Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fighting Censorship: Off With Their Clothes!

A group of French booksellers and publishers have gotten together to protest censorship in an entirely new and different way.

When Tous à Poil, (Everyone Naked), was attacked by a politician, these publishing professionals took their best shot in a campaign entitled “everyone naked against censorship.” Wearing nothing but carefully placed books the group said they were naked to show their “support for authors and books which have been unjustly attacked.” From The Guardian:

After a French children's book which set out to remove stigma around nudity by featuring drawings of everyday people getting undressed drew the ire of France’s UMP party, a group of publishers and booksellers decided to register their displeasure -- by posing naked.
Jean-François Copé appeared on television earlier this month to denounce Tous à Poil, a children's picture book in which characters including a policeman and a school teacher are shown getting undressed, and naked, before plunging into the sea. The authors, Claire Franek and Marc Daniau, wrote it to take the shame out of being naked. "If you think about it, whether you're a baby, a doctor or a baker … we all have buttocks, a tummy button, genitals and even moles," they have said. "With this book, we therefore decided to take an uninhibited look at nudity."

Predictably -- even for France -- the book didn’t sit well with everyone. Copé, who is the head of France’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party, said that he was outraged when he saw the book:

"My heart missed a beat," he said in an interview. "A naked teacher … isn't that great for teachers' authority! We don't know whether or not to smile, but as it is for our children, we don't feel like smiling. A naked baby, a naked babysitter, naked neighbours, a naked granny, a naked dog …" he went on.

His comments backfired, sending the book racing to the top of bestseller lists in France, according to Le Monde, and drawing widespread condemnation, with minister for education Vincent Peillon calling Copé a "spokesperson for extremist groups", the French press reported.

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This Just In… Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience by Monique Gray Smith

Tilly has always known she’s part Lakota on her dad’s side. She’s grown up with the traditional teachings of her grandma, relishing the life lessons of her beloved mentor. But it isn’t until an angry man shouts something on the street that Tilly realizes her mom is Aboriginal too -- a Cree woman taken from her own parents as a baby.

Tilly feels her mother’s pain deeply. She’s always had trouble fitting in at school, and when her grandma dies unexpectedly, her anchor is gone. Then Abby, a grade-seven classmate, invites her home for lunch and offers her “something special” to drink. Nothing has prepared Tilly for the tingling in her legs, the buzz in her head and the awesome feeling that she can do anything.

From then on, partying seems to offer an escape from her insecurities. But after one dangerously drunken evening, Tilly knows she has to change. Summoning her courage, she begins the long journey to finding pride in herself and her heritage. Just when she needs it most, a mysterious stranger offers some wise counsel: “Never question who you are or who your people are. It’s in your eyes. I know it’s in your heart.”

Loosely based on author Monique Gray Smith’s own life, this revealing, important work of creative non-fiction tells the story of a young indigenous woman coming of age in the 1980s. In a spirit of hope, this unique story captures the irrepressible resilience of Tilly and of indigenous peoples everywhere.

You can order Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience here. Learn more about author Monique Gray Smith 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.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Art & Culture: The Rude Story of English by Tom Howell

In author Tom Howell’s opinion, before he got to it, there were two main problems with the officially stated story of the English language. First, because of a development time that stretches over hundreds of years and many countries, there is no central hero. Two, previous histories had been too busy being polite to get down to the nitty gritty essential to doing the story justice.

In The Rude Story of English (McClelland & Stewart) Howell fixes both errors. And judging from the sparkling result, he was just the right guy for the job because it is, in many ways, a flawless book. Taking what in other hands has often been tedious, uninteresting and even (by way of omission) inaccurate, Howell creates a book not only dead interesting, it’s also Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy funny. Howell knows how to tell a story. For one thing, he begins at the beginning:
The story of the English language is actually quite cool. It contains some sad parts, but these are well dispersed among moments of beauty, hilarity, pauses for thought, lessons for us all, and ambiguous moral themes. It is, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Howell takes care of the lack of a central hero for his story in the style of the very best storytellers: he makes one up. We meet Hengest in 449 AD, a fearsome Germanic warrior who trips onto English soil… and swears. We meet Hengest throughout history, a familiar character in the always changing landscape of language.

