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Graphic Novel Friday: Welcome Back to Shazam!

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Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years by Various


There must be something in the lightning over at the new offices of DC Comics, because the past few months have seen: 1. An atypical number of comics featuring Captain Marvel, and 2. An atypical number of comics featuring Captain Marvel that also happen to be among the best comics produced in their respective months. Captain Marvel is a Golden Age hero, and his origin is best understood within a 1940s context: a wizard grants a young boy the power of the World’s Mightiest Mortal—all the boy has to do is say “Shazam!” and a lightning bolt will streak from the sky, transforming him into a musclebound do-gooder with the strength to rival Superman. Goofy? Oh yes. All part of the charm? Shazam!

Kicking off this revival, writer Grant Morrison devoted an entire chapter of his multiverse-sprawling Multiversity event to the character, entitled Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures. Don’t worry, no prior knowledge of Captain Marvel or Multiversity is necessary to enjoy this story. It is a single-issue primer: readers are introduced to young Billy Batson/Captain Marvel, his biggest villain, Dr. Sivana, and his merry Marvel family of heroes, all within an engrossing and fun adventure. Morrison’s writing is uncharacteristically full of exclamation marks and light on the Very Deep Thoughts, allowing him to focus on the characters and what makes them work so well after 75 years: their never-faltering hearts. Illustrator Cameron Stewart and colorist Nathan Fairbairn eschew the grim and make this comic bright. Heroes beam, their costumes simple and memorable; slugfests ensue, cars are thrown and stopped by barrel chests; and villains shout things like, “My counterparts and I will rule the Multiverse of creation! Like Gods!” In October, a deluxe hardcover will collect all of the Multiversity issues, but Thunderworld Adventures is available now via Kindle and comiXology.

Convergence_shazElsewhere and even elsewhen, Jeff Parker, Evan “Doc” Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire make the best of the DC’s recent Convergence event, where heroes and villains must face alternate earth versions of themselves and others. In a two-part story, Convergence: Shazam!, Captain Marvel and Co. face off against a Victorian Age steampunk fanatic version of Batman! (See also Mike Mignola’s excellent Gotham by Gaslight.) Much like Morrison’s approach, the grand scope is set aside in favor of telling one very good story. Sometimes simple is best: heroes first fight one another to later combine efforts against a greater foe. Avoiding any rote retreads, however, Parker invigorates, while Shaner’s approach is in welcome opposition to the often overwrought superhero artwork of today, favoring perspective, proportions, and storytelling to cross-hatching. It’s gorgeous. Issues #1 and #2 are available now on Kindle and comiXology.

Lastly, DC celebrates Captain Marvel’s 75th anniversary with Shazam! A Celebration of 75 Years. It includes a hefty sampling of the 1940s stories by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, a chapter from Jeff Smith’s insta-classic The Monster Society of Evil, and much more. It’s a vibrant retrospective, showcasing a variety of interpretations across decades of stories. At 400 pages, this hardcover will provide plenty of reading material for new and old fans of The Big Red Cheese.


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The Fangirl’s Guide to Squee-tastic Books

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The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

The Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxySam Maggs is the patron saint of fangirls everywhere. Her recent book, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a handbook for geek girls in all stages of fandom. Whether you’re a newbie who doesn’t understand what “the feels” are (OK, I admit that this was me) or the ultimate Buffy buff, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy will expand your universe and make you chest-thumpingly proud to be a fangirl. It also has tips on turning your friends into fangirls and finding new fangirls buddies, so you can spread the love for all things nerdy. Geek on, girls.


Rachel Bach’s Paradox Trilogy

Fortune's PawnIn the distant future, Devi Morris is a kick-ass space mercenary with a powered-up suit worthy of Master Chief. After finding her way onto a ship with a bad rep, she suddenly discovers that she’s managed to put herself at the center of a galaxy-changing conspiracy that has the capacity to destroy us all. Think Firefly meets Mass Effect. Devi is one of the toughest fictional ladies I’ve ever read—sure, she has sex and might even fall in love, but that far from defines her character, and she’s much more concerned with her career. And also she shoots a lot of stuff in space. She’s awesome, and these books have quickly skyrocketed to the top of my all-time-faves list. Start with book one, Fortune’s Pawn.


