Friday, September 30, 2016

Weekend Reading

CarnivalIn this edition of Weekend Reading, we go to the circus, on a cross-country road trip, and into space...

Erin Kodicek: I'm going to read Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch, about Julia, a circus phenom who gains international acclaim due to her supposed freakishness (she is billed as half woman, half brute!). Things are lonely at the top, however, so she's thrilled when a dashing mystery man comes into her life and sparks fly. Doubt soon overshadows the budding romance, however: Are his feelings true, or does he simply want to cash in on her success? I am keeping with the circus theme, after finishing Beth Macy's wonderful, Truevine (nonfiction, and dramatically different, but fantastic).

Seira Wilson: How can it possibly be the start of October this weekend? I've still got a couple of October books I want to finish, including The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang (so funny and wonderful thus far) and T.C. Boyle's The Terranauts. I haven't read T.C. Boyle in a while. I'll confess that when I reached the end of Tortilla Curtain, I threw it across the room, such was my frustration at the all-too-realistic ending. In hindsight I really respect Boyle's decision to not make everything turn out okay, when the real world paints a different picture. The Terranauts is about a group of eight scientists who undergo the experiment of living in a three-acre glassed-in environment and what happens under the pressure of the environment, each other, and the scrutinizing public.

Adrian Liang: I'm going "To infinity and beyond!" this weekend. I've been staring at a copy The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid for a few weeks now, waiting for just the right time to pick it up and give it my full attention—and that time is now. The Diabolic is about an AI who is the ultimate bodyguard for a galactic senator's daughter and who has to figure out how far her loyalty goes when rebellion is whispered. Also in the galactic vein is Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix—obviously nonfiction and hopefully fascinating.


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Graphic Novel Friday: Finding Funny in the Funny Books

Hellcat_cover1Superheroism is serious business; see any number of increasingly grim, grimacing summer blockbusters for proof of how dire it is to fight crime while wearing a cape and tights. But it doesn't have to be, especially recently in the Marvel universe, where jokes and levity abound. Below are three(ish) picks for easy-to-pick-up and quick-to-laugh comics that make any dreary morning commute all the brighter. 

Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat! Vol 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams: Hellcat! A fearsome-sounding alter ego wrapped around a hero who…needs room and board? Patsy Walker's days of fighting crime are not a lively as they used to be, so she settles for part-time work in the law offices of She-Hulk. But there is rent to be paid, so Patsy seeks a roommate and a retail gig. Sounds mundane, right? And that's what makes it so funny—well, that and the glib, punchy script by Kate Leth and the chameleonic stylings of Brittney Williams, who shifts Walker's portrayal from fierce to Manga-esque exasperation. As a chipper Patsy battles terrors from her publishing past, she is ever endearing, making this a binge read for binge-watching Kimmy Schmidt fans.

Howard the Duck Vol. 0: What the Duck? and Vol. 1: Duck Hunt by Chip Zdarsky, Joe Quinones and Veronica Fish: Howard the Duck is an anthropomorphic jerk who is stranded on planet Earth and is a terrible detective and he wears khaki pants and says "Wauugghhh!" a lot when he is upset, which is pretty much all the time, but he also has a duck-sized heart of gold and he may be the hero we both need and deserve, and is also the best texting friend Spider-Man ever had. Whew! No kidding, Howard faces Galactus, rides the Silver Surfer's surfboard, and teams up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Aunt May, and Squirrel-Girl on separate occasions. Also, he is on a texting-only BFF basis with Spider-Man. Did I mention that?

