings have the mark of Vampire all over them, and Rowan warns Clive to keep his people in line—or she’ll mete out her own brand of justice.
Though her dealings with Clive are adversarial to say the least, Rowan is intensely aware of her attraction to him. But she can’t let it distract her from her duty—to find and battle the killer before more women die.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO OUR WINNER.
*This print bundle will go to ONE US or Canadian winner. Comment below to qualify*
Own the Wind
Forever; Reissue edition
Too hot to handle…
Tabitha Allen grew up in the thick of Chaos—the Chaos Motorcycle Club, that is. Her father is Chaos’ leader, and the club has always had her back. But one rider was different from the start. When Tabby was running wild, Shy Cage was there. When tragedy tore her life apart, he helped her piece it back together. And now, Tabby’s thinking about much more than friendship…
Tabby is everything Shy’s ever wanted, but everything he thinks he can’t have. She’s beautiful, smart, and as his friend’s daughter, untouchable. Shy never expected more than friendship, so when Tabby indicates she wants more—much more—he feels like the luckiest man alive. But even lucky men can crash and burn…
Drowning in Fire
Hidden in the Hawaiian islands, there is magic pure enough to heal a broken heart.
In his last audience with the Senatus, Griffin hoped to establish a connection between his water-wielding race and the other elementals. Instead, he found himself drawn into a forbidden affair with the Chimeran general Keko. When it ended in a storm of fire and ice, Griffin was banned from the Senatus and Keko was stripped of her status.
Just as Griffin is given a second chance to prove himself worthy of a Senatus seat, he gets a call from Keko. Despite how it ended between them, she wants to hear his voice one last time before embarking on a suicide mission to save her people and redeem her name.
Despite her good intentions, members of the Senatus want her stopped—and Griffin volunteers to go after her. As he tracks his former lover through the untamed Hawaiian wilderness, she leads him straight to the source of all fire magic. But will the intense power they discover draw them back together or destroy them both?
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO OUR WINNER.
*This bundle giveaway is for ONE winner for US and Canadian residents.*
#1 New York Times bestselling author Sherryl Woods draws readers back into the world of strong friendships and heartfelt emotions in Serenity, South Carolina
Determined to build a new life for her family after her divorce, Adelia Hernandez has bought a home in the historic Swan Point neighborhood of Serenity. Promoted to manager of Main Street’s most fashionable boutique, she feels revitalized and ready for a fresh start as a single mom. But barely into this new independent phase, she crosses paths with the sexiest man to hit Serenity in years.
Gabe Franklin, back in town to make amends for past mistakes, has no intention of settling down, but Adelia’s proving irresistible. Cheered on by their friends, “the Sweet Magnolias,” Gabe is bringing long-absent passion and laughter into Adelia’s life. To his surprise—and hers—sometimes a rolling stone is just what it takes to build the rock-solid foundation of a family.
Sixteen-year old Selena Fallon is a dreamer. Not a day-dreamer, but an I-see-the-future kind of dreamer. Normally this is not a problem as she has gotten pretty good at keeping her weird card hidden from everyone in her small town. Except from her best friend Kyle and her grandparents, of course. But when Selena dreams of her own rather bloody death, things get a little too freaky even for her.
Enter Dillan Sloan. Selena has seen the new guy in a different dream, and he is even more droolworthy in person. Beyond the piercing blue eyes and tousled dark hair, there is something else that draws her to him. Something…electric. Unfortunately, Dillan makes it more than clear that he does not feel the same. They just met, so why would he act like he hates her?
When Dillan and Selena are forced together one weekend to work on a school project, Selena prepares to be ignored as usual. But when she stumbles across a few undead in the backyard, Dillan comes to her rescue and reveals a whole lot more. Not only is he part of a society that hunts otherworldly creatures…she is too. And she is being targeted by a force bigger and darker than anything she ever imagined. Despite her death dream, Selena is not going to give up easy, especially when she discovers that Dillan might not actually hate her after all.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO OUR WINNERS.
What a great Christmas treat for you guys. Author Sawyer Bennett is giving away ONE signed copy of Uncivilized and a digital boxed set of The Off Series. (Two winners in all) Comment below to qualify.
Big Dog Books, LLC
Putting a woman on her knees before me is what really makes my cock hard. I fuck with dominant force and absolute control. I demand complete surrender from my conquests.
Savage man, loner, warrior… I am dangerous at my core. I have lived amidst the untamed wild of the rainforest, in a society that reveres me and where every woman falls before me in subjugation.
Now I’ve been discovered. Forced to return to a world that I have forgotten about and to a culture that is only vaguely familiar to my senses.
Dr. Moira Reed is an anthropologist who has been hired to help me transition back into modern society. It’s her job to smooth away my rough edges… to teach me how to navigate properly through this new life of mine. She wants to tame me.
She’ll never win.
I am wild, free and raw, and the only thing I want from the beautiful Moira Reed is to fuck her into submission.
She wants it, I am certain.
I will give it to her soon.
Yes, very soon, I will become the teacher and she will become my student. And when I am finished showing her body pleasure like no other, she’ll know what it feels like to be claimed by an uncivilized man.
The Off Series
(Including Off Sides, Off Limits, Off the Record & Off Course) Off Limits
Big Dog Books, LLC
I’m not sure what possessed me to do it. Maybe it was the impossible expectations I faced, maybe it was my own self-loathing. But I just knew I needed something different to happen. I needed someone… something… to derail me from my current path. Otherwise, I would become lost… a hollowed out shell of a man. So I did it. I approached her, then I pursued her, then I made her mine. And my life was saved…”
Ryan Burnham is the privileged son of a U.S. Congressman and captain of his university’s hockey team. While he is on the verge of fulfilling his dreams to play in the NHL, his parents want him on a different course. One he is expected to accept for the sake of his family’s public image.
Forced her to abandon her music career after the heart breaking death of her parents, Danny Cross exists on the opposite side of the tracks from Ryan. She is struggling to make her own way, working two jobs, attending college part time and volunteering in a homeless shelter. She is on a mission to build her own success.
With a chance meeting, their vastly different worlds collide, causing each to evaluate whether they are truly on the correct path to self-fulfillment and happiness. Can their relationship survive? Particularly when others are against them every step of the way. A lot can happen in just ten short days…
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO OUR WINNERS.
She left glitter in his AC vents. He put green dye in her conditioner.
She buttered his bathroom floor, and he kidnapped her precious puppy.
Layla Mullens hates Donovan Donley. His crude language, his wide shoulders, his crystal blue eyes…she hates that she can’t stop herself…from kissing him or landing in his bed.
And Donovan Donley wants nothing more than to knock Layla off her princess pedestal. He hates her stuck up attitude and her soft, tempting lips. He especially hates that her father is his coach.
But he’s fine with their arrangement—act horrible to each other during the day, attack each other naked at night. It works.
But one night changes everything. When Layla doesn’t show, and Donovan’s cold bed stays empty, the lies he tells himself to keep Layla out of his mind aren’t enough to keep him from missing her. And needing her. Something he promised himself would never happen.
The white flags in their prank war have been lowered but their high stakes battle has just begun.
“Come here,” he said, wanting her, just then, but knowing that she needed a moment to calm, to have those worries so evident in the slow way she moved toward him, eased. He let her come to his side, right against his chest and for the first time, Donovan held her tight against him. “I’m not the kind of guy you need.” She sat up, looking at him. “I’m no Prince Charming. I’m not good for anyone and I doubt I ever will be.”
“So do you want this to end? You have doubts?”
He hated the idea of never touching her again. He hated that being without her touch, her taste, would bother him greatly, and if he were a better man, a stronger man, a decent man at all, he would tell her to go. Donovan knew that if he were the kind of man he once was, before betrayal and disappointment fractured whatever he thought he might want one day, then he’d thank Layla for her time and attention and tell her his doubts were too great, that their moment had passed.
But this Donovan was a selfish bastard on his best days. Still, he’d give her something, likely not what she deserved, but something he’d never given to any woman. Ever.
“If I said I didn’t care about you, that would be a lie. I do. Am I in love with you?” He waited, measuring her expression, relaxing when she didn’t look afraid. “No, sorry, I’m not. But I like the way we move together. I like that I can get lost in your body.” I like the way I can still smell your perfume on my pillow after you leave, he said to himself. “I like that you let me do things to your body that I’ve only ever dreamed about.” I like how free you are with me. How beautiful you look when you’re underneath me, falling to pieces. “I like that you don’t ask for anything but my body, for the way I make yours feel.” I love how you let me take you, let me love you like we won’t have another second of this in life.
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched in October 2013 and quickly became an Amazon bestseller.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.
She is currently living under teenage rule alongside her husband in southeast Louisiana.
Keira Riley was the girl Kona Hale loved first, the woman he wants to love last. They’ve battled addiction, forgiven betrayal and healed from heartache, coming through it all bruised but hopeful that their future will be limitless.
Kona Hale was a blinding flame that Keira Riley gladly burned inside—his touch, his kiss, his overwhelming love, all made her dizzy, desperate and desired, made her believe in a love worth bleeding for, a love that ignites the heart with an unquenchable flame. But when you fall in love with an NFL darling who can’t seem to let go of the spotlight, sometimes even that flame can be gutted by the buffeting winds of opportunity, can be lost behind the brilliant flash of fame.
As Keira and Kona get caught up in plans for an extravagant march down the aisle, the hard won sanctuary they’ve found in each other’s arms begins to erode. Will they be able to see through all the beckoning glitz and glamour to what they have worked so hard to build together, or will their love be lost in the spotlight?
MY BELOVED is a novella set prior to the THIN LOVE epilogue.
♥ My Beloved – Excerpt ♥
“Kiss me, baby. Kiss me like you mean it.” And Keira obliged, tugging at the back of Kona’s hair, taking in his tongue, loving the small bites he made against her bottom lip. “Shit. No, I don’t wanna come yet.” And then he slipped out of her, moved down her body until he was between her legs, using his thumbs to push apart her lips. “I love the way you taste, Wildcat. So sweet, so tangy.” He licked up her folds, lapping all the moisture their bodies had created before he took her clit between his teeth, nibbling, licking until Keira thought she might die from the sensation Kona worked in her. “This is mine, isn’t it, baby? All this,” he said, fingering her suddenly, not preparing her so that the shock and the pressure of his touch left Keira shuddering. “These perfect lips, this pretty pussy, it’s all for me, right baby?”
“Yes. Oh God, Kona, only yours.”
He climbed over her, dragging those hard, delicious muscles up her torso, rubbing himself against her sensitive nipples before he grabbed her face, making her look at him. “And this…” a twist of his hips and Kona slammed back into her, thrusts deep, penetrating, “this is yours. This is only yours.” Another deep thrust and Kona groaned, echoed the satisfied noise Keira made when he hit her G-spot. “I…I gave you this a long time ago, baby.” And then Kona worked faster, lifted on his hands, massive biceps and triceps shaking as moved his hips, filled her, eyes closed and that severe expression, the one that looked like hunger and pain and pleasure that was almost overwhelming, returned to his face. “All yours, baby. I’ve always been yours.”
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched in October 2013 and quickly became an Amazon bestseller.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.
She is currently imprisoned under teenage rule alongside her husband in southeast Louisiana.
Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays, by William Styron
Though William Styron is best know for his novels (The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie’s Choice), and a late memoir chronicling his depression (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness), he wrote wonderful essays that draw on his power of insight, intellectual acuity, and deeply felt experience of the world, and couched in the same gorgeous sentences that define his fiction. This makes sense, after all, since Styron’s forays into the consciousness of a character like Sophie Zawistowska are the same he trains on himself.
The title essay is a reference to the cigars favored by John Kennedy, and recounts a White House state dinner that Styron (who died in 2006) and other prominent writers attended to honor the recent Nobel Prize winners. It was April, 1962 and the Kennedys, President and First Lady, were at the height of their influence and glamor.
The title’s non-ironic allusion to the Arthurian court lends the essay, and all the essays in this collection, a sense of the past that, regardless of the situation at the time, is seen with a yearning backward glance. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” Faulkner said, and with Styron, you get the sense that the glittering as well as the duller episodes take on a lovely sheen when viewed in hindsight.
Here’s Styron on the Kennedy state dinner, as the President and First Lady arrive to receive their guests:
…Jack and Jackie actually shimmered. You have had to be abnormal, perhaps psychotic, to be immune to their dumbfounding appeal. Even Republicans were gaga. They were truly a golden couple, and I am not trying to downplay my own sense of wonder when note that a number of the guests, male and female, appeared so affected by the glamour that their eyes took on a goofy, catatonic gaze.
An aspect of Styron’s voice that has always appealed to me is what I can only describe as a generational drift. I hear in his use of vernacular, his reverence for heroes and distrust of power, a tone that resembles my father’s. Both share a Greatest Generation-inflected style that to some may sound dated, but to this reader’s ear is a comfort, and brings nostalgic passage to an era of mid-century men whose rebellion was rooted in their artistic natures. Like Frank Wheeler in Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, it’s a generation who went to war, and against the grain of their time, broke the conformist mode with a devotion to art, not commerce.
Among my favorites here is “A Case of the Great Pox.” It recounts a stay in a military infirmary after Styron was diagnosed with syphilis. He served in the Marine Corps during World War Two, and before basic training ended, was on a ward at the Navel Hospital in Parris Island, South Carolina, otherwise known as The Clap Shack.
The piece encompasses the best of the personal essay form. It combines personal and political history, informative detail (in this case, a history of STDs), and a sharply structured plot that takes us with Styron on the various stages of his syphilitic journey.
Voltaire never let the horrid nature of the illness obtrude upon his own lighthearted view of it—he wrote wittily about the great pox in Candide—and throughout Casanova’s memoirs there are anecdotes about syphilis that the author plainly regards as excruciatingly funny. Making sport of it may have been the only way in which the offspring of the Enlightenment could come to grips with a pestilence that seemed as immutably fixed in history as war or famine.
Each of the fourteen essays in the slim but affecting collection is similarly astute and readable. Essays on the author’s longtime rivalry with his peer Truman Capote; on Styron’s early experience with publishing and the censorship of the 1950s; on his beloved Vineyard Haven in Martha’s Vineyard.
Mostly I love the soft collision here of harbor and shore, the subtly haunting briny quality that all small towns have when they are situated on the sea. It is often manifested simply in the sounds of the place—sounds unknown to forlorn inland municipalities…these sounds might appear distracting, but as a fussy, easily distracted person who has written three large books within earshot of these sounds, I an affirm that they do not annoy at all.
You could sit down with this book mid-afternoon and consume it by lights out. It will go too quickly though, I guarantee, requiring that you start from the beginning and read it again.
Maplecroft – The Borden Dispatches
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Cherie Priest is a master at taking familiar historical eras and events, and giving them twists and turns that seem utterly realistic and entirely possible, whether that be the Klondike Gold Rush (with a Seattle destroyed by a gigantic drilling engine, and overrun by zombie-like “rotters”) in Boneshaker, or the turmoil of everyday people caught up in the Civil War (with massive steam engines and mysterious cargos and zombie-like rotters, oh my!) in Dreadnought. Both of these volumes are part of Ms. Priest’s “The Clockwork Century” series, along with Clementine, Ganymede, The Inexplicables, and Fiddlehead, and all of them are magnificently realized historical-speculative fiction in the steampunk subgenre.
Too often writers in historical-speculative/steampunk fiction get caught up in the glitz and glamour of shiny gadgetry, clinking and clanking machinery, and monacled, mustachioed (or flounced and gartered) intellectuals, but not Cherie Priest. The story is always paramount in her novels, with the machinery and wardrobery enhancing the characters and strengthening the action in her works rather than defining them. By doing this, her novels are extraordinarily strong.
Now she has turned her sights on yet another glancingly familiar tale: that of Lizzie Borden, who, although legally acquitted, has been forever associated with the murder of her parents with an axe in 1892. The actual perpetrator of the murders, and their motives, have never been determined despite the rope-skipping rhyme gruesomely stating what many take as obvious.
The murders of Andrew Jackson Borden and his second wife (Lizzie’s stepmother) Abigail loom large in Maplecroft, although much of the action in the book occurs later. The factual characters and circumstances are all in place, with Lizzie and her older sister Emma living in a large, modern house which sits close to the sea, bought from their substantial inheritance upon the death of their father and stepmother. Indeed, the real Borden sisters truly did christen this house “Maplecroft”.
Other players are also part of the historical record: William Borden, the illegitimate son of Andrew, who may have tried to extort money from his father; Nance O’Neill, an actress who became (potentially intimate) friends with Lizzie and caused a rift between her and Emma; even the very real town of Fall River, Massachusetts, scene of the murders and of the very real Maplecroft mansion. Ms. Priest does a commendable job of insinuating many documented factors into the novel that – quite rightly – give her story the ring of authenticity: how the sisters were ostracized by Fall River society, how Lizzie changed her name after the murders to Lizbeth, how the sisters referred to their stepmother as “Mrs. Borden”, rarely by her given name.
On this strong safety net of fact and historical record, Cherie Priest’s imagination takes flight, with a simmering, sometimes fittingly grotesque horror story that would have made H.P. Lovecraft proud.
It’s been two years after the Borden murders and the sisters, Lizzie and Emma, have now settled into Maplecroft, their new home near the sea. Lizzie, ten years younger than Emma, has become nursemaid to her sister who suffers terribly from consumption (possibly worsened by the shock of what happened to their father and stepmother). Emma, however, still maintains a lively scientific mind, writing papers that are published in scholarly journals (mostly on marine life) and frequently corresponding with other eminent biologists and scientists, albeit under the pseudonym of E. A. Jackson, since a female researcher would have been met with skepticism at best.
Lizzie is the strong one, the protector. She has to be, for Emma cannot fend for herself, and Lizzie has seen such things as to warrant a need for constant vigilance, things that could not, would not be believed had they not been experienced. Unexplainable, unfathomable, evil things that were a factor in her parents’ deaths, but were not mentioned during the trial, for while evidence of such may have cleared Lizzie of any culpability, her word alone would have had anyone questioning her motivations – or even her sanity.
So, the now exonerated but still imperiled Lizzie has two weapons against that corruption which first came to possess her parents, and which continues to attempt access to Maplecroft and the women within. The first is her laboratory. Although Emma is the scholar, Lizzie is the one who works in the secured laboratory in the cellar; not a laboratory for scientific pursuits, per se, but a place to document and run rudimentary experiments on the abhorrent specimens that have washed up from the nearby sea (an octopus with two heads and three extra tentacles, fish with extra sets of gills, or oversized fins, or no eyes, “lobsters with three claws, one claw, with no tail, or no legs.”), a place to house books on arcane knowledge, folklore, myths, superstition, hidden away from prying eyes (although they have scant few visitors), as well as a place to keep modern instruments of disposal – and containment. All there to try to understand the threat that continues to stalk them.
Her second weapon? An axe. Lizzie has become a master at wielding an axe, and she keeps it razor sharp and close at hand. She has to, for she never knows when they will hear the sounds – the faint sounds of something lurking in the shadows of the night, something ugly and mindless and evil, searching for ways to get in.
This backdrop is chilling, all the more so because it and the events that follow are presented in such a stoic, rational way. No histrionics here, even though the situation goes from bad to worse, as the threat manifests itself further than the Borden sisters’ mansion; first the town of Fall River, then the state of Massachusetts, possibly the Eastern seaboard, potentially the world. Even then, there is wonder, there is fear, there is dread and grim acceptance – but no hysterics. Surprisingly, artfully, this allows the tension to build. Slowly, steadily, inevitably… deliciously.
