Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015 RITA Winners

The RITA® Awards - the highest award of distinction in romance fiction—recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas.

Listed below are a selection of the 2015 RITA winners.  Please visit their website to see the full list of winners.

Contemporary Romance: Long Winner
Baby It's You by Jane Graves

Contemporary Romance: Mid-length Winner
One in a Million by Jill Shalvis

Contemporary Romance: Short Winner
A Texas Rescue Christmas by Caro Carson

Erotic Romance Winner
The Saint by Tiffany Reisz

Historical Romance: Long Romance Winner
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran

Historical Romance: Short Romance Winner
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

Inspirational Romance Winner
Deceived by Irene Hannon

Paranormal Romance Winner
Evernight by Kristen Callihan

Romantic Suspense Winner
Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

Young Adult Romance Winner
Boys Like You by Juliana Stone

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reading Obituaries I love trivia! Never challenge a librarian -- never mind a reference librarian-- to a game of Trivia Pursuit. Mind you I must admit I have lost at this game but only because I have bad luck landing on the pies.

Speaking of trivia, I have discovered a new set of books on a particular subject that most people would shun: obituaries and last words. There are even conferences for obituary writers and collectors of obituaries, most notably the Great Obituary Writers International Conference. Without these books how would I have discovered that two wonderful voices from Pooh; Paul Winchell, (the voice of Tigger) died a day apart from John Fielder (the voice of Piglet). Or that presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th , 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence.

In obituaries you can find out who was the genius behind sea-monkeys (Harold von Brauhut) or about Opal Petty. She spent decades in a mental hospital because her Baptist parents did not want her to go out dancing. A church exorcism didn’t work so the family committed her, even though her friends and neighbours didn’t think there was anything wrong with Opal.

Some of the best obituaries are of ordinary joes. My favorite is: "Described fondly as demanding, disorganized, unpunctual and “dotty”....was at the same time intelligent , loving, witty, supportive and loyal and obsessed with buying bags, jewelry and shoes”. Or “Agate, population 70, is one of those towns that people describe as “blink and you’ll miss it”. Lois A. Engel loved living in the blink.” Can you just picture these women?

To learn more random trivia from obituaries, try these books:

The Dead Beat: lost souls, lucky stiffs and the perverse pleasure of obituaries by Marilyn Johnson.

"A journalist who's written obituaries of Princess Di and Johnny Cash, Johnson counts herself among the obit obsessed, one who subsists on the "tiny pieces of cultural flotsam to profound illuminations of history" gathered from obits from around the world, which she reads online daily-sometimes for hours. Her quirky, accessible book starts at the Sixth Great Obituary Writers' International Conference, where she meets others like herself... Johnson handles her offbeat topic with an appropriate level of humor, while still respecting the gravity of mortality-traits she admires in the best obit writers, who have "empathy and detachment; sensitivity and bluntness." ~ Publisher's Weekly

52 McGs: the best obituaries from legendary New York Times writers Robert McG Thomas Jr. Edited by Chris Calhoun.

"A "lover of the farfetched and the overlooked," as novelist Mallon puts it in his appreciative introduction, the late New York Times reporter Robert McG. Thomas Jr. (1939-2000) developed a loyal following for quirky, witty obituaries that illuminated the lives of people not automatically destined for "the Newspaper of Record." This highly browsable collection of 52 obits shows Thomas at his deadline best." ~ Publisher's Weekly

Last Laughs: funny tombstone quotes and famous last words by Kathleen Miller.

"Who really gets the last word? The one who writes your epitaph, that's who-and to make matters worse, most of the time it's written in stone."
~ publisher

Monday, July 27, 2015

Biographies: Writing Women

Sometimes the only thing better than reading a book by your favourite author is reading a book about your favourite author. I've been coming across a lot of interesting looking author biographies of late - though reviews, radio interviews and other sources. Whether modern day or historical, literary or popular, reading an author biography is not only a great way to learn about that author's life, but also to see their writing in a whole new light.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller: the author of the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged has seen a resurgence in popularity of late. This is one of two well reviewed biographies of her to surface in the last two years (the other being Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns).

Flannery: a life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch.

The Blue Hour : a life of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini: "This groundbreaking biography of Jean Rhys--best known for her 1966 "Wide Sargasso Sea"--examines the life of the psychologically traumatized novelist who forever changed the way readers interpret women in fiction." (library catalogue).

