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Deep South

posted by: December 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Deep SouthVeteran novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux has spent 50 years traversing the globe. In his latest book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, he trades the rickety rail cars of his African and Asian adventures for the dusty, sunbaked, story-rich rural back roads of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina. He calls it a “coming and going” type of book that beckoned him to return time and again. Indeed, he spent over a year and a half traveling by car in the south where only one person had ever heard his name or read any of his previous books. “Anonymity is freedom,” he said.

 

Theroux provides an intensely evocative look at the complex history of a region, rich in so many ways, abandoned and scarred in others. This is not a story about romantic cobblestone streets, touristy historic districts and prosperous cities. It is about what happens when manufacturing plants close up. It is about the shocking disparity of aid to places where the poverty rivals third world countries. Theroux searched out the cohesive fabric of the region and had hundreds of encounters with those who shared beloved interests, like gun shows, church-going and football. He frequented barber shops for conversations. He explored southern literary voices to understand history.

 

Known for an eye for detail and local color, Theroux is at his best trying to capture the mood of the places he visited. He does make assumptions in this thought-provoking, dialect-rich narrative that may leave readers asking questions or even shaking their heads. In the end, this 464-page travelogue by the author of the classic The Great Railway Bazaar may have readers wondering whether Theroux’s South is a place they recognize.

 


 
 

A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

posted by: December 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total GeniusA Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius by Stacey Matson is the story of aspiring writer Arthur Bean. If you had to pick just one word to describe our young hero, that word would NOT be “humble.” Told largely through school writing assignments, journal entries, and emails, many of the laughs come from Arthur’s pompous and defiant attitude.

 

Arthur has no doubt that he will handily win this year’s short story competition — in addition to writing for the school newspaper, starring in the school play, and just generally being a seventh grader. His attention is further diverted by his crush on his writing partner Kennedy, and being forced to tutor his nemesis Robbie. On top of all that, his mother died recently, his father isn’t handling it well, and Arthur feels isolated from their extended family. It’s certainly not an easy time to be Arthur Bean. And it’s not surprising that he develops a crippling case of writer’s block.

 

Arthur’s confidence doesn’t waver despite never writing a single word of his short story. When he makes a choice that is even more duplicitous than usual, readers will wonder how he will justify his actions and get himself out of this tricky situation.

 

Fans of Gordon Korman’s Swindle and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series will enjoy Arthur’s antics. A sequel has already been published in the author’s native Canada.


 
 

Ann Tenna

posted by: December 1, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Ann TennaIn Ann Tenna, Marisa Marchetto (author of the autobiography, Cancer Vixen) offers a meditation on how people shape their own realities — and are shaped by them — and disguises it as a graphic novel about a gossip columnist who finally receives a heaping dish of her own karmic garbage.

 

Ann is a gossip columnist to the nth power. She is a horrible person to everyone she knows — other than her best friend, Miu, her boyfriend, Zim, and her father, girl-product peddler extraordinaire A. M. Tenna. Because she has been a terrible individual in every other lifetime she has been granted, Super-Ann (Ann at her very best self) has super-kicked regular Ann back to Earth for her final “incarceration” — her very last chance to be a kind human and a positive force in the world. Good luck with that, Ann.

 

She starts as a breech birth, and events in her personal life only go downhill. Fast-forward three decades, and Ann is fixing to get her humanitarian award — until she is publically humiliated. And then she dies. Almost. When her consciousness wakes in a whole new plane, Super-Ann (in her magical, sparkly, impossible platform shoes) takes the elbow-length gloves off and forces regular, snotty Ann to become the broadcaster the Universe intended her to be. Unless regular Ann can stop her.

 


 
 

You Don’t Have to Like Me

posted by: December 1, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for You Don't Have to Like MeAlida Nugent is a writer, blogger, and self-proclaimed feminist. However, her journey to feminism has not always been easy. Nugent shares her shrewd observations and humorous personal anecdotes on how she came to claim her feminism in her newest book, You Don’t Have to Like Me.