Maplecroft is subtitled The Borden Dispatches because that is how it is relayed – reports, documentation, journals, correspondences – penned by various players. There are sections written by both Lizzie and Emma; not so much diaries, but the written recording of observations and the documenting of events and occurrences, the cataloging of thoughts and feelings not as catharsis but for posterity, in a desperate search for understanding, in case…. well, in case. Science is held as the only way to combat the grotesque manifestations of evil – faith has long since been lost. But so far the only science that has wielded results of any sort are those borne of superstition and old wives’ tales. Still, they are better than giving in to the things that scratch and scrabble at windowsills in the dark of the night.
We hear from others, as well, such as Owen Seabury, MD, long time physician and one time neighbor to the Borden family who attended to Andrew and Abigail Borden prior to their deaths. He was a witness to the alarming – and confounding – changes that were occurring to the Bordens before their lives were so violently ended, and was a staunch supporter of Lizzie during her trial. Indeed, he even gave compelling testimony as to his strong belief in her innocence. As he is an educated man who refused to ostracize the sisters after the trial, he ends up being drawn in to their siege against the obdurate horrors, first as confidante and later as partner in their attempts to staunch the growing corruption.
There are journal entries from others, as well, such as the actress Nance O’Neill, who gets drawn into the nefarious drama when she insists on visiting Lizzie despite Lizzie’s protestations for her to stay away; Inspector Simon Wolf, part of a larger investigatory organization (although we are not sure which one) who is able to bring perspective and insider information from law enforcement and government sources across the Eastern seaboard; and Phillip Zollicoffer, Professor of Biology at Miskatonic University and longtime correspondent with “Dr. E. A. Jackson”. In fact, it is a specimen sent to him by “Dr. Jackson” that is a catalyst in the disastrous course of events to follow.
By keeping the action confined to reports and journals, and other types of documentation, we as readers are able to keep the horrors occurring in Fall River at bay, a true sense of being outside looking in, or looking back, as it were. There is genius at this approach, as it allows us to watch in dread at the oncoming threat yet not feel threatened ourselves, keeping the focus directly on the unfolding story. And yet the clarity at which Ms. Priest relays the story is magnificent. We can not only see, but hear, taste, touch and especially smell what is going on, as rancid as that may at times be. But the author doesn’t bludgeon us with flailing action or an overlayering of detail, either; everything is clear, and often blood chillingly clear.
Maplecroft triumphs on virtually every level, and the seamless positioning of fact with macabre fiction is spot on. Regardless of your propensity towards Lovecraftian horror stories, if you enjoy superior writing and well fleshed out characters, you are going to enjoy this novel. It’s one more successful feather in Cherie Priest’s cap – or one more gnarly notch on her axe, as it were.
Colm Tóibín, in his introduction to the 2007 edition of Henry James’ classic novella, cites a note James made in 1888—an idea that came to him after reading the memoir of a colleague:
“…it occurred to me that a very interesting situation would be that of an elder artist or writer, who had been ruined (in his own sight) by his marriage and its forcing him to produce promiscuously and cheaply – his position in regard to a younger confrère whom he sees on the brink of the same disaster and whom he endeavours to save, to rescue, by some act of bold interference – breaking off the marriage, annihilating the wife, making trouble between the parties.”
That same year, James published The Lesson of the Master. The book centers on two writers, one a celebrated elder, and the other, a striving newcomer. The titular Master, Henry St. George, is a celebrity novelist whose best work is behind him—though luminary that he is, still garners accolades and attention. The newcomer is Paul Overt, the aptly named open-hearted young writer who by all accounts is poised for greatness. Overt idolizes St. George, and as the novella opens, meets him on an weekend at a country home outside London. He learns St. George has read his work—and admires it—the first of a series of discoveries that puts his reverence for the Master in a different light.
On that same weekend, Overt meets the luminous Marian Fancourt, a young woman who’s read all of St. George, along with his own comparably meager output. Overt is immediately struck by Marian’s understanding, her beauty, her insights into art, and especially his work, and will soon fall in love with her, imagining her as the ideal champion and supporter. These two introductions set into motion the polarities of the novella: of love and work, art and commerce, and the sacrifice necessary to realize the greatest achievements. The Lesson of the Master is about the conflict of life and art, of failure and success, and the forfeiture art demands.
When the two first meet, there is a rapport, and briefly, the fraternity Overt imagined between confreres. In that first candid conversation, St. George advises:
Look at me well, take my lesson to heart—for it is a lesson. Let that good come of it at least that you shudder with your pitiful impression, and that this may help to keep you straight in the future. Don’t become in your old age what I have in mine—the depressing, the deplorable illustration of the worship of false gods!”
Overt asks what he means by false gods, and St. George tells him:
The idols of the market; money and luxury and ‘the world’; placing one’s children and dressing one’s wife; everything that drives one to the short and easy way.
James intended his work to be reread numerous times, and The Lesson of the Master contains the same complexity, layers of meaning, clues, and calibrated emotion of the novels. Scholarly reviews point, cite one example of the Jamesian tendency for deep attention to detail, in the identification between St. George and the character’s Christian namesake, a dragon slayer who renounced a false god. Without giving too much away, one writer’s motives in this story eventually prove false. Yet the pleasure of rereading James, especially in this shorter work, is not so much the symbols in this double portrait, but the way, with repeated readings, the language continually reveals the characters. Their motives and tendencies appear clearer as familiarity peels the layers away. James has fun too, with the snobbery of those who support artists but have not the taste for self-denial. He takes careful aim at Mrs. St. George, for one, a woman who values materialism and social status over her husband’s “rare gifts.”
As events move forward, the reader sees the crack in St. George’s image long before Overt does. From that first encounter, the young writer’s image of the Master falls into question. With their growing familiarity, the elder writer’s underpinnings begin to show, and reveal him to be as husband whose wife burns the manuscripts she doesn’t feel are good enough, who won’t let him smoke, and whose snobbish attitude demands an income that can only be achieved by writing books of lesser quality.
That doesn’t dim Overt’s reverence for St. George, who does in fact have a lesson for his young admirer, and it is this: Art can only be great, he tells him, if the artist rejects the trappings of life, if he denies love, marriage, children, and frees his art from the demands of providing for others. Only by rejecting attachments, responsibility, and normalcy with its all-consuming interconnections can the artist be free to make great art. And though the ambitious young writer aims for greatness in his work, he hopes to succeed in love, and art. But as James shows us, the impossibility of having both is the hardest lesson of all.
Sometimes the truest friends aren’t those sitting next to you in class or skipping rocks with you down at the river. For many readers, their very best friends have lived in the imagination, on the banks of Prince Edward Island, in the mystical dimensions of time and space and yes, even in the Hundred-Acre Wood.
This week, we discuss those friends we made when we hid from bullies at recess; the ones who held our hearts in the stillness of night, under blankets with flashlights in hand. These are the characters who were and are our favorite fictional friends.
She left glitter in his AC vents. He put green dye in her conditioner.
She buttered his bathroom floor, and he kidnapped her precious puppy.
Layla Mullens hates Donovan Donley. His crude language, his wide shoulders, his crystal blue eyes…she hates that she can’t stop herself.
From kissing him or landing in his bed.
And Donovan Donley wants nothing more than to knock Layla off her princess pedestal. He hates her stuck up attitude and her soft, tempting lips. He especially hates that her father is his coach.
But he’s fine with their arrangement—act horrible to each other during the day, attack each other naked at night. It works.
But one night changes everything. When Layla doesn’t show, and Donovan’s cold bed stays empty, the lies he tells himself to keep Layla out of his mind aren’t enough to keep him from missing her. And needing her. Something he promised himself would never happen.
The white flags in their prank war have been lowered but their high stakes battle has just begun.
★ Grab books 1 – 2 of the Seeking Serenity series ★
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched in October 2013 and quickly became an Amazon bestseller.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.
She is currently living under teenage rule alongside her husband in southeast Louisiana.
Joy Callaway’s THE FIFTH AVENUE ARTISTS SOCIETY, pitched as Edith Wharton meets Little Women, about a family of four artistic sisters on the outskirts of Gilded Age New York high society and narrated by the most headstrong sister, an aspiring writer caught between the boy next door and a mysterious novelist who inducts her into Manhattan’s most elite artistic salon which has a seedy underbelly and secrets to hide, to Maya Ziv at Harper Perennial, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, the first for publication in Winter 2016, by Meredith Kaffel at DeFiore and Company (World excluding UK). ____________________________________________________________________________________
Literary manager Kemper Donovan’s ENTICEMENT, a love story set in Los Angeles where two people are brought together by a very decent proposal cooked up by a very secretive benefactor in which the strangers go on one year of dates, one date a week, for half a million dollars each if they can stand each other for the whole time, to Maya Ziv at Harper, in a pre-empt, for publication in Spring 2016, by Alexandra Machinist at ICM (NA).
Molly Tanzer’s VERMILION, an alternate history steampunk set in 1870s America, featuring a 19-year-old half-Chinese girl who passes as a boy so she can work as an exorcist, and whose investigation into why so many poor young Chinese workers are disappearing from Chinatown leads her to a sanatorium in the Rocky Mountains, and a very undead villain, to Ross Lockhart at Word Horde, for publication in Spring 2015, by Cameron McClure at Donald Maass Literary Agency (World English).
Anne Nelson’s THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, the never-before-told story of Suzanne Spaak, a Belgian socialite who was Magritte’s patron and muse, and who relocated to Occupied Paris with her husband and two children where she used her connections to the city’s artists, writers, and composers (including Magritte, Colette, Cocteau, and many others) to rescue Jewish children from deportation by the Nazis, and how she motivated the several warring Underground movements to work together with British spies, Russian communists, and French resistance fighters, saving hundreds of Jewish children in the process, most of whom survived the war, to Alice Mayhew at Simon & Schuster, at auction, by Ethan Bassoff at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin (NA).
ER doctor, professor at Harvard Medical School, and the founder of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH’s THE WORLD’S EMERGENCY ROOM: A Life in Humanitarian Medicine, drawing on lessons learned in a twenty-five year career practicing medicine in the world’s most perilous places; charting the seismic changes in the author’s field in a blend of personal narrative, argument, and critique, to Emily Carleton at Palgrave, by Jessica Papin at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (World English).
Aubrie Dionne’s ORPHAN’S BLADE, the second in the Chronicles of Ebonvale series, in which the orphaned son of a blacksmith raised by the king and queen falls in love with the woman bound to marry his adopted brother and the rightful heir to the throne, to Renee Rocco at Lyrical Press, by Dawn Dowdle at Blue Ridge Literary Agency.
Roxanne Smith’s MEN LIKE THIS, long odds and stubborn hearts make love a thing to fight for when an American author meets a British actor, and the two battle off against headlines and one another, RELAPSE IN PARADISE, and RUNNING IN NUMBERS, to Renee Rocco at Lyrical Press, by Dawn Dowdle at Blue Ridge Literary Agency.
13, rue Thérèse is a most singular novel: perhaps not in subject matter (the reconstruction of a life from mementos and letters), but in style, substance, and subtext. While it is deeply entrenched in the life of a woman who lived in France from the early to mid-1900s, it begins in the present day with Trevor Stratton, a scholar in 19th century French literature from a Californian university, now teaching classes in Paris.
In his new office Trevor finds an unassuming box full of love letters, postcards, photographs, and other items belonging to Louise Brunet, an ordinary woman lost to history. As Trevor uses these keepsakes to reconstruct Louise’s life, however, she becomes not only a mystery to be unraveled, but an increasingly sensual and passionate individual whose life lived against the backdrop of WWI grows more real and compelling with each new discovery.
As the novel progresses, we start to wonder how it is that Trevor can so easily deviate from known fact to reconstruct so vividly not only Louise’s actions and motivations, but also her imagination and the smoldering sexuality that lies near to her core. Before long we’re not sure if we’re listening to Trevor’s voice or seeing through Louise’s eyes as we slip back and forth between events of the early 1900s and the scholarly reports of today. Trevor’s historical efforts are so well established, and yet so eerily prescient of the past – how could he be assuming so much with so little?
To say much more would rob the reader of the truly enjoyable unfolding of the events of this delightful novel. However, I will reveal that the items found in the story’s tin box are actually real keepsakes of a life actually lived – while the story may be imaginary, Louise Brunet was not. This credibility is layered throughout Ms. Shapiro’s words, and gives 13, rue Thérèse a haunting sense of believability even in what we know to be pure fiction. It’s a wonderfully disorienting and yet solidly grounded read that is in turn sentimental, sobering and seductive. A great book for those steamy days of summer – or anytime you want to be transported to a different time and place without leaving where you mundanely are.
Wonder Woman Unbound
The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine
College level English classes are one my daughter’s least favorite scholastic experience, but I love ’em, because I get to play research assistant for her papers. She learns organization, thesis concepts, citation usage and all sorts of structural skills, and I learn new stuff about interesting topics. So I was especially excited when the topic for her newest assignment was “It’s Time for a Wonder Woman Movie”, because I got to learn about – you guessed it – Wonder Woman!
During our search for reference material, we came across the book “Wonder Woman Unbound – The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine” by Tim Hanley, and oh, my – while I normally scan books obtained for reference, this one grabbed me from the onset and I found myself devouring the entire thing, regardless of its applicability to my daughter’s needs. Poor thing, my daughter! I think she had to draw on quite a bit of patience as I regaled her with story after story of not only Wonder Woman’s comic origins and development, but also how it played in with – or against – societal movement and pop culture development.
Author Tim Hanley is quite the subject matter expert when it comes to Wonder Woman, but he does it in an effortless, conversational and enthusiastic way that makes what could have been somewhat dry material instead a very intriguing and entertaining read. He is able to pull in lots of elements – comic book development, the growth (and in some cases, the decline) of the comic book publishing industry, the whims and triggers of society and historical elements – and blend them in a thoroughly engaging and easy to follow read that not only shines a light on Wonder Woman but our society as a whole. He obviously is a fan, but one who is able to share his enthusiasm with devotee and novice alike.
“In Wonder Woman, Marston (psychologist William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman in 1941) presented a brand-new kind of character. While his ideas about female superiority never really caught on, the long-term impact of the first powerful, independent female superhero cannot be understated. In a genre that so rigidly enforced typical gender roles and relied on a very narrow view of femininity, Wonder Woman shattered those expectations for millions of young readers each month. It’s sometimes hard to see the ingrained societal structures that dictate daily life, but by inverting these structures Wonder Woman comics shed a light on the tenets of these systems, along with a sharp critique.”
Whether you are a Marvel Cinematic Universe buff, a DC comics die-hard, a Wonder Woman fan or simply someone who likes to gather knowledge, “Wonder Woman Unbound” would be a great read for you. Fun, captivating, charming, and chock full of information, stories, and clear deduction, “Wonder Woman Unbound” will not only expand your horizons, but give you a greater appreciation of this trend-setting industry that birthed not only one of our greatest cultural heroines, but harbors one of our most enduring pastimes – the comic book universe.
The Writer’s Coffee Shop
After discovering nude photos her husband had taken of himself on his computer, Scarlett Spencer realizes her marriage is over. Deciding to divorce is the easy part. Navigating through the lengthy divorce process proves harder, messier, and more expensive than she expected. She and her toddler son Oliver move back home with her mother CeCe, a brother and his girlfriend. Quite a crew in a small apartment. As the lawyer bills collect on the counter, Scarlett struggles to find work as a makeup artist and commercial actress. Not the easiest gig in Hollywood. But she has a few connections. Her best friend Emma is a relatively successful actress and helps her network by dragging her to posh parties with the rich and famous.
And then there’s the nightmare of re-entering the dating scene. Scarlett eventually realizes she has a bad habit of attracting the wrong sort of man. Plus, she has Oliver to consider now. After a few failed flings and on the advice of a respected fortuneteller, Scarlett goes on a “man-diet.” While she puts men and dating on hold, she focuses on getting her life together. She and Oliver write and illustrate a series of children’s picture books which she peddles at farmers’ markets and library readings. They eventually garner notice from a producer who wants to transform her books into a children’s television series. Scarlett’s prospects improve and she is finally content with her life.
Predictably, when she least expects it, Scarlett draws the attention of a man who is unlike any man she has dated in the past. He is perfect.
Synchronized Breathing is Tara Ellison’s first novel. It’s a well-written humorous easy summer read that won’t keep you up all night. There are no clever plot twists, cliff-hangers, or mysteries to solve. But it’s a pleasant enjoyable story about a woman who first has to lose nearly everything in order to find what is most important – self-respect, independence, and the knowledge of what she truly wants out of life.
Love isn’t supposed to be an addiction. It isn’t supposed to leave you bleeding. Kona pushed, Keira pulled, and in their wake, they left behind destruction. She sacrificed everything for him. It wasn’t enough. But the wounds of the past can never be completely forgotten and still the flame remains, slumbers between the pleasure of yesterday and the thought of what might have been. Now, sixteen years later, Keira returns home to bury the mother who betrayed her, just as Kona tries to hold onto what remains of his NFL career with the New Orleans Steamers. Across the crowded bustle of a busy French Market, their paths collide, conjuring forgotten memories of a consuming touch, skin on skin, and the still smoldering fire that begs to be rekindled. When Kona realizes the trifecta of betrayal—his, Keira’s and those lies told to keep them apart—his life is irrevocably changed and he once again takes Keira down with him into the fire that threatens to ignite them both.
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched in October 2013 and quickly became an Amazon bestseller. When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football. She is currently living under teenage rule alongside her husband in southeast Louisiana. Please send help.
She doesn’t stop him when he kisses her. She lets herself take in the heat of his massive body, lets it work over her skin. She inhales him—his scent, the hot rub of his tongue against hers, along her bottom lip. At first, she thinks she won’t react; that she’ll push back the sensation, ignore how sweet he tastes, how hard he feels against her. But then he holds her arms, leans into her until her back rests against the brick wall behind her and Keira is lost.
Kona still makes low groans in his throat when he kisses her; still has the softest lips, the most demanding, wide tongue.
She can’t help herself. He’s an addiction, her favorite drug. She wants a hit. She wants a million hits of him.
Her hands work up his arms, his immense shoulders and his groaning deepens, becomes a growl of pleasure when she returns his attentions. Their mouths aren’t frantic, but they do match each other. He pushes, she pulls, like always, like habit, and it is a delicious drugging dance; one she didn’t know she’d missed.
She feels the swift lick of disappointment when Kona pulls back, but it disappears with his fingers holding her face and the tips smoothing just over her cheekbones.
“My dirty little rascal,” he says, but he doesn’t return her smile, seems struck by how close they are standing, how easy this has been, to fall back into old habits. It was returning…their reactions to one another were primal, instinctual. Un-fucking-avoidable.
The song ends, but Kona hasn’t stopped examining her face. His breath is still hot and panting over her cheeks. It would be easy, so fucking easy, to let him consume her. Every touch is a recall of all the dangerous, desperate emotions Kona sparked in her. Every look dulls her memory, makes her forget how he hurt her, how he broke the promises he swore he’d always keep.
Kona leans in again, somehow moving closer, another hit that will edge her toward overdose and she stops him. The rational part of Keira’s mind pushes back the sensation of his touch and the embers are extinguished.
He pauses, but doesn’t move away from her, doesn’t move his fingers from her skin.
“Wildcat, come on.”
“What are we doing?” Keira knows that expression. It hasn’t changed in sixteen years. Kona’s face is calm, but he frowns, forehead wrinkling in his agitation and Keira stops another attempt of his lips against her mouth. She pushes him back, palm flat against that tempting chest. “How’d this happen?”
Kona’s shoulders sag and finally, her skin is free of his touch.
“Memory lane,” he says.
“That’s a dangerous place.”
“If you say so.”
“I can’t do this with you.” She takes a breath. “I can’t ever do this with you again.”
His anger isn’t quick, not the instant snap of frustration she’d always known from him, but there is no humor on his face and despite her small rejection, he hasn’t moved his arms from the brick behind her. “Why the hell not?”
“I told you. We were not good together. I can’t…” Another slow breath and Keira tries to calm, to ignore the sweet scent of his skin. “I won’t be like that again.”
