Thursday, November 1, 2007

Letter from the Editor, November 2007

Fall is finally here (for some of us), and with the changing seasons comes a desire to relax, snuggle down with a book, and take comfort in cooler weather and falling leaves.

Whether your idea of a supremely comfortable book is a shocking thriller, a Regency romance or a children's book, I hope you can take comfort in this newest issue of Estella's Revenge to warm you on those chilly evenings.

We have a treasure trove of goodies for you this month, including the announcement of the 2008 "My Year of Reading Dangerously" Challenge hosted by the editors of Estella's Revenge.

I hope you enjoy this month's installment. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.


Table of Contents:

My Year of Reading Dangerously Announcement

November 2007 Door Prize - The Call of the Weird, by Louis Theroux

Interview: Anthony Barilla

Interview: Audrey Niffenegger

Interview: Dewey and the 24-Hour Read-A-Thon

Feature: A Case for Georgette Heyer

Feature: Comics from the Crypt

Feature: The Comfort Zone

Feature: Comfort Food - Cookies!

Snazzy Stuff - Bibliochaise

Column: Judging a Book, November 2007

Column: Sure, I Know the Queen, November 2007

Review: Lottery

Review: Lost Souls

Review: April and the Dragon Lady

Review: An Infamous Army

Review: Ophelia

My Year of Reading Dangerously, A Challenge

Hello, one and all! We have a very special treat for you here at Estella's Revenge. We've decided to host our very first reading challenge!

"My Year of Reading Dangerously: A Challenge" will begin on January 1, 2008 and consist of some very simple rules. Namely, read authors or genres that intimidate you.

Heather and I particularly enjoy flexibility since we're so bad with reading deadlines, so we've laid out a few ways that you can participate in this challenge.

1. Read along with the "official" Estella's Revenge "Dangerous" novels. We've proposed twelve months of truly worthwhile and somewhat intimidating books. We've carefully polled the Estella's Revenge writers for titles that stand out, and Heather and I chose to delve into some oft-poo-pooed genres to mix things up a bit. There's nothing like branching out, right?

The Twelve "Official" Novels by month
January: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (since Estella is our namesake)
February: The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (African American)
March: Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood (Atwood for Atwood's sake)
April: Transformations, by Anne Sexton (Poetry)
May: Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote (Southern)
June: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (Russian)
July: The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (adolescent)
August: Maus I and II, by Art Spiegelman (Graphic Novel, Pulitzer winner)
September: The Secret Lives of People in Love, by Simon Van Booy (Independent)
October: The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (Contemporary/Jewish)
November: A Month of Classic Short Stories, Various - watch for a list
December: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck (Dusty)

At the beginning of every month Heather and myself will post a list of discussion questions at the My Year of Reading Dangerously blog (click link to visit). Each question will have its own comment area and readers can feel free to discuss at their leisure as they read through the book or when they have finished completely.

The kicker: By participating in "official" discussions, you will automatically enter yourself to win fabulous prizes. Books, bookmarks, signed copies of novels and other tantalizing treats. Heather and I are working our little heinies off collection loot as we speak.

2. Your other choice is to simply to complete 12 books that you deem "dangerous" and intimidating. You can do it in a year, in a month or in a week. It's up to you!

And, of course, a combination of numbers 1 and 2 is also possible. Be creative. We welcome it.

If you wish to participate in any capacity please go to the introduction post at the Challenge Blog and input your information. We will leave a link near the top of our sidebar here at Estella's Revenge, but all signing up for the challenge and challenge activity will take place there.

Door Prize Book Giveaway

The winner of the October Door Prize, a pristine trade paperback copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy is Nyssaneala from Baltimore, Maryland! Visit her blog at:

The November door prize is a brand new hardcover copy of Louis Theroux's Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures! Be sure to check out our interview with Louis or Andi's review of the book from the April 2007 issue.

To enter the Door Prize drawing, e-mail us at estellabooks (at) gmail (dot) com. Please include your name, address and blog address so that we can send your book promptly if you win the drawing.

Interview: Blackbird Books

By Jodie

Non readers like to preach that books are boring. Music can be energetic, film can be edgy but books are static objects bought only by ladies who delight in porcelain dog figurines. There is an urgent necessity to exhibit the revolutionary genesis that can inhabit a book. The Blackbird Books project, opening in October and situated in Mitrovica/ë Kosovo plans to show the cutting edge of literature that can decapitate the arguments of the uninitiated.

Blackbird Books will be a cultural centre that enhances the experience of reading. It will give the people in Mitrovica/ë a ‘safe haven’ in which to read openly. I’m sure anyone who reads in public will agree that it takes an awful lot of willpower to continue once the funny looks begin and this is before the iPods with speakers kick in, but imagine how the stares might increase if reading literature publicly was practically unheard of. Major bibliophile turn off. The project will also provide access to works of literature, which may be hard for readers to find in Kosovo, such as classics, graphic novels, contemporary literature and novels by local writers.

Then there are the extra projects that will make Blackbird Books a life changing organization. There are the criticism boards to encourage literary discussion, the on premise books complete with personal bookmarks so that multiple people can return to their book later, the zine, literary film showings as well as visits by artists. The project will encourage creative growth in the region by giving money from their book sales to other arts projects. Everything at Blackbird Books will attempt to involve organizations from the town so that it will benefit the whole community.

With all this to organize, it’s wonderful that Anthony Barilla, the founding director of the project, had time to answer my nosy questions. It seems he’s got the multi-tasking down after his time as an artistic director for Houston-based theatre company, Infernal Bridegroom Productions. With composer, director, musician and stage manager as just some of his previous jobs Barilla is able to match tight organizational skills and practical knowledge with creative energy and commitment in order to create a successful and exciting cultural space.

JB: Why did you decide to start the Blackbird Books project?

AB: A couple of reasons:

1) The nearest bookstore is an hour drive away from our town, and while their selection is respectable, it lacks the eclecticism you might be accustomed to in other parts of the world.

2) I really love our town, and it needed a bookstore.

3) Selfishly, I needed a place where I felt comfortable reading and writing in public. Café culture is strong in Kosovo, but seeing someone sitting alone reading in a café is unusual. I needed a place where this seemed acceptable, so we decided to make one.

JB: What has the response been to the project?

AB: Overwhelmingly positive.

JB: Have the government been interested or supportive of the enterprise?

AB: Absolutely. But the idea of a cultural non-profit existing outside of a sanctioned cultural center is foreign here, and raising funds has not been easy. We are currently existing on the donations of private individuals and hoping to receive public funding soon to get us through our start-up phase (read the preceding as a shameless plea for financial support!) The ultimate goal is to be self-sustaining: we want our café sales to support our literary endeavors.

JB: What were the biggest challenges of the project?

AB: We live in Kosovo: everything is a challenge. I'll give you two examples that are preoccupying me today.

Power outages in Mitrovica/ë are a part of daily life. On average we currently experience three-hour cycles of electricity: three hours on, three hours off. (We also have water rationing every other night.) To operate as a business, you must own a gas generator, which is wired into your building in order to maintain essential functions. For us, essential functions include a coffee machine, stereo and a lamp or two. So we purchased a generator. We put two euros worth of gas into the generator and promptly destroyed the machine, not knowing that the gas had been diluted with water. And so we had to turn around and spend still more money to repair the generator only days after using it for the first time. This is exemplary of not only the kind of petty corruption that is rampant here, but also of the shoddy state of goods.

Secondly, there's the coffee. There are two major coffee monopolies in the region that supply the (very expensive) coffee machines, sugar, cups, saucers and everything else you need—all of it emblazoned with their logos—for free in exchange for exclusive coffee supplier Because our facility is small and unusual—"A library/bookstore/café?" What's that?—we were flatly refused contracts with them. I was ready to pay, and yet they were unsatisfied with our ability to advertise their brand: this despite the fact that you can't walk two feet in Kosovo without seeing their logos on something. Two days before opening we realized that we were a coffee shop with no coffee. The kindness of a neighboring café owner with an extra machine and the hard work of a staff that spent days and nights rewiring electrical parts, grinding beans and learning this trade from scratch is pulling us through right now, but the entire incident points out the strangeness of this environment. Many business owners are short-sighted here because the economy is so terrible.

