Monday, September 29, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: September 30th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 368
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn returns with a Jazz Age tale of grand adventure.

On the verge of a stilted life as an aristocrat's wife, Poppy Hammond does the only sensible thing—she flees the chapel in her wedding gown. Assisted by the handsome curate who calls himself Sebastian Cantrip, she spirits away to her estranged father's quiet country village, pursued by the family she left in uproar. But when the dust of her broken engagement settles and Sebastian disappears under mysterious circumstances, Poppy discovers there is more to her hero than it seems.

With only her feisty lady's maid for company, Poppy secures employment and travels incognita—east across the seas, chasing a hunch and the whisper of clues. Danger abounds beneath the canopies of the silken city, and Poppy finds herself in the perilous sights of those who will stop at nothing to recover a fabled ancient treasure. Torn between allegiance to her kindly employer and a dashing, shadowy figure, Poppy will risk it all as she attempts to unravel a much larger plan—one that stretches to the very heart of the British government, and one that could endanger everything, and everyone, that she holds dear."

While I enjoy the Lady Julia books, Deanna Raybourn has really found her niche with these newer books. Adore them!

Murder at Marble House by Alyssa Maxwell
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: September 30th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With the dawn of the twentieth century on the horizon, the fortunes of the venerable Vanderbilt family still shine brightly in the glittering high society of Newport, Rhode Island. But when a potential scandal strikes, the Vanderbilts turn to cousin and society page reporter Emma Cross to solve a murder and a disappearance. . .

Responding to a frantic call on her newfangled telephone from her eighteen-year-old cousin, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Emma Cross arrives at the Marble House mansion and learns the cause of her distress--Consuelo's mother, Alva, is forcing her into marriage with the Duke of Marlborough. Her mother has even called in a fortune teller to assure Consuelo of a happy future.

But the future is short-lived for the fortune teller, who is found dead by her crystal ball, strangled with a silk scarf. Standing above her is one of the Vanderbilts' maids, who is promptly taken into police custody. After the frenzy has died down, Consuelo is nowhere to be found. At Alva's request, Emma must employ her sleuthing skills to determine if the vanishing Vanderbilt has eloped with the beau of her choice--or if her disappearance may be directly connected to the murder. . ."

Ever since reading The American Heiress, I'm now kind of obsessed with Gilded Age Newport.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
Published by: Henry Holt and Co
Publication Date: September 30th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"One of the most accomplished, acclaimed, and garlanded writers, Hilary Mantel delivers a brilliant collection of contemporary stories.

In The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel’s trademark gifts of penetrating characterization, unsparing eye, and rascally intelligence are once again fully on display.

Stories of dislocation and family fracture, of whimsical infidelities and sudden deaths with sinister causes, brilliantly unsettle the reader in that unmistakably Mantel way.

Cutting to the core of human experience, Mantel brutally and acutely writes about marriage, class, family, and sex. Unpredictable, diverse, and sometimes shocking, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers."

More for the cover then the book, though I'm sure that's awesome. But the cover... it repels me and attracts me at once...

The Penguin Book of Witches by Katherine Howe
Published by: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: September 30th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Chilling real-life accounts of witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft."

And JUST in time for the beginning of the witching season!

Friday, September 26, 2014


When I was little I didn't know what a bookstore was, being only familiar with libraries. When my family was on vacation in Door County, a good six hour drive from my home, we went to a bookstore and my parents bought me a Babar book. We were getting ready to go home and we were taking the book with us. I was so confused. I was so worried about how we'd get it back to the "library" on time, being convinced that no one could own a book outright. The revelation that you could have books that you kept obviously changed my life. So therefore I will now present to you "libraries" where you get to keep the books!

If you're anything like me you can't be content just looking at sights when visiting a new city, you need to add to your bookshelf. Not only is it a new world to explore locked between a front and back cover, but it is a souvenir of your time away from home. I know this need to own more books is a condition that is almost worthy of professional help, but I've decided to embrace it, because it's not like I have any other vices! New York has one of the most famous bookstores in the world, The Strand. Located a few blocks northeast of Washington Square Park at 828 Broadway, on the corner of Broadway and East 12th Street is this hallowed bookstore.

