Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Letter from the Editor, August 2007

Welcome to another issue of Estella's Revenge! Our August theme is "revival" and I think you'll find an attractive mix of the old, young, and everything in between.

Be sure to register for this month's "Door Prize" giveaway, and take your queue for this month's book buying from our bevvy of new reviews.

As the summer dwindles away and things begin anew: new classes, new friends, new jobs, new lives, pull up a chair and spend a few minutes of your down time with Estella's Revenge.

Table of Contents


Bookish DIY


Snazzy Stuff

August Special



August "Door Prize" and July Winner

I'm happy to announce that the winner of the July Estella's Revenge "Door Prize,"-- a hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves' novel, InterWorld -- is....

Nicola Manning from Niagara Falls, Ontario!

Congratulations, Nicola, and thanks for entering.

Now, the next door prize, in honor of this month's "revival" theme:

William Martin's novel, The Lost Constitution!

From Publisher's Weekly:

A rare, annotated draft of the U.S. Constitution is at the heart of Martin's entertaining third novel to feature antiquarian book dealer Peter Fallon. As in Harvard Yard (2003), Martin tells two stories. The first chronicles the loss and recovery of the document at the time of the constitutional convention, where young Will Pike attends Massachusetts delegate Rufus King, and its passing through generations of the Pike family to the present. The second traces Fallon's search against deadly competition to find the draft. Throughout, Martin makes clear that people have always tried to use the Constitution for their own purposes, including right-wing Christian fanatics, survivalist gun nuts, liberal gun-banners and greedy entrepreneurs now seeking the lost draft. The Pike family motto: "In America, we get up in the morning, we go to work, and we solve our problems" serves as a unifying theme, and Martin also makes clear that the Constitution—drafts and all—was intended as a unifying agent.

To enter the August "Door Prize" contest, e-mail us at estellabooks (at) gmail (dot) com with your name and address. We will announce the next winner by e-mail and here on the site on September 1, 2007.

Interview: Colleen Gleason

An interview with Colleen Gleason, author of The Rest Falls Away and Rises the Night
By Nancy L. Horner

I’m not the typical vampire-novel reader, so when I purchased a copy of The Rest Falls Away, it was admittedly on a whim. Author Colleen Gleason was among the first people to visit my book-review-and-chatter blog, and we had conversed a bit through our blogs. At the time of its release, I hesitated to order The Rest Falls Away, merely because vampires are not “my thing”. But, when I happened across a copy at my local bookstore, it passed my random passage flip-test with flying colors and I realized I truly wanted to read it anyway, if only for the sake of supporting an author I already knew I liked.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book and the quality of writing. The Rest Falls Away is an excellent blend of action, adventure, romance and historical fiction. Colleen’s second book, Rises the Night, is a bit darker but also packed with adventure and tremendously fun reading.

I still had to wonder, though, after batting emails back and forth with Colleen, what she’d truly be like in person. What kind of person writes books with a vampire-slaying Regency-era heroine? Would she be dark and mysterious like the subject matter of her books?

The answer, in this case, is that the author is a petite, effervescent and delicate beauty with dark curls and an air of graceful self-assurance. Colleen and I met at California Pizza Kitchen in Ann Arbor’s Briarwood Mall for lunch, she wearing a “Born Venator” t-shirt -- a reference to her vampire-slaying heroine. She showed her quirky side by ordering her tea significantly watered down and just about all of her salad toppings on the side.

Colleen and I had exchanged emails rather than speaking by phone, so I was also surprised to find that she talks a blue streak; Colleen is an incredibly fun and bubbly person. In fact, she peppered me with so many questions that I had to remind myself just who was supposed to be the interviewer and who the subject in order to inject a few choice questions into our conversation.

Colleen has written nine novels. There are five books in the Victoria Gardella vampire series; and, at the time we spoke, she had sold four of the five titles. The next novel in the series is The Bleeding Dusk, which is due to be released in February of 2008. I asked Colleen, first, if she has always written - the first question that usually comes to my mind. “Oh, yes,” she said. We discussed the fact that not writing is much like a traffic jam, that the need to purge simply continues to build, even if there’s something that prevents her from finding writing time. She said not all authors think blogging is worth the time, but she enjoys writing her blog in addition to her fiction.

Because Colleen regularly answers questions about her series on the blog and she has been widely interviewed, I asked her if there was anything specific that she desired to get across to readers.

There were three particular points Colleen was anxious to explain. Readers, Colleen said, often leave the books with entirely different impressions of Victoria, the vampire-slaying heroine who has made the painful choice between living an ordinary life or taking on the role of vampire slayer, a job she has inherited from the Gardella family. Some feel that Victoria is too far ahead of her time; others feel that she gives in to societal demands a little too completely.

So, what exactly was Colleen trying to get across to readers?

First, “People change history because they’re different.” The reader should not expect Victoria, then, to either bend entirely to societal expectations or to forge too far ahead of them. Instead, she is forthright enough to become a changing force without breaking so far out of the mold that she would be completely unable to fit in. Victoria does, in fact, move smoothly from the fancy balls to London’s dark alleys and, later, to the even darker underground world of an Italian secret society.

Second, “Women want to have everything, but Victoria has to sacrifice.” This, Colleen emphasized, is true of every woman. But, in Victoria’s case, the sacrifices fit the time period. Victoria lives in a social class where the whirl of parties and balls is designed with the particular goal of marriage and family within or above her social class -- and Victoria is forewarned that marriage and life as a Venator do not go hand in hand. She must choose, then, between living a normal life and settling down with husband and family or adopting the life of a Venator. In so doing, she chooses between the sacrifice of a normal life or the lost chance to help potentially save lives. Regardless of what decision she makes, Victoria must make a sacrifice.

Third, Colleen says, “I have a huge admiration for people who care for us; and, Victoria is one of those obligated.” Victoria’s “job” as a vampire slayer is a caring job, she says, much like that of police, paramedics, and other emergency personnel -- her vampire-slaying serves to protect the innocent from death or the fate of becoming an immortal being who must feed off the living. This is a very important issue to Colleen because her brother, who also lives in Michigan, is a firefighter.

Colleen told me about her plan for the progression of the series, without giving away the ending. In addition to the gentleman Victoria falls in love with in the first book, there are two very tempting men of dubious character to whom Victoria is eventually attracted: Max and Sebastian. Who will she end up with? Colleen won’t say. She did, however, say that the series will have a definite ending because she doesn’t want to continue holding those potential suitors at a distance until readers become frustrated and cease to read any further.

Another fact Colleen discussed was that it was important to show Victoria growing and changing throughout the series, rather than remaining a static character. “She’s naïve, at first,” Colleen said, “and grows less so as the series progresses.” From my perspective as a reader, I believe that Colleen is succeeding at fulfilling her goals through the ever-changing character of Victoria.

You can find Colleen at -

Her blog: For All the World to See -

Her website:

Colleen’s favorite authors:
Some favorite contemporary authors are Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (It Had to Be You is a particular favorite title). And, in the historical fiction category: Liz Carlyle, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Peters (the Amanda Peabody and Vicki Bliss books). She enjoys Peters’ paranormal romance/gothic books, written under the pen name Barbara Michaels.

Interview: Simon Van Booy

Interview with Simon Van Booy, author of The Secret Lives of People in Love
By Nancy L. Horner

The first time I spoke to Simon Van Booy by phone, he told me about his youth in rural Wales. “I grew up around sheep,” he said. “Always sheep; lots of sheep.” The second time, I gave him very bad directions to the Barnes & Noble on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The third time we spoke, he said, “I am now completely lost.” As it turned out, Simon was able to see the “real” Ann Arbor, the part with character, the funky and beautiful downtown area, thanks to my terrible directions and the emergency assistance of a spouse with a talent for navigation.

