Saturday, December 1, 2007

Letter from the Editor, December 2007

Welcome to the final installment of Estella's Revenge of 2007. In the spirit of the holidays and in order to give our writers (and editors) a break, this issue is a brief collection of reviews that our writers found themselves moved to contribute.

As you know, the ER contributors hold down jobs and families and busy reading lives, and as most people do, we find ourselves inundated with responsibility this time of year (I'm drowning in essays to grade as we speak).

I hope you'll join us for a brand new issue on January 1st as we kick off another year of Estella's Revenge and the beginning of the "My Year of Reading Dangerously" challenge.

Thank you, readers, for all you've done for us this year. We're very pleased with the progress this 'zine has made in such a short time, and we wouldn't have the "oomphf" to keep going if it wasn't for you.

And to the Estella's Revenge writers, Heather and I send our very best wishes to you this holiday season. Thanks for your neverending support and fantastic contributions.


November Door Prize Winner!

The winner of the November 2007 "Door Prize"...a copy of Louis Theroux's The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures is Lesha from! Congratulations!

We'll be back with more "Door Prize" book giveaways in January! Stay tuned!

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
by Gordon Dahlquist
Reviewed by Heather F.

Reading this book - and it is a page-turner - you become immersed, befogged, as if you had been looking at one of the glass books… a rollicking ride, as stupendous as it is stupefying… - The Guardian

Wilkie Collins on acid… - New Statesman

Bodice-ripping… - Elle

Wow! What a rollercoaster of a ride! This one sucked me right in. It was hard to put down. And it moves very fast. This is one of those books that in the very early pages, grabs you by the hair and refuses to let go. By the time you finish the first chapter you are left wondering just what the heck is going on…and it keeps you reading until 3 a.m. just to find out.

I love the comment that it is like Wilkie Collins on acid… because I had the thought while reading it that it reminded me of Wilkie Collins. I did not have the thought that it was like Collins on acid, but the description is pretty accurate. This book is one hell of a wild ride.

There are three main good “guys. ” Miss Temple - our virginal, rejected fiancée hell-bent on finding out what happened to her fiance. Cardinal Chang - so named for his bright red coat and scarred eyes that slant - looking to avenge the loss of his beloved Angelique. And Doctor Svenson, our good and noble German doctor, determined to recover his lost Prince. Each has convened upon the ominous Harshmort House looking for answers, never knowing that their lives are about to threatened and inexplicably changed forever by the many, many villains there. Favorite one? Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza. Hands down one of the most evil women ever created. Worth the price of the book alone!

Check out the book’s website here. One great, thrilled read. Recommended.

Queen of Camelot

Queen of Camelot
by Nancy McKenzie
Randon House Publishing Group
Reviewied by Heather F.

I have read quite a few books based on the Arthurian legend in my time. It is one of my favorite genres of books. I have read some that were really good and many that were quite bad. Up until a few days ago, my favorite was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. A huge, epic of a book, I first read it when I was around 13 years old. I read it again a few years ago and found it to be even more wonderful that I remembered. For more than 10 years it has remained my favorite of the Arthurian retellings. But I’m afraid it may have been supplanted by someone new.

One day while I was browsing in Barnes & Noble, this novel jumped out at me. I read the back cover. I had never heard of the author, never heard of the book, and actually passed it by. But something about it called me back to it and I decided to get it. I am so glad I did.

One of the problems I find with many, many, many (!) of the books based on the Arthurian legend is the character of Guinevere. She is rarely, and I mean rarely, a sympathetic character. She is typically a very weak character; weak in mind, body and spirit. Most times it seems like all she does is sit in a corner and pine for Lancelot. I actually read one book where she was terrified to be outside castle walls! (Was that Mists?? I can’t remember!) And she always, always gets on my nerves. I cannot think of any other book where she did NOT get on my nerves.

Except this one. This is the most well developed, multi-faceted, portrayal of Guinevere I have ever encountered. She’s no longer just the pagan beauty forced to marry the great Christian King. And, amazingly enough, she doesn’t betray him. Sure, she still loves Lancelot, but she equally (and, imo, perhaps more) loves Arthur as well. She’s strong. She’s intellegent. She has fears, but she remains clear headed in the face of danger. She is an equal to the greatest king who had ever lived. The only typical characteristic she shared with other Guineveres was how all the men fell in love with her. But I could forgive them that because she was such a fantastic character.

