Monday, September 1, 2008

Letter From the Editor, September 2008

Late again! Andi is the slacker, and she freely admits it. Between the pressures of school, work, family, and life, Andi and Heather are currently working on a solution to bring Estella's Revenge to your computer screen in a timely fashion without sacrificing content. Hang with us, we're not going anywhere, just streamlining.

The September issue is an issue close to all our hearts: controversy. Readers almost inevitably have a relationship with controversy. Whether by choice or by chance, readers encounter controversy in their reading material, in the reactions of others (think Harry Potter and book challenging), and readers often have an opinion on everything thanks to reading. Whether you're a politico or no, a liberal or conservative, a type A or a type B, embrace least for the duration of September.

Table of Contents:




Comics Never Forgot

By Chris Buchner

Seven years ago, the unthinkable happened. On September 11, 2001, the largest terrorist attack ever to be set upon the United States was enacted. Four planes were hijacked, one sent crashing into the Pentagon and another being stopped by its frightened passengers before it could even reach its target. The other two found theirs, however, and the World Trade Center in New York City was no more.

People, emergency crews and civilians alike, came from all over the country to help in the rescue effort that grew increasingly fleeting in its success as the hours and days passed. When all was said and done, over 3,000 people lost their lives in the city that day, not even counting the victims on all four planes and the Pentagon.

In the days that followed, you could see a change. There was a disbelief that it ever happened, that it was nothing more than a big-budget movie. People in general were a lot nicer to each other than they ever were before. There was a feeling of togetherness that had unfortunately become strange in these modern times. As the reality set in, the coping began and in time things were for the most part back to the way they were before that day. But, no matter the person or how they were affected, no matter their race or religion, a silent promise was made: we would never forget.

As they had done with countless events in the past, from relief efforts to war efforts, the comic industry stepped up once again to do their part to help out the victims and families of the tragedy. And they did so with far deeper hearts than ever before, because this was no war. This was no national disaster. This was a purposeful act of aggression on innocent civilians just going about their daily lives.

Leading the charge was Marvel Comics and Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, who immediately after the attacks assembled a large collection of creators to do what they did best. The result was Heroes, a magazine-sized 64-page publication containing pin-ups and prose of various lengths honoring the men and women without powers who rushed to the aid of others in need, as well as the innocent victims of the day. The book, with a cover by Alex Ross, was released just over a month later, an impressive feat where publishing can take three months or more before a product ever sees release. The book sold out within the first day of its release, sparking three additional printings with most of the proceeds going to the Twin Towers Fund. Amongst the talent featured were Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Walter Simonson, Paul Dini, Todd McFarlane, Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Frank Miller, Mike Deodato Jr., George Perez, Kevin Smith, Dale Keown, Adam Kubert, Salvador Larroca, Neal Adams and more.


January and February saw the release of additional tribute benefit books. 9-11: Emergency Relief was the product of Jeff Mason by Alternative Press. He too assembled a cavalcade of creators and had them deliver comic versions of their own personal experiences on that day. Proceeds from the book were used to benefit the American Red Cross in its efforts to deliver aid to the victims and their families. Originally intended to be just under 100 pages, the project continued to grow and swell to well over 200. The book featured the talents of Phil Hester, Nick Abadzis, Gail Simone, Scott Morse, James Kuhoric, Will Eisner, Michael Avon Oeming, Steve Ellis, Tom Beland and others. Frank Cho provided the cover.

Other publishers teamed up for a combined effort in the books 9-11: Artists Respond and 9-11: September 11th, 2001. Artists Respond was produced in cooperation by Chaos! Comics, Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics, with additional input from Oni Press, Top Shelf and others with a cover by the New Yorker’s Eric Drooker. 9-11: September 11th, 2001 was a production of DC Comics and also featured a cover by Alex Ross. These two volumes contained both moving stories and personal accounts about that day, with DC’s edition split up into chapters containing stories with similar themes. Both books, their paper supplier, printer and distributor all donated their share of money from their publication towards the World Trade Center Relief Fund, Survivors Fund of the National Capital Region, The September 11th Fund, and the Twin Towers Fund.

A smaller effort was done by Joe Linsner, creator of the character Dawn. As a native New Yorker, he decided to put down the experiences of himself and two friends he was with the day of the tragedy. The standard sized black and white issue was released through his own and raised money towards the American Red Cross.

Marvel, not to be left out, came out with two more tribute books. The first was A Moment of Silence, advertised on the back cover of Heroes. Featuring a cover by Quesada and Ross, four wordless stories inspired by true events that came out of the attacks by creative teams including Kevin Smith, Igor Kordey, Quesada, John Romita Jr., Marvel President Bill Jemas, Mark Bagley, Brian Michael Bendis and Chuck Austen. The book also featured an introduction by then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani and additional contributions by Joe Jusko, Chris Sotomayor, Norm Rapmund, Scott Hanna and others.

Their last salvo came from their hero most synonymous with New York City, Spider-Man. The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #36, known as The Black Issue for its all-black cover, showed how the inhabitants of the Marvel Universe coped with the tragedy, hero and villain alike symbolizing the spirit of togetherness demonstrated that day and the weeks that followed. Done by the regular creative team at the time of J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr., proceeds from both books also went towards the Twin Towers Fund.

There was no competition, there was no bottom line. These companies came together in their own ways out of a labor of love to do what they could to help those in need. If nothing else, that was the spirit that befell all the American people that day, and a reminder that despite the best attempts to divide us, the worst you can do is unite us.

All gave some, some gave all. Never forget, September 11, 2001.

Ten Ways of Starting a Literary Argument

By Stuart Sharp

Literature and third pint arguments in pubs have a long and distinguished history. Just look at Christopher Marlowe. On the occasions when no one plans on stabbing anyone else, or on sparking impossibly boring arguments about whether Marlowe faked his own death and became Shakespeare, they can even be fun. After all, if people didn’t love a good, lively debate accompanied by a certain amount of alcohol, there wouldn’t be such things as academic conferences, would there? So, to get things going, a few easy ways of starting a suitably bookish argument. Just remember to have a coffee table sized hardback handy, for if things turn nasty.

1- Insult a Favourite Author: This is the easy one, and in a lot of ways the most childish. After all, there’s only so many times you can really go round the ‘…is great! No, they’re rubbish!’ cycle. The beauty of this, of course, is that almost everyone has a favourite author, and almost all favourite authors have flaws. To allow my argumentative inner self to pick on a couple of my own favourites for a moment-

‘Neil Gaiman? He’s too weird, and he mostly writes comics.’

‘All right, so David Gemmell wrote some good stuff, but he mostly wrote the same story over and over again.’

See, it’s easy.

2- Genre Differences: Why settle for insulting someone’s favourite writer when you can go for a whole genre? There’s always something to start an argument over, whether it’s chicklit’s empty-headed lightness, the thriller’s refusal to believe in deep characterisation, or fantasy’s enduring attachment to goblins. The best bit is that, thanks to sub-genres, even if you happen to like the same sort of thing, it’s still possible to start a lively debate on the relative merits of, for example, vampire focussed supernatural romance versus straight ahead urban fantasy.

3- Hardback v Paperback- When in doubt, take things back to basics. Avoid the arguments over story completely by focussing on what the things are printed on. See someone clutching the paperback? Point out that it won’t last five minutes. The hardback? Ask them when they took up the weight training. Of course, these days, the whole debate has been enlivened further by the joys of the e-book, allowing us not just arguments over the merits of the whole idea, but also over which format is best. Be cautious though. It’s only a short step from debating the merits of the Kindle to waking up and realising you’ve become a computer geek. I, for one, would much rather remain a confirmed book geek.

4- The ‘Literature’ Debate: Go on, admit it; you didn’t finish Moby Dick. Or Ulysses. You were too busy reading something enjoyable. But it might be that you know someone who has. Almost certainly, they’re going to be the sort of person who wouldn’t be caught dead reading the latest Jim Butcher novel. Just happen to mention any genre novel you’ve read recently, and they’re almost guaranteed to come back with ‘yes, but it’s not literature is it?’