The Strand literally boasts miles and miles of books.While I personally have no way to confirm or deny the exact mileage of the books being eighteen, I can guess it is pretty accurate. The first time I saw The Strand I was down at Union Square Park and my friend Orelia and I were hungry and we wandered into a restaurant that happened to be right across the street from the bookstore. I don't know what reason prevented me from going in, but it wasn't until later that year when I returned to New York that I finally made the pilgrimage.

What I remember most about The Strand is that on entering there was this lovely pillar and around it was where they displayed their more reasonably priced collector's edition. Needless to say I kind of hovered there and this is where most of my purchases were made. Signed editions of books, like Alistair Cooke's autobiography, which was actually a present for my father, made their way into my shopping cart. And yes, I do remember where I bought books almost a decade ago, don't you?

The thing you have to realize on going into The Strand is that you are going into a maze. Plan ahead, bring provisions (aka lists of books you're looking for) or you might easily be overwhelmed. I am very lucky in that Madison is a veritable book haven, with amazing used stores such as Frugal Muse. This means that I have very high standards in my bookstores. Aside from the collector's section I was actually a little underwhelmed by the store. Perhaps this is more because I didn't find any of the rare books I often hunt for. One hopes upon going to the mecca of bookstores that you will find that one book you can never find anywhere else, but alas it wasn't to be. Yet a used bookstore isn't entirely to blame for this. They are at the mercy of what people bring in to sell. So I blame the New Yorkers who hold onto all their cool books and don't let bookish tourists like me get them for their own collections!

The most interesting thing I found at The Strand was their rare book room. Having the room isn't strange, this is one of the biggest bookstores in the world, what I found strange was the rules. I had to check all my belongings, sign a waiver that if I did anything to any book I would pay for it. I was so scared at this point that I basically walked around the upper room with my hands tightly behind my back for fear of damaging something. The room felt too much like a library where you knew the librarian would never let you check out a book no matter how sweetly you asked, and yes, I had one such librarian at my grade school growing up, and yes, she was a nun, a very scary nun. As for the books on display on various tables? Traps to lure you into staying! Seeing as at this time I was applying for grad school I couldn't afford anything there, in fact even if I won the lottery I probably couldn't afford anything there, so I calmly backed out, made my more reasonable purchases and moved a few doors down to the comic shop, and yes, they do have a Forbidden Planet in New York!

If you think that the store itself might be too tempting or overwhelming, or dare I say, too Downtown (note to self, stop typing Downton), there's a stall for you! The Strand operates a book kiosk on 5th Avenue on the Central Park side across from The Pierre Hotel (which has an awesome afternoon tea FYI, get their house blend and don't be afraid to ask for more sandwiches). So for those feint of heart or those easily tempted, make your way to 5th Avenue and East 60th Street, open 10AM to Dusk, weather permitting of course. But don't forget, that The Strand is just one of many bookstores, and I mean many. I had planned on checking out a great many of these, but, alas, it wasn't to be. But the joy of New York is just stumbling on a store and walking in, you can find the best places this way, places you never knew existed. Of course if you are more organized, as I obviously am to a psychotic degree, just google New York Bookstores and you will get an amazing array of places throughout the city, places that I hope you and me will one day visit.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A World Without Mitfords

Deborah Mitford has died. This is the first time in over a hundred years that we haven't had a Mitford sibling still in the world, and it will be a far sadder place because of it. As the luminaries of the world, from celebs to royalty step forward to share their grief, I say pick up a book (even if she claimed she wasn't a reader) and enjoy the life that Debo lived, chronicled in many tomes. For what is death but the period at the end of a great life story. The last of the Mitfords shall forever be remembered, for her love of animals, chickens in particular. Here's to Debo! 31st of March 1920 to 24th of September 2014.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