King Arthur was also excellently developed. He was the golden King; wise, strong, and brave. He adored Guinevere and Lancelot. My only complaint with him would be that he was perhaps to understanding and lenient when it came to Guinevere and Lancelot’s love. And Lancelot was the same chivalrous and galant knight he’s always been. And of course, handsome. And has definitely never looked like Richard Gere to me!

Many of the other characters were different in interesting ways, especially many of the Knights of the Round Table. There were a few new twists to the story; especially to the end between Arthur and Mordred which I found fascinating and original. A fresh retelling of the legend; I highly recommend this one to anyone equally enamoured with the legend or looking for a good place to start. And I will definitely be looking for more works by Nancy McKenzie.

The Book of Lost Things

The Book of Lost Things
By John Connolly
Atria Books
Reviewed by Heather F.

Every once in awhile, a book comes along that just takes over. It requires you to do nothing but read it; don’t eat, don’t sleep, don’t do anything but read. I love fairy tales. I love fairy tale retellings. And I love books that strive to create new to go with the old fairy tales for readers who love such books. The Book of Lost Things was one of those books for me.

After the death of his beloved mother after a long illness, David seeks solace in the worlds of his books. As WWII descends and his distant father remarries, David crosses over into a vicious world where fairy tales live and breathe. He enters a land of friends and monsters where he begins a quest to find his way home. He is forced to cross this new land of horrors to find the king, whose Book of Lost Things is rumored to be his way home. Along the way he learns bravery, loyalty and honor – things we all need a dose of now and again. Truly, this was delightfully imaginative, original and even a little creepy! A must read at this time of year.

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Penguin Group
Reviewed by Melissa

The copy that I received began with a letter: "Beware: Jay Asher's writing has the ability to cause hours of time to disappear -- without warning -- into thin air! Do not begin this book if you have someplace to be in the next few hours. You will undoubtedly miss your next appointment, dinner, or important phone call, because Thirteen Reasons Why will draw you in, and it will not let you go." I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical; I know this book has been getting rave reviews, but it's not often that a book draws me in that much. I have to admit, though, that this book did. I couldn't stop reading it, and I couldn't stop thinking about it on the few occasions when I had to put it down. It's an amazing debut book.

Before Hannah Baker committed suicide, she left behind a message for her classmates. She made a series of tapes -- thirteen stories about and for thirteen people -- about the reasons why she decided to take her own life. Clay Jensen was one of those people. When the shoebox full of tapes arrives on his doorstep one day, two weeks after Hannah's death, he has no idea that his life was about to change. One of the amazing things about this book is that the story is both fairly straightforward yet simultaneously incredibly complex. It's a simple tale of a girl detailing the many ways in which she was hurt emotionally and physically by her peers. It's a simple tale of a boy's reaction -- a boy who happened to have a major crush on her -- to those tapes. Yet, in chronicling the "snowball effect" of little things that lead to Hannah's choice to take her life, Asher weaves a beautiful, intricate web of stories. One of the things that hit me most powerfully while reading this book was that nothing we do is without consequences. Someone, somewhere, is going to react to every little thing we do, either for good or bad. And that was the case in Hannah's life. Little things -- things that teens wouldn't think were any real "big deal" -- contributed to other things which lead to other things, eventually ending up in Hannah's death.

The story is told from a dual narrative -- Hannah's through the tapes, and Clay's as he reacts to what he's hearing -- and it works. It works so well that both Hannah and Clay become real people. And I think it was important that this story be told that way. Without Clay's grounding influence on the story, it would be too easy to be dismissive of Hannah. She's too obsessive. She's taking things WAY too literally. You wouldn't be inclined to trust her account of things. Either that, or you would be totally accepting of her as a victim; the book would read as an angry, depressing tragedy, just another suicide story. (If you can ever have "just" another story about suicide.) But having Clay also as a narrator makes the story more real. His reactions to the events Hannah's narrating made those events more believable to me, as a reader. And I felt that he kept the story authentic. Yes, I saw how all the little things snowballed, but I could also see where Hannah went wrong in herself, and how she gave up too soon, as well as where Clay failed her, and where there was no easy solution either way. It's a very talented author that can achieve all that.

