Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Splendid Concubine

Richard Hart, the main character of Lloyd Lofthouse's new work, has become the most powerful Westerner in China. His love of "modernism" has led to the creation of China's infrastructure including railroads and schools. Hart, however, has one true love - Ayaou, a Chinese concubine. As China changes, Hart must learn to love a different country and a re-born woman in order to survive and become a true leader.

The Five Lost Days

Pearhouse Press (2008)
William Petrick, an award-winning producer, takes the reader into the life of Michael Burns, a documentary producer who travels to the remote mountains of Belize to capture footage of a surviving Mayan healer. As civil war in Guatemala spills into the forests of Belize, Burns is soon caught up in an adventure of a that he may not be able to withstand.
Petrick writes sparingly and with a truly unique voice that captures the wilds of Belize and the dangers that occur when one becomes enraptured by a life different than one's own. The characters and location are fully developed; allowing for a visual imagery that aids the building plot. Petrick has written a truly wonderful first book.

Nella Last's Peace

Nella Last's Peace: The Post-War Diaries of Housewife 49. Edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson (Profile Books, 2008)
The diaries of Nella Last, a housewife and mother from Barrow-in-Furness, have been a favorite of British readers since the first book, Nella Last's War, was made into the television drama Housewife 49. In this second book, Nella continues her diary and describes how the people of Britain rebuilt their lives after the Allies' victory. Last, possibly because she never dreamed that people would be reading her work, wrote daily of her trials and tribulations as a wife and mother in wartime England. Honest to a fault, she does not mince her emotions or words in telling her story - one that every person can find a relatable element in.

Scattered Leaves by Richard E. Roach

Scattered Leaves (Crystal Dreams Publishing, 2008)
In an ambitious and suspenseful novel, author and everyman Richard E. Roach combines some of the most important issues facing our country; illegal drug trafficking and illegal immigration. Unfortunately for main character Ben McCord, life turns dark after the murder and rape of his young wife. Determined to right this horrific tragedy, McCord sets out through the dark roads of Texas, Colorado and the Mexican border in a search for justice. Along the way, he meets a beautiful and mysterious doctor who is on a similar journey.
Roach brings the reader on a edge of your seat journey for the majority of the work. The only place where the book is lacking is in character development - McCord's choices and decision making is unbelievable at times and his seemingly head on movement towards death leads one to question who he is. Otherwise, Roach delivers a interesting read.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jacoby is a Genius!

Sometimes you pick up a book and simply can't put it end up staying up late reading and get up for work the next day exhausted. That was the case with M. Ann Jacoby's Life After Genius (Grand Central Publishing), a beautiful look at family through the eyes of a young male genius. When Teddy "Mead" Fegley enters college at the age of 15, he is ill-equipped to deal with the social aspects although he excels at academics. As he attempts to solve a mathematical quandary with the help of his brilliant but eccentric professor, Mead must resolve a problematic relationship with a dorm-mate and his difficult family life. Ultimately, Mead flees college for home; a place that only proves to hold harsh memories and realities which must be faced. There can be no more running away - Mead must finally and fully grow up before he can actually graduate.

Jacoby has written a book that is filled with quirkiness and brilliance. Her writing has a sense of ease and honesty that allows the reader to actually enter the world of the characters. This is a place we want to be, a boy we want to succeed and a world we are sad to leave.

Non-Fiction Books, Continued...

How Not to be a Domestic Goddess (Profile Books) by Deborah Ross: Ross, an award-winning columnist for numerous British papers, is the European equivalent of Norah Ephron. In this exceptionally funny book, Ross acknowledges that the majority of us are not perfect women; that we leave dirty dishes in the sink, fight with our significant others and wear no make-up and sweats to the supermarket.

Amazing Grays: A Woman's Guide to Making the Next 50 the Best 50 by Maggie Rose Crane: Okay I admit it --- underneath this brown hair coloring are a ton of gray hairs. Some days I am ready to commit to going gray and others I simply can not. Crane honors life after menopause with an informative and positive look at getting older. She gives us tips on reinvigorating our passions, redefining aging and navigating the future.

The Real Office: All the Office Questions You Never Dared to Ask (Profile Books) by Lucy Kellaway: Kellaway, the management consultant to the Financial Times is known for her commentaries on modern corporate culture and life. In this honest and sharp book, Kellaway answers readers' questions with a sense of practicality and humor; how do you tell your boss what you really think of them? How do you fire a friend? Can you lead your office and still be a nice person?

Non-Fiction Books for Your Collection

Here are some non-fiction must reads this winter:

Battles Between Somebodies and Nobodies: Combat Abuse of Rank at Work and at Home (Brookside Press) by Julie Ann Wambach, PhD: As someone who has worked for many "bully" bosses, I found this book to be a helpful tool in my journey to move forward and away for the work power plays. With a step-by-step plan to stop "rankism," Wambach gives the reader practical details on changing one's life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Travel with Sheryl Kayne


BEST IMMERSION TRAVEL USA (Countryman Press, W.W. Norton & Company, Fall 2008) is an extensive listing of IMMERSION TRAVELER trips within the United States. • Would you consider vacationing on an organic farm and working in exchange for room and board? • Do you want to be a bus driver and wildlife tour guide in a National Park? • How about volunteering with The Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project providing adaptive sporting events for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans?
BEST IMMERSION TRAVEL USA is organized in categories of interests and locations for you to plan the trip that meets your needs. Many entries begin with a personal story from someone who has experienced the activity or one very similar to it.

Check out the website at for more information.


Ok, I admit that I read all of the Twilight series in one week and saw the movie already (is Edward Cullen hot or what?). Well, there's a new, literary vampire in town and it's Jacques Chessex's The Vampire of Ropaz (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008). Chessex, one of the most important living authors in Switzerland and winner of the Goncourt Prize, bases this extraordinary book on a true story that occurred in in the Jura Mountains in 1903.