Even if you think you know something about the history of the English language, you’ll learn a lot from Howell’s book. More: you’ll learn it with enjoyment and even laughter. ◊

David Middleton is the art and culture editor of January Magazine.

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This Just In… Sympathetic People by Donna Baeir Stein

Both the beauty and frailty of human connections are seen in the 13 stories collected in Sympathetic People. Here are women and men struggling to find love, meaning, happiness in marriage, adulterous affairs, art, meditation and even the passage from life to death.

Longing generated by loss is everywhere -- in the death of a son, the end of a marriage, the slide from hope ignited by Neil Armstrong’s moon walk to hopelessness after President Kennedy’s death.

In “Hindsight,” Jessie, a hippie in Lawrence, Kansas, opts for what she assumes is stability in a world of change, only to be brought up short years later when her life veers off its predicted path.

“The Secrets of Snakes” reveals the early ruptures in a marriage and a wife’s futile attempts to stop them even as she tries to care for her son’s pet racer.

In “The Jewel Box,” a grandmother promises to let her granddaughter know what Heaven is like after she passes and if, in fact, it looks like the Art Deco greenhouse built in St. Louis during the 1904 World’s Fair.

And in “Versions,” a newlywed in Plano, Texas, entertains her sometimes angry husband’s first wife and realizes too late what she has given up in choosing him.

“The Second Time the Bird Escapes” brings the collection full circle as a woman vies for attention with her husband’s new girlfriend and watches a peacock race across the yard to freedom, its dazzling tail open like an invitation.

You can order Sympathetic People here. Visit author Donna Baeir Stein 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.


Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Karenina

Do we love this story because it shows -- once again -- how very charming American Hustle star Jennifer Lawrence genuinely seems to be? Or is it because it demonstrates a Hollywood star and role model reading for fun and pleasure? Director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) talks about spoiling Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for Lawrence:
Russell was amazed by Lawrence's emotions even when the camera wasn't running on Hustle. “She’s walking around the set all the time reading the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina, which is like a phone book. I was just impressed that this 20-year-old girl is reading Anna Karenina -- from Kentucky, who likes to eat junk food, and watch Real Housewives of Long Island. I go, ‘Oh wow, you’re down to almost the end, Jennifer. Have you gotten to the part where she throws herself under the train tracks?’ And she goes, ‘What?'  She goes, ‘Surely, surely Vronsky is coming back!’ And she starts crying, she’s sobbing. I’ve never had an experience like that in my life, this 20-year-old person who is living every ounce of Anna Karenina.”
The Hollywood Reporter story is here.

This Just In… Colors of the Wheel by Randy Kraft

On the night of the 2012 presidential election, a black girl stands her ground against an assault by a white boy. A judge must decide if she goes to trial.
Waiting in the courtroom is her blended family: black, white and brown.

Colors of the Wheel is told as a mosaic of fictional biographies, their secrets and struggles shed light on the modern-day color line.

Will justice be served? The novel is not a mystery or a history, rather a contemplation of a postcivil rights/post-Obama America as these three families confront the duplicity, idealism, hope and fury of the millions of Americans who grapple with prejudice every day.

For readers of Barbara Kingsolver, Meg Wolitzer and Alice Walker, and others who speak truth in fiction.

You can order Colors of the Wheel here. Visit author Randy Kraft 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, February 24, 2014

Where Do Writers Write?

A piece in The New York TimesT Magazine might as well be called “Which Books Do We Most Look Forward to in 2014?” But this particular hot book five are grouped another way: by where they work. From the magazine’s culture and design section:
Upstairs, downstairs, in a corner, at a desk, on the bed, with a view of trees, water, the street, the sky. Five writers, who all publish new books this year, explain how the right space can unlock the mind and let the words flow.
Since this five are likely to make a lot of top lists in 2014, we’re excited to learn that Colson Whitehead (The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death, out from Doubleday in May) moves his desk around a lot in his West Village duplex.

And somehow it’s dead cool to learn that Douglas Coupland (Worst. Person. Ever. from Blue Rider Press in April) writes on an escritoire he found on Craigslist and refinished.