The wonderful thing about New York, aside from an amazing literary history that can be found in the haunts of all the authors that have walked the streets of this thriving metropolis, is that the city has amazing institutes where the works of these great authors are housed. I'm talking about libraries folks! Now, because you are just visiting New York do not think this rules out libraries. Yes, you do have to live there and have a library card to check out books, but that doesn't mean you can't check out the buildings (and the gift shops)! New York City has some of the most beautiful and iconic libraries in the world. Of course there are the more functional and drab libraries, but the main branch, it is truly worthy of it's title as the third largest library in the world. The great edifice is located at 5th Avenue and West 42nd Street, where it is guarded over by Patience and Fortitude, the great lions that any bibliophile should recognize, have they been to New York or not, I mean just look at this month's themed banner.  

But you know what the best part about libraries is? Unlike almost every other location I have mentioned you get to enter and not stand outside imagining what the interior is like! Though I bet the lions would keep you company if you were to remain outside. The entrance hall is that worthy of a grand mansion. While the main hall doesn't have that much natural light, the candelabras give you a sense of entering another world. The hush throughout the building is uncanny. The first time I went to this library it was bucketing down outside and despite being soaking wet and having squeaky shoes I was compelled to walk silently, no matter how hard that feat was.

One thing I do regret about my visit was that I was a little too worried to disturb others to look at some of the amazing reading rooms. If you are quiet and polite, I don't think anyone is going to mind. This is the Rose Main Reading Room. This room is almost two city blocks long and brilliant murals line the ceiling of the most heavenly of skies. Here too you are walking in the steps of great authors. Norman Mailer, Elizabeth Bishop, and E.L. Doctorow have all worked under this painted sky.

What I love most about this edifice is that this kind of detail and grandeur is usually more associated with seats of government, like my State Capital, yet here it is all for knowledge and books! This ceiling is the McGraw Rotunda (though ironically rectangular in shape). Edward Laning did this amazing series of murals as part of the WPA initiative. The concept is The Story of the Recorded Word, from Moses descending with the ten commandments, to Gutenberg showing his famous bible. But overhead Prometheus brings to mankind fire and knowledge stolen from the gods, for which he would be eternally punished. But it still makes a great mural!

The holy grail among libraries in New York though has to be the Morgan Library. The Morgan Library is located at 225 Madison Avenue, between East 36th and 37th Street. This was originally built as the private library of J.P. Morgan, but is now a museum. This is the number one place I want to visit in New York. For the span of years in which I was more frequently visiting New York the library was closed due to a huge renovation project, but thankfully it is now open. What I find amazing is just the number of original manuscripts housed here. Manuscripts that you would think would be elsewhere, like three Gutenberg Bibles, Shelley's notebook, Balzac's works! But then it never does to have preconceptions of where things should be, I should know better then to think Shelley's notebook is somewhere in Italy where he tragically died, after all, who would think all of Tolkien's manuscripts are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? And yes, I have seen them.

I love looking at the "Old Tyme" pictures in black and white before the restoration. This is the library as it was when Doctorow wrote about it in Ragtime. There is something that makes me think of Citizen Kane with the large and opulent fireplace and just the piles and piles of books. At least they are stored nicer then in all those crates in Xanadu.

But what do I really think when I see pictures of this library? Well, my opinion is twofold. One is, OMG the Library from Beauty and the Beast is real. Two is, why won't someone give me a library like this? I mean, in all seriousness, I don't have to have all the original manuscripts, I mean that would be nice... but just to have a place like this? Dream come true! I could easily fit all my books in there and have room for tons more! Like literally, the books could weigh a ton and I'd still have enough space!

And if ever the main room was too opulent and I wanted to slum it a little, there's the "Red Room." All Victorian and lush. Why aren't we building libraries like this anymore? Yes, I know that there are still beautiful libraries being built, but none have that steeped in feeling of history and the gravitas of these two examples. And the best part? These are but two examples! New York has so many other libraries to explore you could spend your entire trip there just going from library to library. Sneaking into the Cooper Hewitt not to see the Design Museum but to go to the gift shop which used to be Andrew Carnegie's library that overlooked Central Park. Little gems like this are out there for you to find and I hope that one day you get the chance to find them!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: September 23rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A collection of essays and other nonfiction from Terry Pratchett, spanning the whole of his writing career from his early years to the present day. With a foreword by Neil Gaiman.

