Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Letter From the Editor - October 2008

October's here along with snappy fall weather and trick-or-treating just around the corner. It's decision time here at Estella, the "Decisions" issue, that is.

In the spirit of decisions, Andi wants you to know that she's made the decision to sit out for a few months. Thanks to work and school, she's pretty well swamped, which means Heather F. is at the helm and doing a great job! Stepping in to help keep Estella on track, the ever lovely Melissa has taken on the role of Book Review Editor.

Let's have a round of applause for the Estella's Revenge team--editors, writers, and all. And without you, readers, we wouldn't have any reason to post every month! Thanks for your ongoing support. Now, pull up a mug of hot chocolate and a bowl of candy corns and come along for some decisions.



Table of Contents:

October Door Prize
Author Interview

Features:

Columns:

Reviews:

October 2008 "Door Prize"


This month's Door Prize is for a copy of Samara O'Shea's book Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Please see Iliana's fantastic review and don't forget to enter!

To do so, please email us at estellabooks (AT) gmail (DOT) com and good luck!

Author Interview - Colleen Gleason

Interviewed by Heather F.

Colleen Gleason, popular author with the Estella's Revenge editors and countless other readers, is back with the next exciting installment of her Gardella Vampire Chronicles series. See my review here. And thank you, Colleen, for again gracing us with your delightful presence.

HF: So, what is Victoria up to now that she's back in London, in "When Twilight Burns?"

CG: Victoria is heading back home to London because she's been notified that the heir to the Rockley estate has been found, and, well, she needs to get her stuff out of the Rockley house. She also wants to return to London to forestall any chance that her mother and her two cronies will make another trip to Italy. :-)

HF: Okay, what gives? Just want is it about vampires that has everyone reading? You, Stephanie Meyer, the Casts, and more; it seems like vampires are everywhere!

CG: There are vampires everywhere! I think it really started with Ann Rice and Chelsea Quin Yarbro--at least, as far as contemporary authors go. (Obviously, there was DRACULA and THE VAMPYRE and other books/stories previously.) And then Laurell K Hamilton, and others like JR Ward, came along. Most of them portray the vampire as the protagonist, whereas in my books, of course, the undead are the villains.

I think some of the fascination with vampires is that immortality aspect, and the superhuman powers...along with the eroticism of having one's flesh penetrated (with fangs). The fact that a human can be changed or turned, and given those powers--and those limitations--makes for interesting reading. And for compelling conflict when they interact with mortals. Fascinating, really. I just don't have the urge to write a sympathetic vampire.

HF: One of the things I love best about you, besides your writing, of course, is how open you are with your readers through your website and your blog. Do you find that their opinions affect your writing?

CG: Thanks so much! What a lovely thing to say. (And now I'm blushing.) I really enjoy blogging, and I think part of the reason is that since I don't go to an office and I work alone, my blog has become that social outlet that I used to have with co-workers. A lot of my blog entries tend to be things like water-cooler conversations, or the kinds of things I'd complain/chat/expound about if I went into an office or other job every day, or if I met friends for lunch or at the bar. That's the kind of conversations I try to keep on my blog.

And now that I've been blogging for awhile, and I know who my audience is, that makes it even more fun--because I sort of know who I'm talking to. I know how certain people will respond. It's my social outlet, and usually, it doesn't take me more than fifteen minutes per day to write the blog. I admit, I'm not as good about coming back and keeping the conversation going--nor am I as good about visiting and commenting on other blogs as I used to...but I'm trying to get better at that.

I am very flattered that people find my blog interesting, and it always makes my day when people join in the conversation, too.

Oh, and do the blog-readers' opinions affect my writing? No. Because by the time they're reading the books, I'm already one or two books ahead of them--and the decisions have already been made. (Thank goodness!)

HF: Do you find it hard to take their opinions in stride and stay true to what you want to do as the writer?

CG: Sometimes it can be a bit cringeworthy, when I hear a particular point of view and I think...oh, huh. Interesting.

Or...hmmmm...he/she missed the boat on that. Or....NEVER!!! I'd never do that.

LOL. But that's okay--everyone has their opinions, and like I said, since the books are already written before the blog readers can even respond to them, it makes it easy for me to say--well, that's the way it is.

Aside of that, I really do know how I want the story to be told, so even if everyone was up in arms about something in regards to the story, I wouldn't change it. That's called "protecting the story", as one of my favorite authors, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, has said. And she's right.

HF: Now, Max and Sebastian, the hot, hot leading men. Do your fans have strong opinions on which one Victoria should end up with? I know I do!

CG: Yes, my fans do weigh in on who Victoria should pick. Max has a slight majority over Sebastian, but the Sebastian fans are bloodthirsty. Well, some of the Max fans are too. And there are several people who want to know just why Victoria has to choose, anyway? LOL. Since these books are categorized as Romances, unfortunately, she has to eventually ride off into the sunset with only one of them.

But I have had people threaten to write fanfic with a Max/Sebastian/Victoria menage. Or, even, a Max/Sebastian scene. (Though I've yet to see one.)

HF: Do you feel that by keeping your blog and such a strong presence in the blogging world has helped your career?

CG: It's impossible to quantify whether my blog presence has resulted in more book sales (although I know it has because people have told me so), but at the very least, it's helped me remain sane. And it also helps me to know that, yeah, there are people who read the books, and who enjoy them, and who are waiting for the next installment....it takes away that worry that I'm writing in a vacuum. So, in those ways, definitely it has helped.

HF: Has there ever been a question you are surprised you haven't been asked? What is it and, more importantly, what's the answer?

CG: I can't really think of one, except maybe for people to ask if I have a religious background and what is it--because of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles' mythology. It is highly influenced by Catholicism. And, yes, I'm Catholic. You can see the that in the series if you're looking for it--the bottom line being that the series portrays the ever-present battle between good and evil.

HF: Victoria went to some very dark places, literally and emotionally. How hard was it to write these scenes? Did you ever worry that you would lose control of your character?

CG: No. I loved writing those scenes. They energized me. I found my heart racing, and my breathing increasing. Seriously. The ends of the books--those last few chapters where everything piles up and the worst happens--are so amazing to write. My fingers don't work fast enough, and I find myself out of breath, and tense everywhere at the end. :-)

HF: What is your favorite scene from all of the books?

CG: Wow. That's a hard one. I don't know if I can name a favorite scene, but there are a few that I really loved....In THE BLEEDING DUSK, I really loved the scene where Sebastian, Victoria, and Max are all captured in the dungeon. And in RISES THE NIGHT, I really liked the scene where Max visits Victoria when she's been captured and disarmed. In WHEN TWILIGHT BURNS, one of my favorite scenes is the chapter wherein a taut string snaps. And I love the epilogue for AS SHADOWS FADE.

HF: What has been the biggest challenge, other than getting published, with writing this series?

CG: I think it's been wanting to make each book different from the last in the sense of its structure. Ie, is it a chase/adventure book (RISES THE NIGHT), a scavenger hunt (DUSK & SHADOWS FADE), a mystery (TWILIGHT BURNS), or what? I try to give each book a different feel as far as structure--but of course, each book is going to have many of the same elements: the Big Bad, the threat of the End of the World, fight scenes, etc. But the structure sort of needs to be a little different. And the underlying message.

In THE REST FALLS AWAY, the theme was making choices. In RISES THE NIGHT, the theme was sacrifice for the greater good. DUSK portrayed regrets, and how making the wrong decision can haunt you and affect your world. WHEN TWILIGHT BURNS is about how we each have the propensity for evil, and that it's a constant inner battle. And AS SHADOWS FADE is about sacrifice, and also about acceptance of one's place/choices in life, and balance.

HF: Can you tell us a little of what to expect for Victoria in the last book?

CG: Victoria will face a different sort of evil demon than she's ever faced before, and this will result in the necessity of the Venators allying themselves--or at least cooperating--with the vampires in order to vanquish this evil. She'll go to Prague as well as the mountains of Lilith's lair, and there are a few surprising things that will happen. (I may hear from readers about this one. Yikes.) But, in the end, most of the loose threads will be wrapped up and Victoria will have a happy ever after--at least, as much as Illa Gardella can have.

HF: And what can we expect for Colleen Gleason?

