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Monday, October 25, 2010

In Progress: 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me'

Kate Bernheimer's new anthology, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, is a remarkable showcase of the very old and the very new, and how the very new awakens very old memories.

The Penguin anthology of original fairy tales brings together a talented roster of authors, from Aimee Bender and Joyce Carol Oates to Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham and Chris Adrian.

One of the stories that showcases this ability for the new to awaken the old is Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's The Erlking. A young child, at a folky faire held by a private school, sees an enticing, scary and entirely fascinating stranger. Her mother doesn't see this man. This mysterious figure both repels and attracts the child, who is on the cusp of discovery.

Bynum's descriptions of what both the mother and child are thinking and feeling are the very stuff of fairy tale anticipation balanced against the mundane activities of modern domesticity. And that quiet, central character? He brings to mind not only the characters created by Angela Carter and Schubert that Bynum references, but also brought back the feelings from reading the classic Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and a certain character in my beloved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

And that is a great measure of the value of fairy tales. They may be a story you've never heard before, but there is something about them that you recognize deep within yourself. They connect you to things you've always known but may have never recognized before.

Congratulations to Ms. Bernheimer for bringing this anthology into being and for her work in having the value of fairy tales recognized, which she writes about in the anthology's introduction.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: 'The Brutal Telling'

In honor of Louise Penny's Anthony win at Bouchercon this week for her brilliant novel, here is my review of it from last year:

THE BRUTAL TELLING
By Louise Penny
Crime fiction
October 2009
Minotaur Books
ISBN: 978-0-312-37703-8

Three Pines, setting of Louise Penny's enjoyable, thoroughly Canadian series, has been a bit like Brigadoon. Not many people seem to find it or recognize its original beauty once there.

But those who do discover Three Pines have gloried in their personal journeys, secure that they are living in a place where they are valued for being their eccentric, quirky selves. Although there have been murders on a scale to rival Cabot Cove, the cast of continuing characters has been safe.

Until now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: 'The Vaults'

THE VAULTS
By Toby Ball
Historical crime fiction
September 2010
St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-58073-5

Arthur Puskis has devoted his life to the Vaults, the repository of all the official records of The City at the height of its rough-and-tumble, pre-war days. The orderliness, the routine, the proven veracity of his work provides all his existence requires. Until the day he discovers a file has been duplicated.

Ethan Poole is a tough guy trying to redeem himself after a crooked career in the ring. Now a PI, he blackmails corrupt city leaders and loves a fiery union organizer.
Top newspaper reporter Francis Frings, paramour of nightclub singer extraordinaire Nora Aspen, hears from a top city leader who has had enough and is ready to sing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: 'Revolution'

REVOLUTION
By Jennifer Donnelly
YA Novel
October 2010
Delacorte Press
ISBN: 978-0-385-73763-0

Andi Alpers is one of a group of very smart, very talented, very privileged teens at a private school in Brooklyn. They begin their days self-medicating to dull the pain of being very smart, very talented and very privileged.

However, Andi, a promising musician, has real pain. She watched her little brother die in the street and she knows it was her fault.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: 'Best American Noir of the Century'

THE BEST AMERICAN NOIR OF THE CENTURY Edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler
Crime fiction anthology
October 2010
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0547330778

It's dark, it's going to end badly and there is probably a dangerous woman involved. Must be noir.

Otto Penzler, working with James Ellroy, has brought together stories to define this narrow niche of bleak crime literature with a new anthology. The Best American Noir of the Century has some of the usual suspects and some surprises (especially in its reliance on recent fiction, a successful reliance). Some of the endings are more O. Henry than James M. Cain, but nearly every story has something to recommend it being discovered by a new audience or rediscovered by a reader more steeped in noir. This is more than a collection of stories to dip into; this is a reference work for anyone interested in crime fiction to delve into often.


The collection begins with a classic that leaves no hope for sunshine. Tod Robbins's story Spur was the inspiration for the film Freaks, directed by Tod Browning of Dracula fame. The story of a little man with a big heart who loves the wrong woman is as creepy and eerie as any old European fairy tale, and is very different from the film. A truly inspired choice from 1923 for the opener.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: 'Rogue Males'

In honor of Stephen J. Cannell's passing, here's my review of Craig McDonald's absorbing Rogue Males. His conversation with Cannell is a wonderful thing to read; I got a great sense of what a great fella Cannell had to have been.

ROGUE MALES: Conversations & Confrontations About the Writing Life
By Craig McDonald
Nonfiction (interviews of mystery writers)
May 2009
Bleak House Books
ISBN: 978-1-932557-45-9


Often, those who are not writers can be bored stiff at the idea of reading what writers think about their craft. Thanks to the writers chosen by Craig McDonald to talk about their work, Rogue Males is instead a treasure of what makes fiction -- especially crime fiction -- matter.

Whether it's James Ellroy talking about his tortured past and plans of future greatness (just before he decided not to give interviews any more), Max Allan Collins and Stephen J. Cannell being honest about scriptwriting, the late James Crumley discussing writers he admires or Tom Russell telling why music matters, Rogue Males is filled with riveting people giving honest views on what matters to them when it comes to writing and, through those revelations, what matters in life.