Simon parked on Main Street and we met at Main and Liberty, in front of one of the many Starbucks coffee shops, to introduce ourselves. He wore a white shirt with thin stripes, a pink striped tie, a navy blue blazer and a black cap with black frame glasses. Tendrils of dark hair escaped below his cap. Turning a circle, Simon suggested we go to the Greek place, The Parthenon, for coffee. He pointed out the statue in the window of our booth. “This is perfect,” he said, removing his cap.

Simon ordered coffee for himself, a Perrier for me. “The Greek make the best coffee. When you get to the bottom there are coffee grounds. It’s very strong,” he said. His coffee arrived in a tiny cup, liquid sloshing onto the saucer. The waitress apologized and Simon warned her that he would probably pick up the saucer and drink it. He loves his Greek coffee. He ordered moussaka and dolmades, and when they arrived he pushed a plate toward me. “This is for you,” he said. “I’m always mothering people. He split both dishes with me. When my Perrier glass ran low, he picked up the bottle and refilled my cup.

Simon chattered a mile a minute. He’s easy to talk to and, as expected, has a big heart. I asked him if he’s always written. “Always, always,” he said. “I feel car sick if I don’t.”

He told me his grandfather was the news agent for Dylan Thomas, that when he returned for his grandmother’s funeral in Wales, he closed his eyes as the funeral procession passed by so that his memory of home wouldn’t be replaced.

Simon has lived in a number of interesting places and spoke so rapidly that I couldn’t seem to get down the order of where he lived and when. He’s lived in Oxford and London, Kentucky, Paris, Athens, and now New York City. His smile is shiny and white, “not a very British” smile, because he was in an accident, his teeth knocked out and replaced.

He told me that Athens is dangerous because it‘s home to many refugees. “They carry guns,” he said. “I was robbed in Athens at gunpoint. It was midnight and I took a different path from my usual route, through a park. They held a gun to me and patted me down, stripped me of everything they considered valuable. I don’t know if the gun had bullets, but the man who took my wallet came back. After the man who held the gun on me left, he came back and gave me the picture of my girlfriend from my wallet.” Simon patted his heart and said he wondered what that man’s story was. He must have had some great love to have understood, to care to bring back that photo.

I asked him about the story, “Little Birds”, the first story in The Secret Lives of People in Love and one of my favorites.

“Didn’t you love Michel?” he asked.

“I did,” I said. “And, I wondered about the child. Did he have a name?”

“He was nameless,” Simon explained. I told him I thought so. I didn’t remember seeing a name, just “peanut”. The story adoptive father Michel has told his child about how he was found in a subway station is elaborate but, I asked, was it fabricated by Michel?

Simon told me that I’d gotten it right. The story Michel told his little peanut is wild enough for other people to see it’s impossible; it can’t be true. And, yet, the boy is so firmly convinced that when the train stops at the subway station where Michel says he was found, he “remembers” the station. Michel has planted a beautiful history in the mind of the child. “What matters,” Simon told me, ”is that he has so much love for this child, not where he came from.” Simon mentioned that one of his reviewers commented upon the fact that all the children in his stories are loved and cared for. I nodded. Maybe that’s one reason that each of the stories -- in spite of the fact that they often involve pain and loss -- retain an aura of hope.

I asked him if his characters are based on reality. The Russian shoemaker, he said, is real. He fixes Simon’s shoes; he lives in New York.

I asked if The Secret Lives of People in Love is his first book. He took my copy and opened it up. It’s his second book, he said, but see . . . the first was absorbed into the second.

But he’s widely published, I added, in major magazines. “I’ve sold every story I’ve ever written,” he told me. “But, for every sale I’ve had 76 rejections.”

“You keep track?”

“Yes.” Simon told me that number may not be precise, but it’s close.

I ask him how he ended up living in so many wonderful places. He replied that people ask him to come live in their country and write about it. “For some reason I’m dear friends with several diplomats,” Simon told me. “I would love to travel to different countries, meet locals, and then write about their triumph and tragedy. Of course, this requires knowing some language, so I plan a year or two in advance and then study the language. . . . I also love strange food and will wear anything.” He has a story he wants to set in Wales and he plans to move back to Wales, at some point, so he can write the story, but “won’t be leaving New York any time soon."

The weekend before we met, Simon acquired an agent because the L.A. Times wrote a spectacular review that garnered his book a lot of attention. Having an agent, he said, could get him some exposure. Since the review, he had spoken to people about movie rights. He said he was thrilled and surprised that such a great review came from California, that he was pleased to know they actually read and it’s not all just movies and breast implants. He told me silicone breast implants make great paperweights and we both laughed at the thought of someone explaining a breast implant holding down papers on a crowded desk.

I asked Simon if he has a routine. “My routine is to not have a routine,” he said. He isn’t, “one of those people who can set a time to write.” If he tells himself he must sit down to write, he can’t write a thing. He carries a notebook everywhere and takes notes.

But, does he have any habits or rituals? “I must have a desk at a window and an uncomfortable chair (or I fall asleep),” Simon said. “I drink endless coffee or green tea while I’m working. I work best between 4AM and 11AM, which means going to bed early. If I’m going to write, I have to wake up alone. I don’t drink anymore because it interferes with the process. I haven’t had a drink in almost eight years. Without solitude and sobriety I wouldn’t write a word.” He went on to say that he understood why writers “rent hotel rooms or find a shed in the middle of the forest”, and that he “even considered the long term parking lot at the airport,” when he was living with someone. “The most important element to my process is silence, so after listening to some music, maybe Satie or Pablo Casals, I slip in my earplugs and start.”

How does he begin a story? What sets off the spark? “I always start with one character, and then I write to find out what their story is. I often wake in the night and think of them. They just won’t go away until I’ve finished a piece. I can feel a character’s heart moving around inside of mine. It’s like having a relationship with an invisible person, though often they feel more real than people around me.”

And, how does he know when a story has ended? “This might sound odd or precious, but if I don’t cry, I know the work is rubbish. If my characters’ stories don’t move me to tears, then how could they possibly affect my readers?

Apparently, his method works. I kept a box of tissues nearby, while I read the stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love. A friend who read the book agreed that most of his stories moved her to tears. “I love his phrasing and allusions,” she said. “Just beautiful.” She admitted that she still wells up just thinking about the Indian gentleman who sets a young boy and his father on the path to healing in “Where They Hide is a Mystery.” That makes three of us.

We talked about television. Simon gave away his television set three years ago and my family has gone without cable or satellite service for at least the same length of time. “People are always trying to give me one,” he said. He told me about how people in New York proudly scrounge things from the trash, that there’s a kind of bartering system in New York. If you see something of value, you can have it. But, you must hurry. He has a friend who saw three beautiful chairs sitting by the garbage. Someone told her, “You have 15 minutes.” The woman hailed a cab, put the chairs inside and took them home, then returned for dinner.

“It’s really a source of pride,” he said, “for someone to obtain something wonderful from the curbside on garbage day. They proudly tell you they found this beautiful thing in the trash. I have a 9-foot stainless steel table that I got that way. A restaurant had put it out at the curb. They weren’t going to use it anymore.” He emphasized it doesn’t matter how wealthy a person is, that it’s a source of pride to have found some treasure in the trash. And, what of Simon’s has ended up at the curb? All but “the bed, a desk, a chair, A Himalayan crystal (with a light bulb inside), and two small trees” were recently removed from the place he likes to write, in his bedroom, as he found even a penny on the floor or a picture on the wall too distracting. The possessions he left at curbside were “gone in 5 minutes,” he said.

