Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jailed Activist Sentenced to Read

Convicted animal and environmental rights activist, Rebecca Rubin, was given some serious homework when she was sentenced on Monday. From CBC News:
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken said Monday in federal court in Portland, Ore., that Rubin showed contrition and lived in "an emotional prison cell" during seven years as a fugitive in Canada, from December 2005 to November 2012. 
Aiken said she understood Rubin's desire to see a change in how animals and the environment are treated, but she said Rubin's actions, which included contributing to several arsons, did serious damage.
"That kind of damage is not how democracy works or how true change is accomplished," Aiken said.
But Aiken had a plan to help Rubin understand the true error of her ways.
Aiken included in her sentence an order to read two books: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, which Aiken said Rubin could learn non-violent means to protesting systems she perceives as unjust, and Nature's Trust by University of Oregon environmental law professor Mary C. Wood.
The full piece is here.

Best Crime Covers

Over at our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, editor J. Kingston Pierce has revised a Rap Sheet tradition. Readers there are looking over and voting on the best crime fiction covers of the year. As Pierce says:
You will find 15 fronts from crime, mystery, and thriller works published last year. All of them, I think, are special in their own ways, whether it’s because of their typographical excellence, their bold imagery, or the manner in which they suggest the intensity of drama to be enjoyed between their covers. 

Take a look through the spectacular selection of covers and cast your vote for your favorite.

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This Just In… Apocalyptid by SK Cooper

A tale of horror and hope in an apocalyptic world. A man and woman, bound together by a moment of guilt, carve an existence in a broken world. They are physically unaffected by the horrors of the death of civilization --the death of the world slid off them like ash in the wind. They seem to have become immortal and have built an existence in an abandoned valley by the sea.

Then something arrives, a creature like them from a world they thought deserted. He brings knowledge and embodies the fears and yearning within them. A battle begins between them, their pasts and the future.

Author S K Cooper is a screenwriter and novelist. He lives and works in Sydney, Australia. Cooper’s previous novel, Chrome, a novel of cyber noir science fiction, was published in 2007. Cooper has published academic works and is currently writing screenplays for Vanguard productions.

You can order Apocalyptid here. ◊

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


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Top Books of the 21st Century

Just 14 years in, we figure it’s too early to start listing the best books of the 21st century. USC Rossiter is not so shy. Not only have they  compiled a list of 100 top-rated books published in this century, they’ve developed an epic infographic to back to up.

We’re reproducing the flowchart infographic small on this page. Click the graphic to see it larger or go directly to the source.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anatomy of a High Grossing Screenplay

Writer, producer and master blogger Stephen Follows (Beyond the Brink, Baseline, Parkour Journeys) takes a very good run at answering the question: “Where do the highest-grossing screenplays come from?”

As you probably already suspect, since we’re making note of it here on January Magazine, Follows & concludes that the biggest chunk of screenplays over the last 20 years were adaptations of books. And however big that number is right now? It’s getting even bigger.

Follows looked at the 100 highest grossing films over the last two decades. “This gave me a dataset of 2,000 films with which to answer the question…”

The answers are multifaceted and worth a detailed look. But he summarizes the material thus:

  • 51% of the top 2,000 films of the last 20 years were adaptations
  • The most common source for movie adaptations is literary fiction.
  • 2012 saw five times the number of sequels released compared to 1999
  • Romantic Comedy is the genre with the highest number of original screenplays (79%)
  • Only 16% of Musicals were original screenplays.
  • 18% of Horror films were remakes
  • Between 1994 and 2003, original screenplays outnumbered adaptations every year but one, whereas in the following decade (2004-2013) the opposite was true, with adaptations outnumbering original screenplays in eight of the ten years.

The piece is well worth reading in-depth, and it’s here.


This Just In… Firebird (The Flint Hills Novels) by Janice Graham

A New York Times and international bestseller, translated into 18 languages. In the tradition of The Horse Whisperer comes a novel from the heart that tells a story of universal truths -- of the love between men and women and mothers and daughters; of passion that transcends tragedy; of promises made and promises kept.

Set in the majestic Flint Hills of Kansas, Firebird tells of a man caught between two women -- one who shares his life and his dream of land and cattle; the other a stranger whose love threatens to destroy the dream he has built.

Ethan Brown is a gentleman rancher -- an Ivy-educated lawyer who is as comfortable amongst his books as he is at ease in the company of cowboys. Engaged to the daughter of the wealthiest landowner in the county, he is within reach of the life he has worked so hard to achieve.

Annette Zeldin enters Ethan’s life when she returns from Europe to settle her mother’s estate. A concert violinist, she feels every inch the outsider in the closed ranching community of Cottonwood Falls and clings to her darling young daughter, her lifeline. The time Annette spends with Ethan in his office offers her moments of comfort and communion, and before long, both must acknowledge the passion growing between them.
Annette and Ethan begin a clandestine, transcendent love affair that promises to change the landscape of their lives, but is too soon torn apart by tragedy. Yet their connection is soul-deep and everlasting, and their love transforms the lives of those around them in ways subtle and unknown long after its embers have died down.

Graham skillfully infuses the novel with ethereal touches that transport the reader from the vast prairies of the Midwest to the intimate realm of the heart. Firebird is a novel that richly articulates the enduring possibilities of love; it is a novel impossible to forget.

You can order Firebird here. Visit author Janice Graham on the web here. ◊

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


Monday, January 27, 2014

Today’s Quote: Salman Rushdie

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” -- Salman Rushdie

See January Magazine’s 2002 interview with Rushdie here.

Photo by


This Just In… An End of Poppies by Simon Poore

The Great War has been stuck in stalemate on the Western Front for 47 years since 1914. Jimmy is a lonely private at the front, forced to battle from the enormous deathly wall that faces the Germans across no-man’s land. Esme is the factory girl he met in Brighton. The girl he dreams of.

Separated by the enormity of the war machine that surrounds them they write to each other, sharing their hopes and dreams of a better time.

An End of Poppies is an epistolary novel set in an alternate history.

