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.