 

Nugent’s book is both a memoir and a collection of essays. Each essay shows how feminism has had an important part in shaping her life, from the moments before she was born and her parents found out they were having a girl to the present day as she navigates life as a 20-something writer. Nugent admits that she was reluctant to label herself as a feminist, and that she understands that it’s difficult for other girls to label themselves as feminists because of the negative stigma surrounding the word. But as Nugent says, “Feminism isn’t wrong. Feminism is important.”

 

Nugent’s book helps readers understand that “feminism” is not a scary word, and remains just as relevant today as it did 50 or even 100 years ago. Although we are making strides towards gender equality, the fact that labeling oneself as a supporter of gender equality has negative connotations shows that we are still quite far from where we need to be. Nugent’s essays capture the sobering truths of women’s inequality with passion and relatability.

 

Readers will laugh out loud at the absurdity of some of the situations Nugent has found herself in, and then realize that the absurdity is not in the situation, but at our misunderstanding of how much we truly need feminism in our everyday lives. Nugent’s writing is approachable and entertaining and gives young adult readers the fresh perspective on modern-day feminism they need. For more of Alida Nugent’s writing, check out her previous book, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse or follow her blog, The Frenemy.


 
 

The Murder Road

posted by: November 30, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Murder RoadInspector Ben Cooper must wade through old grudges to solve a baffling murder in The Murder Road by Stephen Booth.

 

There’s only one road providing access to the tiny hamlet of Shawhead, and Mac Kelsey’s abandoned truck is blocking the route. As outraged villagers demand action, Inspector Cooper must locate Mac the missing driver. There’s blood on the driver’s manifest, and a pool of blood on the cab’s floor. Evidence shows someone jumped from the bridge onto the roof of the truck cab. Unearthing Mac’s fate becomes a trek over fields and moors and memories of bygone days. Struggling with demons from his own past, Cooper faces some tough decisions about his future.  

 

This is the 15th book in the Barry Award-winning Cooper and Fry mysteries, but this work is a great introduction to a consistently quality series. Booth weaves a tale as enigmatic and murky as the moors themselves. Inspector Cooper is a relentless pursuer of details, and it is Booth’s careful weaving of suspicion, pursuit, suspense and evidence that produces such a gripping mystery. Fans of Peter Robinson and Elizabeth George will sure to be pleased with this original police procedural.

 


 
 

You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

posted by: November 30, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for You're Never Weird on the InternetSince uploading the first episode of her breakout web series to the Internet, Felicia Day has maintained an omnipotent online presence. Fortunately for all the nerds and geeks of the world, she found the willpower to minimize her browser long enough to share her experiences in her memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost). And according to her twitter, she was so stoked to wear that dress. I would be too.

 

In You’re Never Weird, Day reminisces about her mother’s unique methods of homeschooling, her countless hours of practicing to become a violin virtuoso and her first obsession with a video game called Ultima. Her uncanny power to dedicate herself to a worthy cause aided her in creating a semi-autobiographical web series called The Guild, which debuted in 2007 and represented a notable portion of the initial traffic on a little site known as YouTube. Reading about Day’s life makes every scene exponentially funnier because readers will be able to attribute her characters’ bizarre quirks and obsessions to things she experienced as her online persona — or in reality, but that’s never as fun.

 

Day also includes a discourse on the recent movement #GamerGate, in which she details how she felt about the initial scandal and dealt with the brushfire of hate that whipped her way as the online trolls carried out their misguided crusades. Curiously, she didn’t spin many tales from the sets of Buffy and Supernatural, but there are plenty of stories in You’re Never Weird to keep readers laughing as they turn the pages.

 

Whether readers recognize her from the commercials she did in the mid-2000s to keep her World of Warcraft addiction fueled, or know her as Cyd Sherman — aka Codex the Cleric — Felicia Day’s memoir is a well-written, highly entertaining read that’s perfect for anyone who wears the title of “geek” or “nerd” with pride.

