Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Emma: 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition: Q&A with Juliette Wells + a Giveaway

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beloved Jane Austen classic Emma! To celebrate, Penguin has just released a brand new annotated anniversary edition featuring an introduction by Juliette Wells - and I get to give one away!

We all (I think) know the premise of Emma, so instead of a review today I'm featuring a Q&A with Juliette Wells to give you a taste of what you can expect out of this newest edition.

A conversation with JULIETTE WELLS
Editor and Introducer of EMMA: 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition

When we celebrate the 200th anniversary of EMMA, what in particular are we celebrating? What’s new about this edition?

We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emma’s original publication, in London in December, 1815. The date of publication is a little confusing because “1816” was printed on the title page of the first edition of the novel, but it was actually released in December, 1815. I think this gives us the right to celebrate for a whole year!

And what better way to celebrate than to re-read Emma, or read it for the first time? Our 200th-anniversary annotated edition has everything you need, all in one place, to help you appreciate this wonderful novel. You can immerse yourself in Austen’s world and also have, right at your fingertips, explanations of some of the elements of the novel that tend to trip up or puzzle today’s readers.

In the Austen canon, what would you say makes EMMA special and unique?

Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle.

What was the publishing process like when EMMA was first published? How was the novel received critically? Was Austen as popular in her own day as she is today?

The publishing process was recognizable in some ways and very different in others. Austen didn’t have a literary agent; at that time, authors dealt directly with publishers. With Emma, she chose a new, more prestigious publisher—John Murray—than she had used for her three earlier novels, and she negotiated hard for a good contract with him. As authors are today, Austen was responsible for proofreading and approving copy before publication. Since being a published author was considered not so respectable for an unmarried woman, Austen chose to remain anonymous on her title pages throughout her lifetime. Emma identifies her as “the author of Pride and Prejudice.” Her identity wasn’t made publicly known until after her death.

Like Austen’s earlier novels, Emma was praised by reviewers, who appreciated Austen’s ability to convey a very realistic fictional world. Austen wasn’t a bestseller in her day; then as now, thrillers, adventure stories, and romances outsold quiet literary fiction. But Austen did have the satisfaction of knowing, in her lifetime, that readers appreciated her work. In addition to reading reviews, she kept track of the responses of her friends and family, which offer a wonderful glimpse into what everyday readers of Austen’s own time thought of Emma. Some of what they liked and didn’t like may be very familiar to us!

One of your specialties as a professor of English is how Jane Austen’s work continues to appeal to people, how it remains at the forefront of pop culture conversation. Last year, Alexander McCall Smith updated EMMA, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” hits the big screen in 2016, and movie and TV versions of Austen continue to draw viewers. Why do you think we keep updating and adapting Austen? What are your favorite adaptations or updates, and what makes them successful?

Austen really is endlessly adaptable, much like Shakespeare! You can transpose her stories and her characters to other places and times, and they still work. My own favorite creation inspired by Austen is Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, from 1995. Clueless is a joy to experience, and smart too, much like an Austen novel.

I’m also a big fan of Sense and Sensibility, also from 1995, for which Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. Experiencing Austen through the eyes of a witty, thoughtful contemporary woman—it doesn’t get any better than that! I like Karen Joy Fowler’s novel The Jane Austen Book Club, from 2004, for the same reason—an experienced writer chooses to think about how Austen’s works matter to us today, and takes us along for the ride. Lost in Austen, the British miniseries from 2008, is also a big favorite of mine. A rabid Austen fan finds her way into the world of Pride and Prejudice and messes it up. It’s a hoot to see the Austen characters we know so well doing and saying things that they NEVER would have done or said in the original novel.

I think TV and movie adaptations of Austen are so popular for two main reasons. They’re beautiful to watch, no question. And they offer a respite—which a lot of people of all ages value—from the loud, fast, scary, stuff that much of mainstream entertainment is these days. The tricky part comes, sometimes, when someone knows and loves Austen through the films and then goes to pick up one of the novels, only to discover that the reading experience is a lot more complex and challenging than the viewing experience. I had those first-time readers of Austen very much in mind when creating this new edition of Emma.

What is it like to prepare a new edition of a book that’s so well-known and exists in many editions? What kind of research did you do? Did anything you learned during the process surprise you?

It was really important to me to create a truly new approach to Emma—a welcoming, reader-friendly approach. Excellent editions of Emma already exist for scholars and for devoted “Janeites.” With this anniversary edition, I wanted to open Austen up to people who hadn’t given her a try before, and to support their reading experience by using everything I know from years of teaching undergraduates and from talking with everyday readers. I certainly reached for plenty of scholarly and reference sources on my shelves, but I’d say my most important preparation was to have built up, over time, a sense of what readers are curious about and what frustrates them in their first encounter with an Austen novel. And, through my teaching, I’ve had a lot of practice at explaining historical concepts in an accessible way.

I also had the huge pleasure of re-reading Emma myself, slowly, with pencil in hand, making lists of topics to cover in my contextual essays and marking words that would likely be unfamiliar to present-day Americans. By doing this, I developed a much deeper appreciation of Austen’s artistry with words. This surprised and delighted me—I would have said I appreciated her artistry plenty before! But it wasn’t until I was trying to figure out how to convey the meaning of a particular phrase that I realized how much meaning she packs in with her clever, economical word choices.

Thinking about readers’ experience with Emma also shaped how the contextual material is presented in this new edition. In my experience, many ordinary readers, and even college students too, are put off by footnotes, or at best ignore them. So we decided instead to group topics together in contextual essays, which are easier—and, I hope, more fun—to read. Here too my experience explaining historical concepts And, there’s no question, the gorgeous cover by Dadu Shin is a beautiful invitation to pick up this Emma!