Too easy, she thinks, reminding herself how effortlessly Kona consumes her. Moth to flame, eager to die in the fire. She hated who she was with him, most days. She hated that she forgot good sense, any smidgeon of reason when he was around her. She didn’t like who she’d been at eighteen and it was that girl, that unbalanced, obsessed girl, that Keira had been running from all these years. She wouldn’t let that girl return, not now, not even for Kona.
When she slips out of the cage of his impossibly large arms, Kona reacts, old habits flirting to the surface. He grabs her arm and for a quick second, Keira feels her teenage self return. His fingers are hot on her bicep, licking heat, anger, passion, through her limbs and Keira fears the sensation, hates that she loves it so much, that she’d missed it more than she wants to admit.
Just like that, she’s ready to react, to fight and it takes all Keira’s strength to repress that inclination. “Don’t…”And at her small warning, Kona jerks back, hands up as though she burned him. “You see what I mean? Three weeks and it’s starting already.”
“I’m sorry.” Keira thinks that he might be telling the truth. He fans his fingers through his hair, eyes rounded as though he can’t believe how he’d reacted. “Please,” Kona says, taking a tentative step forward, voice easy, calm. “Don’t leave.”
She doesn’t want to see that expression on his face; the one that tells her he’s different, that his overwhelming presence is no longer dangerous. He’d fooled her once. He won’t get a second chance. A quick shake of her head and Keira turns away from him, tries to focuses on a plane above shooting away from the city, wishing she was on it. Kona’s breath warms her neck and Keira cringes at how much she’d missed this—him, her, the heat, the passion and it is like refusing the best high she’s ever had. She wants it so desperately, wants to forget all his sins just for a moment, just for one small taste of how good he made her body feel. “If I don’t walk away right now, I’m going to kiss you again.”
Kona’s low voice is heady, firm and Keira has to tighten her eyes closed when his fingertip slides down her spine. “I want you to.”
“I can’t. We…no, we can’t.”
“You’re scared,” he says, mouth hot against her neck.
“I’m petrified.” Despite herself, Keira leans back, lets Kona wrap his hands around her waist.
“I would never hurt you. You know I’d never touch you, not like that.”
No, he never had. Not once. She’d slapped him and punched him because she was angry, because they were twisted, because they both got off on it. But Kona had never returned the favor. His wounds cut deeeper.
“You’re no good for me. You were never good for me.” Keira turns, takes a step back so she can look at his face, so she can see how determined he is to change her mind. “I was a crazy person with you. Obsessed. I can’t relive the past.”
“I’m not the same person.” Kona pulls her forward, gripping her waist in his too large hands until their bodies are flush, until Keira can feel the hard, delicious planes of his chest and the corded muscles of his thighs. She knows he won’t hurt her. She knows he won’t let her go. Kona takes her face again, moving her chin so she’s forced to look at him. “You’re not the same, Wildcat and that was a long time ago.”
And then Keira lets that girl sneak to the surface. She lets her take Kona’s mouth, pull his shirt so that her tongue licks against a wide expanse of tempting, copper skin. She lets that girl enjoy Kona’s mouth, his hands, the way he feels hard, demanding against her, until the night darkens, deepens and her rejection, though halfhearted, comes again.
Kona stops pushing, stops demanding and before he leaves Keira out on that balcony, he reminds her why she’d loved him in the first place. He reminds her why she should love him again.
“I only know one thing—no one sets my skin on fire like you do. No one. Not one person has ever made me feel like I’m alive like you. That hasn’t changed, not in sixteen years. Don’t try to pretend it isn’t the same for you.”
“I love whom I love, and I am loved by more people than I will ever know. Love keeps me going through the pain and loss. This is not a desert, just a tired landscape overwritten by years of struggle and the footprints of a thousand people who helped carry me. Thank you.” Jay Lake June 6, 1964-June 1, 2014 We knew this day would come. He’d been preparing us for years. There were those posts Jay made on his blog that had us worried, that had us thinking of the inevitable. He was honest about his struggle, sometimes brutally so. Cancer isn’t pretty. It isn’t polite. It touches us all and Jay knew that. He knew and he documented his fight. So, we shouldn’t be surprised, should we? But when death comes, even the expected death, it always comes too quickly. It’s always surprising. It’s always sudden, even when it’s not.
I was not a close, long-time friend. I was not someone held in Jay’s quiet confidence. I was just a fan, a fellow writer who admired him. How could I not? How could anyone who watched him tackle the cancer monster and still do what he could to be a productive writer not instantly love him? That’s the thing; Jay didn’t let cancer slow him down and he didn’t stop doing what he loved. He had stories to tell. He had a job to do and to me, some random fan who wanted to learn, who wanted to listen, he was kind and good and supportive.
I was convinced he was using some funky alien juju when he kicked my butt at Scramble. For weeks he’d knock each game out of the park, thousands of points that left me feeling like a second grader going against Stephen Hawking in a battle of wits. I always lost and he’d always laugh, nerd flirt with me and then tell me about how much he loved words. And that was it, wasn’t it? A love of words and the magic in them, shooting into lines, crafting worlds and moments that connect us all. I didn’t begrudge Jay his wins because in each game he taught me, challenged me. That’s what a great teacher does.
When pancreatic cancer took my dad, Jay sent me a heartfelt message of condolence. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to acknowledge my heartbreak. But he did. Despite his own battle, he took a moment to tell me how sorry he was for my loss. That was Jay: taking moments to teach, to comfort, to help, to reassure.
It’s those moments that I believe will be missed the most.
Last year, Jay chatted with us here at LitStack about his book Green. He said it was a parent’s book. He said the main character had elements of his own strong, determined daughter. It wasn’t, though, his legacy, I don’t think. Jay’s legacy, to me, is perseverance. It is the notion of fighting, of working, of enduring despite the hurdles thrown in your path. So, today I am honoring my friend Jay and I hope you will too. Today, I’m stepping away from this site, from the world, from the internet and I’m writing.
To Lisa and The Child and to all those who loved Jay, I send you my deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathies. They aren’t much, but they are true and sincere.
To Jay: The world is dimmer without your beautiful light shining in it. Be blessed, my sweet friend.
Your childhood was one that was somewhat out of the ordinary. How do you think the varied cultures you were brought up in informed your writing and specifically the genre you write in? What were some of your favorite books growing up?
In a meaningful sense, as kid I went everywhere and saw everything. Not literally, obviously, but by the time I left home for college and my young adult life, I’d hiked the route of the Bataan Death March, seen the sun rising over Kilimanjaro, and climbed down inside a classical Greek tomb. Among many other things. So my view of the world has always been highly elastic and deeply varied. Growing up among other cultures gave me a deep sense of displacement that I think corresponds closely to the experience of the alien. My interactions on everything from food to race to weather were very different from what my status as a middle class , cisgendered, white American male would suggest to the casual observer. Not better, or more correct, just different. And for me, our genre of speculative fiction is all about the difference. I’ve always considered fantasy and science fiction to be a natural match for my background. Plus, growing up overseas in the 1960s and 1970s meant I came of age before satellite TV or VCRs. My media exposure was almost completely limited to books. I was drawn to fantasy and science fiction from a very early age through my reading taste. I’m a voracious, swift reader with good retention, and there was a lot of genre fiction available to me. Favorite books in those years included Lord of the Rings, Andre Norton’s Forerunner books, Asimov and Heinlein in both the juveniles and their early classics – I loved the Foundation trilogy, though truth be told I find it close to unreadable now. Also Delany. I tackled Dhalgren in sixth grade. God knows why, I don’t even understand that book now at age 48, but I loved it anyway. Dune. The list goes on. A bit later I ran into Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, as well as Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, which just about changed my life.
What do you love most about speculative fiction as both a writer and a reader?
The possibilities. It almost literally has no boundaries and is not constrained by genre formula. Of course we have plenty of subgenre boundaries and formulaic fiction – some of that quite good, I don’t see that label as pejorative – but we can go anywhere and do anything. It’s the ultimate in fabulism, and for my money, the mother of genres. The Epic of Gilgamesh, TheOdyssey, Beowulf: they would all be speculative fiction if written today. As a reader, it lets my mind go places I never imagined. As a writer, it lets my words do the same.
Every writer experiences a moment when they decide if they want to be married to writing or just fool around with it. When did that decision come to you?
Late in the year 2000, after I joined the Wordos, a very excellent critique group based out of Eugene, OR. My daughter was old enough (3) for me to return to writing seriously, my life was arranged so that worked well, and I had an inspiring group of mentors and critics.
You dedicate Green to your daughter, and she has been quite the force in your life. Do you think you could have written the character Green without being a father? Do aspects of Green (the character) frighten you because you are a father?
Green is absolutely a parent’s book. I don’t know if a reader would see it that way, but as the writer, I do without a doubt. As for my child, she is as scary strong and resourceful as Green the character, and shares some of Green’s more curious characteristics. Minus the sequestration and training to violence and religious and sexual weirdness, obviously. But the alienation from her birth culture (she is adopted from China), the intensity of purpose, the sense of focus – they are all present in her.
You have mentioned that you aren’t too bothered with negative reviews because even those show that someone has been interested enough in your work to read and comment on them. But do you ever get the urge to respond to a review that seems to be placing personal biases on your work, rather than reading and commenting objectively?
Yes, I do sometimes get that urge. Responding to reviews, even to comment on gross factual errors or painfully obvious bias, is a mug’s game. So far, I have successfully resisted the urge to play, with one or two possible exceptions where people have in effect asked me a question publicly, specifically one that didn’t seem rhetorical. The story absolutely belongs to the reader, so unless I’m prepared to show up at their house to discuss my auctorial intent, I try to stay out of the transaction between story and reader – of which reviews are a public case.
You have written in so many different mediums: short story, essay, novel, blog in anthologies, magazines, websites… is there something you have yet to do that intrigues you? Graphic novel? Screenplay?
I’m really not interested in screenplays. A graphic novel, or a serialized novel, would be fun. Unfortunately, with my health issues – almost five years with Stage IV colon cancer, and things are slowly getting worse – I’m not likely to have those opportunities, as keeping up with my current interests and commitments requires more than I have.
You seriously seem to enjoy interacting with others in the sci-fi/geek community at conventions, and you are so open with your fan base; how important is this interactions with your fans to your writing process? Or are they more a lovely benefit of your need to write?
I love readers and fans, but I write ultimately for me. I think every writer does, must even, though certainly many would likely not express it as I do. So I would say the public interactions in my writer persona are a lovely benefit rather than a key driver. After all, I wrote seriously for over a decade before I first got published, and had no fan interaction to sustain me then.
Science fiction as an all-encompassing genre is often referred to as “escapist.” Would you agree? If so, to what degree do you “escape” when you write and with what you write?
Of course it’s escapist. All fiction is, by definition. Otherwise it would be boring as heck. One of the curses of becoming a writer is you fall into the trap of thinking critically about almost everything. A book or movie than can slip past my critical processes and simply entertain me has become a rara avis in my life. I actually escape more into my writing than into my reading. Writing is for me a special case of reading, except the story is coming out of my fingertips instead of off the page. I often find myself breathlessly wondering what will happen next, which is kind of weird consider I am the writer.
That the geek/nerd movement is currently so popular with the younger set would seem to be ideal for a writer who also works with high technology, but you also eschew popular culture, which also plays a big part of the movement. So – do you consider yourself a geek?
I’m not sure I’d say I eschew popular culture completely, but it’s a fair cop. I turned off my cable TV in 1994 and haven’t watched cable or broadcast since. I left computer and console gaming around 1998. Both because they were sucking up the same brainspace I use for writing, and I’d rather write. I’ve long since lost track of either current or pop music, and I never paid much attention to comic books. The three slices of pop culture I do attend to are movies, Web comics, and political, cultural and religious blogging. I pick up the rest of what I need by osmosis, or via Netflix streaming.
All that being said, I’d like to think I have some geek cred. I played D&D back in the Chainmail and brown book days. I have worked in high tech all my life, sometimes on the IT side, sometimes on the sales and marketing side, at the moment in a blended role. I am a patent holder and an award winning science fiction writer, both of which are serious geek merit badges. I am an avid early adopter of a number of technologies, albeit also quite cheap about spending money on toys. I used to do much of my own car repairs back when I owned classic cars. I even understand XKCD sometimes. But I’m not a geek in the contemporary ComicCon/gamer/MMORPG/toy collector sense. Not at all.
The nice thing about geekdom is that like SF, when it’s at its best, it can be all-encompassing. When it’s not at its best, geekdom can be as appallingly retrograde as any other slice of culture. Welcome to the human condition.
You’ve been very open and frank about your battle against cancer. How, if all, has this impacted your work and what made you decide to participate in Lakeside?
There’s an unholy mess. As I write this interview response, I’m fresh with news of an additional tumor which has presented while I’ve been working through my third chemotherapy series. Cancer has all but stolen my career. I’ve lost about half of the last three years of writing time to the brain fog that chemo induces. My ability to commit to events as a headliner (jnstructor, GoH), is gone, probably irretrievably. I don’t expect to live more than a few more years, so there are dozens of books and hundreds of stories I will never write. I won’t let my voice be stilled completely, not until sometime after the disease claims me permanently. The Lakeside documentary is one way for me to keep talking even when my writing mind is silenced by the disease and the ravages of its treatments.
Thanks to Sharon Browning for contributing to this interview. This interview first appeared on LitStack in January, 2013.
We love bringing you LitStackers great new releases and today’s giveaway and promo post isn’t just great, it’s phenomenal.
Lila Felix is an indie author with over a dozen Young Adult novels under her belt. Her books range from first love to roller derby to apocalyptic adventures and her latest novel is chock full of surreal, beautiful magic and a mythology that is both unique and comforting. We hope you’ll check out Lightning
in My Wake and comment below to enter for your chance to win an e-book copy of the book OR a hot off the presses Lila Felix t-shirt.
Details on the novel are below.
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Lightening in My Wake
Lila Felix Rebel Writer Productions, LLC ASIN: B00KJSE7JI
Colby Evans can leap from one country to the next in a heartbeat. She can see every sunset in every time zone in the same day. She can travel across the world in a flash. She defies gravity and physics with every breath she takes. She’s tested her abilities and found them limitless. She is the lightning. She is Lucent. And nothing can stop her. Except him. Theodore Ramsey isn’t supposed to be able to flash like Colby. The power of travel is passed on from mother to daughter in their people. Except once in every hundred generations. Theo is the one. He can flash like Colby. And it makes him a target to their enemies and to himself. His abilities change everything he knows about life and throws his future into an uncertain tangent. In fact, the only thing certain in his life is the love he feels for Colby. Their love defies time and space and has been the only constant thing in their lives since childhood. But even their infallible love will be stretched to its limits. She will risk her life to protect him. But he will risk everything to protect them all.
After learning his wife survived the attack that killed him fifty years earlier, angel/PI Griffin Shaw is determined to find Evelyn Shaw, no matter the cost. Yet his obsession comes at a price. Grif has had to give up his burgeoning love for reporter Katherine “Kit” Craig, the woman who made life worth living again, and dedicate himself to finding one he no longer knows.
Yet when Grif is attacked again, it becomes clear that there are forces in both the mortal and heavenly realm who’d rather see him dead than unearth the well-buried secrets of his past. If he’s to survive his second go-round on the Surface, Grif will have to convince Kit to reunite with him professionally, and help uncover decades of police corruption, risking both their lives… and testing the limits to what one angel is really willing to give for love.
Sometimes boys are stupid, yes even the over-aged, no ID required for liquor purchases kind of boys. Sometimes, even the dead-fifty-years-and-now-an-angel type boys are stupid.
Griffin Shaw, yeah, he was a little stupid, especially in the end of the last Celestial Blues novel, The Lost.
You see, I don’t think men every really grow out of that “pull your hair ’cause I like you” habit. Oh, sure, they may not physically do an hair-pulling now, but the antagonistic mentality is still there.
But for all his stubborn flaws, Grif isn’t stupid because he walked away from his one-true-love Katherine (Kit) Craig to seek out the truth behind his not-really-dead wife, Evie’s murder. He is a bit stupid for not letting Kit help him in his search and for letting the mystery of Evie’s whereabouts, and the truth behind his own murder, consume him.
Obsession is never good unless we’re talking about chocolate. Even then you get pimples and cellulite and it’s this whole thing that one generally tries to ignore. For the most part, obsessions do nothing but eat away the very good things in the obsessed’s life.
For Grif, that very good thing was his relationship with Kit, but like any stupid, or at least stupid-acting, boy worth his salt, Grif has to swallow his pride and do a little groveling. He needs Kit’s help.
At first, she’s conflicted. Does she help the man she loves find out about Evie’s involvement and motivation in his murder, or does she level a vicious middle finger at him and walk away with her hips sashaying in her wake?
Kit, it turns out, isn’t so stupid. Like any great heroine, she knows what she wants and she knows how to push aside her own hurt and pain to get the job done. In the process, Grif’s obsession dims and he comes to realize how the weight of his obsession nearly cost him the woman he really loves.
The Given is a vivid, lush ending to what, for me, has been such a unique and immensely entertaining series. There is murder and intrigue, betrayal and romance all wrapped up in a glorious vintage, noir-esque ribbon. I loved these characters. I loved the tension that literally pulses between Grif and Kit and I loved how that tension and the relationship that grows from it, isn’t the defining theme of the series.
This is urban fantasy at its finest and a trilogy that will stick in my mind, one that I’ll keep returning to again and again, for many, many years.
If you love supernatural mysteries and can’t stay away from unique tropes that aren’t overdone, then this wonderfully arched urban fantasy is the read for you.
Mollie Malone’s mom skipped out on her. Her biker dad, always loose and easy with the law, still was able to make her feel loved, and to keep her safe. But thirteen years ago, when his luck finally ran out and he landed in prison, Mollie found herself a new family – a group of friends in the sleepy little college town of Cavanagh, Tennessee, where now they all attend the local university.
These girls know about the rotten roots of her family tree but accept her anyway, and the bond between them is so strong and supportive that Mollie is finally able to see past graduation to a future that is bright and secure.
But sometimes the past doesn’t stay buried.
Suddenly, inexplicably, there’s a shadow behind every step Mollie takes. Someone is lurking in that shadow, threatening not only Mollie, but also the new family she has claimed for herself.
And it isn’tjust the past that has Mollie’s life in upheaval. Hunky former Marine Vaughn Winchester – who Mollie really would like to get to know much better – thinks Mollie is just a kid; he’s made it clear she wouldn’t ever be able to understand the demons haunting him. But if that’s what he believes, then why does he keep sticking his nose in her business? And if he thinks she’s such a kid, why does he keep trying to kiss her?
Vaughn’smind games are frustrating, especially since Mollie knows enough about secrets to be convinced that there’s something he isn’t telling her, something he’s so far been able to keep hidden. But when that secret is revealed, Mollie is forced into a situation that tests her loyalty and threatens even her closest friendships – just when the shadow of her past returns, and she’s going to need them the most.
Finding Serenity is book two in the Seeking Serenity series.
Purchase books 1 & 1.5 of the Seeking Serenity series
This was a mistake, being here, watching her without guarding his expression. He knew she could see what he wanted. He knew she felt what he wanted just seconds ago when that round, supple ass was leaning against him. But he had a job to do. He had to protect her. To keep her safe. Everything hinged on her safety.
“I don’t think that, but you’re right. You are untouchable.”
“Because I’m a kid?”
“Because you’re off limits.” That settled it. That should, he thought, make her understand that no matter what he said or how badly he wanted her, he couldn’t touch her again. Vaughn turns, the door just feet from him. He is almost there, just in reach of the space he needs to force between them. She has to see reason. She has to understand that the mission is what matters, not what either of them wants.