Malinda Lo’s Huntress

HuntressThere isn’t a whole lot of LGBT-friendly YA fantasy lit out there, but Malinda Lo has granted us all our greatest wish with Huntress. Two girls are sent together on a dangerous journey across their nation to make contact with the mythical Fairy Queen, and on the way they happen to get to know each other. Like, a lot. (They fall in love! It’s adorable.) Not only does it have some sweet lady lovin’, Huntress is also full of references to Chinese culture and mythology, and Taisin’s powers are based on the I Ching. Also, same-sex attraction is treated like any relationship, which is refreshing and important. No one is scandalized by or prohibiting of their love. It’s just love! Hooray!


Melissa Grey’s The Girl at Midnight

The Girl of MidnightEcho is from an ancient race of people who live under the streets of New York—and have the ability to teleport. Oh, and did I mention she also lives in the New York Public Library? Living the dream, basically. Melissa Grey’s first major outing is a delightful YA fantasy read that will leave you wanting to pack your bags and get on the first bus to NYC to experience Echo’s world first hand (if only we had teleporting powers too!) Echo is a different kind of strong female character, one whose past hardships have made her into the tough gal that she is today, and revealing the different layers of her personality is a joy.


Amanda Sun’s Paper Gods Trilogy (Storm, book 3, is available June 30)

StormI devoured the first two books in the Paper Gods series over the course of one weekend, and it was the best choice ever. Katie Greene is forced to move to Japan after a family tragedy, but discovers that there’s more to this new world than just culture shock. She winds up embroiled in the affairs of the gods (or “kami”), and she might just have picked the absolute worst guy in the country to start dating—the one who mysteriously has the ability to make any of his drawings come to life. Sun brings Japan into your living room with this series, and I’m stoked to read the conclusion. (Is it June 30 yet?)


Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (available August 11)

You're Never Weird on the InternetAll hail the geek girl goddess! After conquering the internet and our hearts, Felicia Day is tackling her first book, and it’s a memoir about her experiences online and IRL. It’s sure to be just as cute and quirky and inspiring as she is, and I can’t wait to discover what excellent life experience she’s going to use to make us LOL and have the feels all over the place. 


Francesca Haig’s The Fire Sermon 

The Fire SermonIt’s not often that I put down a book and am torn between immediately wanting to re-read it, begging someone for the sequel, and never wanting to read anything else ever again because it was just so good. Set in a post-nuclear winter world where everyone is born with a perfect Alpha twin and a disabled, ostracized Omega twin—and when one twin dies, so does the other—The Fire Sermon tells the story of Cass, an Omega whose ability to see the future leaves her debilitated. The great thing about The Fire Sermon is that, though it’s an adult novel, it still has the young female protagonist that makes YA books so relatable. But because it’s an adult novel, it also doesn’t fall prey to all the typical YA dystopian tropes we’ve come to expect – and in many cases, dread. The Fire Sermon surprises at every turn, has a romance that isn’t central to the plot, and is so dark it will stay with you for weeks.


Batgirl Volume 1 – The Batgirl of Burnside (available June 16)

Batgirl of BurnsideBatgirl got a recent reboot thanks to scribes Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, and they brought along the awesome talent of Babs Tarr to bring her to life. Set in Burnside (the Gotham equivalent of Brooklyn), Barbara is a twenty-something superhacker who slaps on a pair of yellow Doc Martens and a snap-off cape (so function!) to take down a gross revenge porn ring. Super modern, relevant, and feminist, this new Batgirl comic is perfect for longtime comics fans or new readers.

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Kiss & Tell: Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot Return to Rogue River

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Spiraled by Kendra Elliot

Minutes to Kill by Melinda Leigh

Romantic suspense authors Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot teamed up last year to write a series of linked novellas set in Rogue River, Oregon. Leigh and Elliot explain why they’re returning to the scene of the crime with two more novellas this fall.

Amazon Book Review: How do you plan out what you’re going to write?

Minutes to KillLeigh: That’s a very good question. Magic? [Kendra Elliot laughs.] I think our styles are fairly similar. We’ve been friends for many years. We often know what the other is thinking. So it’s really great to bounce ideas off of each other. And then magic happens.

ABR: Do you write the novellas at the same time?

Elliot: Last time I wrote the first one, and [Melinda] wrote the second, and then I wrote the third, so that each one was done [before the next author started].This time there’s going to be some overlap. She’s going to write the first one, and I’m ready to start writing now. And so we’re going to be writing at the same time. We’re going to take more time plotting this time so we know exactly what’s going to happen in each one. That’s the plan….