While the story could be considered a crime novel, the reality is that the book is much more of a moral tale that focuses on a community's fear of the unknown and strange. A beautifully and sparsely written book (less than 110 pages), this is a story that will leave you with more questions than answers - who has committed the horrendous crimes outlined in the novel? Is the accused truly criminal or simply a product of a life filled with abuse at the hands of others? Chessex is a first class writer who turns the notion of the vampire on its head...and there is no Bella or Edward involved.

Kelly Epperson's Columns Don't Stink!

In her regular columns, author Kelly Epperson tells the truth about life's imperfections and the dirt that we sometimes have to wash down the drain. Finally, her readers (and those of us who don't get the opportunity to read her weekly) can read all of her funny, honest and heartfelt columns in her work, When Life Stinks It's Time to Wash the Gym Clothes (Rockford Writer's Guild, 2008). A great holiday present for the person in your life who looks at things with a bit of humor and wit!

Gift Idea Number Two

Amy Sedaris rocks...and cooks! In her bestselling cookbook and comic masterpiece, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (Grand Central Publishing, 2008), Sedaris gives us all some great "Southern" tips for throwing a great party with some yummy food. Your foodie will love it!

Some Ideas for Holiday Gifts

Holiday season is just around the corner, so it's time for Literature Chick's picks for great holiday gifts for those important folks in your family.

Wouldn't we all love to look ten pounds lighter, ten years younger and ten times better? Pick up a copy of Charla Krupp's How Not to Look Old (Springboard, 2008) for the women in your life who need some helpful tips (or should we say hints?).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters

You can't help falling in love with the crazy, gifted Gabaldon Sisters. After their beloved Pueblo Indian caretaker, Fermina, dies, the four sisters are left with special gifts. Slowly, and with remarkable ease, these gifts (abilities, really) show themselves - healing hands, ability to make others laugh, skill in telling stories and power to curse others. Ultimately, it is not the skills that Fermina has left behind but something much more personal and intimate...a truth that will help the girls define family and love.

To Hell and Back

In this heartbreaking memoir, Samira Bellil relates the world of an immigrant living in the surburban ghettos outside of Paris. Leaving no stone or fact unturned, Bellil tells a tale of male dominance, an imposed code of silence where no woman discusses their abuse and a world of terror and imprisonment. Gang-raped at a young age by a group of young men outside the housing project, Bellil lives a life on the streets after being thrown out by her Algerian father. With difficulty, she ultimately faces her rapists and turns her life around. An astonishing story of immigrant life in France today, this book leaves a lasting impression.

Defenders of the Heart

In their first book, Defenders of the Heart: Managing the Habits and Attitudes That Block You from a Richer, More Satisfying Life (Hay House, November 4, 2008), psychotherapists and authors Marilyn Kagan, LCSW, and Neil Einbund, Ph.D., tackle the ten most common defense mechanisms and offer advice on how to protect your heart and lead a richer and more satisfying life.

In this transformative book, Kagan and Einbund, well-known therapists in the Los Angeles area, help readers discover the frequent habits and attitudes (denial, procrastination, passive-aggressive, projection, rationalization, intellectualization, humor, displacement, sublimation, and altruism) that are used to guard our hearts against being hurt. Over time, these mechanisms, which the authors have coined “Defenders of the Heart,” can become habitual and overly entrenched. In one way or another, they are at the base of nearly all of our bouts with dissatisfaction and depression. Defenders of the Heart delivers a strong basic understanding of these ten defenders, and shows how to recognize which ones are sabotaging your life, and offers a comprehensive tool set to break free of their life-limiting powers.

Each chapter is devoted to a specific Defender and opens with a clear definition, what the authors label as a “DEFENDAPEDIA,” followed with a succinct explanation that demystifies the clinical terminology. Included are numerous examples of the personal struggles and victories of a variety of people that illustrate these points. Kagan and Einbund write about the process that they usually follow when patients come to them for therapy. In their clinical work with patients, they help them to the events and interactions that might have triggered a specific Defender.

Kagan and Einbund devote an entire chapter to the personal stories of celebrities (Ryan Seacrest, Wendi Jo Sperber, Patrick Dempsey) who went through their own Defender trials and tribulations. These narratives are in their own words, which Kagan and Einbund label as "Talk Stories," after the Hawaiian tradition of oral story-telling. Here, readers will learn how these celebrities reached into themselves to make peace with their own Defenders and transform their specific habits and attitudes into a resource that worked for them rather than against them.
The book also includes a bibliography and recommended resources for readers who want further information. Visit for more information

Monday, October 13, 2008

Need to Read!

What's a busy book-loving gal to do when her book pile takes over her house? Read, of course!

Here's a list of some of the must read books for fall:

Cleaning Up by Tania Glyde. Serpent's Tail, 2008
Tania Glyde delivers an honest, painful look at her 23 year love of alcohol in this searing memoir. Told in short, easy to digest chapters, Glyde takes a hard look at why women drink, the pain behind the glass and her own difficult journey to sobriety.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain. Little, Brown 2008
A beautiful, prosaic novel of an immigrant living in London and dreaming of his homeland in Eastern Europe. Tremain writes with imagery and empathy as she tells the tale of Lev, a man lost in the world of the migrant laborer.

The Shiniest Jewel by Mariam Henley. Springboard, 2008A heartwarming illustrated novel that tells the story of one middle aged woman's search for a child and realization that with life brings death.

The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik. 5 Spot, 2008In this "chick-lit" story of two sisters with very different personalities, Claire LaZebnik creates a funny and true look at the sibling relationship. Ava, the smart sister, and Lauren, the pretty sister, are forced to reconnect when their mother is diagnossed with breast cancer. Their past relationship has been rocky, to say the least, but they must learn to love one another's traits in order to become family once again.

Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman. Serpent's Tail, 2008
A crooked cop just out of prison must make amends to all those he has left behind - his ex-wife, his parents and his former co-workers - in order to survive on the outside and overcome the local mafia don who is out for his head.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Feather Man

Marion Boyars, 2008

Australian author Rhyll McMaster, in her debut work, tells the tale of Sooky, a young girl growing up in Brisbane. Ignored by her parents, Sooky is pushed into the arms of a pedophilic neighbor whose actions will change her view of life and love forever. As Sooky grows into womanhood, she moves to London where she becomes a part of the art world. Soon her past, in the person of Redmond (her neighbor's son), confronts her in unexpected ways.
McMaster writes descriptively; her lyrical prose sets the scene for this story of a young girl moving towards adulthood. An interesting and moving story that is reminiscent of works by Margaret Atwood and Harper Lee.

Derek Raymond

I Was Dora Suarez (Serpent's Tail, 2008)

Legendary noir author Derek Raymond delivers another horrific tale of brutality set in London's West End. An unnamed narrator, a police sergeant, is obsessed with Dora Suarez, a murder victim with a secret past. The fourth book in Raymond's Factory Series, this is a harrowing tale of murder and mystery which leaves the reader mesmerized and bewildered.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Christian Teen Lit: The Miracle Girls

The Miracle Girls by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt (Faith Words, 2008)

In this Christian Teen Lit novel, authors Dayton and Vanderbilt deliver the story of Ana Dominguez, a teenager who has just moved to Half Moon Bay, California. An outsider, Ana soon finds herself stuck in detention with Riley (the most popular girl in school), Christine and Zoe; forced by their teacher to interact, the girls soon learn that they possess the same secret - they have all survived incidents that could have left them for dead. Through prayer, faith and youth group, the four girls learn just how much they have in common and how important their bond can be.

A sweet and engaging tale, the authors subtly add elements of religion to the story; the essence of faith becomes as important as the clothes the girls wear. At times moving, the book is perfect reading for today's young girls who need to be reassured that they are more than their outer appearance.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I am in love with Dewey!

Grand Central Publishing, 2008
I have to admit that I am not a cat lover - dogs have always been my favorites. However, after reading Dewey by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, I may have changed my mind. Myron, the librarian of the Spencer, Iowa town library, finds a small, nearly dead kitten one cold morning in the drop box. Myron and staff nurse the tiny creature back to life and in the process create a newfound sense of community in a dying town.
Dewey, while clearly a cat (with quite an expressive face), becomes much more as he intuitively sleeps in the laps of those in need of comfort; sits next to a child whose parent must work a couple of extra jobs; and strolls across the library lights to the bewilderment of a homeless man who uses the library as he daily weigh station. Within the small body, beats the heart and compassion of a giant. Myron and Witter deliver a story of hope and true love that is desperately need during this time of uncertainty. Dewey represents all that we have forgotten - the sheer nature and strength of non-judgmental love.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Focus on Kate Pullinger

Focus on Kate Pullinger, Author of A Little Stranger

Your book, A Little Stranger, focuses on one woman's dire unhappiness with marriage and motherhood. Why this subject matter?

When I wrote ‘A Little Stranger’ I had two small children myself and felt that there weren’t many books that dealt honestly with the difficult subject matter of how tough and lonely parenting very young children can be. Since I wrote the book there’s been a real explosion of work dealing with this subject matter, though often through memoir instead of fiction. But it is definitely part of the current zeitgeist to speak about what had previously been difficult, almost taboo, subject matter. I found having babies isolating and lonely at times; however, I never contemplated leaving – I wrote this book instead! Despite all the progress women have made in terms of equal pay and equal rights, at the end of the day we are the ones who have the babies and the arrival of a baby into the life of a couple changes the status quo in ways that neither partner has anticipated. So the book arose out of my own experience, but it is not autobiographical.

Fran chooses to leave her life abruptly and fly to Las Vegas. Is Vegas a metaphor for the change she must go through?

I love Las Vegas, and have been there a number of times, and once did stay for 9 whole days, which felt like a lifetime. Vegas for me represents the US at its most excessive and crude – it’s all about money. It’s also a place where people behave in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily, so it’s kind of magic, while also being a lot like I imagine Hell might be like! So, yes, Vegas is a kind of metaphor, but to me it is also the kind of place where, down on your luck, you might meet the one person who can help you – like how Fran meets Leslie.

The "B Plot" deals with Fran's difficult relationship with her own mother. Does this serve as the catalyst for her own decisions?

Absolutely. Fran removed herself from her family at an early age, so she hasn’t been through the same processes that her father and sister have been through when it comes to dealing with Ireni. She has to track back through that before she can move on. I also found Ireni a really interesting character to write about. Until I was 10 we lived in a part of Canada, in British Columbia, the Kootenays, where there were Doukhobor communities, and they were famous for getting arrested for using farming gas in their cars, and then appearing in court naked. As a child, this fascinated me, of course, and I took writing this book as an opportunity to learn more about that community. As well as that, having an alcoholic parent is a heavy load to bear; I’d seen friends go through that and what I noted was the absence of parenting, the way my friends had to parent their parents.

The book honestly looks at the stresses facing women today - motherhood, marriage, career. Do you believe that women can have it all?

I think there are enormous pressures on women and that it is tough to combine our various roles successfully. But I see women all around me who are combining all these roles and getting a lot of enjoyment from it – from work, from family, from relationships. The trick is to be hugely organized and to find ways to steal time for yourself! I like to think that when Fran returns to London she finds a way to get a better balance in her life, and they all live happily ever after!

Who are some of your literary influences and why?

There are so many writers and books that I love. Scott Fitzgerald for the sparkling and spikey quality of his prose, Philip Roth for the depth and humour of his male characters, Margaret Atwood for her range and longevity, Mary Gaitskill for her sharpness and brutality, Cormac McCarthy for his hefty take-a-deep-breath style… the list is very long. But I also take influence from cinema and television and digital media… from the whole range of media that we have access to.

If you weren't a writer, you would be....

Oh god, my imagination doesn’t really extend beyond writing, I’m afraid. One thing I am profoundly not is entrepreneurial. I think it would be interesting to be some kind of entrepreneur – successful, of course – some kind of business person, someone who sees commercial opportunities and then knows what to do in order to exploit that opportunity. I am so not like that, and it would be very interesting!