The illustrations for this edition are drawn from historical copies of Emma in the Jane Austen Collection at Goucher College, where you teach. Can you tell us more about that collection? What is it, exactly?

The Jane Austen Collection at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland began as the passion project of an alumna of the college from the 1920s, Alberta Hirshheimer Burke. Alberta loved, loved, loved Jane Austen’s writings and decided that her own purpose in life was to gather as much material as possible relating to Austen. So Alberta bought first and rare editions and even some manuscripts—such as letters in Austen’s handwriting—all of which she felt brought her closer to her beloved author. The images in our new edition reproduce turn-of-the-twentieth century illustrations of Emma by English and American artists, from books that Alberta owned, and which she bequeathed to her alma mater when she died in 1975. (Her manuscripts went to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.)

Alberta also cared deeply about ephemera with an Austen connection, such as newspaper and magazine articles, which she preserved in ten overstuffed scrapbooks. So our Austen Collection at Goucher is a terrific resource for popular culture studies as well as book history.

As a college professor, what’s your favorite aspect of teaching Austen? Do you face any challenges in interesting students in her writings?

Absolutely the best part of teaching Austen is that so many students are enthusiastic about studying her writings. She is an easy sell! Shakespeare is the only other English writer who has a draw like hers. And Austen has the advantage that her life story as a woman writer is especially appealing. Many of my students are creative writers themselves and find Austen’s confidence and perseverance to be very inspiring.

That said, I do often encounter people—students and ordinary readers—for whom Austen just seems unappealing. Maybe her novels seem girly; maybe they seem awfully full of privileged white people (not untrue); maybe the sentences or paragraphs are just too long. Stephen King said recently in a New York Times Book Review that he had never read any Austen, and I feel it’s a real shame that a great writer like him has missed a great writer like her! Maybe I’ll have to send him this new Emma and see if he can get into it.

I love it that everyone who reads Jane Austen has her or his own ideas about what’s important and what’s interesting. Some readers gravitate towards her humor, while for others, the morality really resonates. Pretty much all of us can find at least one character who reminds us of someone we know—and we’re lucky if it’s a character who’s nice!

Do you think we have a modern-day equivalent of Jane Austen? Or do you have any “further reading” suggestions for Austen fans who’ve read all of her books a thousand times and are looking for something new?

I love to read contemporary novels and memoirs, and I always keep an eye out for hints that an author is influenced by or interested in Austen. I recently re-read Allegra Goodman’s novel The Cookbook Collector and really appreciated how she weaves in elements from Emma as well as from her more obvious place of inspiration, Sense and Sensibility. I also particularly like that Alison Bechdel, author of the graphic-format memoir Fun Home and the Dykes to Watch Out For comics, gives several shout-outs to Austen. Flyover Lives, Diane Johnson’s hybrid family history / memoir, includes a fascinating account of what Johnson’s foremothers in America were up to at the same time that Austen was writing about much more privileged women in England.

I’d also warmly recommend the novels of Barbara Pym, a 20th-century English writer. Pym’s dry humor and close observation of everyday people ally her very closely with Austen. And it’s always rewarding to read, or re-read, 19th-century novels by authors who knew and loved Austen’s writings. In that category, I’d especially recommend Elizabeth Gaskell (start with Cranford) and George Eliot (outside of Austen, Middlemarch is my all-time favorite novel).

And, finally, I’d say that Austen lovers are the best people to ask about what to read next! Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of shout-outs for the novels of Anthony Trollope, so I may have to get cracking on his enormous oeuvre . . .

Big thanks to Penguin for providing the Q&A for today's post. I absolutely LOVE that this edition is for readers rather than scholars and it's such a gorgeous cover! This is one any Janeite would be proud to have in their collection and a perfect way to get started with her work if you're just coming to her.

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, October 12. (Open US only and no PO boxes please.)

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Guest Post by Tony Ballantyne

It's a two-fer Tuesday! Today on the blog I've got a very special guest for you - Tony Ballantyne, author of Dream London and the very recently released follow up, Dream Paris. You may not be familiar with Tony - yet - but trust me, you want to be. His work is a blend of sci fi, snark, and plain old weird! Take, for example, his fabulous short "If Only..." (published in Year's Best SF 18 edited by David G. Hartwell) in which a mother is banned from all science (it's a FABULOUS story, go find it and read it) or "The Waters of Meribah" (in 21st Century Science Fiction also edited by David G. Hartwell) where a criminal's punishment is to be turned into an alien. (There's more to it than that.)

And then we get to the Dream books, wherein a city is transformed into something that baffles the imagination. It began in London, but the people revolted and prevailed against their invaders. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end. Here's a bit more about Dream Paris from the publisher:

The geography-warping invasion that took over London has been defeated, but thousands of Londonders are missing...

Anna is doing her best: there are plenty of parentless teenagers living alone in the ruins of London, and she’s done a good job of keeping the dreams away so far. 

But then a tall, dark stranger with eyes like a fly enters her life. He claims to know where the missing people of London have ended up. He might even know the location of Anna's missing parents. Anna can help, but to do that she will have to let go of what little normality she has and journey into the heart of Dream Paris, where the revolution never ends...

And now I'll hand things over to Tony Ballantyne!

I've written elsewhere about how I listen to music when I write - especially when I'm in the opening stages of a novel. I choose music to get me into the right frame of mind, I choose music that reflects the landscape I'm trying to describe, I sometimes even choose music as a treat to get me to sit down at the keyboard.

When I wrote Dream Paris I imagined I'd be listening to chansons and cafe jazz, to Faure and Poulenc. What I actually ended up listening to was Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.

Now, I've not really listened to Tchaikovsky since I was a teenager. But I listened to the Sixth Symphony a lot when writing Dream Paris. Something about "Pathetique" seemed very appropriate. But what?