Louisa May Alcott: the woman behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen.

L.M. Montgomery by Jane Urquhart: part of the Penguin series Extraordinary Canadians.

Maya Angelou: a glorious celebration by Marcia Gillespie: biography of the poet and author with photographs and letters.

The Talented Miss Highsmith : the secret life and serious art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar: a look into the fascinating and sometimes bizarre life of the author of the Talented Mr. Ripley series.

Muriel Spark: the biography by Martin Stannard: a look into the life of one of Scotland's most important 20th Century writers.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Recent Eco-Thrillers

White Plague by James Abel

"In the remote, frozen waters of the Arctic Ocean, the high-powered and technically advanced submarine U.S.S. Montana is in peril. Adrift and in flames, the boat—and the entire crew—could be lost. The only team close enough to get to them in time is led by Marine doctor and bio-terror expert Joe Rush. With only thirty-six hours before the surviving crew perish, Joe and his team must race to rescue the Montana and ensure that the boat doesn’t fall into enemy hands. Because a fast-approaching foreign submarine is already en route, and tensions may explode. But that’s the least of their troubles. For the surviving sailors are not alone on the sub. Something is trapped with them. Something deadly lethal. Something that plagued mankind long ago, when it devastated the entire world. And the crew of the Montana has unknowingly set it free. " publisher

Ark Storm by Linda Davies

"The Ark Storm is coming—a catastrophic weather event that will unleash massive floods and wreak more damage on California than the feared “Big One.” One man wants to profit from it. Another wants to harness it to wage jihad on American soil. One woman stands in their way: Dr. Gwen Boudain, a brave and brilliant meteorologist." publisher

Blackmail Earth by Bill Evans

"The Morning Show’s star meteorologist, Jenna Withers, reports on the blistering conditions of a nationwide drought every day.  But nothing this alluring young woman has ever experienced can prepare her for the terrifying intersection of extreme weather and extreme politics. After Jenna receives a controversial appointment to a special White House task force on geoengineering, she learns about a lot more than the President’s desire to use technology to address global warming.  Through old contacts, Jenna hears that Muslim extremists in the Maldives have begun to publicly blame the West for the rising seas that imperil the tiny Pacific island nation.  They are planning a suicide bombing that could lead to a sudden and disastrous cooling of the planet. Rick Birk, an aging, alcoholic colleague of Jenna’s, is dispatched to report on the turmoil in the Maldives. To his—and everyone else’s—shock, he becomes a central – and bizarre – figure in the unfolding panic." publisher

Don't Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong

"Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is offered a bit of luxury by friends and supporters within the Party - a week's vacation at a luxurious resort near Lake Tai, a week where he can relax, and recover, undisturbed by outside demands or disruptions. Unfortunately, the once beautiful Lake Tai, renowned for its clear waters, is now covered by fetid algae, its waters polluted by toxic runoff from local manufacturing plants. Then the director of one of the manufacturing plants responsible for the pollution is murdered and the leader of the local ecological group is the primary suspect of the local police. Now Inspector Chen must tread carefully if he is to uncover the truth behind the brutal murder and find a measure of justice for both the victim and the accused." publisher

Ice Fire by David Lyons

"In this explosive debut thriller, a judge from the Louisiana bayou goes up against a company on the verge of causing an ecological disaster.  Cajun-born Jock Boucher has overcome modest beginnings to assume the prestigious position of U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana. One of his first cases on the bench involves a scientist who has been hiding in mortal fear for more than twenty years. The fugitive claims that another judge accepted bribes and helped a relentless global energy company steal his intellectual property: a way to recover energy from below the subsea bed that could end America’s dependence on foreign oil. Boucher takes on the company and its powerful founder, risking not only his judicial career but his life. He follows a trail of cryptic clues to the bottom of the ocean, and soon finds himself the target of killers—and too far from the law to ever return. " publisher

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Biographies: Writing Men

Sometimes the only thing better than reading a book by your favourite author is reading a book about your favourite author. I've been coming across a lot of interesting looking author biographies of late - though reviews, radio interviews and other sources. Whether modern day or historical, literary or popular, reading an author biography is not only a great way to learn about that author's life, but also to see their writing in a whole new light.