“Vaughn?” There is something in her voice that is different. Determination maybe? Certainty? Whatever it is, Mollie has never used that tone with him and he knows it would be a mistake to turn around. His gut tells him that turning around would disintegrate any hope of resistance. But her feet drag on the carpet and he can feel the soft wisp of her breath against his neck and he is helpless. He manages a glance, tells himself that it is all he will allow her, but when he sees her face, sees how calm she is, how confidently she sets her shoulders, he moves, comes to face her fully. “I’m not a kid.” And then, she drops the towel.
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched October 2013.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, thinking up impossible plots, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.
Currently, Eden lives under teenage rule alongside her husband in Southeast Louisiana.
The Undead Pool
Harper Voyager ISBN-10: 0061957933
Supernatural superhero Rachel Morgan must counter a strange magic that could spell civil war for the Hollows in this sexy and bewitching urban fantasy adventure. Witch and day-walking demon Rachel Morgan has managed to save the demonic ever after from shrinking, but at a high cost. Now, strange magic is attacking Cincinnati and the Hollows, causing spells to backfire or go horribly wrong, and the truce between the races, between Inderlander and human, is shattering. Rachel must stop this dark necromancy before the undead vampire masters who keep the rest of the undead under control are lost and all-out supernatural war breaks out.
Rachel knows of only weapon to ensure the peace: ancient elven wild magic, which carries its own perils. And no one know better than Rachel that no good deed goes unpunished . . .
A witch, a vampire and a pixy all walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, right? Doesn’t really sound like the makings of what would become an vivid urban fantasy series full of heart, does it? But, Kim Harrison took this oddball crew and turned them into a fully realized version of struggle, triumph and the unyielding journey to endure.
Rachel Morgan is not your average witch. In fact, with the progression of the series, readers discover she’s not a witch at all, but a day-walking demon who scares her enemies and intrigues those stupid enough to think they can take her out.
They are all very, very wrong.
Throughout the series, Rachel has seen friends and lovers become enemies. She’s seen the past resurface time and time again and her enemies transcend agendas to become very important allies.
Rachel’s been shunned, been transfigured, been betrayed, but through it all, she has grown into a woman with the ability to take life’s lumps in stride. In The Undead Pool, Rachel again has to take what’s set before her and work her plans toward the ultimate goal of fixing problems that are not her own.
To borrow from Tolkien, this novel, the second to last in the thirteen book Hollows series, is the big gasp before the plunge, but that does not mean the same detailed, scientific, immensely intricate way in which Harrison chronicles the magic Rachel must utilize or the seat-of-your-pants action is missing. In fact, The Undead Pool, sets up what readers hope will be a perfect farewell to the characters and worlds that they have come to love.
For fans of the series, particularly for those wishing that Rachel and a certain rich elf will make strides toward something more in the way of a relationship, The Undead Pool does not disappoint. I won’t spoil anyone of what exactly happens, but I will say there was a certain chapter that had me squeeing like a 12 year old at a 1D concert. It was a satisfying development that I hope will only evolve in the final novel.
The novel also sees more growth for Rachel and revelations that detail the desolution of relationships and points in play that are necessary to the arch of the final novel.
Any Harrison fan comes to have certain expectations while reading a new installment in the series. For me, I expect to revisit characters that have become very real, very welcoming to me. I expect to turn one page after another without the restraint of putting down my Kindle even at the wee hours of the morning. I expect Rachel and Jinx to make me laugh, Ivy to make me sigh and Trent to make me smile. I also expect an adventure that leaves me breathless for the next book. Harrison did not disappoint any of my expectations and though I cannot wait for the final book, I find myself now not eager to have it in front of me, simply because I know it will be the end.
Full of action, another expectation in Harrison’s works, and complications, The Undead Pool is a refreshing installment that sets up perfectly the thrill ride that the final novel promises to be.
Whether it’s the lush flowers and buzzing bees swarming in the spring, or the frigid snow falling around a supernatural hotel, some books perfectly invite readers to renaissances of the changing seasons.
In this week’s pick, we discuss those books that we feel best capture the turning of the seasons and put us in mind of these seasons with every read.
What about you, LitStackers? What are your favorites? Tell us all about them in the comments below. We want to hear from you!
Title: Chasing Serenity Series: Seeking Serenity series, Book #1 Eden Butler Genre: NA Contemporary Romance Release Date: October 15, 2013 Cover Designed by: Steven Novak Cover Reveal Organized by As the Pages Turn
Graduate student Autumn McShane has had her share of heartbreak. She’s been abandoned and betrayed and she lost her beloved mother in a tragic car accident five months ago. That loss damaged her body and fractured her spirit but she’s learning to recover, until her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend returns to town, intent on making her life miserable.
Declan Fraser hates her ex as much as Autumn does, but the last thing she needs is to put her trust in the hands of another man, especially one like Declan: his hard body and lulling Irish accent makes more than few girls weak-kneed. The talented rugby player is rude and sarcastic, with tattooed, muscular arms and a cocky attitude, but he’s the only one who can help Autumn win an ill-advised bet that, if lost, could cost her more than she’s willing to pay. The reluctant alliance between Declan and Autumn stirs up cravings she doesn’t want to admit, but Declan is a hard man to resist.
Just when Autumn starts letting down her carefully constructed walls to the sexy bad boy, he betrays when she needs him most. Autumn suspects Declan has dark secrets, and she is determined to uncover what drove him away from her, even if that means fraternizing with the enemy. But will the truth return Declan to her arms or add to the scars on her heart?
My mother’s skin is pale. No steady thump moves the pulse in her neck, no awareness flickers in her eyes as she stares at me. There is nothing there. She is motionless, inert.
This can’t be real.
Glass is fractured all around us, stained red with our blood, and my jeans are soaked from the torrential rain that beats against the car, through the broken windshield. I can’t stop the shaking of my limbs, the shiver of cold that has nothing to do with the temperature. Mom’s face is splotched with that same red color; thick trails of blood leak from her nose and mouth. Her hands are fractured. There are breaks that twist and bend the joints, the bones, and in the stillness of the car, against the intermittent flashes from the lightening above, I notice that my hands are like hers, except where hers are battered and bloody, mine are clean. Strange that my mind can process that we share the same thin knuckles, the same translucent skin, identical ridges that tapper at the wrist. I try to reach for her, to close her eyes, but something is piercing me and it traps me to the seat.
“Mom?” I know she won’t answer. I’ve screamed my voice raw over the past hour trying to get her to respond.
Above the din of racking rain and the drumming pulse of vicious thunder, I hear sirens, but I know that it is pointless. They’ve come too late. She is gone. I am going. My vision blurs and I can only manage to look at her, to take in the dull white in her eyes and the pallid color of her lips.
“Mom, please.” The words come out in a whisper and my head swims with a dizzy cluster of swaying vision. I am floating, falling, but I train my eyes onto her face, a tether to this life, as fleeting as it is. I try again to reach her, but I am met with resistance, some sharp unknowable thing that doesn’t allow me to move. I am helpless here, something I have always made a point to never be. But I cannot rescue her. I can’t manage to even move an inch, to touch her face, to say goodbye.
My mind surfs with desperate thoughts, impossible hopes, until the scatter of images lands on our family, years before, when we were whole, when my parents loved each other, when my father wasn’t a coward. His voice rings in my ears, him singing something old, something very Irish, and I allow myself a smile. I forget the heartbreak he caused. I forget the loneliness in our too big home, how my mother’s smile was never quite the same. The bitterness that I’ve held so near to me, so certain and full next to my heart, slips away like an unintentional whisper and I rest my head back, my eyes still trained on her face. The sounds of storms and sirens around me evaporate and I listen to my father’s voice. It is soft, like a feather, and certain like the force of a windstorm.
“Autumn my love, this song is for you.”
I close my eyes as the phantom of my father sings me into silence, into calm, into the oblivion I know is waiting.
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” will launch October 2013.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football. You can find Eden on GoodReads, Facebook and Twitter.
A few days ago Colleen Theisen who helps with outreach and instruction at the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book called Autumn by Robert Mudie. Fore-edge painting, which is believed to date back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out. There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction.
Check out the gifs here and prepare thyself! This is really cool!
To us, the best stories and characters are those about the underdog, the resilient fella who refuses to stop, who absolutely ignores the notion of “can’t.” These are the characters that stay with us, the ones we root for and who never leave our thoughts and hearts.
This week’s pick is all about the “can do, will not fail” characters that keep us cheering. What about you, LitStackers? Who are your favorite characters that never gave up? We want to hear from you!
While it’s true that any book nerd worth her salt will tell you that the book is always better than the film, there are a few adaptations of some great children’s novels that we actually enjoyed. (Still, we’re inclined to say we loved the books more).
From the thrilling depiction of Harry flying around the Quidditch pitch, to Coraline narrowly escaping her “Other Mother’s” clutches, every once in a while, Hollyweird gets it right.
What do you think, LitStackers? Do you agree with our selections? Tell us about it in the comments.
The first performance of a Shakespeare play was Henry VI Part II, staged sometime between 1590 and 1591 — over 400 years ago. That’s 400 years of star-crossed lovers, betrayed monarchs, foiled (or terribly successful) villains, wise fools, fantasy, music, laughter, tragedy, and mayhem. It would be another two or three years after that initial performance before Shakespeare’s works were committed to paper for the first time and yet, for many of us, reading and studying the plays is the first encounter we ever have with the Great Bard.
This is curious when you consider that Shakespeare’s works were written for and enjoyed by an audience consisting mainly of illiterate folks who would never read one word of anything he ever wrote.
“They’re designed to be learnt and spoken out-loud, manuals on how to provide thought-provoking, laughter-making, heart-breaking entertainment for a watching audience,” says actor, linguist, and author Ben Crystal. “Reading a recipe is never going to be the same as having a world-class chef cook the meal for you.”
The bulk of the audiences in Shakespeare’s time were the “groundlings” – -the poor and relatively uneducated, who were attending the theater to forget about their troubles and be swept away for an afternoon. They weren’t interested in analyzing symbols and dissecting characters. They were there for a laughs, the music, the ribald wordplay, the love stories, and the drama.
“There’s not…that much difference between the plot of an episode of [Eastenders] and the plot of, say, Macbeth,” writes Crystal in his book Shakespeare on Toast:. “Love, hate. Sex, death. Betrayal, friendship.”
Comparing the Bard of Avon’s classic work of ambition and betrayal to a British soap opera might seem sacrilegious, but Crystal’s point is that though these works are revered as high literature, and rightfully so, they weren’t written to be. They were written as entertainment. Viewed entertainment. Hamlet could have been performed on the moon, for all Shakespeare cared, as long as it was actually being watched (and paid for.) They point was seeing – not studying.
“Shakespeare didn’t write to be read,” says Thomas Strickland, artistic director of the North Fulton Drama Club: “…these very human stories need breath and presence to reach even the least of their potential.” Strickland directed a steampunk rendition of The Tempest in 2012, which reimagined the inhabitants of Prospero’s isle in a Victorian era that never was.
Performances of the Bard’s works have varied (to say the least) over the years. In the Elizabethan era, when the plays were first written, great theaters like the iconic Globe in London would put on show after show after show in one week, rarely repeating performances. Actors would portray a multitude of characters in a variety of plays, all in a hurry and with little-to-no rehearsal. Costumes were lavish, but sets were almost non-existent, so the force of the language was supposed to paint a picture of time and place.
His works continued to be performed after his death, but a Puritan movement known as the “Interregnum” succeeded in banning most public stage performances after 1642. The movement was squashed later during the Restoration period in England and Shakespeare’s plays were taken out of moth balls. From around 1660 onwards his plays sprung back onto the stage – this time with sets, more elaborate props, and for the first time ever women were allowed to perform, taking the place of men in female roles. The audiences changed, too – theater became a diversion for the upper and middle classes, who were more literate, and with this change came a more respectful, quiet appreciation of performances.
It wasn’t always simple for Shakespeare’s legacy, though. Audiences during the Restoration wanted pleasant, uncomplicated plots and theaters took the liberty to liberally edit the Bard’s plays. King Lear and Romeo and Juliet remain the two most infamous examples: in the Restoration adaptions of those plays, Cordelia, Romeo, and Juliet all miraculously survive their respective stories!
Over the years, interpretations of Shakespeare’s works have varied from the strictly literal, to the overtly abstract. During the Victorian era, the “divine” Sarah Bernhardt performed the title role in Hamlet and from existing footage of the production you can see stage-y, larger-than-life movements and ornate costumes – hallmarks of that era. By contrast, the 1979 version of Macbeth with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen is sparse, with no set and simple, subdued costumes – a more modern, minimalist approach to Shakespeare’s works. “All you really need is a bare stage,” says Ben Crystal, whose most recent literary endeavor includes several books on Shakespeare which strive to make the Bard more accessible; the latest, due to release in June of 2013, is Springboard Shakespeare: Hamlet.
One of the beautiful things about Shakespeare is how adaptable his works are in performance. “They are all ‘malleable’” says Strickland, “maintaining their quality even when bent or hammered into a different shape.” Shakespeare’s plays have been modernized, adapted into concentration camps and the Vietnam War, abstracted with the use of color and light, and even flung into the far future. Yet for the most part, the plays retain their magic and their universality. As Strickland claims “…try as some might, Shakespeare cannot be broken.”
The Bard’s works have been performed for centuries, and are likely to be performed for centuries more. A new film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is in the works, produced by Julian Fellowes, and Joss Whedon’s modern take on Much Ado About Nothing is set to release June 7th, 2013.
Shakespeare is an unstoppable juggernaut, and seeing his works in action (live on-stage, or in a cinema) enables you to understanding why. His plays stick with you, as few works of literature do, with their iconic characters, beautiful prose, and their ability to hone in on the heart of human existence. “He wrote about what it is to be human, to love, to lose, to be envious of your best friend’s girlfriend, to become jealous, to kill – he explored the human condition, essentially, which is kinda timeless,” says Crystal. The plays can be performed in myriad ways, and just about anywhere, and the messages will resonate. I’m still waiting on that performance of Hamlet on the moon — I just know it’s got to come about in my lifetime.
We are beyond excited for Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie remake, which promises to be much truer to the original book by Stephen King. This trailer contains the first actual footage we’ve been able to see, and we can already tell this is going to be a much larger scale production.
You can see shots of Chloë Grace Moretz (Carrie) unleashing her wrath upon not only the high school, but the whole town (which was in the novel but never executed in the original film by Brian De Palma.)
Plus there’s a whole heap more of actual FX work — note the floating books. Once we saw the one girl’s face fly into the school gym window, we got pretty excited. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get too slick. Carrie hits theaters on October 18th, 2013.
We’ve got a lot of things on our minds this week. From the election of a new Pope to memories of our favorite children’s novels and the power of fan-funded artistic projects, our picks this week run the gamut of thoughts we’d like to share with you, LitStackers.
Check out what’s on our minds and be sure to leave your comments below.
God bless Joss Whedon. While we won’t say that his Avengers film single-handedly made comics as films/tv shows popular again, we can say that perhaps it certainly helped. There have many variations of comics on the big and small screen, but not all have been wonderful. One glimpse at the campiness of 60’s television is proof enough of that (Green Hornet/Batman). The beauty of living in an age with great advances in filming technology is that we can glimpse in live action what we imagined whilst reading comics and novels. That is certainly true of the many and varied contemporary incarnations of some of our favorite comics. We’re especially impressed by the television shows based on comics that have emerged in the past few decades and even those that took a grittier approach to superheroes back in the day. Here are just a few of our favorites. Be sure to tell us about yours in the comments, LitStackers!
Focus Features and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are closing a deal to acquire the new Neil Gaiman novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Joe Wright is being attached to direct, and his Shoebox Films partner Paul Webster is coming aboard to produce with Hanks and Goetzman. The film will be a co-production between Playtone and Shoebox.
The Ocean At The End of the Lane will be published in June by William Morrow. According to jacket copy, it’s about about memory and magic and survival, about the power of stories and the darkness inside each of us. The narrator describes a tale that begins when he was seven and a lodger stole the family’s car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and a menace unleashed — within his family, and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a ramshackle farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
Gaiman’s other works, including American Gods, Sandman and The Graveyard Book, are all getting adapted into the small and big screen. He was also behind Coraline, which Focus Features turn into an animated hit.
Wright teamed with Focus Features on his last two films, Anna Karenina and Hanna, and before that Pride & Prejudice.
Playtone is adapting Gaiman’s American Gods as a series for HBO, and the production company just won five Emmy Awards for Game Change, and Playtone is currently producing the Peter Landesman-directed feature Parkland.
The Huffington Post reported on what seems to be a resurgence in Shakespeare’s works. From Young Adult novels, to a rumored film based on Anne Hathaway, (Shakespeare’s wife), it seems the publishing and entertainment industries are seeking to bring The Bard to contemporary audiences.
Some of the projects that are scheduled include:
Exposure, a modern retelling of Macbeth set in an Alaska high school, was published January 18th. It’s the second book of what will be at least three titles in co-authors Kim Askew and Amy Helmes’ Twisted Lit series.
Anne Hathaway, Golden Globe winner and Oscar Nominee for Les Miserables, is attached to star in an updated remake of The Taming of the Shrew.
Fox has bought the TV series America’s Son. America’s Son is an updated take on Hamlet, about a Kennedy-esque political family whose patriarch is murdered and the son who returns to D.C. to uncover the truth. It’s being produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television.
Johnny Depp’s production company has partnered with the Scandinavian production company behind the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films to produce a scripted series based on Shakespeare’s plays. The series is described as “a modern take on the plays of The Bard, building on the existing characters and plots from several of his most notable plays.”
If fairytales are to be believed, then every little girl awaits her knight in shining armor. Unless, of course, you live outside of 1952. Fiction, really great fiction, disrupts stereotypes, subverts the models of common acceptance and asks that simple truths be revealed; that is why these types of stories are among our favorites. This is especially true when a writer speaks to our personal sensibilities and for us, that comes in the form of really great, independent, power characters who happen to be female. These are our heroines, the makers of their own destinies, the women who become their own rescuers. Here are some of our favorite anti-damsels.
What about you, LitStackers? Who are your favorites? We want to hear from you!
William Morrow, the publishers of Neil Gaiman’s first adult novel in seven years, released the cover yesterday. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is described as:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac—as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly’s wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark. It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family’s lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duck pond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
From the acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World, blistering gangster noir meets howling absurdist comedy as the forces of good square off against the forces of evil, and only an unassuming clockwork repairman and an octogenarian former superspy can save the world from total destruction.
Joe Spork spends his days fixing antique clocks. The son of infamous London criminal Mathew “Tommy Gun” Spork, he has turned his back on his family’s mobster history and aims to live a quiet life. That orderly existence is suddenly upended when Joe activates a particularly unusual clockwork mechanism. His client, Edie Banister, is more than the kindly old lady she appears to be—she’s a retired international secret agent. And the device? It’s a 1950s doomsday machine. Having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the British government and a diabolical South Asian dictator who is also Edie’s old arch-nemesis. On the upside, Joe’s got a girl: a bold receptionist named Polly whose smarts, savvy and sex appeal may be just what he needs. With Joe’s once-quiet world suddenly overrun by mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe, he realizes that the only way to survive is to muster the courage to fight, help Edie complete a mission she abandoned years ago and pick up his father’s old gun . . .
Time travel inevitably gets a sizable mention during an old-fashioned game of “Name That TV Trope.” There’s seemingly an endless supply — everything from screwed-up timelines that incorporate fictional elements to the unsettling discovery that you’re your own grandfather (see Futurama). But, bibliophiles that we are, one of our favorite silly pseudo-historical plot devices is when a famous dead author is revived in fictionalized form.
From Doctor Who to Quantum Leap, here are a few of the greatest literary figures featured on time-traveling television shows. Be sure to check out the full list here on Flavorwire.