I should point out, via a quick quote from Wikipedia that:

> The Russian title of the symphony, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), means "passionate" or "emotional," not "arousing pity," but it is a word reflective of a touch of concurrent suffering.

Dream Paris was not intended to be explicitly Pateticheskaya in any of the above meanings of the word, although I like to think there is passion, emotion and pity in the book. So what was it about the symphony that kept making me put it on to play when I sat down to write?

It took me a while to realise that it was the middle movements that really did it for me: the 2nd and 3rd movements.

Someone brought up on prog rock should have realised the second movement was in 5/4 a lot sooner than I did. I remembered that movement as a waltz, as something in 3/4 time. It still is in feel. It's a Dream Parisian waltz. I've often imagined that the brass bands who marched at the end of Dream London would march in 5/4 time. I've even figured out how the steps to do it. So that was one link. The music that the children marched to at the end of Dream London would be a little like this. That insistent dream beat and the falling strings that will later die to nothing in the 4th movement...

But what about the third movement? Why did that strike a chord? In Dream Paris Anna, the narrator, is teenager. She marched into the parks in Dream London, she thinks she sees the world for what it is, in reality she's not even aware of herself. One of the themes in Dream Paris is that appearances never match what's underneath.

I've got a friend - I suspect we all have a friend like this - who says that she's "alright" when she's quite clearly not. She wears a brittle smile, insisting that all is okay while her world is slowly collapsing around her. The worse things are going, the happier she insists that she is.

And that's the third movement. Bright and happy on the surface, you can hear the emptiness behind it: the empty duelling between the strings and the woodwind before the movement's climax. It's full of hot air and false bravado, the way the melody rises higher but can't get away from the tonic.

What's being said isn't what's really going on. Just like in the Dream World, the music is just a mask over the real feelings. The Dream World is a mask over our world, but we only perceive our world as a mask over the real world beneath.

Tchaikovsky got there a hundred years before I did.

About the author:  Tony Ballantyne is the author of Dream London, the Penrose Series and the Recursion Series, as well as numerous short stories. His work has appeared in Interzone, Private Eye and Analog, and he has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K. Dick awards. Tony lives in Oldham with his wife and two children. His imagination is completely spent as a result of writing Dream Paris, and he now spends his time staring at blank walls, subsisting on a diet of dry crackers and distilled water.

Big, big thanks to Tony for being here today! And big thanks to Solaris for setting up the guest post. Dream London and Dream Paris are both available now in paperback. For more on Tony Ballantyne and his work you can visit his website here. You can also follow him on Twitter

A Line of Blood by Ben McPherson

Hi, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC book tour for Ben McPherson's debut, A Line of Blood.

When Alex and his eleven-year-old son, Max, find their next door neighbor's dead body, they find their lives completely upended.

At first, it seemed it was a simple suicide. Sad, but fairly open and shut. But before long Alex realizes the police are treating the case as a murder - and Alex seems to be a suspect.

Simplicity is best in describing this one. Why? Because nothing is quite as it seems from the start. Even Alex is a bit slow to catch on - the fact that the police are still in the dead man's house a day later. The people showing up at his door asking for Mr. Bryce. The fact that the police want to interview his wife when she wasn't even home at the time the body was found.

It's more than that, though. We know from the start that something is off about Alex and Millicent. He wants to call her to let her know what's happened but knows she won't answer. She's frequently gone without his knowing where she is. It comes across quirky in the beginning but then it starts to dawn on the reader that this is not a healthy couple. Then it knocks you over the head.

As evidence and suspicion continue to increase, the reader can't even be sure if Alex is trustworthy. But did he kill the neighbor? Did his wife? Was it suicide? Turns out plenty of people had motive, could it be one of them?

A Line of Blood is a twisted and twisty thriller that will stay with you LONG after you finish. Beware, though, it's incredibly dark!

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Ben McPherson you can like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Monday, September 28, 2015

Martha Stewart's Appetizers

My post-its and kitchen have been busy, busy of late! Martha Stewart's Appetizers is the latest volume of recipes to get attention in our house, and for good reason. I'm Cajun. My husband is Italian. Food is a HUGE part of both of our family cultures. Any get together of even just a few people involves food, whether it be an informal afternoon hanging out or a full on cook out or holiday. We both grew up this way and it's not something we plan on changing in our own home.

I tend to call appetizers snacketizers. They're for munching on before the meal is ready. Or they're for snacking on in between actual meals. Snacketizers. And since it's not odd to find us hosting one or two couples on any given weekend, I'm always on the hunt for something to serve up beyond chips and salsa (or, as is usually the case in our house, in addition to chips and salsa). In fact, just a day after Martha Stewart's Appetizers landed on my doorstep we had guests for dinner and I had occasion to try out a few recipes.

As the back of the book claims, "Today's style of entertaining calls for fuss-free party foods that are easy to make and just as delicious as ever." I know that's certainly the case for me. I want something that's going to taste good without taking forever and, ideally, I even want a few things that I can pull together from pantry staples. And that's exactly what I've found in Martha Stewart's Appetizers. Honestly, even on the first day I made two of the recipes without having to hit the grocery store! Spicy-Sweet seasoned popcorn tided me over until dinner and the Radishes with Mixed Herb Butter and Sea Salt made use of some gorgeous radishes I'd already gotten from the farmer's market, chives from my herb garden, and leftover parsley bought for another recipe.

By now, sudden snack attacks and company have allowed me to try even more recipes including homemade Tomatillo Salsa, which was then mixed with cream cheese for a more decadent alternative, Roasted Tomato and Aged Goat Cheese Bruschetta, and an Olive-Caper Tapenade - just to name a few.

