Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Judging a book by its cover-- Oscar de Murial’s A Fever of the Blood

Jacket design by Derek Thornton/Faceout Studio
Imagery: Arcangel and Shutterstock
Pegasus Books

A Fever of the Blood is the second book in the historical Frey & McGray crime series. Set in Edinburgh in 1889, the novel blends mystery, horror, and history in a story about two mismatched detectives. The original cover, which can be seen on a version published under Penguin’s Michael Joseph imprint, had a very different feel and has the retro feel of a steampunk-themed Tarot card deck.

Faceout Studio designer Derek Thornton went for a very different feel for his wonderfully tactile cover.

“This cover was deeply inspired by scenes and elements in the story. When I started designing we decided we wanted this cover to be dramatic, atmospheric and elegant. Even though this cover seems to be made of one dramatic image, it’s actually a composite of multiple images: a handmade snow texture, an image of highlands, the circle art that interacts with the figure, and the hooded figure of course. The final book was finished with a rounded emboss on the type, and pearlescent shimmering stock creating a beautiful final printed package.”

Faceout Studio has designed numerous covers across genres, producing striking jackets for everything from cookbooks to lit fic as well as genre covers including the 50th anniversary edition of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Sebastian Fitzek’s The Nightwalker, Gard Ven’s Hell is Open, Matt Goldman’s Gone to Dust, Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars, Adam Mitzner’s Dead Certain, and Luca Veste’s Dead Gone.
Outside of design Derek loves spending time with his wife and three kids, playing sub-genres of metal on his seven-string guitar, and dreaming of future tattoo endeavors.

DISARM...a gun sense anthology

I wrote an essay for this charity anthology, which was originally called Disarm, a gun control anthology. I am not sure why the publishers changed that one word, but either way--this collection of fiction and non-fiction and poetry is all about the gun problem we have in the United States. Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will go to Everytown for Gun Safety. You can purchase the ebook now, the paperback version will be available early in May.

I don't know what it's going to take to change the gun culture in this country, especially with a president who is in the pocket of the NRA, but I hope the pieces in this book will help change the conversation.

April's Almost Over!

"April is the cruellest month." T. S. Eliot begins his epic poem "The Waste Land" with those words and if you know nothing else of Eliot, you have probably heard those lines. For me, April really is the worst month of the year. It begins with April Fool's Day, continues with tax day, and in general, it's kind of a meh month. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is a month filled with more rain than sunshine and the temperatures can range from mid-40s to a raw high 20s at night. By April 30th, I am weary of winter. When I woke up to yet another dreary day today, I found myself wondering if anything exceptional had ever happened on April 30th. 

Few dates end up being memorable because something good happened that day. (The only exception that readily comes to mind is July 20, 1969, the date of the first moon landing.) But if you check out sites like The People History (sic.), you can find out that almost any day offers a catalogue of catastrophe. For instance, on various April ths, Adolf Hitler committed suicide, the first oil from the Deepwater Horizon hit the shore, Iran nationalized their oil fields, Nixon's cronies resigned in the wake of Watergate, tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed by a fan, there was a nail bomb attack in London, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, and 100 people died after a ferry sank in India. Aieeeee.

And if you look for books that have "April" in the title, the first one that comes up is April Morning by Howard Fast, a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a Revolutionary War battle.
Even when I read this book as a kid, I knew someone I cared about was going to die. And sure enough...

But then there's The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It's literary women's fiction, a genre I don't read all that often, but probably should. It's a wonderful character study of four women whose lives are changed by a vacation in an Italian castle. I skipped the movie when it came out because I thought it was going to be another gorgeous but ponderous Merchant/Ivory production, but now that I've read the book, I'll have to hunt it down on Netflix. And next April,  I may have to take a vacation in Italy myself.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Reading road trip...Kansas

Kentucky was once known as "the dark and bloody ground" but to my mind, it's Kansas that deserves that appelation. We tend to think of Kansas as the birthplace of Dorothy Gale and the starting point of the Wizard of Oz, but it is equally the place where, 1959, a family named Clutter was murdered by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. A chronicle of that crime became famous as the first "non-fiction novel" and In Cold Blood catapulted writer Truman Capote to literary stardom.

Kansas is also the setting of Ann Rule's true-crime best seller, Bitter Harvest. Like so many of Rule's books, this one revolves around a seemingly perfect woman (a doctor with her own medical practice, a physician husband, three loving children) who isn't what she seems to be.