Simon has also written Pobble’s Way, a children’s picture book due to be released in 2008 with Flashlight Press, and is currently working on writing a novel. “People tell me to write a novel -- that if I write a novel they can sell it,” he told me. “But, I couldn’t because my characters told their stories and then left.” He only recently figured out a technique that works for him, writing each chapter in a way that it can stand alone, yet tells a part of the larger story.

I mentioned that he’s unusual in having people tell him to write something so they can sell it. “You mean I’m lucky,” he said.

He wrote down the name of the writer he most admires, Anne Michaels, “the most brilliant writer living, today, and she’s in North America. She’s Canadian,” he says. “And, she’s a recluse. I would give a kidney to her.” He paused. “Not that I don’t value my kidneys.”

Simon is most touched by composers, though, “especially Bach” and “I have also been heavily influenced by Erik Satie. . . . 90% of the books I start I never finish. Books I do finish I will read regularly for the rest of my life. I have a special shelf for these writers.”

You can find Simon at his website:

His MySpace page:

Simon’s favorites:
Dubliners by James Joyce, the complete works of Flannery O’Connor, the complete works of Emily Dickinson, The Jakarta Tales, Poems of Philip Larkin, Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino, The Gift by Hafiz, Wings of Courage by George Sand (retold by Barbara Wersba), everything by Rilke, Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, the complete works of Shakespeare and all of Marcel Proust.

Interview: Michael McColly

Interviewed by April D. Boland

AB: What was the first piece of writing you ever published?

MM: I wrote a piece of fiction (which was really non-fiction) on some odd images about the birthplace of James Dean, which is where my mother grew up. It was clear to me that I was going to deal with sexuality and how people hide from it.

AB: The After Death Room seems to emphasize the link between the body and one's spirituality. There is the HIV virus, which is a physical condition, and there is yoga, which promotes both the physical and the spiritual. You also seem to search for spiritual answers to what is, superficially, a physical problem. Can you talk more about this link, and what led you to write about it?

MM: Ah, that's my book; people should read it to find out. I've faced death and the struggle of sexual identity and I've heard a lot of awful and cruel stories. You have to look at why suffering exists and how to respond to and live with it, or you will destroy yourself and other people in the process. It's very simple. Yoga and my spiritual yearning for how compassion works (on myself and others) is what kept me alive. I have seen sadness and depression kill many people, often very gifted people with all kinds of opportunities. I have also seen people with nothing survive anything. I've seen deep faith in people - faith in Allah, faith in science, faith in the dignity of human beings, faith in Jesus, faith in Dharma, faith in Shiva and Shakti, faith in the revelatory power of art to break open people's hearts and shatter their minds.

AB: What are you currently working on?

MM: Essays about how yoga can help those who are learning how to write or develop their creativity. As a teacher, I use yoga in my classes. I want to show how important it is to help students see that their health has a direct effect on their creative life. I'm very concerned by how emotionally troubled many students are based on how they live and are manipulated by consumerism. I'm also organizing a ceremony on the lake front in Chicago called 'Prostrations for Peace' where we are inviting people to create a kind of altar for peace as well as raise money for Emergency, a neutral humanitarian group of doctors and nurses who treat people in war-torn areas. This is another manifestation of what I'm talking about in The After Death Room - spiritual activism and how it takes place organically.

AB: Do you have any writing rituals?

MM: I like to practice yoga or go swimming first, eat, and then work all day.

AB: Where did you go to school? What did you major in?

MM: I first went to school at Indiana University, where I was lost, and mostly studied acting and went from major to major. Then I went to Divinity school at Chicago, right after leaving a small African village while in the Peace Corps. I had a kind of breakdown there. Breakdowns are really spiritual crises, and I was processing just what in the world had happened to me in that village of people. When I learned that I could not write academically to save my soul, I went to work in museums and to the University of Washington in Seattle to study creative writing. I wrote fiction, but everyone liked my thesis essay better than my over-wrought novel.

AB: What is the most significant thing you learned about the AIDS epidemic and the people involved in it worldwide from your traveling experiences?

MM: That people have an enormous creative potential to solve problems and heal themselves through their cultural strengths of spirituality, the arts, and ethical standards.

AB: How long did it take you to write The After Death Room?

MM: Three years. Also two years to travel and research, and now two years to promote! It has been difficult to get the American publishing world and the media to recognize the importance of the stories in this book.

AB: Is writing easy for you? Does it flow smoothly or do you struggle with it?

MM: I don't know anyone who writes well or with integrity who would say writing is easy. It's an art. It takes a deep devotion to craft and vision and these things naturally take time to cultivate.

AB: Memoir is such a personal style of writing. How much are you conscious of the reader when you write?

MM: I wish I could say I always am, but in writing this book, I really learned to trust craft and story. I also paid a lot of attention to my body - to the physicality of experiences and how places and cultures affected me. I really wanted to make people feel the physical travel of this type of journey into my sexual history, my living with HIV and the way people are living in other countries.

AB: What writers have influenced your work the most? What is it about those particular writers that you admire?

MM: Oh, I have many. Eduardo Galeano, Ryszard Kupuscinski, W.G. Sebald, James Baldwin, Bill Finnegan, Tracy Kidder, Joan Didion, Gretel Ehrlich. They go after the truth in matters we don't want to confront. They deal with the struggles of our time with grace and craft and deep respect for the power of words to change people and save lives.

AB: Who, or what, inspires you? Do you have a muse?

MM: I swim and practice yoga; my body has become my muse. Its physiology naturally reminds me of the fragility of life and amazing harmony within all living things.

Michael McColly's website can be found at and you can learn more about Prostrations for Peace at its blog,

Bookish DIY

Jennifer, over at the Craft Daisies blog, teaches how to make these nifty little paper journals.

They look so easy to make and would make great presents for your book-loving friends! I know I would love to have one!

Childhood, Revisited

By Melissa

It's no secret that I enjoy -- no, love -- middle-grade and young adult fiction. This is not a passion that I have always had. It's not that I didn't read as a child; I did. A lot. But after I got through the usuals -- Little House on the Prairie, Harriet the Spy, Anne of Green Gables, the Ramona books, Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, and probably others I can't remember -- I read a lot of junk. Or, what I would now consider junk. Then, by the time I hit 7th grade, I'd left YA fiction behind for Piers Anthony, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allen Poe (my morbid phase). From there, it was the Agatha Christie obsession that lasted for several years. And by the time high school hit, it was mostly reading for English classes; I'm not sure I read for fun between 10th grade and sometime in college.

It wasn't until about 10 years ago that I discovered all that I had missed.

It started innocently enough, in a conversation with a friend who asked if I'd ever read Beauty by Robin McKinley. No, I replied, I hadn't. She loaned me that, along with Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, and I was hooked. Soon, I was picking up children's books from the library (my oldest at the time was still a baby) and the bookstore and devouring them. Because I realized something: these books, these kid's books, were good.

I think somewhere along the line, I was convinced that books for young adults, for children, were considered immature, and if you were an adult (or wanted to be), then you needed to get out of the kids section. I think this is a common perception; I have been asked numerous times if I read middle-grade and young-adult fiction because I'm "prescreening" books for my kids. My blog has been dismissed by some because I read too many kids books. (Ironically, it's also not that respected in the kidlit world because I review adult books, too. There's no winning.) The assumption is that there just can't be anything in these books that I, as an adult woman, would enjoy or be satisfied by.

Yet, I have often found that it is the adult books are less than satisfying. Authors that write for adults--or at least, those that want to get noticed by big-name reviewers--tend to either get lost in the words of the book, rather than developing characters or storylines; or, they heap on so much "adult" stuff (sex, language, violence), that in the end I'm left wondering where the story was. For me, for the type of reader I am, the story and the characters are critical to the success of a book. I enjoy a beautifully written book, but the words themselves rarely draw me in (perhaps this is partly a result of my education in journalism rather than English). For me, it's all about the story.