The recipes I've mentioned are among the more easy ones - and there are plenty of others that fit that bill. There are also quite a few that require a bit more planning and time for execution, though. Fried Macaroni and Cheese Bites feature homemade mac & cheese, there are three variations of hand pies that include a from-scratch dough recipe in addition to preparing the fillings, and if you decide to serve Ham and Biscuits you'll first have to prep and cook the ham. But even still the recipes that require more time aren't necessarily difficult - the mac & cheese can be prepared beforehand, for example, the dough for the hand pies can be frozen for future use (and comes with info on storing and thawing), and if you're opting for the Ham and Biscuits, you're likely heeding the author's advice and making that your whole spread. Other recipes come with useful tips and paired serving suggestions as well.

The book is broken into chapters for Snacks, Starters, Small Plates, Stylish Bites, and Sips - yes, that's right, there's a chapter on drinks! - and include classics like Stuffed Mushrooms, Blini with Crème Fraîche and Caviar, and even Pigs in a Blanket. Other party staples like Pimento Cheese, Stuffed Mushrooms, and Deviled Eggs are featured in variations or with a nice twist (Hot-Crab and Pimento Cheese Spread). There are quite a few new and unexpected (by me anyway) appetizer suggestions as well - Roasted Polenta Squares with Fontina and Wild Mushrooms, Croque-Monsieur Bites, and Pull Apart Lobster Rolls for example.

As you can see, anyone looking for party hors d'oeuvres or even just interesting afternoon grazing ideas has plenty to choose from. Not only is this a definite keeper in my cookbook collection, it may just have given me an excuse for more parties!

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

The Visitant by Megan Chance + a Giveaway

Happy Monday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Megan Chance's latest, The Visitant. Thanks to the publisher I get to offer up a copy of The Visitant today. Be sure to read through to the end to enter.

Elena Spira has been tasked with nursing Samuel Farber back to health. An epileptic who recently suffered a brutal attack, Samuel is to be married in just a few short months and his parents want him fit for the wedding. If Elena succeeds, it means a new position for her father and a chance for a Grand Tour. Failure is not an option as it would cost Elena and her family more than she can bear.

When Elena arrives in Venice where Samuel is staying with his friend Nero, she immediately sets about weaning her patient from the laudanum he's been abusing and getting him on a strict diet regimen. Not only does she hope to nurse him back to a full recovery from his attack, but she hopes to get his seizures under control - no one is to know about his affliction, especially his bride to be or her family. But someone or something seems to be working against Elena. An awful chill comes over her when she's in Samuel's room and Samuel himself seems to come under some sort of trance Elena can't associate with the epilepsy. And when Samuel surfaces he speaks of an angel only he seems to have seen. 

Set in Venice in the late nineteenth century, The Visitant has all of the hallmarks of a great gothic novel: a crumbling old estate, some less than welcoming locals, a family haunted by its past, and of course rumors of ghosts.

The stories about ghosts don't come out immediately, but there are lots of sideways glances and questions about Samuel's spells leading up to Elena's witness of them. As the escalate, though, Elena, who has trained as a nurse and has worked with epileptics before, realizes there's something strange going on.

Chance's pacing and atmosphere are both quite well executed. I'm not sure that I loved the romance aspect of it - mostly because the love triangle didn't really convince me Samuel himself was doing more than toying with Elena, but that's likely the point as well considering Elena begins to suspect something is driving Samuel's actions other than illness. Overall, though, The Visitant was a fun read and exactly what I was hoping for!

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Megan Chance and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, October 12. Open US/Canada only and no PO boxes please.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

New Releases 9/29/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

A Place We Knew Well by Susan Carol McCarthy

Lightless by C. A. Higgins

Brother by Ania Ahlborn

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

Shriver by Chris Belden

A Line of Blood by Ben McPherson

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

After You by Jojo Moyes

The Company She Kept by Archer Mayor

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Shadow Play by Iris Johansen

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

A Mad Zombie Party by Gena Showalter

The Lost Girl by R. L. Stine

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

New on DVD:
The Car
Avengers: Age of Ultron

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Asylum by Madeleine Roux
Sanctum by Madeleine Roux
Catacomb by Madeleine Roux

Friday, September 25, 2015

Short Fiction Friday: Cabal by Clive Barker

As part of last year's R.I.P. challenge I read (and watched) Clive Barker's short (and adaptation) "The Last Illusion," the final story in Cabal. This year, with the release of the new Midian Unmade anthology, I figured Cabal itself should be my focus.

First a tiny bit of info, Cabal is the sixth installment in Barker's Books of Blood series. The book features the novella Cabal as well as the shorts "The Life of Death," "How Spoilers Bleed," "Twilight at the Towers," and "The Last Illusion." Cabal (the novella) is also the basis for the 1990 film Nightbreed. I'm covering just the novella today.

Aaron Boone is a troubled man and - his doctor would have him believe - a serial killer. Convinced he's a monster, he searches for the one place monsters are accepted: the mythical city of Midian.

After meeting a man who tells him how to get there, Boone travels to the town, disappointed to find it abandoned. But as night falls he discovers this isn't the case. The nearby cemetery is the place the Night Breed call home, but even they don't want Boone as one of their own. After he's attacked by one of the Night Breed, he escapes only to be caught and killed by his former psychiatrist. 

Boone's lover, Lori, is distraught over losing Boone and over the fact that he could have been a killer. How could she have been so blind to the true nature of her lover? Meanwhile, Boone's body has disappeared from the morgue. Desperate for answers, Lori travels to the place Boone was killed hoping Midian itself will offer some sort of explanation.

What's interesting about this story is the fact that the monsters are the good guys. Sure, they feed on human flesh - when they can apparently - but they're mostly out to protect and keep to themselves. It's the humans instead who are the real monsters in this tale. 