The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman Tor Books ISBN-13: 978-0765329400
(SPOILER ALERT, for both The Half-Made World and The Rise of Ransom City)
The instant I finished reading The Half-Made World I leapt into The Rise of Ransom City. And with good reason. The Half-Made World was luscious and thick, and couldn’t possibly be the end of the story. (And here start the spoilers!) The Line was still forging ahead, though Lowry was not. The Gun was still shooting, though Creedmoor had managed to shake them. The General never got un-addled, but the secret he supposedly possessed was transferred, of a sort, to Dr. Alverhuysen.
While The Half-Made World skips between point-of-view characters, giving us a detailed portrait of the world and its inhabitants, both the good and the bad, The Rise of Ransom City sticks to a single perspective: that of “Professor” Harry Ransom, (with a few footnotes and an afterword from his editor, Mr. Carson). It is set up as a memoir, a recounting of the life of an influential man, told in his own words and sent forth into the world–and to Mr. Carson–to be published for the benefit of future generations. It is written in first person and has a very dialogue-ish feel, as if the reader and the writer were sitting down together over lunch. As such, the writing is not quite as poetic in The Half-Made World, the descriptions not quite so vivid, but it is a good bit more personal. The Industry versus Freedom versus Tradition argument is not as blatant, though Ransom does offer his own opinions and even philosophizes about the state of the world from time to time:
There was a time when a gun was just a gun, and there was a time when men made Engines to serve them and not the other way around. I don’t know whether we were at peace then or not, I guess not, but things were better. I have heard some people say that there are spirits in the land just waiting for the right kind of forms to take and that is how the Gun and the Line came about. I have heard it said that we ourselves made them, that something in those forms spoke to us and to our nightmares and obsessions and that is how the world changed, because of us.
Ransom is an inventor, you see, and a free spirit, (as all inventors are, naturally). He wants nothing much to do with the Gun, and even less to do with the Line, but somehow he keeps getting caught up with one or the other, with them or against them or between them. Yes, he travels with Creedmoor and Liv for a time, (initially unbeknownst to him), and remains connected to them throughout the story, if only by association, but he is not entirely on their side and he doesn’t exactly want them to have what he’s got.
What he’s got is the Ransom Process, otherwise known as the Apparatus, otherwise known as the Bomb, otherwise known as General Enver’s Secret, otherwise known as Folk Magic. At first it’s light and warmth–free light and warmth for everyone!–and pretty colors, but if you tweak it just right, BOOM! No more Agent, no more Engine, no more demon. And not in the “See you as soon as I find a new host!” way we’ve heard about, but really No More. Once the secret is out, both sides want Professor Ransom, in the same way they wanted General Enver: they want him to build his Apparatus for them, or else they want him dead.
And poor little Harry, all he really wants to do is head out West, beyond the reach of the Line and the Gun and the newly uprisen, (with partial thanks to Creedmoor and Liv), Red Republic, and build his own little city, full of inventors and true believers, run by the Ransom Process, where everyone has light and heat and no one has to do anything they don’t want to do. Maybe Adela could come along too and show him how to build a piano. Is that too much to ask?
But, alas, our lives are not our own, particularly when they’re ruled by forces as great and powerful and demanding as the Line and the Gun, and things don’t often work out as smoothly as we planned.
So while The Half-Made World was a brilliant portrayal of deciding what you think is right, and then fighting for it, The Rise of Ransom City is what happened next, but only from Ransom’s perspective. We don’t get to see how Creedmoor and Liv found their version of the weapon, because Ransom wasn’t there. We don’t get to see the battle at Chatillon, or how the Engines lost, or how the Agents were killed, or even who won the war, (though Mr. Carson does tell of great changes occurring in the world after the departure of Mr. Ransom for lands West, he does not explain how those changes came about). And though Professor Ransom set out at last to build his legendary city, we are left wondering if there was ever light in the West.
The story is different; the writing is different. The Rise of Ransom City was harder to sink my teeth into than was The Half-Made World, but it pulled me along faster. The words did not need to be savored quite so long, but the action was more explosive. The second book of the duology is not so much a continuation as it is a complement, both finishing and balancing the story.
Overall, I very much enjoyed reading The Rise of Ransom City. It was certainly different from its predecessor, but that allowed me to better appreciate different aspects of the story. A fair and worthy sequel, Ransom City has earned its place on my bookshelf, and Felix Gilman has earned my loyalty.
There’s nothing quite like a great character. These are the fictional folks who leave indelible impressions on readers. They are the folks we root for. And, many times, they aren’t always the hero. In many respects, great secondary characters are more beloved than the main character. After all, what would Harry Potter be without Luna Lovegood’s insane conspiracy theories? Or that wonderful roaring lion hat? Of course, had it not been for Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s fate, and that of Middle Earth, would have been quite different.
There are simply some characters that outshine the stars of the novels and these are the characters we’d love to read more about. This week we discuss the secondary characters we’d love to read in their own book. Tell us about yours in the comments, LitStackers. We want to hear from you!
Buffy Season 8 Wallpaperby ~Bacafreak, Jo Chen original artwork
Whether it’s a favorite film, comic, television show or book, we know the impact inspiration has on a fan. Regardless of your level of nerdom, we’re sure you have at least heard of fan fiction, or seen a great “trailer” for books and films not yet launched “officially.” Point being, many a talented fan has been inspired by their favorite characters or their favorite stories.
We just couldn’t make up our minds. Some of the folks on the staff were beyond tired of hearing about anything political. (We know a few of you are as well). Others, however, knew that they wanted to discuss the satirically political books they loved the most. And since the weather is turning, or down right freezing and snowy for some of you, others wanted to talk about their favorite guilty pleasure reads that are best to read while sitting in front of a crackling fire.
So this week, our picks will cover both.
Let us know what you think, LitStackers. What are your favorite politically satirical and/or guilty pleasure reads? We want to hear from you!
Days of Blood and Starlight Laini Taylor Little, Brown ISBN-10: 0316133973 November 6, 2012
In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou must come to terms with who and what she is, and how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, mysteries and secrets, new characters and old favorites, Days of Blood and Starlight brings the richness, color and intensity of the first book to a brand new canvas.
Laini Taylor is a world builder. That is true of all writers, particularly of those who write genre fiction, but not all Fantasy/SciFi writers can boast worlds that luxuriate in the incomprehensibly beautiful. Greater still is the challenge to bend these transcendent worlds so the reader feels as comfortable there as they are in the privacy of their own homes.
National Book Award finalist, Taylor, crafted a world within our own and brought to life a family made more of hope than blood in her novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone. We meet Karou, a blue-haired art student whose family is a small congregation of “monsters,” or chimaera folk, (creatures that have the attributes of different animals and humans), who rescued her from a fate of senseless punishment.
There is also Zusana, her sarcastic, charming best friend and, of course, Akiva, the boy who means more to her than she realizes, and whose love has breached the infinite depths of time and space. After the first read (because, trust me, it is impossible to refrain from multiple readings of this novel), you will be so fully immersed in Karou’s story, her epic and heartbreaking bond with Akiva, and the damage done to them by war, that your fingers itch to turn the pages of the next installment.
Next week, those itchy fingers will be satisfied.
Days of Blood and Starlight continues Karou’s journey, but it is a trek that is not solely hers to take. Returning again ,and with greater focus, is Zusana and her mission to sort out what happened to her best friend, and Akiva, who searches for Karou and, more hopefully, the forgiveness he believes she will never give him.
The sequel finds Karou in the company of her enemy, taking up the mantel that her surrogate father, Brimstone, carried: the resurrection of their people. Initially, Karou disregards, or perhaps, ignores her own heartache, choosing to coat her shock and loss in a thick veil of rage. Akiva is the source of that rage and Karou seems content to hold tight to her belief that he alone is responsible for her sorrow.
War continues between the few remaining chimaera rebels and the seraphim, Akiva’s people who have sought to decimate the “beasts” with little discretion. But with lifetimes spent in the death and destruction of the enemy, factions – small though they may be – grow weary and separately begin to breathe life into newborn rebellions.
There is heartache in this sequel, understandable when central to this novel is love and loss. There are also moments of shock and sheer joy, some surprising yet bittersweet and expected.
Taylor’s gift is, yes, the imaginative worlds she has woven with her series, but it is hardly her only talent. Words and worlds collide between her pages. Loves are lost and won. Hopes are forgotten and renewed, all made real and vivid. Throughout her novels, Taylor conjures the mystical, the surreal natures of impossible creatures who breathe full gasps of hope and promise. Their struggles become ours, their triumphs and tragedies are felt in our hearts.
Once again, Taylor works enormous magic with simple words, surreal worlds and finely drawn characters. Daughter of Smoke and Bone whetted our appetite and Days of Blood and Starlight leads us deeper into this magical world interwoven with ours. After thoroughly enjoying the latest adventures of Karou and her friends, there is only one question left to ask: where will Taylor take us next?
We would like to thank Lois Lowry and her team at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for allowing us to feature her this month. We hope that you will revisit her wonderfulbacklist as well as her recent release, SON.
We were honored to sit down and chat with Mrs. Lowry about her books, writing and why there’s really no such thing as Writer’s Block.
LS: You have been writing and publishing books for thirty-five years. Did you have a different career prior to becoming a writer? What were the steps that led you to become an author?
My career was mostly wife, mother, and student (I went back to finish my interrupted college degree when my youngest (of four) child went to kindergarten). I studied photography in graduate school and became a free-lance photojournalist, then segued from there into writing books. My first book was published when I was forty. I had never had any professional aspirations other than being a writer.
LS: What did you enjoy reading as a child? What were some of your favorite books?
I was a voracious but indiscriminate reader and read most of the popular books of my era: The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Mary Poppins. I loved “The Secret Garden” and the “The Little Princess”…both of them from my own mother’s childhood…and was very fond of a more contemporary book called “The Saturdays” by Elizabeth Enright. And one of my favorites was “Indian Captive” by Lois Lenski. I get a kick out of receiving letters now from kids who tell me they love “Strawberry Girl”…a Newbery winner, I think…but I have to respond that it was written not by me but by Lois Lenski.
LS: What authors most influenced you when you began your own writing career?
I began my own writing career when I was still studying literature in college and grad school, and I think writers like Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers may have been among my biggest influences, as well as Virginia Woolf.
LS: You have published over thirty books, including two Newberys. Do you have a personal favorite?
I think “Son” is actually my 40th book. My personal favorite is probably “Autumn Street”…published back in 1980…and I am also very fond of “The Silent Boy.”
LS: Actor Jeff Bridges has optioned film rights for The Giver. Will you be involved in the movie production and if so, in what capacity?
No, I have no involvement with the film.
LS: The Giver was published in 1993. How long did it take you to write this novel and what societal issues and current events at that time influenced the story, if any?
It probably took me a year to write “The Giver.” I don’t recall specific societal events from that time (1992) except the recent first Gulf War in which my son had taken part.
LS: You initially wrote The Giver as a stand-alone novel. Then came Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004) as companion novels. What prompted you, so many years later, to write a fourth in the series? Was it your readers who wanted to know what became of the young child Gabe? Or more your own desire to explore a conclusion?
I know there were questions left unanswered, and characters’ fates that were still of interest. Probably it was reader mail that kept me constantly aware of that. But as a writer you do become very fond of your own fictional characters and so it was enticing to re-visit some of them in the fourth book. The character of Claire took me by surprise, though; she was new and her story was very intriguing to me.
LS: You are credited for writing the first young adult dystopian novel. What advice do you have for other writers who are interested in writing this genre?
Frankly, I would tell those writers that the timing is wrong. There is an overabundance now of YA dystopian novels and a writer would be well-advised to look for something new and different rather than adding more to what is fast become an overstock.
LS: Do you ever suffer from writers’ block, and if so, how do you break out of a slump?
Well, let me get on my soapbox for a minute. I have come to loathe the phrase “writer’s block.” It doesn’t mean anything, really, except that like people in any other profession, sometimes writers have days when they feel sluggish and unimaginative. But so do teachers, or dentists, or pharmacists. Or lawyers. For some reason this mystique has grown up that there is an affliction that singles out writers. It doesn’t. It happens to everyone, and everyone goes on working on those days because it is their job. But it troubles me that kids are taught this phrase and it is too easily used as an excuse for not doing their best work.
LS: Considering your published works and achievements, you have obviouslyperfected a writing method for yourself. Tell us about your writing life. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Describe your daily writing routine and rituals.
I don’t really have any kind of a method. And I don’t plot things in advance, or make outlines or use index cards. I create a situation and a character in my mind and then I sit down and begin to tell that story. I acquire momentum and details…..and additional characters…..as I go along. Each day I revise what I wrote the previous day. I pay a lot of attention to transitions. I read dialogue aloud. I have an imagined destination and I aim the characters toward it, at the same time that I create obstacles and impediments for them, and I work hard at tracking their maturation and change. I remind myself always that something has to be at stake; the destination has to justify the journey.
Declaration of Independence: Justin Hamm on the museum of americana
This past summer, Justin Hamm took a creative leap of faith. Merging a love of historical American culture with online publishing, he founded the literary review the museum of americana, and in swift order assembled a website, an editorial team and a creative vision that “revives or repurposes the old, the dying, the forgotten, or the almost entirely unknown aspects of Americana.” This month, the review launched its first issue, which features fiction, poetry, essays and visual art. Full disclosure, I’m a prose editor at the journal, yet I was as curious as anyone how this project fast-tracked from what-if to vivid reality. With the first issue up and running, Justin took time to discuss what led him to the embark on the project and his hopes for it down the road, along with the kinds of work he’d like to publish, the evolution of his own work, and his thoughts on a classic figure of more-recent Americana, Bob Dylan.
Originally from the flatlands of central Illinois, Justin Hamm now lives near Twain territory in Missouri. He is the author of the chapbooks Illinois, My Apologies (RockSaw Press, 2011) and The Everyday Parade/Elegy For Sounds Forgotten (forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press). His work has appeared, or will soon appear in Nimrod, The New York Quarterly, Cream City Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Sugar House Review, and a host of other publications. Recent work has also been featured on the Indiefeed: Performance Poetry channel and nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. Justin earned his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2005.
The common wisdom says to write the book you want to read, and I wanted to read work that repurposed American culture.
You’re a poet, a teacher, a parent—your calendar must already be full. What possessed you to launch a literary journal?
I do have a full calendar, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve only just now found the courage to take on a commitment such as this. But at the same time, I believe if there are things in life you feel called to do, you have to do them. In this case, I thought what has turned out to be the aesthetic of the museum of americana was going to be the aesthetic of my next manuscript. The common wisdom says to write the book you want to read, and I wanted to read work that repurposed American culture.
But somewhere along the way I realized that it’s probably beyond my life experience at this point to make that kind of manuscript. I’m just not done with my own little piece of Americana here in the Midwest yet. On the other hand, I still had a deep longing to read those kinds of stories and poems, and I’ve long thought we’re at a point where the culture they might come from is drying up or changing into something very different. I wanted to be part of a larger effort to try and reinvigorate that culture by using it as raw material for new art, and I wanted to celebrate and promote others who felt the same way. I don’t watch TV, or go out for beers on the weekend. I do this instead, and I do it for the same reason I teach public high school— because I want to be able to say I spent my time on things that matter. I know there are 10,000 journals out there, but I think this one has a chance to be culturally significant as it grows and matures.
As a writer, you work in different genres, short stories and flash fiction among them. What led you to poetry?
I’ve always been a poet; it’s just that I forgot that for a while. Poetry always seemed very romantic and noble to me, and I kept these notebooks full of weird lines from the time I was probably fourteen. When the teachers brought poetry into the classroom, I was the one of the handful of kids who perked up. I wanted to write fiction because, suddenly as a senior in college, I discovered I could do it well, and I thought maybe I would be able to learn to write and sell a book that would make a lot of money. The first short story I ever wrote got me into graduate school, and I was able to publish a couple more early on, but here’s the honest truth: I just don’t enjoy writing fiction. I enjoy having written fiction, and I sure do like it when others say nice things about what I’ve done, but composing poetry is a natural extension of who I am.
So when I hit the post-MFA dry spell a lot of us experience as we try to process everything we’ve learned, I quit writing altogether for a couple of years—and grew really despondent and depressed. I thought I was done writing forever, and that scared me, but then, tentatively, I tried making some poems again, the first I’d done in probably six or seven years. I didn’t worry about publication or what others might think about them. I only thought about how grateful I was to be able to write something, how essential and nourishing the process was. It was like coming home after being away a really long time.
I do work on fiction for a change of pace now and then, and I think I’m a capable fiction writer, but obviously, whether I’m writing stories or poems, I’m not going to get rich. So I’m going to make the art I feel I’m supposed to make.
For those who may not be familiar, what books or stories do you feel best represent the museum of americana vein?
Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Good Poems, American Places, edited by Garrison Keillor. Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Jelly Roll by Kevin Young. Airships by Barry Hannah. Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason. Just about anything by Cornelius Eady. Ditto Natasha Tretheway. David Kirby has a poem in a relatively recent issue of The Laurel Review called “Love in Vain,” like the Robert Johnson song—I sure wish we could have published that. There was a short story by a writer named Tim Wirkus in an issue of Cream City Review a year or two ago that would be perfect for us, too. It’s called “Thirteen Virtues of a Colonial Detective,” and it’s kind of a mash-up of hard-boiled detective fiction and Franklin’s Autobiography.
We like work that’s conscious of the fact that it’s concerned with Americana. That doesn’t mean it has to be artificial, though. For instance, Joyce Carol Oates has a novel called We Were the Mulvaneys that explores the small-town American family in a fairly conventional style. That type of story would be up our alley. On the other hand, so would her book of concept fiction, Wild Nights!, which re-imagines the last days of Poe, Dickenson, Twain, Hemingway, and James in some highly bizarre ways (Dickenson, for instance, is an android). The idea is for each issue to be a big grab bag, some of it serious, some of it fascinatingly strange, sort of like what you’d encounter in a real museum. None of these books alone gets at what we’re trying to do. But juxtapose them along with “Epic Rap Battles of History” on YouTube, and Sufjan Stevens’s Illinoise and Michigan albums and your local Civil War reenactment, and you have an idea of our vision.
After envisioning the project at length, what was it like to finally assemble that first issue?
There was kind of a delayed joy in the first issue, mostly because I feel we have a responsibility to the writers to present their work in a professional manner. I experienced the initial sense of excitement the first time I read each of the pieces we ended up taking and realized they were really good, but after that, I had to focus on just making the issue work. It needed to be functional. It needed be formatted correctly. And since I was doing these things for the first time, it wasn’t a painless process.
But once it was all there and I could go back and take in the issue as a whole, as our editors selected it and our readers are now encountering it—that’s when I started to get excited. Of course there’s that immediate glow that happens when you’re part of creating something that didn’t exist before. But more than that, I was just really impressed with the writing and art. It’s exceptional work, work I’d be interested in wherever it happened to appear.
What are your ambitions for the journal?
Initially, I’d just like to connect our writers with as many sympathetic readers as possible. But in the long-term, I’d like to see us expand and do a yearly print anthology. I’d also like to host music and perhaps even short films on the website. Eventually, I hope we can put together a group of reviewers to regularly review new books that are using aspects of Americana in interesting ways. And as long as we’re throwing out long-term ambitions, at some point I’d love for us to be able to publish those books ourselves. We’ll see. But if we can accomplish these goals, I believe we can make an interesting contribution to the discussion about the disappearance of historic American culture, a discussion I think is going to grow as it becomes more and more apparent.
So I hear you’re a serious Bob Dylan fan. I recently saw him in concert for the first time and was impressed by the way he adapted his classic songs with funk and Latin arrangements. For decades he’s been an iconic figure of Americana, starting out as a bard with a guitar. What do you think of Dylan the artist in 2012?
Artwork from the museum of americana issue one. Credit: Mary Mazziotti, American Carousel Goat (detail).
