Thursday, February 7, 2008


If you link to Estella's Revenge and use one of the buttons that we host on our domain, you may have noticed the little bugger has gone missing! In the past all of our images were located at

NOW, thanks to some domain upgrades, you will need to change your code to:


All of the icon names stay the same, so it's just a matter of shortening our link in your respective blog or website's HTML code.

Sorry for any inconvenience. You should've heard my cursing when I was trying to figure out how to fix it!


Friday, February 1, 2008

Letter from the Editor, February 2008

This month's "changes" theme strikes close to the heart of my reading life. Since I finished my Master's degree in Summer '07 I've had a luxury I hadn't felt for several years prior to its end. Time to read whatever I want. Now, several months later and with a new full-time college teaching position and lots of writing to do, my uninterrupted reading time has taken a hit, but I still feel the rush of joy in picking up whatever strikes my fancy. Both my fancies and my reading habits seem to have shifted over the years, from the time I started graduate school in 2005 to now.

I suppose there are a number of factors at work including the few years of crunched reading higher education provided, the restrictions, and subsequently the new authors I was exposed to. Modernist writers I wouldn't have picked up otherwise. Young adult and children's books. Comics and graphic novels. While the deadlines loomed large, I certainly sampled an array of books I might never have picked up without the pressure of an education, and somewhere along the way it all seems to have changed me.

Now, after a lifetime of detesting short stories, I can't seem to get enough of them. I gobble up collections by classic authors, respected authors, new-t0-me authors and indies. They sneak into my stacks one after another without fail, and I see them piling up on my wishlist day after day. I buy literary journals, for heaven's sake. Publications like Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and Swink. Publications I never knew existed until I jumped headlong into the short story literary subculture.

Another obvious change is my affinity for audio books. For years I was convinced that audio books put me to sleep. One chance nap while listening to my first audio book attempt...The Picture of Dorian Gray...and I swore them off. A hasty decision on my part? Oh, sure. But one that stuck for a great many years, sadly. Now, faced with a 68-mile round-trip commute every day, I need something other than radio prattle to keep me going, and audio books seem to be just the ticket.

It's amazing to me the changes a reader goes through. While we may love and adore one genre this year, we might foresake it the next. While one author may live in our thoughts endlessly one day the next day he's tossed aside. Not only do the readers change, the genres, books, and technology change, too. I'm suffering from a serious case of "Kindle-lust" as we speak. Damn Amazon and their nifty inventions.

The readerly changes we all undergo are just another reason to celebrate this hobby, habit, way of life. As always, the writers have done a wonderful job interpreting the theme, and I invite you to explore your own "changes" here with us.

Table of Contents, February 2008

Author Interview: Colleen Gleason

Featured Articles:

Book News: "Titlepage"


February 2008 "Door Prize" Book Giveaway

The winner of the January book, a brand new copy of Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army is Janan from Riverwoods, Illinois! Congratulations, Janan!

February's book is The Outlander, by Gil Adamson.

Gil Adamson’s extraordinary novel opens in heart-pounding mid-flight and propels the reader through a gripping road-trip with a twist — the steely outlaw in this story is a grief-struck nineteen-year-old woman who has just become a widow by her own hand. Tracked by bloodhounds and two vengeful brothers, The Widow flees across the western wilderness, encountering characters of all stripes — unsavoury, wheedling, altruistic, greedy, lascivious, self-sufficient, and occasionally trustworthy. Adamson’s brilliant literary style illuminates the gripping tale of one young woman’s deliberate journey into the wild.

Gil Adamson's acclaimed short fiction and poetry have been widely published in magazines and literary journals. Her poetry books, Primitive (1991) and Ashland (2003), and her collection of stories, Help Me, Jacques Cousteau (1995), received rave reviews. THE OUTLANDER, ten years in the writing, is her first novel. She lives in Toronto.

Author Interview: Colleen Gleason

Interviewed by Heather F.

HF: Congratulations on your latest release, The Bleeding Dusk! Please tell us a little bit about it and your Gardella Vampire Series.

CG: Thank you so much, Heather! The Bleeding Dusk is the third in the series, which is the ongoing story of Victoria Gardella Grantworth, a young woman living in the time of Jane Austen (Regency-era England) who finds out that she is the next in a family line of vampire hunters.

There will be five books in the series. I've just finished the fourth one, When Twilight Burns, which will be released in August. And I'm currently working on the fifth one, which should be released early in 2009. That will be the last one about Victoria, although I hope to write other books about the Gardellas.

A little bit Buffy, a little Jane Austen, and some ALIAS thrown in, the Gardella Vampire Chronicles straddle the genres of romance, historical, suspense and horror novels. There's not too much of any of those aspects, but a good smattering of all. Most of all, the books are about Victoria, as she struggles to balance the two sides of her life (her "normal" side and the vampire-slaying side) and as she grows into her role as one of the most powerful vampire hunters ever.

There are three delicious men that vie for her attention, lots of action and suspense, and a bit of tongue in cheek humor. I have so much fun writing these books!

HF: Victoria is such a great character; strong, beautiful, independent. How did she evolve into the fearless vampire hunter that she is today? Was she born fully formed in your head, or did she change a lot over the course of writing?

CG: Thank you for saying so!

Alas, Victoria did not walk into my head, fully formed. And although there are times when I wish she had, I'm glad that she didn't--because I've found myself growing with her as she's settled into her role. In each book, she evolves more and faces different struggles that relate to where she's at in her maturation. She's a powerful woman, and she has to learn that that power can cut both ways.

HF: There were a lot of surprise twists in The Bleeding Dusk! Are you worried about how your readers will react? Does reader opinion affect your writing a great deal?

CG: LOL. Yes, there were surprises. I've had advance readers sending me emails like crazy saying how blown away they were by certain things that happened in the book.

And while I want my readers to enjoy the books, I find that I have to be careful not to let reactions affect how the story evolves for me. I'm not worried so much about reader reaction as sensitive to it--but in either case, I don't let it affect my writing. I can't do that, because that would end up spoiling the broth because of so many cooks. :-)

Besides that, I've already finished the fourth book, and have started the fifth book--so any reactions that might have affected my story telling would be coming too late anyway. Which, I think, is a good thing.

What happens with the fourth book will be interesting, because that is the book in which it becomes clear who Victoria's choice--as far as the two main men in her life--will be. The reader camp is split between them, with an edge given to one of them (not telling) that means that when the fourth book comes out, there are going to be some disappointed readers if their pick for Victoria isn't her pick.

But I've known since the beginning who her true love will be, and I've never wavered on it. And the reasons are all there: some are logical, and some are just "the power of love" so to it will be very very interesting in August. :-D

HF: There is a lot of…um…sexiness in your novels. Do you find those scenes difficult to write?

CG: Not really. I just let myself settle into the scene as I do with any other scene that I write. It's a matter of becoming immersed in whatever the scene is, and watching it unfold in my mind.

But as for the sex scenes--in the Gardella books, I only include scenes that are germane to the plot. No gratuitous ones, honest.