CG: I'm currently working on a brand-new series due to be released in 2010 under a pen name (as yet to be decided!). There are no vampires in it, and it's not set in a historical time period, which is why I'll be writing under a different name. There will be paranormal elements to this series, and I've planned six books (am currently contracted for three). While there will be very strong female leads in the books, the series actually focuses on a group of five men (and the women they will love) who are thrown together when the world undergoes massive destruction...and they come out on the other side, so to speak, changed and bonded. Each book will focus on the story of one of them, although the books will overlap and integrate throughout the series.

It's very unique, and I'm really excited about it. More info when I have a name and titles and release dates, etc.

Thank you so much for having me here on Estella's Revenge! I always appreciate your time--and the great questions you have for me!

And thank you Colleen for your fascinating answers!

Intellectual Freedom and Those Who Love It

By Lisa G.

The library I work at doesn't observe Banned Books Week. Their thinking is "Don't rock the boat; what the patrons don't know can't hurt us." In other words, if we raise the profile of banned books people will realize we have them. That will give them the opportunity to complain, if they'd be wont to.

And that is true. If you point out the fact you're harboring banned or challenged books fundamentalist conservatives may just come out of the woodwork and complain. Being a firm believer in intellectual freedom I may not agree with that position, but knowing I'm a small fish in a big pond I haven't raised a fuss. I respect the right of the administration to stand where it will. So I'm turning to my blogs to vent on an issue near and dear to my heart.

Banning or challenging books really gets under my skin. Every time I read or hear a story about this subject I feel my blood pressure rising. As with so many issues my take is, "If it offends you don't/read it or do it, but don't tell me I can't."

Book banning is ignorant. Should inappropriate or disturbing material be kept out of the hands of children? Of course, but there's a grey area there. That's where parents come in. It's not the responsibility of the library to deem all material appropriate or inappropriate for children, or any other group of people. In the case of minor children it's the parents who need to make that call. No library would dare intercede, nor should it. With adult materials, those over 18 are presumed to have already developed their personal values and tastes. They may choose to read or not read as they wish.

Period.

The library chooses which books to order. Nothing spewing hatred or advocating violence toward any group of people would be purchased by a librarian with any degree of sense. But that's not book banning; that's using public money to buy materials which will be used and appreciated by the patrons of that library. There's a difference.

Is there a grey area here? Certainly. Life is filled with grey areas. Librarians do the best they can. Patrons who want materials the library hasn't purchased can search the world to find them. Librarians do that, too. And if no one has the material, or doesn't want to lend it, that's how it goes sometimes. You can't please everyone. Budgets are a reality.

For a list of banned or challenged books visit the American Library Association's website. I encourage you to choose a book or several from the list and read it/them. In fact, for everyone who does that, and sends me a short review of a banned or challenged book, I'd be happy to post that here. Then I'll send you a review copy from my pile, if you'd like. That's a win/win situation.
Read a banned book, and encourage everyone you know to consider how banning books is a violation of and an infringement on intellectual rights and freedoms.

Ignorance is not bliss; it's just ignorance.

Big Books, Big Choices...

By Jodie

When I was browsing the summer reading columns this year a pattern began to emerge. The novel that every book section said not to take away on holiday was the doorstoppingly solid ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth. Any readers who attempted to get through that on holiday were apparently lunatics, destined to long days of reading failure. Strange, I thought, as I consider ‘A Suitable Boy’ accessible, lively and easy to follow, once you pin down exactly how the large cast of characters relates to each other. I couldn’t understand the prejudice against this book until I noticed a similarity, none of them had ever finished the book. So what made them describe ‘A Suitable Boy’ as a book too scary for summer reading? Its massive size seemed to be all they had to base the book’s bad reputation on.

Starting a big book seems like a big decision. A book over 500 pages could take up a large chunk of your reading life when there are already so many books to fit into your limited life span. Carrying it on the train won’t be easy. It’s not a book you can balance if you want to read in the bath. For me the biggest bar to beginning a massive paperback is my fear that the book will be terrible but once I’ve started it I will feel obliged to finish it. The book will languish beside my bed, reproaching me and occasionally striking out at my toes as I walk past it. I will spend miserable weeks in the company of its dull and stupid characters, constantly distracted by all the other books slotted into my bookcase.

It’s all psychological of course. I could unsuspectingly open an awful thin or medium sized book. I could get stuck in its pages as my brain refuses to go any further, pleading mental cruelty. I could still get ‘book guilt’ and be unable to throw the badly written pages at the wall. However it doesn’t seem as if this would cost me as much as being caught in a big, bad book. Stop me if I sound crazy but half finished, bigger books look as if they are mocking me. Bookmarks left half way through gigantic novels taunt me, telling me I just don’t have the mental stamina to climb this intellectual mountain. Although I know not all books that are enormous can be works of intricate genius gymnastics they get some kind of special status in my brain that tells me they must be worth persevering with even when I can clearly see that they aren’t. Surely someone couldn’t write that many pages without including one sentence spectacular enough to silence the whole world.

Despite a fear of what large books could do to my life (and apparently my sanity) I continue to be unhealthily attracted to them. I only have to see a book bigger than my head, written about a vaguely interesting subject and it is dropped into my basket then dragged home to wait on my shelves (due to the fear) and occasionally mock me with my inferiority. “You haven’t read Anna Karenina yet? Or Until I Find You? There’s dust gathering on them! What a disgrace.”. As you can see now the books can talk, the big book madness is getting worse.

There is only one way for me to get past this fear of the big book and this is to set aside chunks of a weekend and choose from the obese stack of books over 500 pages. As my hand reaches out towards their reassuring plumpness and shiny covers I may still be unsure that I’m about to do the right thing, commit weeks to the right book, but I try to use my previous good experiences with books designed as cudgels to fight the fear. I often wonder if I didn’t have those good memories if I would be brave enough to sit down with books like ‘A Suitable Boy’ in my spare time, despite all the critics telling me not to try. How much poorer would my life be without having read this and other special books, clothed in thick layers. How many other readers are kept from attempting humongous books like this because they know their size has scared David Baddiel away?

So to encourage you on to bigger things here is are some big books I’ve read and had purely positive times with.

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth:

A massive family saga full of romance, politics, religion and upheaval. It is,much more substantial than many family stories following the politics and religious conflicts of India and Pakistan but is still full of comedy and love. The large cast of characters contains someone for every reader to route for. The contents page forms a big rhyming poem outlining the story, which is an interesting extra touch.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts:

Gregory David Roberts really did escape from prison, journey to India, live in slums and work for gang leaders but this book reads as smoothly and poetically as a novel. It’s moving, involving and just couldn’t have been done justice in a smaller amount of words.

The Far Pavillions – MM Kaye:

A historical novel this time focusing on India during the time of British occupation. Ash is a remarkable character who embodies both of the dominate religions within his country but is also able to gain the respect of the British officers in the army. This novel is as much about serious politics and history as it is about romance but never feels over burdened and is full of constant adventure.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

This is Dickens most autobiographical novel. It’s a straight forward biography of young David who goes from the ousted step-son to a prosperous young man at the heart of a family. Although you may be tempted to invent a time machine and use this book to hit Dickens after the ‘fortunate’ death of Dora ‘David Copperfield’ is better reading material than weaponry. This is the perfect book for anyone who feels characters are the most important element of fiction as much of it is a detailed, entertaining character sketch of David and those around him.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexander Dumas

Imprisoned unjustly and torn away from the love of his life Edmand Dante swears revenge. Once escaped from prison he assumes a new identity and sets out to destroy those who conspired to incarcerate him. He also does some good along the way and Dumas makes sure we learn many fascinating things along the way. Most editions have rather small print but if you can immerse yourself in Dante’s mind you will find it worthwhile.

Virgin No More

By Chris Buchner



Another independent bites the dust.

Virgin Comics LLC and Virgin Animation Private Limited was a collaborative founded in 2006 by Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Group, author Deepak Chopra and his son Gotham, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, Sharad Devarajan and Suresh Seetharaman of Gotham Entertainment Group, South Asia’s largest comics publisher. The principle company was based out of Bangalore, India while the comic branch opened an office in New York City. The goal of the company was, as said by Devarajan, to “create content that not only reaches a global audience but also helps start a creative renaissance in India.”

Virgin had a two-fold vision:

The creation of original stories and character properties that tap into the vast library of mythology and re-invent the rich indigenous narratives of Asia in a unique, compelling, and entertaining way.