Tom

Tom

 
 

101 Easy Asian Recipes

posted by: November 27, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for 101 Easy Asian RecipesAs a serious home cook who loves to read cookbooks, I was excited to get my hands on 101 Easy Asian Recipes, by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach. I’m a longtime fan of Lucky Peach magazine, a quarterly journal that focuses on food writing of all kinds. Their first cookbook is very approachable. It features simple, clear instructions, plenty of procedural drawings (like how to properly fill and seal a dumpling) and glossy color photographs of finished dishes. Meehan admits that “Asian” is a wide catch-all term — for example, there are no Indian recipes in the book — and they’re not necessarily aiming for authenticity. A recipe for “mall chicken” is a nod to the sauce-doused chicken chunks sampled on toothpicks at nearly every food court you’ve ever visited. This version is baked rather than fried, but is no less craveable.

 

A trip to an Asian supermarket to stock your pantry is a must as you’ll need things you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Not only does the book provide a frequently used ingredient list, but there are photographic spreads of the actual items. This helps remove any possible confusion, as many of the ingredients may be unfamiliar. These include things like black vinegar, fish sauce, sesame oil, sambal oelek, dashi and white pepper. Recipes call for all types of noodles, from ramen and udon to gluten-free Korean glass noodles (made from sweet potato starch) and rice sticks.

 

Meehan has a great sense of humor that shines through in the notes, the recipes are easy to follow and the results are impressive. I’ve made several dishes with great success in the last couple of weeks, including a smashed cucumber salad with chili, cilantro and peanuts; braised baby bok choy with oyster sauce and crispy garlic; and homemade “dollar dumplings” with dipping sauce. Borrow 101 Easy Asian Recipes now and you’ll likely buy your own copy later.


 
 

Two Hours

posted by: November 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Two HoursIn Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, Ed Caesar discusses what it would take for a man to complete the arbitrary distance of 26.2 miles under the arbitrary time limit of two hours.

 

Why 26.2 miles? Every runner knows the story of Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles to request help from the Spartan army when the Persians landed in Greece. He then ran 25 miles from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens where he announced the Greek victory, and promptly died on the spot from exhaustion. When the modern Olympics began in 1896, it included a “marathon” race inspired by Pheidippides’ (likely fictional) journey. Marathon distances were approximately 25 miles until 1921, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation set the distance to match the course of the 1908 London Olympic marathon. The 1908 marathon route began at Windsor Castle and finished with a lap around the track inside White City Stadium, ending in front of the Royal Box. Any runner who makes it to mile 25 of a marathon and doesn’t think he can run another 1.2 can thank the British royal family for their viewing preferences.

 

And why two hours? In 1991, Mike Joyner concluded that the ideal runner under ideal conditions could complete a marathon in 1 hour, 57 minutes and 58 seconds, and published his findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology. At the time, the world record was 02:06:50. The current world record, set 23 years later by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, is nearly four minutes faster at 02:02:57.
Whether it’s likely that we will see a sub-two hour marathon in the near future is hotly debated. Caesar discusses issues of science, technology, psychology and economics that affect the “ideal runner” and “ideal conditions.” He considers everything from advancements in road pavement, to the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs, to why the Western Rift Valley of Kenya produces such amazing distance runners. Caesar writes extensively about the training and career of accomplished Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai to put a face to the challenge.

 

Two Hours is the perfect book to relax with over the winter, perhaps in anticipation of training for your own spring marathon. Fans of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall will definitely enjoy this as well.


 
 

Between the Covers with Luke Pearson

posted by: November 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for HildaI sat down with British illustrator and comic artist Luke Pearson while he was in town for the Small Press Expo to discuss his recent work and his ongoing graphic novel series, Hilda.  

 

Between the Covers: How has Soft Spot [the animation you’ve been collaborating on with fellow comic artist Phillippa Rice] been going?
Luke Pearson: Phillippa is the driving force behind Soft Spot. All the stop motion stuff is entirely her. I’ve been doing smaller bits within those episodes. We haven’t collaborated that much before, so it’s nice to have something that’s actually both of us. We’re both just kind of experimenting and playing around.

 

BTC: You’ve also joined the pantheon of people working for Adventure Time doing some storyboarding.
LP: I’ve boarded four episodes overall and I’m hoping I can do more at some point. They’re very time consuming because I’ve always done it freelance with quite big gaps in between. It’s quite hard to get back in that mindset.