Mona Simpson wrote the first draft of her much-anticipated Casebook (Knopf, April) on a table in the Santa Monica Public Library. Joyce Carol Oates (Carthage available now from Ecco) says that what her writing room “contains is less significant to me than what it overlook” while Roddy Doyle (The Guts, available now from Viking) works out of the attic of his home in Dublin.

Each author has told T where they work inside a tidy essay in their own voices. It’s a lovely little piece and you can see it at T Magazine here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Diary of Anne Frank Mysteriously Defaced in Japan

Hundreds of copies of the most famous memoir to come out of World War II are being mysteriously damaged at libraries in Japan. So far over 250 copies of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl have been damaged at libraries across the country. From The Telegraph:
"We first noticed damage to the book at the end of January last year and it has been going on since then," Saeko Nishimura, a spokeswoman for the Japan Library Association, told The Telegraph.
"We do not know who is doing it or why they are doing it," she added, "But the police are now carrying out an investigation."
Pages have been torn out of the books, according to police, who are examining closed-circuit footage from libraries that were targeted. In many cases, the pages contained the same passages of text, leading police to suspect that the same person is causing the damage.
Nishimura said that undamaged copies of the book have been removed from the shelves of many libraries in Tokyo. The Diary of a Young Girl is on the syllabus in many Japanese schools.

Read the full story here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mavis Gallant Dead at 91

Noted short story artist and author, Canadian-born Mavis Gallant died yesterday. The 91-year-old author had made Paris her home for many years.

Gallant was the author of two novels (Green Water, Green Sky in 1959 and A Fairly Good Time in 1970) and almost 10 short story collections. She won the Governor General’s Award for 1981’s Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories. From The Globe and Mail:
Ms. Gallant had a journalist’s nose, a cinematographer’s eye and a novelist’s imagination. She combined her technical skills and sensory perceptions in the shrewdly observed and multilayered short story, a form she made her own. She was a specialist in writing about outsiders trying to insinuate themselves into alien situations and cultures, and her narratives move in waves of dialogue, observation and lashing tension. Reading her stories gives one a sense of a clock ticking, a door creaking open, or of an emotional wound about to be inflicted. 
A Canadian by birth, she first enjoyed literary success in the United States, where she published more than 100 stories in The New Yorker beginning in 1951.
“Stories are not chapters of novels,” Gallant said at one point, “They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.”

Though she had lived in Europe since the 1950s, over the years she had been awarded Canada’s highest honors, including the Order of Canada in 1981 and Companion of the Order in 1993. In 2004, she was awarded both a Lannan Literary Fellowship and a PEN/Nabokov Award. In 2006 she became the first anglophone to be given the Prix Athanase-David from the government of Quebec in the 38 years history of the award.

According to The Globe, Gallant’s “last decade was plagued by ill health and poverty. She suffered from arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes, but a circle of close friends rallied to support her valiant spirit, her coruscating wit and her generous capacity for friendship.”

The paper’s farewell to Gallant is lovely, and it’s here.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Want to Write Like Hemingway? There’s an App for That.

There’s more to Ernest Hemingway’s prose than brevity, clarity and active language. But those are the things that Hemingway App will help you with. In other words, it’s a fun starting point on an edit, but it won’t make you a literary genius.

That said, Hemingway App is awesome and has an interface so simple and easy to use, it might have been designed by the master himself.

Dump a chunk of text into the online editor and get a grade score as well as easy to parse advice on how to make the sample cleaner and more clear. The (editable) sample text you encounter when you go there also explains how it all works:
Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. 
Hemingway highlights long, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow highlight, shorten the sentence or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic — try editing this sentence to remove the red.
Adverbs are helpfully shown in blue. Get rid of them and pick verbs with force instead.
You can utilize a shorter word in place of a purple one. Mouse over it for hints.
Phrases in green have been marked to show passive voice. 
Paste in something you're working on and edit away. Or, click the Write button to compose something new.
Strictly speaking, HemingwayApp isn’t an app at all. That is, don’t look for something you can use on your phone: it doesn’t seem to work that way. Rather, at the moment, it’s all done online, in your browser window, though a downloadable desktop version is on the way.