And the truth is, some of the best stories out there are being written for children and young adults. There's the obvious examples of J.K. Rowling or Philip Pullman--or, going back a few years, Roald Dahl. But it goes deeper than that. Ann Rinaldi spins convincing and interesting historical tales, usually featuring some strong and admirable heroine. Christopher Paul Curtis tells stories of being black in America that are engaging and challenging at the same time. Rick Riordan has come up with a brilliant idea of bringing the Greek myths to life (even though his series has the obvious Harry Potter comparisons). And Francis Hardinge's debut book, Fly By Night, had me hanging on every word until the end.

In addition to the stories that are being told by current authors, I've managed to discover jewels that I passed over as a child. I never read The Hobbit or Treasure Island (I was too judgmental; they were "boy books"). I rediscovered All-of-a-Kind-Family and The Westing Game. I found out what choice opportunities reading The Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Tuck Everlasting and Railway Children were. Or the challenge in reading The Devil's Arithmatic.

Yes, my life wouldn't have ended if I'd never read any of those books. But, my life wouldn't have ended if I'd never read How Green Was My Valley or Zorro either. The point is that my life was enriched by reading those books. They brought me something that I, in turn, wanted to share with my family and friends. They had the power of a good story, well told.

And in the end, that's what has brought us together as people since the beginning of time: the ability to tell stories and learn from them. Whether or not they're supposed to be for kids.

The Main Event

By Chris Buchner

In 1984, Marvel Comics led the charge in an all-new story gimmick: the event. An event, in comics, is essentially a massive story. It can either feature the entire company’s characters or all the characters from a select family of characters. It can span anywhere from a few related books to the entire company line, including mini-series and one-shots. When an event crosses over into a regular ongoing series, this is usually known as a tie-in. The very first event was Secret Wars. It was a gathering of several of the company’s more popular characters that spanned a 12-issue mini-series and left ramifications within each character’s own book, including Spider-Man’s black costume. There also was the added gimmick of being a promotional tool for the toys being released by Mattel at that time.

The move proved a success, and the following year saw Secret Wars II which ran 9 issues within its own book and simultaneously in every title being produced at the time. To indicate their relevance to the story, a special corner logo on the front covers told the reader it was part of the event. These tie-ins fit directly into the story as it was going on with each new issue of the mini. Not to be outdone, DC brought out their Crisis on Infinite Earths the following year, designed to condense and make sense of a twisting, turning, confusing continuity they created with the establishment of parallel worlds within their books. Successful once again, the event gimmick was secured as a comic staple and always guaranteed to make some kind of lasting change to one or many of the company’s characters (at least until new writers came in and changed the change; for more on that look up retcons, or retroactive continuity).

More events followed to varying degrees. Marvel had such events as the Fall of the Mutants, Inferno, Atlantis Attacks, X-Tinction Agenda, Infinity Gauntlet and it’s sequels, Age of Apocalypse, the Onslaught saga and the Spider-Man Clone saga, while DC had Legends, Invasion, Armageddon, The Death of Superman, Batman’s Knightfall, Zero Hour and the Final Night among others. Marvel and DC also came together for an inter-company event, Marvel vs. DC (or DC vs. Marvel, depending on who published what issue of the series), although that was a more self-contained event. Malibu and Valiant, two now defunct small publishers that came about during the comics boom, had their own events as well but rarely received the publicity of the big two. When Marvel bought out Malibu they had another inter-company crossover event between the two universes known as Black September.

Events became a regular thing in the 90s, sometimes multiple ones running at the same time. But by the late 90s, everyone about had enough. The speculators had abandoned the industry after getting burned on their investments (see COMIC BOOKS: THE FOUR-COLORED HISTORY), taking with them a good deal of the inflated sales figures the publishers were basing their decisions on. Comic fans were getting tired of being forced to buy more books in order to get the entire story. Complaints also emerged that they were becoming excessive and lacked any compelling storytelling. There have been instances, most notably the Clone Saga, where the initial story had been extended longer than originally planned due to good sales numbers to mixed results. Also, because these events ran throughout the monthly comics as well as their own book, they made comics vastly inaccessible to new readers. As a result of this and other gimmicks at the time, comic sales began to fall and with the bust of the late 90s, events were scaled back in frequency and size.

At least, until the present day. Recently, old gimmicks and trends from the days of the comic boom have begun to re-emerge in comics, the biggest gimmick of all to return, in case you haven’t already guessed, is the event. Since 2004, Marvel and DC have been going at it back-to-back with one event after another. Avengers: Disassembled. House of M. Infinite Crisis. Civil War. 52. The Other. Silent War. Annihilation. Currently, Marvel is producing World War Hulk, Annihilation: Conquest and Endangered Species, while DC is doing the weekly comic Countdown which leads into the next mega-event Final Crisis.

Events have begun to burn out many readers. While many have been well-received, the sheer number and frequency has taken its toll. Especially because the events spill over into the main books being produced, giving readers of those particular books only the partial story and forcing those who want the whole story to buy all the books. The trick to this particular gimmick is the banner tying it into the event will be slapped on books that either have a vague connection to it or none at all. For instance, Moon Knight received the Civil War banner, but the book’s only connection to the event was a brief appearance by Captain America talking about picking a side in the conflict. DC, admittedly, has been a bit more restrained with this, giving books the banners only to help people place the events within continuity while letting the books continue on with their own individual storylines, but they’ve had their moments as well.

Basically, events have undone everything comics have tried to do the last few years; make books new-reader friendly. With these continuous and convoluted stories, it’s near impossible for a new reader to come in, get enticed, and maybe pick up more without being forced to buy every book on the shelf just to understand what is going on. Established fans are beginning to get sick of the constant massive storylines; longing for the more simplistic day to day self-contained adventures comics used to have that didn’t always result in a major and shock-value change in their favorite characters. A return to business as usual, if you will. With this and the other trends from the 90s back in full swing, and the decline in readership both new and old, one can only wonder if the publishers will learn the lessons of the past before another bust comes to fruition.

Finis, or a Treatise on the Joys of Reading

By Andi

Note: While this post mentions Harry Potter, I solemnly swear not to give any details of the book AT ALL.

After a marathon 500-page reading excursion, I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows . While I am exceedingly fond of this book and mournfully sorry to see this series end, this piece is less about Harry Potter in particular, and more about what the series has meant to me, an adult, reading a children's series all these many years. Above all, it is about what the series has evoked for me...fond memories, exhilarating reflections on the act of reading, and a deeper understanding of myself as a reader and a lover of words.

I resisted the Harry Potter series when it first emerged, and it wasn't until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been out for a while (late 2001) that I really got on board with the series and decided to give it a go. I resisted reading the series because of the hype, mainly. I was bound and determined not to join the throng of followers. However, as I gazed repeatedly on the delightful covers, and finally read the blurb on the back of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I suddenly realized that it sounded like fun. Why not try it out?

A while ago, in a Shelfari book group, someone asked the question, "Why do you read?" A deceivingly simple question that it's taken me several weeks to formulate an answer for. Many people said "to escape!" And, while I can't deny the joy in escape, I think I read for a different reason, one of which has been repeatedly revealed to me throughout my reading and re-reading of the Harry Potter series. I read because I'm fascinated by words and the reactions they evoke from deep down inside me. Words are just markings on a page, symbols attached to arbitrary objects. There is no essence of "table," for example, that makes it so. We assign a word to an object and suddenly it is.