I would quote from the book, because Asher's an eloquent writer in capturing the essence of teenagers. But I'll leave it to you to discover it for yourself because I think everyone should experience Hannah's story. Know that it's a very emotional ride, but a very honest one. My heart ached for Hannah, I cried with Clay (his story was the hardest one for me to read). I was angry at some of the other stories, and found myself hoping that none of my daughters ever meets boys like that. I was deeply saddened at Hannah's death, but the end of the book is hopeful. And if everyone reacts to Hannah's story like Clay does, then maybe the world -- or at least high school -- will be a better place.

Lily Dale: Awakening

Lily Dale: Awakening
by Wendy Corsi Straub
Walker Books
Reviewed by Melissa

Calla's perfect life is falling apart. Her boyfriend of two years broke up (by text message) with her in April (for another girl, she just knows it), and now her mother's died in a freak accident. That's bad enough, but her father had signed up to teach during a sabbatical at a university in California, and he wasn't originally planning on Calla and her mother joining him. So, Calla's going to have to go to Lily Dale to live with her grandmother Delia, whom she hasn't seen in 10 years (excepting the funeral of course).

Once in Lily Dale, weird things begin happening to Calla. She sees ghosts. She has nightmares. She smells flowers that aren't there. She hears noises coming from unwound music boxes. Sees the time on an unplugged clock. It doesn't help that Lily Dale is the "World's Largest Center for the Religion of Spiritualism". In other words, a hot-spot to connect with those not of this world. Her grandmother is one of "them": a medium. It takes Calla a while to deal with this information, but with all the things that keep happening to her, she begins wondering if she just might not be one of "them", too.

This book works on many levels: it's a book about loss and grief, but it's also a mystery and a ghost story. I thought Straub did an excellent job writing about Calla's grief over her mother, and being able to find comfort in other teenagers who have also lost their parents. There are a lot of tears in this book. And a lot of comparison to others. But, at the heart of it, I could believe that this is the way that this particular 17-year-old would deal with her mother's grief. But I never felt that the grief got the best of Calla; it never stopped her from being a proactive character.

Straub also packed the book with grumpiness and anger, which also could be tied to Calla's grief. She was angry at her mother for hiding her past, but also anger at the situation. At Lily Dale. Calla's disbelief at the whole psychic profession, treating her grandma's "profession" with skepticism and contempt, and her gradual acceptance of it was a believable process. If those "occurrences" happened to me, I might just believe I was psychic, too.

But, at its heart, this book is a ghost story and a mystery. Who are those ghosts that Calla keeps seeing? Why does the clock read 3:17, every time? What does her mother's past have to do with it all? What about the lake? Straub kept me hanging on the edge of my seat for the last third of the book. My only complaint is that just as Calla is beginning to figure it out, the book ends. Thankfully, there will be a sequel -- Lily Dale: Believing -- published in April, 2008. I, for one, want to know the answers.


by Ursula K. Le Guin
Harcourt Books Young Adult Fantasy
Review by Nancy L. Horner

“I could make my city of free men, but what’s the good of freedom to the ignorant? What’s freedom itself but the power of the mind to learn what it needs and think what it likes? Ah, even if your body’s chained, if you have the thoughts of the philosophers and the words of the poets in your head, you can be free of your chains, and walk among the great!” [p.265]

Gavir and Sallo, brother and sister, were taken from the Marsh Land and made slaves in the house of Arcamand while quite young. Powers begins when Gav is 11 and Sallo 13. Raised in the city of Etra with the children of both the Arcamand house and the other young slaves of Arcamand, they are schooled for specific purposes and lead a comfortable, fairly privileged life for slaves.

Gavir has two special powers: a photographic memory and the ability to see into the future. However, he often confuses real memories with “remembered” visions of the future and Sallo wisely advises him not to tell anyone about this special gift, knowing it will make him even more outcast than he already is, as a slave and scholar.

When tragedy strikes, Gav realizes that he has been raised to trust but can only expect betrayal in slavery and runs away to find his people, his freedom, hopefully the ability to control his special powers. So begins a young adult saga that is often slow but becomes more addictive with each step of the hero’s journey.

Fantasies are not a typical genre read for me, and my reasoning is probably a little strange: an entire set of unusual names tend to annoy me, particularly if they’re long and it’s difficult to figure out how to pronounce them, thus slowing down the reading. That’s irritating to me and detracts from my enjoyment level. I read a pretty wide variety, though, and I’m always willing to try something new. Ursula Le Guin has been on my mental list of authors to someday give a whirl and I will always jump at the chance to review a book written by a known name whose work I haven’t yet read.