This Just In… ERO by F. P. Dorchak

Astronaut Jimmy Cherko is marooned aboard a damaged space station. Alone, amnesic, and apparently held prisoner within a bizarre, technological confinement during a space war, he’s assaulted by disturbing memories. Often contradictory, his flashbacks reveal inconsistent and paradoxical lives and strange family events: his mother’s “sleepwalking, ” her questioning the number of children the family really had, his dad’s missing time and memories while in the submarine service, his own mysterious and life-long association with herds of deer. Is he really an on-orbit spy or a mere desk jockey?

ERO is about fact manipulation, disinformation and obfuscation. About how one's life can take a severe left turn. Nothing can be trusted -- not experience and certainly not memory. Are the lives we live really our own?

You can order ERO here. Visit author F. P. Dorchak 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, February 17, 2014

Fiction: The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith

Fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s internationally beloved Ladies Detective Agency novels may find themselves confused by his latest book, The Forever Girl (Knopf Canada/Random House). Not an entry in either of McCall’s long-running series, The Forever Girl explores the nature and nuance of love through interlinked stories involving a couple and their daughter.

A child experiences her first love at age six, though she doesn’t have the words to describe it or the experience to understand. At the same time, her parents are discovering they are less in love than they once were. As the child, Clover, grows and changes, so does her love, even while her parents continue to struggle with their own realities and definitions.

This sweet and well-honed story shows McCall Smith to advantage. The characters and the tale are engaging and The Forever Girl emerges as a contemplation of love and how it forms us. Even so, it seems to me that many of this author’s fans will be put off by both the language and the very nature of the book. Though McCall Smith’s well known humor is not absent here, in The Forever Girl he uses it as a tool for examination of the inner-workings of the human heart and the tone, in general, is considerably less jaunty.

Now 65, McCall Smith is one of the most prolific authors alive, having written more than 50 books. ◊

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

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This Just In… Sometimes We Ran 2: Community by Stephen Drivick

It has been one year since the zombie apocalypse. Most of humanity has been wiped out.

Hiding in the ruins are red eyed, predator undead waiting for the next unfortunate victim to cross their path. Our hero John Linder, and his road companion Claire have survived among the dead by using their wits and sticking together. They have also had a little luck.

But now it appears their luck has run out.

Low on supplies, they have reached the end of the road. A daring raid on a dangerous highway overpass filled with man-eating zombies is the only thing between them and starvation. This raid will catapult Claire and John into the daily lives of two distinct groups of survivors.

One of these groups may hold the key to their salvation.

You can order Sometimes We Ran 2: Community here. ◊

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


Sunday, February 16, 2014

What Do Kelly Clarkson and Sienna Miller Have in Common? Today? Jane Austen!

Both American singer, Kelly Clarkson, and English actress, Sienna Miller, are in the news for Jane Austen-related items today.

The ring that former American Idol Clarkson was banned from removing the UK after she bought it in 2012, has been secured by a British museum.

Clarkson bought the ring for £152,450. It is one of only three pieces of jewelry known to have belonged to the writer Jane Austen. But, after the sale, the BBC says, “Culture minister Ed Vaizey imposed an export bar on [the ring] and a campaign last year saw the ring bought for the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Hampshire. The turquoise and gold ring is now on permanent display at the museum.”

The culture minister said “he wanted the ‘national treasure’ to be ‘saved for the nation’.”
The ring was indeed saved after the museum, situated at Austen’s former home in Chawton, launched a Bring the Ring Home campaign.
Donations flooded in from around in the world, including an anonymous donation of £100,000, to match the price Ms Clarkson paid - as per the conditions of the temporary export bar. 
The singer, who won the American Idol TV show in 2002, previously said she was "happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see" the ring at the museum and called it a "beautiful national treasure".
Museum curator Mary Guyatt called Ms Clarkson "gracious" and said she hoped "to welcome Ms Clarkson at the museum in the future".
Meanwhile, in other Austen news, Factory Girl Sienna Miller has been tapped to star in Love and Friendship, a screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s unpublished novella, Lady Susan “about a widow in search of two husbands -- one for herself and one for her daughter,” according the The Irish Herald. “Austen chose not to submit the novella for publication, but her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, included it in an 1871 biography of the author.”