You can order An End of Poppies here. Visit author Simon Poore at his blog here. ◊

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


New in Paperback: All That Is by James Salter

A soldier returns from battles on the Pacific front and applies what he learned in WWII to the gritty world of publishing in New York City. Salter’s prose is startlingly muscular and economical. Sometimes there’s little on the page beyond raw power.

All That Is (Vintage) is PEN/Faulkner-winning Salter (A Sport and a Pastime, The Hunters) at his very best. How can a book this physically slight be this dazzling? War, peace, love, hate and raw, destructive ambition. Every detail is meaningful and every passage seems carefully wrought and effortlessly shared. Even the historical backdrop skillfully highlights not only how far we’ve traveled, but how little we’ve changed.

This is one of those books that has been very difficult to write about. James Salter’s first novel in 30 years so fills me with a desire to reach for hyperbole, even while the story itself is ultimately so simple, it’s difficult to explain. I’ll keep it simple and say it this way: All That Is may be the best book from a master. ◊

Jones Atwater is a musician, sports fanatic and struggling author. He lives in Ohio with his Fender Stratocaster, Pearl, and his cat, Rhea.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Largest British Comic Exhibition Slated for Spring and Summer

The largest ever British comic book exhibition will run from May 2nd through the August 19th at the British Library.

Comic Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK will include the work of Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons and writer Alan Moore. The exhibition will feature over 200 comic books from 1825 until today and will include examples by Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar and Batman writer Grant Morrison.

A web site will be launched in late January.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Today’s Quote: Neil Gaiman

“As far as I'm concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning.” -- Neil Gaiman

See January Magazine's 2001 interview with Gaiman here.

Photo by


This Just In… If I Never Went Home by Ingrid Persaud

Sometimes the only way home is to leave the one you know.

Written in two distinct voices, If I Never Went Home follows ten years in the turbulent lives of two narrators -- 30-something Bea, an immigrant in Boston, and ten-year-old Tina in Trinidad -- as they separately navigate devastating losses, illness and betrayal in their quest to belong.

Moving back and forth from the present to the past through flashbacks, this is the powerful story of how these women unearth family secrets that go beyond anything they could have imagined. Then unexpectedly their lives collide, and they are offered the chance to create a home. But can this gamble survive one last surprise about Tina’s real identity?

You can order If I Never Went Home here. Visit author Ingrid Persaud on the web here. ◊

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


How “Book Porn” Has Saved the Book

Despite increasingly strident warnings over the last decade that the physical book is taking a dive, signs that the opposite is true continue to rise. The latest of these voices comes from PolicyMic with an article by Shan Wang called “How Book Porn is Actually Revolutionizing the Book World.” If you’re one of those who are tired of hearing all the doom and gloom around books and reading, this is one you’ll want to peek at:
Now more than ever, we are revering physical books and the places that carry them in what should be the unlikeliest of places — through websites with titles like "Book Porn" and "Library Porn," or through unusual mixed-media sites like "Fuck Yeah, Book Arts!" Want book-shaped bookends or boxers patterned with the spines of books? The "Book Fetish" section of Book Riot has you covered.
Truly, Wang reminds us, there’s lots of news about books and reading. And most of it is good:
These sites are also a welcome turn away from "saving" books to celebrating the very experience of reading, from browsing spines to discarding finished copies. And they're helping us read more.
The full piece is here.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Today’s Quote: Margaret Atwood

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” -- Margaret Atwood

You can see January Magazine’s 2000 interview with Atwood here.

The photo above is (c) David Middleton.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shakespeare’s Impact on English

Everyone knows that the prolific and sometimes mysterious 16th century poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, had great influence on the writing. What’s not as well known is how deeply he impacted English as we speak it. Even today. Every day. In fact, he’s credited with popularizing around 1700 words, many of which we use every day, including gloomy, majestic, lonely, hurry, frugal, generous and more.

According to The Huffington Post, Shakespeare's influence was due in part to his mastery of his quill. But another factor was the fact that the English language was just settling in to itself when he arrived on the scene with such dramatic flourish:
In addition to his being a particularly clever wordsmith, Shakespeare's word invention can be credited to the fact that the English language as a whole was in a major state of flux during the time that he was writing. Colonization and wars meant that English speakers were borrowing more and more words from other languages.

This Just In… Love Changes Eartha Watts-Hicks

Eartha Watts-Hicks’ debut novel infuses original poetry, song lyrics from 1980s and 90s popular music, and prose in the narrative of Mia Love, a 26-year-old single mother.

Mia Love quits college to support her live-in boyfriend, Spider. When she becomes pregnant, her mother, his mother, and Romell, her handsome and flirtatious best friend, all think she has made a bad decision. Now, Mia cares for both her newborn son and Spider.

Tethered to a low wage job to pay the bills, she’s urging him to make a commitment. Spider, himself underemployed, remains resistant. This causes tension between the two, with arguments getting more and more personal. Meanwhile, “good friend” Romell is offering a shoulder (and a lot more) to lean on.

What ensues is a love triangle with a unique twist, two men vying for a lady with a baby. This heartwarming story of a young woman’s struggle to remain true to herself was edited by Grace F. Edwards. Love Changes received the 2013 Literary Game Changers award in the fiction category from the NYCHA branch of the NAACP and was selected as The New York Amsterdam News’ recommended summer read for 2013. Love Changes has also been submitted for the NAACP Image Award.

You can order Love Changes here. Visit author Eartha Watts-Hicks on the web here. ◊

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


Friday, January 17, 2014

Today’s Quote: Dennis Lehane

“In Greek tragedy they fall from great heights ... in noir they fall from the curb.” -- Dennis Lehane

You can see January Magazine’s 2002 interview with Lehane here

The photo above is (c) David Middleton.


This Just In… Troll by Richard Sutton

At what point did humanity learn to fear each other? To hate? Paleo-Anthropologist Ariel Connor thinks she knows. She just can’t prove it yet, but her newest find, high in a Norwegian Valley, may give her the proof she needs. Those scary stories we’ve told our children to keep them from roaming too far outside the gleam of the porch light may have come from real incidents, many, many years ago. While Dr. Connor’s excavation continues, the story of what happened is slowly being revealed.