I do really enjoy this story. I like the idea of the monsters as the more human characters and vice versa. And while the Night Breed themselves are more part of the backdrop, I like them even more for the fact that a slew of authors have now decided to give them their own voice. Perhaps that's not fair to include in a post on the novella itself, but I've already begun Midian Unmade and can't ignore it at this point. (Seriously, Seanan McGuire takes on Babette who is probably the favorite Night Breed character for anyone who's read the story considering she gets the most face time and development.)

Cabal is also a serial killer story. And here's a possible spoiler for you, Boone's not the killer. Having already seen Nightbreed before reading the tale, I'm not sure I would ever have been fooled into believing that he was but who knows.

Barker, if you haven't read him, is gritty and his tales are almost shockingly graphic, making his stories that much more affecting. You can't come away from Cabal, for instance, without pitying the fate of the Night Breed. Or without admiring Lori's love for Boone. But there's a gut wrenching reaction to the story as well - the killer's crimes, the humans' overall awfulness (and they're kind of ALL awful). This is not quiet or atmospheric horror at all. This is in your face, violent, messy horror.

A bit about the movie - Barker himself directed Nightbreed but, as is the case a LOT, the end product was cut to the point that Barker's vision was quite compromised. There is a new director's cut out and available, though I've not yet seen it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville

I've got one more review to round out my series of Katherine Neville posts for you this week and it's The Magic Circle.

Ariel's cousin has died and left everything to her, including a batch of strange manuscripts everyone but Ariel seems to have heard of. 

But that's not exactly true - Sam isn't dead. It turns out the manuscripts in question are the key to unlocking a centuries old mystery. And while some would die to get their hands on them, others would kill for them instead. 

The Magic Circle begins with the last days of Christ before jumping to 1989 and Ariel's piece of the story. This time around, in addition to the very real historical figures (Jesus and his followers, Hitler, Genghis Khan... Neville also infuses Native American legends, Greek/Roman mythology, and origin tales into the story. She also uses her experience working at a nuclear test site as inspiration (Ariel has just that job, in fact).

Like The Eight, The Magic Circle is another big book. But like The Eight it is also fairly fast paced and completely entrancing. First, I'm a sucker for books about books (yes, I'm a sucker for a lot of things), so the idea that our plot is centered around a cache of manuscripts that people will go to ridiculous lengths to get their hands on is definitely enough to get me interested.

Second, having read Neville's The Eight, this one was actually next on my list to try. I do tend to read through an author's collection once I've discovered them. But The Magic Circle proved a bit more difficult to get my hands on, which is again why I'm so grateful that Open Road Media has released these new e editions!

To date Neville has only published four novels, the ones I've featured this week as well as The Fire, a sequel to The Eight. She's said to be working on a fifth book as we speak, one that would have been (I believe) the project she was trying to start when The Magic Circle took over.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Calculated Risk by Katherine Neville

It's Katherine Neville week here on the blog! As I mentioned yesterday, Open Road Media has just released three of Neville's titles in ebook and I'm super stoked. Up today, A Calculated Risk, Neville's second release, which hit shelves in 1992.

Verity Banks knows security is a weak point at many major banks, including her own. But when her proposal to beef up said security is shot down and her prospects of moving on to a lucrative position at the Fed with it, she's more than just disappointed. So Verity comes up with a plan. A plan that will prove just how right she was. A plan to steal a billion dollars right under the nose of her employer. 

So I didn't realize that Katherine Neville was writing at least in part from her own experience. According to her bio, back in the '70s she was a consultant for OPEC in Algeria (just like Cat), she worked as a painter, model, and photographer, she also worked for the Department of Energy, which apparently plays a part in tomorrow's book, The Magic Circle, and - as is the case with our heroine today - Neville worked as a high-ranking executive at a major bank in San Francisco.

Considering all of that, it should come as no surprise that someone so accomplished would pen such clever novels!

A Calculated Risk is a bank heist book where the heist is done completely via computers. It's not quite as exciting of a read as The Eight and I think that's in part because I got lost a little in the banking plot itself. I also can't really attest to how well it's aged because I wouldn't know much of a difference (until we start talking about internet and iPhones and such) between how things were done in 1992 and how they're done now.

I can say that the story comes across as highly believable and quite entertaining. I like seeing a character like Verity pull one over on the big boys! One thing that should be dated but sadly is still seen more than it should be today are the attitudes and views towards women in the workplace in general and especially in a position like Verity's. Part of the reason she's able to do what she does is because she's brilliant but another part of the reason she's able to do it is because no one believes a woman can.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books in My Fall TBR

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: Fall TBR!

The Eight by Katherine Neville

Katherine Neville's The Eight was one of those books that always caught my eye but never quite made it to my TBR. At least until Neville penned a sequel in 2008.

Considering it originally released back in 1989, The Eight was definitely one I was too young to read when it first hit shelves. But that new release in '08 was the perfect opportunity for me to finally discover what all the fuss was about. And now that the folks at Open Road Media have released the title as part of their Iconic Ebooks series (along with A Calculated Risk and The Magic Circle) it's the perfect opportunity for a whole new batch of readers to discover Neville!

(Newbies to Neville's work may not realize this, but The Eight, which is often compared to The Da Vinci Code, originally released over a decade before Robert Langdon burst onto the book scene! The popularity of Brown's series meant another chance to gain traction with new readers, hence the comparisons.)

In the days of Charlemagne, it was rumored that the King had been gifted with a chess set that gave its owner power beyond imagining. The set, deemed to be too dangerous to fall into the wrong hands, was hidden at Montglane Abbey where it would remain for almost a century.