Collaborating with creative talent from around the world—from filmmakers, to writers, to musicians and other artists—to craft original stories and character properties initially in the form of comics and graphic novels subsequently to be developed into films, television, animation, gaming, wireless content, online, merchandise and more.

Virgin Comics’ initial lines were their flagship Shakti, Maverick and Director’s Cut. Shakti, which means power in Sanskrit, feature Indian mythology, art, history, classical stories and other related themes with a modern twist. Devi, by Siddharth Kotain featuring a modern take on a very ancient myth, and The Sadhu, by Gotham Chopra about revenge from an individual who was once a mystic, were the first titles released. Other titles included Ramayan 3392 A.D., The Asura Analogues, Beyond, Blade of the Warrior: Kshatriya, Buddha and others.



The Maverick line, later renamed Voices, was intended to feature both new talent and comics presented by actors and musicians. The first was by Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart called Dave Stewart’s Walk In #1, written by Jeff Parker and loosely based on his real life experiences as a young man doing stage shows while suffering from moments of memory loss. Nicolas Cage and his son Weston brought out their story Voodoo Child with writer Mike Carey, set in a post-Katrina New Orleans and heavily featuring Voodoo Mythology. Porn Queen Jenna Jameson teamed up with writer Christina Z. to present Shadow Hunter, about an attractive woman who finds herself facing off against legions of hell. Other titles include Masked Magician based on the character from Breaking the Magician’s Code, The Stranded in a venture with Sci-Fi Channel, and an upcoming Hugh Jackman project called Nowhere Man.



The Director’s Cut line was designed to showcase the work of film directors and give them the unlimited freedom to do stories that might be impossible to do on screen with things like budget constraints. It was a big draw because of its ability to give directors a springboard with which to approach Hollywood with their ideas. One of their biggest and most hyped titles was John Woo’s Seven Brothers, a Chinese folklore with a modern twist added by writer Garth Ennis, and was too be the line’s debut comic. However, that honor fell to Snakewoman by Kappur and artist Zeb Wells. Another successful title was Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper, set to become a Warner Brothers motion picture that begins filming in 2009. Also in the line was Edward Burns’ Doc Walloper and Jonathan Mostow’s The Megas.



Virgin had also looked into a foray into graphic novels, including the environmental children’s book The Econauts. At New York Comiccon, Grant Morrison was said to be working with Virgin to produce websidoes based on the Mahabharata. They also started Coalition Comix on Myspace where users could suggest ideas for a comic. The first to come from that was Queen’s Rock by Mike Carey.

On August 26th, 2008, reports came out that Virgin had shut down its New York office. The company announced a restructuring plan with a relocation to Los Angeles. In September, it was announced that the company would be renamed Liquid Comics after a management buyout. Virgin will still own the rights to the comics its produced, and Liquid looks towards the future and continuing the initiatives which Virgin had started. Gotham Entertainment, which was kept as a separate entity, remains unaffected by all the changes. It’s reported Virgin’s troubles came at the withdrawal of Branson’s Virgin Group, which is suffering from its own financial troubles due to the current economy. But, publisher Devarajan is confident that they can continue to make comics without Branson like they did before.

So Many Books…

By Stuart Sharp

What to read? That, more than anything else, more than ‘will I have time to finish this chapter before someone walks in and I have to actually do some work?’ more even than ‘if I put another book on this shelf is it going to collapse?’ is the question that hounds us as readers. There are more books published every year than we could possibly keep up with, even before we start delving into the huge body of classics, second hand paperbacks, and things found stuffed in the back of boxes that don’t look great, but you never know. Somehow we’ve got to choose between them.

Of course, if you mention this little problem to someone who doesn’t read quite so voraciously, it will probably earn you something of a funny look. ‘Just choose.’ they’ll say. ‘Pick something you like the look of.’

If only it were that simple. Don’t they know that judging books purely by appearance is quite proverbially the last thing you should do? Besides, several of my favourite books come with covers that don’t exactly shout across a crowded room. Take Tom Holt’s more recent comic fantasy works, for example. The Better Mousetrap and Barking both feature such plain, line drawing based covers that it actually took me a couple of tries to find them on my bookshelf a moment ago. Most poetry books are even worse, because they invariably follow a cover format dictated by the publisher’s standard design. In other words, they all look the same.

‘So just flick through them’ our bewildered friend would no doubt answer, and it’s true that doing so will at least eliminate a few of the worst examples. It will show up the badly written ones, the ones that desperately need about half the adjectives taken out. What it won’t do is tell you anything about whether you like the book, because that is something that owes quite a lot to pacing, character, setting and all those other things that are far more important than mere style.

It’s at this point that the humble review comes in useful, but even this is far from perfect. In the case of reviewers who you trust, such as the ones here hopefully, you’ve potentially got a very useful guide to what to read next. Unfortunately, so has everyone else, which means that the book you’re considering reading but aren’t sure enough about to fork out the money for will have disappeared from the library. A dozen other people read the same review, and they beat you to it.

There are other reviewers out there who you have to learn to ignore. It’s not that they don’t know what they’re talking about, though some don’t. It’s more that they will never, ever read the same types of books you will, and even if they do, they will look for completely different things in them. You care about character and they’re busy rhapsodising about the setting. You want to know about the pacing, and they’re busy talking about how it’s all a clever parody of something you’ve never even heard of. They aren’t wrong, but they see books in such a different way they might as well be.

Of course, for most of us there are a few authors with whose work we won’t wait for the reviews. It always makes it easy to decide what to pick up next when one of your favourites has something new out. Except that it’s never quite that easy. Experience must surely teach us that publishing companies cleverly time their releases so that no one, not one single author, has a new book out when you’re looking for something new to read. Either that, or all your favourites have new books out, making a huge dent in your bank balance while still leaving the problem of choosing between them. Whoever timed it so that Laurell K. Hamilton’s Blood Noir and Kelly Armstrong’s Personal Demon should both show up at my local bookshop on exactly the same day that I took receipt of half of Robert Asprin’s back catalogue probably qualifies as some sort of evil genius.

I think the time has probably come for us to do the sensible thing… and abdicate the decision completely. There are two obvious ways of doing this.

One is to give the decision over to everybody else who can be bothered by putting it to a vote. Stick a poll up on a blog and people who would never vote on such ‘petty’ matters as who their MP is will rush to tell you what you should be reading. Even if they can’t decide what they’re going to read themselves, they’ll suddenly acquire firm opinions when it comes to telling someone they’ve never met what to do.

My problems with this approach are simple. Firstly, the question of whether you will even remotely enjoy the same sort of things remains. Secondly, and rather more importantly, it feels far too much like the sort of reading list I went out of my way to avoid at school. Every time you read something recommended in this fashion, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that you ought to be writing an essay on it at the end.

That leaves us with the laws of chance. I’m something of a fan of the ‘shut your eyes in a library, reach out and see what you get’ method, though it could also work when choosing between a stack of books. Probably not with just two or three though. I suspect even I could remember where I put each book down in that scenario. Drawing titles out of a hat is always an alternative option, while I’m sure the more technologically minded of you are working on random book choosing computer algorithms as we speak. Well, not so much sure as hopeful, because I’d quite like a copy if you are.

The results, naturally, can be a touch hit and miss. Probability knows even less about your reading tastes than the average reviewer, and nothing about judging the quality of writing. The random approach can be quite fun though. I find it works best when you’re prepared to let yourself cheat a little. You come up with a result, decide you don’t want to read that and try again. And again. And again. Just keep going until your random method finally comes up with the book you secretly wanted to read all along. You see, it’s easier to choose than you thought.

Back to the 90s: The Death of Superman

By Chris Buchner



Featured Writers: Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, William Messner-Loebs, Gerard Jones

Featured Artists: Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodler, Walter Simonson, Curt Swan, M. D. Bright

In 1985, the DC Universe was rebooted in the crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” bringing sense and unity to a fractured continuity cause by the tonal change in stories between the Silver and Modern Ages of comics. One of these changes was a revamp of Superman, courtesy of John Byrne’s The Man of Steel mini-series. A dispute caused Byrne to leave DC, and Roger Stern took over the Superman books following Byrne’s blueprint. But, sales on the books steadily declined. DC tried to snag new female readers by changing the eternal Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane love triangle that had been in place since the characters’ creation in 1938. Byrne had already established that Lois was falling for Clark over Superman, and the creative team felt his continuing to keep his identity from her made him the biggest liar on the planet and thus tarnished the boy scout image of the character. So, they had him revealed his identity and a proposal later, the stage is set for the Superman wedding.