Future plans?

I work in digital media a lot these days – see and, among other projects. I’ve also just finished a new novel (ALS came out here in the UK in 2006), ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, which will come out in the UK in 2009. It’s a historical novel about two English women who go to live in Luxor, Egypt in 1864, based on a true story.

Must Reads for Fall

You simply must read these great books:

New York Echoes by Warren Adler (Stonehouse Press, 2008): Brilliant short stories about New York and those that live within its confines.

A Pretty Face by Rafael Reig (Serpent's Tail, 2008): A story filled with humor and imagination, Reig delivers the tale in which Spain is part of the United States and a ghost refuses to leave. A MUST READ.

A is for Atticus by Lorilee Craker (Center Street, 2008): Need help figuring out a name for your about to be born child? Then check out this fun and informative book filled with some fabulous (and out of site) baby names.

Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman (Serpent's Tail, 2008): A thriller in the vein of Jim Thompson, this is the story of a bad cop who is in a fight to the finish with the local small town mob boss.

The Chinaman by Friedrich Glauser (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008): Glauser is the "man" in European crime writing circles. This is yet another fine example of his incredible writing and enigmatic storytelling.

Check it out - we've been picked up by the cool new mag - VitaminV - rock on fellow Canadians!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Safety of Secrets

Avon 2008
As a young girl growing up in Long Island, I spent hours locked behind my bedroom door sharing secrets with my best friend. As I grew and moved away, the friendship that was once so important grew to be nothing more than a memory; the secrets shared no more than whispers among girls. In her second novel, The Safety of Secrets, Delaune Michel tells the story of two childhood friends who, as an adults in Los Angeles, must recognize that the nature of friendship may change but its inherent nature remains the same.Fiona and Patricia have been friends since their problematic childhood in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Adults (and actresses) the two women lead extremely different lives - Fiona is married and pregnant; Patricia is a television star marrying the male star of the moment. Slowly the women's friendship falls apart - until the dark secret from their youth emerges in a brutally open way.Michel, who comes from a family of writers, tells a beautiful story of women, friendship and the nature of forgiveness. Lyrical and poetic, the story flows seamlessly through the heat of the South and the smog of the West Coast.

The Dancer From Khiva

Black Cat, 2008
As of late I find that I am reading more and more books about the struggle of women in the world. In The Dancer From Khiva (Black Cat, 2008), the reader enters the world of a young Muslim woman who, after a violent attack, leaves her small town for the larger world outside. Written by Bibish, the tale is told in journal form with no censorship; rather, each detail of this woman's difficult (and at time heartbreaking) life are told in unflinching detail and brutal honesty. Poor, yet filled with a sense of hope, Bibish is met with constant trials - many of which are initiated by the men in her life. Ultimately she is ostracized by the family to whom she returns and must make her way in the world on her own.
The seeming simple language belies a strong story of pain, persecution and persistence. Bibish represents the many women who are fighting against the culture in which they were born; the culture from which they can not break free. Winner of the National Bestseller and Book of the Year prizes in Russia, this is a book that all Americans should read - a book that will teach compassion, strength and the undying importance of a belief in one's self.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Concubine of Shanghai by Hong Ying

Hong Ying is a controversial Chinese author who is known for her honest work focusing on the sexuality of women in China, both the positive and negative aspects. In her new work, Ying introduces us the world of the concubine - the women who lived in brothels (many times because they have been sold by their families into sexual slavery) and were at the mercy of powerful men and brothel owners. Ying's heroine is a woman sold into sexual slavery to a Shanghai brothel; she finds herself in love with a powerful member of the Chinese Triad, a mob organization that controlled illegal activities in China. When her lover is killed in front of her, she is left out in the cold and must fend for herself. A strong woman who can only rely on her sexuality to survive in the China of the 19th Century, the story spans a huge historic period as the reader journeys through her life. Ying's beautiful, poetic writings keeps the reader intrigued and devoted. We want our heroine to succeed and overcome. This is a beautiful book with import that should be read by all.

There's been loads of press about this book, including the recent Showtime series. Heralded as the tell all of a high priced call girl and one of the best-selling books in Europe, this book left me truly bewildered. Told in a series of diary entries, our anonymous writer (her pen name is Belle du Jour) outlines her sexual escapades with no stone left unturned. We are "flies on the wall" at her various jobs and learn just how a call girl treats her clients. With a minimal plot line (Belle does have a boyfriend, N, who is okay with her career choice), this is nothing more than a book meant to sexually entice and titillate. Half-way through, I had enough and put it aside; there was no way I could continue to read about anal sex or blow jobs. Personally, readers - take a pass.

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read

Cornelia Read is truly one of my favorite authors. Not only does she deliver intriguing story lines, she writes with clarity and strength. In her new work, Read tells the story of a young woman who teaches in a school for problem teens. It is clear from the outset that something is terribly wrong at this institution; the students are terrorized by the head of the school whose methods are akin to CIA techniques used on terrorists. As the mystery unravels, our heroine must save not only herself but her students from a system that is meant to destroy rather than help. Read's storytelling is what sets this book apart from the typical "them against us" teen tale. A talent, Read is a must "read" this summer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Must Read...Summer Suggestions

Little Brown
In 2000, a dorm at Seton Hall University in NJ was destroyed by a fire. Two young men, in the prime of their lives, made it out of the building badly burned; they were faced with months of rehabilitation and emotional ups and downs. In her new non-fiction book, Robin Gaby Fisher (a two time Pulitzer Prize finalist) tells the story of Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, roommates, friends and burn victims. A journey through the halls of Saint Barnabas Hospital and the tale of the extraordinary staff that help to bring the boys back from the brink of death, this book is at times heartbreaking, at times hopeful. Fisher paints such a human portrait of these boys and their families that the reader feels as though they have walked the pathways with them. A must read this summer.
While you're at the beach this summer, check out these summer reads:I'm with Stupid by Elaine Szewczyck (5 Spot)A Summer Affair by Elin Hildebrand (Little Brown)The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields (Back Bay Books)


Wellness Central

Okay it's summer time...and that means we have to put ourselves into bathing suits. Check out this fun diet book courtesy of India Knight and Neris Thomas! It's smart, entertaining and funny while setting forth a diet that makes sense. From now until August 1st, Lit Chick will be running a give-away contest - send your name to us and it will be entered into a drawing to win a book!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Beach Book!