Beyond these two examples, it's worth mentioning that everything takes three times as long to accomplish in Kosovo as it might elsewhere. Doing business doesn't just involve the exchange of currency for goods and services. It involves haggling, bluffing, long trips to other towns, conversations over tea or coffee with people who might help, and the inevitable contact with "a friend of a friend." This process can be charming. It can also be infuriating.

JB: How did the opening go?

AB: Great party. The batteries in my camera went out, or I would send you photos. Champagne, books and attendees from Kosovo, Ireland, Nepal, France, Kenya and Texas – what more could you ask for?

JB: Roughly how many books had you received by the time you opened?

AB: We were hoping for one thousand: we received over 1600. In fact, the books started coming in so fast that we are way behind on cataloging them, and I don't have an exact number right now. There were three categories of donors that I would be remiss in not mentioning here:

  1. individual folks who took it upon themselves to initiate book drives around the world (especially Dave and Jane)

  2. the wonderful people at

  3. the American KFOR (the U.S. NATO presence here.) I wonder how many bookstore managers have seen their shelves stocked by soldiers in fatigues?

JB: Projects such as the African bookmobile have asked authors to donate the novels they've written. Have you fostered any such relationships?

AB: We actually are planning an initiative along those lines. Check back with me in six months.

JB: What has been your strategy for getting books?

AB: The kindness of strangers. It worked.

JB: Which books that you received do you think have the most potential to change someone’s life?

AB: I don't really have an answer for that. I'm using my personal taste to stock our "permanent library" (ie. books that cannot be traded or sold.) It remains to be seen whether or not my taste will transfer to our new surroundings, but my taste includes comic books, classic Russian novels and a lot of things in between, and I don't see why any of them wouldn't have the potential to change lives.

JB: Who is your favourite author? Is there a book that changed your life?

AB: Can I give you a top ten instead? I don't have a favorite one of anything except wives. My top ten writers and playwrights might be Gunter Grass, Susan Choi, Goethe, Samuel Beckett, Donald Barthelme, Charlie Scott, Tolstoy, Borges, Dostoyevsky and Wallace Shawn. I'm a sucker for German and Russian classics, but this list leaves out 20 or 30 favorites that have had a huge impact on me. Brecht's Baal definitely changed my life, and I think that maybe Grass' The Flounder did too. So did a lot of Green Lantern storylines.

JB: What is your favourite place to read?

AB: Ha! The top floor of Blackbird Books, south of the bridge in Mitrovicë/a, Kosovo.

JB: Do you plan on opening a second site in the future?

AB: Not really. I'm not opposed to that thought, but I also like the idea that this place might be unique within Kosovo. A one-of-a-kind spot that people know they have to visit when they come to town. Something that the local citizens are proud of. As I type this response to your email, there are two teen-agers sitting downstairs reading books in our café. I would be willing to bet that this is an unusual experience for them: that they are reading books that they don't have access to elsewhere, and that they normally don't get to chat and drink coffee while doing so. That's the first thing that I wanted, and it's already happening.

The second thing that I wanted is for local folks to get invested enough that this project will eventually sustain itself. There is every reason to think that this will happen too. If a major expansion happens, that would be great. But it would be even greater if the expansion was the well-conceived effort of a citizen of Kosovo who took it upon himself or herself to do something more far-reaching than I ever imagined.

To donate to Blackbird Books you can send books or checks (made payable to Blackbird Books) to:

Anthony Barilla
Blackbird Books
Fah 157
40010 Mitrovica/ë

Or if you have a BookMooch account you can donate points by searching for Blackbird Books.

For more details on what kind of literature they want to receive visit

Anthony Barilla writes about Kosovo at

Interview: Audrey Niffenegger

Interviewed by Andi

Audrey Niffenegger is the author of the best-selling novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. She has also written two visual books: The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress.

AM: You captured many a fan with your whirlwind first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. Why do you think the book struck such a nerve with readers all over the world?

AN: Apparently the combination of time travel and a love story is particularly potent. Also, I think people are attracted to the fact that Henry, the time traveler, can't change anything, and can't avoid time traveling. Also, lots of people, men mostly, seem to be very taken with the notion of visiting their wives as children.

AM: Some readers may not realize that you're an accomplished artist, and that it's sort of your "first career" as you wrote The Time Traveler's Wife on weekends and late into the night (as mentioned on your website). Your website lists your art-centered books as "visual books." Since I'm personally interested in graphic novels, what separates your work from graphic novels?

AN: The term "graphic novel" has come to mean long-form comics. Since these books are not comics I thought we should call them something else. Some people have accused me of being snobby about comics, but I adore them and am in the middle of making an actual graphic novel. I was trying to be correct and wound up perplexing people.

AM: What advice would you give to authors who are thinking of stepping outside of their comfort zone (or the comfort zone of those who devotedly read or view their work) and into a new genre or medium?

AN: If everyone would experiment more we would get some terrifc things. Why should our work be limited by other people's expectations? I love artists like John Wesley Harding, the musician who writes lovely novels under his real name, Wesley Stace. His first novel, Misfortune, has a soundtrack and the plot is intricately woven around ballads which are printed in the book and sung on the CD. If more people would cross back and forth between disciplines, new art forms would appear. So my advice would be that artists should experiment; that's what artists are for.

AM: When it comes to books and art I've always had some sort of epic battle raging inside me over which one is better, which one wins my heart, so to speak. So, for you, which one wins?

AN: Neither; I don't have to choose, so I don't. I love both, and love them best when they mix.

AM: Do you have any unbreakable habits or rituals that you stick to when you're creating a written piece? A work of art?

AN: Not really. I try to work under any circumstances. I don't have a schedule or a ritual. I have little things that sit on my desk and keep me company, but I can work without them. Coffee is always helpful.

AM: What is your favorite written narrative of all time? What is your favorite narrative image of all time?

AN: That changes from day to day. Today the written thing is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The narrative image thing is Andrzej Klimowski's wordless novel The Depository.

AM: In addition to your artwork and writing, you're also a teacher! What about teaching appeals to you? How would students characterize your teaching style?

AN: I teach graduate students, so they are already accomplished artists who are trying to become better at what they do. The program I teach in, the Interdisciplinary MFA in Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College in Chicago, is devoted to exactly the things I like, books and narrative, printing and paper. So for me the situation is ideal, lots of people all interested in the things I love, who want to be in a classroom thinking and talking and making things, letting me poke them and prod them into doing it a little better.

I tend to think I am a very laidback sort of professor, but I was told recently by a student whose thesis I was guiding that she'd chosen me as her advisor because I was always tough on her and made her work harder. So perhaps I am not as lax as I think.

AM: Would you mind telling the Estella's Revenge readers about your newest project? When can we expect to get our grubby little paws on it?

AN: I am working on my second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. It is a ghost story, set in London in and around Highgate Cemetery, in the present. Because I do work on several things at once (I am about to have a solo exhibit of my artwork in Chicago) it goes rather slowly. I hope to finish it in the next year or so, but really, it is hard to predict. I would prefer to do it well, rather than to get it over with. The great pleasure of writing is having the thing well underway, and eventually it wants to be done, and then you finish it. HFS is at the fun stage where I know what I'm doing but it can still surprise me.

AM: Do you often have time to read for pleasure? Do you have any new-to-you authors that you would recommend?

AN: I was completely enthralled by The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by G.W. Dalhquist. The copy I had was the British galley, issued as ten thin books, a serial. And the thing is perfect as a serial, just like a weird Victorian movie you might dream just as you are waking up, with compelling villians and a heroine who is too curious for her own good and these blue glass books that capture people's memories. . . anyway, it's hard to explain, but I did adore it.

Thanks so much to Audrey Niffenegger for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer questions for Estella's Revenge. You can visit her website HERE.