Deadpool's Secret Secret Wars by Cullen Bunn, Mateo Lolli, and Jacopo Camagni: Superhero comics for you: there are not one but two events in Marvel's history called "Secret Wars," and they are mostly unrelated. There is also a Secret Wars II, but we should never speak of that. Then there is this comic, titled Secret Secret Wars, in which Deadpool reveals he played a pivotal role in the first Secret Wars book, back in the 1980s, only now no one remembers he was there. His role and the mystery behind the collective mind-wipe are all played for nerdy laughs (and how I laughed), but what is inspired is how closely Bunn hews to the original book and simply drops Deadpool into preexisting dialogue and situations. Newbies needn't fret, as Marvel reprints the original Secret Wars #1 issue in the back so readers can compare all the small and Hulk-sized ways that Deadpool wreaks havoc (Havok?) in Marvel universe continuity.

What about you, GNF readers? What superhero books give you the biggest laughs, new or old?


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National Book Foundation Announces 5 Under 35

5u35_bw_logoThe National Book Foundation has announced this year's 5 Under 35, which consists of five debut authors nominated by honorees from previous National Book Awards.

Below is a list of each nominating author and, in bold, the 5 Under 35 honoree selected.



Karen Bender, a 2015 National Book Award finalist for Fiction for the short story collection Refund, selected S. Li, author of Transoceanic Lights (Harvard Square Editions).




Ta-Nehisi Coates, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction for Between the World and Me, selected Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing (Knopf / Penguin Random House).




Amity Gaige was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree in 2006. Her most recent novel is Schroder, and she selected Thomas Pierce, author of Hall of Small Mammals (Riverhead / Penguin Random House).




Lauren Groff, whose Fates and Furies was a 2015 finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, selected Greg Jackson, author of Prodigals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Macmillan).




Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn is on the 2016 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction. She won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for her bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, and she selected Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers (Riverhead / Penguin Random House).



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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Five Songs That Set Springsteen on Fire

Amazon Book Review: Bruce Springsteen: Five Songs

Bruce Springsteen fans already know that the Boss does everything big, and his new autobiography is no exception. Born to Run is 500-plus pages of essential, indelible rock & roll history — equal parts reflection, celebration, and confession.

Born-to-RunIt wasn't exactly intended that way: Following his high-energy halftime performance at the 2009 Super Bowl, Springsteen felt compelled to write about the exhilaration of the experience, but the impulse ultimately blossomed into a much larger project, including a retrospective song compilation, Chapter and Verse, that tracks the eras of the book and his evolution as an artist.

Music-loving readers will be thankful Springsteen chose to tell the story himself. From the tribulations of his Catholic upbringing to superstardom of Born in the USA and beyond — with all the triumphs and regrets in between — Springsteen unwinds his tale with the naked emotion, honesty and power of his best songs. His pages are filled with, as he might say, the devils and dust of an ambitious life, where the darkness doesn't always keep to the edge of town.

As for which songs inspired the Boss himself, here are five of his greatest influences as recounted in Born to Run, as well as a pair of images from the book:


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Elvis Presley, "Hound Dog" (1956)
When Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in October 1956, Springsteen had just turned 7 years old. Still, the King made a sizable impression on the kid from New Jersey.
Bruce says: "When it was over that night, those few minutes, when the man with the guitar vanished in a shroud of screams, I sat there transfixed in front of the television set, my mind on fire."


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The Beatles, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (1963)
The mop-topped lads from Liverpool invaded New York in 1964, causing near-hysteria among the young women who greeted them. Unsurprisingly, Springsteen witnessed the phenomenon from another angle.
Bruce says: "It didn't take me long to figure it out: I didn't want to meet the Beatles. I wanted to BE the Beatles."


"Me and the Big Man at the Eric Meola photo shoot for Born to Run" (photo credit: Eric Meola)


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The Drifters, "This Magic Moment" (1960)
Springsteen classics like "Born to Run," "Hungry Heart" and "Born in the USA," chronicle the soaring highs and desperate lows — often intertwined — of everyday life. It was a lesson he learned early with the help of this 1960 hit.
Bruce says: "Records that held my interest were the ones where the singers sounded simultaneously happy and sad."