It’s almost too easy.

5- The Booker List: Really a specialised sub-set of the above. It seems that the world can be divided roughly into two categories. Those who read everything on the Booker short list as soon as humanly possible, and those who see a book there and vow never to even open the cover. There’s no known way to reconcile the two schools of thought, which means there’s all the scope you’ll ever need for an argument. Alternatively, debate who should really have been on the list, why you would have made a much better judge, or why the whole thing is obviously rigged for picking the member of the short list you least wanted to win.

6- Ok, you love the same genres. You love the same authors. You love the same novels by the same authors. But I bet you don’t love the same characters. They’ve developed a crush on the main character, while you’ve secretly re-read all the sections featuring sub-plot character 3B. They think you’re weird for focussing on someone who just isn’t the point of the novel. You think they’re just being obvious. You see, you’re arguing already.

7- References, Allusions, and Minor Eastern European Plays: The last point is, of course, a reference itself, harking back to Terry Pratchett’s complaint in the introduction to Unseen University Challenge that there are some strange people who write to him explaining that they’ve spotted that the phrase “‘please open the window’ has clearly been taken from a Czech play last performed in 1928.” You don’t need to be that thorough. You just need to have spotted something about the book you’re reading that lets you go ‘Of course, you know where it’s all taken from, don’t you’ at the optimally annoying point.

8- What Does it all Mean? Not the universe, obviously, the book you’ve been reading. You’ve got to save yourself something to argue about in the pub tomorrow. Entire English departments have been built on the fact that two perfectly reasonable people can read the same book and decide it means almost completely opposite things. Entire arguments can be built on the fact that the same thing also applies to unreasonably contentious people too. Though actually, you’ll probably find a fair few of those in the English departments. You might see Alice in Wonderland as a deeply meaningful metaphor for growing up. I see it as a bunch of random silliness. You see, we’re debating.

9- Alternate Endings: DVD extras have a lot to answer for. Specifically, they have to answer for the idea that you might take a story you like, and imagine the possibility that it might end in a dozen ways rejected by the author as too unsatisfying, too pat, or simply too much like hard work. You might even decide that they ending you’ve thought of is better than the original, though anyone you mention it to will immediately disagree. Except possibly in the case of Douglas Adams, of whom it can best be said that he wrote some great beginnings and middles. If you don’t believe me, read The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

10- The Book or the Film? The book, obviously. Why are we even debating it? Unless it’s the book of the film, in which case it might be acceptable to question how this stuff comes into being. I briefly met someone who would actually become quite violent at the mention of the Harry Potter films. Suffice it to say that it’s a corner of the North East of England I’ll be avoiding from now on.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

By Chris Buchner

20 years ago, one of the most recognizable 80s franchises made their leap to comics. Transformers? Nope. G.I. Joe? Hardly. Fraggle Rock? Close. We’re talking about the professionals in paranormal investigation and elimination: Ghostbusters.


Ghostbusters was conceived as a vehicle by comedian Dan Aykroyd for himself and his friend, fellow Saturday Night Live alum John Belushi, as a follow-up to their hit movie The Blues Brothers. It was inspired by Aykroyd’s own interest in the paranormal, and was originally intended to be about a group of men in SWAT-style uniforms that traveled through time, space and other dimensions while using specialized wands to take on a horde of giant ghosts (of which The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man would have been a member of). When brought to the attention of director and producer Ivan Reitman, he liked the concept but felt the story, as it was, would cost far too much to make (remember, there was no CGI in the early 1980s). Reitman would pair Aykroyd up with Harold Ramis to fine tune the idea to more realistic proportions, or the version we all know and love today.

In 1984, Aykroyd and Ramis as Doctors Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler, alongside Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson as Dr. Peter Venkman and Winston Zeddemore (Belushi had died during the screenwriting process from a drug overdose), led Ghostbusters to become the most successful comedy of the 80s. That success would be turned into an animated series by DIC Entertainment called The Real Ghostbusters in 1986 (The Real was added to the title by Columbia Pictures to snub Filmation, who was banking on the movie’s success with their own spin-off cartoon of their 1975 live-action Ghost Busters starring Larry Storch and Forest Tucker). The show was just as successful as the movie, thanks in large part to the earlier seasons being headed-up by renowned comic writer J. Michael Straczynski who helped give the show a dark tone that even adults could enjoy. Ghost Fever was in full swing, with toys, games, and even a movie sequel. But there’s one aspect in particular we’re here to talk about today.


In 1988, The Real Ghostbusters made their foray into the four-colored world by both Marvel’s United Kingdom office and Tony Caputo’s NOW Comics. The UK run, which lasted 193 weekly issues (monthly with the final few), 4 annuals, and multiple reprint collections put out as specials and a monthly title, came out a few months before the NOW run. The book was published in magazine format with anywhere from two to three comic stories (depending on their length, sometimes extra one-pagers were added), a prose story which alternated monthly from a standard adventure to an entry in Winston Zeddemore’s diary, a prose spirit guide entry by Egon Spengler that would discuss something supernatural related to a story in that issue, and even a strip featuring their resident ghost, Slimer, primarily written and drawn by Bambos.

These comics were decidedly kid-friendly; the plots never being too deep and loaded with pun-laden dialogue. It featured a large rotating roster of creative talent, including names such as Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy), Richard Starkings (founder of lettering house Comicraft) and Phil Hester (The Darkness). The series also tended to introduce designs seen within the toy lines, rather than exclusively from the cartoon.

Late in the run, the books began to reprint stories from the NOW series, but because the length of the stories differed between the two comics they were usually broken up into multiple parts over the course of several issues. Stories previously published in the book itself were also sometimes reused. By issue 173, original stories ceased to be produced, and by #186 the book would finish out its run in a larger monthly format, but still using reprints.

NOW Comics, known as NOW Entertainment and NOW 3.0 in future incarnations, was founded by Tony Caputo and grew from a one man operation to publishing many titles in various countries. NOW’s biggest draw included licensed properties such as Married…With Children, The Green Hornet, Speed Racer and, of course, The Real Ghostbusters. The book ran for 28 issues before NOW filed for bankruptcy in late 1990. They were primarily written by James Van Hise, except for two issues, and drawn by John Tobias who would later create the Mortal Kombat video game series with Ed Boon.

Their run also included a 3-issue limited series adapting the script from Ghostbusters II, but using the cartoon characters rather than trying to go for the actors’ likenesses. The series is most notable for introducing the cartoon version of Dana Barrett, absent from any episode delving into their origin and receiving only mentions in the UK books. It was also the only run collected into a trade paperback, limited to 3,000 copies and usually found on eBay for sale by writer Van Hise.

A second series was attempted later in 1991 and ran for 4 issues, with a 3-D special issue kicking off the story than ran through all of them and often being considered the same as a #0 issue because of it. Two annuals were produced, one of them also being a 3-D issue. These issues would not only feature the original story, but a back-up reprint of a story from the UK series. This wouldn’t be the first time the main series had borrowed from the Marvel run. Issue 21 of the first volume was composed of 3 UK stories due to a production delay, splitting a two-part story in half. A few of the covers in volume 1 and all the main covers in volume 2 also ran with covers used in the UK series, but modified to normal comic size.


With the growing popularity of Slimer on the cartoon and the growing concerns of parents that the subject matter thus far was too dark for kids, the focused was shifted to make him a central character and the show as a whole more kid-friendly. Slimer was given his own spin-off cartoon with more stylized animation and paired up with the regular cartoon, creating the new hour-long Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. Following suit, both companies began publishing a Slimer comic.

NOW’s Slimer! ran for 19 issues featuring stories done in a similar style to his cartoon as well as the various characters from it. Marvel’s Slimer! ran monthly for about 12 issues in 1990, featuring longer versions of the strips found every month in the main book and reprints of NOW material. The Slimer! book was merged into the main book with #121, his name added to the title. Conversely, NOW did a similar move adding the Ghostbusters’ name to their Slimer! book with #12 as they began to feature UK reprints until the book’s cancellation. It was also the only other Ghostbusters book to be collected in a trade; specifically the first three issues.