I first felt the emotional power of words when I was in the third grade, and I wrote what might be my most affecting piece of fiction to date (don't tell anyone), a hypothetical letter from a soldier to her family detailing the harrowing experience of war. While it was an assignment I now look back on as propagandistic and kind of icky, my teacher, mom and grandmother thought it brilliant. It made them cry.

As I was growing up, I became further influenced by the written word and more deeply involved in the escapist facet of reading, and I felt the first inklings of the emotional and intellectual journey that I love so much now. I could sit on my very own end of my grandparents' couch under my very own reading lamp for hours, lost in the words on a page, gulping down book after book, content to live the lives of the characters. The best books always made me cry. The best books, and the best authors, could involve me so completely in their characters' world, with just some scratches on the page, these arbitrary bits we call words, so as to render me completely rapt in the fictional universe. And sometimes they made me care so much, so hard, and so completely as to bring about tears.

Years later, to an even greater extent, it is this emotional pull that draws me to fiction and the resulting reflection on exactly how those writers do that. It's what keeps me glued to and excited about the Harry Potter series in particular. For J.K. Rowling can pull me into her fictional wizard's world and allow me to care deeply for an orphan with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Beyond the world of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling can once again transport me back to my grandparents' couch under my very own reading lamp to those carefree days of childhood when books could make me cry. With a copy of a book in my hands I am at once spirited away and simultaneously--paradoxically--made keenly aware of the now.

Rumours of My Demise...

by Stuart Sharp

This was very nearly an article about medieval visions of the afterlife before I realised that A: nobody would be able to find the books in question, and B: only about a dozen people other than me would ever want to. If it turns out that someone does, I’d recommend leafing through Bede’s ecclesiastical history until you find the vision of Drycthelm. Even Dante didn’t have his hero using a vase to bat away balls of fire like some infernal version of Wimbledon.

As entertaining as this particular near death experience undoubtedly is, it’s probably fair to say that fictional characters do the whole back from the dead routine with rather more panache; or at least with greater frequency.

Very often the "death" in question is only an apparent one, and it’s a basic rule of most fiction never to believe a death until the author shows you the body. Sherlock Holmes going over the Reichenback falls is an obvious example of this kind of faked death for extra drama. The "death" is believable because Holmes and Moriarty are so well matched that it makes a kind of sense that both would have to die in a struggle producing the death of one. You’ve got to wonder though, if they were so clever, what were they doing having a fight on slippery rocks near a waterfall in the first place?

The biggest problem for most authors here, aside from convincing us that the character is actually dead, is the explanation that follows their reappearance. From Holmes to Gandalf, every suddenly revived hero has to come complete with a lengthy explanation as to both why they didn’t die and why they didn’t get in touch as soon as they’d realised they hadn’t.

The advantages of the device are fairly straightforward. It allows for surprise later on when the character reappears, it creates drama at the thought of a favourite character’s death without actually having to kill them off, and it creates an opportunity for things to happen offstage. It also has the advantage of temporarily getting rid of characters who are too much fun to kill off completely, but too unbalancing to the plot to leave in for all of it. To return to the Gandalf example, the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy could so easily have become "what Gandalf the Grey did on his holidays." His apparent death solved that by splitting him off from the other characters and giving them a chance to take centre stage.

As usual though, it’s the villains who have the most fun with the concept. Just when our intrepid heroes think they’ve killed them, back they come for more. It’s a cliché, but it’s a fun cliché. Probably the best of the bunch is Voldemort, with his "simple" strategy of "become a shadow of your former self, then live on the back of someone’s head, then spend half of the series trying to come fully back to life through increasingly weird plans." Let’s face it though, "fake your own death" is probably somewhere on the list of things for all really evil villains to do. Usually, it’s right after "build piranha tank" and "begin search for the one object that can ensure your defeat, but not so quickly that the hero can’t find it first."

Some authors use the back from the dead device more often than others. It’s something quite common among fantasy authors simply because it’s a genre that lets them take the concept quite literally. Neil Gaiman in particular seems to have a thing for characters who come back from the dead. To be more exact, he seems to be fond of characters who fake their own death by the simple expedient of actually dying. So we have Mr Wednesday/Odin from American Gods dying so that no one believes he’s conning everyone, the Marquis de Carabas from Neverwhere dying as a way of learning more about the villains’ plans and Anansi from Anansi Boys dying because… well, he felt like a bit of a rest.

Terry Pratchett has also written a few characters who come back from the dead unexpectedly. It comes as an absolute shock to Windle Poons in Reaper Man, and he spends much of the rest of the book as a zombie trying to find a way to die properly. Rincewind, on the other hand, never actually quite manages to die, but he does have a knack for ending up in situations where he’s presumed dead, notably after falling off the edge of the world (The Colour of Magic) and after getting trapped in the dungeon dimensions (Sourcery).

Of course, sometimes authors kill their characters specifically so they can’t be revived. By killing them at the end of a series, they hope to avoid another author coming along later and using the character. It’s a genuine risk. Somewhere in amongst the other million or so fantasy novels he seems to have written, for example, Robert Jordan found time to resurrect Conan the Barbarian, while rumour has it that a new James Bond novel is in the pipeline.

There’s no particular reason why this should necessarily produce bad results, but the risk of someone writing a truly awful book with an author’s favourite character after their death is definitely there. Given that risk, is it any wonder that some authors would rather give their favourite characters the opportunity of a memorable death than leave them alive at the end of a series?

Confessions of a Literary Hoaxer, or Thar She Blows!

By Lisa G.

I'm not saying I'm proud of this. I'm just being honest.

I'm a cheat. A fraud. A literary deceiver...

It started with a book. A very BIG book. To be specific, THIS book:

Moby Dick was required reading for a course in American literature I took as an undergrad. The professor who chose it was Sister Jeanne, one of the faculty at Rosary College in River Forest, IL. Sister Jeanne was a particularly shrunken, tiny little thing. I don't remember her even coming up to my shoulder, and at 5' 6" I'm not particularly tall. She was like a little gnome.

An angry, angry little gnome.

It always sounds suspicious when a person claims "I got a bad grade in that class because the teacher hated me." Yeah, okay. When my daughter uses that one it irritates the living hell out of me, because I know what things like that mean. They mean "I didn't do the work, my grade sucked, and I need a scapegoat." That's about as irritating as anything gets, seeing your child fail to take responsibility for something, bailing out, and apparently not learning from the screw up.

But that wasn't so in my particular case. I know this professor hated me, in ways only an angry little gnome can hate.

I was a very serious student, and I mean from the beginning of time. No one had to hound me to do my homework. No one ever helped me with it, actually. I was as solitary in my pursuit of education as I was in everything else. I was self-driven. I had my eyes on the prize, and that prize was a college education. No one in my family had ever graduated from college before I did. I had some cousins who graduated, but no one in my immediate family had, and neither had my parents, grandparents or anyone in my direct lineage. So when I was accepted to college it was a pretty big deal.

I grew up in downstate Illinois ("downstate" meaning everything south of Chicago) in a rural farming community. I grew up in town, but "in town" is a relative term in a place that small. In town there would be in the middle of nowhere most anyplace else. I left home the stereotypical wide-eyed Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm, minus the goofy straw hat, the braids and the suitcase held together with a rope. I came to the Chicago area at age 18, and everything looked huge to me. It looked huge, crowded and just a little bit scary. But I was ecstatic to be there. Ecstatic to have accomplished my dream of getting into college. And to study literature, my first and truest love, put me on cloud nine.

In my first semester of school I met a guy in the library. I was in there studying, and he was doing... Hell, I still don't know what he was doing, but he was there and he wasn't bad to look at. This guy was a lot older than I was. He'd not only gotten his B.A., but he also had his M.B.A. Though I generally have the social skills of a cloistered monk, for some reason I talked to him. Call it fate. Call it karma. Call it a really, really bad choice.