Read-a-thon Challenge Interview

By Jodie

Reading, uninterrupted for 24 hours; I think most of us would agree that sounds like a fantastic plan. But do we ever put this grand design into practice? Find an activity guaranteed to occupy the kids, partner or pet for the day and your mental task list will simply bump some sort of drudgery to the top spot. You begin Madame Bovary but remember that the washing needs hanging or there’s a presentation due at work and the mental priority light just keeps blinking, perhaps the blinking is even accompanied by bleeps. Bovary is doomed.

One woman has come to save us from ourselves. Dewey ( has just hosted the 24 hour Read-a-thon, where everyone was encouraged to abandon those annoying responsibilities temporarily to be able to concentrate on reading. Dewey woke up just in time to answer my questions:

JB: What prompted the challenge?

D: My husband and son participate in the 24 Hour Comics Day ( and one day I jokingly said that next time they did that, I would just read for 24 hours. My husband suggested that I get some blog-friends to join me, and that led to the idea of setting it up as a challenge anyone could join. Our Read-a-thon was the same day as 24 Hour Comics Day, so I included a comic-creating mini-challenge.

JB: What makes your project stand out from the many outstanding challenges that have been organized this year?

D: Most reading challenges in the blogosphere involve reading a certain number of books, in a certain amount of time, about a certain topic. The 24 Hour Read-a-thon was about marathon reading as well as blogging and visiting other participants. I love reading challenges, but this had a very different feel. It started to seem like a sleepover, and I think the participants made new friends and got to know old friends better.

JB: Have you taken part in other people's book challenges this year?

D: Oh yes! Right now I'm participating in The Newbery Challenge, the New York Times Notable Books Challenge, the Something About Me Challenge, the R.I.P. II challenge, the Book Awards Reading Challenge, the Unread Authors Challenge, and the Pulitzer and Newbery projects, which are unlike most challenges in that they have no end date. I'm also already committed to participating in three or four challenges in 2008.

JB: Roughly how many people participated in the challenge?

D: About 50. Some were Readers, some were Cheerleaders, some were both, and some donated prizes.

JB: What did you read on the day?

D: I was actually surprised at how little time I had to read. I only ended up reading about half of Neil Gaiman's Stardust. The organizing and communicating with participants took nearly all my time the whole 24 hours.

JB: Why did you include mini-challenges throughout the day? What was the most popular mini-challenge?

D: I included mini-challenges (and cheerleaders as well) because I didn't want the readers to feel isolated. I'm really interested in building community, and that's what the Read-a-thon was all about. I knew that Readers would need breaks, so I took advantage of that to get them interacting with each other. They were all either creative activities or community-building activities, and different participants preferred different mini-challenges. I was impressed by what great sports the Readers were; some of them did nearly all the mini-challenges, even when they were exhausted way at the end.

JB: What book related day would you like to see made a world wide holiday?

D: Buy A Friend A Book Week!

JB: What would your ultimate type of book be (fact/fiction, long/short, genre, author gender etc.)?

D: I have really eclectic tastes and read nearly all genres, but I read a lot more fiction than nonfiction, and my main interest is in what's known as literary fiction. My ultimate type of book would be one I could reread every year and still keep finding something new to love.

JB: What are currently your favourite books?

D: Some recent books I've loved are March by Geraldine Brooks, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie, and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. (You might want to double check my spelling on some of those names.)

JB: Will you be running the challenge again next year?

D: I hope so!

Some participants decided they’d love to share their experiences of living the decadent, bibliophile lifestyle prescribed by Dewey.

Heather: ( “I decided to participate in Dewey’s Read-a-thon because I’m way behind on my review book reading and it just sounded like a ton of fun. Usually I’m too busy to participate in all the blog-based reading challenges, but I thought that one day was something I could commit to.”

Eva: ( “…I highly recommend that everyone who can clear their schedules next year participate! Although I loved the reading, and the prizes, my favourite part was the community building that went on.”

Callista: ( “I finished the last little bit of Mosaic by Amy Grant, read 3/4 of Black Creek Crossing by John Saul, almost finished First Times Compiled by Marthe Jocelyn and read completely The Giver by Lois Lowry, fake id by Hazel Edwards and The Great Number Rumble by Cora Lee and Gillian O'Reilly.”

Stephanie: ( “I read three different books and journal articles for school. I completed one book and all the journal articles.”

Iliana: ( “I had such a great time participating even though my hours read is actually a very small number - 5! …What I didn’t expect was to do as much blog hopping throughout the day but it was addicting to see how the readers were doing.”

Read-a-thon Blogged

Hour One

Eva: “Whew-Tithe was definitely a good choice to start off with; I'm racing through it. An interesting plot, plus big type and small pages make me feel like I'm really achieving something! At first, I was turned off by the writing style (not as polished as I would've liked), but once I relaxed I found myself enjoying the story enough to overlook it.”

Callista: “I'm really going to try for all 24 hours but I had the worst nights sleep ever last night so I might crash sitting up with the book in my hands. I'll read walking if I have too and I have some pop.”

Heather: “I have my coffee in-hand (very important prerequisite). I don’t have a set agenda for what I’ll read, but here’s what I’m thinking so far… I may focus on some of the shorter books in an effort to feel a sense of accomplishment by shortening that list, but I will probably also alternate that with reading sections of The Gift of Rain, which is a beautiful book but a bit of a slow read for me.”

Hour Two

Stephanie: “From the comments I see the cheerleaders are already out in force! I read Lord of the Flies for about 45 minutes before I had to stop. My Bookman, who is semi-joining me in the reading day, and I had to go to the grocery store. The cupboards were bare and we needed real food and a little treat to sustain us through the afternoon.”

Hour Three

Eva: “This hour, I finished up Tithe; I'm uncertain as to whether to award it three or four stars. Parts of it were very good, other parts not so much. Overall, I'd recommend it for people who enjoy urban fantasy, and don't mind a somewhat clunky writing style and teens who engage in sketchy behaviour (lol-like sixteen-year-olds smoking and hooking up). After I was done with that, I decided I wanted a complete change of pace, so I went with The Kitchen Boy, a historical novel by Robert Alexander set in Russia when it was becoming the USSR. It recounts the last days of the Russian royal family's lives.”

Hour Five

Callista: “Cool challenge! Read a book in another language. I'm reading: La Escalera Misteriosa by Edith Checa”

Iliana: “An Infamous Army is on hold while I read a short story from Leyendas Mexicanas. A book of creepy little tales in Spanish.”

Heather: “I just spent an entire chapter inside the head of a sort-of British gangster who wants to think he has class, as he interior monologued in most outrageous and hysterical fashion about everything from Pre-Raphaelite paintings to the morality of a morning shag in the living room with the curtains open. I couldn’t stop laughing the whole way through.”

Hour Six

Stephanie: “My shoulders are killing me. Next year’s Read-a-Thon should include massages. I’ll have to be nice to my Bookman, I’m sure he’ll oblige me.”

Hour Eight

Stephanie: “Charged up with coffee and a yummy snack I read nonstop for close to two hours. My shoulders feel better, but now my legs are starting to ache from sitting so much so it’s time for a little break. A nice walk with my Bookman and the dog. Oh, and Lord of the Flies is fantastic! The tension is really getting to me and I think I held my breath over the last two pages I read!”

Hour Ten:

Dewey: “I am getting really restless. This next hour, I am definitely going to take my own advice and go outside for a walk… I’ve been mostly reading this hour, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve read Stardust. It’s older than I thought, published in 1999.”

Stephanie: “The walk was nice… More reading after the walk…I’m a slow reader, so only find myself about 3/4 of the way through Lord of the Flies. It just got creepier and the tension level went up another notch! Oy, it’s nerve wracking. I had begun the book earlier in the week during lunch but didn’t get far. I am sort of glad because this reading in one intensive swoop is fun. Even with short breaks the tension that builds doesn’t wane because I haven’t forgotten where I was when I pick the book back up. Plus Golding is such an amazing writer I get sucked back to the island as soon I start to read.”

Iliana: “Had a good time at Half Price Books even though I didn’t buy any books. Shocking isn’t it? I also read another short story, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes by Henry James. This is my first intro to Henry James and now I’d love to read more of by him.”

Hour Twelve

Callista: “The Giver is a re-read for me. It is one of my favourite books if not THE favourite. My headache is gone and I'm not as tired as I was.”