Powers was a decent novel to begin with. I had a difficult time getting into this story, at first, because it’s an epic and things happen slowly, although it can be exciting, at times. There is also a large “cast” and when I found a page in which the children were all described briefly within only a few paragraphs, I marked the page for frequent returns. Having a quick reference to the original characters (many more are introduced throughout Gav’s travels) as well as a map upon which to trace the hero’s path --which is included within the opening pages-- was not so much helpful as necessary. Otherwise, I would have been lost. I should add that the names are simple and the pronunciation obvious; there are simply a large number of them.

Once I reached the point that I had a guide to help me with the characters, the reading improved, but Powers is never a quick-paced novel. There are tense moments and danger is often at Gav’s heels. There is also a great deal of detail of everyday life in the unique fantasy world in which Powers is set. Those who are accustomed to fantasy may find that the book is typical; I can’t say, since I’ve read very few. All I can tell you is that I liked Gav and I found his world very believable. During times of tragedy, it was easy to empathize with the hero; to understand his emotions and motivation came naturally. In the emotional build-up, the creativity of a believable world, and comfortable dialogue, the author showed exceptional skill.

Powers is a young adult novel with some very grown-up themes and best suited to older teenager and adults, in my opinion. Beautifully written, slowly but steadily paced and worth the time. I consider it a slightly above-average read only because I personally prefer a story that moves more quickly, but for those who love fantasy, thick books, epics and drama, Powers is excellent.

Dying to Sin

Dying to Sin
By Stephen Booth
Harper Collins
Reviewed by Jodie

A severed hand is found on the site of Pity Wood Farm while the building is being redeveloped. The police arrive in the form of Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, a most stereotypical police partnership. Diane is career conscious, uptight, attuned to the slightest snub and crucially she is from out of town. In contrast Ben is laid back towards his career development, intuitive, friendly and a local boy. I think readers will agree that we may have seen this kind of pairing before.

Perhaps my experience of Stephen Booth’s ‘Dying to Sin’ suffered from a lack of knowledge as I haven’t read the previous seven books in the series it is possible I have missed the character development of his police officers. However I think that individual books should be able to stand alone from a series with minimum inconvenience to the reader. The characters should continue to grow and change throughout a series or else they become static. ‘Dying to Sin’ seems too pleased with the characters already created and so there is little character development.
Booth is at his best when voicing the thoughts of Ben who is a genuinely lovely, warm character, who brings new depth to the classic portrayal of the son of a former policeman. His interaction with his brother allows Booth to include much discussion on the future of farming, which brings a new slant of interest to the local aspects of the story. Ben is also a vehicle for the author’s interest in history and superstition. Importantly while he is addicted to his job he makes many of his break-throughs by talking to people he is interviewing or through chance words spoken by friends. This makes the reader feel more able to empathise with him than with his partner Diane, as he interacts successfully outside of his profession and is connected to the rest of humanity.

Diane’s thinking, outside of the case, is not convincing. Her battle with chocolate is extremely odd and is one example of the artificiality of Booth’s attempt at a female voice. It feels as if Booth wants readers to empathise with her as he includes her struggles with her sister and her feeling of isolation but outside of he role as a female police officer, troubled by the gender issues of the job she is hard to empathise with. Judging by Diane’s personality in ‘Dying to Sin’ it is not surprising that he sister feels they have little connection. She does not seem to have much humanity about her and attempts at revealing a secondary character to the one she displays at work are poorly executed.

Stephen Booth has meticulously researched police procedure, providing useful background understanding for readers. He also includes much information on superstitions, such as what severed hands and heads were thought to be useful for. Unfortunately this information is often inserted in an awkward way because Booth is eager to fully explain these fascinating points. These passages, set apart from the flow of the story can disturb the reader and could have been better integrated. When you start being bothered by small details like this you know a book is not as exciting as the discovery of a severed hand in the first chapter would suggest.

The God of Animals

by Aran Kyle
Macmillan Library Reference
Reviewed by Jodie

'The God of Animals', by Aran Kyle begins with the line:

"Six months before Polly Can drowned in the canal, my sister Nona, ran off and married a cowboy."