From there it progressed to dating, and from dating to the crushing devastation of breaking up. It was a first break up for me, and it was a nasty one, about as acrimonius as such things get. And he deserved every bit of that.

I hope he's still picking the eggs off his car, too.

A couple semesters later, I found out what I thought was just an interesting, weird fact. One of my professors had been a really close friend of this guy's family for ages. She was a periodic guest at their dinner table, a gargoyle-like decoration they, for whatever reason, liked having around. And now she was my American literature professor. To her this guy I'd broken up with was like a son, and I was the harpie who'd ditched him. Never mind what he did, and why I broke things off. I had the scarlet letter "H" sewn on my chest, as far as she was concerned.

She and I had a track record of not getting along. I'd previously taken a course on women writers with this woman, and her spite actually led me to dislike Jane Austen, something not too many people could achieve. So when I was forced to take another course with her I already had that bad taste in my mouth. I dreaded it, but I knew there was nothing to be done. I was stuck with her.

When I took that earlier course on women writers I didn't realize her connection with HIS family. But the next time around I did. Because she herself mentioned it. She mentioned it when she called me to her office, after having nailed me to the wall grading an essay test I'd taken for this course. I knew the grade was unfair, and complained to my advisor. My advisor, in turn, told me I had to take it up with the professor, the angry little spitfire who thought I'd broken her surrogate son's heart. If he'd actually had one.

In the course of that meeting, she told me she'd been a good friend of my former boyfriend's family. I heard how much she liked them, how she still went to dinner there, and, in a barely-veiled way, what a strumpet I was. I was agog, but nothing she said was actually incriminating to her directly. Nothing would hold up in a formal complaint, but I knew how she felt, and that she was using that power to directly taint my grade in her class. I left frustrated, knowing I had no redress.

Enter Moby Dick, the aforementioned really long, really classic book. A book so long and so dry, every time I sat down to read it I did my best impression of a narcoleptic. I could not keep my eyes open for more than a few pages, despite trying over and over. The problem was, I needed to read it so I could write a paper on it. For Sister Jeanne's American literature class. To top it off, I was already at a disadvantage, because by then I knew Sister Jeanne would gladly have stabbed me in the heart with her crucifix, had there been any way she could get away with that. Not what you'd call an ideal relationship, complicated by the fact I could not get through this book. It was the first book I'd ever had that problem with, the first I found unreadable. But I had no choice but to write that paper.

Long story short, I did write the paper. But I never read the book. I read a lot of background material, a lot of criticism, and I dug out commentary on the plot, the characters and the symbolism. Weirdly, I could read those dry, academic tomes, but I couldn't read the actual novel. I probably worked as hard as I would have if I'd only been able to read the primary text, and I put a lot into that paper. I turned in the paper with trepidation, and not a little guilt. I don't like when things defeat me, especially when we're talking books. And Moby Dick did, for all practical purposes, kick my ass. Despite knowing I'd defied the little troll, it didn't feel all that great.

So, how did I do with the paper? Sister Jeanne, remarkably enough, gave me a "B." A "B," which stands for... Oh, never mind. Best not to speak ill of the sadistic. Even though I had technically cheated on that paper, because I hadn't read Moby Dick, I'd apparently managed to fake it well enough that even she, in good conscience, couldn't give me the grade she'd have loved to. In a weird way I felt vindicated At least until I faced her again, for the last time, for my senior seminar. But that's another story.

The last I heard Sister Jeanne had retired, to that place old nuns go to fade away. I don't know which side of the pale she's on now. I haven't kept track. But wherever she is, I'd like her to know...

"Nannie, nannie, booo booo!"

Oh, and Sister? I still haven't read the book. But you know what? I will. When I'm darn good and ready.

*Originally published at Bluestalking Reader.

Snazzy Stuff

I admit it; I have an ulterior motive for posting about this site. I want your books! And I want you to take mine!!

So, what IS BookMooch?

"BookMooch is a community for exchanging used books."

"BookMooch lets you give away books you no longer need in exchange for books you really want."

For more, read this page. Then join in the fun of giving away the books you don't want and receiving the ones you do!

August Special: Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris ( is a new green biz that lets book readers balance out the paper used for their books.

Eco-Libris helps book lovers go green and plant a tree for every book they read. About 20 million trees are being cut down every year to produce paper for books sold in the U.S. alone. By partnering with non-profit organizations in developing countries, Eco-Libris can now invite readers to do something about it in its new website.

Eco-Libris is running a special contest to celebrate the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As you may know, the new Harry Potter books are being published on partially or fully recycled paper worldwide. So for Eco-Libris, Harry Potter is not only a great story; it also sets an example for the future of the book publishing industry, and a vision which we share. To show their appreciation to the courageous author and to the young magician Eco-Libris will be celebrating by letting Harry Potter fans plant new trees and win a free copy of the book made of 100% recycled paper.

To participate in "Eco-Libris and The Green Wizards" promotions, Harry Potter fans need to send a picture of themselves posing with any of the books in the series. The first 50 people to do so will receive a special gift - seven trees planted for them in developing countries, to balance out seven of their books in honor of the seven books in the Potter series. They will also receive seven Eco-Libris stickers saying “One Tree was Planted for This Book” to be proudly displayed on their books' sleeves.

Judges will pick the best photo of all and send a free copy of the new Harry Potter, printed on 100% recycled paper, to the gifted photographer.

You are welcome to check out our website ( and our special Harry Potter celebration page (

Judging a Book?, August 2007

By Fence

This month what other book could I possibly mention but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? After all, this is the book that has gripped so much of the public’s attention for quite a while now. The final Harry Potter book. The end of the series. Even before the cover art had been decided upon it was available for pre-order, but instead of the usual blank, “no image yet” we had a design. Yes, it is fairly blank, but at the same time it shouts out exactly what it is. That familiar Harry Potter font standing out in white against the black background. Why was the colour black chosen? Could it have been because this was supposed to have been the darkest HP book yet, full of death, “a bloodbath” as Rowling herself said?

And then, once the designs were finalised there wer comparisons between the different versions. The US and the UK versiona. The children’s versus the adults’.

Above you can see the full US cover, back and front together. Harry is joined by Voldemort, but they don’t share the spotlight, as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is hidden on the back. Still, it is an indication that things are coming to a head. As if we needed that hint.

Above is the full UK version. The front and back covers, as well as the flaps from the dust cover. Obviously, as one part of a series, Bloomsbury is using the same general format as they have for all the others in the series. If I’m totally honest, I don’t really like the main illustration. It is seems more suited to a comic novel. Perhaps the thinking was that this is a children’s book so a more light-hearted cover was appropriate. I tend to disagree. However I do like the little illustrations on the dust cover’s flaps; the stag patronus and almost its opposite, the snake of Voldemort. Also, I like the fact that it isn’t only Harry up there; he has Ron and Hermione with him, even if they do appear to be in somewhat of a predicament.

The adult version appeals more to me. It is very simplistic; the front cover is a locket, on a dark, possibly stone, background. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet to anyone who has read the previous books it hints at quite a lot of things. The S of Slytherin? The Horcrux? Of course, all of these adult versions have these dark covers, but none as black as this one. It certainly fits the mood of the book.

My personal favourite is the adult version but that isn’t the one I bought. Instead I purchased the UK children’s cover, because that is the style of the rest of my HP’s, and I’m a completionist like that.

And of course, we still have all the various international versions to come yet. So which is your favourite, and why?