Hour Thirteen

Dewey: “My Hour 13 did not go very well. I did no reading at all, but I did visit a few Readers. Here’s what happened.

Husband: (puts pizza into oven) …(time passes)
Me: (sniffs) Could you check the pizza? It smells done.
Husband: No, because the instructions say 15 to 21 minutes, and it’s only been 9.
My phone: Ring! Ring ring! Me: (talking to co-worker 3 min 7 sec)
Entire House: (FILLS WITH SMOKE!)
Me: (to coworker) I HAVE TO GO! BYE!
Husband: Oops.
Smoke alarm: SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!!!!!!!!!
Pizza: (Sits around being all black.)”

Hour Fourteen

Dewey: “This hour, I really started to notice the participants bonding with each other. People who just met through the read-a-thon are really getting to know each other. And I know that I feel like I’m getting to know people better, too, even those I already did know.”
Eva: “I'm absolutely loving the mini-challenges! Wow-these cheerleaders are super-inventive. :) This hour, I'm supposed to decide what I would serve at a book group meeting to discuss one of the books I've been reading. I just finished Gods in Alabama (and it was a great read!), but I also really want to talk about Russian food, so I'm going to do two version! First, let's say we're meeting for Gods in Alabama, a book about the South. Since we're talking about finger food, I'd probably serve fried chicken and cornbread with sweet sun tea and some kind of pie for dessert. :) Glorious! For The Kitchen Boy, I'd serve black tea with guest's choice of sugar, lemon, and raspberry preserves, along with blinchiki.”

Hour Fifteen

Iliana: “I’ve started two books since I last checked in. An Infamous Army is quite good but I thought if I added a couple of other books it’d help to keep things a bit more exciting during the read-a-thon. One book is Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, which is my fourth R.I.P. II Challenge book, and the other is The Sewing Circles of Herat by Christina Lamb which I’m reading for a book group.”

Dewey: “I started to get giddy this hour, having animated conversations with the cat (who did not appreciate it), marching around the living room singing La Marseillaise at the top of my lungs to wake myself up, and just in general annoying my husband…Having animated conversations with the cat is not really very unusual for me, but I rarely sing bloodthirsty anthems, and I never march.”

Hour Seventeen

Iliana: “I slacked off a bit between 10 and 12 but have started reading again. I think I can still stay up for another hour or so but am not making any promises.”

Eva: “Wow! I'm completely and utterly sucked in by the world of Marked. There are definitely some things I would change about it stylistically, but I award it an A+ for keeping me awake.”
Hour Twenty One

Stephanie: “Well, I’m awake… I thought I’d attempt to begin these last few read-a-thon hours with an in progress book, A Life of One’s Own: A Guide To Better Living Through the Work and Wisdome of Virginia Woolf. I’m not sure Virginia would recommend being up this early. And I’m not sure non-fiction is the way to start the day, but I’ll give it a go. If it doesn’t work I have poetry by Rumi as well as The Odyssey and if all else fails I will start reading some fiction.

Hour Twenty Four

Stephanie: “The dog is still snoring. The Odyessey made good reading this last hour. Odysseus met the Cyclops, and you probably know the story. Pretty gruesome descriptions in the poem. They had a couple other adventures and now are down to one ship. They have just reached Circe’s island. It is clear that the reserved strategist from The Iliad has turned into a real jerk. Maybe he was always like that, or maybe ten years of war have addled his brain.”

Eva: “Mugs of Hot Tea: 4
Mugs of Hot Chocolate: 2
Glasses of Iced Tea: 3
Cans of Diet Pepsi: 1
Reading over 2,000 pages in 24 hours: Priceless!”

You can read all about Dewey’s challenge by visiting her blog and reading the fun surveys she made for the participants, which each posted at their website.

A Case for Georgette Heyer

By Elaine

I first discovered Georgette Heyer when I was about 14 years old. I remember I was stuck indoors with a heavy cold, nothing to read and feeling sorry for myself. My sister popped home at lunchtime to see how I was and, as she was training to be a librarian and doing her practice in a library just around the corner, brought home a selection of books for me to look at. Amongst these was The Talisman Ring and I settled down to give it a try, not sure what to expect, or even if I would like it.

Three hours later I was on the phone and asked her to scour the shelves and bring home as many others as she could find. She came home with about 12 and that was that. I was hooked and, over the next ten years, read my way through her entire output and eagerly purchased each new Heyer as it was published.

Georgette Heyer suffered all her life from sneering comments from reviewers who thought her books were merely lightweight romances. She felt this very badly, being a serious historian and researcher and throughout her writing career longed to be accepted for something more than the producer of Regency romances. In between each such book which she had to produce in order to support her family, she spent as much time as she could on a more serious work, a life of John of Gaunt (My Lord John). It was not a success, the lightness of touch and wit which flowed in the Regency novels was seriously lacking and her legion of fans was disappointed. Her other non-Regency novel, Simon the Coldheart, was similarly unsuccessful and remained out of print for years as she would not allow it to be republished. When she moved outside the regency period her books became somewhat self conscious, particularly in the speech patterns and they do not flow. Powder and Patch is another example of this, a very early work, which is stilted and mannered. Whether she liked it or not she was more at home in the Regency genre.

Georgette researched scrupulously and her library was full of books on dress, food, wine, slang and patterns of speech used and she never put a foot wrong. Years later when I discovered and read Jane Austen I realised just how accurate Heyer had been in her portrayal of the lives and manners of society at this time. I was sure that she must have been an Austen fan as it is seemed to me that her hero in many of her books was Mr Darcy revisited though, in fact, it would appear that she regarded Charlotte Bronte’s Mr Rochester as ‘the first, and the Nonpareil of his type. He is the rugged and dominant male who yet can be handled by quite an ordinary female; as it might be, oneself’. She categorised her heroes as Model No 1 – ‘suave, well dressed, rich and a famous whip’ or Model No 2 – ‘a brusque savage sort with a foul temper. He is very rich but has not the slightest wish to cut a dash…

My personal recommendation for a first crack at a Heyer would be Friday's Child. Lord Sheringham (Sherry), a rackety young buck about town has proposed marriage to the beauty of the season, Isabel, but she refuses him. Furious at his rejection he stomps out saying if she won't have him then he will marry the first woman he sees. On his way back to town he comes across Hero Wantage, a downtrodden orphan who he has known all his life, sitting alone and crying. He stops and comforts her and when he tells her of his dismissal by Isabel and his threat to marry the first woman he sees, she points out to him that it is her. On the spur of the moment he whisks her into his curricle and takes her to town and they duly wed. Hero is totally unworldly, knows nothing of society or how to behave and romps through the season causing mayhem in her wake as she is fleeced by unscrupulous gamblers and tumbles from one scrape to another. In the end she runs away from Sherry so he can find himself another bride more worthy of him and then, of course, inevitably, he realises that he loves her and tries to find her and win her back. Though the happy ending is never in doubt, he does not have an easy time of it, particularly as he is being ‘helped’ by his friends, a totally barmy bunch who provide humour and warmth to this very very funny story.

I have read and re-read every single Heyer several times and love them all but if I had to name some of my favourites for recommended reading, I think these titles would find their way onto my list:

The Reluctant Widow
The Grand Sophy
The Convenient Marriage
Devil’s Cub

Some of Heyer’s later novels are slightly disappointing and laden with too much Regency slang and cant and I would avoid reading these as long as possible as they might give you a wrong idea of her quality. Charity Girl, Cousin Kate, False Colours and the Nonesuch should perhaps be read when you love her so much that you will forgive the falling off of these later books.

I have one Heyer that, for me stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that is A Civil Contract. When I first read it, I remember being disappointed as it is not the straightforward Regency novel I was expecting with beautiful heroine meeting man of her dreams. It concerns an arranged marriage, the civil contract of the title. Adam Deveril comes home from the Napoleonic wars to discover that his father has died and left nothing but debts. Though he is madly in love with Julia, a society beauty, he marries Jenny, a nondescript, plump daughter of a wealthy city merchant. He gives her his title and, in return, she brings him a fortune to restore his estates and his beloved country seat.