Two clans are converging on the remaining game lands. One will have to leave their homes, one will tell stories and sing songs of their own bravery. One people will disappear while another will bring their history into the modern world. One way of life will be lost, but does the better way endure? What have we learned from the ancients that would have been better forgotten?

Troll explores these questions and asks a few more as well.

You can order Troll here. Learn more about Troll on the publisher’s web site here. ◊

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


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston

In The Creature Department (Razorbill). Elliot von Doppler lives with his restaurant critic parents in the small town of Bickleburgh. They can’t cook themselves but expect him to give a review to all his meals. 

Not much happens apart from his having to review burnt toast, until he receives an invitation from his loopy uncle Archie, who works as an inventor for one of the world's biggest technology companies, DENKi-3000, oddly located in nothing-ever-happens Bickleburgh. He is to bring new girl and fellow science nerd Leslie Fang, whose mother drags her from town to town, leaving as she becomes bored, but now living with grandfather Famous Freddy above Famous Freddy’s Dim Sum Emporium, which does wonderful dumplings but has very few customers. It does, however, manage to survive because of regular orders from the mysterious R & D Department at DENKi-3000 -- the department led by Uncle Archie. 

Leslie and Elliot are about to discover just who is enjoying all that wonderful takeaway Chinese food...and that the company faces takeover by the evil Quazicom if there isn't a fabulous new product to show at the next shareholders' meeting.

Think Charlie And The Chocolate Factory with a huge variety of creatures instead of Oompa Loompas, with a just a touch of Odo Hirsch, and without Willy Wonka. Uncle Archie is a genius, but not quite in the same way. The creatures aren’t just minions, they participate in the design and creation of such things as TransMints (Get Your Freshness Direct From The Web). I also thought of Jim Henson’s muppets.

There’s a charming silliness about the whole novel (imagine getting away with being smuggled past security disguised as a giant pork dumpling! Not to mention the “expectavator,” an elevator staffed by a sort of worm who goes down by thinking about his divorce and up by making travelers feel hopeful) that children should enjoy.

There are some loose ends in the final scenes that make me wonder if a sequel is intended. We’ll have to see. The art was delightful, though I’d like to know who the illustrator was, if it wasn’t the cover artist. 

Just one thing: while I expect primary children to enjoy the story, there are some words rather too long or at least too hard for the average child and certainly too long for reluctant readers. Hopefully, this will change in any sequel that might be written. And I think there will be -- there is too much character and world building to leave it at one novel.

Meanwhile, recommended for mid/late primary school readers and early secondary. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at

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Today’s Quote: Martin Amis

“The easier a thing is to write then the more the writer gets paid for writing it. (And vice versa: ask the poets at the bus stop.)” -- Martin Amis

You can see January Magazine’s 2000 interview with Amis here.

The photo above is by David Middleton.


This Just In… A Life Singular by Lorraine Pestell

A Life Singular: Part One tells the story of a successful man writing his autobiography. In essence a love story, it deals with mental illness, the choice between right and wrong and how one affects the other. The trick is always to understand the consequences of our choices, before it’s too late...

You can order A Life Singular here. Visit author Lorraine Pestell on the web here. The trailer can be viewed here. ◊

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


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don’t Wine About 50 Shades of Grey

I guess it’s possible you haven’t heard enough about the phenomenally successful empire being created by E.L. James. It began with her debut novel Fifty Shades of Grey and has spread to further successful books, a sometimes controversial film and now… wine?

Actually, the wine was introduced in the autumn of 2013, but somehow we missed the announcement. From a press release:
Personally blended by author E L James along with winemakers in California’s premium North Coast appellation, Fifty Shades of Grey Wine will allow fans to further explore the world of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey and personally experience James' passion for wine, showcased throughout the novels. Infusing fine wine cues and storyline elements into this carefully crafted collection, Fifty Shades of Grey Wine blends perfectly James' knowledge of wine and romantic tastes.
"Wine plays an important role in Fifty Shades of Grey, adding to the sensuality that pervades a number of scenes," said E L James. "I've always had a penchant for good wine, so combining two of my passions to blend Red Satin and White Silk was a natural extension of the series. I hope my readers curl up with a glass as they enjoy the romance between Anastasia and Christian."
What’s next? Kill a Mockingbird Meritage or Harry Potter Petit Syrah? No. We didn’t think so, either.

This Just In… Jennifer Ainsley: The Final Demon War by Sidney Stone

On the surface, it’s just another fantasy horror novel. There are monsters, violence, a bit of sex and there is a torn young woman who does not quite understand her destiny as the one who could be our Savior.

There are spiritual elements, great deep sadness, yet also heroism and humor. But underneath all of this is love and loss; the main themes of Jennifer Ainsley: The Final Demon War.

Every main character loves someone, and they lose someone too during the story. It explains the motivation for all the characters including my great villain, Mordock.

You can order Jennifer Ainsley: The Final Demon War here. Visit author Sidney Stone on the web here. ◊

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


Monday, January 13, 2014

Gone Girl Gets Big Screen Reboot

Those who loved Gillian Flynn’s fantastic 2012 novel of suspense, Gone Girl, should be prepared to be surprised when they go see the film adaptation this coming fall.

Not only will the ending of the film be entirely different than it was in the book, the author herself is responsible for the new twists.

Director David Fincher says he wanted to be certain the ending played well with audiences, something he felt was not the case with his previous literary adaptation, the US version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Author Gillian Flynn not only agreed, she did the work herself. From Entertainment Weekly:
Even if you’ve already read the novel, you may still be surprised by the movie’s curve balls. Fincher says that the lesson he learned from bringing Stieg Larsson’s hit novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to the screen in 2011 was that “we may have been too beholden to the source material.” And Flynn, a former EW writer who wrote the screenplay, wasn’t afraid to take a buzzsaw to her own novel. “There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its eight million LEGO pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie,” she says.
The movie will star Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and if you pick up the current copy of Entertainment Weekly, you’ll see a somewhat shocking cover of the two actors on a morgue slab. The best part? The image was created by Director Fincher himself. “The result,” says Entertainment Weekly about Fincher’s cover, “is an unsettling portrait of love gone demented.” Which seems like a fairly good description of Gone Girl in any medium.