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Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone" (1965)
Outside of Springsteen himself, no other musician looms larger than Dylan in the pages of Born to Run.
Bruce says: "'Like a Rolling Stone' gave me the faith that a true, unaltered, uncompromised vision could be broadcast to millions, changing minds, enlivening spirits, bringing red blood to the anemic American pop landscape and delivering a warning, a challenge that could become an essential part of the American conversation. This was music that could both stir the heart of your fellow countrymen and awaken the mind of a shy, lost 15-year-old in a small New Jersey town. … Bob Dylan is the father of my country. Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived. The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside."


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Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks" (1968)
Like multitudes of musicians and dreamers before and after, Springsteen spent countless hours under the spell of the late-night DJ, a soothsayer delivering truth and beauty directly to his listeners, all together and alone.
Bruce says: "Astral Weeks [was] the record that taught me to trust beauty and to believe in the divine, courtesy of my local FM radio station."


"My muscles got muscles…" (photo credit: David Gahr)


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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

YA Wednesday: Julie Schumacher Reviews "Girl in Pieces"

GirlInPieces200One of our Best Young Adult Books of September is Kathleen Glasgow's first YA novel, Girl in Pieces.  I'll tell you up front: this is not a light read.  But it's powerful with a capital P and has all the makings of a book that will be shared and remembered. 

I could tell you more about Girl in Pieces, but I'd rather you read about it from Julie Schumacher--author of the smart, funny, and highly-praised novel Dear Committee Members-- who describes Glasgow's book beautifully in this exclusive review:


Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Seventeen-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) Davis is feisty, smart, and damaged, her body a detailed map of pain. Waking up wrapped in a flowered sheet on the lawn of a hospital, she describes herself as an orphan, a baby abandoned to others' tenuous care. 

Charlie's task in the novel is one of self-assembly: her scars, though self-inflicted, trace the dismantling of her childhood and reflect years of homelessness, abuse, and a life on the street. Her identity has been shattered, and putting it together again, without tumbling back into the hazards of the past, is the hardest challenge she has ever faced. 

Girl in Pieces is a harrowing story. It is also exquisitely beautiful, occasionally funny, and startlingly cinematic.  

The novel follows Charlie from a Minneapolis psych ward to the New Mexico desert, accompanied by a sound track that alternates between wistful hope for the future and a virulent self-destruction. 

Readers who loved Sapphire's Push or Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted or Anderson's Speak will immediately fall for Charlie. As for everyone else: Forget the usual categories when you pick this book up. Girl in Pieces is not a young adult novel, or a novel for adults, or a book about girls, or a book about trauma. It's a book about a human being and her efforts to survive. Read it with both hands, and get ready to hold on tight.

-- Julie Schumacher


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Handy Heroes: 5 Romances with Hot Contractors

Handy HeroesYes, yes, I'm going to say it: If you like reading about studs, this is the list for you. But they are studs with feelings, folks, which means the emotion and romance is the foundation of the story, not just slapped-on paint.

Here are five romance novels for those who enjoy imagining their heroes in tool belts.



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 Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis - Contractor hero: carpenter Jax, who is hired to help Maddie and her sisters refurbish a resort that they inherited in Lucky Harbor. Shalvis always does a great job of creating not just sympathetic characters but characters you wish were your neighbors and best friends, and this story about a woman who tries to get past an abusive ex-boyfriend and start a new life with help from her sisters and a sexy, smart guy who has all her best interests at heart is one to treasure. Then check out Shalvis' brand-new novel, The Trouble with Mistletoe, for another handy hero who rebuilds houses in San Francisco.

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Sea Glass Sunrise by Donna Kauffman - Contractor hero: Calder Blue, who has come to Blueberry Cove not only to bid on building the town's new yacht club but also resolve the old feud between his branch of the family and the branch that lives in Blueberry Cove. Calder meets Hannah when she returns to town for her brother's wedding, but she has big secrets she's trying to keep from her family that could affect his future as well. Kauffman taps into the emotional pull and push of family and lovers, delivering a genuinely heartfelt read.