Check out How the Other Half Hamptons (5 Spot, June 2008) by Jasmin Rosenberg. Rosenberg, a former NY Post Hamptons columnist, has written a slight, humorous novel about summering in the Hamptons; although our three heroines share a house with some forty others and have to deal with filth, drunks and no bathroom space. If you want a true beach book, this is it!

Writing Contest!

The Warren Adler Short Story Contest – Summer 2008 –
Theme is HUMOR
To enter see:
Suggested by the recent publication of Warren Adler's latest novel, FUNNY BOYS, the theme for the Summer 2008 Warren Adler Short Story Contest is humor. We're looking for humorous stories in all their varied forms. From satire to farce, from the whimsical to the uproarious, all writers looking to get a laugh (in a good way!) should enter. We are looking for the subtle and the pungent, the black and dark, the sporty, the salty, the waggish, or whatever can spark a knowing smile, a sly chuckle, or a hysterical belly laugh. In other words, anything goes, just as long as it falls into this category, however one stretches its elastic boundaries.
Entries must not exceed 2,500 words, and there is a minimum length of 1,000 words. As in the previous contests, all stories will be judged on the basis of character authenticity, plotting, narrative drive, and the skillful manipulation of the short story literary form.
Submissions will be accepted from May 1st to August 15th. Entry fee up until August 1st is $15. After August 1st, a late entry fee is $20.
Five cash prizes will be awarded.
The winning story will be awarded the $1,000 grand prize and a personalized first edition of FUNNY BOYS. Mr. Adler will also choose his top five for a People's Choice award that will also be awarded personalized first editions.
Although Mr. Adler will have already chosen the winner, five finalists' stories will be posted on the Warren Adler website on September 1st and the People's Choice winner will be determined by public voting. Warren Adler's top choice, along with the People's Choice winner, will be announced 15 September. Prizes will be as follows:
1st Prize: $1,000
People's Choice Prize $500
Remaining finalists receive $150 each

Interview with Jim Bowen, Author of Just Another Mzungu Passing Through (Parthian Books, 2008)

Explain for our readers what a mzungu is? Definition.

A mzungu is a term for white person in kiSwahili which is the tongue most commonly used in East Africa. Mzungu is used in a slightly dismissive way, like gringo in Central America or honky elsewhere.

Tell us a bit about the semi-autobiographical nature of the book - how did a nice Welsh boy end up in Kenya?

I was working as a part time cricket coach for the London Inner City Schools cricket project about 13 years ago for want of anything else to do. I didn't want to come back home to my family's farm at that stage and didn't feel driven to do anything very much. I was living in a tent in a friend's garden in Eastbourne on the south coast using the cricket coaching to pay the bills and having a jolly old time. A friend showed told me that the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association were advertising for a development officer with the help of the VSO, which is the British equivalent of the Peace Corps. I was lucky to be the only person to apply for the job in over a year so, got the job and off I went in January 1996 with a two year contract to teach cricket in Kenya.

My novel is based upon my experiences there, the things I saw and the things people told me, but it is very much about Kenya rather than about me. I wanted people to know about Kenya--that is why I wrote the book. I wanted my friends and family (and later, the readers) to understand why Kenya is as it is, what the average people face, what we in the west have imposed on them and really quite how incredible the people and the country are. It is a novel, and I hope a good read, but it is informative too, I hope, like The Grapes of Wrath is a good read and is also a fantastic way of learning about what the Great Depression meant to the US and people then. Steinbeck could have written a factual account of what he witnessed, but I'm glad he didn't. I wrote my story from the first person 'Griff', and the general narrative follows his time there, but Kenya is really the main character in the story.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing Africa today and how can literature help to educate people about same?

Wow, I've tried answering this question about twenty times but deleted them all as can't seem to get it down right. I don't want to claim I know any answers.

The issues are vast and numerous. Open any international paper and you can read about HIV, famine, corruption, genocide, poverty... These are all massive issues in Africa today and one would hope the rest of the world knows about them and that we are REALLY trying to help instead of taking advantage and using their suffering to boost our own worth.

Literature has a place today, as it always has done, in letting people know about social injustice everywhere. Chinu Achebe, Charles Dickens, Harper Lee, Laurens van der Post, Mark Twain, George Orwell, James Baldwin, Ngugi wa Thiongo... Many writers have helped educate and bring about changes through their writing. They tell important stories brilliantly.

Today we are so clever that we can cause massive injustice to many people from many thousands of miles away, and we can then close our eyes to it, think about something else without ever having to face what we have caused ourselves. There are many, many examples, and one could mention the people who are still suffering from the Union Carbide industrial disaster in Bhopal, India. Over twenty thousand people were killed after that explosion and children are still born seriously deformed over twenty years later. Union Carbide were bought out by Dow Chemicals in 2001 and Dow Chemicals say they have no duty to clean up the mess as the plant is on government land and while the legal battles over who is responsible go on, the shareholders forget all about it and the poor still suffer as a result.

To the north of Cardiff, here in Wales, over twenty years ago, seventy five different toxic substances were brought from a Monsanto factory near Newport and dumped in a quarry on the Brofiscin Farm . 80,000 tonnes of contaminated produce were buried there. Chemically unstable, non-degradable carcinogens that no one would take responsibility for leached out of the quarry, contaminating the local area. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons and acrylonitrile, dioxins created during the production of PCP which had been banned in the US years before were knowingly dumped by one of the US's most bullying companies. A vast number of cattle on neighbouring farms started aborting shortly afterwards . Some lost muscular control while others became lethargic, sterile and suffered from flaccidity. Local people now have highly toxic, unusual pollutant substances in their fatty tissue. They are very ill. And yet no one will take responsibility. Monsanto have fourteen similar dumping sites around the UK all full off dioxins and virulent toxins that they claim are safe but which the Environment Agency consider far too dangerous to open and analyse. And what happens...