The film will be shot in the Irish countryside this coming summer.


This Just In… The Priest's Wife by PJ Connolly

One man, two women. How did a young nun find herself part of such an arrangement?

When Susan marries the man who was once her priestly confessor, tragedy and treachery lie in wait.

In an act of supreme selflessness she makes a proposal whose sheer audacity may shock some readers.

You can order The Priest’s Wife here. Visit author PJ Connolly 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, February 14, 2014

Valentine’s Day Reading

There is no shortage of both raunchy and loving literature to explore this Valentine’s Day. The Independent does a terrific job today rounding up some of the best of the worst (or the worst of the best?):

So will you be reading your beloved a Shakespearen sonnet in a grand gesture of romance? Probably not. Instead, why not explore the vast array of ‘erotic’ literature that past writers have so kindly bestowed upon us for such occasions?

The Independent’s offerings include Paul Theroux from The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro (“Still I could not tell where her soft skin ended and her silk began, and the complexity of her vaginal lips was like another elaborate silken garment she had put on for me to stroke.”), Haruki Murakami from 1Q84 (“Her breasts themselves were large, however, and fully ripe. They seemed to be virtually uninfluenced by the force of gravity, the nipples turned beautifully upward, like a vine's new tendrils seeking sunlight.”) and my favorite from this batch, Jonathan Littell from The Kindly Ones (“I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.”

You can check out The Independent’s “Best Bad Sex Scenes from Books” piece here. The art, above right, is Tang Yau Hoong. You can see (and buy) more of that artist’s work here.

Today’s Quote: Albert Camus

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” -- Albert Camus


This Just In… The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight

An intensely personal invocation of the ancient Greek tragedy, The Antigone Poems was created in the 1970s while writer Marie Slaight and artist Terrence Tasker were living in Montreal and Toronto. A bold retelling of the ancient tale of defiance and justice, its poetry and images capture the anguish and despair of the original tale in an unembellished modernized rendition.

“Haunting. If one word describes Marie Slaight’s The Antigone Poems, this is it. The collection of poems, some only a fragment of a thought, others filling the page with a stream of consciousness narrative, tells the story of Antigone from the first person perspective of Antigone herself. Loosely based on the Greek myth of Antigone, who inevitably suffers as a rebel in her family, the poems are filled with anguish, emotional violence and suffering. However, Slaight comments near the end of her book that she wanted ‘to live all lives, all deaths, encompass all women.’ Thus the pain, anguish, and suffering in this book applies to more than just the doomed Antigone of Greek mythology; it applies to the collective suffering of all women. The tone of the poems is understandably dark considering the subject material, and the periodic charcoal drawings by Terrence Tasker only enhance the haunting nature of the story told by Slaight. Furthermore, the poems are delivered from a deeply personal and intimate viewpoint, so the reader is often tied directly to the emotions of the speaker. The often short form of each poem also helps add an intimate feeling as each poem seems to represent a separate thought about Antigone’s torment.” -- San Francisco Book Review

You can order The Antigone Poems here. Learn 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.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Arundhatti Roy Criticizes Penguin for Withdrawing Controversial Book

Booker prize-winning author, Arundhatti Roy, is pointing the finger at her own publisher, Penguin, for agreeing to withdraw a book they published which has offended Hindu “fanatics.” From The Telegraph:

The writer, who won the Booker Prize for her 1996 novel The God of Small Things and has since become India’s leading radical non-fiction writer, hinted she may drop Penguin over its decision.
The withdrawal of American academic Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, An Alternative History on Monday to settle a legal battle with a fundamentalists who claimed it demeaned their gods and humiliated their devotees, caused dismay among India’s intelligentsia. 
Ms Doniger is a highly respected Indologist at the University of Chicago and her book, which describes Hinduism as a pluralist, liberal and compassionate faith angered Hindu fundamentalists who said was written with Christian missionary zeal and over-sexualised Hindu gods.
The group which took legal action cited its cover, which featured an image of Lord Krishna sitting on the buttocks of naked women, and claimed the book contained many inaccuracies.