In 1991, Ghostbusters began to fall out of the public eye and the animated series eventually came to an end. The final Ghostbusters comic to be produced in the 20th Century was 1993’s Slimer! 3-D Special.

As 80s nostalgia began to grow once again after the millennium, properties started to find themselves with new life. Ghostbusters was experiencing its own resurgence with a brand-new release of the DVDs, a die-cast model from Ertl, a re-release of Ecto-1A from Johnny Lightning, action figures of the first movie villains by Neca (they could not secure Bill Murray’s likeness rights so the actual Ghostbusters were never released), and the long-awaited commercial release of Elmer Bernstein’s score from the first movie.


In 2002, a mysterious user calling himself Red Ketchup appeared on the forums at, one of many Ghostbusters fan sites on the web, dropping vague hints about something Ghostbusters related on the horizon. Concept artwork featuring characters heavily influenced by the animated series but in movie gear appeared by someone called El Diablo. After more dropped hints and a lot of questions directed to fans, the identities of these two individuals were revealed to be Sebastien Clavet, owner and publisher of Canada-based 88MPH Studios, and Mark Brooks currently on Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men title. Brooks, it should be noted, was not the intended regular artist for the series nor were his designs the ones used.

Clavet had announced that, beginning in 2004, his company would produce a 4-issue mini-series called “Legion” that would lead into a new ongoing series. What set this series apart from the comics that came before was it took place in the movie universe, and that it featured a sliding timeline that placed the events of the movie in the present, rather than 20 years prior. That meant internet, cell phones and modern pop culture references galore. It also completely disregarded Ghostbusters II, and paid homage to the animated series by featuring a new containment unit similar to the one seen on the show.

Billy Dallas Patton was the intended artist for the series, but medical problems forced him to drop out after only doing a promotional picture of the characters and a #0 black and white issue called “The Zeddemore Factor” that was given out at San Diego Comiccon that year to promote the series. Steve Kurth replaced him on the main title, with writer Andrew Dabb, inker Serge LaPointe, colorist Blond and letterer Ed Dukeshire. Despite the impressive overall presentation of the series, and the tremendous hype surrounding it, the series was plagued with numerous problems and controversy.


One of the biggest fan contentions came from the numerous amounts of variant covers for the four issues. Each issue had a cover by the series regulars as well as a painted cover of the main characters by Dan Brereton. Issue one, however, had four additional covers; one exclusive to retailer Graham Crackers Comics, one exclusive to toy retailer, a retailer incentive cover of just the logo made with ultraviolet inks that shipped in sparse numbers depending on how many copies were ordered, and a second printing with a Christine inspired Ecto-1. Issue four had an additional cover exclusive to Bulldog Collectibles. Small publishers often rely on variant covers to bolster sales of a book to keep cover prices low and compete with the bigger companies.

The cover complaints, though, were quickly overshadowed by increasing delays between issues. The mini was intended to run from February to May 2004, with an ongoing series beginning immediately in June, the 20th anniversary of the first movie. However, the first issue didn’t hit stores until that April, with the final issue coming out the following January. This resulted in a dip in sales with each successive release, as well as aggravation amongst regular Ghostbusters fans.

Clavet tried to combat this by keeping the hype alive, promoting that the series will happen and, in the meantime, a special hardcover of the mini would be released to tide fans over until that time. Enticements included concept art, informational “Ecto-Logs,” a colorized version of “The Zeddemore Factor,” a foreword by Dan Aykroyd and an afterword by an unidentified actor related to the movies (popular speculation was this actor would be Bill Murray). The deadline for the pre-orders of the book were extended several times, causing concern over whether or not the book would actually come out, despite Clavet’s assurances to the positive. To date, however, only a soft cover version featuring only a cover gallery as an extra was released in the UK by Titan Books.

Rumors had begun circulating that 88MPH was experiencing some financial difficulties, which may or may not have been a direct cause of the increased delays of the book. Co-inker Chuck Gibson and “Zeddemore Factor” colorist Adam Nichols reportedly experienced a massive delay in receiving payment for their work. Clavet made an attempt to raise money to publish the hardcover by offering an Ecto-1 and Peter Venkman lithograph for sale. He also considered cutting costs by replacing their trademark vehicle as he had to pay General Motors a fee for using the Cadillac ambulance as the base. That announcement drew a mixed reaction from fans, some not wanting it to happen while others just wanting the book to be made.

With the ongoing postponed indefinitely and the hardcover missing in action with most attempts at refunds futile, it seemed like this was the Ghostbusters’ last foray into comics for a long time. However, Titan Books stepped up once again to fill the void by release four digest-sized collections of the Marvel UK stories. Between 2005 and 2006, they released A Hard Day’s Fright, Who You Gonna Call?, Which Witch is Which? and This Ghost is Toast, three of them named for a story that appeared within.


Then, at San Diego Comiccon 2008, IDW announced they had acquired the rights to the franchise and are producing a mini-series starting in October called The Other Side. Written by Keith Champagne and drawn by Tom Nguyen, the series is still set in the movie universe. But, unlike Clavet’s approach, both movies are in canon and the story picks up from there. The first (of what is hoped to be many) mini will deal with a ghostly group of mobsters looking to get a little payback on the Ghostbusters.

And, if that wasn’t enough, manga publisher Tokyopop announced at Anime Expo 2008 that they’ll be releasing the first Ghostbusters manga: a 192-page one-shot. Featuring the talents of Nathan Johnson, Matt Yamashita, Maximo V. Lorenzo, Hanzo Steinbach, Chrissy Delk, Michael Shelfner and Nate Watson, it incorporates six different adventures of the Ghostbusters. The manga is set to come out in October as well to coincide with the intended release of the new Ghostbusters video game by Sierra Entertainment.

20 years since the first time Ghostbusters came to comics, there’s hardly any doubt: 2008 is the year of the no-ghost.

For an informative guide about Ghostbusters comics, check out the NYGB COMICGUIDE. Ask your local retailer about the new Ghostbusters books this October. To find a comic shop, call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK or go to

Book Tour: Spokane, Washington and Portland, Oregon

By Melissa

Auntie's Bookstore
402 W. Main Ave
Spokane, Washington

Powell's Books
1005 W. Burnside
Portland, Oregon

This tour could be called lots of things: Pacific Northwest (though I didn't stop in Seattle), the Fox Family Reunion tour (my husband hails from Spokane, and he has siblings and friends in Portland), but I think the best name for it should be: The Battle of the Independents. I hit the two extremes of independent bookstores on this trip: a small, struggling-yet-somehow-making it store in a mid-size community; and a massive bookstore in the middle of a bustling big city, and the only independent bookstore to give the big box stores a run for their money (at least in Portland).

In Spokane, we stopped in at Auntie's Bookstore, a Spokane staple for the past 30 years. My husband remembers frequenting the store as a child, but at a different location farther away from the center of the downtown area. Seven years ago, however, they moved to their current location a block away from the Spokane River and Riverfront Park. It's a prime location, not only to catch workers downtown, but the tourists and other locals heading to the park, especially in the summertime. And Auntie's has a lot to offer. Open, airy, yet incredibly cozy, it's the perfect place to browse as well as sit and leaf through a book or two. The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly, searching for all our book requests and (mostly) having them in-stock, much to our delight. The children's section, while a bit sparse on books, was beautifully decorated and an incredibly welcoming place for kids to be. In addition to supplying all the independent bookstore needs in Spokane (by all counts, they are the only one), they offer venues for regional authors -- including book promotions and signings -- as well as a myriad of book groups and programs. Another nice bonus was the adjacent Uncle's -- specializing in board, card and role-playing games for all ages. My children (and husband) did as much browsing in there as they did in Auntie's, and (of course) we made several purchases there as well. The only thing that was truly missing was a cafe/coffee shop adjacent to the store, but I did notice some construction near the back, so perhaps that will soon be remedied. Though I suppose that speaks to an important point: independent bookstores--unless their unique demographic appeal or particular economic situation within the community makes it unnecessary--have been obliged to offer the same sort of things which Borders and Barnes and Noble have shown that all us customers want in order to survive. Of course, it was small, local, independent bookstores that were offering places to sit and read and listen to authors and drink some hot cocoa long before anyone else; the big stores simply hit upon a marketing strategy which combines those intimacies with a huge inventory of books. And plainly, it is a strategy that works. I don't know how independent bookstore owners are going to get through this dilemma, but at the very least, I'm grateful that stores like Auntie's are still going strong.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was our pilgrimage to Powell's Books in Portland. I'm not sure if I've ever been in a bookstore that immense before -- not having explored bookstores in other large cities; perhaps it is common for a bookstore to take up three floors of a building spanning an entire city block. Perhaps not. I can also say that everything that you've heard is true: it's huge, they do give you a map when you walk in, everything is impeccably categorized (and logically, too), and they have everything. Literally. There wasn't a book I -- or my husband, whose tastes run a little more obscure than mine -- looked for that I couldn't find. (Though that's not entirely true: my husband, who is a college professor, also attempted to track down some just-published academic titles, and they didn't have a single one. So, I guess Powell can't quite compete with Harvard University's campus bookstore, if that's the sort of things you're looking for.)