If you do not have the same proclivity as me for books involving cowboy romance you might easily believe that this beginning is merely tricksy use of the ‘flash bang’ first sentence. As this type of opening becomes more profuse throughout the book market readers are reluctant to buy books with exciting openings and so miss finding some valuable reading experiences. ‘The God of Animals’ does not rely on one sentence to provide all of its entertainment. The first paragraph is made of sentences that juxtapose a quiet image with a more extraordinary one. This has the result of depicting world while also holding the reader’s attention, for example the sentence:

“My father said there had been a time when he would have been able to stop her and I wasn’t sure if he meant a time in our lives when she would have listened to him, or a time in history when the Desert Valley Sheriff’s Posse would have been allowed to chase after her with torches and drag her back to our house by her yellow hair.”

performs both these tasks admirably.

Alice Winston’s world is bleak. Her father’s ranch is sliding under, making him resentful and misguided. Her mother can not manage the world anymore so she stays upstairs permanently. Her show riding sister, the only hope and comfort has driven off, leaving Alice as the focus of all he father’s dissatisfaction. This kind of existence has made Alice a good liar and at times equally as misguided as he father. However while she fabricates a beautifully unlikely life for the people around her she is not a fantasist. Alice is unable to lie to herself convincingly and so her story is told in a straightforward first person narrative that encompasses the flaws in everyone, including herself. Seeing the minute slights she receives throughout the book, as well as her desperation to please her unbending father balances uneasily with her own mistakes and cruelties to create a vulnerable narrator readers may will find it hard to dislike.

Alice’s story is driven by an extreme energy in keeping with the physical nature of the horse rearing world that she lives in. Yet it is never overtaken by that force or rushed towards the “violent events” hinted at on the book jacket. So many details are carefully placed and integrated as the plot moves along; my favourite is Alice’s father, caring for the “Old Men”, abused horses that he has rebuilt and pastures without profit. Kyle has crafted a mini universe which feels completely isolated from any experiences outside of it, real and untouchable. ‘The God of Animals’ is a reminder that this kind of creation is what readers should expect from every new beginning.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Letter from the Editor, November 2007

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

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

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

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


Table of Contents:

My Year of Reading Dangerously Announcement

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

Interview: Anthony Barilla

Interview: Audrey Niffenegger

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

Feature: A Case for Georgette Heyer

Feature: Comics from the Crypt

Feature: The Comfort Zone

Feature: Comfort Food - Cookies!

Snazzy Stuff - Bibliochaise

Column: Judging a Book, November 2007

Column: Sure, I Know the Queen, November 2007

Review: Lottery

Review: Lost Souls

Review: April and the Dragon Lady

Review: An Infamous Army

Review: Ophelia

My Year of Reading Dangerously, A Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Door Prize Book Giveaway

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

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

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

Interview: Blackbird Books

By Jodie

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

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

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

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

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

AB: A couple of reasons:

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

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

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

JB: What has the response been to the project?

AB: Overwhelmingly positive.

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

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

JB: What were the biggest challenges of the project?

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

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

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

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

JB: How did the opening go?

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

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

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

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

  2. the wonderful people at

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

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

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

JB: What has been your strategy for getting books?

AB: The kindness of strangers. It worked.

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

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

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

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

JB: What is your favourite place to read?

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Barilla
Blackbird Books
Fah 157
40010 Mitrovica/ë

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

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

Anthony Barilla writes about Kosovo at

Interview: Audrey Niffenegger

Interviewed by Andi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read-a-thon Challenge Interview

By Jodie

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

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

JB: What prompted the challenge?

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Roughly how many people participated in the challenge?

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

JB: What did you read on the day?

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

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

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

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

D: Buy A Friend A Book Week!

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

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

JB: What are currently your favourite books?

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

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

D: I hope so!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read-a-thon Blogged

Hour One

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

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

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

Hour Two

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

Hour Three

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

Hour Five

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

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

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

Hour Six

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

Hour Eight

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

Hour Ten:

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

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

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

Hour Twelve

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

Hour Thirteen

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

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

Hour Fourteen

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

Hour Fifteen

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

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

Hour Seventeen

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

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

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

Hour Twenty Four

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

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

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

A Case for Georgette Heyer

By Elaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comics From the Crypt: Terrifying Tales to Thrill Your Halloween

By Chris Buchner

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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