See more at The Telegraph here and here.


This Just In… Red Chrysanthemum: A Novel of Occupied Japan by Henry Mazel

Alexander Rada doesn’t want to be called Alexander, or Alex for that matter -- Rada will do just fine. It’s the summer of 1945, and army Lieutenant Rada has just arrived in Tokyo to witness the official surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces on the deck of the battleship Missouri.

Rada has a history. He was a cop in L.A. before the war. A disgraced cop. Along the way, he learned to speak Japanese, and now he’s working at GHQ as a translator for General MacArthur. To almost everyone’s surprise, Rada is transferred to the military police to stop an assassination of a top communist. And the thing is, Rada just hates communists. He finds himself attached to a Japanese partner working for the Occupation forces -- and even more attached to a unique, beautiful Japanese woman. Love is in the air, and Rada is bound to mess it up.

Henry Mazel has brought Occupied Japan vividly to life in Red Chrysanthemum. It is both a humorous novel and a dead-on history lesson of the period. Through the pristine snowy mountaintops of Northern Japan, to the collapsed smokestacks, charred factories, and twisted metal presiding over a moribund Tokyo, get ready for a thrilling adventure where nothing is what it seems and no one is to be trusted -- maybe not even Rada himself.

You can order Red Chrysanthemum: A Novel of Occupied Japan 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, February 11, 2014

Today’s Quote: Ray Bradbury

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” -- Ray Bradbury


Highsmith Adaptation Starring Dunst and Mortensen Unveiled in Berlin

Just as Faces of January, based on a work by seminal thriller author Patricia Highsmith, (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train) debuts at the Berlin Film Festival, The Film Stage offers up a sneak peak trailer.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst in a thriller focused on a con artist and his wife caught up in a police officer’s murder.

You can see the trailer here.


Monday, February 10, 2014

This Just In… One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper

One man dying of cancer. One struggling journalist. A group of single Londoners. One night that changes everything.

The trouble with speed dating is that three minutes can last a lifetime, and ever since he was diagnosed, Sanjay doesn’t have a lifetime to waste.

For one booze and hope-fuelled night, the lives of a group of 30-somethings criss-cross. As well as Sanjay, lawyer Laure, divorced doctor Geoff, beleaguered mother-of-four Karen and traumatised ex-con Dan all face each other across the Jacaranda’s tables in their quest for love, solace or amazing sex.

Undercover journalist Harriet is after a byline, not a boyfriend. She’s a struggling freelance writer with a live-in lover, who unexpectedly has to choose between the comfortable life she knows and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness.

As Laure, Sanjay, Geoff, Harriet, Karen, Dan and the rest of the bunch discover, it’s not just about finding someone who’s dynamite between the sheets. It’s about finding yourself, and that’s not always where you expect.

“A gripping story about a group of people searching for love, sex and everything in between. Cooper's ability to depict characters and situations that feel real is superb. Not just a household name as a medic, Cooper clearly has a future as a great fiction writer. At times dark, at times laugh out loud funny, this snapshot of dating in London stays with you long after the final page.” -- Martel Maxwell, author of Scandalous.

“It’s sassy and classy in equal measures, and written with real medical knowledge. A must.” -- Dr Pixie McKenna, media doctor and presenter on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies.

You can order One Night at the Jacaranda here. Visit author Carol Cooper 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.


First Folio Prize Announces Shortlist

Judges today announced the shortlist for the first ever Folio Prize, an international award intended to celebrate books and reading.

According the Folio Prize web site, the prize has been designed “to allow a breadth of writing and opinion to be represented, while encouraging a consistent focus on excellence.”

Sixty books are nominated by the Folio Prize Academy, “an international group of people who write, review and delight in books.” An additional 20 books are called in by the judges, “subsequent to advocacy by publishers, who may write in on behalf of five titles per imprint.”