And as for the diversity...well, they had an entire section on the Kama Sutra (which I found amusing); travel books to satisfy my every whim; aisles and aisles of graphic novels; rooms full of science fiction and fantasy and fiction and politics (and everything else in-between, including a nice Portland/Pacific Northwest regional section); plus book kitsch galore. I did notice later, however, as I walked around downtown Portland, several other independent bookstores, and I wondered if they hate Powell's as much as independent bookstores in other towns hate Borders and Barnes & Noble. Its size is one of its main draws, but it's also a drawback -- we were there for nearly three hours, and exhausted ourselves before we even managed to wander through the entire store. And it was difficult to leave too, because even in approaching the check-out counter, there were shelves and shelves you have to pass by, all of them crammed with books, begging to be quickly scanned before you go out the exit doors. (I had to drag my husband out--"I have to take a look at these...wait, I just remembered one more book I need to look'll only take a minute!") I hate to say it, but I think it was almost too much to process in one trip. The other downside is the lack of seating. Because the space needs are all taken up with books, there is no real place to sit and peruse books. There are a couple of wooden benches, but they are few and far between, and not exactly the most comfortable place to immerse oneself in a good story. But, perhaps that's the point: Powell's is a place to go and find something -- possibly something hard-to-find, possibly something rare, possibly the new best-seller -- and not to kick one's feet up and chill with a latte. That said, it was completely worth it to make a stop there. The hard part was just figuring out what to buy.

But isn't that always the case, no matter what size the store is?

Orange Prize

By Jodie

The book world has been full of controversy recently. Jhumpa Lahiri won The Frank O’Connor award without the bother of a shortlist. The wrong winner was announced at the Welsh Book of the Year Award, devestating Tom Bullough. James Frey was allowed to publish a new book perfect for anyone who enjoys handing over their bank details to African princes requesting money by e-mail. Salman Rushdie won the Best of Booker and then his new novel ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ shockingly turned up in the running for this year’s Man Booker. Honestly, why don’t they just tell him they love him? It’s so obvious.

It was inevitable really that the judges of the UK’s award for fiction by women, the Orange prize, would try to get in on the act. Kristy Lang, the prizes chair this year, had a few choice things to say, intended to provoke debate. I’m late to the party, please excuse me, I stopped for beer to make it all bearable.

The Orange prize is always a great one for ravenous commentators to get their teeth into. Last year judge Muriel Gray complained that many women writers were confining themselves to domestic themes and lacked inventiveness. This attitude pretty much gives me the urge to bend someone’s finger back just to relieve the tension it causes me. An attitude like this ignores the fact that every year sees a new crop of misunderstood, crippled masculinity books being published. If you’re a well known male author and you put a middle aged white man, with failing health, a bad marriage and a poor career in your novel reviewers will congratulate you on a masterwork that explains humanity’s terrible condition. If you’re a modern woman who runs a household and you base a book around your these life experiences you get shunned and are accused of writing claustrophobic domestic dramas. This inequality in perception is a nice hearkening back to other hypocritical gender views like the idea that a man who sleeps around is a hero while a woman who does the same is a slut.

This year Kirsty Lang has suggested that it might be interesting to think about having male judges because ‘The one disadvantage to an all-female jury is that there are certain books that women like ... the judging could be tilted a bit against science fiction.’. If I met Lang now I honestly don’t think I’d be able to do anything but gape at her in a massive show of flabbergast. The idea of having men judging an all female prize is surely contentious but is entirely eclipsed for me by this bright, literary woman talking about her whole gender as one massive generalisation. As a woman Lang assumes that she is a ‘normal’ example of womanhood, a typical example of her gender, making the fatal mistake that there is a universal norm that all woman have at their core. Assuming that she is a representative example of a woman she feels able to speak for her entire gender’s reading tastes and assert (as so many other misinformed individual have throughout history) what the collective ‘women’ want. It’s like years of critical gender theory just passed her by.

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty much sick of hearing about the ‘normal’ woman although she’s probably always fabulously dressed. She doesn’t like rock music, sport or sex as much as men. She has been planning her wedding since girlhood, drinks mostly wine and apparently now she can only enjoy books on certain subjects. She’s the reason I’ll often order pints of lager all night if I go out in a dress and the reason why my co-workers look doubtfully at my professionally highlighted hair when I mention liking screaming, metal music. I don’t like being told who I am and who I’m not, that I fit into the women’s straight jacket or the abnormal box, especially not by someone of my own gender who should know better. Lang is echoing the sentiments of pink razor commercials across the world, society has got women pegged and each woman is made to enjoy the same things.

Lang’s comment seems to suggest a belief that women only like and identify with the side of themselves which society identifies as overtly feminine when they are reading. Female judges may tend to overlook sci-fi and adventure novels because as females these books are not of interest to them, being so unfeminine and all. She never stops to think that perhaps it is the judges individual assessments of the books on offer that keeps books off the shortlist rather than some overarching bias of the entire female gender. By suggesting that content the judges don’t enjoy may be the reason why some novels get bounced from the Orange prize list she does her fellow judges and gender down again by suggesting that they are incapable of separating good writing and compelling plots from their own feelings about the subject matter. Is she honestly happy to imply that women are incapable of being objective about literature?

If Lang really believes women only like certain kinds of books what does she think fantastic female authors like Sarah Hall and Karin Slaughter are doing writing sci-fi, fantasy, hard core crime and other books outside the bounds of ‘what women want’? Perhaps she believes they are just shamelessly aping male authors, dedicating years to writing about subjects they aren’t really interested in. What does she feel they have to gain by writing books which apparently will not appeal to over half the book buying population of the world? Certainly not money.

For someone walking around at the Orange prize shooting their mouth off these deeply socialized comments are ill-judged and backward, coming from the female chair of the UK prize for the best in female writing they’re extremly worrying. When influential women repeat the stereotypical view that their gender thinks and feels in one unvaried way about any subject they give credence to the male view that all women are the same in many negative ways. I can only hope that new judges with diverse reading habits and high social awareness will be appointed to the prize next year.

If you’re looking for women who like to read and discuss everything try these links:

Eve’s Alexandria

Of Books and Bicycles

Classical Bookworm

So Many Books

The Hidden Side of the Leaf

Bookgirl’s Nightstand

Sure, I Know the Queen, September 2008

By Jodie

The Olympics are here and at the time of beginning this column Great Britain are blowing away all medal expectations, even before Team GB get to the velodrome . Nicole Cook was possibly the most excited woman ever after winning Britain’s first medal of the games and it was a real thrill to watch a British woman achieve a gold medal on the second day in Bejing. After that the medals just kept coming: double bronze in the equestrian events, gold and bronze in the pool, silver in time trials and silver in kayaking. I’m sure there will be many more medals in rowing, cycling and sailing before the end of the week and am enthralled by the talent of our athletes.