There are other authors who write far more sexy than I do in the Gardella books--JR Ward, Laurell K Hamilton, Colette Gale, etc.

HF: Are there any questions you haven't been asked about your vampire
series that surprise you?

CG: Hmmm. Not really. I think I've been asked many of the obvious ones, and some not so obvious.

One of my favorites is who/what is Wayren. The careful reader will get a good clue in The Bleeding Dusk if they're paying attention. It's very subtle, but it's there. I'm trying to decide if I'll specifically answer that question in the fifth book, or leave it open. :-)

HF: If your books were sold to a production company, who would you like to see play Victoria, Max, and Sebastian?

CG: Oooh! Let's see:

Anne Hathaway as Victoria. Or maybe Kate Beckinsale.
Clive Owen as Max.
Jason Lewis as Sebastian.
And, just for fun: Kevin Branaugh as Rockley. Cate Blanchett as Wayren. Isabella Rossellini as Aunt Eustacia. Joan Cusack as Verbena. Nicole Kidman as Lilith.

HF: How much time do you spend researching your work?

CG: I do it in picks and pans--little bits at a time, as needed. Since writing the first book, where I did a lot of research up front, now that I have my vampire mythology in place and the time period and setting down, I really only research pieces as needed. But I may do something for research each day as I'm writing (thank God for Google!). It might be something little, or it might be something that takes awhile to nail down.

Right now I'm trying to decide whether to have Victoria & Co travel to Budapest or Prague....and that will require some research to see which works best.

HF: Do you think it's important for a writer to travel? Have you done much traveling? Do you write while you travel?

CG: I think that writers who are able to travel to the locales where their stories are set have an edge over those of us who can't in the sense of efficiency...but I don't think it's a necessity to travel to where my stories are set. I've been to England once, and never to Italy--yet I've set one and a half books in Italy. And when I was in England, it was long before I wrote these books.

The internet along with travel guides make it much easier for us to research locales. And just as any other part of writing, one doesn't have to experience it to make it real. After all, I've never slain a vampire, nor do I think Stephen King ever met a possessed car.

Of course, writing a historical novel set in England and Italy requires different research than one set in modern times. So even if I'd traveled there, I wasn't there in 1820.

HF: As a mother of two, I'm very curious to know how you find the time to write with three children, a husband, and keep house?

CG: Ha! Well, I'm blessed that writing is my full-time job now, and since I've always worked full-time and had to manage kids and a household, it's just a different way now. All three of my kids are in school all day, so that helps. Sort of. The problem is, I'm a night-writer. I've always done most of my writing at night--or at least after noon. (That's because when I worked a day job, my only time to write was after the kids were in bed.) I think I've trained my brain to be most efficient then.

I do get work done during the day, but especially when I get close to deadline, I often make dinner and eat with my husband and children, and then leave to go to a cafe or bookstore to write until 10 or 11. I get a lot done then--probably because I know everyone's settled for the night, all my emails are done, etc.

As for keeping house. Let's not talk about that. :-)

HF: You keep a very popular blog; For All the World to See. Why do you keep a blog? Do you find that it helps your writing?

CG: Thanks! I love blogging. It's a way for me, someone who doesn't get to interact with people on a daily basis because my job is a solitary one, to have those water-cooler chats with people. You know, the talking over the sides of the cubicles, or in the lunchroom chats you have with your co-workers. And many of my good friends are writers that I don't see physically very often. The blog is a way to interact with people about whatever I feel like talking about or having an opinion on.

It's also a way for me to get to know my fans--and them to get to know me a little more, if they want to--and to promote my books. I don't think that every author ought to bare their lives for their readers; I don't even think most readers would want that. But it's a way to make a slightly deeper connection with readers than just between the pages of my books...and to keep me in their mind for when a new release is coming out.

Plus, I've made a lot of friends through my blog--both fans and non-fans, readers and non-readers. I've met some of them and hope to meet more of them. The internet is an amazing thing.

HF: Aside from writing, what are your favorite pastimes?

CG: I love to cook and garden, and eat, of course. I love to read, but don't read as much as I used to. I also like movies and hanging out with my kids and husband. We have a lot of fun together, and for that I'm very thankful.

HF: What is on your top ten list of books to recommend?

In no particular order, and not quite ten....

1. The JD Robb IN DEATH series.
2. Anything by Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters
3. Most anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
4. JK Rowling (of course)
5. Unmasqued by Colette Gale
6. Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters/Navy SEAL books
7. the Virgin River books by Robyn Carr
8. Lisa Scottoline books

and there are more but I'm blanking right now.

HF: How much re-writing do you do? Which is more difficult, writing or re-writing?

CG: My writing process is such that I'm constantly rewriting as I write the book. In other words, I don't write a full draft and then go back and revise it. I rework and rewrite every day as I sit down to write new material, working through the previous chapter or pages and then moving on. That process helps me to get back into where I left off the day before, and to tweak and sharpen up things as I write.

Once I have the book done, I may go back and do some consistency things--like making sure the timing is right, descriptions are consistent, etc. but I don't really go back through the whole thing very deeply because I've already muscled it into shape during the writing process.

HF: What can your fans look forward to next?

CG: The fourth in the Gardella series will be out in August--When Twilight Burns. And then the fifth and final (and as-yet untitled) book about Victoria should be released in February 2009!

After that, I hope to write more Gardella books about a different vampire hunter, or perhaps something totally different. I'm currently talking with my editor about those things right now.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my books, and to interview me, Heather! I always enjoy Estella's Revenge and look forward to the blog every month.

Colleen Gleason has a fantastic blog called For All the World to See where you can keep up-to-date on her, her books, and her obsession with Johnny Depp. The Bleeding Dusk will be published February 5, 2008, followed by When Twilight Burns in August 2008.

A Reader's Evolution

By Melissa

Reading is a fickle thing.

Before I explain what I mean, I have to say that when I fall in love with a book, I fall hard. I want to stay captivated by the author, stay immersed in the story; I don't want the story to end. It becomes my new favorite book, the one that I shout about from the rooftops (or at least all over the book blogosphere), the one that I declare to be the best book and that everyone ought to read it. I crave more, I want more, I need more. More of this book, especially. And so, when I reach these moments, to mollify myself after turning the last page it has generally been my first reaction to go and check out everything else that the author has written and systematically read it all.

Invariably, I end up disenchanted and disappointed. Reading is a fickle thing: what I started out loving, I end up disliking. What I originally admired, I find fault with. I have asked myself why I turn into a fickle reader, especially in these instances. If I love one book so much, shouldn't I love everything by that author? Why is it that by the time I get to the third (or fifth, or tenth) book by that author, I just want to throw it at the wall and scream?

A lot of it is because while a book may be a static thing -- never changing -- the author and I are not. My life is constantly evolving and changing, as is my perspective on the story the author is telling. I read a lot of middle-grade and young adult fiction, and keeping my adult perspectives out of the way of the story is one of my biggest challenges. There are times when I realize that I just can't look at a story through the eyes of someone the author had intended to read it, and I know that I'm not going to enjoy it as much as I could or would have otherwise.