I go on too much, and I'm sorry. These are the sorts of stories that are in the newspapers one day and then forgotten about the next.

Some could say that writers have a duty to write about these sorts of stories, to bring them to the attention of the general public who will hopefully one day bring to account those that have benefited through the suffering of others.

To me, good writing should be attractive and inclusive but educational too and if it can make a difference, like the writers I've mentioned earlier, then I believe it can be world changing. Big Business is clever enough to slip free through the courts, but a truthfully told story is always there to point the finger of guilt. I think writers, musicians, artists in general have an important role to play in this. Let's not go softly softly. Pen is stronger, and all that!

Writing coming out of Wales right now is truly extraordinary (same amazing young writers) - why do you think this is so (if you agree, of course)?

Wales has always been a heartland of artisitic expression. We feel affinity with our land and our place in it more than people in many other parts of Britain, I believe. People of my generation were brought up listening to amazing music from people who were proud to be Welsh and who were keen to demonstrate their art through their Welshness. The Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, The Alarm, Manic Street Preachers, even Shakin' Stevens and Bonny Tyler are all proudly Welsh first and foremost. We also have a massive back catalogue of Welsh writers to inspire us. Dylan Thomas, of course, Raymond Williams, Alexander Cordell, Dannie Abse, Bernice Rubens, Gwylon Phillips, WH Davies, RS Thomas and so many others that I really don't know enough about. If only there were more hours in the day...

I think the past has given our generation the courage to be active in our creativity now, and we are lucky that there are publishers willing to give our jottings air. I was very fortunate to have my first story taken up by Parthian Press who are based in the small town of Cardigan just down the River Teifi from where my family farm. Parthian is an excellent publishing house--the stories they have produced over the past few years speak for themselves, stories by young writers like Lewis Davies, Cynan Jones, Rachel Trezise, Tristan Hughes, Lloyd Robson and many others too, are set in a Wales the writers know of as home. The stories are not always that flattering of the place, but that doesn't mean we don't love it! Stories can be more powerful when they are constructively critical of things we care greatly about.

Being Welsh is important to me. My family have farmed this piece of land for over 250 years and we have lived within twenty miles of here for over a thousand. I am not alone in this feeling rooted. It means a great deal.

Do you believe there is a difference between Welsh authors and American authors? If so, what is it?

I don't know. There are links with some writers in both places writing of a sense of pride and love for their plot of land.When America was opening up the writing seemed to wow about the place and the wilderness and the adventure. Writers like Stephen Crane and Jack London... That seems to have changed a bit now maybe. We don't have the vast spaces here in Wales in the same way, though we do write lovingly about the wild places that we have.
I'm afraid I don't know enough about either to have much of value to say.

Influences? Why?

My grandmother wrote stories. She had nine novels published in the 1940/50s under the name Parr Cooper. She is an influence even though she died when I was a young child. She let me know that it was possible to write long stories. She did it, so so could I! Why not? I still love her writing. I can hear her voice in the words. She wrote about India during the war and what it was like coming back to Wales afterwards. Very powerful stuff some of it but she had such humour and decency in what she wrote.

Other influences include:
-John Steinbeck for his clarity, focus and lines like (in East of Eden) 'her smile flashed and disappeared the way a trout crosses a knife of sunshine in a pool' which make me go yeah, that's it! That's why people write!
-Jack London and Jack Kerouac meant a lot to me when I was younger and travelling. London published too much, but a lot of it is brilliant in its simplicity, its brutality and, boy, did he have good material to write about. As for Kerouac, I loved On the Road, Maggie Cassidy, Dharma Bums and one or two other, while the long wibbly ones went over my head a bit. I had a first edition Maggie Cassidy but somebody sole it.
-As a child I loved London, Twain, Victor Canning, Tolkein. Stories with things happening all the time. There were so many others--Richard Adams, William Horwood...
-Graham Greene, William Golding, Dervla Kirwan, Solzhenitsyn, Conrad, Hemmingway, Achebe. I read them when I was in Kenya and unable to go out all that much especially after dark when it wasn't safe. They took me away from the present like a teevee never could have. Good stories, simply told. Something to say. And then there are the Les Norton stories by the Australian Robert G. Barrett who is occasionally worth a read when you're a young fellow with the blues!
-I love East of the Mountains by David Gutterson.

Future Plans?

We have a one year old daughter, I am farming and running a holiday centre for people with disabilities so there isn't a lot of time for writing at the moment. I'm working on a story called Welshrats which is about a horrible man who is the director of social services in a Welsh coastal city which I think might be quite good when I finally get it done. Apart from that I have a bunch of short stories that need a good polish and... well, if only there was more time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter (5 Spot, May 2008)

Urgh...Jane Porter made me stay up all night, yet again. And how does she always know exactly what I am thinking? Porter, in a sort-of-sequel to her last work, Odd Mom Out, has continued to delve into the world of modern day women in suburbia as they deal with the conflict of being good mothers, working mothers and perfect mothers.

Taylor Young is a woman defined by her looks, her house, her volunteerism and her high-class friends. Coiffed and coutured, Taylor is so afraid of being exposed for the real person underneath (one that is fragile, fearful and bulimic) that she treats others with disdain; including Marta, the main character of Porter's former work. When Taylor's life suddenly and swiftly falls apart, she soon realizes that she has always been stronger than she has believed and that life can not be defined by things but by those who stick around when the chips are down. Marta, someone Taylor once viewed as "strange," becomes the person that Taylor learns to rely upon in economic and emotional ways.

Porter has an uncanny knack for getting to the heart and soul of the modern American woman. Her ability to tell it like it is without judgment but with a sense of compassion and honesty makes her writing leap from the page and into our hearts. Jane...I am so tired today because of you but I am thankful for the read!

