Thursday, November 25, 2010

Deja Clue

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
William Morrow/HarperCollins ($26.99 324pp.)
Review by Vivian Lake
Twice reading Lehane I've had to stop and skim back over what I've read to get my bearings. Once, at the jaw-dropping twist in Shutter Island (one of the best novels I've ever read) and now reading Moonlight Mile, to make sure I haven't missed anything, because situations seem to arise out of nowehere. Lehane's latest, a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone seems to be written by someone else entirely.

Lehane's well-documented writing chops (he's also the author of Mystic River, which was made into an Oscar-winning film by Clint Eastwood) make Moonlight Mile doubly disappointing, because by now you expect him to blow you away.

That said, this was my first time reading a Kenzie-Gennaro story, which may have made a difference but shouldn't have. Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are two detectives now-familiar to Lehane fans, but as all avid readers know, you should be able to pick up any one of a series of detective novels and not feel you've missed anything. As far as the history of the two investigators goes, the story is solid, the problems are all in the current story, which isn't that compelling or believeable.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Rise of the Ray-gunslinger

Space Westerns
By Stefan Slater
Contributing Writer
StarcraftMankind has been fascinated with exploring outer space for decades and also with the idea of one day, actually living on another planet.
Countless books, movies, TV shows, and games have been created to explore what life would be like for humanity in space. Oftentimes humanity is depicted as colonizing planets, meeting intelligent aliens, and discovering the secrets of the Universe – all from the comfort of advanced spaceships with sparkling white exteriors. Civilization and peace spread throughout the Universe, everyone dons a spandex uniform, and humanity is elevated to an even higher level of technological and intellectual understanding. Basically, mix a London Gentlemen’s club with lasers and green women, and you have a popular version of humanity’s potential future in space.

Firefly - The Complete SeriesBut what if that wasn’t entirely the case? What if life in space wasn’t glamorous and enlightening? What if, on the planets furthest from civilization, humanity was reduced to a pioneer existence, forced to eke a meager living amongst a harsh and unforgiving landscape? Well, that is what the sub-genre of science fiction known as Space Westerns, chooses to examine.
The sci fi sub-genre has its early origins with comics and books from the 1920’s, such as with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. or Flash Gordon. The protagonists in these stories were tough men guided by strong morals, who rode into towns (or in this case planets) on their rockets, to help the simple townsfolk fight off corrupt and evil men.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The War Inside
By Roberta Gately
(Gallery Books, Trade Paperback 304 pp. $15)

Review by Vivian Lake
A young woman without many options finds herself compelled by a photograph in a magazine to help the sick, the ill, the desperate and disenfranchised wherever they may be. This calling propels young Elsa Murphy, a girl from the gritty streets of Dorchester in Boston, to go to college, become a nurse and volunteer to work anywhere in the world she is needed.

This is also the story of Parween, a young Afghani who is vibrant, intelligent and ambitious, but because of where she lives will have a very different life.

Based on the author's experiences in Afghanistan and other war-torn nations, this novel serves both as witness and warning. While the fictional Elsa lands in Afghanistan shortly after the September 11th attacks, the author first worked there during the Russian invasion in the 1980s, which gives her a deeper knowledge of the area and its people than is seen on the evening news.

Roberta Gately talks about Lipstick in Afghanistan
video courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Elsa, who has never been outside of Boston, finds herself in the remote Bamiyan province of the country. "...Bamiyan seemed chisled out of some long-forgotten age where it had been frozen in time." There is no electricity or running water and food is cooked over open fires.

Elsa is provided with a small house and a cook and not much else. Bed is a foam mattress covered in fabric and water for bathing and cooking will be brought to her from a nearby well. Elsa barely has time to process this when she
finds out that head of the office has to go to another part of Afghanistan and that she will be in charge of the clinic in which she was to be a staffer.

Petrified but determined, she arrives at the small, overwhelmed hospital, meets the staff and begins her work steamlining procedures and learning as much as possible as quickly as possible so she can help the patients.

Elsa soon has a circle of close friends; Hamid her driver, Laila and Ezat, the doctors she works with, and Amina her chaperone (single women can't live alone in Afghanistan). She also befriends the American servicemen in the area, who give her their perspective of the area, which she finds at odds with the warm hospitable people she knows.
She also gets to know the vibrant people in the village - the Hazara - who fought and succeeded in getting the Taliban out of their village. They remain a threat, having taken over a village a few miles north, but for the most part, Bamiyan is free.

Woven through this story is the history of Parween, who has no freedom. Betrothed at age twelve against her wishes, Parween has to wear the veil, cannot go out alone, and can't go to school. Her soul rebels at the thought of the same future of childbirth, housework, fieldwork without end. Abuse from the husband or his family is often part of life for young wives. Parween sees her best friend packed off as a third wife to a wizened old man and despairs of her future.