But it works the other way, too. I can't expect the author to remain writing the same thing over and over again. And often when they do, I'm still disappointed, wondering if the particular author has any other story inside them. Yet more often than not, when authors make radical changes in genres or styles, I find I don't like the direction they've gone. Someone writes an engrossing and engaging story in one genre and then, several years down the road, he writes something that just falls flat for me because it's a completely different (and new to the author) genre. Or she writes young adult books I love, but when I read that one book for adults that she's written, it seems to go down all wrong.

No author is perfect, of course. They are not always going to please the audience; their first and foremost duty is to the story and himself or herself. And if they want to experiment, that's fine. And then there are always the "off" years, the "bad" stories, the ones that aren't quite as good as the masterpieces. I don't assume that an author is going to be on their "game" (at least as far as my own likes and dislikes are concerned) all the time; like every reader, I have my favorites by any particular author, as well as the ones I like less.

But it's when I go on an author kick that those discrepancies are most notable. And so I've decided to change the way I read books. Call it an evolution in my finikiness. I have decided that no matter how much I love the author, or how much I love this story, I am not going to read anything else by that author. Perhaps, for a long time (series are an exception; I count them as a single whole work). I don't want to hate the author. I don't want to hate their work. And I've come to realize that if I wait a while before delving into another book by that author, the chances are greater that I will be able to like it on its own terms. And it's worth the wait to recapture the magic that particular authors provide.

Why I Suddenly Love Poetry

By Stuart Sharp

After a bit of a clear out, my bookshelves are now largely empty of the detritus I’ve collected over the years. For the first time in I don’t know how long, there is very little on them that I haven’t read fairly recently. It’s funny how many things seem like the greatest books in the world when you first read them, then fade into being half remembered space fillers, and finally reach the stage where you can hardly remember why you read them at all.

It’s not a complete overhaul. A quick trawl through what remains reveals a battered copy of Miyamoto Musashi’s Book Of Five Rings, an obscure sourcebook on Ancient Egypt (when was I ever interested in Ancient Egypt?) and a copy of One Hit Wonderland by comedian Tony Hawks (Who recently answered questions on Mastermind about his skateboarding namesake). When did I buy them? More to the point, why did I buy them? They don’t seem much like the sort of things I’m reading at the moment. Actually, I’m not sure I even fully read the last of them, since it acquired a bookmark about half way through before falling foul of my tendency to forget where I left books. The books I was probably enjoying a year or two ago are now no more than curiosities. I don’t particularly feel like re-reading them.

But it works the other way too. That’s why my bookshelves are currently full of books of poetry.

To set this into context, up until less than a year ago, I didn’t much like poetry. That is to say I didn’t like the idea of poetry; I hadn’t really read enough to make a proper decision on it. In particular, I didn’t like the idea of the poetry of Philip Larkin. That may seem a little specific, but you have to remember that, in Hull, any building not named after William Wilberforce is probably going to be named after the city’s most famous poet. Between researching in the library where he worked and spending most of my degree in a university building bearing his name, the part of me that dislikes being told what I ought to read was making it clear that we were not going to be reading his collected works any time soon.

With poetry in general, it didn’t help that my few attempts to dip a toe into the waters of verse ran into quite a lot of bad free poetry. Done well, it can be powerful, but it’s risky stuff. Without metre or rhyme to hold the poem together, the poet has nowhere to hide if they run out of genius half way through. And too many of those I read did.

So what changed? Why are my shelves now bursting with Blake, Milton, Charles Murray and Alan Ross? More importantly, what does this have to do with anybody else? Why should you care that I have managed to overcome this strange aversion?

One reason is that I suspect many of those reading this will have their own irrational dislikes, whole areas of fiction, non-fiction or poetry walled off on the basis of a few forays into crime, or horror, or family drama. Another is that most of us will know people whose reading habits amount to not doing so at all, having decided that books are boring, overly demanding and out of date. So, at the risk of sounding like a twelve-step program for recovering non-readers…

First, I made a decision that I was going to at least try and like poetry. This was mostly based on a sudden urge to write the stuff. Apparently it’s not uncommon. It’s said that more people in the UK write poetry in some form than buy it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I like the mental image of a country being a net exporter of verse.

Having made that decision, the next stage was to try and find a poet, (just one, it shouldn’t be too hard, should it?) whose work I actually liked. So many to choose from, and all I had to do was read until I found one. Of course, to find that one, I had to wade through another mixture of the weird, the free, the uninteresting and the utterly closed off. This is where the humble library card comes in useful. Not having to buy things is a great incentive to try a wider range of writers.

I found what I was looking for in the work of Sophie Hannah. Modern but using the techniques of poetry to full effect, without them ever being obtrusive, her poetry struck me as simply amazing. It still does. As far as I’m concerned, collections like The Hero and the Girl Next Door and Hotels Like Houses are absolutely essential reading.

From there, the next stage wasn’t, curiously enough, to slowly expand outward, looking for similar things. I read the works of other poets, certainly, but in a trickle in among the things I’d normally read. This wasn’t the point for any kind of total immersion. The next stage, in fact, was to try to find out a little more about poetry. Maybe it’s just me who always wants to know how everything works, but somehow I find that learning what authors/musicians/sportspeople are actually doing makes it easier to appreciate the depth of what they’ve produced.

Which brings us nicely to Stephen Fry. In case word of his work as a writer/presenter/actor/half a dozen other things hasn’t got beyond the shores of Britain, I can only assure people that he’s done considerably more than appear as a psychologist in Bones. The relevant thing here is his book on poetry, The Ode Less Travelled, which taught me quite a lot of things about poetry that I dimly remembered from English lessons, and rather more that I’m fairly certain were never mentioned. There are other books on poetry out there, but somehow this is the one that does the most to convey a sense of enjoyment about the stuff.

So I’d found a poet whose work I liked and I’d found out about what makes it work. All that remained was to dive right into the rest of it. I read Spencer and John Donne, secure in the knowledge that if I didn’t like it (I did) I had more modern stuff to return to. I read the work of poets like Brian Patten and Len Murray, knowing that if I didn’t like their free poetry that wasn’t the same thing as not liking poetry. Perhaps because of that, I actually found myself quite liking Patten’s work.

There were coincidences too. It came as news to me that Alan Ross, the author of a number of the cricket books in my collection, is in fact better known to the majority of people as a poet. I found this out after picking up a copy of Death Valley at random in a library, then glancing at the list of the author’s other works to find The Cricketer’s Companion.

But what about Larkin? Did I finally get round to reading his collected poems? Actually yes, but not in Hull. I read them while visiting a friend, about a hundred miles away, in a flash of nostalgia for my ‘beloved’ city. Having done so, it’s hard to believe I put it off for so long, and I’d recommend them to everyone else if that wasn’t what put me off in the first place. But my finally reading Larkin isn’t the important thing here. The important thing is what you’re going to read next, and what it could change about your own reading habits.