Except Warner Bros, owner of DC, had other ideas. They had cancelled the Superboy TV series to make way for the new Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman starring Dean Cain and Terry Hatcher in the lead roles. As the title implies, the focus was on the reporters and their budding romance, rather than the man of steel’s adventures. Plans to marry the two came up during production, and after a sit-down with the Superman writing staff it was agreed that the developing marriage plotline in the comics would be put on hold to allow the show to do the story first. Despite the aggravation over having a year’s worth of planned stories casually swept aside, the show had to go on and the comics needed a new original event to fill the gaping hole.



During some of the story meetings at DC where the Superman team would plan out an entire year’s worth of stories to make the four Superman books coordinated to feel like a weekly comic, writer Jerry Ordway had begun the running gag idea of killing Superman off. The gag intrigued editor Mike Carlin enough to eventually become an actual idea. In a world that had come to rely on Superman to solve all their problems, what would happen if they lost him?


DOOMSDAY IS COMING



Doomsday was created by writer/artist Dan Jurgens to be a big, hulking creature with bony protrusions all over that served as both armor and offensive weapons. His name was chosen simply because at the summit they wrote down “Doomsday for Superman,” and he literally was to be the end of Superman. However, nothing was revealed about the character in his first appearances. It would eventually be revealed that Doomsday was sent as a baby to a harsher ancient planet Krypton by the alien Bertron to become the ultimate life form. The infant was killed by the inhabiting creatures, and its remains would be harvested and cloned repeatedly to create a virtual accelerated form of natural selection. Eventually, he could adapt on his own and after killing all the creatures of Krypton he began an interplanetary tour of violence. It eventually took the destruction of a fifth of a world to put Doomsday down. His supposedly dead body was bound, placed in a casket and launched into space where it would eventually crash-land on Earth and end up deep underground.

Shrouded in a green body suit with one hand tied behind his back, Doomsday spent the last page of several comics hitting a steel door until he finally broke free of his prison in Superman: the Man of Steel #18. Thus began Doomsday’s rampage. The path of destruction eventually got the attention of the Justice League, composed of Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Maxima, Fire, Ice and Bloodwynd, who proceeded to attack the monster with absolutely no success. Superman entered the fray, rescuing Booster Gold from being flung into space and allowing him the honor of naming Doomsday within the comic.

What followed was a brawl between two titans, as Superman fought to keep Doomsday away from Metropolis while also trying to protect any innocents that happened to be in their path. The League offers what support they can, which is just about the same as their initial confrontation. In fact, the only true damage Doomsday seems to have taken from all of their best shots combined was to his outer covering, revealing his true self once and for all.

On the human side, the Daily Planet had gotten wind of the battle and dispatched its best reporter, and coincidentally Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane with photographer, and Superman’s friend, Jimmy Olsen to cover the story. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (living as his own son as a cover for removing his brain from his cancer-ridden body into a younger cloned one) tried to dissuade the current Supergirl, also known as the shape-shifting protomass from another dimension called Matrix, from entering the fight and stay with him. Out of love for Lex, she did initially.



After trashing the mountain where Project Cadmus, a government genetic engineering project, was housed, the fight eventually moved into Metropolis where Doomsday decided to go after seeing an event for the city and a road sign leading there. The fight continues and the devastation brought outside the city now finds itself within. The police attempt to do their jobs, but have even less effect than the heroes have had to this point. Superman’s allies, the scientist Professor Hamilton and former longshoreman Bibbo Bibbowski, try to use a laser Hamilton invented but to no avail. Supergirl finally goes against Lex’s wishes and joins the fight, but one punch from Doomsday reverts her to her original humanoid state and takes her out.

Superman finally finds out that the bony protrusions on Doomsday’s body that could cut his skin could also be broken, hurting Doomsday for the first time since he escaped. The two titans slugged it out in the middle of the city, before each deliver the final blow that knocks both of them down. Superman, satisfied with the knowledge that he managed to stop Doomsday, succumbs to his injuries and seemingly dies in Lois’ arms.



The final four issues of the story, an artistic decision was made to use increasingly less and larger panels to fully encompass the scope of the action in the conflict. Adventures of Superman #684 was done entirely with 4 panels per page, Action Comics #684 had three, Superman: the Man of Steel #19 featured only two, and Superman vol. 2 #75 was done entirely with one image per page. Because each issue came out successively, the change was subtle and flowed very well between them. #75 also featured two covers; a special bagged edition with a tombstone on the whole cover, and the regular newsstand cover of Superman’s tattered cape flowing amidst the rubble. The latter cover sold the most.



The event was highly publicized in the media at just the announcement of the story, and many people lined up at their local comic shops to pick up sometimes several copies of Superman #75. But it wasn’t just comic fans; it was also those who knew of Superman but never read a comic up until that point. There were even pseudo funerals for the Man of Steel. However, not all fan response was positive. DC was bombarded with letters blasting them for killing off their favorite hero and an icon. Others had come to believe that it was nothing more than a publicity stunt that wouldn’t last in order to generate more interest in the books and raise what was then slumping and stagnant sales, especially when it was closely followed by the Batman “Knightfall” storyline (See BACK TO THE 90s: KNIGHTFALL).



Chuck Rozanski, owner of retailer Mile High Comics, wrote an essay in the Comics Buyer’s Guide where he blamed this story as having a significant role in the comic industry bust of the late 1990s (See COMICS: THE FOUR-COLORED HISTORY). Indeed, many speculators had snatched up copies of #75 in its special black bag with simple S-Shield on the front in the hopes that it would become a valuable collectible, but upon Superman’s return its value was gone. It was also attributed to opening the door wide open for companies to embrace the concept of comic book death (see COMIC BOOK DEATH) and resulted in many character resurrections. Many fans also felt the further appearances of Doomsday added nothing to the character and cheapened his initial threat to Superman.

And the creators behind it all? For a brief time, they were comparable to celebrities. Magazines and TV shows would call them up for interviews, malls would be filled with people waiting for autographs, they gained notoriety at conventions, they were invited to be extras on Lois & Clark, and even met Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. And, like many celebrities involved in something controversial, they also received some death threats and at times were chased by fans.

WORLD WITHOUT A SUPERMAN

The Death of Superman was nothing more than a glorified grudge-match, and the creators behind the story knew this. That’s why the follow-up to the actual fight was so important. In “Funeral for a Friend,” Superman was given a grand funeral that most of the DC super heroes and all of Metropolis showed up to attend, including then-President Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary. The creative team also made a cameo within the crowd. A mausoleum was erected in Metropolis and every hero would sport a black arm band featuring the S-Shield.

The stories after the funeral dealt with the emotions of the general public and specific characters from Superman’s cast. Particularly heart-wrenching was the fact that Jonathan and Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive Earth parents, could only watch the funeral on TV to preserve his secret identity as Clark Kent. To mourn their own way, the buried his childhood treasures near the crater where the rocket landed when they found him. That story came to a head when Lois, at this time engaged to Clark/Superman, had finally come to the Kents for emotional support after having avoid them to prevent making it real. These were arguably some of the finest moments to come out of the story as a whole.

The rest of the world who wasn’t mourning, it was business as usual. Without Superman, crime was on the rise and other Metropolis based heroes stepped up to fill the gap, including Team Luthor, a Lexcorp-sponsored team, but none of them could match up to the Man of Steel, Guardian and the vigilante Gangbuster. Project Cadmus had stolen Superman’s body from his mausoleum in what was believed an attempt to clone him, but Lois and Supergirl retrieved it. Supergirl would also go on to impersonate Clark Kent using her shape shifting abilities and the cover story that Clark was trapped in a well-stocked cellar from the Doomsday battle so as to reduce suspicion about why he disappeared the same time as Superman.

Jonathan Kent took the death of his son especially hard, and suffered a major heart attack. At this point, all the Superman comics went on a three-month hiatus. As great as the stories were that were being produced, DC felt that they couldn’t effectively sell the death of the title character if the books kept on going. The last Superman book published at the time was Newstime, which recounted Superman’s life and legacy like a memorial.

REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN

It was always intended for Superman to return, the question was: how to do it? At the DC summit meeting for the story, the creators figured that his return should have something to do with Krypton and his alien heritage. Another idea was thrown about to make Superman different somehow, and they came up with various concepts based on the different nicknames Superman has had over the years. Instead of picking just one, it was decided to go with all four based on writer Louise Simonson’s suggestion and a new story was born. The Superman titles began again, starting with Adventures of Superman #500 which followed Jonathan Kent into the Afterlife following his heart attack. There, he convinced Superman’s soul to come back with him. It was believed to be a hallucination, until upon his awakening the four Supermen made themselves known.



Superman #78 saw the introduction of The Man of Tomorrow created by Dan Jurgens, known as Cyborg Superman due to half of his body being replaced with augmented Kryptonian cybernetic technology. Science helped prove he was the real deal, but claimed amnesia prevented him from recalling how he got to this state or much of his past. Suspicious, but the idea there was that everyone was so desperate for the void to be filled in the people would accept anything.

Adventures of Superman #501 brought us Superboy (who later became simply Connor Kent when lawsuits over the rights to the name Superboy came into play in regards to an earlier version of Superman when he was a kid) created by Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett. Superboy was a teenaged version of Superman cloned from his DNA and that of Lex Luthor’s by Project Cadmus. Unlike Superman, however, Superboy had none of the vision powers and relied on tactile telekinesis to simulate the flying, strength and invulnerability of the original. He was also severely arrogant, which was attributed to the arrogance of youth.

Superman: the Man of Steel #22 received The Man of Steel, later renamed Steel, creaed by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove. Ironworker John Henry Irons was an ex-weapons designer for the military. Seeing a need to be filled as the weapons he created made it out into the streets, he created a suit of armor and wielded a large hammer, complete with a red cape and S-Shied on his chest. Irons never claimed to be Superman, but rather sought to represent his spirit and continue his legacy while making up for his own sins in the past.

Action Comics #687 introduced physically the closest incarnation of Superman, The Last Son of Krypton created by Roger Stern, later renamed the Eradicator. Unlike the others, he claimed to have all the memories of Superman but lacked any emotion and often dealt with criminals in a lethal fashion. He also had energy beams that emanated from his hands and a light sensitivity that forced him to always wear a strange pair of glasses. He was Superman if he never had his Earthly upbringing.

Each introductory issue featured two covers; one with the character posing, the other featuring a die-cut cover with their particular logo that opened up to a close pin-up of each character. The initial stories featured each of the Supermen returning to duty to protect the city. The public readily accepted Cyborg and Eradicator as the original, based on the scientific test by Hamilton that confirmed the Cyborg and Lois interviewing both of them to find they had some semblance of Clark’s memory. Also, it was solidified by the fact Superman’s body was once again missing from his mausoleum. However, both of these turned out to be a little more than copies.

The mystery became which, of any of these were, the REAL Superman? As the story progressed, it was revealed that the Eradicator was actually an ancient Kryptonian weapon. He stole Superman’s body and brought it to his Fortress of Solitude, a lair similar to Kryptonian architecture in the arctic, and placed him in a regeneration matrix. It would later be revealed that Superman was not really dead, rather he went into a form of hibernation to heal from his injuries, and the Eradicator was using the regeneration energies to power himself.

Meanwhile, the Cyborg turned out to be Hank Henshaw, whom Superman had dealings with before. After exposure to cosmic radiation in space caused his body to deteriorate, he was able to project his mind into a computer and from there into the birthing matrix that brought Superman to Earth. He went off into space alone, gradually becoming delusional and paranoid, blaming Superman for his condition and the deaths of his friends and wife. He constructed his new body using the matrix and his ability to control technology. During his space travels, he encountered Superman’s foe Mongul and forcibly recruited him for his revenge plot. Together, they destroyed Coast City, home of the Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and erected a towering construct called Engine City in its stead.

Superboy had escaped capture and with Eradicator believed dead returned to Metropolis to recruit Steel for help. There, they encountered and battled a Kryptonian battle armor before learning that the real Superman, having been released from the matrix greatly depowered, used it to get from the Fortress to there. They, along with Hal Jordan who returned from space, launched an assault on Engine City and saved Metropolis from becoming the second version. Superman’s powers were returned when the Eradicator covered him from a dose of gas made from Kryptonite, the only thing that can kill Superman, and it interacted with his physiology passing onto Superman to restore his powers and degenerated the Eradictor’s body to a lifeless husk. Superman then destroyed the Cyborg’s body, but Henshaw’s consciousness lived on.

AFTERMATH



The Wedding (remember the wedding? The whole reason this story had to happen?) ended up being delayed further in order to coincide with the wedding episode of Lois & Clark, so the Superman writers featured stories where the relationship between he and Lois became rocky and they separated for a time. It wouldn’t be until 1996 when Lois would return and the two made amends. Superman had cut his hair short as it had been long since his resurrection, and the two were wed in Superman: the Wedding Album; a giant one-shot featuring many creators from Superman’s run. Meanwhile, Superman was experiencing an increase in his powers, leading towards his becoming electrical. But that’s a story for another flashback.

Steel and Superboy would go on to have their own monthly titles. Superboy was a founding member of the team Young Justice and later became a Teen Titan. Just before the court ruled that the rights to Superboy had reverted to the estate of Jerry Siegel, the character was killed off in the recent event Infinite Crisis. Although, DC attributes that to just timing and not a direct cause for the character’s death.

Steel continued on as a hero, even joining the Justice League, until an eventual retirement but remained a close ally to Superman. He also scored his own movie in 1997 starring Shaquil O’Neil. Recently, he returned to active duty in the series 52 to save his daughter, Natasha, from the schemes of Lex Luthor. He briefly gained powers from Luthor’s Everyman Program, which created superheroes Luthor could control, and now led Natasha and other super powered victims of Luthor in the now-canceled series Infinity, Inc.

The Cyborg had battled Superman and Green Lantern many more times on many different fronts, his body often destroyed and his consciousness stored somewhere else until a new one could be built. Most recently, he became one of the fallen Green Lantern Sinestro’s Sinestro Corps in the hopes that it would lead to his ultimate demise. However, destroyed once again, he was found and revived by the technological race called Manhunters that he had taken over prior to Sinestro’s recruitment of him.

The Eradicator was killed and revived several times in a new form, as both a hero with the Outsiders and enemy to Superman. Eradicator’s last appearance to date was Superman #220, where he was seriously injured by an OMAC, a cyborg that took over a human host and became a lethal killing machine. It was mentioned during Infinite Crisis that he was in a coma at Steel’s headquarters, Steelworks.



Doomsday wasn’t done in the pages of the comics. Cast into space tied to a meteor by the Cyborg, he was still very much alive and Superman goes after his body in the mini-series Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey. His origin was revealed there and in his own 1995 annual featuring three stories of death and destruction he’s caused galaxies away. Superman: The Doomsday War saw Superman’s old foe Brainiac take over Doomsday’s mind and Superman must defeat them both to save his ex-girlfriend Lana Lang’s newborn baby. Superman: Day of Doom explored how the original fight affected those that knew Superman and introduced the new villain Remnant.

The destruction of Coast City led to DC revamping Green Lantern. Hal Jordan suffered a mental breakdown after using his power ring to rebuild the city, and was called back to Oa, the planet that houses the Green Lantern Corps, for punishment for using his ring for personal gain. Jordan rebelled, destroyed the Corps, and absorbed the power of the Corps’ main power battery turning himself into the entity known as Parallax. Kyle Rayner would be introduced as his replacement, and Parallax would become the central villain in the event “Zero Hour.” The Corps have since been restored and Jordan returned to normal after returning from the dead.

The story was adapted by Roger Stern into a novel called The Death and Life of Superman in 1993, followed by a young adult version by Louise Simonson called Superman: Doomsday & Beyond with Alex Ross’ very first work for DC on the cover. The story was also adapted into an audio dramatization for BBC Radio 5 and a videogame for the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive consoles. Doomsday and elements of the funeral also made a couple of appearances in the animated Justice League/Justice League Unlimited shows, but Doomsday wouldn’t directly kill the animated Superman until 2007’s direct-to-video Superman: Doomsday.