Terry Pratchett has earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series -- but in recent years he has become equally well-known and respected as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer's research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett's non fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf's love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him.

With all the humour and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of the Discworld to speak for himself -- man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orangutans and Dignity in Dying."

The one thing I hate about prolific authors is trying to hunt down ALL their writing, especially those in anthologies. Thank Om that I can get all the Terry Pratchett I need in this new volume!

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: September 23rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling author hailed as “the UK’s answer to Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and Lena Dunham all rolled into one” (Marie Claire) makes her fiction debut with a hilarious yet deeply moving coming of age novel.

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes—but without the dying young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it."

If you are an anglophile, you're far more likely to have heard of Caitlin Moran. Here's to her getting known more stateside!

Wouldn't It Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 23rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins make an incomparable pair of sleuths in the start of a delightful new series.

Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck. After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect. However, Eliza learns that most of Nepommuck’s pupils had a reason to murder their blackmailing teacher. As another suspect turns up dead and evidence goes missing, Eliza and Higgins realize the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to discover which of Nepommuck’s many enemies is the real killer. When all the suspects attend a performance of Hamlet at Drury Lane, Eliza and Higgins don their theatre best and race to upstage a murderer.

This reimagining of George Bernard Shaw’s beloved characters is sheer pleasure. Wouldn’t It Be Deadly transports readers to Edwardian London, from the aristocratic environs of Mayfair to the dangerous back alleys of the East End. Eliza and Henry steal the show in this charming traditional mystery."

The conceit of this amuses me to no end, therefore I think I must check it out!

Reign: The Prophecy by Lily Blake
Published by: Poppy
Publication Date: September 23rd, 2014
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An original novel based on the hit television series, Reign.

Since Mary, Queen of Scotland was a child, the English have wanted her country and her crown. She is sent to France to wed its next king--to save herself and her people. It's a bond that should protect her, but there are forces that conspire...forces of darkness, forces of the heart. Mary's rule, and her life, has never been safe.

Find out what happens to Mary, Francis, Bash, and the rest of the French court after the season one finale.

Long may she reign."

Now, I'm not saying I'm going to pick this up... but Reign is a guilty pleasure of mine...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Eugene O'Neill

The literature of New York can not be discussed without including that most important of writer, the playwright! New York is known for Broadway and Eugene O'Neill was destined to be a part of that history, being literally born for it, coming into this world right in Times Square at the corner of Broadway and 43rd Street, it's now a Starbucks, but at least there's a plaque. The plaque in fact states he is "America's Greatest Playwright" and it is hard to argue with that fact. O'Neill brought the realism of plays that was being employed abroad by Ibsen, Chekhov, and Strindberg, to the United States in plays rich with the American vernacular and people on the fringes of society whose stories would usually end in tragedy and disillusionment. His most famous plays are The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Though I hold a special place in my heart for The Hairy Ape, having read this play for my undergraduate degree in Theatre, and being forever amused by the death by ape ending. I think it's just the idea of having to have a man in an ape suit onstage in the 1920s that makes me laugh and oddly think of Trading Places...

Of all O'Neill's work though it's The Iceman Cometh that many hold most dear, especially if they don't find apes as funny as I do. O'Neill got his idea for this seminal work from hanging out at his local "hell hole" The Golden Swan, and immortalized it and it's owner, Thomas Wallace, in the play. Occasionally O'Neill was known for sleeping one off in Wallace's apartment above the Swan. The Golden Swan was Greenwich Village's seediest yet most influential hangout for the artists and playwrights of the Village. The patrons made the Swan famous, O'Neill being the most famous. Though O'Neill loved to refer to it by it's secondary name, "Hell Hole," and frequented it on and off throughout his life. Sadly it didn't survive the construction of the subway lines under New York that required many buildings to be torn down. 