Marvel Loathes Mary Jane

By Chris Buchner

It began with an editorial mandate, and it ended with one. In 1977, Stan Lee began a syndicated newspaper strip starring Spider-Man. This strip existed concurrently but separately from the comic books, meaning they followed their own continuity and story lines. However, in 1987, the two met for one momentous occasion: the marriage of Spider-Man and Mary Jane. Then, in 2007, it was over. So what went wrong? Why did a character whose relationship to another have to be taken out of the equation, despite said relationship being the focus of the three movies that had just come out and in the title of Mary Jane’s own all-ages book, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane?

Mary Jane was introduced to the comics in a set of three first appearances. Three, you ask? Yep, in fact it was something of a running gag by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to have Peter dread and avoid meeting this girl Aunt May was trying to fix him up with. The first time she was mentioned was in Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #15. The second time was in #25, where you could see her body on Aunt May’s couch, but her face was obscured by a well-placed foreground flower (to also hide the fact nobody knew what she was going to look like). John Romita Sr. got the privilege of presenting the fiery redhead for the first time in issue #42 where she uttered the famous line: “Face it, tiger, you just hit the jackpot!” However, it was not a match made in heaven. Her wild party-girl personality (brought on as a mask to compensate for a difficult childhood and family situation) contrasted with his responsibility on many occasions, making them an odd pairing. But, the truth was that the creators had always intended Peter’s next girlfriend to be his future bride: Gwen Stacy. In fact, Mary Jane’s primary role was to add tension between the two to increase the dramatic effect.

Nobody ever really warmed up to Gwen Stacy the way they did Mary Jane. Gerry Conway, Spidey writer in the 70s, once said “Gwen was a stiff, actually.” Some cite that Gwen never really developed her own personality beyond being Peter’s girlfriend, despite seeds for an interesting character and making her the perfect match for him were sown early on in the character’s life (she could be as smart as Peter and as much a party girl as Mary Jane, not to mention her former police captain father George Stacy could be beneficial to the life of a superhero). Conway wrote Amazing #121 in which Gwen was killed by falling off the Brooklyn Bridge (called the George Washington Bridge in its initial printing, but corrected in subsequent reprints) during a battle with the original Green Goblin. Peter and Mary Jane were reunited in the wake of that story and he eventually proposed, but she refused and eventually departed the Spidey books, leaving Peter to pursue other romantic interests such as the former thief the Black Cat.

In 1987, Lee decided that marriage would make his strip more realistic and adult. Then Spidey editor Jim Salicrup liked the idea and hastily arranged for it to happen by the time Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 came out. Mary Jane was returned to the books after a four-year absence in Amazing #242 with a slight personality shift and the revelation she knew Peter was Spidey since the events of Amazing Fantasy #15 (as seen in Spider-Man: Parallel Lives and revealed in Amazing #257). There was some turmoil over this revelation and the women that were still in Peter’s life, but eventually he tried to propose again only to be shot down (again) due to a family crisis of hers. But once it was over, the third proposal was given and accepted, and despite some persisting common fears most couples have about marriage and what Spider-Man would mean to their lives, the two tied the knot. “I felt we had to marry off Peter Parker someday because it would give us a whole new angle for the stories,” said Stan Lee (Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, Les Daniels). To commemorate the ceremony further, a mock event was held in Shea Stadium in front of 55,000 people where Stan Lee officiated over the union between actors dressed up as the happy couple (and a few other superhero guests).

Unfortunately, those stories were hard to come by. While the marriage was generally well-received by fans, the writers and editors often had another take on the matter. Many of them found it difficult to balance Spidey’s married life with his adventures. Also there’s the fact that comics are a male dominated field, and men have some difficulty when it comes to writing women (heck, most men don’t even understand women in life!) Some felt that it ages the character unnecessarily and that they were alienating some of their audience with the move. Also, wouldn’t Peter lose some of his everyman relatability if this nerd was suddenly married to a gorgeous supermodel/actress? When does THAT happen?

As time went on, Mary Jane’s personality slowly began to change. While she was toned down a bit in her ways in the time before the wedding, after the marriage her personality shifted to more closely align to Peter’s as well as became inconsistent between stories. This could be attributed to the fact that with several ongoing titles running at the same time, each one headed up by a different writer with different views on both the characters and the marriage that often the visions would conflict. The tension between their differing personalities was replaced by other devices, like when she took up smoking for a brief time. Another problem was Peter’s immediate family was slowly pushed center stage thanks to an ever-shrinking supporting cast, reducing the interesting conflicts and interactions in their lives. Between deaths, characters being written out and just plain underutilization, Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May become the entire cast of the books.

Many attempts had been made to restore Peter to his “glory days” when he was a swinging single bachelor, and consequently to help wavering sales on the books. The first was in the Clone Saga. It was a sequel to Amazing #149 where a biologist, Professor Miles Warren, was infatuated with Gwen Stacy and became the Jackal upon her death, creating a clone of Spidey to destroy him for it. The clone was “killed” an explosion, but revealed to have been merely knocked out and went into self-imposed exile for the next 5 years (in comic time, in real time it was about two decades) taking up the name Ben Reilly (after Aunt May and Uncle Ben respectively). It was intended that Ben would return to the books at a time when Peter was progressively sinking lower with tragedy after tragedy and ultimately replace him. This would allow Peter to retire from heroing and allow him Mary Jane to start a new life with their expected baby, while Ben would be the much-missed swinging single Spidey. However, Marvel marketing forced the story to go on longer than it was intended, and made the mistake of declaring that Ben was the TRUE Spidey after all this time. Due to fan uproar and immediately sinking sales, this decision was hastily reversed, Ben killed off at the hands of the resurrected Original Green Goblin, and the Parker baby removed from the picture so as not to permanently age Peter and Mary Jane further as he returned to being Spidey.

In an attempt to lure in new readers, Marvel cut the number of Spider-titles and re-launched them from new #1s in 1999. Mary Jane had become more successful and the Parkers actually had money and a nice place to live for once. Unfortunately, there was tension in the marriage as Peter was being Spidey behind Mary Jane’s back, despite a promise he made her. This also resulted in Peter losing his new lab assistant job, adding even MORE tension. Mary Jane’s success came at a price as a stalker had kidnapped Mary Jane and blew up the plane she was supposed to be on in order to make the world believe she was dead in Amazing vol. 2 #13. Peter was in mourning while at the same time not accepting that she was gone. His friends all tried to get him to move on by introducing him to new women, while other women tried to introduce themselves to him (Mattie Franklin, the third Spider-Woman, tried to give him a tonsil exam when she found out in Amazing vol. 2 #14).

But this move was so unpopular with fans (as was most of the relaunch) that Mary Jane was revealed to be held captive by the stalker in Amazing vol. 2 #28-29 (no body means no death, after all, according to COMIC BOOK DEATH ). However, even with her back Marvel wasn’t about to let them be with each other as they had the stress of the ordeal be so great that she needed time away from her previous life. They separated and she moved to Los Angeles to resume her acting career. In time, though, the pair eventually reconciled in Amazing vol. 2 #50.

So what happened to the swinging single Spidey?