Sure, I Know the Queen, August 2007

By Jodie

Time and time again people tell us that books are not for us. They are for the worthy, the few, the elite. Just because you can read doesn’t mean you should, just because you went to university doesn’t mean you are capable of forming an opinion about a book. These comments are followed by the condescending, limited idea that we are never reading the right books, the paternal shake of the head and pitying glance. Leave it to the professionals in their dim lit, wood panelled rooms heavy with the cigar smoke of intellectualism to show you what is worth reading. However don’t let yourself stray from their opinions to actually read the book, just read the review--it’s probably the only way you’ll come to any understanding of a book.

This small minded minority (most book reviewers, academics and general readers are lovely and open minded, helping to guide others in their quest for knowledge) are the people who heap scorn on television presenters who include book segments in their shows. Oprah’s choices were too high brow, too concerned with status, featuring concepts far out of reach for her average viewer. In contrast Richard and Judy are accused of choosing main stream books, with low brow, domestic content. Other crimes include backing books and authors that are already well established, causing a detrimental effect on the development of the book market by diverting a large proportion of audiences to just a few books and not choosing the books themselves.

Really the big problem they have with the couple is that Richard and Judy are popularising reading, getting a diverse audience interested in well written fiction. While their critics may have previously bemoaned the fact that so many British people prefer football or television over books, they quickly condemn any pro-reading action that actively increases reading. Where would they be if everyone started reading, who would they sneer at? Still as the gate keepers of the secrets they can always assert that these newly initiated readers are not reading the right thing or are participating in the wrong way. In my mind Oprah’s case proves this view as she recommended American classics, which few could argue are bad for the reader and yet she was still reprimanded for picking the wrong kind of books for her audience. A TV book club is an easy target for these sort of generalised, unproveable vagaries, as everyone knows that television is a simple media for those with slow minds.

Now almost every reader has book snobberies. If someone recommended Victoria Beckham’s ghost-written book to me or Katie Price’s novels I might smile politely and discreetly look for the labotomy scars. I might give my own opinion of these books. However I am not about to stand up and bully the same person into recognising that my opinion is right and they are wrong, just as I wouldn’t over any other issue. People who peer at your stickered book cover on a train and then announce loudly that they wouldn’t be caught dead reading a Richard and Judy or an Oprah book are obviously looking for a fight. They think they’ve won before they begin and if those of you who like to make your own decisions (and get a bit of peace on public transport) don’t have arguments to hand your silence will convince them that they have converted you. Their smug faces everywhere would make it increasingly difficult to concentrate on your reading. So as these book interrupters; those who scorn contemporary literature, those who think that no one understands the symbolism of Jane Eyre’s red room as well as they do, bear down on you show your teeth and counter every argument they have. You won’t change their minds but hopefully they will go away, leaving you with your book and a gleeful mind.

Retro (and some not so retro) Revival Reads

By Heather F.

We Need A Revival! Can I get an Amen?

I’m sure you’re wondering, what in the world is she talking about? What kind of revival do you need when it comes to reading books?

Well, as I’m sure you’re aware; there was a pretty significant ending last month. A little over a week ago one of the biggest phenomenons in the publishing world drew to a close. Harry Potter, sadly, fought the good fight and J.K. Rowling retired her wand. Don't worry, no spoilers here! I know the end of this series has led me into somewhat of a Post-Potter Depression, or PPD, and I've seen where others complain of the same malady. So, as we all dry our eyes and mourn the loss of further adventures with our favorite boy wizard and his crew, I'm sure some are wondering, as I am, “What do I read next?”

There are so many new and exciting adventures waiting for you, my friend! All you have to do is look! Here is a rather eclectic mix of new and old, easy reads and harder reads, for you or your youngsters' perusal.

Another series that grows with the reader; Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

That magical girl; Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Old classic; Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Lots of adventure; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn by Mark Twain

Anything by Roald Dahl (but especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches)

Travel to another world; Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson

Another boy who doesn't learn what he really is until he's almost a teenager; Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

More adventure; Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Lots of magic; His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

Even more magic! Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

Amazing storytelling with magic and adventure; the Inkheart trilogy, Dragon Rider, The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Unusual children's book with deep themes; Skellig by David Almond

Saving the world, with baseball; Summerland by Michael Chabon

Great series with lots of word play; A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Fantasy series where good fights evil, based on Arthurian mythos; Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series

Another fantasy series where British children travel to another world; The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

JRR Tolkien, creator of a vast and magical world

Many, many books by Jane Yolen, for both young kids and teenagers

The many fantasy books by Diana Wynne Jones

Brilliant, ruthless young criminal; Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

The fairy tale retellings, and more, like Goose Girl, Princess Academy and Enna Burning, by Shannon Hale

The amazing Tamora Pierce has vast magical worlds to explore, especially great for young girls as her main characters are strong, intelligent females

So, come on, revive some of these other forgotten classics, or soon to be classics, and expand beyond Harry Potter a little bit!

Any more suggestions?

Happy reading!

Marie, Dancing

Marie, Dancing
Written by Carolyn Meyer
Reviewed by Andi

I was initially attracted to Carolyn Meyer's Marie, Dancing for its seeming likeness to a favorite of mine, Tracy Chevalier's historical art novel, Girl With a Pearl Earring. Meyer's novel adheres to a similar premise, a fictionalized account of the life of a famous subject. In this case, the subject is Marie van Goethem and the artist is Edgar Degas.

Where this book differs wildly from Chevalier's is in the spirit of the protagonist. Marie is a devoted daughter and sister despite her mother's absinthe addiction and in the face of her elder sister's leanings toward flirtation and sexual promiscuity. Marie takes it upon herself to continually provide for the family while caring for her younger sister, attempting to foster a romance, succeed as a ballet dancer and still maintain a little self respect.

Marie is a spirited, hellcat of a character when she needs to be. She poses for the enigmatic Degas and befriends Mary Cassatt. She thrives as a dancer and becomes the subject of a controversial and widely respected work of art. And, above all, she maintains her integrity amidst overwhelming adversity. But all is not perfect, for Marie's life is not all happiness and light. There is a good deal of realistic grit in Meyer's tale, and it only serves to strengthen the story and give Marie's life a glaze of the believable.

Meyer wraps this wonderful story in the cloak of 19th century Paris and peppers her novel with French phrases and subtle detail -- the decoration on clothing, the movement of dancers, and the cold in a tiny, dirty flat. The novel is meticulously researched and stunningly written, and, at the end of the day, I would choose its spirited, spunky leading lady over Chevalier's wallflower.


Written by Steve Aylett
Reviewed by Carl V.

Pulp fiction, especially pulp science fiction, flourished during the early to mid part of the twentieth century and its influences are still being felt today in the work of authors, scientists, film makers, etc. Many of the very best pulp science fiction writers of their day maintain a great deal of obscurity outside of the insular world of genre fiction fandom. One such author was the unpredictable, cavalier author Jeff Lint. Through painstaking research author Steve Aylett has put together a brief, yet raucously entertaining biography of one of the most bizarre though influential pulp writers of the twentieth century.

In both his fiction and his real life Jeff Lint was a walking enigma. The author of such works as The Man Who Gave Birth to His Arse and The Stupid Conversation had a life-long habit of turning up at the publisher dressed in women's clothing to present completed manuscripts. He frequently upset friends and acquaintances by babbling nonsense, much of which was no different than the kind of language found in his novels, and his feuds with various authors and publishers were legendary. Author Cameo Herzog and publisher Dean Rodence were once rumored to have attempted to kill Lint with a truck. The story goes that they killed a different person by mistake and had to make reparations to the mob. Another story has it that Rodence and Lint once stared at each other quietly for seven hours in a freezing parking lot, each holding a different colored piece of velvet in their hands.