How Elsa and Parween meet and how their friendship affects them both is the culmination of the story. Climax and parable, the book questions the future of a nation that shackles half its population in slavery, and how the simple act of friendship can open doors actual and spiritual, and can inspire heroism
These Vampires Don't Sparkle

American Vampire -Review
By Stefan Slater
Let’s face it, the vampire is no longer feared. What once was an evil, blood-sucking demon from hell, has deteriorated into a brooding, sensitive pretty-boy who pines for romance and has renounced drinking the blood of humans. Dracula would be ashamed to call himself a vampire in today’s Twilight age.

Fortunately for the pale Transylvanian, the graphic novel American Vampire not only restores a bit of much-needed attitude and maliciousness to the vampire breed, but also adds a refreshing twist.

Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, the plot of American Vampire follows the 19th century outlaw Skinner Sweet, and aspiring 1920’s actress Pearl Jones. Sweet is a ruthless, evil man, who rides with his posse across the American West robbing and killing whomever he wishes. Sweet eventually has a run-in with a group of Pinkertons, and during the ensuing struggle, is transformed into a vampire.
Literary News

And so it begins. The media circus which always surrounds a royal wedding. On the heels of Prince William's engagement, Simon & Schuster's Gallery books announced William & Kate: The Love Story by Christopher Andersen, the author of The Day Diana Died. Publication iis scheduled for  February 2011.
Louise Burke, Executive Vice President and Publisher of Gallery Books, said "With another royal wedding imminent, this book will shed light on a relationship that has remained a mystery yet is a true love story. And there’s no one better to tell this tale than Christopher Andersen."  
Bali brings to mind gorgeous unspoiled beaches, tropical weather, and romantic isolation, but literature? Not so much. Nevertheless The Japan Times reports, the annual book fest in the lush hills of Ubud involves more than lying on the beach with latest paperback.
"Mix a bit of paradise and lavish creature comforts, add a dash of cultural magic, stir with persistence and presto . . . Ubud has become one of the top literary festivals in the world," rhapsodizes the Times.
This year 137 authors from 128 countries participated and 183 panels were conducted, reports the Japan Times. Book now for next year's Writers & Readers festival, which takes place October 5-9 2011.

The fourth annual  International Prize for Arabic Fiction has announced its long list of 16 titles under consideration for the prize. This year seven women made the cut (a record), and religious extremism, political and social conflict and women's struggles emerge as key themes, the center announced.
The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is awarded for prose fiction in Arabic and each of the six shortlisted finalists receives $10,000, with a further $50,000 going to the winner. It was launched in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy.
The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Monday 14 March 2011, the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Closer to home, The Black Writers Museum in Philadelphia opened its doors this summer, with a writing camp for kids and an exhibit on the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Supreme Dow, the founder and executive director of the museum, has funded the non-profit organization out of his own pocket and from the donations of others, reports Philadelphia Neighborhoods.  Dow's plans for the museum include preserving and teaching the history of Black literature, and creating a place where it can thrive and continue.
“If we continue to teach about what has come before us it will inspire other writers to come about,” Dow said. “We want to be a hub for literary conversation so the next Zora Neale Hurston will walk through these doors,” he told Neighborhoods.

Google reached an agreement with Hachette Livre, the largest publisher in France, to scan thousands of out-of-print titles for its digital library project, reported The New York Times.
Hachette will determine which titles will be scanned and Google will be allowed to sell the titles as ebooks or other formats and will share the revenue with Hachette. The deal is unique among French publishers, most of whom have sued Google for copyright infringement, and differs from the proposed settlement with American publishers, under which publishers opt in or out of the digitization project with no control over which titles are scanned, reported the Times.

New York writer Victor Lavalle won the 2010 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for his novel Big Machine, about a hustler who joins a group of paranormal investigators. The novel won the 2010 American Book award, best Sci-Fi Novel of 2009 and was named "most valuable novel of 2009 by The Nation magazine.

In Indianapolis, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and Museum has opened,showcasing a replica of the writer's office, his actual typwriter and
other personal belongings, as well as a library devoted to his work and criticism
of it.