Sara Paretsky set her stand-alone novel, Bleeding Kansas, in the state where she was born, and in her introduction and "background" to the book, she talks about what her Kansas childhood meant.

reading road trip...Iowa

January 18, 1988 was a bitterly cold Iowa day.  VICKI MYRON is not a morning person anyway and cold mornings are especially trying for her. As the new director of the Spencer Public Library, however, it’s her duty to open up.  She’s puttering around as the rest of her staff arrives and then her colleague JEAN goes to empty the book-drop box.  There she finds a tiny kitten so cold and filthy that Vicki can’t believe it’s still alive.  
And so begins the story of Dewey, the small town library cat. It's no secret that I am fond of cats, orange cats in particular, but I don't as a rule, read animal stories. I was paid to read this one, however, as possible fodder for a movie, and it absolutely charmed me. Spencer, Iowa was a town that had fallen on tough times and this story of how the town rallied around the cat, how the library became a "third space" for the community, and how a scroungy little orange kitten became a symbol of hope is worth reading. 
Another great book set in Iowa is Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, which is a retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear. I'm fond of Shakespeare retellings--I'm currently reading Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed, her version of Macbeth--and Lear has always seemed to me one of Shakespeare's most timeless plays. (It's kind of hard to relate to Timon of Athens these days.)

 An unnamed town in Iowa is the unlikely setting of Grasshopper Jungle, a dystopian YA novel of survival after an apocalypse. Written by Andrew Smith, the novel won a couple of awards when it came out in 2015, and it is a styish, emotional, sometimes hilarious chronicle of the end of the world and a coming-of-age story. Smith's first novel was the equally well-received Ghost Medicine, another story of adventure and friendship.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Reading road trip...Indiana

For some reason a ton of cozy mystery series take place in Indiana, where the state motto is "Crossroads of America." Probably the best-known are those by Ralph McInerny who also wrote as "Monica Quill." These include the Notre Dame mystery series and the Andrew Broom mystery series. McInerney is also the author of the 28 "Father Dowling" mysteries, which are set in Illinois. He was incredibly prolific, and in addition to his fiction, wrote poetry and books of philosophy and theology.

At the other end of the spectrum is Frank Bill's stunning debut collection of short stories, Crimes in Aouthern Indiana. His part of hte state is inhabited by desperate losers who commit acts of unspeakable violence for reasons they barely understand themselves. Dog-fighting, meth-making, survivalist characters make this "pulp-noir" book an instant classic.

For an earlier generation, though, Indiana was the setting for the gentle classic The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West. Based on the author's memories of growing up Quaker in a southern Indian far removed from Bill's, the novel was published in 1945 and made into a movie with Gary Cooper in 1956. (The screenplay of the movie was written by Michael Wilson, one of the so-called "Hollywood Ten" who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era for his political beliefs.)

A book that's been on my TBR pile for a while now is She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indian, a fictionalized memoir by  Haven Kimmel, it chronicles the adventures of a woman increasingly dissatisfied by her life who decides to do something about it. This is shelved next to The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, another book about a woman with gumption. I come from a long line of women with gumption and i like reading about them.

North Korea, a reading list

North Korea is in the news right now and for most people, impressions of "the Hermit Kingdom" are mostly gleaned from news stories and old M*A*S*H reruns. There was a chilling collection of photographs smuggled out of the country a few years ago and the story those stark images told was dire--child laborers, malnourished people gathering grass to eat. Here's a list of books offering more perspective:

1.  The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story. the author, Hyeonseo Lee still lives in South Korea, where she's an activist. You can follow her on Instagram(@hyeonseolee) and Twitter (@HyeonseoLeeNK)

2.  Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman. As you might imagine, this is one tough read. The author was arrested on false charges, held and tortured for a year until she finally confessed and then served more than a decade in one of the most inhumane prison systems in the world. Soon OK Lee now lives in South Korea.

There are actually dozens of memoirs of defectors. Others include: In Order to Live. Dear Leader:  My Escape from North Korea, Stars Between the Sun and the Moon: One Woman's Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom, and A Thousand Miles to Freedom.

3.  A Corpse in the Koryo. This is the first of the Inspector O novels by James Church, mysteries set against the backdrop of North Korea's totalitarian regime. The books have been compared to Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir books about Nazi Germany and Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park and other Arkady Renko novels.

4.  The Orphan Master's Son. This epic novel about North Korea won Adam Johnson a Pulitzer Prize. It's the kind of story made for a miniseries, or a movie like The Last Emperor. It may remind readers of the work of writer Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon...a review

The true story of a federal investigator who broke a murderous conspiracy orchestrated by a white businessman who was murdering Osage Indians in order to acquire their oil lease money.

This is a story that has a little bit of everything—sex, murder, greed, money, racial politics. The author (who also wrote the terrific LOST CITY OF Z), takes pains to place us into time and place as the story begins, and there are hints of Osage ritual in Anna’s funeral that are both visual and moving. (Mollie’s family practices a blend of Catholicism and Osage tradition.)

He also takes his time setting up his characters, particularly the complex, charismatic William Hale, a white businessman known as “the King of the Osage Hills. The “plot’ has a lot of moving parts and there are wheels within wheels turning here.

The family relationships of both the whites and the Osage are complicated. And the people are equally complicated. Bill Smith, a white man, was a horse thief before marrying a wealthy Osage woman. He was known to “raise his hand to her” and to say to other white men that hitting his woman was the only way to handle a squaw. (Like the other white men married to Osage, Bill was called a “squaw man.”) But when the murders started happening and his mother-in-law died in the exact same way that his first wife, Bill genuinely wanted to get to the bottom of it.