Unfortunately not everyone (read me) can be an Olympian and sometimes the television schedulers foolishly put other programs on instead of constantly playing Olympic highlights from slightly different angles. What can I do in these Olympic down times to continue to immerse myself in the greatness (dramatic pause for corniness) of Britain?

Annie from Reading, Writing and Ranting has provided me and other Olympic fans with a fun reading challenge based around the games. From 08 August 08 till 24 August 2008 ‘It's country against country in the battle to prove your reading patriotism.’. You sign up and read as many books by authors from your own country as possible and post about them along the way. For every book you read and post the title of in the comments section of the challenge post your team gets a silver medal. If you write a review of a book and post the link that earns your team a gold medal. Annie keeps team and individual tallies in the sidebars and holds out two tantalizing prizes from first and second place.

Competing against team USA who had six participants was always going to be impossible for a lone girl from the UK, especially as I didn’t have a book blog to post reviews in, but every medal counts as we know, Togo looked pretty happy with their bronze and Georgia’s win was legendary. Taking part sounded like it was going to be really enjoyable, especially as Annie is a great big Olympics enthusiast herself. So I collected my equipment, thought about my technique and in the end just abandoned myself to a mass quantity of lovely British books. Here is the story of my Olympic journey:

Day One

I didn’t see the challenge soon enough and had already started ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire. I try to finish this as fast as I can but I almost don’t want Elphelba’s story to end. I resolve to buy ‘Son of a Witch’ soon. The Americans have one gold medal already and two silvers!

Day Five

The first medal goes on the board for team GB. It’s silver as my book blog still isn’t up and running but I’m just so excited to be up there on the scoreboard. The Americans have about a begillion gold medals by now, I think someone needs to get the marshall.

I earn the silver by reading ‘The Outcast’ which is a fantastic debut by Sadie Jones. Lewis Aldridge is a happy child whose world constricts when his father, Gerald, returns from the war. Lewis’ happiness is then destroyed when his mother drowns. Gerald, cold and unemotional, fights to keep his son’s grief away from him and in doing so damages their relationship in many ways. He becomes convinced that Lewis, unable to answer questions after his mother’s death and unwilling to accept his new stepmother is abnormal and dangerous. He imposes extreme restrictions on Lewis which makes him rebel and unwillingly become the dangerous version of himself that everybody else believes in. In a parallel storyline Kit Carmicheal, the younger daughter of Gerald’s boss, is also dealing with a controlling father who thinks little of her. These two main characters are easy to love until it hurts.

Day Seven

Second medal achieved. What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn from the West Midlands gets me to my second silver. Kate Meaney disappears on her way to sit an entrance exam for boarding school, twenty years later a little girl very like her is seen on CCTV cameras at GreenOaks shopping centre. Kurt, the security guard who sees her and Lisa, an employee in the centre were both involved with Kate as children and begin to search for the girl on the CCTV.

The first portion of the book is about Kate trying to navigate life without her dad and make him proud by being a detective. Catherine O’Flynn has captured the spark of an intelligent, lively child and some parts of this section, where Kate finds herself besieged by grown ups who want her to change are very affecting. O’Flynn has addressed many of the same issues that Ali Smith brings up in her novels, consumerism, the failure to live life fully but by using a child and likeable characters O’Flynn softens the instructional suggestions of the book, making it harder to disregard her ideas as bitter or unworkable. Even though I now know what happened to Kate I’d happily re-read this book.

Day Fifteen

A big reading gap is caused by a weekend at a music festival. It’s pretty hard to read when your tent is leaking.

I earn my third and final silver by reading Louise Welsh’s ‘The Bullet Trick a book that’s been on my to read list for a while along with her other two books. William Wilson a working magician, never at the top of his profession finds himself in a dangerous position between a retired police officer and evidence that links him to a crime. The book operates two narrative strands at the same time. In the first, initially predominate strand William becomes involved in hiding an incriminating photo then runs to a job in Berlin when a friend and his boyfriend are murdered. In the second strand which begins to take over in the later part of the book William returns to his home town of Glasgow, washed up after committing his own crime and set on trying to expose the criminals who sent him on the run. While the seedy atmosphere of the book’s several locations was created quite brilliantly and both characters and plot are compelling the ending is limp and a bit of a let down. The story focuses around magic and illusion, operating multiple plot strands I was expecting big, shocking revelations at the end of the book but these were missing.

Day Sixteen

It’s unlikely I’ll finish any more British books before the 24th but I’m now hooked on reading book after book by British authors. I disregard the hard lesson that Sebastian Faulk’s ‘Birdsong’ taught me (which was don’t read books by Sebastian Faulks) and start ‘Engleby’. An hour later I return it to the shelf and remind myself not to be swayed by Faulk’s promising sounding plots.

I dither a bit and then pull out ‘Sleep Pale Sister’ by Joanna Harris. This Victorian gothic style novel is what I thought I’d be reading throughout this entire challenge but I seem to have ignored this type of book in favor of those with more modern settings. I settle down for a Bank Holiday weekend spent in spooky company.

Day Seventeen

The final Olympic medals have been won, everyone looks very happy as they wander around the in the final parade. Britain are taking home a massive haul of shiny things and I’ve had fun reading some of the best of British authors.

Book of Love

By Sarah Bower

When I reviewed Sarah Bower's Needle in the Blood last year I felt then, and still do, that it was one of the best historical novels I had read since Kathryn by Anya Seton which every woman of my age, in the UK anyway, seemed to have read when they were 15 and were totally overcome by. (This has got to be one of the worst constructed sentences ever, but never mind...). I tend to judge all other historical novels by the Katherine yardstick and Needle certainly measured up (sorry about the sewing pun, totally unintentional). When I started her second novel, The Book of Love, I was a little worried. Would it be as good? Would I like it? Had I perhaps gone over the top with my Needle ravings?

Well, the answers to these questions are Yes, Yes and No.

Had saved BOL for a weekend when I knew I would have plenty of time to sit down and immerse myself in the story and, apart from having to go and get a new computer and all the hassles attached thereto, spend two days in the world of the Borgias and 15th century Italy. I will admit to being biased in my crush on Cesare Borgia as I first fell in love with him when I read the three Jean Plaidy books devoted to this family back in my long lost teenage years and this fascination has never totally left me.

OK so where to begin? The narrator of the story is La Violante, a Jewess converted to the Christian faith, who becomes a lady in waiting to Lucrezia Borgia. Her birth name is Esther Sarfarti and she and her family were expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella of Aragon (this scenario was the background for another stupendous historical saga The Cathedral by the Sea, reviewed by me a month or two ago). Esther's father was banker to the Borgias and it was he who urged her to convert to Christianity and leave her family in order to secure her future.
If you ask most people what they know about the Borgias the most common reaction is "Ah, yes didn't they hold dinner parties and poison all the guests?" Films have been made about them, an ill fated TV series (who can ever forget Adolfo Cieli on the BBC in the UK some 25 years ago, excruciatingly bad) and an opera by Donizetti. This is one of those historical myths which have grown up over the years, entrenched in fact by constant repetition. The Borgias were not exactly the kind of family you would like to have living next door, but not quite as bad as we are led to believe. Judging their behaviour by modern day standards is a pointless exercise. If we lived in a country where each state fought for supremacy and power as Italy did at this time and we had to live by our wits and talents and resort to stratagems which seem unacceptable, merely to stay alive and keep our head on our shoulders, we would view life differently.

As the story unfolds La Violante, Esther's given nickname, accompanies her mistress to Ferrara where Lucrezia has secured an advantageous marriage to Alfonso D'este, Duke of Ferrara (pictured right). Before the departure from Rome, La Violante has met Cesare:

"I knew in less than the space of a breath, his face was the prism though which I would see the whole world from now on, the yardstick by which I would measure the beauty of every face. And that he understood my feelings, and that for this moment, if for no other, his beauty was a gift reserved only for me".

Fascinating, promiscuous, cruel, brave, dashing and endowed with a powerful sexual aura, totally irresistible, she is overwhelmed by a lifelong passion for him, bearing a son who is taken away from her in a brutal betrayal which breaks her heart.