ABR: Will the action of the novellas overlap?

SpiraledElliot: What we discovered last time is that to keep it from getting too complicated, we need to encapsulate each story in each novella, time-wise and event-wise, so that the next [writer] isn’t constantly having to refer back to see what happened when in a certain book. Often last time we would say [to the other], “I finished here. This event ended here. You need to start there and just move forward. I will have wrapped up this plotline and this plotline, so you get to take it from here on out.”

ABR: Will the new novellas feature characters that were in the previous novellas?

Leigh: It will be the same primary characters, who are sisters.

ABR: You’re excited about this, right? [Pause] Are you excited?

Elliot: After we finished last time, we said to each other, “We are never doing this again.”

Leigh: [Laughs.] It’s more work than you would think, because they are short works, they’re novellas, but there’s so much planning and so much back-and-forth that has to go on that it ends up being a lot of work.

ABR: I imagine that plotting is extremely important to writing romantic suspense.

Leigh: Even when you do plot, sometimes things go awry, or you think of something better halfway through, and then you have to run with that.

ABR: Why do you think romantic suspense continue to be so popular? This is a genre that people keep coming back to over and over again.

Leigh: I think it has the best of both worlds....You have that plot-driven thriller intensity, and you have a romance that softens it and carries emotions through the whole book as well and gives the reader a lot of satisfaction at the end. The bad guy always gets his. The main characters will always turn out together in a happy relationship.

ABR: What draws  you to writing in the genre?

Elliot: I think for me it’s what [Melinda] just said about it being the best of both worlds. When I started writing, I thought I would write contemporary romance. But people kept dying! And I found I was drawn to a mystery/suspense vein in my writing. I looked closer at what I liked to read—I read mainstream suspense, even police procedurals. But I like the main characters to end up happy.

ABR: Let’s talk about your upcoming books. Melinda, you have Minutes to Kill coming out in June. What is the book about?

Leigh: It’s about a corporate attorney who goes to Las Vegas on a business trip and finds out that what happens in Vegas can follow you home.

ABR: The main character, Hannah, gets a serious concussion in Minutes to Kill, and it really affects her throughout the whole book. Have you had a concussion or known someone who’s had one?

Leigh: My daughter had a serious concussion. She got it surfing. She didn’t even have a blow to the head—she got rolled in a wave. She missed three months of school, off and on…. She could only concentrate for short periods of time.

ABR: Do you have a third book planned?

Leigh: Yes, I do. Seconds to Live will be the third book in the Scarlet Falls series, and it is tentatively scheduled for June 2016. It will feature the mysterious brother Mac.

ABR: Kendra, please tell me about your new book, Spiraled.

Elliot: Spiraled is the third book in my series featuring my Portland police detective Mason Callahan and FBI agent Ava McLane. It takes place at a shopping mall with a gunman who decides to randomly start shooting.

ABR: [Mason and Ava’s] storyline spans several books[….], but even though they are together, you make it hard for them—they are still going through challenges that put stress on their relationship.

Elliot: Yes, that’s the thing when you are writing about the same couple in several different books: You have to give them challenges. If it’s all rainbows and ponies, it’s a boring book. I always look for ways to trip them up somehow.

ABR: Is there a book after Spiraled?

Elliot: Yes, there will be a fourth one, also tentatively scheduled for June 2016.

ABR: Thanks for speaking with me, and good luck with the novellas!



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Sara Says...My Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2015

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City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

It’s the week after Memorial Day, and as any publishing-business-follower and most readers know, that City on Firecan only mean one thing: Time for the Book Expo, a three day extravaganza in New York (next year in Chicago) to introduce writers and their forthcoming books to booksellers and, on Saturday, to the reading public. Every year, I take this opportunity to line up my advance copies of the big fall books – so here’s what I’m dipping into, hoping to get my hands on, or just started. Herewith: My most anticipated books of fall 2015:

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: This is the 900+-page novel, bought by Knopf for many dollars, that everyone at BEA is talking about.  “Have you read it yet?” “Just” is a conversation I’ve had a half dozen times already.  Set in New York in the 1970s, it is said to be this generation’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Here’s hoping...