Enter Joe Quesada. One of the first things he did upon becoming Editor-in-Chief was create the Ultimate Marvel line in 2001 as an attempt to not only bring in new readers without the daunting weight of decades of continuity to wade through by updating the classic stories for a new generation, but to give fans an alternative to a married Spidey with one who was back in his high school days. He, like many others, felt that being married had aged Spidey and made him less relatable to younger readers, thus putting them off of picking up his book. Several years later, a new attempt arose in the Marvel Age (later renamed Marvel Adventures when they went from updated retellings of classic comics to original stories) line of books which featured kid-friendly stories aimed at younger readers. That line also features a single and teenaged Spider-Man in his own title. And, of course, there’s the other all-ages title targeted for young girls, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane (currently on temporary hiatus), which also takes place in their high school days but with a focus on Mary Jane rather than Spidey himself.

But Quesada had his eyes on the prize. Continuing on with the belief that Spidey can only be relatable and appealing when he’s a total loser and single, Quesada had stated that they couldn’t be divorced or Mary Jane killed off as either would age Peter further, rather than de-age him as intended. Therefore, he orchestrated the story “One More Day” to finally rectify the problem of the marriage…with magic! With the reveal of Spidey’s identity to the world in Civil War #2, things got worse for the Parkers as they needed the protection of the Avengers from all of Spidey’s foes looking for revenge. Upon Spidey’s taking a stand against Iron Man’s superhuman registration act, he lost that protection and that left him and his family open for attack.

Aunt May was shot by a sniper gunning for Spidey, and was on the verge of death. When Spidey hit his ultimate low, Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the devil, revealed himself and offered him a chance to save her life…at the cost of his marriage. Wanting to spare her husband the guilt of a decision, she makes it herself with a counter offer to Mephisto. The deed is done, and the world has been reset in a Brand New Day where the two never married, among other changes to the continuity of the character (for more on the changes of One More Day/Brand New Day, check out the article ONE MORE DAY, ONE WORLD CHANGED).

Not since the Clone Saga had a story raised as much controversy. By making a deal with the devil, the character and world of Spidey has forever been tarnished; his message of great responsibility lost in one bad decision. Quesada had been an adamant and vocal detractor of the marriage for a while, and this story has been viewed as nothing more than an excuse to appease his tastes. Writer J. Michael Straczynski had originally intended a more scientific explanation for the changes and separation in his scripts, which would have fit in with the nature of Spidey’s character, but was overridden by Quesada to the point the writer needed to be talked into keeping his name on the last two issues. Many fans criticize the fact that if they HAD to use a magic fix to keep Peter from being aged further, then they missed an opportunity to use a seed Straczynski had planted with the Norse god Loki during his run on Amazing. Also the use of the retcon is lambasted as creatively inept, asking for far too much of a suspension of disbelief when a simpler, more realistic answer could have been used. Creatively, many lambaste the use of the cop-out retcon and that Quesada has taken the things that made Spidey so appealing to past audiences and ran with them to extreme lengths.

When Stan Lee created the Marvel Universe in the 1960s, he had always intended for his characters to age and grow. Granted, the rate at which they age varied from writer to writer and have been progressively slowed down so as to increase their longevity, but age they did. It’s natural progression for a character to evolve and move forward with their life, which is exactly what Spidey did when he married Mary Jane. But, apparently, kids can’t find a married superhero cool and that turns them off from the books. At least that’s one of Quesada’s reasonings behind the separation.

What purpose does Ultimate Spider-Man serve now, once heralded as an alternative to a married Spidey, when the real one is single? What about the fans who most likely came into the comics with the romance between Peter and Mary Jane in the movies and the confusion they’ll find coming into the books? Especially considering they still will need to read up on past continuity to understand where Mary Jane is in this new “no past continuity needed” reality? Or what about the fact that the 1990s animated series, something made for kids, not only acknowledged the relationship of the characters, but even had their own wedding episode and was a highly rated show? Then there’s the problem of if so many things have changed, what worth does that put on the stories people have been reading for years? Are they all completely worthless or will they just be mucked up with upcoming explanations? Will fans welcome this new shift as a return to a better Spidey of yesteryear, or is this just another attempt at dissolving a marriage that just won’t quit?

Many questions, and answers that won’t come very quickly. In the end, it all depends on the fans and how adamant they are about this decision and their love of the characters. If they like the new direction, then it’s available to them three times a month in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. If they don’t, then they still have the thousands of backissue, the upcoming Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane return with fan favorite writer Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise) at the helm, and a very married Spidey over in the pages of Amazing Spider-Girl.

Face it, tiger, you just got three lemons.

One More Day, One World Changed

By Chris Buchner

NOTE: If you have not yet read recent issues of Spider-Man nor been exposed to any discussion of them on the internet (though how you managed to avoid that one would be impressive) then be warned; spoilers abound!

Spider-Man is living in a Brand New Day. At least that’s what the big shots at Marvel are calling the current story arc going on in the now thrice monthly Amazing Spider-Man, a move to condense the number of Spidey titles on the shelf and to allow readers only to pick up the one Spider-Title instead of several. Brand New Day is the story that immediately follows the controversial “One More Day” story in which Spider-Man’s entire world has changed.

So what’s the deal? Current Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s tenure had become known for his desire to do shock-value shake-ups to the status quo of various characters and titles, and Spidey was no exception. One such shake-up involved the return of Gwen Stacy, the girlfriend of Spidey killed by the original Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #121, in the story “Sins Past” (Amazing Spider-Man #509-514). However, this woman turned out to be one of two twins born to Gwen Stacy after a moment of weakness with said Goblin Norman Osborn, a retcon shoehorned-in to continuity during a period when Gwen didn’t appear in the comic. The twins, Gabriel and Sarah, were aged rapidly due to the goblin formula in Norman’s system and Gwen was killed when she was viewed by Norman as a threat to his heirs. When he was believed dead, killed in the following issue of Amazing, he was raising the twins under the delusion that Spidey was their father and killed their mother, inciting them to seek revenge. But the truth was eventually revealed; especially that Gwen had confided all this to Mary Jane who had been keeping the secret for years. Originally it was intended that Peter be the father, but was changed to Norman under the fear it would age the character too much (the reason the original Spider-baby was killed or abducted, depending who you ask, in the 90s).

To tie-in to the Spider-Man movies, during the cross-over “Avengers: Disassembled” Spidey was given organic web-shooters and the ability to communicate with insects through a temporary transmutation into a spider in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 2. Of these, only the web-shooters were continuously acknowledged throughout the books. The ability to communicate with insects did follow over briefly into Amazing, but was quickly forgotten.

“The Other” storyline, which was set-up early in writer J. Michael Straczynski’s run of Amazing and ran across all the Spidey titles published at the time, established that the spider bite Peter received was no accident and that he was destined to become the servant to a mystical spider-god. Spidey was killed by a new foe named Morlun and then re-born with a host of new abilities, including Wolverine-like daggers from his wrists. Except for a few instances, most of these extra powers were never mentioned again even though the storyline itself was acknowledged. The most prominent use of “The Other” came in Peter David’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, where David introduced a new villain stemming from the story and featured the powers in a few issues. It was also mostly David’s Friendly that kept up with Peter’s new occupation, that of a high school science teacher, after having spent most of his career as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle.