When reviewing a book such as this, I try to avoid cliches but it is difficult 'teeming and pulsating with life', 'a sprawling canvas', these phrases fit the bill beautifully and I set them down here knowing just how hackneyed they are. Reading the Book of Love is like looking at every painting of Renaissance Italy you have ever seen. Scenes pass across the inner eye, full of dazzling colour, warmth and vitality. The political infighting, the jockeying for power, the panic when the Pope, Alexander Borgia dies, and the rush to secure the family's position; the clothes, silks, satins, gold thread; the jewels, diamonds, emeralds, pearls and rubies; golden Venetian masks studded with precious gems; the perfumes, jasmine, rose, orange; the poetry of the Italian language, even the names of the states roll off the tongue - Mantua, Padua, Ferrara, Urbino. Then the contrast of the squalor and the filth of the peasants and their lives, the cruelty of the treatment of the Jews who live from day to day never sure of their place or their security but still clinging to their religious customs in the face of adversity.

"I knew these people, they were the same people I had shared the festivals with as a child...the older girls and their mothers would exchange their modest, even drab clothes for striped silks and slashed velvets and head scarves tinkling with gold coins. Tableware of wood and horn would be replaced with silver and glass, and there would be dishes coloured with saffron and turmeric, fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg and the distillation of orange flowers"

I am not going to tell you anything about the story as I want everyone to read this book for themselves with no clues from me as to its ultimate outcome. Suffice it to say that La Violante's life, so closely entwined with that of the Borgias is full of love and heartbreak and despair with a shattering discovery in the final chapters which left me with mouth agape as she learned the truth of the intrigue and deceit practiced upon her by Lucrezia and the family to whom she has given her love and loyalty. Nearly 500 pages of riveting reading and I shut the book up with a huge sigh and deep regret when I came to the end of Esther's story. As with Needle, so with Book of Love, much though I wanted to read on I kept putting the book down to make it last longer. I am in the envious position at the moment of ending each book review with the words I Loved this Book. I feel like a gold prospector who has hit a rich seam and cannot believe her luck. Long may it continue. The Book of Love is a nugget of the finest gold and is on my short list already for my Book of the Year.

Glittering, gorgeous, compelling and stunning, Sarah Bower has done it again.

Can't wait for the next one.........

Into the Wild

By Sarah Beth Durst
Penguin Group, May 2008
Reviewed by Jodie

Sarah Beth Durst’s first novel ‘Into the Wild’ is an imaginative story filled with fairytale characters trying to live now they are free of their story tale roles. Rapunzel, Gothel and Puss in Boots have been carefully living in the human world with many other familiar characters ever since they escaped from the magical forest like Wild, which had forced them into acting in their traditional stories. Rapunzel, pregnant when leaving the Wild, magically delayed giving birth until she felt safe and then had her daughter, Julie in the human world. Their family is unusual but cleverly reflects the different kinds of family structures found today; Gothel is Rapunzel’s stepmother, Julie’s father is missing and Puss in Boots is Julie’s adopted brother in law.

Julie Marchen isn’t an ordinary teenage but she’s not extraordinary either. She may be the daughter of Rapunzel, the woman who rescued the fairy tale characters from enslavement, but having been born in the human world long after this happened she feels set apart and shunned by the fairy tale people. With a vicious vine imprisoned under her bed, eating all her best footwear, she is never going to fit in at school. Although she has a loyal best friend, Gillian, who is going through the same sort of isolation at school Gillian doesn’t understand the problems Julie has with the fairytale characters, she thinks it’s all a game. Unable to make anyone understand her Julie is the perfect companion for teenagers who feel alone and tired of being different.

When the Wild escapes, wished back to full strength by an unknown wish, these differences are what save her. Not fairytale enough to be immediately trapped into a story but aware of what the Wild does, it becomes Julie’s job to walk into the evil forest spreading over her home town and fight to rescue her mum and everyone else it has transformed. Julie is overwhelmed and scared but she is also smart and resourceful once challenged. Julie transforms from an embarrassed teenager who complains and shouts at her mother to a girl who tries her hardest to beat the cunning Wild. At the beginning she is quite an infuriating character, although she is still someone readers can sympathise with but as Julie gains knowledge about her mother and herself she becomes the kind of girl to cheer for. Julie’s infuriating beginnings are an understandable reaction to her lack of power, lack of understanding and feelings of being kept apart from her family’s experiences, things all teenagers and adults will identify with.

Durst’s novel deals with the big issue any modern take on fairytales should include. As the characters are recaptured by the Wild they revert to playing the roles assigned them in stories. The saddest transformation is Gothel’s who involuntarily changes from being a loving grandmother into the child eating witch she started her life as. She is powerless to resist the Wild’s control even though the character she is made to play is no longer and perhaps never was her real self. By looking at fairytale characters as real people forced into roles that are not true to their personalities Durst examines how traditional stories helped to form unrealistic standards for human behaviour and gave fodder to form cultural prejudices. Old women often took on evil roles, handsome men were often good rescuers and this lent support to people’s biases. This re-examination of fairy tales in light of modern criticism is essential for any novel that engages with the stories.

Durst’s book is written in an easy to read, compelling style. It immediately catches your attention and makes you curious about Julie and her journey. All the characters and their actions are vibrantly described but sometimes not enough time is given to each character. Characters like the outgoing, boy crazy Cindy and the dynamic Gothel deserved their own thorough development but to keep the book well paced and forward moving Durst has to sacrifice any diversions from Julie’s quest. It would be wonderful to see these characters revisited and placed at the centre of the action in future books.

‘Into the Wild’ is a great book to get young adults hooked on books that reinvent fairytales. Adults might be expecting a bit more toughness and psychological horror from these kind of books but Julie will appeal to anyone who has ever struggled with being different and convince them this book is as worthy as adult novels on similar subjects.

Savage Machinery

By Karen Rigby (chapbook)
Finishing Line Press, September 2008
Review by Jessica K. Bacho

One of my New Year’s resolutions in 2008 was to read more poetry. Sure, as an English professor, I read more poetry than the average person, but that’s all of the canonized poetry (i.e. dead white men) found in the typical lit-class anthologies. This year, I wanted to focus on the not-so-famous poets out there, scribbling away in coffeehouses during their lunch break from their “regular” mind-numbing office job. So, I was more than pleased when Karen Rigby’s second chapbook, Savage Machinery (forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in September 2008), came across my desk.

Savage Machinery only contains sixteen poems, but it is a powerful collection. Topics range from a women bathing in burned house imagined and admired by passersby, to several poems on art, to a series of poems about food. Examining the themes of human connectedness, sensuality, and distance, without the use of first person narration, these poems were quite a (welcome) switch from the confessional mode of American poetry that’s dominated the past forty years. Rigby’s poetry is dense, not for those who like to read their poetry once, or find the meaning close to the surface.

The collection opens with “Bathing in a Burned House,” in which a woman still lives in her burned house, showering under the open sky. Men and women passing by the house imagine her, but never truly witness her. The women envy her freedom, while the men “long to be / the sky above the woman’s head.” I keep coming back to this poem, fascinated by this woman who is so envied by the people passing by her home. I sympathize with the women in the poem, envying a woman who embodies freedom, seemingly able to escape the domestic obligations of a housewife.

There are several poems in this collection that focus on art with references to Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Boucicaut Master. I’ve never studied art (not for lack of want, rather due to lack of time), and I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand these poems. But they did inspire me to explore these artists’ work so that I can revisit these poems and work through their meaning.

My favorite section of the chapbook is the series of incredibly sensual poems about food. Here’s a taste (ha, ha) from “Song for the Onion”:

Let me flay the double-heart
that stings or melts
to caramel depending on time, temperature, weather.
Let me taste the pure, explosive signature.
Let the lioness outshine her sisters.
the shallot and the leek.

I will never look at an onion the same way again. Reading this poem made me want to get out all of the onions in the house and bow before them. The other poems in this section examine Borscht, Bread, and Plums. Simple subjects on the surface, yes, but Rigby writes about them in such a way that makes them seem like they’re something newly discovered. Borscht “steams / like a horse combed to a rich gloss / for the May Day parade.” Makes me want to make Borscht (even though I’ve abhorred beets since birth) just to watch it steaming in the bowl.