This book repays re-reading. It is not a passionate book but tender and gentle as we see the growing contentment and love between Adam and Jenny. Not a sweep you off your feet love story, but more true to life and, ultimately, very satisfying.

Though Georgette longed to write a serious historical novel and didn’t think much of her Regency books, she succeeded when writing what I think is her masterpiece, An Infamous Army. This contains a detailed description of the Battle of Waterloo, so well researched and historically correct that it is still used at the Military College, Sandhurst during cadet training. It is a superb piece of writing and those of us who appreciate her recognise this. She may not have regarded this as the serious historical novel she wanted to write, but it is, though perhaps more by accident than design.

If you have never read any of Georgette Heyer’s books I envy you. You have a treasure trove ready and waiting to be discovered and enjoyed and hours of contented reading to come as you meet Carlyon, George Wrotheringham, Gideon, Lord Rule, Mr Beaumaris and many more gorgeous masterful heroes just waiting to seduce you. Her heroines are feisty, resourceful and more than a match for any man they meet so in this respect Heyer was well ahead of her time in portraying women with whom we can empathise.

All her books have recently been republished in new paperback editions so should be easily obtainable and if you wish to learn more about the author I can recommend The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge, which has been out of print for a long time, but now available again.


Comics From the Crypt: Terrifying Tales to Thrill Your Halloween

By Chris Buchner

Halloween may be over, but that doesn’t mean it has to end until next year. I love Halloween, it’s my most favored of holidays. Where else can you dress up and be anyone you want, not to mention get oodles of candy for free? Then there’s the whole supernatural angle, ghosts, goblins, demons, witches…all sorts of creatures in the night that make it unlike any other day of the year. If I had my way, Halloween would be more than just one piddly day. Fortunately, there’s a smattering of comics out there that will allow anyone to keep Halloween alive in the months preceding the next official occurrence of this unique holiday. Forget the scary movie marathon; next Halloween make it a scary COMIC marathon!


Wildstorm, a DC imprint, has acquired the license to several of the most well-known names in horror: dream murderer Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, machete wielding Jason Voorhies from the Friday the 13th series and the chainsaw cannibal Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Before Wildstorm, each had enjoyed a variety of comics by different publishers. Freddy goes as far back as 1989 with Marvel, before being picked up by Innovation in 1991 and those tales later reprinted in the UK by Trident. Jason started a bit lat in 1993 when he was licensed out by New Line to Topps Comics, who published an adaptation of the film Jason Goes to Hell and a crossover with Leatherface. Leatherface began in 1991 at Northstar Comics with a loose adaptation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre III before heading over to Topps for his crossover with Jason. In 2005, Avatar Press resurrected all three of these characters with a couple mini-series and specials each (it should be noted, though, the Texas books from here on out were based on the 2003 remake rather than the original), before ultimately losing the licenses.

Originally at Wildstorm, each character had their own on-going and specials, but Wildstorm decided to condense the books into a series of minis and specials, and brings two of them together in the new series New Line Cinema’s House of Horrors by Christos Gage, Peter Milligan, Stefano Rafaelle and Tom Feister. Each issue will feature two stories with each character, starting off with Freddy and Leatherface. In the meantime, Jason teams up with a young boy at Camp Crystal Lake as he’s picked on by fellow campers and on the run for his life in Friday the 13th: How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Jason Aaron and Adam Archer.

And, in case that wasn’t enough Freddy or Jason for you, there’s a mini-series coming based on the proposed follow-up to 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason movie, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash by Wildstorm and Dynamite Entertainment. The series will pit the two villains, unwittingly bonded at the end of the film, against anti-hero Ashley J. Williams as they hunt for the Necronomicon, an evil book, for different reasons(see the Army of Darkness paragraph in THE DEAD LIVE! section of this article for further details).

Meanwhile, over at Devil’s Due, another horror staple finds a new life and a thirst for vengeance. Chucky stars the evil Good Guy Doll inhabited by serial killer Charles Lee Ray in a direct sequel to the Child’s Play movie franchise. The mini-series follows Chucky as he goes after Jade, Jessie and Detective Preston from The Bride of Chucky looking for a little payback from their burying him alive.

Although nothing recent has been published, indestructible masked psycho Michael Meyers from the Halloween series has also enjoyed his time in the comic pages, most recently in a special comic included with the 2006 DVD release of Halloween: 25 Years of Terror called Halloween: Autopsis. Created by documentary writer/producer/director Stefan Hutchinson, it centers on a photojournalist on a search for Meyers in 1993 by following Sam Loomis. This comic leads into a spin-off novella about Loomis available for download soon from Before, though, Halloween was published through Chaos Comics in 2000. It was followed-up by two sequels, until 2003 when an independently published book was sold at the Halloween Returns to Haddonfield 25th Anniversary Convention in California.

Some other horror films have received the comic treatment as well. The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning is a graphic novel released by Fox Atomic Comics by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray that serves as a prequel to both Wes Craven’s original movie and the Fox Atomic sequel in 2006. It tells how the once-good people of the area were transformed into hideous monsters by US. Government atomic testing in the area. Also produced by Fox Atomic Comics is 28 Days Later: The Aftermath by Steve Niles, Dennis Calero, Diego Olmos and Nat Jones. It features four stories that bridge the gap between the first movie and it’s sequel, exploring everything from the creation of the Rage Virus, survival in an infected city, and how things were restored to order.


Psycho killers not enough for ya? Well, there’s a smattering of the undead for you to put your hands on!

The Walking Dead by Image Comics is created and written by Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore, whose art chores were replaced by Charlie Adlard since issue 7. The ongoing book follows the adventures of a group of people trying to survive in a world overrun by zombies. Although heavily influenced by the films of George Romero, the goal of the series it have no definitive end to the story, instead showing the progression of the world and characters as they deal with the zombie infestation.

Avatar Press has their own zombie epic in the works, with the launch of The Plague of the Living Dead. Like most zombie epics, a mysterious bug goes around reanimating the recently deceased who seek to feast on the living. By John Russo and Dheeraj Verma, the series picks up from the special released before it and brings the gore in full-colored glory.

Looking for something a bit more unconventional? Marvel’s got your answer with the darkly comedic Marvel Zombies 2. A sequel to last year’s off-beat hit Marvel Zombies which spun-off from an arc in Ultimate Fantastic Four, the book features a return to the alternate universe where Marvel’s heroes have been infected by a virus and turned into flesh-eating monsters. But, this time, the zombies are the ones possessing the power cosmic after feasting on Galactus and on their way back to Earth after eating every other creature in the universe to feast on the few remaining humans. Robert Kirkman heads up this book as well, with art by Sean Phillips and painted covers parodying other Marvel covers by Arthur Suydam. The exploits of the zombies can also be seen in recent issues of Black Panther and Marvel Zombies: Dead Days.

They say it was written by the dark ones; Necronomicon Ex Mortis, roughly translated “Book of the Dead.” Bound in human flesh and inked in blood, it contains bizarre incantations and demon resurrection passages. It was never meant for the world of the living. Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man movies) created a cult hit with his Evil Dead Trilogy starring friend Bruce Campbell as the bumbling wise-ass Ashley J. Williams. The third in the series, Army of Darkness, was adapted into comic form containing the original intended ending in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics Over a decade later, Devil’s Due would resurrect the comic adventures of Ash vs. the Necronomicon and its legion of the undead with two mini-series, Ashes 2 Ashes and ShopTill You Drop Dead, before Dynamite Entertainment took over for the on-going. Since then, Ash has been up against fellow cult-classics Reanimator and Darkman (also created by Raimi), variations of the Universal Monsters, and even the Marvel Zombies. The adventures of Ash currently run in Army of Darkness: From the Ashes, and coming soon from Dark Horse a 4-issue mini-series adapting the original Evil Dead movie.

You’ve seen the trailers and the posters, and now IDW Publishing is re-releasing it’s hit mini-series and latest comic-adapted motion picture 30 Days of Night. Created by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, it’s a tale about vampires that appear in a small Alaskan town where the sun sets for 30 days, putting four of it’s residence in a difficult struggle for their own survival, and to save their home. The latest release is a Sourcebook that features government accounts on the incident, but also available are the original mini and it’s sequels: Bloodsucker Tales, Return to Barrow, Dead Space, Spreading the Disease, Eben and Stella, Red Snow, Night Beyond Barrow and two annuals.