This brings us to “One More Day.” Peter had joined up with the new generation of Avengers and Iron Man, A.K.A. Tony Stark, had become something of a father figure to him. To help promote faith in Stark’s superhuman registration act, Peter revealed his identity on national TV in Civil War #2. That action had led up to a series of misfortunate events as various villains tried to get their vengeance on him and his family. When he denounced the act and went on the lam, Spidey lost the Avengers’ protection of his family. This allowed the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, to accidentally snipe Aunt May while gunning for Spidey himself. Following was “Back in Black,” which featured a return of Spidey’s non-symbiotic black costume (conveniently in time for the release of the third movie) to symbolize his darkening mood as he hunted down the identity of who ordered the hit on him, which then led directly into “One More Day.”

“One More Day” was an editorially mandated story designed to restore Spider-Man back to his “more relatable” swinging single days in order to attract new readers. Rather than merely re-launching the book from a new #1 as had been done in the past, instead Quesada, a vocal detractor of the marriage, chose to have a distraught Peter contemplate making a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the devil, in order to save Aunt May’s life. The price? Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, with each of them retaining a small piece of their love in their souls to remind them that they lost something precious. Ultimately, to save Peter of the guilt of knowing he allowed Aunt May to die (even though she had stated she led a full enough life and was ready for the end) Mary Jane made the deal in his place. This was the sole purpose of the story, as Quesada felt having Spidey married made him “uncool” and “unrelatable” to younger readers, especially being married to a supermodel, and returning him to life as a single bachelor would bring them into the books as well as allow more opportunities for new stories to be told. However, that wasn’t the only change.

The results of this deal meant a few big changes for the Spidey-universe. Peter and Mary Jane had never married in this brand new day, although Quesada was quick to point out that all the stories that have happened between then and now still count, but they had merely dated and never taken the matrimonial plunge. All the extra powers gained in recent years are gone, bringing back Peter’s mechanical web-shooters. Harry Osborn, Peter’s former friend and the second Green Goblin who died from his faulty version of the Goblin formula, is alive and well having just returned from an extended leave overseas (a similar reveal used when his father came back to life a decade earlier, except sporting a healing factor that saved him from his injuries). Peter once again lives with his Aunt May (alive and well) while Mary Jane is an actress who commutes between New York and Hollywood. Absolutely nobody knows Spidey’s secret identity; no villains, no heroes, and not even Aunt May, despite the fact the story where she learned it was held in high regard by fans. People remember that Spidey unmasked during Civil War, but can’t quite remember who it was. The logic behind it? “It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it.”—Joe Quesada

Not since the “Clone Saga” where Ben Reilly, the clone, was temporarily revealed to be the one, true Spider-Man had such a story caused a rise out of fans. Many complaints stem from the fact that despite the assurance that all previous continuity is intact just without the marriage is erroneous, making some stories impossible without it. Also, the innumerable changes to Spidey’s history outside his own books as a member of the Avengers and everything related to his reveal in Civil War.

Then there’s the fact Harry Osborn is still alive, completely negating the events of Spectacular #200. Another comes from the fact that Spidey is usually a science-based street-level character, and the inclusion of a magic fix by a character who had never had this level of power before or any role in recent Spider-mythos just didn’t fit; especially when the seeds for Loki, god of pranks, to fill the role were set up by Straczynski during his run. Also, the reasoning itself, that magic doesn’t need an explanation as stated by Joe Quesada in interviews. Or the fact that Peter Parker, a moral character who lives by the credo “with great power comes great responsibility” would even consider making a deal with the devil (which also puts a dent in the factor of making Spidey more relatable for new, younger readers).

On the creative side, many feel this propels Spidey backwards rather than forward. The purpose of a character is to grow and evolve, not remain stagnant; which essentially, this retcon does rather than fix as Peter is a 30 year old man living a teenager’s life. Also, when the writer of the story himself has problems with it, it raises a few questions. Straczynski had a more scientific retcon in mind as well as the return of Gwen Stacy as opposed to Harry, but Quesada felt it violated work already being done on the Brand New Day side of things and altered the story to where it ended up going. However, despite all the negativity surrounding this decision, many are excited for the new direction and feel it truly is a return to the Spidey they used to read.

It’s a Brand New Day for Spider-Man. Although the full reaches of this story have yet to be explored (and will be in the pages of Brand New Day). Where do relationships stand that relied on the knowledge of Spidey’s identity? What changes have rippled through the rest of the Marvel Universe? How can new fans be expected to be undaunted by continuity when a lot of what brought them into the books (like the movies) make references that no longer apply? Will this bring in the new readers they hope for, or will it be yet another failed experiment? Only one thing is certain: it’s up to the fans to decide.


This month's "Book News" cross-posted from Lisa Guidarini's Bluestalking Reader

Contact: Angela Hayes, Goldberg McDuffie Communications

"Titlepage" Will Debut March 3
New Online Literary Conversation Program

Long-Time New Yorker Editor, Author,
and Recent Random House Editor-in-Chief Daniel Menaker Will Host

NEW YORK, NY (January 30, 2008) - Eight months after leaving Random House, Daniel Menaker is returning to the book world, hosting an Internet show that will feature interviews with authors of all kinds, the first of its type on the web.

The show, "Titlepage," for which Menaker will serve as host and editorial producer, will feature a group of writers discussing their new books in a roundtable format. The debut season will include six episodes, the first of which will go live on on Monday, March 3, 2008.

"'Titlepage' is the perfect way to share my enthusiasm for books and their authors--in an instantly and permanently accessible format--with as many readers as possible," said Menaker. "I've always sought out literary conversations, and I think we can make them surprising and entertaining for anyone who might want to stop by. Editors, particularly editors who are also writers, like nothing more than to share their love of books with others --although the occasional royalty check is also pretty enjoyable."

"Titlepage" is the result of a collaboration between Menaker and Brown Hats Productions, headed by Odile Isralson and Lina Matta. It draws its inspiration from the classic French program "Apostrophes", PBS's "Charlie Rose," and "Dinner for Five," the actor's roundtable discussion seen on IFC.

Isralson and Matta feel that bringing the program to viewers on the net made more sense, and was clearly more cutting-edge, than producing it for network or cable television. "The line between screens has become blurred," Matta said. "Computer, TV, iPhone, iPod-they are all the same. People catch their shows whenever and wherever they can. The Internet allows viewers to manage their own entertainment and cultural resources in ways that traditional TV just can't match--such as interactive participation, watching supplementary content, selecting content according to one's own very specific interests, all of which add up to advantages for sponsors and advertisers."

"In other words," Menaker added, "They can choose to fast forward from Steve Martin to Martin Amis."