This Just In… Lost in Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor by Eldonna Edwards

One Gently Used Kidney, Free to a Good Home.

When 48 year-old single mother, massage therapist and returning student Ellie meets a young woman with kidney disease, she decides to make it her mission to save the girl. Unfortunately outdated rules made it difficult for altruistic donors and besides, the woman doesn’t want a savior. Does this stop Ellie from her quest to “be the change” one seeks in the world? Not a chance.

Told with humor and self-reflection, this inspirational memoir of courage and compassion is interwoven with anecdotal stories that help the reader identify what kind of person commits the selfless act of organ donation.

Ellie, a self-described devout agnostic, is kind but often irreverent. She is generous, but she is no saint. Ultimately, becoming a kidney donor has given her a renewed sense of purpose and fulfillment. Lost in Transplantation asserts that we are all capable of altering a human being’s life for the better, including our own.

You can order Lost in Transplantation here. Visit author Eldonna Edwards on the web here. ◊

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


Today’s Quote: On Books & Friendship

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” -- Ernest Hemingway


Two Trickster Tales From Russia: The Audiobook

This is the audiobook version of the gorgeous children’s picture book published last year by Christmas Press, a new Australian small press launched by Sophie Masson, author of many children’s and YA novels, artist David Allan and designer Fiona McDonald.

Later this year, the press will publish more international folk tales by other Australian children's writers, which is something to look forward to. 

Meanwhile, if you enjoy your books in audiobook format, this is a delightful version of the print book, narrated by Xavier Masson-Leach, with incidental music and sound effects by Xavier and Bevis Masson-Leach.

In the first story, “Masha And The Bear,” the grumpy bear is given a strong Russian accent, while the characters in “The Rooster With The Golden Crest” speak like American hillbillies, with appropriate -- and charming -- music for both. The whole thing goes for about 14 minutes, but since children tend to have short attention spans anyway, it may be just the thing to play before bedtime. It reminds me a little of a version of Peter And The Wolf I reviewed for January Magazine some years ago.

You can get more information on ordering the audiobook here. See my review of the print version of this book here. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at

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This Just In… The Power by Jeff Hennelly

What would you do if you had the power to heal but it only brought you personal destruction and ruin? Would you still use it?

When a street shaman meets a horrific demise on Dr. Austin MacLean’s ER table, Austin soon discovers a raw and irrepressible power. But when this power inflicts traumatic effects on three chronically ill children, families rush to accuse him, his colleagues condemn him, and the police begin to investigate in this affluent New Jersey beach town... and so do others when the children begin to show inconceivable progress.

Dara Kleows, a local reporter, is the first to connect the children’s gradual healings back to Austin. The two develop a deep bond but Austin remains uncertain as to what this beautiful woman wants. Is she just after a story, or more? There are those who covet Austin’s “power” and at any cost, while Dara is more concerned by Austin’s headlong march toward his own perdition. What if you had the power to heal but people condemned you and suspected its use? Would you still use it?

You can order The Power here. Visit author Jeff Hennelly on the web here. ◊

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


Gunther Grass Unlikely to Write Another Novel

Nobel Prize-winning German author Gunther Grass has said he probably won’t write another novel. From Germany’s English language newspaper, The Local:
“I'm 86 now. I don't think I will manage another novel,” Grass told the regional daily Passauer Neue Presse in a pre-released interview to appear on Monday.   “My health does not allow me to take on projects that will last five or six years and that would be the amount needed to research a novel,” added Grass.   He said he was devoting his time now to drawing and painting with watercolours. From this “creative activity,” some “first texts” have already been produced, he said.
Grass, the author of The Tin Drum (1959) and the recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize for literature, is regarded as Germany’s best known writer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sad Economy = Sad Books

About a decade after an economy tanks, authors tend to create books that are notably miserable, so says a British study. From The Telegraph:
Researchers compared the number of times certain words appeared in more than five million books to certain periods in American and British history. They found that the frequency of words expressing sadness reflected the economic conditions in the 10 years before a book was written.
In a piece The Telegraph ran early last year, culture editor Martin Chilton muses on what would happen if “Instead of ‘mood-boosting books,’ imagine doctors handing out prescriptions for gloomy masterpieces by Samuel Beckett and Thomas Hardy. ”

Chilton looks at the mood-altering possibilities of the 20 depressing novels listed below.

• Thomas Hardy: Jude The Obscure
• Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary
• John Steinbeck: Of Mice And Men
• Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
• Cormac McCarthy: The Road
• JM Coetzee: Disgrace
• Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome
• Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road
• Nathanael West: Miss Lonelyhearts
• Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell To Arms
• Arthur Koestler: Darkness At Noon
• Graham Greene: The End Of The Affair
• Carson McCullers: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
• Joseph Conrad: The Heart Of Darkness
• William Golding: Lord Of The Flies
• Ian McEwan: Atonement
• Upton Sinclair: The Jungle
• Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
• Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment
• Franz Kafka: The Trial

This Just In… The Yoga Store Murder by Dan Morse

It was a crime that shocked the country. On March 12, 2011, two young saleswomen were found brutally attacked inside a lululemon athletica retail store in Bethesda, Maryland, one of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs.

Thirty-year-old Jayna Murray was dead -- slashed, stabbed, and struck more than 300 times. Investigators found blood spattered on walls, and size 14 men’s shoe prints leading away from her body.

Twenty-eight-year-old Brittany Norwood was found alive, tied up on the bathroom floor. She had lacerations, a bloody face, and ripped clothing. She told investigators that two masked men had slipped into the Bethesda lululemon store just after closing, presumably planning to rob it. She spoke of the night of terror she and her coworker had experienced. Investigators were sympathetic... but as the case went on, Brittany’s story began to unravel. Why rob a business that dealt mostly in credit cards? Why was Jayna murdered but Brittany left alive? Could the petite, polite Brittany have been involved? Most chilling of all: could she have been the killer?