Avatar Press brings George Romero’s world back to life (so to speak) with an authorized collection of mini-series and one-shots. Among them are Night of the Living Dead: Back From The Grave, Beginning, Barbara’s Zombie Chronicles, and Just a Girl. All were written by John Russo with full approval from George Romero, as they expand and explain the film he crafted so long ago.


If you like the supernatural you may want to check out Wildstorm’s Supernatural: Origins. Based on the hit CW TV series, it serves as a prequel to show how John Winchester raises his sons Dean and Sam to become the hunters of spirits and demons seen every week on the show. It’s written by series producer Peter Johnson and drawn by Matthew Dow Smith.

Fox Atomic Comics presents a graphic novel that adapts Thomas Ligotti’s book The Nightmare Factory. Adapted by Stuart Moore, Joe Harris, Ben Templesmith, Jim McKeever, Michael Gaydos and Colleen Doran, it tells three of the most terrifying stories from Ligotti’s work involving human sacrifices, horrific dreams, and a strange urban legend that robs artists of their desire to create.

Devil’s Due offers a new take on the slasher genre with Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash. Cassie was picked on as a child which led to her mother brutally murdering every guilty kid in her school and serving them in the school lunch. This prompted Cassie to go out and kill homicidal maniacs, or slashers, with her freakish companion Vlad. The book started as a series of one-shots in 2004 now collected in the trades The First Cut and Death By Sequel, which gave way to a limited-series called Land of Lost Toys, which eventually led to the characters getting their own ongoing book, Hack/Slash: The Series. If that wasn’t enough for you, they also had a cross-over with Chucky in Hack/Slash vs. Chucky.

Somewhere between madness and mayhem lies…Psychosis! Psychosis! is an annual horror anthology publication by Guild Works Productions that explores some of the most terrifying things humans have experienced. The second issue was released just this October and features a variety of talent from different levels of the comic book field, many farmed from the national networking group the Comicbook Artists Guild


Before HBO, there was the original Tales from the Crypt. Published in the 1950s by EC comics, these tales paved the way for every incarnation that would come after. Gemstone Publishing had collected two volumes worth of the original EC Comics run, reprinting 12 issues and 24 stories in total. Also, a new more kid-friendly version of the classic book is currently being produced by Papercutz! under the supervision of industry veteran Jim Salicrup.

Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula was a 70-issue series from the 70s that followed the adventures of a group of vampire hunters who went after Dracula or other menaces, sometimes resulting in Dracula teaming-up to help them. Along with many other classic books, the series was given the Essential treatment in 2004, collecting all 70 issues of the series between four volumes and a few stories from the magazine of the same title. Also, the Frankenstein Monster and Werewolf by Night have also been given Essentials, collecting the various comics in which they appeared in one handy tome. Plus, the four Legion of Monsters one-shots that re-imagine some of Marvel’s supernatural characters have just been released in a new collected edition.

And, last but not least, what’s Halloween without those courageous defenders of humanity against the perils of the supernatural, the Ghostbusters! No Halloween is complete without them, and the same goes for their comics. Although the last newly published book was in 2004 through 88MPH Studios by Andrew Dabb and Steve Kurth, the Ghostbusters have been around for many years, mostly in their cartoon variations. NOW Comics published over 30 issues of The Real Ghostbusters, including an adaptation of the second movie and the Slimer! spin-off.

Of course, boils and ghouls, these are just some of the most recent examples of Halloween-ready comics available on the stands. There are many more spine-tinglers out there to raise your hair and give you goose bumps, both newly deceased and rotten from the grave. So if you’re looking for a scare for your next Halloween, head to your local cemetery and dig up these gruesome creations. But, remember to leave the lights on, kiddies, because you just might find yourself the fright of your afterlife! MWAHAHAHAHA!

The Comfort Zone

By Stuart Sharp

Some books are better than others. Some are more sophisticated than others. Some are more serious. But are some books more comfortable than others? And if so, what is it that makes them so comfortable?

The idea that some books are more comfortable than others is fairly easy to prove. First, picture the last book that you read in a couple of sittings; preferably something that made you feel nicely warm and fuzzy. Now picture the complete works of Emile Zola. It’s not a foolproof method, because there’s always the possibility that there’s someone somewhere who thought of La Debacle for the first part of that experiment, but I’d bet that most people didn’t for the simple reason that it’s a hugely uncomfortable book.

There are, as this experiment shows, books out there that are difficult, awkward and spiky; books that don’t so much pull you along as grate their way across the brain. That doesn’t make them bad books. Kelly Link’s short story collection Magic for Beginners is as weird and uncomfortable as you could wish, but it’s still the best such collection I’ve read in years. Tricia Sullivan’s Someone to Watch Over Me is the same, almost painful with its twisting awkwardness, but still an excellent novel nonetheless.

In contrast, there are other books that are like a warm fluffy pillow to the brain, soft and comfortable and rarely any difficulty. Most chick-lit aims for this, as indeed does romance, family drama and even a lot of thrillers. Yes, thrillers. Dan Brown, Chris Ryan and company have made careers out of comfort, putting together books that for all their violent moments never make the mistake of forcing the reader into any painful thinking. They’re unlikely to be accused of great literature, but they have got the knack of putting together very readable books.

But how do they do it? What exactly is it that makes one book comfortable while another seems to work to keep the reader out? The writing’s readability is one part of it. As someone more than a little in love with the sub-sub-sub-clause, you’d think I wouldn’t mind a bit of slow pacing, clunky sentence construction and stilted dialogue. You’d be wrong though. Like most people these days, my reading brain demands sentences pared to the bone, plot that starts instantly and keeps moving, and absolutely no paragraphs that have to be re-read three times to be understood.

Perhaps this explains why many books seem to become less comfortable over time. Writing conventions that made absolute sense to Hardy or Spencer now seem less helpful. That doesn’t make their works any less great, though I’m inclined to think that Hardy got it right when he gave up prose to concentrate on his poetry, but it does move them from the category of ‘handy beach read’ to ‘push through it because it’s one of the classics’.

The curious thing though is that not all books are affected the same way as they age. Marlowe’s work remains compelling, while medieval chansons de geste like the Song of Roland or Raoul de Cambrai are actually quite readable (so long as you don’t make the mistake of trying to work through the original Old French). From Ian Peebles’ writings on cricket to the fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle, some older writing seems more like a favourite old teddy bear than a forbidding elderly relative.

Of course, all this is subjective, and never is this more apparent than in the field of poetry. The strong rhymes, consistent rhythms and formal approaches of some of the great poets strike some people as comfortable reminders of the past, and others as simply out of date. Predictably enough, I can’t make up my mind, finding the work of Keats, Wordsworth and Milton inspiring and annoying by turns.

Lord Byron’s work tends to produce a slightly different reaction in me; not because of his epics or even his reputation, but because of his habit of rhyming eye with eternity. It’s a habit shared with Shakespeare, and one that has me fighting to avoid reading the poetry with the strongest Birmingham accent I can manage.

These are largely questions of style, but substance has a role to play too, as the example of the thriller writers above suggests. If the idea there is to keep things moving quickly, then there often isn’t time for the reader to start thinking. Other books aren’t looking to move so rapidly, but stay away from awkward thoughts anyway if they want to stay within the comfort zone. After all, a little light reading quickly becomes a lot heavier if the author starts asking important questions about life, the universe and so on.

And it isn’t just the weight of the words that’s an issue here. Reading is a physical experience as well as a mental one. The way a book feels, and even the way it smells, has an important impact on the pleasure of the reader. Unfortunately, being occasionally a little too clumsy for my own good, six-inch thick hardbacks also tend to have an important impact on my foot when I drop them. It’s not uncommon to see the complete works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen and others bound in coffee table format. It probably makes sense from a price point of view, but not from a comfort standpoint. If you’re planning on curling up with a good book, then you want something that won’t crush you when you do.