I find Dylan endlessly interesting. You’ll notice that I didn’t say “he’s great,” or “he’s washed up.” I don’t think you can pin him down in that way. On the performance side, I think that comes from a combination of factors: the constant rearranging of songs, as you mention; the decline in his physical abilities; and his own interest level. He can go from outstanding to pretty unlistenable from one song to the next. With his voice the way it is, and that inconsistency, I can certainly see where some just don’t care for his live act. Then you’ll get something like the live version of “Forgetful Heart” I saw him do back in 2009, or the live debut of “Scarlet Town” from his newest album, which he performed a week or two ago (there’s a really great bootleg of it going around), or just about any version of “Ballad of Thin Man” he’s done recently. I’m glad he still tours because those moments are worth the lower points.
The studio work and the songwriting are a different story. The biggest criticism is that he outright steals his lyrics and melodies, so he’s somehow less a genius than he was at his peak. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe he’s using an interesting new collage-style method of songwriting. The fact that it’s difficult to say one way or the other is part of the appeal and mystery of the trickster character he portrays. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me that much either way. He’s already done a certain type of songwriting the best it can be done.
the museum of americana accepts submissions of original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book/chapbook reviews, writer interviews, photography and art that showcases and/or repurposes historical American culture. Submissions are read in the months of June and December only. To find out more, visit the journal here.
There seems to be an influx of fairy tales being subverted. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and films like Mirror, Mirror, to contemporary twists on classic fairy tales, what was once old, is now new again.
We’ve pulled together a list of some of the most unique interpretations of fairy tales in fiction form. What do you think, LitStackers? What’s your favorite version of a classic fairy tale?
Join master storyteller NEIL GAIMAN and a few famous friends, writers, and other luminaries as they read Coraline, his modern classic for young readers, in its entirety . . . one chapter at a time.
In celebration of the tenth anniversary of Coraline, Neil Gaiman and several friends, including: Lemony Snicket, John Hodgman, Melissa Mars, Holly Black, R.L. Stine, (R! L! Stine!) and Gaiman’s “fairy goddaughter Natashya” will read the entire book.
As part of her Casual Vacancy tour, and just prior to her speaking engagement in New York City, JK Rowling stopped by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The Huffington Post reported that during the interview, Rowling and Stewart “shared a 15-minute conversation about everything from Star Wars to the British welfare system – and of course her new book.”
I couldn’t have written [The Casual Vacancy] if I’d not had a few years really where I was as poor as it’s possible to go in the UK without being homeless,” said Rowling.
She also explained that her commitment to paying tax in the UK comes from the time that she herself was on welfare.
“Has a government ever got more back from an investment?” asked Stewart.
Check out this small interview with our Featured Author, Lois Lowry, talking about her YA classic The Giver and her latest novel, Son. In case you missed it, Angie Dilmore’s review of Son is here on LitStack.
Call it escapism or part of the artistic pursuit for inspiration, regardless of how you reason it, the truth is many writers of the past and present have been known to toke a bit of weed. Here are six that you may be surprised to learn were recreational (and devout) marijuana smokers.
There are books we love. There are, of course, books that resonate with us. There are books that make us laugh, make us outraged, motivate us to effect change. And then, there are books with the transformative power to alter the paths of our lives, that speak to us so sincerely, with such an acute voice that refuses to be silenced. These are the books that incite a reckoning in our lives, that compel us to obsessively preach to others the importance of taking in the story, the poems or the voices between the pages we read.
This week’s pick concerns those books that we covet most passionately…books that aren’t simply our favorites, but that after reading, become a part of the fabrics of our souls.
What about you, LitStackers? What books are you most passionate about? We want to hear from you!
The Giver Lois Lowry Published in 1993 from Bantam Books
“Once, back in the time of the memories…”
The Giver is a Newberry Award-winning dystopian novel featuring a child protagonist who is chosen to receive the memories of ages past in order to aid and advise his community in the future. Ostensibly a novel for adolescents, this moving story has something for readers of any age.
In Jonas’ world, everyone is the same. There is no color, race, or emotion. Family size is controlled, child-birth is regulated, language is simple and precise, and the rules are absolute. Everyone is given a job when they reach the age of twelve, and soon-to-be-twelve Jonas is anxious about his upcoming assignment. We learn that Jonas is different from his peers in subtle and eventually all-too-important ways: he has lighter eyes, and occasionally sees flashes of something he can’t quite explain – a change in the fabric of the world that unsettles him.
Then, his assignment is announced. Receiver of Memories. And one day, he will be the new Giver of Memories, the most revered person in the community. For Jonas, it is a terrifying privilege, as the Giver is a figure shrouded in mystery, cut off from the world all of his days. Jonas begins his training and soon his entire life is turned upside down as he learns that the comforting Sameness which keeps his community docile and content is not what it seems to be. He learns that there was another time, “before,” where things called color, love, pain, war, happiness, and sadness existed. Soon, Jonas begins to wonder if the “before” time is attainable once again – and whether or not it would be better to live with the pain and suffering in order to have choice.
When I was eleven, I wrote a book report about The Giver. This assignment was unique in that we were all asked to decorate our own book covers to encase our individual reports – as if our report was a book itself. I still have that project, saved in a keepsake box, and the drawing I made for The Giver is still there. I drew the young boy, Jonas, being pulled in two directions, like the flag in a game of tug-of-war. Pulling him from one side: sameness. Pulling him from the other side: color, pain, love, and war. My eleven-year-old-self decided to boil the plot of the book down to that essential struggle, that far-from-simple choice that Jonas has to make for himself in the end. Jonas learns so much over the course of The Giver, about humanity’s history, about his own community, about his family and about himself. But what spoke to me the most when I was eleven was that final choice: to allow the sameness to continue, or to choose another path and bring back the memories from the past. That choice still sticks with me today, seventeen years after I first read the novel.
Lowry prefaces her book with this dedication: “For all the children to whom we entrust the future.” The memories that the Giver bestows on Jonas are not just a history, they are a legacy. Stories passed down from generation to generation are all one truly has to bestow upon the future. And as the Giver says: “Memories need to be shared.” This allegorical undercurrent to the plot contributes to the timeless message of the book: that the shared experiences of our past are essential to our humanity. A true masterpiece of children’s literature, The Giver speaks to the need for community, learning, and understanding within us all.
The Gemini Virus Wil Mara Forge Books ISBN-10: 0765324318
— ♦ —
It starts with a cough. Next you start sneezing. Before you know it, you’re covered in itching, oozing blisters and chopping off your foot. You might kill your kids, spouse, or even the town crossing guard somewhere along the line. But please don’t hurt the dog.
While I love the good disaster story—particularly of the epidemic variety—you have to admit they’re fairly predictable. First comes the disaster, and then things get progressively worse … until there’s a cure and everyone struggles to return to some semblance of normalcy. That’s the only way a virus story could go.
So if we know what’s going to happen, why do we read them?
Well, there’s the idea of imminent danger as a reality. Some random food we order at lunchtime could be infected with an undiscovered virus that kills off half the population. That could happen. A terrorist could walk through Grand Central Station spritzing the air with a super germ. That could happen, too. An asshole at the supermarket could cough all over you, and then have the nerve to collapse in the parking lot. Yeah, that could totally happen.
With all of the possible disaster scenarios, the point is not what’s going to happen. The point is, how did it happen, how did people react, and what could be done to prevent it? And for the macabre-minded, let’s not forget, what are the gruesome symptoms? It is in these areas a disaster story can set itself apart.
And Wil Mara manages to set The Gemini Virus far apart from others in the genre.
The story toggles between points-of-view and newsreel style updates. The newsreels are mostly informative, but Mara sprinkles in enough anecdotes to make it feel more like a local broadcast rather than CNN. These episodes are the main source of information about how the virus is affecting the world at large, though we do get some additional info through the POVs. The newsreels serve as a not-comic relief to the human emotion segments.
The primary POV characters are two epidemiologists trying to track down and cure the virus, and a regular guy trying to keep his family safe. All three characters have strengths and weaknesses, well-developed pasts, and even moments of heroism. They make decisions, they have regrets. They wonder what they could have done differently, if and how they will be judged for what they did, and how they’re going to make it through to the other side of the virus. They make you wonder how you would react in the same situation, and what choices you would make, which is arguably the point of all literature.
There is also an obvious red herring terrorist plot thrown into the mix, the best part of which is the resolution (for which, Fictional President Obama, I salute you). The fictional representation of actual people and places felt true, as did the conversations between epidemiologists. Some explanations were very scientific and as a result were glossed over by my very un-scientific brain, but they were short, they fit the scenario, and they did not negatively impact the flow of the story.
And if you want to talk about gruesome, Wil Mara takes the maggot-covered cake. If you want blood and pus and ooze, and more blood, plus more than a few unspeakable atrocities, The Gemini Virus has you covered. I’m not particularly squeamish, but I found myself squirming in my seat a number of times at the vivid, disgusting descriptions.
The Gemini Virus has everything you could want in a disaster story, including a fast pace. While not exactly suspenseful, it’s an edge-of-your-seat read that will have you grimacing, sighing, crying—and reaching for your disinfectant.
Wake of the Bloody Angel Alex Bledsoe Tor Books ISBN-13: 978-0765327451
Pardon me if I’ve mentioned this before, but I hate coming into a series in the middle. When I say that I hate it, what I mean is, generally, when I realize the book I have picked up has a prequel, I will put it aside, intending to read said prequel(s) before reading the book on hand. More often than not, I never read any of the prequels, and I never pick up the book again.
With Wake of the Bloody Angel, I wasn’t entirely sure it was the middle of a series, so I made it through. And I’m glad I did.
Eddie LaCrosse is a sort of detective for hire, with a sword. He’s hired to track down an old lover who disappeared long ago, leaving behind rumors of his death and a legendary treasure. LaCrosse’s search for truth sets him sailing across the sea. But something has the sailors worried …
There isn’t a whole lot of backstory here, except that there is. What I mean to say is, the whole story is about the past, it’s just not about Eddie LaCrosse’s past. He has this client, see, a client he believes he knows fairly well, and as the story proceeds, he learns just how little he knows about her, and her past. As for Eddie, we catch a few glimpses of what’s behind him, and we learn a little about who he is, but really, it’s irrelevant. In this case it’s the story that pulls us onward, not the characters.
And the story is action-packed. First of all, it’s a pirate story, a mercenary story, and a detective story all rolled into one. There’s ale a-plenty, there’s a busty wench, there’s swashbuckling, and there’s even a sea monster or two. Don’t forget the ghost ships and the mounds of lost treasure. Oh, and there’s a bit of a mystery, too.
If you’re looking for deep, philosophical exploration, you won’t find it here, nor will you find much of anything you can’t see coming. What you will find is a fun, easy read, the perfect vehicle for a quick, imaginary escape to a tropical paradise.
Back Roads and Frontal Lobes Brady Allen Post Mortem Press First Edition – September 12, 2012 ISBN 978-0615698397
There are two types of books, I read: “downstairs” books and “upstairs” books. The only difference between them is that “upstairs” books sit on my bedside table, and I read them at least a little bit (sometimes more) before going to sleep for the night.
Brady Allen’s new set of short stories, Back Roads and Frontal Lobes, is definitely NOT an upstairs book. No way could I sleep after reading most of these tales; this fellow has a deeply twisted imagination!
Luckily, for those of you who like well written, imaginative stories, even if horror and the macabre are not your genre of choice, Allen’s writing is superbly crafted, seemingly effortless and wholly familiar. His characters are immediately recognizable, (for better or worse), and ring true – which is part of why his stories are so chilling.
Allen hails from Dayton, Ohio and that state is the setting for many of his stories. (Someone remind me that if I am driving through Ohio at some point and come across a town named Stairway Falls, under no circumstances should I stop for a cup of coffee or burger at a diner, truck stop, gas station or café.) His Midwestern images are genuine, mundane, threadbare, with no evidence of “quaint” anywhere. These are the small towns that are lived in with no escape, with all their dysfunction in full view.
Of course, the very first story, “Slow Mary,” hit me right in a very vulnerable Midwestern spot – my fear of hitting a deer while driving at night. From the very opening paragraph, we are dropped smack dab in the middle of something that immediately puts us on edge:
There hasn’t been a moment this evening when Remy Arquette hasn’t been thinking about the deer, just as he is now, with night freshly dropped into the hills like a bomb that teases before detonation. He sits in a corner booth in the diner, Slow Mary’s, and the image of the deer and the smears of blood on the road rot away at his brain.
Visceral, graphic, regrettable, but not that out of the ordinary, you think. Not yet. But as the story progresses, Allen takes an already tense situation and pushes it, and pushes it, with touches both normal, for lack of a better word, and freaky weird, until the ending punches you in the gut.
In fact, that seems to be Allen’s pattern – he keeps pushing. His starting points are very diverse – going for normalcy here, immediately establishing the bizarre there, opening with a fantasy worthy of a young man’s wet dream or with the hint of otherworldliness within the mundane – but where you are at the start of any of his stories is not where you are going to be at the end, and you can pretty much be sure that you are going to be in a deeper, darker, bloodier place at the end. But not always. That’s the kicker. Not always.
When Allen is brutal, he doesn’t hold back. “Shits and Giggles” makes Deliverance read like “Our Town,” and “Not Over Easy” is beyond disturbing. “The ‘ists After the Apocalypse” is as taunt and ugly as any zombie fiction, (please let it always be fiction), “Praying” brings a whole, new direction to life after the fallout, haunting in just how ordinary it feels, and “Porno Psalmody” is, well, kinda just what you would expect of something titled “Porno Psalmody.” (Allen’s brutality is not limited to mindless violence; he can also write some pretty messed up sex, too).
Then there are the stories that start out so benignly:
The one little girl, Jersey, who her teacher Ms. Hundle had dubbed the Jersey Devil because of her propensity for getting into marker fights with the other kids (boys included), stayed in the corner of the parking lot away from the other kids, her jeans slowly slipping down her hips like snakeskin, revealing little purple and green flowery underpants. She stared up into the sky with her mouth open, raindrops landing on her quivering tongue, and she shivered. (“Devil and Dairy Cow”)
What an evocative image, the ragged young girl standing out in the rain on a schoolyard playground, catching raindrops on her tongue during recess. But Allen pulls no punches and even seeming innocence can be twisted into something that terrifies. No one is immune from nightmare.
Yet about the time you figure Brady Allen to be a blood and guts horror fiction writer, which he is, he turns around and shows a lighter touch; a wistfulness, a fleeting memory, or one that burns but in a cauterizing way. For as much as Allen can evoke the bizarre and perverse, he also is a keen observer of the human condition that is just a tad bit left of center rather than being waaaay out there. A old blues musician (“Blues Bus to Memphis”), a hellcat dealing with loss (“Six Miles from Earth”), two lonely people finding a night of comfort together in a cheap hotel (“Small Square of Light”), even a tragic act of compassion (“Road Kill (A Love Story)”) still have a twist, even a sometimes violent one, but they also have something sweeter, more endearing, than we might expect from the writer of some of the other stories. (My favorite, “Rounding Third,” will be especially touching for those baseball fans out there.)
It seemed as though half of his seventy-eight years had been spent waiting on Carol. It annoyed the hell out of him. Sometimes he heard other couples talking about how annoying traits could or had become endearing. Bullhockey – that was just gobbledygook. Damned if he didn’t love Carol like she was the first clean sunrise after an apocalypse, but her fiddle-farting around was not endearing. It was frigging irritating. He didn’t love her because of it, he loved her aside from it.
And then in between we have the just plain fantastical, perplexing, perhaps not quite as successful in their “huh?” factor (“The Last Mystical Vendor,” “Bear Hogan Walks the Sky”) but nevertheless completely original and ruthlessly imaginative.
The point, though, is that none of these stories – even those that thematically contain the same characters – are like the others. Although loneliness and disconnect runs through virtually all of the stories, each takes on a different tone, a different tact, connected in the broad strokes but so very different in theme, feel, sensation – and effect. One will leave a metallic taste in your mouth, one will scare you shitless, another will make you afraid to go outside. One will make you feel like you’re looking through a window at something very imitate, the next will make you desperately wish you hadn’t “seen” it at all. Some may disgust you, some will titillate, some will give you goose bumps and delightfully scare you half to death. Some will make you cringe, others will make you feel like you’re relaxing on the porch with a glass of lemonade – or at least be glad that you still can. Then the next one will be unabashedly grotesque, leaving you wondering why you let your guard down even that littlest bit.
But all of them, every single one, is masterfully written and highly entertaining. Allen does not back away from what is ugly, from what is horrifying, but he uses his images with intelligence and often with a wry sense of twisted humor; when he bathes us in the gore it’s because the story demands it, when he peels back the filters and shows us the ugly, it’s because the ugly is there lurking not so far from the surface, and we need to see it. He even has us wanting to see it, in some messed up, can’t-look-away way. And believe me, if you like having your breath taken away by the visceral, by the profane, by the brutally horrifying, then pick yourself up a copy of Back Roads and Frontal Lobes.
Just make sure you read it in the daytime, in the sunshine – unless you don’t care about sleeping without nightmares, or listening for bumps in the night.
This Case Is Gonna Kill Me Phillipa Bornikova Tor Books Original Edition September 4, 2012 ISBN 978-0-7653-3389-6
When I learned the next book I was going to review was an urban fantasy with vampires and werewolves, I made a bet with myself: that the gorgeous, busty, wise-cracking, worldly, human heroine would break out the leather before the end of the first chapter (and my more cynical self was betting on this happening on the first page).
I was right about one thing – Linnet Ellery, the heroine of Phillipa Bornikova’s new novel, This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, is human. Otherwise, I was way off base, and what I could bank on by the end of the first chapter was that I was completely hooked on this book. It’s fresh, it’s imaginative, it’s urban fantasy that captivates rather than capitulates to the genre. It’s wonderful.
Set in modern day, the world that Linnet inhabits is very much like our own. The only real difference is that in Linnet’s world, vampires, werewolves and the elven Álfar “came out” in the 1960s, and have established themselves as an integrated (well, at least it well populated cities) element of society. The expected stereotypes are still at play: vampires are cool (literally), cultured and somewhat resistant to change; werewolves tend to irrationality, irritability and use brute strength; Álfar are beautiful, vain and routinely utilize glamours to enchant those around them.
But what is different in Ms. Bornikova’s treatment of a supernatural environment is that these things are not hidden; the accommodations to this new-ish segment of society may be discreet, but they are accepted. A wonderful example of this occurs at an upscale Manhattan restaurant: the server asks the well-to-do vampire patron, “Do you wish to cup, or will this be a natural feeding?” and then presents him with a vampire menu, complete with “thumbnail sized photos of the hosts as well as descriptions of their diets and the nuances of their blood”, and draws a screen around the diners when the vampire actually partakes.
Into this setting, we meet Linnet. She is the daughter of an elder family of Connecticut, fresh out of law school and starting her new job at Ishmael, McGillary and Gold, one of the “White-Fang” law firms (read: run by vampires, established, rich, traditional and powerful). She’s human, short (5’1”), cute rather than beautiful, somewhat geeky (by her own admission), with a bit of a stubborn streak, especially when she’s told she can’t do something. She knows that even though she was head of her class in law school, she only got the job at IMG because of her connections – which include being fostered in a vampire household whose liege lord is old friends with one of the managing partners.
At the bottom of the pecking order, Linnet has only one assignment: to help on a dead-end probate case that had been in contention for 17 years. She fears that she will be consistently shunted to the side as more glamorous and savvy associates get the plum assignments – until all of a sudden her life takes an unexpected and violent turn that makes it very apparent that the case she is working on is not all that insignificant after all.
But as refreshing as the subject matter is, equally impressive is how effortlessly Ms. Bornikova opens this world to us, and how seamlessly she confronts and integrates elements against which so many other authors have stumbled. For example, attempts are made on Linnet’s life but she manages to escape due to unexpected and intervening circumstances. Often, we as readers have to simply accept these convenient coincidences as the character living a charmed life. But in This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, that element of luck is acknowledged and questioned – but not explained. Why? Because there is simply too much going on to fully explore this yet – and that feels right. (It also allows with some certainty, that there is going to be a sequel or series with Ms. Ellery, which feels right, too.)