1790 - the French Revolution has led to much turmoil in France and an effort has been made to strip the clergy and their buildings of all wealth, which means Montglane Abbey is at serious risk. Cousins Mireille and Valentine are just novices at the time and don't know the legend that has made their Abbey famous. But they're about to find out. 

1972 - Cat Velis has just been assigned to OPEC in Algeria. When a local antiques dealer learns of the move, he asks Cat to assist in the buying (and smuggling) of the legendary Montglane Service, placing the young computer expert in grave danger. 

Two things - first, yes the book is about chess. But, for someone who barely knows any of the rules and has never played a game, it's still a fantastic read. In other words, Neville makes chess exciting! Second, the Montglane Service is 100% fiction. Neville builds such a fortified history and mythology around her created subject that it does seem real. Enough so that I'm sure I'm not the first person to google Charlemagne's chess set.

I didn't review The Eight when I first read it, but I did note back then how pleasantly surprised I was to find that the book held up. There's a bit of nostalgic amusement to be had at some of the details that are dated (Pan Am, the USSR, no cell phones...) but again, even after my present reread, I have to say the book holds up remarkably well!

The Eight does not, however, lend itself well to a quick nutshell summary. My attempt at doing so has turned into rambling paragraphs of "oh, and then this" details, which could be why I didn't review it way back when. Seriously, we move from the Reign of Terror in France to Catherine the Great, cameos from folks like Bach, and the history of math and chess, to 1970's New York, chess politics, the KGB..., there's a LOT going on. But given all of that how could you imagine this book would be anything but exciting?

Not to mention our heroine(s). Cat is fabulous! She's gutsy and has a strong moral code - Algeria is actually a punishment thanks to that. And Mireille and Valentine are equally wonderful. Young and innocent, but determined to continue with their mission to protect the Montglane Service even in the midst of the awful violence of The Terror.

And yes, The Eight is a chunkster weighing in at just under 600 pages. It's definitely more... cerebral?... than Da Vinci Code, but it's not a hard or heavy read at all. The story alternates between the two timelines and moves along at a rather nice pace, which means that it's quite easy to binge and read a few hundred pages at a time without even realizing it!

Readers, if you're looking for a clever literary puzzler, The Eight is the book for you. This is absolutely a book that I would consider a modern classic. It's one I believe should continue to be prominently featured in readers' TBR stacks for a long, long time and I think Open Road Media's newest edition will allow it to do so.

Rating: Still 5/5

Monday, September 21, 2015

Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

I'm a pretty easy sell when it comes to new reads, and pretty much anything horror is going to make my must have list. So when Kim Liggett's Blood and Salt started popping up with it's creepy cover and promise of being "Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn..." it pretty instantly became one of the books I was most looking forward to for September.

Of course I've been bitten by works compared to Stephen King, but when the comparison is appropriate - as it turned out to be here - it's such a great reward!

Ash's life has been anything but normal. First there's the fact that Ash is haunted by a dead girl who looks just like her. Then there's her mother's bizarre upbringing. Ash and her brother, Rhys, have always heard the stories of Quivira, the cult like village where their mother grew up. But she escaped, already pregnant with Ash and Rhys, all thanks to their long dead ancestor Katia. 

Or so she says. Neither Ash or Rhys is sure what to believe about their mother's stories, but when she goes missing - saying she's returned to Quivira to be Katia's vessel - they know they have to try and save her. 

When they arrive in Quivira, which is indeed very real, they discover a town steeped in tradition and superstition. And it all seems a bit charming and quirky at first. But the longer Ash and Rhys are in Quivira, the more strange things become. Their mother has yet to make an appearance in spite of being the guest of honor in the town's upcoming Summer Solstice ceremony. Even worse, the dead girl is making more frequent appearances and Ash has started to get lost in memories of a past that isn't her own. 

Ooh, Blood and Salt is still giving me chills! So Quivira is a town hidden amongst the corn, enchanted by Katia who is warring with Coronado. Yes, the explorer Coronado. And every year the town holds a ceremony where a Larkin girl (Ash and Rhys are Larkins) walks the corn with a boy from another Quivira family - as part of a tradition paying homage to Katia. As Ash and Rhys (and the reader) learn these things - some of which their mother has already shared with them - they find that there's much, much more to the story than longstanding tradition.

Cornfields are one thing. Thanks to King and "Children of the Corn" (the story or the many movies, you take your pick), I don't think any of us will ever look at a cornfield without just a little inkling something strange might be going on. Ever.

But then Liggett throws in alchemy, an increasingly determined spirit (who is described in great gory detail), a history that traces back to the sixteenth century,  and a seriously creepy and insular community untouched by modern society. And it all works together fabulously!

Liggett is off to an amazing start, y'all. AMAZING! And Blood and Salt is only the beginning. There's already a sequel in the works for next year (and guess who'll be preordering that baby?!) plus she's got another two titles slated to come out from Tor (the first of which will also be 2016 and seems to be another rural/folk horror read - um "Friday Night Lights meets Rosemary's Baby" DEFINITELY HAVE TO HAVE!).

Warning: book hangover likely!

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Releases 9/22/15

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Visitant by Megan Chance

Luna by Ian McDonald

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Come Rain or Shine by Jan Karon

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons

Move Your Blooming Corpse by D. E. Ireland

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Nightfall by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Silver Eve by Sandra Waugh

The Scorpion Rules

Ungodly by Kendare Blake

The Tattooed Heart by Michael Grant

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

The Fall by James Preller

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse

New on DVD:
Pitch Perfect 2

New Reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

Friday, September 18, 2015

Short Fiction Friday: The Further Adventures of Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes

My grandmother's book collection was always my first stop when visiting her house - after saying hello, of course. I'd browse the room to see what new gems she might have bought since the last time and wander the spines to see what popped out on this particular visit. Something previously passed by or brand new always did.