Despite flourishing in the pulp fiction market, Jeff Lint was not an author content to succeed in only one area. Lint branched out working in comics, writing Hollywood screenplays, and is probably best known outside of his short stories, plays and novels for his animated television show Catty and the Major. Originally optioned as a replacement for the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Catty and the Major was cancelled after just four episodes when its bizarre and brutal content provoked episodes of violence among younger viewers. These four 1965 cartoon episodes have attained a large cult status over the years and have provoked much dissection and discussion over the possible meanings that can be interpreted from each show. Lint was commissioned to write a Star Trek episode that was found to be so strange that Gene Roddenberry exclaimed, "This isn't prose, it's gnats in formation!".

There was absolutely nothing normal about Jeff Lint's life. It was purported that his first wife, Madeleine, was initially attracted to him because of a large knife scar that went from his left eye down to his mouth. Unfortunately for Lint the "scar" was actually a sleep crease. Initially Lint, a frequent napper, had no difficulty maintaining the rouse. After five months an onset of insomnia spelled the marriage's doom. Even death was abnormal in the life of Jeff Lint, as rumors of his death abounded long before the actual date of departure. Jeff Lint, ever the clever wordsmith, is interred under a tombstone bearing the phrase "Don't think of it as a problem, but as a challenge which has defeated you."

Steve Aylett has put together a wild and entertaining biography of Jeff Lint that includes color plate images of the covers of his various books and an appendix containing many of Lint's more well-known quotations. Yes, this little book is a gem. And even if you have never heard of Jeff Lint, this book is highly entertaining. Why? Well quite frankly because Jeff Lint didn't exist. What Steve Aylett has done is put together a very odd, sometimes nonsensical, but often laugh-out-loud funny mock biography of a pulp fiction writer who only exists in the author's imagination. Being a fan of pulp science fiction and yet knowing very little about that actual time period, I suspect that there are thinly veiled references to actual persons and works scattered throughout this book that would reward a bit of research and a second read.

When Andi and Heather offered this book for review I jumped at the chance, and I am so glad that I did. Lint is certainly an experimental work and not one that I can see appealing to a very broad crowd. That being said, there was never a time when I was tempted to put it down as Steve Aylett proves himself a very clever writer in his own right. The section on Lint's failed Star Trek script had me in tears I was laughing so hard. The best and most uproarious sections of the book come in the form of Lint's quotes and philosophy. For example, in a 1970 interview Lint opines, "Every ten seconds somewhere in the world, someone is realizing I am right." Other favorites include "Employment is atrophy speeded up" and "Of course the government wants us to kick heroin. And they're not asking us to do anything they haven't done themselves." In addition to Lint's odd statements, silly phrases like "...he took to review work like a chimp to a centrifuge" abound. Turning the final page I can only say that it is a true shame that Jeff Lint did not actually exist, but despite that fact, this is the next best thing.

Girls Gone Mild

Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good
By Wendy Shalit
Random House
Reviewed by Melissa

The plight of adolescent girls in America isn't a new topic. Years ago, I read Deadly Persuasion by Jean Kilbourne, which documents the negative role advertising plays in girls' and women's lives. I've also recently picked up Reviving Ophelia, by psychotherapist Mary Pipher, which discusses eating disorders and the tendency for young girls to collapse under the pressure of being a teenager. Neither of these books are new, and they are not the only ones on the market dealing with this topic.

So, it's not surprising that Wendy Shalit felt a need to write Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's not Bad to Be Good.

There's very little about the world of young women and those who argue about them and those who sell things to them that Shalit doesn't attack: from Bratz dolls ("If a little girl is young enough to be coloring and wearing glitter stickers, then she's probably still to young to be worrying about boys and looking 'hot'") to feminists ("If our top women leaders require forty-five minutes and the intellectual equivalent of root canal work to merely suggest that taking off your clothes and playing with dildos in public is not the be-all and end-all of women's happiness, and even then feel bad about having said anything against it .... we've got serious problems") to her own critics ("It suddenly dawns on me that all the writers who have attacked me, calling modesty illegitimate and an 'elite white' concept, are in fact elite white people themselves") to society at large ("A society that is hostile to innocence is by definition hostile to children") to causal sex ("Having sex for its own sake, without waiting to integrate our deepest emotions and hopes, at best becomes boring, fast. At worst, men and women end up competing over how cruelly they can use one another. And in between, there is much confusion").

In response to the above, Shalit offers what she's found: teenagers, especially girls, rebelling by being "good girls". It's an argument against the "inevitability factor": kids are going to do it anyway, so here's your condoms. Shalit argues that it doesn't have to be inevitable, and in fact, that expectation is most likely harmful.

I appreciate the defenses that Shalit provides. She insists that modesty is not a negative thing. It's "not about shame...; it derives from knowing the true worth of something." It's refreshing, to me, to have someone point out that clothes, and the way a person dresses, is, in fact, all about how you portray yourselves to others. But she doesn't stop there. She points out that our society is increasingly misogynistic, imposing a double standard on men and women:

Nowhere is the politicization of dress more evident than in our deep-rooted belief that a girl or woman who undresses for the general public is "comfortable with her body," whereas one who keeps her body hidden is "ashamed of it."... Only women are called on to prove that they are "comfortable" in this way. There is no equivalent for men. Nor does anyone ask men to prove that they are "comfortable with their romantic hopes," for example, by proposing to women they've just met off the street. Why is disrobing in public equated with "bravery" or "comfort" for women in the first place?

She also encourages kindness in girls ("If they are given a choice between being docile and being a bully, many mothers and experts today choose bullying. But are those really the only two choices for young women? What about being confident, and also kind? That to me would be true girl power."). She speaks with girls who demand and inspire respect from their peers. And she comes to the conclusion that by embracing these virtues, girls are in fact liberated. "When compared with the stifling situation of having to constantly look good and make boys feel good," she writes, "the old challenge of being good becomes more appealing with each passing year."

Most of her book is extended interviews with people who have written into the website Shalit started, ModestyZone, and others she sought out for various reasons. Because of this, the book has a very chatty feel to it (lots of "like"s and "you know"s) which I often found distracting. But, in spite of all that, I admired the confidence and self-awareness of the young women Shalit talked to.

For instance, Robin, 15:

"It's best just to not care what other people think of you and be your own person. If you're doing everything because someone else tells you to do it, then you're not your own person; it's not you. If you dress like everybody else dresses, or talk the way everyone else talks, then it's not you talking -- it's your friends." To her, pushing sexualized clothing on younger and younger girls is part of a society that does not value women: "I think our culture values men more... [and] external stuff, like 'Make more money; be more independent.'"

Or Taylor, 14:

It's like if you're a good girl, you'll have a baaaad time, you're going to be boring or something like that. but there's nothing wrong with being a good girl! Because , you know, you put yourself in a position of being a girl who's classy and having dignity, and eventually people will treat you as such. I think it all comes down to vibes, and the vibe you give up. If you give a vibe, "OK, just take me!" -- you know what I'm saying -- then that's the vibe people that people will pick up, and they will approach you as such.

My main problem with this book was not its content or its message, but the audience. Who is Shalit writing for? Concerned parents of girls? It's mostly just preaching to the choir, there. Yes, we know that the world is a harsh place for girls, and thank you for reminding us what we can do to help. Teen girls? Again, will those who aren't at least halfway convinced of the "badness" of society read this? Yet Shalit says in the intro, "If I can persuade just one person inclined to make fun of the 'good girl' to reconsider his or her scorn, then as far as I'm concerned, this whole enterprise has been worthwhile." But what person inclined to scorn those riding against the tide will open this book?

Perhaps someone will, and they will be convinced by her arguments. But, if not, then Shalit at least has succeeded in reminding those who think like her that they are not alone. And, for that, the book's worth reading.