But as often happens, if something is destroyed in New York it comes back in another form. Oddly enough the seedy bar has taken seed and grown some roots and become a garden. On the site of such former debauchery there is now the Golden Swan Garden. Next to the West 4th Street Courts at West 4th Street and the Avenue of the Americas (aka 6th Avenue) you can enjoy this little slice of wildlife. In fact, after visiting the Garden you can continue east on West 4th Street as it turns into Washington Square South and you'll be passing by Eugene O'Neill's home (think how drunk he was when he couldn't make it the two blocks home)! Sadly NYU has taken over and rebuilt many of the buildings on the south end of the park so 38 Washington Square South doesn't exist anymore, so this is more a tour of buildings that no longer exist. But as I said with Edith Wharton, the whole area around Washington Square Park retains that old world charm, and you can stalk two dead authors at the same time!

But I feel to really pay homage to O'Neill you need to go to Broadway. And I don't mean just to take in a plaque at Starbucks, I mean, go to a show! Sure Broadway is all about the magic of the musical, and I can't deny the lure, having taken in a musical almost every time I have been to New York. But Broadway is so much more. It's plays written by the greatest writers in the world performed by the most amazing talent out there. Yes, it's great to see a play anywhere and to support the arts, but if you want the pinnacle of perfection, the true theatrical experience, then you need to go to New York!

And there is one theatre you should visit above all others, the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Located at 230 West 49th Street, it's between 8th Avenue and Broadway. Six years after O'Neill's death the Coronet Theatre was renamed after him. For awhile another great American Playwright, Neil Simon, owned it, but now it's owned by a theatrical producing company, Jujamcyn Theaters, that owns many other theatres. In recent years it has put on two very well known and successful musicals that seemed a bit outre before the reviews started flooding in, I'm talking about Spring Awakening, and the show that is still there, The Book of Morman. So, when you go to "The Great White Way" think of the fact that it would never have happened, would never have been possible if not for writers like O'Neill, out there putting stories into the world and up onto the boards. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Edith Wharton

When one thinks of old New York and the literary scene you can't help but instantly think of Edith Wharton. Wharton was a writer of great note, she was not only repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence. Friends with many of the literary elite of the day, she was able to combine her insider's view of America's privileged classes with her own insights to create works with depth and a social and psychological conscience. Her books captured New York at the turning of the last century for all readers. What better way to step into the past then to pick up The Age of Innocence and be lost in the doomed affair of Newland Archer and the Countess Olenska? But what is truly amazing about New York is that there are pockets within the city that have barely changed in a hundred years. There are houses and parks that remain just as they are, like they are trapped in a little time bubble. It is just as easy to get lost on a side street and end up in Wharton's world as it is to turn the pages of a book.

Washington Square Park was the epicenter of literature and wealth at the end of the 1800s, before everyone fled uptown. Being in the heart of Greenwich Village, it is still a center for culture, only a little less affluent. Aside from a lack of gallows, this park located at the end of 5th Avenue could easily be the same as it was when Wharton looked out her windows. A few years back when I was visiting New York I was in search of the old city and was on my way to the Merchant's House Museum, which is a mere five blocks away from Washington Square Park, so obviously the park became part of this visit. While this isn't about that museum visit I still have to mention it because it was amazing and perfect for those looking for lost New York in that it is one of the only houses still exactly as it was when it was built in 1832. Plus if you visit in the fall, which I did, they deck the whole place out in Victorian mourning, which was beyond fascinating. But I doubt their claims that the house is haunted, I'm pretty good at picking up on the weird vibes, and I felt nothing, aside from being freaked out by a mannequin in a bed.

Anyway, back to Washington Square. While yes, the arch does dominate the scene, I found myself entranced by the luscious red brick buildings that surround the park. Of course it was one of these buildings that Wharton lived in. Before leaving the city of her birth and building The Mount up in Massachusetts, she lived at 7 Washington Square North. As Wharton sat in her house she could look out and see Robert Lewis Stevenson talking to Mark Twain, as they met there in 1888. Many artists from the Hudson River School might have dropped by the park to paint it. At the nearby Hotel Albert, 23 East 10th Street, three blocks away from the park on the corner of University Place and East 10th Street, everyone from Walt Whitman to William Faulkner were mingling. Wharton had the cream of the literary crop always a moment away.