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock (Random House)

I have a new favorite author and it is Charles Bock. His new work, Beautiful Children, is a tour de force, a novel that is not only literary (in the best sense of the word) but important in its topic matter. Bock writes with a combination of grace and force that each word stands alone; his ability to paint a visual story of present day Las Vegas and its residents is remarkable and signals the debut of a brilliant writer.

Newell, a young boy growing up with the trappings of upper middle class, has disappeared after a night out with Kenny, his much older friend. This story of his disappearance (but not the tale of his discovery) is told via flashbacks of numerous characters - Newell's father, runaways living on the streets of Sin City, a downtrodden comic book artist, a stripper with a heart of gold. Each character is suffering with their own past and a future that seems to be headed nowhere; their lives are filled with the lights of the casinos and the sounds of slot machines but have little meaning or focus. A story of such heartache that the reader can actually feel the pain and suffering of the storytellers.

Even when the book is heavy handed in its delivery, Bock has the ability to bring words to life. One can see the scenes play out, can become one with the people described even if one's experience is very different. This is a tale of 21st Century decay and loneliness that we can all relate to.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer (Little, Brown, May 2008)

I am not a huge fan of sci-fi/futuristic novels (although I have to say that I do love my friend, Orson Scott Card's work); so when I was given Stephanie Meyer's newest work, The Host, to review, I was a bit reticent. The first fifty page left me confused and ready to walk away from the book. However, I always finish what I start and continued on; soon I found myself unable to put down this interesting, well written book.

In a futuristic America, human beings have been invaded by souls who are only able to love and act peacefully. When the Wanderer invades the body of Melanie Stryder, the two beings are in conflict. Melanie, leaving behind her brother and her lover, is stubborn and refuses to fade away causing the Wanderer unbearable pain and suffering. When Melanie convinces the soul to run into the desert to find the remaining family members (the remaining human beings now hidden underground), the Wanderer is forced to confront what it means to love, what it means to be human. Meyer, best known for her YA vampire series, has crafted a compelling and humane story with a plot that asks the reader to think, to feel and to question.

Monday, April 7, 2008

5 Spot Books, April 2008

In Frenemies, author Megan Crane addressed the way women treat one another; specifically, the way we treat friends who do us wrong. With her newest work, Crane takes on the subject of sisterhood, of actual siblings who can't seem to forget the past. Told primarily through the eyes of Courtney, a successful musician who is about to marry the love of her life, this is a story of three sisters with extremely different outlooks on life, love and family. Norah is the hard working, type A sister who lives her life by the rule book and holds her grudges close to her heart. Raine is the free spirited sister who ran off to San Francisco to live the life of a poor artist, her best friend and sometime boyfriend in tow. When Courtney goes to visit Raine with the hope that she will return home for her engagement party, her life and that of her family is thrown into chaos.

What does sisterhood really mean and do you have to love your family simply because you were born into it? These are the important questions that Crane addresses in this enjoyable and worthwhile read.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

Riverhead Books, 2008

When my daughter turned three and my son six, I was faced with the fact that I had to return to work. Recently separated and in financially precarious straits, I could no longer rely on my freelance writing to pay the mortgage or put food on the table. Even though I had worked off and on while raising my children, it proved exceedingly difficult to find a full time job. I was competing against younger people who were willing to take a lower salary, who had not yet defined their skill set and who were able to be easily molded. The realization that I might not be able to return to work full time was like a punch in the gut; it was maddening and frustrating – a tough pill to swallow.

In her newest work, The Ten-Year Nap, author Meg Wolitzer addresses this exact scenario. Told from the points of view of four friends, but primarily through the viewpoint of Amy, the book focuses on the crossroads a woman experiences when her children no longer need her full time but she is unable to re-enter the workforce. Amy, a Manhattanite married to a mildly successful attorney, wakes up one morning to discover that her ten-year old son is self-sufficient and that she no longer has anything to fill her days with. Jill adopts a child from Siberia, moves to the suburbs and is unable to fit in with the women of Holly Hills. Roberta, an artist, whose son attends his Manhattan private school on financial aid, feels she is at the mercy of the school PTA for fear of being a social outcast. Karen, a brilliant Chinese woman and mother of twins, lives with the constant fear of being left out even as she fails to hide her disdain for others. Add to the mix, brilliant, hard working Penny Ramsey, whose life seems perfect (but is far from it) and you have the typical, if not stereotypical, 21st Century woman. These are women who have been raised to believe that they could do it all; take care of their family, hold down a great job, be perfectly coiffed and well-read.

Wolitzer delivers a book that teeters on the edge of being the Feminist Mystique of our day. Her voice and message are important ones – do women give up a part of themselves upon becoming mothers? Can women re-enter the workforce after taking a long sabbatical? Does there always have to be a choice between motherhood and career? Where Wolitzer leaves the reader a bit flat is in the meandering plot line; the story does not truly move forward until the middle, until a true conflict occurs. Prior to that, the book is slow and almost devoid of dimension with characters that seem a bit pathetic and irritating. When Amy finds herself in the middle of Penny’s marital problems, the book takes on interest as we begin to see these characters as three dimensional. While a reader wants to see herself in the author’s words, it is still essential that a book has conflict that is not only mental but visual.

Women will find a piece of themselves in The Ten-Year Nap, whether they are the stay-at-home mother or the working mother. Wolitzer has taken a topic of such import that, even where the book falters, one can argue the worth of this novel and possibly its place on the shelf next to Betty Friedan.

Erotomania by Francis Levy

Two Dollar Radio, August 2008

Imagine that you engage in passionate, feral sex with someone. After the sex is over and you have left the building, you can not remember what your lover looked like; your amnesia of everything but the sexual act is complete. In a truly original literary work, Francis Levy introduces the memorable characters of Monica and James. Told through James' eyes, the story unfolds as James realizes that he wants to know his lover, wants to be able to recognize her on the street (her face, not simply her sexual organs) and may actually be in love, rather than simply lust. Monica, a woman who looks much like Peter Pan, has a sexual appetite that is insatiable and confusing. When James tries to have a "normal" relationship with her, she seems to become enraged, frustrated by his unrelenting pursuit.