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: Stop me if you’ve heard this already: “This book is the next Gone Girl.”  But seriously, if anything can or should be, this debut might just be the one.  What sounds like a cross between GG and Alice La Plant’s Turn of Mind – woman wakes  up in a hospital, groggy, but with a vague sense that not only has something terrible happened, she made it happen – is the debut title from a new Simon &Schuster imprint called Scout.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen: Purity is a person, I gather, a confused, angry and complicated young woman who is searching for her father and gets caught up with a Julian Assange-like character and cult.  I’m not always a Franzen fan – call me crazy, but The Corrections left me a little cold – but so far, 50 pages into this one, I’m riveted.

Sweet Caress by William Boyd: IMHO, Boyd is one of the most underrated, or, rather, under-known, British writers in America. His Any Human Heart is one of THE great novels of the 20th century, never mind that  it doesn’t appear on all the lists.  Even his “minor” novels are great. (I think of Boyd as a tougher, less-cerebral Ian McEwan.) This one is said to be in Any Human Heart territory: it went to the top of my pile the minute I got it.

A completely idiosyncratic choice (as if all reading choices aren’t at least somewhat idiosyncratic), The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee: It might be a bit academic for some, but this book from a University of Minnesota history professor chronicles Asian Americans’ journey from “despised” to “model” minority, and how each definition creates conflict and  confusion.  

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Rad Gifts for Grads

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen

Enough with the pontificating commencement speeches! Let’s give our new grads a real helping hand with the wit and wisdom that lurk in these ten books.

Oh, the Places You'll Go!Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

 Dr. Seuss’s classic gives grads the ultimate uplifting message: “There’s fun to be done.”




What Should I Do with My LifeWhat Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson

 Funnily enough, this is a question with answers that will change as you grow. Bronson’s clear-eyed profiles of people who’ve altered their lives’ paths will inspire you to consider your own choices.



The Complete Vegetarian CookbookThe Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen

Leave the dining hall behind and explore a world of delicious possibilities with these “700 Foolproof Dishes” from America’s Test Kitchen.



Easy GourmetEasy Gourmet by Stephanie Le

Prefer meat with your vegetables? This accessible and beautiful cookbook will be your grad’s go-to resource for what to cook for dinner tonight (and maybe even impress that new boy/girlfriend).



7 Habits of Highly Successful PeopleThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Yes, this is an earnest gift, but don’t worry about being a party-pooper: Grads heading to the unsupervised glories of college or stepping into the working world will rely on Covey’s advice as they aim for success.



Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden BookEverything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

You might want to keep for yourself this witty and charming book that pairs images from beloved children’s books with common-sense advice on managing your life.



The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This magical, beautifully written fable about following your dreams has entranced and inspired readers around the world for decades.




The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Presumably, your grad still has stuff at home. Here’s how to handle that. This delightful guide will gently transform your home and your life, leaving you and your grad refreshed and revitalized.



Flea Market FabulousFlea Market Fabulous by Lara Spencer

You don’t have to break the bank to decorate your new digs with the advice in Spencer’s colorful design guide.




You Are Not SpecialYou Are (Not) Special by David McCullough, Jr.

High school teacher McCullough sees firsthand the pressure students are under. As grads move to the next step, this “love letter to students and parents” refocuses our thoughts on what success truly means.




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"White Heat" 25 Years Later

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White Heat 25 by Marco Pierre White

The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White

WhiteHeat2525 years ago Marco Pierre White, the UK's notorious enfant terrible of the restaurant scene penned his now iconic cookbook White Heatbringing his brash personality, sublime recipes, and Bob Carlos Clarke's arresting photographs to the world at large. 

The youngest chef to win three Michelin stars, over the past quarter of a century White has acted as surly mentor to chefs Gordon Ramsey and Mario Batali, starred on various reality cooking shows, and built himself a restaurant empire. 

In celebration of the book that made being a bad-boy chef look oh-so-appealing, there is a new 25th anniversary edition, White Heat 25.  Among other things, this new edition includes an epilogue by Marco Pierre White, excerpted below, and new photographs, a couple of which you see here courtesy of Bob Carlos Clarke.