Chinua Achebe, the world-renown African author turned 80 this week, reports the Guardian of Nigeria. "Achebe has helped not only to put Nigeria and Africa in general on the global literature map, his entire career has been devoted to a validation of the African aesthetics and experience," said the Guardian.
Achebe is currently teaching at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let the Steampunk Zombies Roll

By Stefan Slater
Literati Contributor
Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest has written a total of three books (Dreadnought, Clementine, and Boneshaker) that take place in the “Clockwork Century.” While each book contains characters and references in the other books, they can still be read independently from one another without missing the overall plot or context of the story. The protagonists of these books are all women; they are strong, independent, and above all, willing to blow away a zombie head or two.
Vinita “Mercy” Lynch is working as a nurse in a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when she learns that her husband has died in a POW camp. Then she receives a telegram from her estranged father, who is dying  in the frontier town of Seattle, and wants desperately to reconnect with her. With little else keeping her in Virginia, she embarks on the long and arduous journey to the distant Western Territories.
Priest conjures an alternate history in which the Civil War has lasted for nearly twenty long years, and slavery is no more. There are airships, steam-powered robots, and fortress-like trains capable of leveling entire forests. Oh, and there are zombies: hordes upon hordes of flesh craving, gore-covered, rotting zombies.
Mercy’s journey through the war torn Border States is fraught with danger, and she barely makes it to the Mississippi River. In St. Louis, her trip takes a turn for the worse as she boards the only train headed out west: the monstrous Union steam engine known as the Dreadnought. It supposedly carries deceased Union soldiers to their final resting places, but Mercy learns that the Dreadnought also carries a mysterious cargo, which draws considerable Confederate attention, ranging from rebel bushwhackers to diabolical mechanized walkers.
Something far worse than outlaws awaits Mercy out west, and it could spell the end for not only those aboard the Dreadnought, but also the entire United States as well.
Priest does an excellent job of balancing Mercy’s mental and physical journey. The grief of losing her husband, as well as the painful possibility of reconnecting with (and then possibly losing) her long lost father.
Dreadnought carries a sort of Steampunk vibe, and because of that, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that there are robots or flying machines, as they are all defined by technologies that existed at that time. Discussing the zombies will give away some of the plot, but her reasoning for their existence is not unbelievable, and she easily places a horror element into a sub genre that very rarely has any.
The only flaw one may find with Dreadnought is that Priest creates such a fantastic world, but only examines a small portion of it. The book reads rather quickly, and will most likely leave the reader wanting to know more.
Dreadnought is an excellent read set in a unique world that is unlike most anything in Science Fiction today.  Reading this novel will most definitely spur you to pick up another one of Cherie Priest’s books, just so you can revisit “The Clockwork Century.”
Authors after Dark has nominated Dreadnought for steampunk novel of the year.

Check out video below of  Cherie Priest's interview with Science Fiction Book Club at the Dragon Convention in Seattle last month. She talks  mostly Boneshaker but at about 3 minutes the talk turns to Dreadnought...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Straight, No Chaser

It never fails. No matter what I've planned to read for this blog and how carefully I've penciled it in my to-do list, the minute I walk into a bookstore all bets are off. Anything could happen, and usually does. LeCarre's latest languishes on my nightstand because  I found a spectacular anthology that I just had to read right away, and lucky for you, I'm going to tell you all about it.
Blood, Guts, and Whiskey  (Kensington books, trade paperback, $14.00), is a collection of hard-boiled stories from the editor of, Todd Robinson. Robinson curated these  24  tales of moral turpitude by 24 kick-ass writers, and, ladies and gentlemen, this is .44-caliber prose.
It's all here:  Cynical anti-hero/heroines of dubious repute, murky pasts, dames up to no good, and use sex as a weapon, and enough violence so that the blood spatter brightens up the dark mood. The characters and scenes fairly jump off the page, immersing you so quickly the beer and desperation hit you like a wave of humid air.
 Jordan Harper's Red Hair and Black Leather, the opener, sets the tone and starts this trip to the dark side where you'll meet a mobster with a bloody side job, a writer who discovers the darkness within, a couple of mobsters who run into trouble when someone flips the script on them, a shopkeeper at the end of his rope, and a mother who gives up her soul to make amends.  That's just the tip of the iceberg. This is a stellar collection that won't disappoint.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa Reacts to Nobel Win

The yearly speculation surrounding the Nobel for Literature is always frenzied and reaches a fever pitch as writers, editors and columnists from around the globe postulate and speculate, but the frenzy rarely, if ever, mentions the winner, and this year was no exception. The Peruvian novelist, who is admired and respected around the world, didn't make anyone's short list, although in South America he's afforded the same respect as Garcia-Marquez.
Below check out the video of the writer's press conference at Instituto Cervantes in New York yesterday reacting to the win. He gives statements in both Spanish and English.

Vargas Llosa's work is not only artistically beautiful to read (in the original Spanish), but spans a wide breadth of forms (journalism, plays, poetry novels, criticism) that demonstrates a powerful talent. One of his most powerful books, The Feast of the Goat is a harrowing account of the last days of the Dominican Republic's fomer dictator General Rafael Trujillo.  In Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter he uses humor to weave the story of  the beginning of his journalism career at age 15 and the start of his affair with his first wife, Julia Urquidi who was more than ten years older and related to his uncle by marriage.