Explication is also seamless. When pausing at the end of the first chapter, it hit me that I already knew a heckuva lot about about Linnet and her world, but I didn’t remember it actually being explained to me. It simply flowed from the story and the prose. Here’s an example:
Deep inside, I felt that primal shiver of fear. Intellectually, I knew it was unwarranted. I was in no danger. I was a woman, and vampires didn’t bite women. I had also been raised in a vampire household. I had watched Mr. Bainbridge feed every night from the time I was eight until I graduated from high school. But that old lizard brain that had kept us safe when we first swung down from the trees was convinced that I was prey and that I was standing way too close to a predator.
Seems somewhat innocuous, right? But look at what has been established: that even though Linnet has insider information on vampires (having lived with them for most of her life), she is still an outsider. That vampires don’t bite women (a definite departure from the standard vampire lore, and not really explored in the book until much later – when it makes sense in the story line to do so – and even then, not deeply), that she has a rather smart aleck way of thinking… and that she easily experiences fear. Well played, Ms. Bornikova, well played.
The environment of a prestigious law firm is a wonderful setting for building this world, too. The politics of power and influence are heady enough; add to that the layer of vampiric eternal life and inhuman sensibilities and you have the makings for some mighty nasty games being played. Color this with insights into the changing views of society (“In fact, the court had contended, that relationship [progeny via bite] was closer than the relationship with children produced by sex and birth, because the act of Making showed such a high level of intent.”), and changing social mores (“…until the Powers started living in places like Muscle Shoals, they were never going to be fully accepted. They were going to continue to be a source of titillation and dread…”) and you have a wonderful milieu in which to play out the tale of a young woman rising to the challenges that appear before her – even if those challenges include attacks by werewolves, machinations by vampires and a foray into the Seelie court.
The story does get a little frantic towards the end, as the action gets faster and the danger mounts. There are times when you wonder, “really?” when the bad guys seem to be just a tich more inept than they should be at this stage of the game. But by now, that’s quibbling. What we really want is to follow Linnet, for she has become a complete character, with confidences and insecurities and relationships that ring true, even if we do not or cannot share them in our own lives – we still relate to them. We also know that Linnet will survive (what, with that good luck of hers?), but the bigger question is – who will survive with her? She will emerge, but we’re pretty sure she won’t be unscathed – what will Ms. Bornikova have to build on?
For surely, this is just the first of multiple volumes in the story of Linnet Ellery. There are too many ideas whose time had not come, too many questions that were answered but not explored, too many contacts that hold more promise than could be played out in this book. I’m hoping for a full series rather than simply a sequel, because I think Linnet has a long way to go as she gains her footing the concrete jungle of New York and beyond (and beneath?). And I’m willing to go every step of the way with her.
We are so humbled to host Newbery-winning novelist, Lois Lowry as our October Featured Author. Lowry began her career as a photographer and a freelance journalist during the early 1970s. Her work as a journalist drew the attention of Houghton Mifflin and they encouraged her to write her first children’s book, A Summer to Die, which was published in 1977 (when Lowry was 40 years old). She has since written more than 30 books for children and published an autobiography. Two of her works have been awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal: Number the Stars in 1990, and The Giver in 1993.
As an author, Lowry is known for writing about difficult subject matters within her works for children. She has explored such complex issues as racism, terminal illness, murder, and the Holocaust among other challenging topics. She has also explored very controversial issues of questioning authority such as in The Giver trilogy. Her writing on such matters has brought her both praise and criticism. In particular, her work The Giver has been met with a diversity of reactions from schools in America, some of which have adopted her book as a part of the mandatory curriculum, while others have prohibited the book’s inclusion in classroom studies.
We begin our October Featured Author segment with Lowry’s newest release, Son. Be sure to stay tuned this month as we review several of Lowry’s exceptional books and chat with her at the end of the month.
Two-time Newbery-winning author Lois Lowry releases her latest novelSon today, her fourth in The Giver quartet. Because she published these books over the course of nearly two decades, allow me to refresh your memory. The Giver hit bookshelves in 1993 and rocked the young adult fiction world, earning Lowry her second Newbery Award (Number the Stars was her first). With The Giver, literary circles credit Lowry with writing the first YA dystopian novel, back before the publishing industry recognized dystopian as a common word, let alone a genre. In her story, she creates a peaceful community, but at a cost. Citizens have no freedom to do what they desire. Leaders tell the citizens at age twelve what job they will perform to serve the community. Later, if they desire to marry, a spouse is chosen for them. Meals are delivered to their door — no choices. Babies are born by designated birthmothers and given to couples who request children, though no more than two per couple. And they all take a pill each day to curb emotions, feelings, and attachments. The story paints a passionless black and white existence. Conformity is the law of the land. Citizens who do not adapt are eliminated from the community. What happens when a young boy, Jonas, rebels and escapes with a toddler named Gabriel who doesn’t meet the community’s standards?
Lowry initially intended The Giver to be a stand-alone novel. But the world she had created was too compelling to stop there. The author purposely wrote The Giver with an ambiguous ending and readers wanted more. She published companion novels Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004).
Now we have Son. This brilliant novel weaves together elements from the three earlier stories, intertwining characters and story lines, tying up loose ends, and answering questions that Lowry’s fans have been asking for years. It begins by introducing Claire, Gabriel’s birthmother. She delivers her son at age fourteen. It is her job. Birthmothers never see their “products.” The “newchildren” are immediately whisked away to the nurturing center. During Gabriel’s birth, something goes awry and Claire requires a c-section. Consequently, the leaders deem her unfit to be a birthmother and she is reassigned to the fish hatchery. Because birthmothers are not permitted to take the emotion-blocking pills while they are “vessels,” after Claire is assigned her new job, no one realizes that she has not been given the pills and, though it is strange and confusing to her, she experiences a natural longing and attachment to her son. In order to see him, she volunteers at the nurturing center in her free time. During these visits, she forms a bond with Gabriel. But Gabriel has issues. He fusses and doesn’t eat well. He doesn’t sleep well at night and isn’t growing as he should be. Jonas’s father cares for Gabe at the center and often takes him home at night. This is how Jonas comes to know Gabe. When the leaders determine that Gabe is not fit for placement and plan to kill him, Jonas escapes to the land “beyond.”
When Claire realizes her son has been taken, she is distraught and also escapes from the community on a delivery ship. The ship encounters a storm and sinks. Claire survives and washes ashore near an isolated village, hemmed in on the front by the dangerous sea and on the back by a formidable seemingly-impassable cliff. An elderly childless healer named Alys takes Claire in and nurses her back to health. Initially, as a result of the trauma from the shipwreck, Claire has amnesia. Over the course of years, she slowly regains her memory and recalls she has a son out there somewhere. Even though she enjoys life in this small village and she falls in love with Einar, Claire knows she must leave in search of Gabe. Einar understands this and helps her train for the arduous trek over the cliff.
After the perilous climb, Claire encounters the evil Trademaster, a character first introduced in Messenger. He can give her what she wants, but she’ll have to pay a price. She feels she no choice but to agree to the trade. He takes her to Gabriel, but robs her of her youth. Claire, now an old woman, lives in Gabe’s village and watches him from afar for years. She never reveals her identity to him, fearing he will reject her. Meanwhile, Gabe desperately needs to learn about his past and find the mother who is a mystery to him. Will Claire and Gabriel unite before she loses her battle with old age? It’s a classic tale of good versus evil. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy young adult dystopian fiction.
After a brutally long summer, we finally got to see the Charming family reunite on Once Upon a Time— and it definitely wasn’t what we were expecting. Emma (Jennifer Morrison) was filled with conflicting emotions about being given up by her parents Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) — but that was cut short as the townspeople gathered to kill Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) unleashed a soul-sucking Wraith to take her down.
In keeping with Snow and Charming’s personalities, the duo and Emma protected Regina from the soul-sucker, banishing him through the Mad Hatter’s hat into whatever was left of fairy tale land. But the Wraith pulled Emma along with it, forcing Snow to jump in after her daughter. When the Wraith claimed the soul of Prince Phillip (Julian Morris), Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Aurora (Sarah Bolger) were both devastated and furious with whom they assumed brought the Wraith into the world: the portal-jumping Emma and Snow!
So what does it all mean? TVGuide.com turned to executive producers Adam Hororwitz and Edward Kitsis, who dissected the first episode and dished on what’s in store for Season 2. Get the scoop below:
Let’s start with the present day New York opener with Michael Raymond-James. Does that mean that someone got out of Storybrooke?!
Adam Horowitz: That’s an excellent question. All we can say about his character is that sooner rather than later, you’ll learn a lot more about him. We air nine episodes before we’re scheduled to go off for Christmas break, and within those episodes, you’ll learn a lot more about him and what his role in our larger story is.
How do you respond to the theory that he might be Henry’s (Jared Gilmore) father? They do look alike!
Horowitz: I’d say that there’s a lot of theories out there. We love the speculation, but you’re just going to have to watch and see! Henry’s father is someone we will learn about this year well before the finale.
We saw that there is a part of fairy tale world that was preserved. How much of that will we see?
Horowitz: I would be very disappointed if I was introduced to that concept and it wasn’t explored. What happened to fairy tale land after the curse, what’s there, who’s there and what that world is like is something we’re going to be explaining.
Edward Kitsis: We’re going to have a quest to get home, so in that quest, we’re going to traverse many areas.
Already, Emma and Snow are going to be enemies of this world, but they’re the good guys!
Horowitz: That’s the challenge and that’s what’s exciting for us. [We wanted] to take Emma into a land that she’s never been to and then have it be a difficult place where maybe she’s not as beloved as she would want to be.
Kitsis: And with the person that she had, up until now, been the big sister to. Now she’s in a land where that person is her mom and knows better. That’s a tough adjustment for anyone.
Regina was quick to want to kill Charming, but Henry stopped her. Does that stop her indefinitely or will she continue to struggle with that?
Horowitz: Here’s the thing with Regina: Everything’s a struggle with her. What stopped her was Henry, and Henry’s still there. It’s going to be a struggle for her.
Kitsis: Magic is power and power’s a hard thing to give up. In order for her to prove to Henry she has a good heart, she’s going to have to give that up, but that’s a hard thing.
You’re now telling three stories, in a way, with Storybrooke, fairy tale land present and past. Will you guys continue to toy with parallel storytelling?
Horowitz: Yeah. The idea now that we can tell stories in Storybrooke parallel with fairy tale land that are both present day and both moving forward is exciting to us. And then, the ability to also be able to look back on the characters in the way we did last year has, for us as writers, added a new dimension to how we tell these stories. We’re excited for the audience to see it.
There’s a reason why this land in fairy tale world wasn’t touched by the curse. How soon will that start to unravel?
Kitsis: Within those nine episodes, you will probably get the answer to that.
When Phillip says “I love you,” it was ambiguous as to whether he was speaking to Mulan or Aurora.
Horowitz: That was purposefully ambiguous. If you ask Mulan and you ask Aurora, you might get different answers.
Kitsis: There’s definitely a story there, but it looked to me as if he was saying it to both of them.
That’s not your typical love triangle!
Kitsis: I mean, it’s your classic case of two women loving a man who was sucked into a Wraith! [Laughs] What I love most about it is it’s really not a love triangle. It started with Mulan on a quest to help Phillip wake up his true love, so she walked into it already saying, “I love this man; I want him to be happy.” That’s why she says in the premiere, “Love is a sacrifice of your own happiness.”
We saw that Sleeping Beauty was awakened, but can Phillip be? Is that reversible?
Kitsis: We didn’t see him die. We saw his soul be sucked, so the question is: Can somebody go get it?
ABC sent out sent out fun cast photos on Friday, but why is Henry holding a bow and arrow?
Kitsis:There is an Easter egg in there, but it’s going to take a while for you to realize it. Then, when you go back, it may not be the bow and arrow that gave it away.
Beautiful Ruins Jess Walter HarperCollins Publishers First Edition – June 12, 2012 ISBN 978-0-06-192812-3
— ♦ —
Towards the end of Jess Walter’s lovely new novel, Beautiful Ruins, one of the characters muses as the world is unraveling around him that life, despite all its shortcomings, is a “glorious catastrophe”. It is this ability to recognize beauty despite disappointment that makes this story so compelling.
The action in the book takes place between April 1962 and the present day, and travels between a tiny Italian fishing villa and Hollywood, with many stops and intermissions along the way. But basically, it is the story of dreamer Pasquale Tursi, whose family owns and runs the antiquated “Hotel Adequate View”, and the day the lovely, dying American actress steps on his makeshift beach.
When we first meet Pasquale, he is a young man who believes that his tiny village of Porto Vergogna could flourish if it simply could draw a bit of attention away from the more developed towns along the coastline south of Genoa. It is beautiful, remote, quiet, subdued – the perfect get-away for the hoped-for flood of harried American vacationers, looking to leave behind for a while the hassles and noise of modern life. But Pasquale is not merely a dreamer – he realizes that making dreams come true involves dedication and hard work, so he goes about performing what seem to be herculean tasks despite the ribbing and outright scorn he gets from the local fishermen who frequent his three-table cafe: building a beach rock by rock and bucketful of sand by bucketful of sand, and leveling out a tennis court from the cliff behind the hotel.
Much of the book is seen from Pasquale’s point of view, and in it we are enchanted. Not just because he is a rare character with an endearing naiveté and unabashed romantic streak, but one who is practical and only gently flawed, as well. He sees and appreciates the beauty of Porto Vergogna and the lovely landscapes around him, and believes they will continue as is even after the Americans come. So he prepares for what he knows will draw them:
He went back outside and down to his beach, but it was hard to tell if the currents had taken any more sand away. He climbed up past the hotel onto the boulders where he’d staked out his tennis court. The sun was high over the coast and hidden by wispy clouds, which flattened the sky and made him feel as if he were under glass. He looked down at the stakes that marked his future tennis court and felt ashamed. Even if he could build forms high enough to contain the concrete to level his court – six feet high at the edges of the boulders – and managed to cantilever some of the court so that it hung out over the cliff, he would still have to blast away at the cliff side with dynamite to flatten the northeast corner. He wondered if it was possible to have a smaller tennis court. Maybe with smaller rackets?
Suddenly his dream seems to be coming true when the American actress Dee Moray shows up at his beach. She is everything he believes she would be: luminous, wheat-blonde, “impossibly thin yet amply curved” and indeed, “taller and more ethereal than any woman he had ever seen”. Her voice is breathy, her Italian non-existent. She is also a creature of tragedy: she is dying of cancer, diagnosed shortly after beginning work on the movie Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Her illness has cut that work (and perhaps her career) short; because of her involvement with the film (and to cut down on negative publicity), the studio arranges for her retreat to this remote cove to come to terms with the diagnosis and to decide on her next steps – and to meet with a “friend”.
Later, he heard clumping around in the trattoria and came out, but he knew it wouldn’t be Dee Moray; she did not appear to be a clumper. Instead, both tables were full of local fishermen hoping to get a look at the glorious American, their hats on the tables, dirty hair plastered tight to their skulls.
Of course, life is seldom this clear cut and virtually never follows the path that circumstance seems to have laid out for us – and so it is with Pasquale and Dee, and those who are drawn in to their story both in 1960s Italy and later in the soul-sucking fantasyland of Hollywood: Michael Deane, the studio’s executive production assistant later turned legendary film producer; Claire Silver, his young, modern development assistant, eager to prove herself even amongst all the disillusionment; Alvis Bender, a writer who is the only other American to ever stay at the Hotel Adequate View, returning one week each year to work on his novel (which never seems to grow beyond its one original chapter); Shane Wheeler, the young wastrel who comes to Hollywood to fulfill his destiny, er, pitch a movie, and ends up being roped into performing the role of translator for the events that follow.
Jess Walter takes all of these intertwining story lines and uses flashback, script, chapter and memory to layer time back and forth between points in the past and present. Smaller characters – Pasquale’s mother and aunt, an enthusiastic music promoter, an Italian thug, a famous (VERY famous) movie actor, a young girl walking along the road in wartime Italy, a clueless boyfriend – all accentuate the lives and sensibilities of the main characters with deft strokes of color and motion, adding a fullness to a story that is already unfolding so gracefully.
Walter’s simplicity and straightforward writing belies the expansiveness of his story. Pasquale sees much and knows more, but while at times he is a man of decisive action (especially when he feels compelled to act protectively), he is not driven nor hounded by ambition (that perhaps is kept in abeyance for other characters). He maintains an open heart despite setbacks and disappointments yet stands as a steady moral compass and open soundboard for all the personalities that eddy around him. Making Pasquale the touchpoint of the story allows all the other story lines to swirl and snap without fear of their blowing us away.
Bender pondered the wine in his hand. “A writer needs four things to achieve greatness, Pasquale: desire, disappointment, and the sea.”
“That’s only three.”
Alvis finished his wine. “You have to do disappointment twice.”
And no less effective is the juxtaposition of the gracious and historied Italy – whether remote Porto Vergogna or bustling Rome – with the brash upstart America and its brittle tinsel town (as well as the other end of the spectrum, small town Idaho). The carried image of sunlight glinting off of waves while fishing boats bob in the distance and small feral cats slip through the shadows is ever present throughout much of the story, and gives a depth to the ambiance which is relaxing and invigorating at the same time. When Dee presses a wide-brimmed hat against her head as the wind rouses “the escaped hairs from her ponytail into streamers around her face” upon her arrival, we can picture it perfectly without even trying.
I found reading Beautiful Ruins to be relaxing yet engaging, like the best of vacation getaways. I looked forward to each new page, each new segment and each new leap of faith, but was able to luxuriate in the prose in a way evocative of slipping into a new yet precious landscape. And having taken this journey once, I think I very well may return again to revisit the literary path already read and experienced, for I don’t think it will diminish from being familiar. And, after all, if modern time will not allow me this… well, I’ll always have Porto Vergogna.
Ah…fall. For us there’s nothing quite like sipping warm apple cider, donning a thick hoodie and nestling under a blanket with a good book in our hands. Of course, there are some books that lend sentimentality to that fall sensation and some characters who exist on the page in the autumn of their lives. These are the books and characters we always return to, that bring us back to the season of falling leaves and cooler temperatures. What about you, LitStackers? What’s your favorite fall fiction?
To help you get motivated and prepare for the approaching NaNo madness, here are a few inspiring Pins from our favorite online bulletin board. We hope they get you in the writing mood.
Not motivated enough? How about a few words of wisdom from one of our heroes:
[If] you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping your eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is — excited.”
Jo Walton is a Welsh-Canadian fantasy and science fiction writer and poet. She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002 and the World Fantasy award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004. Her novel Ha’penny was a co-winner of the 2008 Prometheus Award. Her novel Lifelode won the 2010 Mythopoeic Award. Her novel Among Others won the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and is one of only seven novels to have been nominated for the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and World Fantasy Award.
LS: First off, Jo, thanks so much for chatting with us. We adored AMONG OTHERS and want to send you our most heartfelt congratulations on your Hugo win. It’s clear that your childhood was impacted by a love of reading. What were some of your favorite novels when you were a child?
When I was a child there was a bookshelf in our bedroom that contained children’s books. A lot of them dated from the childhood of my mother and my aunt, and even more dated from my grandmother’s childhood. So I grew up on LITTLE WOMEN and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and WHAT KATY DID. Of more modern books — modern when I was a child — I loved the Narnia books, Tolkien of course, later. But I read whatever was around, whatever anyone left in reach. I didn’t develop tastes until I was older. So I’d read my grandmother’s Hardy and my mother’s Mary Stewart and my grandfather’s Alistair Maclean and not really distinguish.