I don't recall now if Linda Barnes was one of those discoveries or if I found her Carlotta Carlyle series at the bookstore and then realized my grandmother had a partial set at home. Either way, it was around the 1999 reprinting of A Trouble of Fools because I was determined to start at the beginning.

This was one of my favorite series to recommend to customers because it seemed like so few people had heard of it. (Makes sense considering Trouble kicked off the series originally in 1987.) Carlotta was a six-foot redhead PI who drove a cab part time. She was clever and snarky and a perfect add on for anyone who loved Sue Grafton. The series ran for twelve titles, ending in 2008 with Lie Down With the Devil and I've missed it ever since.

Anywho, it appears the good folks at Open Road Media have brought back a selected number of Linda Barnes titles - three from her Michael Spraggue series and six of the Carlotta books as well as this little collection of shorts, which is great because it gave me a chance to revisit the Boston PI and it means - hopefully - some new readers will come to the series as a result. (I'd assume as the remaining six titles in the series are freed up by contractual obligations they'll become available as well - hopefully.)

The Further Adventures of Carlotta Carlyle features three shorts: "Lucky Penny" - Carlotta's very first appearance in print and the story that won Barnes a Shamus nomination and an Anthony Award in 1986, "Miss Gibson," and "Stealing First."

In "Lucky Penny," Carlotta is the victim of the strangest mugging probably in all of cabbie history. The perp stole her cash and coins at gunpoint, dumping the cash in a nearby trashcan and making off with a little over $4 in change. Of course the cops - even Carlotta's sometimes partner in crime Mooney - aren't going to waste their time so it's up to the PI to figure this one out on her own. 

"Miss Gibson" finds Carlotta traveling to Oregon to help out an old friend with a stalker. The friend, blues singer Dee Willis, has been at multiple shows and has escalated to sending threatening notes and dead flowers. Fearing what will come next, Dee asks Carlotta to step in. 

Finally, "Stealing First" leaves our PI in an awkward situation after agreeing to a favor for a drunk and petty thief from her police days.

The collection is quite short but it's only $1.99 and does offer up a nice taste of Carlotta and the series.

The full series list, if you're interested, is as follows:

A Trouble of Fools
The Snake Tattoo
Steel Guitar
Cold Case
The Big Dig
Deep Pockets
Heart of the World
Lie Down With the Devil

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo

Hello, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Melissa DeCarlo's debut, The Art of Crash Landing.

It's not really a point of pride that Mattie manages to ruin her life in just under an hour. Although she does admit that it's something that's been years in coming. Pregnant, newly single, broke, and without anyone but her ex stepfather to call on, it comes as something of a surprise when Mattie learns that her maternal grandmother has died and left everything to the granddaughter she never met. 

Except that's not true either. The will listed Mattie's mother but since she's been dead for a while now that means Mattie is the sole inheritor. 

Her car just manages to make it to Gandy, Oklahoma where Mattie learns that her great windfall likely won't be the saving grace she needs. Though after the estate is settled (in about three months) and the debts are paid, word is there will be something left. Considering she's got nowhere else to go and no car to get there, Mattie cons her way into grandma Matilda's still in probate home and begins to learn a little about the family she never knew. Surprisingly, the mother Mattie grew up with is not the girl the people of Gandy remember. But Genie up and left one day without any explanation at all and now Mattie wonders why. Why did her mother abandon her home, her friends, and a college scholarship and how did she become the mess Mattie knew her to be?

First let me start off by saying that I'm pretty sure any time a character can pull off insulting someone by calling them a pork chop, with malice, they've won me over.

Mattie's story can probably be best described as a tragicomedy. It's at times quite heart wrenching, especially as Mattie contemplates the final years she shared with her mother. It's also quite hilarious. Mattie's snark is a survival tactic and a way to push people away but that doesn't mean it isn't worthy of more than a few giggles. And while her life is most definitely a mess - mostly of her own making - Mattie herself is not a lost cause.

The Art of Crash Landing is a feel good read if ever there was one. Sure, Mattie has to come to some really low lows in order to find herself, but you know from the start (or you hope from the start) that she can pull herself together. She holds onto a lot of animosity where her mother is concerned but as she learns Genie's real story, Mattie also begins to reevaluate her relationship with her mother. Hers is a journey of self discovery and, as is usually the case, it won't be easy. But, readers, take it from me when I say that joining her for the ride is worth it!

Rating: 5/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Melissa DeCarlo and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

Yay for new cookbooks! I got two fabulous new cookbooks for my birthday just a little while back and I got this brand new gem for review as well. Needless to say, the kitchen adventures in our house continue with zeal!

Seriously, I've realized that even when things are seeming not so great, heading into the kitchen to create a meal is still something I very much look forward to. Some people see it as a chore while I see it as a reward. I enjoy trying new things and I very much enjoy when those new things are things that I can make and then eat. Reward!

Tara O'Brady's Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day (titled after O'Brady's food blog) is a book I'd been looking forward to getting my hands on for some time. Just look at that enticing cover for one, don't you want to take a bit out of that?! That's the Fig Toasts with Buttered Honey, by the way, we tried it and it's awesome! I also have plans to tweak it and try it with local Palisade peaches.

But Becky, you might say, that's just the result of great photography. Well, yes. It is. And a good cookbook does kind of have to have good photography to go along with it. We do eat with our eyes first and a delectable looking picture draws me to try a dish over one that maybe doesn't have a pic. Seven Spoons has amazing photography. Really amazing.