You can order The Yoga Store Murder here. Read more about the book here. ◊

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


Monday, January 06, 2014

The Best Books of 2013

Best Books of 2013

This is the moment all of the writers and editors of January Magazine have been working towards all year. The moment when, after a mountain of reading and a gargantuan effort, we stand aside after 12 dizzying months, and introduce you to our picks for the best books of the year.

You’ll find a few words about our methodology, as well as links to all the lists, here.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Best Books of 2013: Fiction

Below you will find the Fiction segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2013 feature, completing this year’s postings. You can see our picks for the Best Non-Fiction here, while Best Crime Fiction is hereBest Cookbooks are here and Best Books for Children and Young Adults are here. -- LLR

David Abrams is the author of Fobbit (Grove/Atlantic, 2012) and regularly blogs about books at The Quivering Pen.

At the Bottom of Everything by Ben Dolnick (Pantheon)
Ben Dolnick’s novel about two childhood friends trying, as adults, to reconcile past mistakes held me in its grip so hard that I found myself at two a.m. one night turning pages so quickly my fingers were crosshatched with tiny papercuts. At that point in the novel, Adam had traveled to India in search of his old friend Thomas who is now lost, both bodily and in the corridors of his mind. Both men are in their 20s and are trying to deal with a terrible accident for which they were responsible as reckless teenagers. Guilt has wracked them each in separate ways and they drifted apart over the years -- Adam (the novel’s narrator) is now a tutor who’s having sex with the mother of one of his students, and Thomas has seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. His worried parents reach out to Adam in hopes he can track him down. Though Adam resists being pulled back into Thomas’ life, he also knows it’s inevitable. He tells us on the first page: “I’d spent the last couple of years... ignoring the fact that Thomas needed me, as if his life were a flashing Check Engine light in the corner of my dashboard.” Dolnick subtly asks big questions: What is our responsibility to the lives of others? Should we take it upon ourselves to rescue lost souls? How do we forgive ourselves for bad deeds? Is it ever possible to move on from the errors of our past? Another question he might have asked himself: “What is my responsibility to readers who end up bleeding from papercuts?”

I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro (Grove/Atlantic):
Jamie Quatro’s debut is a profound, weird, funny, sad and wholly-original gathering of short fiction.   Nearly a year after reading it, I’m still thinking of highlights: a church that falls apart, sending its parishioners to live in the woods; an ultra-marathon in which runners carry totems -- including a glass-blown penis -- in backpacks; and several heartbreaking stories about a family coping with the loss of its matriarch as she battles cancer. Set in the South -- primarily on Lookout Mountain which straddles the border between Georgia and Tennessee -- Quatro’s stories take on broad themes like adultery, spirituality, grief and parenting, but it’s the intimacy of the characters which drives the book forward. There’s a quadriplegic mother at a pool party, a rotting lover’s corpse in a bed, a fair amount of phone sex and at least one frail character’s perilous journey up and down a hilly suburban street in her quest to mail a letter about the Iraq War to President Bush. Quatro’s style has the terse, stabbing power of Raymond Carver in his finest hour, but at the same time there’s the fuller lyricism of something by Alice Munro, languorously stretching and humming below the surface of the words. Each time I finished one of the stories, I thought, “Wow, that’s the best one in the book,” and then I’d go on to the next story and find it was the best one. I ended up closing the book and sighing, “Okay, they’re all the best.” I can’t wait for Jamie Quatro to show me more with her next book.

Sparta by Roxana Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Conrad Farrell comes home from the war in Iraq, skin unbroken and all limbs still attached... and yet he is a damaged man, a wounded warrior struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder -- like so many (too many) of our returning veterans. PTSD is at the heart of Roxana Robinson’s riveting novel Sparta which describes the condition in terms I’ve never before seen on the page. Precise as a psychological case history, the book charts the painful journey of Conrad from gung-ho boy to disillusioned warrior to broken man. Conrad comes from a family that’s “bookish and liberal, not martial and authoritarian,” with a mother and father who can’t understand why their son would want to take up arms in defense of his country. Conrad, a classics major in college, is drawn to the stories of the ancient world -- particularly Sparta, the Peloponnesian War, and the Iliad. “I want to do something big,” he tells his family when announcing his decision to join the Marines. “I want to do something that has consequences.” Little does he know, he’ll be the one on the receiving end of those consequences. No matter where you fall in the spectrum between hawk and dove, Robinson’s novel is powerfully affecting and takes its place on the shelf of essential war literature.

All That Is by James Salter (Knopf)
At the center of All That Is, James Salter’s first novel in 35 years, stands Phillip Bowman who we first see as a young naval officer in WWII, then a Harvard student, and then on to a Mad Men life as a book editor in mid-century Manhattan. He lives, he loves, he advances toward death -- nothing too remarkable plot-wise, but the book’s power is all in the telling. Salter’s language is beautiful and confident. How many writers do you know who can carry off describing the span and breadth of one person’s life in the space of just one paragraph? Seemingly minor characters are given full, rich treatments in big, bold strokes. James Salter is hardly a household name -- even, sadly, in bookish households -- but he’s been quietly producing great works of literature since the late 1950s. In his generous and spot-on review for the New York Times, Malcolm Jones wrote: “Salter is 87, with a reputation so secure he has nothing left to prove. If there were a Mount Rushmore for writers, he’d be there already. He could have published nothing, and no one would have thought less of him.”  And yet, here he is in the twilight of a career with what could arguably be his best book so far.  It is full of language distilled down to pure, true sentences.

Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood (Europa Editions)
Pivoting off the real-life Tri-State Tornado of 1925, Kate Southwood’s debut novel is a riveting account of wealth, gossip and ostracism. The wind's devastation is described in vivid images like “a woman is frozen, screaming under a tree at a child’s body caught high in its branches” and “trees have been snatched out of the ground like hanks of hair.” Paul Graves, owner of a successful lumberyard, miraculously survives the tornado as the rest of his small Illinois town is flattened. While the tornado scene (which comes upon us quickly in the first chapter) is breathtaking in its fury, the most fascinating part of the story is how Paul is shunned by the rest of his town for his good fortune (none of his family members are hurt and his house and store are left standing in a landscape reduced to splinters and rubble). It’s a clever reversal of the Biblical story of Job. Instead of being stripped of everything by God, Paul is divinely spared -- and that’s the worst thing which could have happened to him.