New books were a huge treat. We used to go to bookshops twice a year, once after Christmas when we’d go to Lear’s in Cardiff, and once in the summer when we’d go to a bookshop in Pembroke Dock as a holiday treat. I can remember the books I bought there — CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY came from Pembroke Dock. It always seemed to rain on our summer holidays. I remember endless afternoons of sitting in the back of the parked car next to a beach, in the rain, reading Arthur C. Clarke’s TIME AND SPACE or Amabel Williams Ellis’s TALES OF THE GALAXIES or John Christopher’s BEYOND BURNING LANDS.
LS: I’d love to hear about the genesis of your writing career. Have you always written? What were those early stories like?
I’ve pretty much always written. My early stories were like whatever I’d been reading. I remember getting into trouble for writing a long complicated story set in a whorehouse after reading Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN when I was about eight.
When I was a teenager I did actually complete some “novels.” The thing I’d say about them is that they were overambitious. There’s one I finished when I was about fifteen called THRACIA which is about some time travelers from a dystopian future attempting to set up Plato’s Republic in the Jurassic, starting by kidnapping ten year olds. This isn’t an inherently bad idea for a YA novel, I just had no idea how to write anything like that. And there was an interminable epic fantasy I worked on for years called LAND OF TRESS AND HEROES. I didn’t have the basic skills I needed to write the things I wanted to write. But mostly I’d just write the first ten thousand words of something and then give up and write the first ten thousand words of something else. Writing the middle is the hard bit.
LS: Has there been one stabilizing force that has kept you motivated to publish? Has that changed over the years?
Money? Because if there wasn’t any money in it I’d probably just write poetry and the first ten thousand words of an infinite number of novels. Well, there’s also the desire to share the stories with people.
LS: Many writers struggle on their Writer’s Road. What was your journey to publication like?
I wrote seriously from about thirteen until about twenty-three, without showing what I was writing to anyone much or really talking to anyone about it very much. Then I showed my now-ex-husband the thing I was working on, and he said very kindly that it was awful and I should give up. Now it was objectively awful and he wasn’t wrong. And I believed him and was discouraged and I did give up. I tell people this because I have heard it said that if you’re a writer you can’t stop. Well, I did. For about seven years I didn’t write anything except poetry and role playing games. I was writing roleplaying games professionally, and I was writing poetry because that really is the thing I can’t help writing, it just falls out. Oh, and I was editing an events guide, and I wrote for that. Editorials, reviews of all sorts of things. I think I developed a lot of technical skill writing non-fiction fast.
Then the internet happened.
It’s really like a bright line across my life, everything changed in 1994 when I got online.
I showed an online friend some poetry and he said I had to find a prose voice for that. He essentially nagged me into getting back into writing seriously. I wrote another overambitious fantasy novel called THE REBIRTH OF PAN and I sent it to Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Tor, who I knew online. Patrick rejected it but said it was the kind of thing people wrote who were going to write something really good later, and that it would be better for me to write something else that try to fix that. I’d already written THE KING’S PEACE and so I sent him that, and he bought it. And THE KING’S PEACE really was the prose voice and context for that poetry.
LS: Your novels (the “Sulien” trilogy, TOOTH AND CLAW and FARTHING) have explored a variety of images and themes, yet are unified under the umbrella of history. What fascinates you most about historical culture and where did that curiosity come from?
I have the same fascination with history as I do with science fiction and fantasy — it’s worlds that shape people in different ways. I’ve said if literature is about human nature, you can have a better conversation if you can contrast that with alien nature, or robot nature. Similarly, you can if you look at human nature when people really believed things that were very different from the things we believe about the way the world works. History’s right there to be researched, and it’s endlessly fractally complicated and interesting.
LS: What variables led you to write AMONG OTHERS? How did those variables impact the consistent validation of the work moving forward?
I wrote it because I could see a way to do it. But really the answer to this question is the answer to the next question.
LS: I believe that setting and place are as essential to a great story as arching plots and developed characters. How do you feel Wales informed the landscape in AMONG OTHERS?
It’s the whole thing. The whole book came from a post I made on my LiveJournal called “The Industrial Landscape of Elfland” which was about me growing up in South Wales and seeing it as a fantasy landscape when in fact it was a post-apocalyptic one. Then lots of people said I should make that into a novel, and I kept thinking “What, me not noticing history underlying landscape? That’s an observation, not a novel!” Then Michelle Sagara said it, and I thought “She’s a novelist! She should know better than to think this could possibly be a novel!” And I was making dinner, and I cut myself with the potato peeler, and I suddenly thought of the magic system and how I could use my life and mythologize it and I could write about the landscape by writing about when I went away from it.
As well as history, all of my books are very informed by landscape. Almost all the places in all my books are real. Even TOOTH AND CLAW. And they’re places in Britain, because that’s what my head is mostly furnished with.
Then there was the thing with the books — the books are all real. I started wondering if I was allowed to do this — if it was fair use. You can talk about books like that in a blog post, in a review, but in fiction? Fortunately, it turned out to be all right.
LS: What I loved about AMONG OTHERS is the strength in the protagonist, Mori, particularly since this is a 15 year-old girl yet the novel is not YA. I further enjoyed that Mori is a determined character who happens to be female and who is more concerned with self-awareness and discovery than with typical teenage concerns like social standing and romantic endeavors. Were those characteristics drawn intentionally or organically?
I hate it when people write about women as if they aren’t people. When I was writing the book Mori developed a life of her own, and really her power and her concern for the ethics of using magic shaped her a lot. But the things you’re talking about were there from when I started, and really, that’s just me when I was fifteen.
One review said that it was a female intellectual coming of age story, and what you usually get is male characters get to have intellectual coming of age stories and female ones have emotional ones, female characters are rewarded with relationships not revelations. I think this is one reason why the book has done as well as it has — because this is unusual. When I saw the cover I objected and said “Men like this book too!” but they knew what they were doing.
LS: I was really taken with how personal this story was, but with such all-worldly consequences. Mori’s mother was determined to destroy the world, yet the struggle remained between a daughter and her mother. How were you able to make the consequences of this story so personal while still maintaining a universal magnitude with neither perspective lost to the other?
That was difficult, and I’m not sure if I did make it work — there are readers for whom it doesn’t work.
The thing I saw right away was that it had to be the story of what happened after the end of the conventional story. That was what was interesting to me — that’s something I’ve always been interested in. And that meant a difficult balance — especially with the non-falsifiable magic.
I was limited by using Mori’s point of view. To Mori, her mother is this huge powerful scary thing, she can’t see her clearly, and so I couldn’t show her clearly, her actual motivations as opposed to what Mori thinks they are.
LS: What is your idea of career fulfillment?
Being nominated for a Hugo.
And I suppose, just going on writing. I’m working on a book now that’s actually science fiction, set on a generation starship, and the generation starship is a city, and the real place it connects to in my head is Montreal, where I’ve lived for a decade now. That’s important to me.
Also, there’s this thing with being part of the conversation.
LS: What emotions did you experience the night you won the Hugo?
There may be a language somewhere on the planet that has a word for it, or maybe an alien language out there somewhere. I was over the moon, and just absolutely stunned. I really hadn’t been expecting it at all. I don’t think anybody really had. I was just so happy and so awed — and my friends were so happy for me. It was incredible. The Hugo is very important to me — I wrote a whole series of posts on Tor.com about the Hugo nominees from 1953-2000, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I was thrilled when I won the Nebula, but it was “SFWA gave me their award, that’s so cool!” whereas with the Hugo it was “Fandom gave me OUR award, wow, wow, wow!”
Among Others Jo Walton Tor Books First Edition: January 2011 ISBN 978-0-7653-3172-4
Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel
Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel
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It has been a long term tenet of mine that within every one of us lies a story. Or, as author Neil Gaiman states in his graphic novel, The Sandman, “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds.”
This is, to me, the foundation on which Jo Walton’s wonderful Nebula and Hugo award winning book Among Others is built. An otherwise unremarkable seeming girl is found to have, as evidenced by her journal, a life that is equal parts mundane and fantastic; she is both achingly real and indelibly touched by magic.
Morwenna “Mori” Phelps is 15 years old when she starts a journal on September 5, 1979. She has been uprooted from her extended family in the verdant Welsh Valleys, and made to live with a father she has never known, in an English household he manages for his three spinster sisters near Shrewsbury. But not for long – the day after her arrival at “Old Hall,” she is shipped off to Arlinghurst, a local girls’ school “in the country” that the sisters had attended in their youth. (“They want to get rid of me,” Mori writes in the first page of her journal, “Sending me off to boarding school would do nicely, that way they can keep on pretending I didn’t exist at all.”)
At Arlinghurst, Mori is immediately ostracized. Not only is she unknown (most of the girls had been attending Arlinghurst together for years), but her Welsh accent marks her as an “outlander barbarian.” She also does not participate in games (athletics) – a very important part of boarding school life – nor does she care about house points or boys; rather, she is intelligent, a loner, and an avid reader.
Sounds like a pretty typical coming-of-age story, right? Well, it’s not. The reason why Mori was sent to stay with a father she had never seen is that she had run away from her mother. Not for the usual mommy-issues: Mori’s mother is a witch and was trying to do “huge magic, to get power” when Mori and her twin sister Mor were recruited by the fairies who live in the hills and the vales to stop her. But that night, although successful in ruining their mother’s plans, Mor was killed and Mori woke up in the hospital with a mangled leg that would make her a cripple for life. Rather than return to the woman who had taken so much from her, she ran away so as to involve Child Services and be out of her mother’s control forever.
Sounds pretty fantastic, right? Well, it’s not. The unfolding of this story is actually very practical, very understated. The magic that runs through Mori’s life is not that of potions and smoke and wands, but of alder leaves and aster flowers and connections between objects. The fairies are there, but are not often seen, less often heard, and rarely understood. They are usually glimpsed out of the corner of the eye unless you know where and how to look, (or unless you are very young), and not at all if you don’t believe.
So what kind of book is this? A coming of age story? A magical romp through adolescence? It’s neither and a bit of both. According to Mori herself:
Think of this as a memoir. Think of it as one of those memoirs that’s later discredited to everyone’s horror because the writer lied and is revealed to be a different colour, gender, class and creed from the way they’d make everybody think. I have the opposite problem. I have to keep fighting to stop making myself sound more normal. Fiction’s nice. Fiction lets you select and simplify. This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.
If that isn’t carrying a secret life inside you, I’m not sure what is.
This memoir – this journal – takes place between September 1979 and February 1980. It carries us through Mori’s first months at Arlinghurst, the growth of her relationship, (for better and worse), with her father and his family, and her search for a karass, (a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, a term coined by Kurt Vonnegut). It’s her thoughts and feelings and musings. It’s also a testament to those things that mean a lot to her – and at the top of that list is science fiction, fantasy, (and to a lesser extent, historical fiction).
A significant amount of Mori’s journal is given to discussions of various sci fi/fantasy works, personalities, philosophies, ideas and ideals, and wonderings of why life can’t be or is so much like the works of Tolkien, Donaldson, Heinlein, Le Guin, Asimov, Lewis, Zelazny, etc. Some reviewers believe that the emphasis on speculative literature is somewhat off-putting for the reader, but I disagree. When reading any work of fiction, one must have some degree of acceptance of otherness, a willing suspension of personal belief, as it were. If fairies are fair game, then why can’t a literary genre be used in creating an intellectual environment for a girl who lives so much of her life inside her own mind? (“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.”) The point is that this is who Mori is, not that everyone is able to equally and expertly participate in every discussion or understand any author referenced in the journal.
To me, Mori’s love of science fiction and fantasy underscores her sensitivity towards the “other” in otherworldliness. Her very upbringing, the landscape that she grew up in, the places that shaped her, the language that fills the maternal home, all carry an understated familiarity with magic. Not just fantastical magic, but that which exists in the fabric of everyday life:
I thought, sitting there, that everything is magic. Using things connects them to you, being in the world connects you to the world, the sun streams down magic and people and animals and plants grown from sunlight and the world turns and everything is magic. Fairies are more in the magic than the world, and people are more in the world than in the magic. Maybe fairies, the ones that aren’t lost dead people, are concentrations, personifications, of the magic? And God? God is in everything, moving through everything, is the pattern that everything makes, moving. That’s why messing with magic so often becomes evil, because it’s going against the pattern. I could almost see the pattern as the sun and clouds succeeded each other over the hills and I held the pain a little bit away, where it didn’t hurt me.
This is what makes Among Others so wonderful – that magic so effortlessly and yet so meaningfully manifests in the life of this ordinary, extraordinary girl who sees fairies and who battles her mother in order to save the world and losses a sister and part of herself in the process, and yet who acknowledges that the superior airs of her classmates bother her, who wonders just why a cute boy may be attracted to her, (she fears it may be because of magic, and not because of her), and who gets excited when she finds a brand new Heinlein on a shelf of the local bookstore.
Some reviewers worry that, because we only see events through Mori’s eyes, and since we only have her words and her point of view, that we are perhaps not seeing a true accounting of what occurs. There have even been allegations that Mori’s sister and mother and the fairies and it all are made up, are part of Mori’s imagination. I simply can’t agree with those assessments. While we indeed are seeing the world through Mori’s eyes and yes, that’s a single point of view, I see this as more a strength than a detraction, for it is her “secret world” that we are glimpsing – not secret because beyond her it would not exist, but secret in the sense that it is hidden and unknown until she shares it with us. And once she has, magic seems a bit more possible after all… and that turns out to be (as Mori would say) “really brill.”
Release Date: February 5, 2015
Author Andrea Chapin is a brave woman. She’s taken the “lost years” of William Shakespeare, and made him a character in her novel set in Lancashire England in 1590 (two years before we start to see the rise of historical documentation about the Bard’s life). This was when Will was just on the threshold of publishing the works that would become the backbone of English literature, when he was still mainly known as a London stage player. He was 26, and just entering his prime.
Ms. Chapin takes some of the hearsays of Shakespeare’s life at this time, and casts him as the newly acquired tutor for the venerable De L’Isle family. The De L’Isles are Lancastrian gentry of some means, but have fallen out of favor with the Queen due to their staunch Catholic loyalties. Along with Sir Edward De L’Isle, his wife, Lady Matilda, and their children and grandchildren, is fiercely intelligent, beautiful Katharine De L’Isle – Sir Edward’s niece. Lady Katharine had come to Lufanwal Hall as a child after being orphaned in a fire. At age 18 she married a man three times her age, but he died two years later, so Katharine retreated back to the De L’Isle estate. Now, at 31, and having rebuffed the attentions of numerous suitors, she seems content to play out her years as the loving aunt to the De L’Isle offspring. That is, until the charming William Shakespeare comes into her life.
At first Katharine is unimpressed with Master Shakespeare’s lack of credentials, his unorthodox teaching methods and his lackadaisical scholarship, but when he enlists her help with a work he is currently undertaking – an epic poem about a meeting between Venus and Adonis – she is quickly taken in by his charm, his wit and his talent (not to mention his good looks). Despite his quickening reputation as a rogue and philanderer, Katherine finds herself intrigued by his literary prowess and flattered by his attention, and eventually she losses not only her heart but also her head to the captivating young man from Stratford.
It’s a very interesting premise for a historical novel – the effects of, and effects on a nascent Will Shakespeare – and Ms. Chapin certainly knows her way around Elizabethan speech and poetry; likewise her portraiture of a family caught in the vise of religious intolerance is wonderfully wrought. Unfortunately, though, The Tutor ends up coming across more as a sensationalized romance novel than something with worthy literary gristle.
It’s not that the author paints William Shakespeare as a womanizing, sweet talking, narcissistic schemer. Even the most doting of Shakespeare’s admirers must admit that the man was not completely sterling in character. Indeed, she treats Master Shakespeare in a believable if somewhat unflattering manner (other than The Tutor’s Shakespeare having a physical appearance more akin to Joseph Fiennes in the film Shakespeare in Love than the picture that history has countenanced him with; Katharine often remarks on how comely Will is, in face and figure). He may not be a sympathetic character in the book, but he is an engaging and consistent one.
What simply doesn’t wash in The Tutor is the lapses in Katherine, who is truly the main character in the novel. Not lapses in her judgment (although she does evidence those), nor in her knowledge, but in her very substance. Here is a woman of breeding and character who appears to exemplify intelligence, graciousness and kindness, and yet not only is she able to shrug off huge breaches in the strict societal and religious morality of the time, but she appears to be utterly unbothered by them. She turns a completely blind eye to the fact that Will is married and has children – something that he readily admits. Even if the marriage is unhappy or confining of his art, one would think Lady Kate would be mindful of his matrimonial vows or at the very least of the appearance of impropriety in spending so much time alone with a married man, not to mention all the letters sent back and forth between them at all hours of the day and night, or her obvious pining for him. Then, there is how she shows absolutely no shock or even a hint of squeamishness when clandestinely witnessing a homosexual encounter, nor does she evidence any concern or objection upon learning that a close relative is also of that sexual persuasion. That Will himself seems to harbor such tendencies doesn’t seem to bother her one bit.
Methinks the lady doth protest too little!
But it’s not just about physicality. There’s how unaffected Katharine is emotionally by the death of someone who has been the central anchor of her life, simply because she is in a huff about Will’s current treatment of her. Oh, at random times it hits her that she should be sorrowful, and then she is sad, but more often than not she merely brushes it aside. Or there’s how she responds when a beloved cousin finally returns from afar. Suddenly his long looked for appearance barely seems to scratch at the surface of her awareness; well, except those times when it seems to be her everything. These melodramatic developments ring of literary convenience rather than measure of an evolving narrative.
It’s a shame. The parts of The Tutor that are good, are very, very good. The depiction of religious fervent under persecution – the dangers that Catholics of the time were subjected to, and the lengths they went to in order to hold on to their traditions – is riveting. Descriptions of food, clothing, lodging, landscape, society, are vivid and bring the denizens of Lufanwal Hall and the neighboring countryside to life. An encounter with mental illness is extraordinarily well realized (even with the obvious Ophelia overtones), the role of superstition and its relationship to religion are enlightening, and even Kate’s inner musings at the start of the novel are often telling and rich. And the discussions between Kate and Will of poetry and emotion, words and emotion, innuendo and emotion, are simply brilliant.
It is precisely because there is so much promise in The Tutor that it makes the sudden undercutting of depth and reason so hard to bear. Yes, I absolutely understand that love can make one stark raving mad. That infatuation can overrule reason, that even the most sensible person can be completely undone by desire. But in a literary work, this movement shouldn’t dissolve into a plethora of “oh, my, I shouldn’t be doing this” moments while those things of substance are simply shrugged aside. If our heroine is indeed intelligent, loving and caring, she should be drawn into love’s madness kicking and screaming, overcoming great internal battles against convention and reason, not racing towards it clad in nothing but a dressing gown and robe.
We have been led to expect Downton Abbey, but instead end up getting Dallas in doublet and hose.
I’m not saying that The Tutor isn’t worth a read. It has a lot going for it, as far as the idea and feel of it are concerned. Like I said at the start of the review, Ms. Chapin is brave to utilize William Shakespeare as she has, and I applaud her for not portraying the man simply as a tortured artistic figurehead. But don’t read The Tutor expecting some great literary novel full of pith and historical immersion; instead, enjoy it for what it really is – a lush while somewhat uneven melodrama with Elizabethan trappings. In that, it excels.
On this day, May 26, in 1954, writer and poet Alan Hollinghurst was born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England. Author of four books of poetry, five novels and two short stories, he is also the editor of three books and has produced two translations of works by Jean Racine. In 2004 his novel, "The Line of Beauty", was awarded the Man Booker Prize; it explores themes of hypocrisy, homosexuality, mental illness and privilege, within the backdrop of the emerging AIDS crisis; in 2006 it was adapted for television by the BBC. Mr. Hollinghurst's novel "The Stranger's Child" was longlisted for the Booker award in 2011. Today, he turns 61.