The reaction was tremendous, and it changed the shape of comics in both good and bad ways. The idea was to take people’s perceptions that the story would essentially end happily (Superman will always live, Lois will always live, Jimmy will always live, etc) and completely throw that on its side. The creators did the unthinkable, and it paid off. Since then, the success of the story has attempted to be duplicated with various franchises and various properties, but none quite reaching the same level. Many more events have followed, but none have ever been The Death of Superman.



COLLECTED IN:

The Death of Superman TPB
Superman: World Without A Superman TPB
Superman: The Return of Superman TPB

DEATH OF SUPERMAN

Superman #73
Superman: the Man of Steel #18
Justice League #69
Superman #74
Adventures of Superman #497
Action Comics #684
Superman: the Man of Steel #19
Superman #75

FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND

Adventures of Superman #498
Justice League America #70
Action Comics #685
Superman: the Man of Steel #20
Superman #76
Adventures of Superman #499
Action Comics #686
Superman: the Man of Steel #21
Superman #77
Adventures of Superman #500
Superman: The Legacy of Superman

REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN!

Action Comics #687-691
Adventures of Superman #501-505
Green Lantern #46
Superman #78-82
Superman: the Man of Steel #22-26
Got a 90s moment you want to see explored? Let us know!

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

by John Boyne
Transworld Publ. Ltd UK
Reviewed by Jodie

Adult novels focused around children’s experiences came back into literary fashion a few years ago with big hype books like Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ and David Mitchell’s ‘Black Swan Green’. At first this device was considered charming but as it has been over used it had become incredibly tedious. However this hasn’t stood in the way of authors trotting out their consciously na├»ve characters and making money off their young backs.

In ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ Bruno is a German child during WWII; the son of a difficult father who is a true believer in Aryan supremacy. Bruno likes their house in Berlin, living near his grandparents and his two ‘best friends for life’. He’s a generally happy, average and overly sweet little boy. One day he comes home to find his things being packed by the main and is told that his parents are moving the family to a mysterious new house for reasons that Bruno can not understand. It’s all very confusing and readers should feel for the poor boy uprooted from all that he knows. Personally I felt that this was impossible as the author, John Boyne seemed to have erected many barriers to halt anyone thinking of empathising with his main characters.

Bruno is an extremely annoying main character through no fault of his own. He tries to be brave, respectful and yet questioning but a syrupy tone, unnecessary repetition of childlike phrases and a patronizing third person narrator constantly sabotage this hopeful character sketch. Bruno’s lack of awareness about the war and the plight of the Jews is believable, after all he is only eight and his parents are distant figures. His terms of expression, however are the words of an adult who believes that children are simple to explain. Bruno’s constant repetition of forced phrases will make readers want to reach into the book and strangle him. Boyne is attempting to express innocence and instinctive knowledge of what is right and wrong but what he actually creates is a version of ‘Just William’ without the teeth.

After Bruno and his family move to their new home at ‘Out With’ Bruno sees the Jewish interment camp full of people in striped pyjamas. He sets out to explore and ends up forming a friendship with a Jewish boy called Shmuel who lives behind he camp’s fence. Shmuel is not in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ nearly enough considering the title and that he is a much more thoughtfully created character than Bruno. He has also been taken from his home with no explanation and contrasting his experience with Bruno’s just makes Boyne’s main character appear uninteresting. How can Bruno’s move be expected to compare with Shmuel’s journey to the labour camp? Shmuel’s voice avoids much of the patronizing, heavy hand that Bruno’s suffers from and his bewilderment at his situation sounds more genuine. Shmuel outshines Bruno and perhaps that is how is should be as Shmuel’s story of oppression and horror is what all stories of WWII should help us to remember. Perhaps Boyne’s reason for making Bruno the main character instead of Shmuel is that he hopes to use Bruno to illustrate Germany’s reluctance to admit the horrors that were occurring and their lack of real knowledge about the Nazi objectives. If this is his intention then he makes these points at the expense of the reader’s experience.

I suspect that the immense interest this book has generated centres around its ending. The stark ending of the novel is chilling and will have readers willing it not to happen as soon as they see it coming but it is an ending that, once carefully dissected, is rather objectionable. Bruno’s parents decide that he and his sister should be moved back to Berlin. Bruno and Shmuel make a plan for Bruno’s final visit to the fence, he will go under the wire into the camp disguised as a boy like Shmuel. Unfortunately Bruno and Shmuel are caught up in an execution group and the children die. Immediately this ending evokes feeling of horror as Bruno dies by accident but why does this feel so horrific when throughout the story we hear of Shmuel’s relatives disappearing and groups of Jews are murdered each day? You can argue that Bruno’s death seems especially terrible as readers become involved with him throughout the book but would the ending have seemed so abhorrent if only Shmuel had died? It could also be argued that Bruno’s parents not knowing what has happened to their son makes the ending so tragic but earlier in the book Shmuel’s father disappears and Shmuel has no idea what ha happened to him. Surely, this should seem equally tragic. I believe that it is the feeling that a mistake has been made, that Bruno has been ‘wrongly’ destroyed as he is not a Jew destined to die, that elicits a feeling of unpreventable car crash horror from this ending. If Boyne has deliberately written this ending to produce this uncomfortable idea then it is a masterstroke designed to wake society from its apathy to historical genocide. Otherwise it shows a distressing lack of awareness in an author writing about the Holocaust.

The ending consolidates my idea that this book is not the revolutionary new take on the Holocaust that it has been touted as but is instead a simplistic moral tale. The innocent child, fathered by an evil man tries his best in the world but is always destined to be destroyed as a punishment for his father’s sins. The story of the Jews is almost inconsequential in this book because Bruno does not understand the real awfulness of their treatment and so the narrator, focused on expressing Bruno’s thoughts can not properly articulate the horror of their situation. Readers will gain no new insights into the Final Solution but will simply find old ideas reiterated.

Rape -- A Love Story

by Joyce Carol Oats
Da Capo Press
Reviewed by Jodie

I was not sure that I wanted to write this review at all. I worship Joyce Carol Oates, she is my favourite author and I would happily spend days locked in a house reading solely from a pile of her past novels. It felt unfair that her first appearance at Estella’s Revenge would be a negative one when she has provided me with so many intriguing perspectives on life. ‘Rape: A Love Story’ may not have been a book I enjoyed but ‘Broke Heart Blues’, ‘Man Crazy’, ‘Foxfire’ and ‘Blonde’ are books I could live in, books I never wanted to end. At least ‘Rape’ was short so this recent novella did not prolong my disappointment. I felt that mostly what kept me from fully engaging with the book centered around the views expressed rather than the writing or the plot and if this was true wasn’t I criticizing the book because I didn’t agree with it rather than examining the quality of the author’s craftsmanship? Perhaps I just wasn’t perceptive enough to understand the author’s intentions. I had a bit of a reviewing crisis about it, which I’ll admit is not the worst kind of crisis but it did occasionally stop me sleeping. I kept silent for a while but the book still niggled at me.

In the end I saw a blogger talking about ‘Beasts’ and in the comments someone said that their first encounter with Joyce Carol Oates’ writing had been with ‘Rape: A Love Story’ which they had also found underwhelming. Call me a coward but that little bit of verification finally allowed me to fully admit that I didn’t like the book and that I was happy to say so out loud. So I come to this review with a little cloud of guilt over my head, hope for forgiveness and vow to run around waving my copy of ‘Broke Heart Blues’ around like a preacher for the next few months.

Teena Maguire is attacked walking home from a Fourth of July party. She cuts through Rocky Point Park, which she would usually avoid after dark and drunk young men chase her and her daughter to a boatshed. Teena is beaten, raped and left for dead while her young daughter Bethie manages to escape sexual abuse by wedging herself in a corner. First to arrive from the police is John Droomer who has come to believe that the system he works within is no longer associated with justice. When Teena and Bethie are failed by the legal system and by the prejudices society holds about women making rape allegations Droomer becomes their personal avenging angel, murdering the gang of neighborhood boys attacked them.