Isralson made the point that "one shouldn't have to have to live in New York City and pay $150 to some elite festival in order to be part of literary culture. From now on, if we have anything to do with it, you can be having dinner in Gillette, Wyoming, and enjoy a great hour of conversation about writing with your dessert and coffee. And thanks to Daniel, 'Titlepage' will be provocative, smart, and fun. I think we'll demolish a great many rules about what a book program should look and sound like."

"Titlepage" will be produced as though for television broadcast, making its quality far superior to most online video programs. Each new episode can be watched on the program's website-in its entirety or in parts-and can be downloaded and viewed on an MP3 player, or transferred to a home theater system for viewing.

To take advantage of the instant responsiveness of the net, the website will also offer links to online vendors so that viewers can purchase the books being discussed, and other books by these writers, with a click of their mouse. Visitors can also interact with the show's hosts and guests through comments, discussion forums, and e-mail.

"Authors with new books of all kinds will appear on the program in the coming months," Isralson said. "We are aiming for the greatest possible diversity and variety. We are looking to have poets, novelists, journalists, Americans, foreigners -- we will talk to anybody, about anything to do with books, as long as it strikes us as worth talking about, timely, and deserving of a wide audience's attention."

From the Bookshop, February 2008

By Quillhill

Three days ago we received in the post a package addressed to "Christopher Morley, Mad About Books". As we view our blog we see in the sidebar a mask of foolishness followed by some philosophy from the fine writer Christopher Morley. Though the name of our blog is taken from his writing, and we adopted his column style of addressing ourself in the second person, and we
may even have a bit of his spirit within us or inhabiting our shop, we are not the man himself. We could be mistaken for someone much worse.

The package we received was not expected. The postman said it had been mailed from New York. Neither of our two readers hail from New York, so this delivery was a mystery. When we opened the package we found advance reader's copies of The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe, and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Included was a letter from a Sales Coordinator at Random House explaining, "I've been reading and enjoying your blog for the last few months. I wanted to reach out and share two wonderful and much-loved books coming this Spring from Knopf."

We began reading Mr. Coe's novel immediately, and finished in three days. The novel begins with a framing narrative within which is told the first-person account of a dying woman, recorded on cassette tapes, about her family, the women in particular. According to the publisher, it is "about motherhood and family secrets, about how memory weaves tapestries both transcendent and tragic, and about the way we hold our most intimate stories
up against the past."

Rosamund seems haunted by regret as she nears the suicide she has planned to
relieve her from the pain of a fatal illness. In an attempt to redeem herself, she records a family history for her first cousin twice removed.
I am reaching the end of my life and for reasons
which will, I hope, become apparent to you as you listen to this recording,
I feel an obligation towards you, a sense of duty which has not yet been
fully discharged. ... What I want you to have, Imogen, above all, is a sense
of your own history; a sense of where you come from, and of the forces that
made you.
Rosamund selects twenty photographs which she will describe vividly and lengthily to Imogen, who was blinded in a childhood accident. Each description of a photograph constitutes a chapter. Rosamund, of course, does not stick strictly to what she sees, allowing her narrative to follow all the connective memories that are stirred up. This part of the novel is its strength, and Mr. Coe succeeds in telling an interesting story that keeps us reading. The one criticism we have of Rosamund's narrative is that it sounds more like a written rather than an oral history. She
expresses a sense of failure several times, and one might also have expected her to repeat herself, to tell the same event or fact in several different places. Her speech also sounds too modern, or not old enough, for example when she references skinheads. And though the quality of the story is not affected, there are several points where Rosamund admits her memory is
different from the photograph she sees, and we wonder if we are meant to take everything she says as truth.

The framing story serves to introduce the oral history, and to wrap up the loose ends of that history, and is otherwise purely decorative. Though the protagonist of the frame seems meant to discover the meaning of it all, she discovers instead that there is no higher meaning--no framing meaning--at all, only meaning that one gives to each moment of one's life. Still, all
the women in this novel, whether in the past or present, seem to be grasping for something to hold on to, to ground themselves, to make sense of their lives.

About this novel, the publisher writes that "[e]veryone at Knopf is certain it will win Jonathan the wide readership he has long deserved...." The publisher also quotes Bret Easton Ellisdescribing Mr. Coe as "the most exciting young British novelist writing today." He might be, and wealthy and handsome and charitable as well. Unfortunately, for us, the novel he has
written is not exciting. We were not left with a sense of awe. We did not marvel at theauthor's skills. Most of the novel presents a coherent, interesting story, and it doesn't add up to anything lasting, except a feeling that something is missing. Despite the fact the package was addressed to someone fifty years dead, and the enclosed letter begins "Dear Bookseller-Blogger," we would not be surprised to find out we are not the targeted audience. We make no attempts to hide a decided preference for older literature, what many might term classics. If The Rain Before It Falls is representative of modern fiction, our own manuscript will never survive outside the desk drawer.

Be the first to comment that you want to read this book, and Mr. Morley will forward it to you.

The Bleeding Dusk

The Bleeding Dusk
By Colleen Gleason
Signet Eclipse, February 2008
Reviewed by Heather F.

*May contain spoilers from previous Gardella Vampire novels*

The latest novel in Colleen Gleason’s Gardella Vampire Chronicle series is a hold-on-to-your-seat, roller-coaster of a ride. If you have never read one of her books before, they are delicious, paranormal/historical, romps through Regency-era England with a beautiful, vivacious, lady vampire killer. The latest installment, The Bleeding Dusk, takes this series to a whole new level.

Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy is again on the prowl for vampires. Still in mourning for her aunt and husband and now in living in Rome, she and her fellow Venators, have even more to fight this time around – demons, straight from hell, are lurking the streets and are definitely up to no good. Missing is Max, her fellow Venator and all around annoyance, and Sebastian, her erstwhile lover. Fans will not be disappointed over the new twists Ms. Gleason takes with our two favorite dashing heroes and our gorgeous heroine.

It’s dark and action packed. There are some huge surprises, ones that I immensely admire the author for taking the chance in making. As always, things are not what they seem and danger lurks around every corner. If you haven’t read this series, now would be a good time to start. Ms. Gleason just gets better and better with each novel and this is her best yet.

Saving Juliet

Saving Juliet
Written by Suzanne Selfors
Walker Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by Melissa

You know about the books that change your life. There are the ones that make you cry buckets. And the romances: books with characters that make you swoon. And then there are those books that leave you with a silly grin on your face because they're just so darn cute.

Saving Juliet is one of those "silly grin" books.

I couldn't stop smiling. Reading the book made me happy; not because it was deep, profound, life changing or even because I was totally swooning over the main characters. But because it was sweet, cute, silly, fun, snarky, and... happy. Just perfect for a cold, dreary, gray day outside.

The basic conceit is simple: Mimi Wallingford, the great-granddaughter of famous stage (Shakespearean!) actress Adelaide Wallingford, wants the freedom to choose her own life. To get away from her uber-controlling mom. To do something other than act in Shakespearean plays (she's been acting since she was three!). To stop being Juliet to pop star Troy Summer's Romeo. And on the day of her final performance, she gets her wish: she's transported (with Troy) to Verona Italy, circa 1594, right in the middle of Shakespeare's play.