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Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl - Contractor hero: Shane Harcourt, who has been hired to construct a new museum in Wyoming. The problem? Shane wants the land for himself in order to build the ranch he's always dreamed of. But sassy museum curator Mercy Kade might just have what it takes to change his mind. A fun romance that brings a breath of fresh air to the typical dueling hero and heroine story.

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Let It Breathe by Tawna Fenske - Contractor hero: Clay Henderson, who's returned to his home town to bid on a new winery pavilion being run by his former best friend, Reese. Fenske pulls off another hilarious yet profound story as she weaves Clay's daily push-back against alcoholism with his need to stay at the winery and make amends with Reese. Reese's completely bonkers family doesn't help matters, and a secret that she's been concealing since their college years could break her newfound relationship with Clay forever. (No, she wasn't pregnant; that would be too easy.)

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Everywhere and Every Way by Jennifer Probst - Contractor hero: Caleb Pierce, the eldest son of a total control-freak dad who bequeaths his contractor business to Caleb on the condition that he bring his errant brothers back to help run it. On top of that, he has a new control freak to deal with: luxury home designer Morgan Raines, who comes equipped with (unfortunately) excellent ideas and a pink hard hat. But once Cal gets his head out of his, um, nether regions, sparks fly with Morgan, and she has to decide if it's finally time to build a home for herself. While Cal is hot, Morgan is smart and snappy and among my favorite take-no-BS romance heroines.


I've noticed in the past year that when I say "Property Brothers," many women of my acquaintance get a distant, swoony look in their eyes. (It might be because having a good contractor at your fingertips is just as necessary to modern life as knowing a tech-genius.) So in case you missed it, here is a link to the Property Brothers' 2016 book, Dream Home.


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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

David D. Levine on His "Regency-set Interplanetary Airship Adventure": Arabella of Mars

David D Levine and Arabella of MarsDavid D. Levine has won awards and acclaim for his insightful and inspiring SF short stories. Now, with his debut novel, Arabella of Mars, Levine gives readers a steampunk alt-history in which sailing ships traverse the solar system during the Napoleonic wars, and scientifically-minded Arabella must disguise herself as a boy in order to sail to Mars and save her brother.

We caught up with Levine on a beautiful day in Seattle's University District and talked about books, nautical technology, and what's next for the bold and resourceful Arabella.

Amazon Book Review: How would you describe Arabella of Mars to a prospective reader?

David D. Levine: I describe it as a Regency-set interplanetary airship adventure. It is a historical drama. It is an adventure story. It takes place in space. It's not rocket ships—it's flying sailing ships. I've taken the Regency era and made one teensy change of filling the solar system with air, so that you can get to Mars and Venus by sailing ship. Everything else is very much historical. I tried to write it in keeping with real technology and the real physics of the world as much as possible.

What sparked this idea in the first place?

The spark was a line from a book by Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun. In this book, the main character, Severian, takes a trip to another planet in a ship that is described as having sails and masts, and at one point he mentions that there's no air around the ship and it's a good thing because if this was not the case, the roaring of the suns would deafen the universe. And that line about the roaring of the suns deafening the universe stuck in my head for a couple of decades. I thought, What if space were full of air? What things might be possible?

I often start my ideas with the world building instead of the character, and with this story I started with the idea of space filled with air.

Arabella of Mars includes a great deal of nautical terminology. How much research did you have to do to get the details right?

I picked up a lot of the terminology and technology by being a fan of Patrick O'Brian. And the benefits of being a fan of Patrick O'Brian meant I'd been doing that research before I even began writing this book. But when I started in on writing Arabella of Mars, I did a lot more research. There's an ebook sold directly by the author called The Patrick O'Brian Codebook that's an encyclopedia of Patrick O'Brian works. That's a great reference for all that nautical technology.

Can you give me a non-spoilery sneak peek ahead at the next two books in the trilogy?