Where you curl up with it is important, too. Reading in your favourite spot will make almost any book seem more comfortable, but I think there’s also something to be said for matching books to places. Books set in wide open spaces probably deserve to be read in the outdoors that inspired them, provided it isn’t raining or, as in my garden, frosted over. Other books deserve to be read in bedrooms, dining rooms, the half forgotten section near the back of your local library. I have to admit though that I’ve never understood the apparent connection between books and coffee shops. I’ve just never seen anything comfortable about overpriced coffee, a jittery caffeine buzz and occasional stares from owners impatient to get you out of there to make space for the next customer.

Having thought about what makes a book comfortable, I suppose I should finish by suggesting what I consider to be the most comfortable books, if not in the whole world, then at least in the mess that calls itself my bookcase. I’ve chosen three. The first, The Cricketer’s Companion edited by Alan Ross, is a fairly idiosyncratic choice, since it’s hard to find, about a sport many people find painfully odd, and also about half full of exactly the sort of poetry I complained about just a little while ago. On the other hand, it has charm, and besides, where else are you going to find Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Byron and P.G. Wodehouse side by side?

Second is Another Fine Myth, by Robert Asprin, although really most of his books in the series could have filled the role. Some books in the comic fantasy sub-genre manage to be uncomfortably silly, or strange, or a little too clever for their own good, but Asprin’s work is warm, enjoyable, and very funny indeed.

The final selection is something that, when I thought of it, struck me as unexpected. Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, ought to have at least one thing stacked against it in the comfort stakes, and that’s Gaiman’s name on the cover. Don’t get me wrong; he is, by almost any definition, a brilliant writer. I love his novels. But he is almost the definition of the writer who produces books that manage to be weird and uncomfortable and amazing all at once. The collaboration with Pratchett softened the effect just enough though, and the two managed to produce a story about the apocalypse that manages to be funny, charming, and not uncomfortable at all.

Comfort Food

By Heather T.

Comfort. This month’s theme, is one that conjures up images in my mind of long winter Saturdays; a book or two at my side, wrapped in a cozy blanket, a large mug of tea and a huge plate of cookies.

I decided to step away from the usual book review I’ve submitted in the past and instead share two very tasty cookie recipes. You’ll need these to complete your perfect reading marathon. You may not actually get any reading done because you’ll be too busy eating cookies! Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cookiesadapted from Anna Olson’s Sugar

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips or mini chips

Preheat oven to 350F
Cream butter with hand mixer
Add sugars and continue to mix until smooth
Mix in egg and vanilla
Stir in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt
Stir in chocolate chips

Using a tablespoon, scoop a small amount of mixtures and drop onto a baking sheet
Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges
Let cool slightly and eat – gobbling down is good!

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 325F
Mix peanut butter, sugar and egg with a large spoon until well blended
Using a tablespoon, scoop a small amount of mixture and drop onto a baking sheet
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned
Cool in pan for 5 – 10 minutes
Eat right away! Again, gobbling down is good!

Snazzy Stuff

The ultimate in reading locations! All your favorite books, a mere arms' reach away. Does it really get any better than this, the Bibliochaise?

Judging a Book, November 2007

By Fence

It is Halloween season, and so I’m reading along with a spooky themed challenge, Carl’s Reading Imbibing Peril, or RIP for short, Challenge. And one of the books I chose to read was Michael Collin’s Lost Souls. It is blurbed (yes, I verb random nouns) as a suspense or mystery novel so it fits with that part of the challenge. Plus, it takes place at Halloween so I thought it’d be perfect. And it turns out that cover is one I want to talk about, so it lets me kill two birds with one stone.

The cover of the book shows the victim of the hit and run that begins the story: a 3 year old girl, dressed up as an angel for Halloween. There are lens flares that obscure parts of the photograph, and it looks overexposed, too much washed out white over which the title, the author’s name is plastered across the front, plus the information that this has been shortlisted for the Booker; one can’t forget that sort of PR.

It is, in my opinion, the perfect picture for this novel. It fits the theme well--that fleeting innocence of childhood. And of course the fact that we can’t see the child clearly, well if I said that it echoes the fact that we often can’t see that innocence because as we grow older we tend to become slightly cynical would I be stating the obvious? Then there is the fact that she is dressed as an angel which may remind the prospective reader of hope, or redemption, another central theme of the novel.

So this is a clear example of a cover design that works so much better after you’ve read the book. Before, when you may be just browsing the shelves in a store, it is simply a pretty picture and doesn’t have any such resonance. And strangely enough that fits in with the story as well. After all doesn’t every suspense story involve trying to make the reader look a little harder at what is right in front of them?

Sure, I Know the Queen, November 2007

By Jodie

A selection of British literary highlights this month:

The winner of the Man Booker Prize, “a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of either the Commonwealth Nations or the Republic of Ireland”* was awarded to Anne Enright for The Gathering. Anne is an Irish novelist who has previously written three novels and a non-fiction book as well as essays and short stories. Readers looking for more of the authors works should check out The Wig My Father Wore, What Are You Like? and The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch.

In other prize news when Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize, her response was less than enthusiastic. “Oh Christ. I couldn’t care less,” is not the most politically correct acceptance speech but it is at least short. Lessing’s best known works are probably The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing.

A recent statistic says that 20% of British children leave primary school unable to read. This translates to 1 in 5 children being physically unable to follow the educational syllabus due to lack of key stage skills. This has prompted Channel Four to run a season called Lost For Words where children are encouraged to read through various methods, including a book club run by Richard and Judy. There will also be three programs focusing on Monteagle Primary School which implemented a new reading scheme using phonics with the goal of achieving 100% literacy. Read about the various projects featured in the series here (

Susan Hill author of The Woman in Black and the soon to be released The Man in the Picture is running a free online creative writing course at her web-site ( She has recommended some wonderful classic authors to read, such as Graham Greene and Wilkie Collins, in the hope of improving writers' abilities. Her tips on writing are remarkably sensible, as well as business-like and differ greatly from the usual cast iron rules set out by manuals on novel writing. Hill is determined to explode some of the tedious myths about writing and to get those closet writers scribbling. First chapters are now being accepted (once you join the course) but all previous hints and exercises are still available.

On a personal note I am finding it increasingly difficult to find a comfortable place to read in public in Britain. I don’t have a break room at my office and generally reading in public in Britain is not a cozy experience. I feel as if readers are alternately being stared at or being shunned. Coffee shops are noisy, bus stations cold and libraries often too far away from workplaces to be of use. Does anyone have an ideal place in the British Isles for public consumption of books?



Written by Patricia Wood
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Reviewed by Nancy L. Horner

The man chews his cigar, looks at his watch, squeezes his fender, and talks to Gary, all at the same time. “I need to get to the San Juans . . . Friday Harbor . . . Three weeks vacation . . . Can we speed this up?” he asks. “I need to get going.” He looks at his watch, again.

Vacations are when you stop being in a hurry to go to work and start being in a hurry to go someplace else.

Lottery is the story of Perry L. Crandall, a caring and sensitive man with an IQ of 76. The L in his name, his Gram tells him, stands for “Lucky”. When Perry proves his luck by winning the Washington State Lottery, suddenly his life changes dramatically. People who were unwilling to look him in the eye now boldly ask him for money, the family members who ignored him suddenly become concerned about his well-being and clerks treat him with obsequiousness during shopping trips. But, will Perry be able to handle his windfall or is the fact that he’s slower than average likely to become his undoing?
Because Lottery is written from Perry’s point of view, there’s a simplicity and power to the story. The reader knows how Perry thinks and what’s important to him, feels the pain of condescension and insult, becomes angry at the way people speak within his hearing, assuming that he’s unable to translate their plots to take advantage of him. There’s an immediacy to the story, a feeling that one must keep rapidly turning the pages because Perry is such a delightful character that the reader absolutely must know what’s going to occur.

In fact, Perry has difficulty remembering and understanding certain concepts, but throughout the reading of Lottery the reader gains an understanding of how meaningless an intelligence quotient really is. Perry has his own brand of wisdom and is intelligent in many ways. His translations of the implication within spoken words reflects an ability to observe and reason. Because he reads from a dictionary and takes notes, each day, Perry develops a deeper comprehension of words and their varying definitions than most of the people around him.