It helps that the recipes are very produce focused in general - fresh fruits and veggies galore, which is something I crave and seek out regularly at our local farmers market. Recipes like the Soused Tomatoes, for example, are a great way for me to use up the abundance of tomatoes coming out of my garden at the moment. (Holy cow this recipe! The tomatoes bake at a low temperature for HOURS, soaked in herbs and oil, and come out so amazingly melty with crisp little bits around the edges! This was an immediate favorite here.) O'Brady's very simply titled Avocado Toast is another new favorite. Don't worry, it is simple to make but it tastes amazing thanks to a blend of lemon, garlic, and seven spice.

Which brings me to the flavors. Tara O'Brady has a quite unique blend of food cultures going on in this book thanks in part to her own family and influences. Indian spices make their way into drinks (Paloma with Chaat Masala), Labneh (a middle Eastern yogurt cheese) is used in dishes like Blitzed Ricotta and Peas, there's a Za'atar Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Salad with honey and hummus, and even pub favorites get a new twist with dishes like the Vietnamese-Inspired Sausage Rolls. And that's just a tiny taste - if you were to look at my copy right now you'd see page after page flagged to try and a flip through would reveal notes reading "YUM! Make again!" or "Great way to use up X" and "Make for company!"

Seven Spoons is perfect for anyone looking to try new twists on classic dishes (Chicken and Couscous with a Punchy Relish), dishes they may have only had in restaurants (Specialty Restaurant Lentil Kofta Curry), and favorites from O'Brady's own family (Soft-Set Scrambled Eggs based on her grandmother's own soft scrambled eggs - I'm dying to try the shrimp curry recipe if and when O'Brady decides to share that one, too).

For more on Tara O'Brady and a look at the kinds of recipes you can find inside, I definitely encourage you to head over to the blog that started it all!

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

On February 2, 2005 Elmbridge High School was the scene of a tragic accident. A fire swept through the boarding school leaving three dead, many more injured, and one student listed as missing. 

It's this missing student, Kaitlyn Johnson - who was never even registered as a student at Elmbridge -, who is suspected of being the person behind the fire. Kaitlyn's story is one that has captivated people in the over two decades since that horrible day and speculation has become urban legend. But now evidence of Kaitlyn's existence has finally been found. 

Carly and Kaitlyn were always together. Carly got the day and Kaitlyn got the night. Their parents knew, their sister knew, but they were told never to let anyone outside of the family find out. When their parents were killed in an accident, though, Carly/Kaitlyn found themselves institutionalized at the Claydon Mental Hospital. Deemed to be on the upswing and not a danger to herself or others, "Carly" was allowed to attend Elmbridge during the school year. But during her final year at the school things started to get undeniably out of hand.

Dawn Kurtagich's debut is quite different. The reader never really gets a full explanation as to what's going on either with Carly/Kaitlyn or the fire. This is because the book is laid out as recovered diary entries, emails, IMs, and video recordings from their final year at the school.

Carly and Kaitlyn are deemed by their doctor to be a unique case of DID - dissociative identity disorder. Their doctor believes, in spite of what Carly and Kaitlyn tell the reader through their journals, that Kaitlyn manifested after the accident that killed Carly's parents. Indeed, the obvious implication that their younger sister knows about both personalities (if our narrators' journals can be trusted that is) does support the idea that both of them have been present their whole lives.

Notice I said if our narrators can be trusted. That's kind of key and it makes The Dead House a deliciously mind bending read! The way the story is presented gives the reader much to mull over. It's clear the police believe Kaitlyn set the fire and killed those students. The story that plays out via the journals could be taken that way or not, depending on where your sympathies lie. You could, for example, follow Naida's beliefs about the situation, or you might subscribe to Dr. Lansing's theory.

Either way, the story is limited and left up to your own imaginings to a certain extent, which means that each reader can come away with something different from the experience.

Personally, I'm not one to brush the fact that the school continues to claim victims well beyond Kaitlyn's time there under the rug. Just sayin'!

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Hive - A Movie Post

Alrighty, readers! A movie post for you today!

I'm a pretty close follower of Nerdist News. I mean, it's really the best place to get updates about Game of Thrones fan theories, Doctor Who news, and upcoming movie info. In fact, at the end of last month there was a great list of upcoming horror movies (which you can watch here) that was capped off by the announcement of The Nerdist's first foray into movie distribution. 

Yep, that's right. The Nerdist has entered the movie biz by distributing the brand spanking new horror flick The Hive. It's going to be released on VOD but it did get a very short stint in theaters (VERY short) as a Fathom Event last night and I was bound and determined to go. So we did. And it was awesome!

The movie begins with Adam (played by Gabriel Basso) waking to find himself covered in blood and black goo, barricaded in a room with the word "remember" scrawled on one wall. Below the word are a handful of sketches of a girl Adam doesn't recognize. He quickly takes stock of his surroundings, noticing the boarded up doors (and the shadow of feet below one), eventually finding a dead girl in a closet, which kicks off a set of flashbacks that eventually tell the story to both the viewer and Adam himself. 

The movie is aptly set at a kids summer camp - as are some of the best movies out there - and as you can see by the trailer things get out of hand pretty freaking fast! Part of the fun is watching the movie unfold, so I'm not going to be the one to ruin it for you. Suffice it to say it's gory, gross, a little creepy, and excellent horror fun! 

You can find out more about the movie and watch lots of fun extras on the official site here and I sincerely hope you decide to check it out as soon as you have an opportunity to do so!

As an aside, I could go on a rant about the lack of unique horror movies these days. The deluge of found footage films, the constant flogging of old favorites being remade over and over and over again until they resemble nothing of what they were to begin with and really should just be called something completely different rather than banking on a built in fan base, but I won't. Instead, I'll just leave you with the links and my little post here hoping that you'll give this one a chance when you can. And I'll be patiently waiting for Cooties to be released On Demand because it's not getting a Fathom Events or a theatrical release in my area. Grrrr.