The judges read the 80 books and produce a shortlist of eight. The contender for the first ever Folio Prize are:

  • Red Doc by Anne Carson (Random House/Jonathan Cape)
  • Schroder by Amity Gaige (Faber & Faber)
  • Last Friends by Jane Gardam (Little, Brown)
  • Benediction by Kent Haruf (Picador)
  • The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner (Random House/Harvill Secker)
  • A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar Press)
  • A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava (Maclehose Editions)
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders (Bloomsbury)

From this eight, the judges will choose a winner which will be announced in a ceremony at St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London on March 10th, with the winner receiving a cheque for £40,000.


Today’s Quote: T.S. Eliot

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” -- T.S. Eliot


Sunday, February 09, 2014

This Just In… Gilgamesh in the 21st Century by Paul Bracken

“Must I die?” asked Gilgamesh. Forty-five centuries later, we’re still asking the same question.

Science writer Paul Bracken embarks on a lighthearted assessment of the human condition, to explore what it means to be mortal, and what our fate may be. This scientific reimagining of the ancient Gilgamesh quest delves into a multitude of topics including the origin of life, the workings of the human mind, and the possibilities for life prolongation.

The ancient Gilgamesh was so distraught at the death of his friend Enkidu, and so sickened by the knowledge that he too would die, that he rebelled against his fate and set out on a search for salvation. Likewise, at the age of eleven, Bracken wondered if there might be a way to bring his grandfather back from the dead and has been pondering this question ever since. Is death a problem to be solved, or is it an essential aspect of our humanity?

You can order Gilgamesh in the 21st Century here. Visit author Paul Bracken 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, February 07, 2014

Today’s Quote: Groucho Marx

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” -- Groucho Marx


Thursday, February 06, 2014

Crime Fiction: Rake by Scott Phillips

(Editor’s note: The following review comes from Steven Nester, the host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a weekly Internet radio show heard on the Public Radio Exchange [PRX]. Nester is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Rap Sheet, Mystery Scene and Firsts Magazine. He last wrote for January Magazine about Jerry Stahl’s Happy Mutant Baby Pills.)

Rake is a gem of a noir tucked into a snug coffin with the lid firmly secured by a tidy little noose. Scott Phillips’ latest novel (released by Counterpoint and following 2011’s The Adjustment) is set in Paris. It features a famous yet nameless narrator who is so unctuous that you might feel the need to wash your hands after putting the book down; and that might only be once, because you’ll most likely read this work straight through. Known here only by his TV character’s name, narrator Dr. Crandall Taylor is the star of a cancelled American soap opera that’s a hit in Europe. Taylor is so smooth he makes ground glass feel like silk; and he’ll draw blood just as easily when backed into a corner. Even so, he’s a very likeable sociopath.

Ostensibly in Paris to raise money for a film project (that doesn’t exist), Taylor is living off what fame brings other than money: adulation, dinner invitations and prodigious sex. Outwardly affable, he comes across as cheerful and harmless. But beneath that veneer is an obliging opponent who can be brutal when challenged. He’s as likely to pull out a knife as he is his penis, depending on whether one is coming at him or coming onto him. Taylor is a thrill-seeker of a highly evolved kind. Says he of his acute and refined tastes: “If you ever get the chance to fuck someone with whom you’re complicit in a recent murder, I highly recommend it.”

By degrees we see just how brutal (and empathetic) a man he can be; and while his violence is thorough it’s never too gratuitous, only well-deserved. Random trouble seems to seek him out when cuckolded husbands aren’t doing so. When trouble does find him on a deserted quai along the Seine late one night, he’s forced to defend himself from five assailants. After dispatching four, the fifth turns out to be a young woman. Taylor beats her as well, and when he discovers she’s pregnant, he calls for an ambulance -- but he wishes another fate upon her unborn child.
Mostly I hoped I terminated that pregnancy, though inadvertently, if only for the sake of the kid himself. I grew up with a mother like that and buddy, that’s not any way you want to grow up.
After anger-management classes, a discharge from the Green Berets for beating a fellow Corpsman, and an assault-and-battery conviction that followed his beating the irate husband of a cast member who caught them in flagrante delicto, Taylor’s lucky to have discovered acting and its therapeutic qualities. In that art he finds that “all that anger gets wrapped up in the preparation and chucked out in the performance.”