Excerpted from the White Heat 25 epilogue:

"It is not as if we set out to create an iconic cookbook, and did not realize the impact it would have. Bob, meanwhile, was inspired by Don McCullin’s photographs of the Vietnam War. A professional kitchen, of course, is not a ghastly war zone but you can see where Bob was coming from.
My life in the kitchen is like a blur. It’s like a dream. I did not consider myself an ambitious person, but was driven by an addiction – pure and simple – to adrenaline."
--Marco Pierre White                    
    February 2015



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Kiss & Tell: Scoundrels and Rogues Who Will Steal Your Heart

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Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Scoundrel and the Debutante by Julia London

Rogues or scoundrels can be a bit wearying. Oversexed and overprivileged, these protagonists are heartless or damaged until they find the right woman and turn into vaguely likable human beings. Okay, maybe I’m a bit jaded, but you can imagine my excitement upon reading the new novels from Julia London and Elizabeth Hoyt that dish out refreshing twists on this stock character and nix the jerk-complex a rogue often has.

Dearest RogueWhich is not to say these guys are pushovers. In Hoyt’s Dearest Rogue, former dragoon Captain James Trevillion is the taciturn bodyguard of the nearly blind but spirited Lady Phoebe. Attraction simmers between the two, but Phoebe is still gentry, and Trevillion is anything but. While Phoebe struggles with her rapidly dimming eyesight and the diminishing freedom that accompanies it, Trevillion worries that his damaged leg could impact his ability to protect Lady Phoebe. One incident convinces him to resign his position to a healthier candidate, and he gives up his job and his heart to keep Phoebe safe. But when Phoebe is nearly kidnapped not once but three times, Trevillion spirits her away from London and to safety, though it means revealing his murky past to the woman whose opinion he cherishes. Romantic through and through, Hoyt’s Dearest Rogue matches a lady who sees more clearly than most with a soldier whose silence conceals nothing from her.

The Scoundrel and the DebutanteIn Regency-set romances, American heroes are few and far between, possibly because their innate need to roll up their sleeves and get the job done doesn’t mesh well with ballroom flirtations and the subtleties of aristocratic rank, so Julia London’s decision to set most of her book’s action in the English countryside is a brilliant one. Prudence Cabot knows she has no chance of matrimony with any titled Englishman due to volcanic scandals featuring her own sisters. On her way to visit a friend, Prudence impulsively decides to switch destinations and join a stagecoach that contains Roan Matheson, a visiting American who’s searching for his runaway sister. Roan doesn’t give a fig for Prudence’s scandalous sisters, but he’s unofficially pledged to a nice if boring girl back home in America. Roan has plenty of opportunity to show off his brawn and his ingenuity (and London takes the opportunity to show off her comic skills as well) as he and Prudence encounter bandits, hard-bargaining farmers, and a pond perfect for skinny-dipping. Readers may find it difficult to return to the typically suave English hero after finishing The Scoundrel and the Debutante.

For more tales connected to these heroines, try the other books in London’s Cabot Sisters series and Hoyt’s Maiden Lane stories.


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Snatch This Charcoal From My Hand, Grillmaster...

BBQcompanion225This weekend the smell of outdoor cooking will fill the air as grills, smokers, and Big Green Eggs are lit in backyards across America. I, too, will be joining in and trying not to burn anything this year. 

Fortunately, there has been a recent run of excellent new cookbooks (some of them recent Best of the Month picks) from which I will be pulling recipes and guidance.  Here are the top five grabbing my attention right now:


Injections aren't just for professionals anymore (mine is due to arrive today, in fact) and Flavorize provides a nice selection of injection recipes along with marinades, rubs, and more. This book is all about adding the flavor with simple but tasty prep work.
At Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX people line up first thing in the morning and they are sold out by mid-afternoon. What's the big deal? Perfectly smoked meat. And if you're serious about making your own, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Manifesto will show you the way.
With beautifully photographed food and nice thick paper, The BBQ Companion takes it global with 180 recipes for making everything from Australian Damper bread to Lemongrass and Turmeric Pork Rib Cutlets to a Barbecued Banana Split (oh yeah...). 
 In Feeding the Fire, restaurateur Joe Carroll schools us on live-fire cooking with 20 lessons that cover topics like using the cut of red meat to dictate the cooking method and how to use that grill basket you bought and have been looking at ever since.
My copy of Southern Living Ultimate Book of Barbecue will undoubtedly be covered in food stains before the weekend is over.  Filled with color photos including how-tos, these are the magazine's highest rated recipes and it shows. 

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