This resolution is my main problem with the book. It avoids the easy traps that books about rape can get caught in, for example the victim woman who never recovers and the woman wholeheartedly supported by the legal system but it instead uses the equally clumsy ending of a woman whose attackers are extinguished by ‘true’ justice. Teena’s abusers are killed and once she knows that they can not reach her again she is able to readjust and form some kind of productive life for herself. This ending is as much a fantasy as novels that give all their rapist characters large prison sentences but at least the legal system’s failure and the frustration that leads to violence is closer to the truth of society. However it is an unforgivably simple solution and in this novel completely removes unempowers Teena. Her security is created by a man, brought back to kill all those involved by her young daughter. She plays little part in regaining her life and power and yet Joyce Carol Oates shows her contented at the end of the book. It is hard to disagree with the happiness that Teena finds through her attacker’s disappearances, as clearly we all want characters who are raped to be able to regain their lives but is the destruction of their rapists the best or most helpful ending we can hope for? Rape and recovery are complex issues and I’m not entirely sure how I want a book that deals with them to end or if I want it to point to resolution at all but I know that this vigilante, Bruce Willis style justice did not feel right to me.

What I have always loved about JCO writing is its fluidity, its shifting quality and its ambiguity. The reader is never sure of the truth as many different possible versions are written and then demolished, only to be alluded to again later. To use this approach would have been impossible in a book about violent rape as the author does not want to add to the social idea that much rape testimony is unreliable or suggest that people are right to be suspicious of women who report rape. However without the weaving lines of false facts and double backs her writing loses some of its rhythm and the poetic joy that comes from her instinctively brilliant stream of consciousness passages is largely missing. This type of writing only occurs at the very beginning, as Teena’s attack is related and in a short thought monologue of one of the rapists later in the book. These sections are evocative and strong, conveying succinctly ideas that she labours over in linear prose at other times in the book. She has not used a style of straight forward, simple narrative that is strong enough to deal with such a violent subject.

The story feels flat and hums along quietly, despite the provocative subject matter. Sadly this book will not be joining it’s sibling on my permanent bookshelf.

The Bullet Trick

by Louise Welch
Canongate Books
reviewed by Jodie

When a book or a film about stage magicians appears I think every reader knows what they’re looking for. Well realised characters are important and an atmospheric setting heightens all the creepy feelings that surround magicians but above all a book about professional magic must have a very clever plot, centering around deceptions that the reader just can not figure out unaided. It is essential that the reader be astounded by the author’s clever sleight of hand at least once and that they are stunned not only by the result of a trick but also by the explanation of how a trick is realised. Readers want to see behind the stage curtain and find the practical steps that make up an illusion, such as a woman shot but left unharmed, as fascinating as the spangly performance they have just seen. So many novels and films that centre around stage magic fail to understand the importance of a sharp plot or worse underestimate their reader’s ability to spot the pigeon hidden up their sleeves.

Louise Welsh’s ‘The Bullet Trick’ suffers from a hybrid problem where she seems to believe that one of her plot resolutions is cleverer than it is and later abandons any attempt at an explanation of a magic trick. This is a shame as both her characters and settings are superb. Welsh sets her novel in a mixture of London, Glasgow and Berlin, jumping from the present to the recent past following William a second rate stage magician with a heavy conscience caused by some murky crime. William is charming in a self-deprecating way, immensely likeable and a great story teller, a true underdog. Readers are given enough information about his personality to enjoy spending time with him but plenty is held back to keep his story blurry and intriguing. The well timed switches of location encourage the reader to expect an accomplished piece of misdirection later in the book, which makes the lack of special plot tricks towards the end of the book even more disappointing.

William gets involved in some messy business after a private magic show for the police in London. His best friend is murdered and he find himself in possession of something an ex police official wants so when a job comes up in Berlin he decides to get straight on a plane. In her portrayal of Berlin Welsh demonstrates her talent for creating exactly the right scenery for her story. William ends up working at a burlesque show, full of seedy yet intriguing characters and much of the parts set in Berlin have a delicious noir feel to them, complete with femme fatales of all kinds. The smoothly dark characters and slightly disturbing back stage atmosphere fits perfectly with the themes of crime and corruption that make up much of the book’s driving plot. Welsh allows her readers to luxuriate in these scenes and does not rush them on to points more directly associated with William’s trouble. There are plenty of characters who have nothing to do with the structured plot and are included for their own sake because they add interest and atmosphere to William’s tale. There are some irresistible characters like Sylvie, the cynical burlesque dancer who quickly becomes William’s assistant and is ultimately his downfall. It is fantastic to spend time with these shadowy, lithe characters.

However when it is time for Welsh to show us how the trick that the entire novel apparently hinges on is done it turns out she has raised her reader’s hopes for nothing. Many things that the author thinks she is concealing will be obvious long before her characters publically display them to anyone who has read a few mystery novels. William’s trickery of the dangerous police officer at the end of the book is dull and unworthy of a book which earlier contains so many promises and realizations of powerful violence. When William asks someone to enlighten him as to how a major magic trick was worked so that it even fooled him Welsh seems to have discarded the magic aspect of her book as unnecessary and has a character produce an empty, unsatisfactory answer of ‘smoke and mirrors’. While plot twists should not be everything in a novel this lack of effort will be a let down for readers expecting a sophisticated, well engineered magical spectacular.

When Twilight Burns

When Twilight Burns
By Colleen Gleason
Signet Eclipse, August 2008
Reviewed by Heather F.

*May contain spoilers from previous Gardella Vampire novels*

If you have followed this series from the beginning (The Rest Falls Away, Rises the Night, and The Bleeding Dusk), you know that these Victorian era Vampire hunter bodice rippers are a guilty pleasure. When Twilight Burns continues the saga of Venator Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacey, recently bitten by an old and powerful vampire and fighting against the various affects of that bite. She has returned to London, where not even the sun can stop the vampire killings now. A new, and dangerous, vampire walks the streets. How can Victoria vanquish this new evil, when she cannot even detect its’ presence in the usual way? Not to mention, her mother has renewed her efforts to get Victoria out into society and duly married off to the latest rich dupe to come her way?

And now, and probably most importantly for fellow fans of this series, the love triangle of Victorian, Max and Sebastian comes to a head. And it is Hot. Yes, with a capital H. Romance comes sharply into focus in this latest installment and it’s not a moment too soon for many readers. But don’t worry, not all is resolved. Gleason leaves everyone just as full of angst and turmoil as usual, to the delight of all.

Gleason’s novels are different from most romance authors in that she has strong characters, especially as strong female lead, and the characters grow. She loves to shock with unexpected and exciting twists to her tale, twists that this reader loves. This series comes highly recommended to anyone who loves action, adventure, romance, and a strong female lead.

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival

by Christopher Lukas
Doubleday Books
Reviewed by April D. Boland

Blue Genes by Christopher Lukas is one of the best books I've read this year. That's a pretty tall order, especially as the opening to my review, but it is. I blasted through it in less than a week, and it would have been much quicker if I wasn't gainfully employed.

Lukas' memoir introduces readers to a family plagued by mental illness - namely depression, bipolar disorder and suicide. He describes his family history beginning with his grandparents and their emigration to the United States from Hungary. He eventually makes his way to his young mother and father - their meeting and marriage, as well as the birth of his older brother, J. Anthony (a.k.a. Tony) and himself. The story begins to take a dark turn after Tony's birth, as Lukas' mother suffers from postpartum depression and suicidal tendencies. She recovers from this, but years later, when Tony is eight and Christopher is six, she commits suicide. Naturally this shocks the children and creates deep emotional wounds that will never fully heal.

Upon the death of their mother, Mr. Lukas emotionally abandons his sons. They grow up relying heavily on each other for support, despite rivalries and misunderstandings common to siblings. Tony goes on to Harvard and becomes a famous journalist, writing for The New York Times and winning Pulitzer Prizes for his books. Likewise, Christopher becomes very successful, launching a career in television and winning various Emmy awards. He is even able to channel his feelings about the loss of his mother into a book entitled Silent Grief, which focuses on how to survive the suicide of someone close to you. Yet Tony is not so fortunate, and in 1997, at the age of 64, he too commits suicide.

The loss of his brother compelled Lukas to write this book about his family in general and his brother in particular. It indirectly raises many questions: Is worldly success enough to save us from ourselves? Can we ever fully escape our family demons? How can two brothers turn out so differently, taking such different paths along their own grief? Not all of the answers are clear, but Christopher Lukas gets us to ask the questions. In fact, this book written by another author might have been terribly glum and depressing, but Lukas turns it around to set a fine example for anyone who wants to overcome difficulty and loss. He inspires readers to embrace life as he has, providing an excellent contrast to those he loved who were unfortunately not able to do so.