Also, the part of Dr. Crandall Taylor provides a respectable role model and enables Phillips’ protagonist to form an identity other than that of a vicious drifter who can’t find his place in the world. He never confuses himself with a real doctor, but his fans do, and he is nothing but gracious with them. His proudest moment as an actor came when a doctor told him she modeled her mannerisms on his character. Taylor keeps his violence hidden from fans and never intentionally bites the hand that feeds him; and as an unrepentant satyr, he usually has something else to do with it.

When Taylor begins an affair with Esmee, the wife of an investor in his bogus film project, he discovers her husband, Claude, is a violent and amoral arms dealer. While Taylor doesn’t seek out danger as a matter of course, he does welcome it. “I was fucking the wife of an arms dealer, the kind of guy for whom killing really meant nothing at all. Cool.”

Claude discovers the trysts, and then attempts to kill Taylor, but fails. In the aftermath, Taylor takes Claude captive until he can figure out what to do with Esmee’s vengeful husband. Once Taylor understands that setting Claude free will only result in his own death and those of others does his choice become clear. Claude is killed and the imaginary film suddenly materializes and goes into production with the late arms dealer’s money. The crime is solved, too, but venality wins in the end.

There are several accomplices in Claude’s murder, and each of them is involved in the movie project. After Inspector Bonnot of the Paris police shows Taylor that the evidence points to him, Taylor hires one more cast member for his movie, Bonnot’s young and beautiful daughter. The unsolved murder of a globally reviled arms merchant will hardly be mourned, and because of Dr. Crandall Taylor the world is a safer place. He looks forward to bedding the inspector’s daughter and, with his usual aplomb, opines that “It’s good to be the star.” ◊

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Dirty Dealing?

Uh-oh. It seems that writing erotic fiction can be a big moneymaker. The thing is, though, you have to pay your taxes on all that income. And allegations are that the pseudonymous Zane has not been doing so. The Los Angeles Times’ Carolyn Kellogg reports today:
Bestselling erotica author Zane has been declared the biggest individual tax scofflaw in Maryland by the state's comptroller. The writer reportedly owes more than $340,000 to Maryland in back taxes.

That’s not all: She apparently owes the IRS about $540,000, the Washington Post reports.

Zane was publishing bestselling steamy erotica for years before “Fifty Shades of Grey” was even a glimmer in E.L. James’ eye. Her first work of short fiction hit the Web in 1997; she self-published three books before landing a deal with Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Zane is the pen name of Kristina Laferne Roberts. Although her name has been public for some time, for many years she tried to remain unknown behind her pseudonym. “Publishing her name on the Web is one of the last steps we take in a very long process,” a spokeswoman for the state comptroller’s office, told the Washington Post.
You can read Kellogg’s full piece here.

Cli-Fi Gets Honorable Word of the Year Mention

When I first heard the word cli-fi, climate change was not what I thought of. Even so, Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary has announced cli-fi -- which is “the genre of speculative fiction based on the premise that climate change will give rise to fundamental changes in the way human beings live” -- was given an honorable word of the year mention. The big winner for 2013 was infovore: 
The Committee thought that the coinage infovore was a response to the perception that we now had access to information all the time. The smart phone made it possible to find out immediately what we wanted to know. For some people knowing that whatever questions life threw at us the answer was a click or two away was a liberating experience.  Indeed they were in danger of becoming addicted to this rush of instant information.  This was a word that reflected a significant change in how we conducted our lives.  It was also a neat coinage.
Here are the word of the year finalists in each category:
• Agriculture - dining boom
• Arts - fanfic
• Business - showrooming
• Colloquial - facepalm
• Communications - churnalism
• Eating and Drinking - coffee cupping
• Environment - firescape
• Fashion - onesie
• General Interest - watch and act
• Health - enabler
• Internet - Streisand effect
• Politics - marriage equality
• Social Interest - generation debt
• Sport - barefoot running
• Technology - dumb phone

Monday, February 03, 2014

Today’s Quote: Clive Barker

“Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work.” -- Clive Barker

See January Magazine’s interview with Barker here.

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