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Jones Atwater is a musician, sports fanatic and struggling author. He lives in Ohio with his Fender Stratocaster, Pearl, and his cat, Rhea.

• Eucalyptus by Mauricio Segura, translated by Donald Winkler (Biblioasis)
In Chile for his father’s funeral, Alberto discovers that there was more to the man he hated than he ever knew while he was alive. Author and filmmaker Mauricio Segura was born in Chile and raised in Montreal, where he still lives. I found two things absolutely remarkable about Eucalyptus. Firstly, Segura’s descriptions of Chile are magical and exotic. However the story, though perfectly told, is a familiar one, exploring as it does the age old themes of loss and redemption.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (Harper)
Part of the charm and fascination for Helene Wecker’s deliciously muscular debut novel is that you don’t know what the hell you’re in for. The Golem and the Jinni is an immigrant’s tale set in turn-of-the-century New York. But one of the immigrants proves to be a golem, made of clay. The other is a jinni, constructed of fire. Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature are threaded through the text and the resulting book is magical and completely unexpected.

• The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran  (Dial)
The second book of the author of 2006’s The Red Carpet, a collection of fresh and fascinating stories set in Bangalore. The Hope Factory seems to pull what was best about Sankaran’s first book and set it to the music of a full-length work. The result is a stunning debut novel. Sankaran’s voice is funny, wise and wry as she weaves her way cunningly through this novel of domestic disturbance in a newly industrialized Bangalore. Anand and Vidya are the new, modern Bangalore. Anand gives every appearance of being the successful businessman, right down to his grasping, demanding wife, Vidya. On the other end of the comfort scale is their maid, Kamala, a woman whose life is precarious in part because of an unsuccessful marriage and a son on the verge of bad-boydom, but in another part because Kamala’s happiness depends also on her employer’s wife, and that’s not a good place for anyone to be. The Hope Factory is a pleasing and delicious book and Sankaran is a writer whose gifts we anticipate enjoying further in future.

• The Strength of Bone by Lucie Wilk (Biblioasis)
In her debut novel, Lucie Wilk does an admirable job of avoiding the expected in her story about a widowed North American doctor and a Malawian nurse who both find themselves in Blantyre in Malawi, in Africa, working through what is expected of them in order to try and find what might be correct. Those words might conjure up a different type of story, but the two characters never spark. Instead we are treated to an inside view of the bleak and hopeless seeming world of medicine in parts of Africa. And more. Wilk, who is herself a practicing doctor, uses the novel to explore various concepts around the stark and steady demands of need and healing and the human emotions that fuel it all. This was not an easy read, emotionally. But it was so very worthwhile.

• Three War Stories by David Mamet (Argo-Navis)
Even if perpetually controversial playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Wag the Dog) had not picked such a perpetually controversial path to publishing his latest book, it would still be beyond worthwhile. The novellas is Three War Stories are classically Mamet which is a little like saying they are compelling and highly readable, even if the great one did decide to publish them on his own because, as he told the New York Times earlier this year, he is “a curmudgeon, and because publishing is like Hollywood – nobody ever does the marketing they promise.” Though the cover is second rate and the inside production value of the book lacks big six snap, the stories themselves are stellar… and classic Mamet. Two short stories an a novella comprise Three War Stories examine the edges of forgiveness and redemption. An extraordinary book.

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

In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker (Tachyon)
Would I have loved this book as much had it been published while its prolific and award-winning author were still alive? I’m not sure. As it was, seeing new work from Kage Baker three years after her death was, for me, an unexpected treat. The stories here are all set in Baker’s Company universe, some of them have never been published before and a few were completed by Baker’s sister, Kathleeen Bartholomew, who has taken on the editing of some of the author’s work. Even skeptical fans will be pleased at the results, I think. Especially since it means new adventures from a pen we feared had been forever stilled.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow)
Gaiman’s grown up fans have been waiting for a book for them since 2005’s Anansi Boys. In the time between, of course, there have been a number of books, but they have all been aimed at young readers, including The Dangerous Alphabet (2008) and Fortunately the Milk (2013). Longtime Gaiman fans will be happy to get their hands on The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is classic Gaiman: magical realism-slash-fantasy in the richest possible sense. A 50-ish man returns to his childhood home in rural England for a funeral. While there he discovers a neighboring family’s magical secret. I wanted the book to be longer: but only for me. As a story, it’s perfectly complete.

The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth (Quirk)
An extraordinarily fine example of the direction in which some think the book as form is headed now. In a world where fiction can be created easily and spat out just as fast, that which is very finedeserves special treatment. Like a cross between Gray’s Anatomy and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hudspeth’s debut work resonates with life, even though it is almost entirely concerned with death. An artist, Hudspeth was researching the anatomy of an angel’s wing while working on a sculpture when the seed for the idea that would become The Resurrectionist began to form. The book follows the fictional Dr. Spencer Black through his childhood and medical training and then to his mysterious disappearance. The book is illustrated by the doctor’s fantastical drawings of creatures that perhaps were or might have been before the book vanished as quickly as did its author. That’s the premise: a long-lost manuscript of a long-forgotten doctor. And Hudspeth makes it work horrifically.

• The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland Books)
Though The Shining Girls is not Lauren Beukes’s first novel, for me it was a complete surprise. I’m not sure what I expected, but whatever it was, was not this, a story so compelling, it grabbed me by the socks and would not let go. Is it thriller? Well, it’s thrilling. Is it horror? There’s lots of that here, too. And while I’m pretty clear it is not SF/F as I understand SF/F to be, Beukes is a previous winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award (for 2010’s Zoo City). The Shining Girls is about a time-traveling serial-killer and all because a Chicago house is forcing him to do it. This is scary and compelling fiction at its very, very best. I loved The Shining Girls end to end.