Picador, a division of MacMillan publishers announced that they will immediately reprint 10 of the writer's titles in paperback to meet the expected demand after the announcement.
Vargas Llosa lives in Madrid, Spain and Lima, Peru. He is in New York for this year teaching creative writing and literature and Princeton University.

Check out this slide show of Vargas Llosa photos and the audio (in Spanish) of the first people to congratulate him, a radio station in Peru.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hispanic Heritage Month
As an American with roots in Latin America, I find it hard not to look askance at alleged celebrations of heritage. After all, Latinos and Asians, Arabs and African-Americans for that matter, are part of society 12 months of the year.  We don't need 30 days of exclusive recognition to realize that we count, that we matter, we're part of the melting pot. It is perfectly obvious to us that America is all of us and we are it.  We know this. I mean, McDonald's serves burritos, empanadas are street food, you can get frozen dumplings and microwave lo mein at the supermarket,and macaroni and cheese, that soul food staple, is the favorite dish of every kid in America under the age of 8 regardless of ethnicity. A delicious falafel pita is never more than a block away (ok maybe a little further outside Manhattan).  What all Americans need, no matter where our roots are, is to develop an understanding and appreciation for the "other" whoever that other may be. Literature, music and the arts allow us to do that.

Conventional Idiocy: Why the New America is Sick of Old Politics by Rick Sanchez
Conventional Idiocy: Why the New America is Sick of Old PoliticsThe popular CNN host writes about the public's disaffection with the same-old, same-old  politics as usual. In his fast-paced talkative style, he shares what his viewers are telling him and warns politicians and the media to ignore it at their own peril.
Bloody Twistby Carolina Garcia-Aguilera
Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera (Chicana Matters)Lupe Solano is back, chicas! The intrepid Miami detective is back in her seventh mystery. This time she's investigating a high-paid call girl who's also a virgin, and the two dead guys she says she didn't kill.
Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera Bloody Twist By Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Geogina Guzman
The murder and rape of over 500 women in Juarz Mexico has never been properly investigated by authorities in Mexico or the U.S. The murders have been the subject of at least 1 feature film (starring Jennifer Lopez), a documentary and several books by journalists, and independent investigators,  none of whom could ingnite a proper investigation or a semblance of concern by authorities. Now, twos scholars from the Chicana studies Department at UCLA have put together a scholarly analysis of the killings and the situation that has made them possible, from a number of perspectives. Chilling but necessary.
Alone in the Crowd: An Inspector Espinosa Mystery (Inspector Espinosa Mysteries)
Alone in the Crowd: An Inspector Espinosa Mystery (Inspector Espinosa Mysteries)Ahhh Copacabana. The sun. The surf. The bikinis. The bodies?  This fantastic mystery series features the existensial Inspector Espisosa never fails to disappoint. Did the old lady fall or was she pushed in front of the bus? Why did she visit the precinct just hours before her death? Who's the creepy bank teller? What gives? All will be answered in a psychologically compelling, suspenseful whodunit.
The Devil's Highway: A True StoryThe Devil's Highway: A True Story  by Luis Alberto Urrea       This is one of the best feats of writing and journalism I've ever read, and should be required reading in every higschool. Urruea tells the story of a group of  men who decide to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. by walking through the desert, as many have before. This time though, something goes horribly wrong and the men are abandoned by their "coyote" guides and are left to make their way through the desert alone as best they can. Dying of thirst and heatstroke isn't pretty, and if you're willing to risk it, there must be a damn good reason, don't you think? Urrea weaves together his account from all the perspectives involved ; the men who cross, the border agents whose job is to deter and detain, and the Mexican consulate in Arizona, who must collect, identify and preserve the remains of those who don't make it.
A former Presidential Candidate in Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by FARC guerillas and endured six years in captivity in the jungle before a daring rescue freed her in 2002. This is the story of her captivity (which she spent in chains most of the time), numerous escape attempts, and of her enduring spirit.
Pirates of the Levant (Captain Alatriste, Book 6)Pirates of the Levant 
by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The Latino Reader: An American Literary Tradition from 1542 to the PresentYour swash has never been buckled like this. Perez-Reverte, the enormously talented Spanish writer of The Flanders Panel and The Queen of the South, unleashes the sixth Captain Alatriste adventure this month. Think Three Musketeers on the high seas, complete with pirates, swords capes and heart-pounding battles.
The Latino Reader
 Almost from the moment Columbus landed Latinos have been recording, interpreting and sharing impressions of life in the new world. This extraordinary collection includes Cabeza de Vaca's account of the new world, and memoirs, essays, fiction poetry and drama spanning  five centuries. An invaluable resource and historical treasure of Latino history in the United States.