There is a feeling in the park that I can't describe, an old and a new coming together to form that ineffable feeling that is what makes New York so unique and indescribable all at the same time. This painting captures for me that feeling in a way my words will always fail. Looking at this gorgeous painting Wharton's house would be that building on the right of the arc. She was there. She was in the center of it all. She is, in my mind, what true Literary New York is and always will be.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 16th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fee, fie, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman...

Even though Agatha Raisin loathes amateur dramatics, her friend Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife, has persuaded her to support the local pantomime. Stifling a yawn at the production of "Babes in the Woods," Agatha watches the baker playing an ogre strut and threaten on the stage, until a trapdoor opens and the Ogre disappears in an impressive puff of smoke. Only he doesn't re-appear at final curtain.

Surely this isn't the way the scene was rehearsed? When it turns out the popular baker has been murdered, Agatha puts her team of private detectives on the case. They soon discover more feuds and temperamental behavior in amateur theatrics than in a professional stage show—and face more and more danger as the team gets too close to the killer.

The Blood of an Englishman is Agatha's 25th adventure, and you'd think she would have learned by now not to keep making the same mistakes. Alas, no—yet Agatha's flaws only make her more endearing. In this sparkling new entry in M. C. Beaton's New York Times bestselling series of modern cozies, Agatha Raisin once again "manages to infuriate, amuse, and solicit our deepest sympathies as we watch her blunder her way boldly through another murder mystery.""

For my mom, the Agatha Raisin addict... twenty five books and still going strong!

Raging Heat by Richard Castle
Published by: Kingswell
Publication Date: September 16th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In New York Times Bestselling author Richard Castle's newest novel, an illegal immigrant falls from the sky and NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat's investigation into his death quickly captures the imagination of her boyfriend the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Jameson Rook. When he decides to work the case with Heat as his next big story, Nikki is at first happy to have him ride along. Yes, she must endure Rook's usual wild conspiracy speculations and adolescent wisecracks, but after reuniting following his recent assignment abroad, she's glad for the entertainment, the chance to bounce ideas, and just to be close to him again and feel the old spark rekindle. But when Rook's inquiry concludes that Detective Heat has arrested the wrong man for the murder, everything changes.

Balancing her high stakes job with a complicated romance has been a challenge ever since Nikki fell for the famous reporter. Now, her relationship lurches from mere complexity into sharp conflict over the most high-risk case of her career. Set against the raging force of Hurricane Sandy as it pounds New York, Heat battles an ambitious powerbroker, fights a platoon of urban mercenaries, and clashes with the man she loves. Detective Heat knows her job is to solve murders. She just worries that solving this one will be the death of her relationship."

Must be fall, because whenever a new season of Castle starts, you can be sure of a new book on the shelves!

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: September 16th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Full of magic, mystery, and romance, an enchanting steampunk fantasy debut in the bestselling vein of Trudi Canavan and Gail Carriger.

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself."

Time for some Steampunky fun!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Charles Addams

Charles Addams might be an odd inclusion for literary New York, but I ask you this, have any of the authors profiled so far been able to so completely tell a story with just a line or two of text and an image? I should think not. Also, if we want to get technical, his work was complied into many books and he was given an honorary Edgar Award for his body of work, so there. Charles Addams was America's premiere cartoonist for all things dark and macabre. His unique sense of humor was able to tap into some deeply shared hive mind bleakness that made his work relatable to everyone. With his comics making the leap to television his name became famous overnight with The Addams Family. Because that kooky family literally couldn't be thought of as anything else then his own creations, hence his family.

Chas Addams published his first cartoon on January 13th, 1940. He would go on to draw more then 1,300 in his lifetime, many of which were published by The New Yorker. As I have previously mentioned, The New Yorker eventually moved from Hell's Kitchen to right across the street from The Algonquin, making it easier for many of the writers to slip out for "board meetings." Their new location was at 28 West 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue.