 

BTC: You’ve spoken before about how you’re inspired by Scandinavian myth in the creation of your own series, Hilda, but I see a lot of original world building and myth making.
LP: The Scandinavian folklore is like a jumping off point really. So much fantasy in general comes from those same stories and people just twist them and reinvent them in their own way. What I was trying to do with that was portray them in a way that is closer to how they are in the oral tales, rather than sticking a grand mythology onto them. There’s tons of stuff in Hilda which is just made up as well. I think as it goes on, it’s evolving into its own thing and the place she lives in has less of a point of reference with a real world place.

 

BTC: Hilda exploring the world seems like a central theme. Are you also figuring out what the rules for that reality are as you go along, or is it building on something you already know?
LP: It’s not really building towards something I already know. There are certain things that I have had locked down in my head from the start, I’m not totally winging it. But I don’t have a big bible that I wrote beforehand with all the stuff in there. I think that would feel counterproductive. As time goes on my tastes and interests change, when I draw each book I want to feel like I can change my mind about things. I’d rather do that than be a slave to this thing I made up five, six years ago that maybe I don’t agree with anymore.

 

BTC: Do you consider your audience as you’re working? Do you censor yourself because you know you need to appeal to kids?
LP: I don’t censor myself because I know they’re not for really little kids. It wouldn’t cross my mind to do a super dark Hilda story. What’s the point? I would just do a different comic. I want it to be a little bit scary and weird. I think kids can handle more than some people can give them credit for. If there’s a scary thing in the story, I want them to actually be scared of it. I don’t want to just put some big, goofy monster in that everyone is acting afraid of but isn’t actually scary. I always aim to resolve things in a way that is comforting.

 

BTC: Your next book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is going to be coming out next year. Is there anything you can share about that project?
LP: It’s a bit different to previous ones in that it’s the first one where I feel like you probably do need to have read at least one of the other ones to get it. I’ve always been reluctant to do that in previous books, I wanted each one to be a standalone thing, but as I get deeper into the series it makes less and less sense. I feel like people enjoy the way the world is growing and it feels like a shame to gloss over all the other things.  The start of the book will be the kind of things Hilda’s been getting up to. Hilda has so many magical-ish friends and tricky ways that her mom is getting slightly irate. She’s off on adventures all the time, possibly covering up how dangerous they may or may not be. It will be the first story where Hilda and her mum actually go on an adventure together.

 

BTC: I really like the way you’ve been portraying their dynamic. They’re obviously parent and child but they get along and it’s not stereotypical, you convey a more complex relationship.
LP: I’ve just naturally become more interested in exploring the mom character. She was just there in the first couple of books to explain how Hilda exists in the world, because she can’t live on her own. That character’s just been evolving to the point where, in this one, they’re co-leads. It’s tricky to do but I want the child reader to slowly pick up on the fact that she’s not just a mom, she is a person. It seems like in a lot of children’s fiction the parent is just a source of comfort or a source of antagonism and that’s it. They’re like a caricature. I like the idea of a kid empathizing and relating to the mom in a personal way rather than relating their idea of their mom. It’s hard to see your own parents like that until you get older.

 

BTC:  Are you finding any of your own childhood emerging when you’re writing?
LP: I had a pretty comfortable, pleasant childhood but stuff does kind of come through. The last book all the stuff where she joins the Sparrow Scouts, that was kind of based on my experience as a scout.

 

BTC: Did you enjoy scouts?
LP: Yes and no, which I think I was trying to get across for Hilda. I like the idea of it and I did have fun at times, but I also didn’t enjoy it that much for not quite the same reasons as Hilda. I was just always very shy. I liked messing around but I always felt like I wasn’t very good at actual, legitimate scout stuff. As a kid I basically only enjoyed sitting and drawing and making stuff up.

 

BTC: What are you reading right now?
LP: I’m actually reading the Earthsea series for the first time. It’s really good. I’ve only read the first book so far but it’s incredible. I’ve had this boxed set since I was a kid, I think they were my mom’s. I’ve been carrying them around forever.

The next Hilda book, Hilda and the Stone Forest, is due to be released in Spring of 2016.

Liz

Liz

 
 

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