Levy writes with honesty and a dry sense of humor that adds to the unique tone of the book. While our characters seem without empathy at the beginning, it soon becomes clear that with sex may come love and a type of relationship that is meaningful and filled with worth.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

Little, Brown April 2008

My younger brother chose years ago to move from the East coast to the South; specifically, he moved to Savannah, Georgia where he practiced medicine, raised a family and lived on the edge of a swampy, wood in a large home. At first they loved Savannah but soon he found that the difference between South and East was as large as the crevices that define the Grand Canyon. Savannah was made up of people who had lived their entire lives in the South, people who distrusted Northerners, people who defined themselves by the homes they owned and the families they had come from. My brother and family soon sold their home and moved to a college town in Virginia where they were accepted.

Katie Crouch in her new work, Girls in Trucks, relates the story of Sarah Walters, a Charleston debutante, who is determined to leave behind her Camellia Society past and start anew. Crouch, a talented writer with a honest voice, moves through time and space quickly; Sarah is a college student, an aspiring writer in New York City, a woman grappling with a failed relationship. The reader moves through Sarah's experiences and roots for her to succeed. Crouch has created a character that the reader adores and understands. When tragedy brings Sarah home, it is clear that she can not run from her past; that she must accept her roots in order to become the person who she needs to be.

I can't wait for the next Katie Crouch book.

Keeper and the Kid by Ed Hardy

Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin's Press(2007)

James Keeper is a man who finds himself emotionally at odds. After his marriage ends, he moves to Rhode Island to work with his best male friend selling antiques at a store called Love and Death. His girlfriend, Leah, is wonderful - smart, funny, filled with a sense of life that keeps James on his toes and passionately in love. Things seem to be going extremely well, at last.

Of course, life always throws curve balls. Keeper receives a phone call from his former mother-in-law advising him that his ex is ill and asking him to come to Boston to pick up the dog. It soon becomes clear that the dog is not a four legged animal but a two legged boy. Keeper has a son, Leo, who is now without a mother and forced to live with his inept and terrified father. Exhibiting all of the traits of a man who never wanted to or dreamed of being a father, James lets Leo eat what he wants, sleep in his clothes and bath once a week. As the relationship between father and son tenuously strengthens, Keeper's relationship with Leah ends. She can not allow this child into her life, a life that she has become comfortable with and has no intent on changing. Turning the typical genre on its head, Hardy's bad guy is the woman who can't commit to family versus the man who must.

Hardy's writing is at times poignant, at times humorous. The author succeeds when he focuses on Keeper's character arc. The author falters on story line - it is difficult, if not impossible to emphatize with many of the characters. Leah, at first likeable, becomes so disagreeable that a reader's first instinct is to put the book down and walk away. Keeper's initial inability to accept his son is offputting, if not absolutely frustrating.

Ed Hardy's writing falls into the new genre of male lit, a challenge to the chick lit genre that was huge years back. Whether or not men will actually pick up a book such as this will remain to be seen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sway by Zachary Lazar

Little Brown, January 2008

Thank goodness for Zachary Lazar!! For awhile there I was ready to throw my book critic hat into the ring and wait for someone to stomp on it - there was a long period there where I was positive that the publishing industry was done for. Then along came Sway by Zachary Lazar. Tackling three separate story lines set in the late 1960s - the founding of the Rolling Stones, the Manson family and the strange life of filmmaker Kenneth Anger - Lazar leads the reader on a historical, emotional and physical journey that is at times unsettling but is always remarkable.

A fictionalized account of these three events, the reader enters the back halls of poverty ridden London, the mansions of the British countryside, the Laurel Canyon ranches of record producers and movie stars, the hippie commune of Manson. As each narrator takes us on a journey into the lives, both tragic and profound, we are propelled into their world, a world that we want to learn about, a world filled with freedome and a sense of absolute angst. Lazar's careful use of words adds imagery to each story - this is not simply a book we read but rather one we live. Lazar is my new hero.

The Turnaround by George Pelecanos

Little Brown, August 2008

Imagine if one event in your life was so unforgettable, so unforgiveable as to define the rest of your waking days. That is the dilemma addressed in George Pelecanos' The Turnaround. Pelecanos, a writer who seems to have one of the keenest insights into the human soul, tells the story of two boys, one from the right side of the tracks and one from the wrong side of the tracks. When a prank leads the young white Greek boy into the African American side of town, a crime occurs that will mark both boys for life.

Time passes and these young men grow into adults; adults who wish to forgive and forget the past before their lives are over. This notion of redemption echoes throughout this beautifully written novel; Pelecanos takes us deep inside the lives of men who have journeyed down a path that seemed fated for each. Hailed as a mystery writer, Pelecanos, a television writer, brakes genre labels - his writing combines the human insight of Steinbeck and the keen sense of timing of Stephen King. Pelecanos is truly one of the great writers of our time.

Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy

Little Brown and Company, February 2008.
Yannick Murphy, author of Signed, Mata Hari, is one of those critically acclaimed authors that most readers know nothing of. Winner of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and recipient of the MacDowell Colony Fellowship, Murphy is a literate and innovative writer who does not shy away from stories that appear difficult. In this recent release, Murphy takes on the story of the great, illusive Mata Hari, a woman of mystery and legend.
Telling the story with alternating pasts and presents, Murphy takes us into the life of Margaretha, a young woman who marries a man she does not truly love as a way to leave her family home. Margaretha is filled with dreams, hopes and a sensuality that pours from her soul; it is the sensuality that ultimately turns her life upside down. While there has always been speculation that Mata Hari was a spy, Murphy does not directly answer this question but rather shows this secretive soul stuck inside a prison where her pleas for freedom go unheard.
In breathtaking prose, Murphy illuminates a story that must be told for this story is that of every woman who has ever searched for love and been turned away, for every woman who tries to express her own desires but is tossed aside. With this work, Murphy may soon be the author everyone is talking about.