There is an excellent video about the book at DoubleDay.com.

Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food

By Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman

Bloomsbury, USA

Release date: October 28

Reviewed by Heather F.


"Learning to cook isn't just about knife skills and timing and technique, and it's not all about I-am-an-artist thing either. It's about who you are and how you deal with the world: with banging out a meal for six hundred on the fly, for example, or with a crazy restaurateur, or with a pack of starving models, or with three months without a day off. And it's about understanding that cooking is more than just applying heat to food in complicated ways: a good cook brings his or her life to the table, and sucks as much experience as possible from the world into it."


So begins Andrew Carmellini's fascinating and gorgeous memoir/cookbook. It's not often I get the chance to review a cookbook. Yes, okay, so this is my first time. But, what a way to begin! I love Italian food and I love cookbooks and I love chefs, so I knew this would be good. My mouth was watering as soon as I opened the book.


Working with his wife Gwen Hyman, Carmellini, one of New York's leading chefs has written a surprisingly accessible and impressive collection. Beginning with stories from his life, Carmellini chronicles his ascent into the food world. He recounts stories of his family and life growing up, of his time in many kitchens and his adventures with exotic foods, and his rise to fame in NYC. Along the way, the reader is given a glimpse into the life of a chef, the exacting standards set by such a brilliant chef, and all the food you could possibly imagine, painted in words vivid and mouth-watering.


With the tales of his culinary adventures out of the way, Carmellini gets down to business, and, the best part of the book. Recipe after recipe, each one shines as a unique and honest tribute to the cuisine Carmellini so clearly adores. Each is presented with notes and stories, some even with gorgeous photographs, and all look amazing. Many of the more difficult looking dishes come complete with step-by-step photographed instructions, to make the process easier and relatively painless.


This is a beautiful addition to any home cook's library of cookbooks and chef-memoirs. The stories are heart-warming and fascinating. The recipes delicious and understandable. I personally cannot wait to try out some of these fabulous dishes.

Note to Self

By Samara O’Shea
Collins Living
Reviewed by Iliana

“I have watched my thoughts – some mundane, others vibrant and strange – make their way to paper countless times and in a variety of ways. My journal has been the looking glass I’ve held up to myself on numerous occasions; some days I like the reflection and other days I am certain that a more hideous, uninteresting ogre has never existed. “

How many times have you started a journal only to write in it a couple of times and then let it sit on the bottom of your nightstand? Perhaps you’ve bought a pretty new book to start journaling but once you see the blank pages you don’t know how to start. While many of us like the idea of journaling for a lot of us it is hard to know what to put to paper or how to keep going. Will it sound ridiculous? Will it be boring? What if someone reads this (or not)?

In this engaging book on journaling, author Samara O’Shea unlocks her own journals to show us the benefits of keeping a journal. She’ll share snippets of journal entries questioning her faith, being heartbroken and many of the other moments in her life where she has turned to her journal to keep herself in check. There is a lot of raw honesty here and likewise she encourages the reader to strive for the same.

Journal writers are encouraged to write with no holds barred, because yes, even in our journals there is a resistance to telling the truth. Keeping a journal is a tool to getting to know your self better. Whether you re-read your entries or not, what is important is letting go in your writing.

Unlike many other books on journaling which give you exercises or prompts (this one has some but that isn’t the focus), this book is not about “how-to” journal but “why-to” journal. It is a book designed to show the reader the greater introspection one can achieve when journaling.

And as if Ms. O’Shea’s own experiences with journaling aren’t enough, she also shows entries from well known diarists such as Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, and Lewis Carroll to name a few.

The chapters in this book are divided on topics such as writing about everyday life, finding your spiritual path, dream journaling, blogging and even detailing the intimate life. She’ll show you what the benefits are when writing on any of those topics and guide you on how to approach writing about them as well.

Whether you are new to journaling or want to see how you can go further in your own writing, I encourage you to give this book a chance. With her witty style Ms. O’Shea will have you smiling, and I bet you, you’ll even be reaching for your own journal.

The Twilight Zone: The After Hours/Walking Distance


illustrated by Rebekah Isaacs
Walker Books
Reviewed by Melissa

If you haven't had the opportunity to see episodes of the original Twilight Zone, then you're missing a creepy, weird, thoroughly enjoyable experience. But then, if you haven't had the opportunity to see the original Twilight Zone TV show, you can now get some of that same experience thanks to a series of graphic novels adapted by Mark Kneece, a professor of sequencial art at Savannah College of Art and Design. He has meticulously done his research into each episode, referring to the original script, sometimes adding scenes that were deleted when the episode aired. It's an interesting project, with an interesting result, one that has potential not only to hook new fans, but to please fans of the original show.


Unfortunately, the two episodes Kneece chose to adapt for this graphic novel -- both from the first season -- aren't the best ones. They're all right, but they lack the finesse, style and gripping wierdness of the best Twilight Zone episodes. The After Hours is about a woman who is trying to buy a gift for her mother, and is locked in the store, only to find out that the mannequins are alive. And in the Walking Distance, a busy, unhappy man is given the chance to go back and visit his childhood, and is given the chance to affect the future. I don't know why out of all the episodes Kneece chose to begin with less-than-stellar ones; perhaps he is beginning at the beginning, and more of the better episodes will be adapted later on.

The adaptation itself is clever and affective. Isaacs does a marvelous job capturing the feel of the Twilight Zone. The characters are drawn in a timeless way: sure, you can tell it's the 1960s, but it's not jarringly so. I like the use of the color -- I only had a few pages to see, as the galley were done mostly in black and white --eye-catching, and startling, but not glaring. It works well for the story. I liked the feel of reading the stories; while I missed the soundtrack, I still could catch some of the effect that Twilight Zone is famous for.

I can only hope that as Kneece goes through the Twilight Zone canon, that he ends up doing some of the better episodes. Those will be some good graphic novels to read.

Two Parties, One Tux, and a Very Short Film About The Grapes of Wrath


Bloomsbury Publishing
Release date: October 14
Reviewed by Melissa

There are always going to be trends in publishing. Sometimes one thing is "in", and there are a myriad of books that just happen to have that specific thing; sometimes it's another. Right now, in YA books at least, vampires, fairy tales and geeks are in. I am often wary, though, about trendy books; they too often seem to copy one another. However, while this one -- which falls in the geek category, subset "geeky boys"-- isn't a copy of the other geek books out there: it's not hip, but it is a good story, one that does geeks proud.

Mitchell is the said geek: 17-years-old, smart (but not a show-off), never-been-kissed (or anything else), more interested in movies and his art/animation class and his best friend, David, than in anything else. Not a true geek (he admits that himself), but geeky enough to slide through the cracks of high school. Even so, life is okay, until David tells Mitchell that he's gay. Mitchell's okay with that, but somehow it changes their relationship. On top of that, the cutest/most popular girl in school decides that Mitchell's worth giving the time of day (and a whole lot else!) to. And if that wasn't enough turmoil for the last few months of a junior year, he's in trouble for the claymation movie (entitled "An Animated Exploration of the Biblical Themes in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath") he turned in to his English teacher instead of writing the paper.

What the book lacks in plot -- and the plot does feel kind of stretched thin in places -- it more than makes up in humor. From the chapter titles (my favorite: "A short dramatic presentation of a Wells family dinner followed by a quick review of the entire history of my love life") to the sub-headings (a random example: "Louis explains the wedgie inquisition"), to the internal conversations Mitchell has, it's full of what I'd like to call affectionate snark. It's poking fun at high school, and geeks, but I could tell that while he was making fun of them, Goldman really liked his characters with a genuine affection. Which really made the difference in this book for me. The tone contrasted with the situations, from absurd to intense, and the silliness and sarcasm nicely. The whole book came off as sweet (I know; it's a book about 17-year-old boys--it's not supposed to be sweet, but it was), almost cute (but not quite). The way Goldman handled the situations and made the book not only readable, but enjoyable. It's not deep, it's not profound, it's not edgy. But it is a fun look at a few weeks in the life of a high school geek.

Which means: I thoroughly enjoyed it. Go Geek.