So for the poetry lovers out there, set aside the Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, my girl Anne Sexton, and all of those other rock star poets. Pick up Karen Rigby’s Savage Machinery, and settle in to your favorite reading place. You won’t be disappointed.

For more information about Karen Rigby and her work, visit


by Brooke Taylor
Walker Books, July 2008
Reviewed by Melissa

My first impression of this book -- Taylor's first published work -- was that it was just a knock-off of the Prinz Award-winning book Looking for Alaska, by John Green. And, admittedly, there is much that is similar: an average teenager (in this case, Serena) is attracted to a more dangerous girl (Kori) because he/she is missing something in their life. Either that, or they're just attracted to the dangerous, the unknown. Said dangerous girl dies in freak car accident and leftover teenage friend has to deal with dangerous girl's death, in this case by following through with Kori's list of "five things to tempt fate". But, that's where the similarities end. Whereas Green's book was a musing on life and whether or not it's worth living and how friends fit into all that, Taylor's book is ultimately a treatise on keeping and discovering secrets.

For a good portion of the book, I was annoyed. Mostly at Serena: for feeling such devotion to Kori, for to take over Kori's life when she died, for not seeing the good that was right in front of her. I questioned her decisions, her motives, and while intellectually I could see the reason for them, emotionally I was repelled by her. She often took things too the extreme, and I often wondered where her backbone, her sense of independence was. Granted, part of that was worked out over the course of the novel, but I often found myself rolling my eyes, gritting my teeth, or generally having what I would call a "mom reaction". I wasn't able to put my momishness aside enough to really enjoy the novel.

I also found that I didn't really like any of the other characters -- from her friend Kori, to the boys in the book, to (and possibly especially) her mom. There wasn't anyone sympathetic, who didn't grate on my nerves. Which made the novel difficult to read for me, at least.

But, as I neared the end of the book, I realized that irritation was one of the emotions that Taylor was going for. The ending really caught me off guard -- not because it was a surprise, but because it was so good. It had all the elements of a good ending: consistent with characters, revealing, interesting, and with a bit of a "happily ever after (maybe)" thrown in. In fact, I was amazed at how well Taylor managed the tone of the book. There's a discernable shift in it, from the angst-ridden, anarchist beginning to the more honest, reconciliatory, hopeful ending. I found myself repenting of my harsh emotions toward pretty much everyone in the book -- they're just struggling to find their path, after all -- and understanding more what Taylor was trying to portray. And I found it very satisfying in the way that Taylor depicted growth, change, and a maturing of all her characters. That didn't change my feelings about the whole book entirely, but it did soften them.

The book is interesting for its tone and character development, and if your the sort of person for whom excessive behavior in teenagers doesn't grate, then this book is a good read. Otherwise, I suggest you take a pass. The irritation isn't worth the ending.

Breaking Dawn

By Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown, August 2008
Reviewed by Heather F.

I’ve been sitting here for several minutes trying to wrap my brain around just what I want to say about this book and to do it without giving too much away. I hope to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but I am pretty sure spoilers will leak into my review. So, without further ado…








First off, I want to say I loved this book.

Flat. Out. Loved. It.

I’ve been looking around at Amazon and different blogs at reader reactions and I am mystified. I do not understand why so many readers have their panties in a twist about Breaking Dawn. What the heck were they expecting? What Stephenie Meyer has done here is give us one heck of a wild ride and tied up everything nice and neat with a nifty little bow and it’s all ready for a sequel.

So much happened in these 750+ pages! The romantic in me is satisfied. Bella got her Edward and Jacob is still in her life in a totally unconventional but satisfying way. The feminist in me is reasonably happy as well. Bella grew a backbone! Although, I never had as big a problem with Bella as some, I knew she had a backbone. She was just a little misguided about what it took to make her a complete and happy woman.

So, I loved the sappy romance, the new and improved Bella, the surprise that she was made a vampire, the neat resolution to the end and the possibilities of more to come. Yes, I totally did not expect Bella to become a vampire. I really, really did not expect the new character we were introduced to. I did not expect the resolution of Jacob, but I am not as bothered by it as so many others are.

I’m thinking that since my expectations were not as HIGH as some peoples and that I already EXPECTED the way women and men and relationships and all that would be portrayed the way they WERE, I was able to just enjoy the book for what it was. It’s not destined to be a classic. I am sorry, but Meyer is NOT the next JK Rowling. But it was what it was. A sweet, vampire, love story. Nothing more, nothing less. I was glad that Bella got her happily ever after. So, as an adult reader of the Twilight Saga, I am immensely satisfied with Breaking Dawn. For those who hated it, I strongly recommend bringing Meyer down off her pedestal and do a reread. And don’t hate me for loving it either.

Rules for Saying Goodbye

by Katherine Taylor
Reviewed by Melissa

I have discovered that I have a fatal reading flaw: I can't tell satire to save my life.

This book, the first for Katherine Taylor, is getting all sorts of accolades from well-trafficked and well-respected venues (the book comes complete with prestigious cover blurbs, too), so I thought that it might be worth reading. After finishing it, though, I have to admit that I just didn't get it.

At first, I thought my dislike was because it reads so much like a memoir. I like memoirs in general, but a novel that feels like one -- the pacing, the story arc, the fact that the main character shares the exact same name as the author -- is bordering on weird for me. Honestly, I kept checking the cover just to make sure that it really was a novel. It says so... but the feel of the book jarred my reading experience -- it kept me guessing how much of the book was real (according to interviews, only 20 to 30 percent), which I suppose could be a good thing, but it also kept me from fully connecting with the characters, as if somehow I would have found it more believable/acceptable if the characters were fully real (or fully fake) rather than this miserable half-existence.

Then, I thought I would have enjoyed it more if the story arc was more coherent. The story begins with Katherine Taylor (no relationship to author) as a pre-teen in Fresno, California. Her mother wants her to "get out" so she is sent to a high-profile boarding school outside of Boston. There she meets friends, watches them "have experiences" (read: drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol), some of which (mostly the alcohol) she has. After school, she goes back to school in California, majoring in theater. She eventually ends up in New York City, on the pretense that she'll break into show-biz, but ends up as a bartender, living with her gay brother, having multiple failed relationships, trying to discover herself. There really isn't much of a plot here. Only two of the relationships -- both with Brits -- make it past the "I liked him, he liked me, we slept together and broke it off" stage, and neither of them were that interesting. I found the characters to be stupid, immature, banal, uninteresting and irritating. I felt that their exploits or problems were incredibly repetitive (she kept making the same mistakes over and over, and she never learned! Argh!) and I couldn't care less about their adventures or their close brushes with the rich and famous.

It wasn't until I finished the book, and started digging around the web for information on Katherine Taylor, when I realized the real purpose of the book: the characters were supposed to be this way. The story was supposed to be this way: repetitive, banal, stupid. Oh. As my brother used to say: light dawns on marble head. As a straightforward novel, it's quite dull. But as a satire... I could see it working. I can see why people think it's compelling -- I wouldn't go so far to say it's brilliant -- and edgy. A meta-modern, post-feminist, ironic take on the uber-career-minded single women of Generation X; of life in New York; of ambitious, climbing mothers; of relationships. A witty observation on Life As We Know It. I get it.


It's too bad that I didn't get it while I was reading it; it would have for a much more pleasant reading experience.

The Carhullan Army

By Sarah Hall
Faber & Faber
Reviewed by Jodie

Every time I look at my slim, hardback copy of Sarah Hall’s ‘The Carhullan Army’ I get a little thrill. This thin book is possibly the most powerful contemporary feminist novel I’ve read since ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. It is tight, well written, inventive, loudly political and I want to ram it into your already overcrowded bookcase. Yet when I come to describe just why it is such a good book I stumble, it is difficult to describe exactly what this book is. It’s a dirty, dark dysotopian novel filled with spirit and hope. It’s a feminist tract that wildly contradicts much established feminism and yet manages to agree with it. It’s an elegy to nature and a condemnation of industrialism. Sarah Hall’s book is so many wonderful things at once that it is a challenge to keep any review of it within a recommended length.