When the story opens, Perry has been working at Holsted’s Marine Supply in Everett, Washington for many years. His late grandfather taught him to sail and Perry knows boats and their requirements better than the other employees and often even his boss; his Gram spouts bits of wisdom and bolsters his self-confidence. When she thinks he’s out of line, she says, “Don’t be smart.” Friends Keith and Gary -- Perry’s fellow employee and employer -- along with his Gram, treat him with the respect that nobody else offers him.

By the time Perry wins the lottery, the reader is intimately acquainted with Perry, enough to know which of his acquaintances are true friends and who will steal from him if given the chance. What the reader doesn’t know is how Perry will handle the threats and opportunities around him.

Even while I was madly turning pages as I read this novel -- a book that I could barely stand to put down the night I began reading and snatched up the moment I had time to read, the next day -- I feared that the predictable course would unfold. Perry is a warm, generous and kind-hearted character that you can’t help but root for and fall in love with. It’s only natural to want the best to happen and to fear the fate that seems inevitable when his family swoops in and attempts to fleece him.

To avoid spoiling the novel, I can only say that the entire book was full of pleasant surprises, cringe-inducing moments, smiles and tears. Lottery is an involving book -- emotional on many levels. I laughed, I cried, I loved Lottery. Since I closed the book, nearly two weeks ago, I’ve observed that I often hear Perry’s voice when I see something awe-inspiring and remember his oft-repeated words, “That is so cool!”

In the author’s introductory note, she describes the background of Lottery and her “need to write a compelling story that people will listen to, remember, and learn from.” Did she succeed? Absolutely. Perry L. Crandall is a character I plan to revisit, both for his and his Gram’s unique brand of wisdom. Is the novel compelling? Definitely. Did I learn from the story? No doubt about it. Author Patricia Wood succeeded on all levels and I hope that she’ll publish a second novel very soon.

Lost Souls

Lost Souls
by Michael Collins
Reviewed by Fence

To be totally honest this is probably a lot darker than some “dark” genre books are, and its main target is ordinary people. The protagonist, I’m not going to call him a hero, is Lawrence, a policeman who discovers a 3 year old’s body on the road. It looks like a hit and run, but it isn’t that simple and pretty soon there are cover-ups and more murders. But it isn’t really the death that makes this dark and depressing, more the situation that Lawrence finds himself in. He is divorced, can’t afford his alimony payments, becomes a pawn in a larger game that he knows nothing about, and there doesn’t really seem to be any way out for him.

At times it is seems that it should be hard to empathise with our narrator. He does some very questionable things, but they are understandable, in a way, although you still wish he wouldn’t.

The whole atmosphere of the novel is quite bleak. Hopeless would be a good way to describe it. And even when there are rare moments of joy they are soon tempered by further loss. Not one to read if you are feeling depressed, I think.

But if you aren’t, then there are plenty of reasons to read it. Yes it is depressing, but the writing is excellent. Collins does a great job of using Lawrence and his brutally honest opinions and thoughts to make the reader appreciate just how failed this nameless midwestern American town is. He manages to come right out and say the things that we don’t really want to think about, that life can be pointless and pained and that maybe there is no light to show us the way out of whatever hole we have dug ourselves into. And at the same time it is an engrossing and readable story.

I stopped the car, got out, knelt down slowly by the side of the road, and brushed the leaves aside to reveal the bent, feathered wire hangers of two broken wings. The yellowish halo of my flashlight lit up the face.

It was like discovering a sleeping angel left between the world of the living and dead (pg. 7).

April and the Dragon Lady

April and the Dragon Lady
by Lensey Namioka
Harcourt Publishers
Reviewed by Melissa

April is your average American teen. She's a part of the Rock Hound club, enjoying the time they spend searching for geodes and other interesting rocks. She has aspirations to go out of state to college. She has a boyfriend, Steve, who dotes on her, and even likes her family. She plays flute in the orchestra.

There's one difference, though. April is Chinese-American, and her grandmother lives with them.

It doesn't seem like a big difference, or that it would really matter, but that's the heart of this slim novel. April has to come to terms with her own place in life. Unfortunately her life is constantly complicated by her family. Her mother died two years ago; her father is dating someone new, Ellen, who, while Chinese-American, doesn't exactly fit into the traditional Chinese family. Her brother, Harry, is selfish, always putting his interests first, thereby always being gone, leaving April with the job of watching after their Grandmother, the Dragon Lady of the title. April's relationship is especially complicated with her. She loves her Grandmother and she feels a duty toward her, but with her Grandma's increasing age and infirmities, she's taking up more and more of April's time, leaving less and less for the life that April wants to lead.

The premise of the book is a good one; it was nice to have a portrait of a first-generation Chinese-American household. And, I liked that it was directed at teens, leaving aside many of the weightier details found in Amy Tan's books. But, Namioka lacks the grace and the ability of a writer like Amy Tan. Many times the conversations -- especially between Amy and her boyfriend, Steve -- fell flat. This one, from the middle of the book, is fairly typical:

"I'm sorry, Steve," I said. I hadn't expected Steve -- who was so tolerant -- to be offended. "I was taught that scholars are on the very top of the social scale and soldiers at the bottom. I didn't mean to insult your father."
"Dad wasn't thinking about the social scale," Steve said coolly. "He didn't join the army because he couldn't find a job. He did it because he thought that was the best way to serve his country."

In silence, we looked over some cloth shoes from China. I had always thought of myself as American as everybody else... So it came as a shock to discover that some of my values were not the same as Steve's.
And then, not too much later:

"It's not your fault every time something bad happens in the world,"
protested Steve.

"I'm not saying I'm responsible for the whole world!" I cried. "Chinese family ties are very strong, and I do feel responsible for what happens to my own family."

Steve was silent for a long time. "I guess I do understand -- sort of," he said finally. "Different people have different customs, as I keep telling myself."

He said he understood, but I could see that he really didn't. Yet he was doing his best to meet me halfway. I swallowed hard and blinked back my tears.
And then, after a confrontation with her grandmother:

Did Steve like me just because I was Asian and he was attracted to the Far East? Did he think I was "submissive"? Would he stay faithful once my "novelty" had worn off? I had missed a couple of the recent Rock Hounds fieldtrips, and Steve had been partnered with Judy during their outings. I wondered if Steve would eventually throw me over and go steady with Judy because she was of his own race.

The problem was that I belonged neither to the world of Steve and Judy, nor to Grandma's world. Belonging to an ethnic group wasn't as simple as belonging to the Rock Hounds. I was a minority of one, and I felt very lonely.
These are legitimate concerns for Amy to be having, yet I felt like Namioka was beating it to death. So many times, Amy comes to some sot of internal crisis brought upon her by either Steve or her Grandmother. And too often I found myself thinking: show me! Stop with the telling.

I liked April as a character, though. I liked her devotion and concern for her family, even when they weren't the most understanding to her. I liked her personal growth, her standing up for herself, while trying to appreciate her more traditional Grandmother. She was really striving for some sort of balance in her life.

The men in the book -- aside from the understanding Steve -- were less than sympathetic. Dad was weak. He couldn't even stand up to his mother, let alone give April any support in her decisions. Harry was a boor. He ate too much, and for most of the book, he refused to help April take care of their Grandmother. Even after his "big" change, he wasn't much help. I'm sure this is a white American response to the book, but it still bothered me.

My favorite character, though, was Grandmother (though I'm not sure we were supposed to like her). She was, aside from April, whose perspective this book was written from, the most real character. She's one of those old ladies you always hope to be when you grow up: a pistol. She's opinionated about who her family associates with (she doesn't like Caucasians, calling them "foreign devils"), she's not unwilling to give them guilt trips when they do something she doesn't like ("running away" on multiple occasions). She's meddlesome (trying to fix up her widowed son with several more "authentic" Chinese women than the one he was dating), and she's got great coping skills. She wasn't the nicest lady, but she worked with what she had really well, and I respected that.

In the end, though, it was only a mediocre book. Which is too bad, since it could have been a very interesting story.