The facade of the building was changed a little when new owners took over in the early nineties, but the trace of the offices that Addams would exclusively visit and was "often present on the premises" of remains with this lovely "Literary Landmark" plaque. Don't expect to find it hunting on google maps trying to make your imaginary visit as real as possible. Sadly you'll have to actually visit New York because this plaque is located in the building's vestibule. And if you look closely, a certain "Cartoonist" Charles Addams is mentioned on the plaque! Eat your heart out Dorothy Parker!

Because Chas's literature is a visual type of storytelling, he gets a few more pictures then the other authors profiled this month... and also because I seriously can't choose a favorite with his work.  Each and everyone one of his covers for The New Yorker could be framed and have pride of place on your wall. But what I think most interesting to point out here is that his work fit well with The New Yorker because there was something so specific about it that made you feel as if these comics could only happen in that thriving metropolis. A combination of the macabre and the urban that captured New York City's zeitgeist.

Addams also captured the fringes of society, the weirdness that is on the outskirts, right out of view, right at the transition from urban to suburban, he captured it with such deftness. If you look at these two covers, you'll realize that both are from 1961. Just think of Addams's popularity to do multiple covers in a single year!

I can not talk about Chas without talking about his cars, after all it was his passion and he had his fatal heart attack sitting in one in front of his apartment. He was able to capture this dichotomy from urban to suburban because he often travelled back and forth between his apartment in the city and his house in Sagaponack, New York. As he raced along the streets he was able to see this transition and then put it into images. That house in the Hamptons is now home to the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, where his studio remains intact, and the Foundation carries on works in his name.

But if you don't feel like leaving the city, then it's time for another stop on our stalking dead authors tour... between 5th and 6th Avenue directly behind MOMA if you are looking up the island, was Chas's home in the city. Here is an excerpt from Linda Davis's Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life describing her visit there:

"The Addams dwelling at 25 West Fifty-fourth Street was directly behind the Museum of Modern Art, at the top of the building. It was reached by an ancient elevator, which rumbled up to the twelfth floor. From there, one climbed through a red-painted stairwell where a real mounted crossbow hovered. The Addams door was marked by a "big black number 13," and a knocker in the shape of a vampire.

The apartment consisted of the top two floors of the building. It stood under a leaky ten-thousand-gallon water tank which had flooded the bedroom at least once, destroying the drawings, photographs, papers, and other mementos Addams kept in boxes under the bed, as well as on closet shelves. The layout was equally eccentric. The bedroom, where Addams worked most of the time, was upstairs, accessible to the downstairs living room and kitchen only by outside service stairs.

Inside, one entered a little kingdom that fulfilled every fantasy one might have entertained about its inhabitant. On a pedestal in the corner of the bookcase stood a rare "Maximilian" suit of armor, which Addams had bought at a good price ("a bargain at $700") from the Litchfield Collection at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet gallery thirty years earlier. It was joined by a half suit, a North Italian Morion of "Spanish" form, circa 1570–80, and a collection of warrior helmets, perched on long stalks like decapitated heads: a late sixteenth-century German burgonet; a German trooper's lobster tail pot helmet, circa 1650; and the pointed fore-and-aft helmet from the sixteenth-century Italian suit, which was elaborately etched with game trophies, men-at-arms, monsters, birds. There were enough arms and armaments to defend the Addams fortress against the most persistent invader: wheel-lock guns; an Italian prod; two maces; three swords. Above a sofa bed, a spectacular array of medieval crossbows rose like birds in flight. "Don't worry, they've only fallen down once," Addams once told an overnight guest. The valuable pieces of medieval weaponry, which would ultimately fetch $220,113 at auction, mingled with books, framed cartoons and illustrations, photographs of classic cars, gruesome artifacts, and such inexpensive mementos as a mounted rubber bat.