‘The Carhullan Army’ is set in a Britain where the worst possible things have happened. Resources have failed, recession and wars paralyse the economy, the government has become self-governing and population control is in place. Women have a permanent contraceptive coil placed inside of them to ensure that the population is kept manageable. This measure, central to the book, ensures that men do not have to take any form of responsibility in controlling population and even seems to be a form of providing them with extra sexual excitement. Checks on these ‘uterine regulators’ also allow for some sanctioned abuse by authority figures. By removing a woman’s right to self govern her own body Sarah Hall voices the idea that as circumstances worsen rights specific to women will be removed, while men will continue to use the word ‘we’ to insist the whole human race is suffering the same injustices. The idea of denying women the right to have children is a neat inversion of the idea that women were once forbidden to abort foetuses. Whether women want to give birth to or abort children they still believe in the same essential right, the right for a woman to choose and regulate when she does and doesn’t give birth. Removing that right would mean that women lose fundamental control of their live.

Sarah Hall’s main character documents one of her conversations with her ex-partner Andrew which shows how the loss of women’s right might be covered up by logical argument:

‘‘ You just don’t get it do you?’ I would tell him ‘It’s never you.’

‘ Never me what?’ he’d ask. ‘Never men, you mean? Look you know it’s just a practical thing. There’s no conspiracy here.’’

I’m sure many female readers will have heard that thought expressed in some form.

The narrator, unnamed until later in the novel, is unwilling to remain passive so she sets out to find a different way of life outside the barriers of the compound she lives in. She walks from her home to find a community called Carhullan set up by women before restrictions were placed on movement. She is expecting paradise and Carhullan sounds like the kind of place readers may expect to be essentially good and pure as it is a society made up of women and founded on natural living. However as soon as she arrives the narrator is brutally ambushed and shoved into a device like a sweat box for several days until she is close to mental destruction. This abrupt action completely reverses any preconceived ideas readers might have about this community. Just because it is run by women doesn’t mean Carhullan is blindly open to all or is full of unquestioning happiness. Clearly Hall is not about to fulfill some unrealistic fantasy of how violence would end if women ruled the world.

This society was built to survive harsh outside forces meaning it must be tough and practical. This is where the army of the title comes in. Carhullan’s inhabitants are women made physically strong and mentally hard by their leader Jackie. All the women in the community work at demanding farm jobs and several train especially hard in Jackie’s patrol unit. One of the best things about Sarah Hall’s book is that it takes female strength almost as a given, something dormant that can be developed with a little will. It is never questioned whether ‘women’ are capable of doing everything required of them, that is accepted, it is more a question of whether each individual has the will to adjust to life on the farm and build up their strength. Hall creates female characters who reject much of what it is to be traditionally feminine but never alienates the reader from their experience as each character is filled with emotion and personality.

Much is wrong at Carhullan but much is also right and wonderful, the issues within the society do not stem from the prevalent gender of the group but from the ambitions and clashes of individuals. The leader of Carhullan, Jackie is a fantastic realisation of the loveable dictator. Through the eyes of Hall’s narrator, named Sister on entering the community, the reader is shown the possible reasons for Jackie’s brutality, talked through her logic and exposed to her deceptions and crimes. As Sister is never able to get deep into Jackie’s mind there is always enough uncertainty about her motivations and actions to keep readers in love with her anger even though she does some extremely vicious things. She is a revolutionary female character, hard as diamonds, rational and uncompromising as well as a bit psychotic.

Sarah Hall’s writing is tight without being spare or sparse. She doesn’t waste words but manages to create evocative descriptions of the natural world from sharply captured details:

‘On the howse there were delicate purple harebells growing in the grass between the limestone outcrops. It was too late in the season for them but at that moment they were the loveliest thing I had seen.’

Like many books that engage with the issue of women’s independence and identity Hall uses symbols like nature and colour to great effect. She slots references to creepers, the moon and the colour yellow into the novel in a way that avoids disturbing the narrative but strongly signal moods or ideas. It is interesting to see such a thoroughly modern novel use quiet symbolism effectively alongside fast plot and strong violence.

Sarah Hall’s third novel is a deadly book in a small package. Fans of dysotopian works, sci-fi books, adventure stories, feminism and old classics will all find something to enjoy in this compact novel.


By Natsuo Kirino
published 1997 in Japan, first English language edition 2003
Vintage International
Reviewed by Carl V.

"A gutsy, unflinching foray into the darkest, most dangerous recesses of the human soul...Riveting, hair-raising...definitely not for the faint-of-heart". So says the Minneapolis Star Tribune of Natsuo Kirino's crime fiction novel Out, winner of Japan's Grand Prix for Crime Fiction and Edgar Award Finalist from its 2003 release here in the states. I can personally attest to the fact that this is an accurate description of this page-turner of a novel.

Natsuo Kirino slowly but surely draws you into the oppressive despair of four Japanese women, workers on a night-shift factory line, and by the time she lets you go you feel that you've been shaken by the scruff of the neck like an unfortunate cat in the jaws of a rabid dog. Out is an exhausting, unnerving novel that not only works as commentary on the social status of a number of women in Japanese society but also works as a first-rate, dark and grimy crime novel, a testament to the depths man, or woman, can sink to.

I have only recently ventured into the world of Japanese fiction thanks to the encouragement of a local friend as well as online friends who turned me on to the works of Huraki Murakami. In perusing fellow book blogger's reading lists I noticed several mentions of the novel, Out, and the eye-catching cover design alone had me longing to give this book a try. I am so glad I did. I picked it up and in essence read the first 200 pages in one (very busy) day and then finished the final 200 pages, without stopping, on Monday morning as I celebrated Labor Day. I am not exaggerating when I deem Out a "page-turner". It is that and more.

I would be the first to admit that dark, tortuous crime fiction is not my forte. The last time I read a book of this nature was over 10 years ago when I read Stephen Dobyns' novel, The Church of Dead Girls. I felt tangled up inside for days after reading that. I am just not into realistic crime fiction that portrays the more evil nature of man. While Out certainly has that side to it, it is written in such a way that I feel compelled to recommend it despite my qualms. Natsuo Kirino has talent and it shows on every page.

For those of you who have worked an overnight job at some point in your life (I have on a couple of occasions), you know just how much it throws off your internal balance and truly distorts your view of life and the world around you. From my own personal experience, nothing depresses a person more quickly than trying to adjust to a life of overnight work while everyone else around you functions on a more 'normal' schedule. While my past work situations pale in comparison to that of Kirino's female protagonists, she captures the essence of that kind of sleep-deprived despair so well that I literally felt myself transported back to those less-than-ideal days of early employment. It was not that, however, which first made me aware of how good a writer Natsuo Kirino is, though that part was impressive. It was when I realized that I was rooting very strongly for certain characters who were doing very, very bad things, and when I found myself wishing evil on characters who were no more or less guilty than the characters I was rooting for, that I had that "Wow! This woman can really write!" moment. There are no pure and innocent heroes or heroines in Out. Instead there are very real people driven to do very questionable, sometimes deplorable, things based on the circumstances they put themselves in.

I am probably not doing a great job of selling this novel as a must read, but other than one's own personal taste regarding murder and torture, that is exactly what Out is. I cannot say that it is a feel-good novel nor does the character I like the most make all the decisions that I had hoped for as I was reading this novel, but it is gripping and intense, and sometimes very scary. At times I felt very dirty and conflicted about how engrossed I was in this tale. But in my mind, that is the kind of story Natsuo Kirino set out to tell. To feel any other way is to ignore the spirit of the story. It is a book to add to your list if you are looking for something a bit more realistic, more visceral, to satisfy your urges for dark autumnal reading. To say anything specific about the plot would ruin the experience.

Beautiful in its brutality and surprising in the emotions it engenders, Out is a novel that I must confess to enjoying very much. I look forward to exploring more of Natsuo Kirino's work in the future.