Book two has the working title of Arabella and the Battle of Venus. Just as Arabella had to travel from Earth to Mars to save a member of her family, now she has to travel from Mars to Venus. Most of book two takes place on Venus. One thing about book one…It's Napoleonic wars in space, but we never meet Napoleon. In book two, Napoleon does appear as an on-stage character. I like to say that book one takes place on Mars and is where Arabella becomes a man—by which I mean a person with agency. Book two takes place mostly on Venus and is where Arabella learns to become a woman, by which I mean a person with empathy who can work with other people. Book three takes place largely on Earth, and this is where Arabella learns to become a leader. Also, by book three, the alternate history of my books will have diverged far more from actual history than it does in the course of book one.

Arabella's home is Mars, and you have a lot of interest in Mars. Can you tell me more about that interest?

I've been a Mars fiend since I was a kid. The thing about Mars is that it's close enough to be plausibly reachable and far enough away that you could project just about anything on it. People have been imagining aliens and Earth colonies on Mars since the 1600s or 1700s. Mars is the one [planet] that's most like Earth. It has a rocky core like Earth does. It has an atmosphere—not much of an atmosphere, but some. It has not a lot of water but some. It is not ridiculously cold like Pluto or Neptune; it's not ridiculously hot like Mercury or Venus. It's very nearly habitable. Mars is inherently interesting because it's almost within reach. Everyone was convinced after we landed on the moon that the moon was the first step and then we'd go straight to Mars. Science fiction in the sixties assumed that we'd have a colony on Mars by the end of the seventies. And it didn't happen, but it was plausible. It's that plausibility that makes it so fascinating.

Do you have any predictions on when we humans will actually go there?

At the moment my guess is that Elon Musk is going to push us there. He's going to land a robotic probe on Mars probably before 2030, and that will be a nudge to get a government—maybe not the U.S. government but another government like India or China—to send something there. And that [second mission] might conceivably be the goad for the U.S. government to send its own crewed mission to Mars. I think sending people to another planet is so expensive that that will require the U.S. government to take action, although it might take the form of government participation in a mission put together by someone like Elon Musk. It's got a lot of appeal to a certain segment of the population (including me) but it is frighteningly expensive, and the payoff is intangible. I can make up a bunch of compelling reasons for why we should send people to Mars, but those aren't compelling reasons for those who are signing the checks…which is everyone one of us who send a check on April 15 [tax day]. 

You spent time in a simulated Mars base, didn't you?

Yes! I heard about this simulated Mars base in Utah and wrote on my blog that I had to do it. A friend of mine knew someone who was involved with the simulation and put us in touch with each other. This person said, "Well, we've picked everyone for this season, but go ahead and put in an application because sometimes someone has to back out at the last minute." A couple of weeks later, I was told, "Hey, someone did back out at the last minute, so can you get yourself to Mars in two weeks?" As it happened, I could. I packed all my stuff into a big duffle bag, and two weeks later I was living in a big tube in the middle of the Utah desert with five people I'd never met. It was a transformative experience. The most important thing I learned is that when you are on the frontier, everything is improv. It's a constant battle with limited resources. That was what Apollo 13 was about, and what The Martian was about, and what my two weeks in Utah was about. Even though we weren't on Mars, we were a long way away from civilization.

What's next for you in addition to Arabella's adventures?

I have a new story in the next Wild Cards universe, and I hope I get the chance to write more short stories, because I do love short stories. Novels are so absorbing and much more lucrative, and they get you more attention as an author than a short story does, so the attraction [to writing novels] is very great. But I do love the form of the short story. I love that you can toss off a really bizarre idea in a comparatively short amount of time, and you cannot do that with a novel. Or at least I can't do that.

What have you read lately that you have been recommending to other readers?

I really liked The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin; it absolutely blew me away. Uprooted [by Naomi Novik] was very, very good, as was [Ann Leckie's] Ancillary Justice.


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