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

• A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam (Soho/Hamish Hamilton)
From the author of Some Great Thing and Fall, a childless couple adopts a chimpanzee as their son and you know from the set up and the tone that things will not end well. In another thread, we follow a troop of chimpanzees that are part of a language experiment in Florida. This is a haunting, thought-provoking book that charms and alarms in single, bold strokes. A haunting, unforgettable and, ultimately, heart-breaking book. Since we end up learning an awful lot about chimpanzees it’s to McAdam’s credit that the book doesn’t bog under his research. It holds an air of authority and compassion and is never pedantic.

• Red Girl, Rat Boy by Cynthia Flood (Biblioasis)
It seems such a slender book to have grabbed this small spot among my favorites of the year, but that is the nature of Flood’s power. Here the Journey Prize-winning author packs a lot of that power into 11 taut stories that celebrate and challenge women of all types. Flood is unflinching, but her readers might not be so brave. The author is honest to the point of occasional emotional and unsentimental brutality. This is amazing stuff.

• What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton (Unbridled)
Masha Hamilton’s writing is always informed by her worldview. Hamilton spent a decade as a journalist in conflict zones in the Middle East and is currently attached to the US Embassy in Kabul. So when she tells the story of the wife of a kidnapped American diplomat in Afghanistan that ring of authenticity you hear on every page is absolutely real. And it is not only Hamilton’s work with the foreign press and diplomatic corps that are the cause of this, but also the author’s deep empathy for and understanding of not only the human condition but human emotion and the games people play, both with themselves and with others. A thoughtful and compelling book.

Tiger Rag by Nicholas Christopher (Dial Press)
Jazz myths loom large in Tiger Rag, a book that is at least thinly based on  the life of jazz legend Buddy Bolden. I say “thinly” because, truly, not a lot is known about Bolden. His star burned hot, swift and terribly sad. Born in 1877 in New Orleans, at the age of 30 he was committed to the  Louisiana State Insane Asylum at Jackson where he stayed until his death in 1931 at the age of 54. The things we do know about Bolden are shrouded in mist and mystery and the talented cornetist left no known recordings. None documented, that is. Rumors of his recordings still beat hot in the jazz community today. So it is that Christopher comes to embed unanswered questions and bits of intrigue into his own deeply felt version of what-might-have-been. One of the myths is that Bolden made a recording in 1904 -- “Tiger Rag” -- that was subsequently lost in the intervening years. Christopher turns the mist into a Holy Grail of a tale that stretches from New Orleans in 1900 to present day Florida where a once-prominent anesthesiologist is dealing with the death of her career and the collapse of her family.

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

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin)
Caroline Leavitt’s 10th novel is a triumph of light and dark. The story at times brings to mind Dennis Lehane’s masterful Mystic River: a missing child, Boston, and the shocking darkness of the human heart, starkly glimpsed. In the end, though, Is This Tomorrow is a woman’s story in a way that Mystic River never could be. And, ultimately, it begs the question: when someone goes missing, what happens to those left behind? Though all of Leavitt’s novels have been superb and highly acclaimed, it strikes me that Is This Tomorrow is her most accomplished work. There is a sharp nuance here, one that reverberates throughout. That and lovely, vivid characterizations and superb period detail contribute to making what may be Leavitt’s best book yet.

• PostaPoc by Liz Worth (Now or Never)
PostaPoc is elegant and surprising. The language is beautiful: Worth conjures up strong, poetic and lasting images to create her dying world. Despite this poetry, the world dies without thunder. No zombies or blasted cityscapes, just a cyberpunk rendering of what the end might look like, with everything reduced to basics and everyone just struggling with survival. Young Ang is part of an underground music scene that obsesses about the end of the world. They obsess so deeply that, when that end comes, Ang can’t help but feel as though she is in part to blame. And then that survival. And struggles. And our own doubts, as well look back with her and try, against all instinct, to look ahead. The end is surprising. Unexpected, yet perfect. With everything concluded, but nothing wrapped up. PostaPoc is entirely riveting and worthwhile.

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (Ballantine) Jamie Ford’s second novel is exactly what you’re hoping to find when you pick up a family saga. It’s what you hope to find, but so seldom do. The book is polished, the storytelling sound, but there is heart here, as well. And passion. In other words, a balanced parcel in every way and one of my top reads of the year. A Chinese American orphan sees an exotic actress, Willow Frost, at the theatre and feels certain it is his mother, lost to him many years before. He determines to find and confront her: how could she have given him up? What was the story there? The deeper he delves, however, the more starkly he discovers that there is more to that story than initially met the eye.

• The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich (Doubleday Canada)
American readers won’t see Roberta Rich’s follow up to The Midwife of Venice until early in 2014. They’re in for a treat. This briskly paced historical novel is set in Constantinople in 1579. Hannah and Isaac, now exiled from Venice, have created new lives for themselves. He works in the silk trade, while she is a midwife of skill and repute and she finds much work tending to the thousand women in Sultan Murat III’s harem. Here she meets young Leah, a slave who will be the Sultan’s next conquest and the mother of an heir. But the girl is terrified and prevails on Hannah to help her. While the correct moral choice seems clear to her, Hannah is less clear on how the politics of thwarting the sultan’s wishes might impact her career… and even her life. This is rich and finely spun historical fiction. As good as it gets.

• The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown)
In a year of deep, rich historical novels Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning effort grabbed a lot of the headlines, though for good reason: this is a lot of book. Not just in volume (and at over 800 pages, it certainly does have volume to spare) but in complexity of thought and luxurious depth of narrative. All that said, it still manages to be highly readable and thoroughly engaging. Set on the New Zealand goldfields during the Victorian era, those who love some mystery with their history in a highly literate package will gobble this one up.

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Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of a dozen books, the most recent of which is the mystery novel Death Was in the Blood.

• Enon by Paul Harding (Random House)
Looking back, it seems to me that a lot of the books I liked best in 2013 did not stand alone. That is to say, most could function under their own steam, but -- for various reasons -- they were a detail from a larger picture. So it was with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding’s Enon. The book follows up Harding’s stunning 2009 debut, Tinkers, with another chapter in the lives of the Crosby family. This time out we meet Charlie, grandson of George Crosby who was Tinkers’ central character. This is a blazing follow-up to Harding’s debut. With drugs, self-loathing and exquisite beauty focusing this lurch at madness, Harding here confirms what early fans suspected: Tinkers was no accident and Harding is a writer to watch.

• MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese/McLelland & Stewart)
When I read Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood I did not realize they were the first installments in the MaddAddam trilogy. I only knew I was reading something beyond special: something groundbreaking and world-changing and… well… different. Atwood is brilliant. Whether or not you love her literary stylings, the brilliance can’t be denied. And I love her literary stylings, so clearly, MaddAddam was always a book I was going to love. And Atwood does not disappoint. Post-Apocalyptic does not begin to cover the MaddAddam world, though that’s a better start than some. It seems as though, every futuristic disaster that can be conceived of was first imagined by Atwood in one of these three books. The danger of GMOs. The death of the bees and now, bioengineered replacements for humans. All of this is spun in Atwood’s disturbingly arresting poetic voice. This is fantastic, world-bending stuff. And, sorry: it is perfect.

The Way of the Dog by Sam Savage (Coffee House Press) The Way of the Dog is Sam Savage’s fourth novel, after Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, Cry of the Sloth and Glass. Like those books, The Way of the Dog is poetic in nature, both for its lovely prose, but also for the stance: searching looks at the things closest to us. In this novel, Savage guides us through the experience of the artist looking back and coming to terms with choices that were difficult and not always “correct” yet finding a certain peace, nonetheless. Most of Harold-by-way-of-Savage’s observations are subtle and beautiful and we accompany him as he works through a lifetime’s worth of bitterness in order to make peace with himself and his world. It’s a quietly incredible book by an astonishingly overlooked author.

• The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown and Company)
Because she seems cavalier with our feelings and because she makes us wait, it’s easy to trash Donna Tartt whose extraordinary 1992 debut, The Secret History, was so brilliant, it kept us on the edge of our seats waiting for a follow up. For a decade. And when 2002’s The Little Friend finally appeared we were willing to forgive… a teensy bit. But in 2013, Tartt wowed us again while confirming what we’d most feared: the wait? It was worth it. Fiction like this simply does not come every day. More: where The Secret History was engagingly green, The Goldfinch is a master work. There were elements of Tartt’s debut that were a little overwrought and maybe (maybe!) not quite tight. These things can not be said of The Goldfinch, where we spend each page enthralled in the mental machinations of Theo Decker, orphaned at 13 and left to the devices of Park Avenue and art.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (Hamish Hamilton)
This is the third book in Boyden’s gripping multigenerational Bird family saga, following Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce. Canadian historical fiction set in the 17th century, The Orenda is narrated by three characters: a Jesuit missionary, an Iroquois teenager kidnapped by Hurons and a warrior named Bird who is mourning the loss of his family to the Iroquois. This look at an aspect of Canadian aboriginal culture is timely, but it is not heavy handed. Boyden is no Aseop, with morals to stories at the ready. This is a poetic, spiritual journey that gives those of us pondering the place where all Canadian cultures fit together food for thought. Though, honestly, even without that, this book (and this trilogy) would be stunning. When we look back at important Canadian fiction 100 years from now, Boyden’s Bird series will be near the top of the list.

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India Wilson is a writer and artist.

Caught by Lisa Moore (Anansi/Grove) People toss around the phrase “literary thriller” all the time, and it seldom has much meaning. A thriller that is well written should be a given, these days. And a work of literature that has thrilling elements is not much of an exception to a lot of rules. However Lisa Moore’s latest is actually a book deserving of the term. Moore’s language is taut and fraught and even sometimes poetic. Yet it’s an old-fashioned crime story that satisfies in that old timey way. As the book begins, it’s the late 1970s and pot trafficker David Slaney has escaped from prison. With the authorities in hot pursuit, we follow Slaney across Canada and into Mexico. On his journey we are treated to character studies and vignettes of the characters and places he encounters on his journey. The ending is worthy of a thriller and not the least bit expected. Brace yourself: Caught is an amazing ride.

• Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House)
This was easily one of the most hyped books of 2013. As a result, my hopes upon approach were not high. I was wrong. A beautiful young woman, daughter of a famous and reclusive maker of horror films, is found dead in a warehouse. Her death is determined to be a suicide, but an investigative journalist thinks differently. As he pursues his investigation, he discovers a lot of fishy stuff that he suspects is more than coincidence. This deft and muscular literary thriller from the author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2007) leaves one breathless.

The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge (Douglas & McIntyre)
Early in 2013, January’s editor, Linda L. Richards, shot an advance copy of The Eliot Girls at me, commanding, “Read this. I’m pretty sure it’s right up your alley.” As she so often is in matters like this, she was right. I loved Toronto author Krista Bridge’s unusual debut novel from the opening pages and, months later, I love it still. Audrey Brindle has always dreamed of attending the private school where her mother teaches. But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to know where this will lead us. Audrey imagines the possible glamor of a private school. But reality brings bullying and intolerance. (Is there any creature on Earth nastier than a teenage girl?) It all sounds a bit gothic when I say it like that but, in reality, it’s all of that and starchily feminist, as well. The Eliot Girls deserved the many accolades rained upon it in it’s Canadian debut year. Look for it soon in a country near you.

The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk (Spiegel & Grau)
This energetic and lovely debut by Polish-born Dagmara Dominczyk follows three best friends from the innocence of their 1980s Polish girlhood through to their complicated international lives as women. Dominczyk is better known as an actress than a writer, but that does nothing to mar this beautiful and poignantly executed first novel.

The River and Enoch O’Reilly by Peter Murphy (Mariner) The title’s Enoch has chosen to pray to Elvis instead of God, though he once set out to be a preacher. In the winter of 1984, Murphy tells us, the fictional Irish rusty river Rua became swollen beyond her normal width. When the water receded two days later, survivors discovered the bodies of nine who were less lucky. Their deaths are mysterious. What could have caused them to venture forth of such a night? Nearby, in the basement of the family home, Enoch discovers distressing connections between those who perished the night of the storm and his own lost father and every mystery he himself has ever pondered. The River and Enoch O’Reilly is magical and Murphy’s is a voice I look forward to listening to again.

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