The Bard: Robert Burns, a biography by Robert Crawford: there's more to the life of the famous Scottish poet than the Address to a Haggis and a good excuse to drink whiskey in January

Cheever: a life by Blake Bailey: Booklist Magazine gave this a starred review and said it is "riveting from page 1, this is the literary biography of the season and will be talked about for years to come". A popular post-war American author who wrote of contemporary American life, Cheever is not a household name anymore, but perhaps this biography will pique your interest

Haunted Heart: the life and times of Steven King by Lisa Rogak

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll : discovering the whimsical, thoughtful and sometimes lonely man who created Alice in Wonderland by Jenny Woolf

Mordecai Richler by M.J. Vassanji: part of the Penguin Books series Extraordinary Canadians

Pulitzer: A life in politics, print and power by James McGrath Morris: you've probably heard of the literary prizes that bear his name, but what do you know of the journalist himself?

Raymond Carver : a writer's life by Carol Sklenicka

Friday, July 24, 2015

Staff Picks - Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell is catnip for the polymath. Written in a narrative style which is certain to please even die-hard fiction readers, Outliers presents a series of theories regarding success. This is excellent reading before going to a party. While reading, I found myself spouting off Gladwell's ideas, much like Cliff Clavin at Cheers.

Outliers, themselves, are people who have achieved extraordinary success. (Think The Beatles and Bill Gates). Their success is due to many more factors than merely innate talent or a high IQ. Gladwell theorizes that success is due to a combination of many factors. Just as there is no one cause to a plane crash (many things have to go wrong before the plane drops out of the sky), many things have to go right before a person can be wildly successful. They must have innate ability. They must be born to a culture that fosters their ability. They must have family and friends that support their dreams. They must be born in a community that has access to the things they need in terms of education and resources. And most random of all, they must be born when the time is just right for them to exploit their skills.

The sheer randomness of this theory makes you pause. A hockey player is more successful if born in the early part of the year; the most successful computer programmers were born in the 1950s; children of Jewish immigrants in the first part of the twentieth century (children of garment workers) went on to become doctors and lawyers, and so on.

Add talent and merit to these circumstances and you still don't have enough to achieve success. Next you must have dedication and perseverance. Ten thousand hours is the magical number. Gladwell claims that the Beatles would not have achieved their success had they not gone to Hamburg and play eight hours a day, seven days a week. Most important of all is to have the vision to seize the opportunities put in front of you. Bill Gates managed to put in his ten thousand hours of computer programming in the 1960's when computer time was not only expensive, but most difficult to access.

You may not agree with all of Gladwell's theories, but I'm sure you will find this to be a thought provoking read which explores the subtleties and eccentricities of human nature.

If you enjoy reading books which attempt to make sense of society and human nature, you might also like to try this title.:

Traffic: why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt - "In this brilliant, lively, and eye-opening investigation, Tom Vanderbilt examines the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are. He demonstrates why plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents. He uncovers who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. He explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots. Traffic is about more than driving: it's about human nature. It will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, and it may even make us better drivers." - publisher

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In Memorian - E.L. Doctorow

E.L. (Edgar Lawrence) Doctorow, acclaimed American writer, has passed away at the age of 84. Doctorow was born in the Bronx to immigrant parents and the New York setting and the immigrant experience were often a feature of his novel.

Noted by some as a writer of historical fiction, it might be more accurate to say the Doctorow wrote literary fiction that was fueled by and explored the last century of American history. Doctorow was known for his experimental fiction techniques - multiple narrators, unreliable narrators and placing historical characters in unlikely situations. One of his most acclaimed novels, Ragtime, featured Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung riding through a Tunnel of Love in an amusement park. At the time of its publication Kirkus wrote "Ragtime is a great billiard game of events, ideas and personages at the turn of the century, where the real protagonist is America herself captured in the last gasps of complacency and social Darwinism - waging territorial wars abroad for God, country and Mammon, breaking strikes and throwing charity balls at home while WWI hovers in the wings. After this the national identity will never be the same."

In addition to being known for imaginative plotting, Doctorow was also known for his leftist view. In The Book of Daniel, Doctorow, while not speculating on culpability, explored the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953 through their fictionalized son a decade after their deaths. Again Kirkus described it as "a ravaging, riveting experience."

E.L. Doctorow, winner of numerous awards including the PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, published his final novel in 2014 - Andrew's Brain. "Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is thinking, Andrew is talking, Andrew is telling the story of his life, his loves, and the tragedies that have led him to this place and point in time. And as he confesses, peeling back the layers of his strange story, we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves." Discover