It could have been a very sappy, cloying story. It was sappy, but it had a healthy dose of silly and snark to make up for it. It could have been a typical "finding yourself" teenage story. Of course it was a finding yourself teenage story, but not many teenagers find themselves in 16th-century Italy. Selfors's writing style is charming and snarky at the same time. She doesn't attempt to make the story serious, or to take the whole book seriously, and as a result, it works wonderfully. I loved Mimi as a narrator: she's not above telling it like it is, even when it embarrasses her. Even when it involves bodily functions in the 16th century. And because she treats the unbelievablity of the situation (I mean really: traveling through time into a play?) with humor, it works, and you believe it.

I warned you at the beginning that you might not believe the story I was about to tell, so you've probably anticipated this moment. You may also have read the book's jacket copy so you know that at some point I am going to take an unexpected trip. I did not have the luxury of a book jacket, however, to prepare me, so I felt totally bewildered.
I was hooked.

I liked that Selfors knows Romeo and Juliet inside and out; it gives her the ability to seamlessly both include and diverge from it. I liked the clever asides that Mimi makes about the situation she's found herself in, like the realization that everyone's speaking English (and not Shakespearean, much less Italian), and the implications that has for her adventures. I liked that both Romeo and Juliet were fleshed out, growing beyond their usual roles of doomed star-crossed lovers. I liked the roles Mimi played, from damsel in distress, to love-struck herself, to, finally, a confident young woman who knows what she wants, and feels like she can achieve it.

But mostly, it's a very cute love story, a fun historical adventure, a smart homage to one of the greatest playwrights the English language has produced.

Which just left a smile on my face.

The Winter Rose

The Winter Rose
Written by Jennifer Donnelly
Reviewed by Heather T.

Estella’s theme for this issue is ‘change’. Barbara Taylor Bradford, a well known writer of romances classifies the heroine of ‘The Winter Rose’ as “a new breed of woman” and I must say that I agree. The novel is set in a time of much political and social change and hints at real world events make this romance a unique epic.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a fan of lovely, mushy romance and ‘The Winter Rose’ did not disappoint. However, this is no average bodice ripper but rather a substantial novel of over 700 pages. Even more endearing about this story were the added elements of mystery, historical detail (political and otherwise), adventure and varied locals. As a woman, I was particularly impressed with the strong, passionate and unlikely heroine, India Selwyn Jones who struggles with her medical school teachings of holding in her emotions and that of her deep instincts that tell her to follow her heart.

India is an idealistic aristocrat who has just graduated from the London School of Medicine for Women. It is naturally assumed that she will set up a safe and acceptable practice for her peers but she has other plans. Whitechapel’s poor and indigent are calling to her and she dreams of setting up a ‘modern’ clinic for those most in need, the women and children. In the early 1900s when women’s suffrage has become an important topic, this will be no easy task when most of those around India can do nothing but laugh at her plans and try to convince her to do nothing but marry and have children.

India’s life is complicated when she meets the gangster Sid Malone, saves his life and then falls in love with him. Sid’s life of crime has lost its attraction and he finds he is definitely not immune from India’s unintentional charms. Can they truly be happy when there are those around them that would like nothing better than to see them apart?

From England to Africa to America, the passionate convictions they hold are nurtured and challenged, both at the same time. ‘The Winter Rose’ follows ‘The Tea Rose’ and which I suspect was the first in a long line of an excellent series. I’ve added ‘The Tea Rose’ to my personal ‘to be read’ list and when the next ‘Rose’ is published I suspect I’ll be first in line to read it.

As most of you know, I like to include quotes with my reviews but when I finished this book, I realized that I hadn’t stopped to write even one! This novel really captured my attention and my imagination. I do hope you enjoy it should you choose to read it.

When You Ride Alone, You Ride with Bin Laden

When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden
Written by Bill Maher
Phoenix Books
Reviewed by April Boland

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Bill Maher and his witty, cutting way with words when it comes to American politics. As a fan of his show, "Real Time with Bill Maher," I decided to read When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden. I went into it expecting something good and I was still pleasantly surprised. The book is one big persuasive essay on changes Americans need to make if we want to win the war on terror. Bill tells it like it is, as usual. We can't continue to suck up oil with our SUVs. We can't waste electricity in our homes and jack up our Christmas light displays every year. We can't keep purchasing diamonds. All of these actions fund terrorism, so we cannot remain blissfully ignorant about the fact that what we do each and every day affects the war effort and the world.

Bill recalls with nostalgia the days when Americans were on board with the war effort, like during WWII. He uses vintage posters from the era to make his rather biting point: that Americans today are, for lack of a better word, lazy. He believes that we are unwilling to make any sacrifices to win this war because if we do, "then they win."

You may not agree with everything Bill Maher writes - and really, do any of us ever fully agree with someone else politically? - but this book will make you think really hard about issues that matter to the future of our country.

If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny

If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny
Written by Lucy Adams
Palm Tree Press
Reviewed by Melissa

You know that old adage, "don't judge a book by it's cover"? Well, it applies to this book, which has the ugliest cover that I've ever seen. Honestly. It's butt ugly. It's not obscene or anything; it's just a terribly drawn, lame cartoon--embarrassingly bad enough that I took to laying the book face-down when I wasn't reading it. I hate to come down so hard, but if I hadn't received a review copy of this, I never would have picked it up, mostly because the cover repulses me.

I'm here to tell you that the book is way better than the cover. Which wasn't that hard to accomplish, but still, it's quite a funny little book.

From what I can figure, it's a collection of Adams's syndicated columns which she writes for newspapers in Georgia and Tennessee. Though you could probably say it's a book about moms and for moms, it's really a little bit of everything. It took me a little while to get into it -- being January and cold outside and grumpy inside and all -- but by about halfway through, I was sniggering and chortling enough that my husband had to come see what was up. Most of the essays are mom humor, and those are the best. Her kids take on Dr. Seuss, the beach, pets, each other, and, in my absolute favorite essay, adopt a watermelon. I still giggle when I think about it.
But she touches on marriage humor -- in "Rambling My Way to Purgatory," she talks about vacations and in-laws. Very amusing. And then there's the general life humor -- "Patients Will be Seen after Appointment Time Only" is probably self-explanatory, and a very creative way to visit the doctor's office woes of us all. Or "Thrift Store Look Without the Thrift Store Price," where she experiences the joy that is shopping for designer clothes

And don't forget that Adams is a Southerner. She doesn't take advantage of that enough -- they have a certain take on life in the South, and I have a soft spot in my heart for Southern humor. There were a few times that Adams went full-blown Southern on me (in "A Pig that Good" and "Difficult Decisions" -- it's about naming a dog -- and "Oh, the Delirium of Summer"), but mostly it was just there lurking in the background. Which isn't bad; it just wasn't all I was expecting.

Even so, it was funny enough. In one essay she comes up with a new guideline for our lives: we should all be asking "Would Mama Laugh?" In this case, this mama did.