Everywhere one looked in the apartment, something caught the eye. A rare papier-mâché and polychrome anatomical study figure, nineteenth century, with removable organs and body parts captioned in French, protected by a glass bell. ("It's not exactly another human heart beating in the house, but it's close enough," said Addams.) A set of engraved aquatint plates from an antique book on armor. A lamp in the shape of a miniature suit of armor, topped by a black shade. There were various snakes; biopsy scissors ("It reaches inside, and nips a little piece of flesh," explained Addams); and a shiny human thighbone — a Christmas present from one wife. There was a sewing basket fashioned from an armadillo, a gift from another.

In front of the couch stood a most unusual coffee table — "a drying out table," the man at the wonderfully named antiques shop, the Gettysburg Sutler, had called it. ("What was dried on it?" a reporter had asked. "Bodies," said Addams.) The table had holes in each corner for draining the fluids, a rusted adjustable headrest, and a mechanism for raising and lowering the neck. There was also, Addams genially pointed out, "a rather sinister stain in what would be the region of the kidneys." The table was covered with the usual decorative objects — a Baccarat goblet, a couple of plates, a miniature castle, a bowl of ceramic nesting snakes."

As a final stop, I think it's time to see some of these works in person. Sadly, because the two times I was in this New York institution I had not heard of this gallery I can not verify if it is still there, but Neil Gaiman and the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation back me up, so there's hope... At the Main Branch of The New York Public Library at West 40th Street located right on 5th Avenue there is a gallery devoted to Charles Addams. As Gaiman said "[t]o this day, one of my favourite places in the world is the tiny Charles Addams art gallery on the third floor of the New York Library (follow the signs to the Mens' Toilets and it's just before you get there)." So follow those directions from Neil and revel in the artwork of a man who was a literary great and was somehow able to capture what it meant to be human and a New Yorker, in the most wickedly delightful way possible.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dorothy Parker

"It occurs to me that there are other towns. It occurs to me so violently that I say, at intervals, "Very well, if New York is going to be like this, I'm going to live somewhere else." And I do — that's the funny part of it. But then one day there comes to me the sharp picture of New York at its best, on a shiny blue-and-white Autumn day with its buildings cut diagonally in halves of light and shadow, with its straight neat avenues colored with quick throngs, like confetti in a breeze. Some one, and I wish it had been I, has said that "Autumn is the Springtime of big cities." I see New York at holiday time, always in the late afternoon, under a Maxfield Parish sky, with the crowds even more quick and nervous but even more good-natured, the dark groups splashed with the white of Christmas packages, the lighted holly-strung shops urging them in to buy more and more. I see it on a Spring morning, with the clothes of the women as soft and as hopeful as the pretty new leaves on a few, brave trees. I see it at night, with the low skies red with the black-flung lights of Broadway, those lights of which Chesterton — or they told me it was Chesterton — said, "What a marvelous sight for those who cannot read!" I see it in the rain, I smell the enchanting odor of wet asphalt, with the empty streets black and shining as ripe olives. I see it — by this time, I become maudlin with nostalgia — even with its gray mounds of crusted snow, its little Appalachians of ice along the pavements. So I go back. And it is always better than I thought it would be."

Dorothy Parker was one of the 20th century's most clever, caustic, witty writers. As a member of the Algonquin Round Table she became famous as much for her biting remarks as for her brilliant writing. A prolific poet and critic, Dorothy published more than 300 poems in the 1920s. The collection of her writing, The Portable Dorothy Parker, has never gone out of print. In the 1920s and afterward, Dorothy Parker contributed to The New Yorker and Esquire, making her a landmark of the literary scene in New York.

And when you're talking landmarks of Literary New York, there's one place that you have to visit, and that's The Algonquin. The Algonquin is at 59 West 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue, or if you're being pedantic, 5th Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas. The hotel's first desk clerk, and eventual owner, Frank Case, fostered the arts and in particular struggling writers creating an environment in which the Round Table, that most vicious of circles, was able to bloom. From 1919 to 1929 most of the writers and wits for The New Yorker and other magazines would pop by and have a long lunch wherein they would trade barbed insults and try to one up each other. Not only is this hotel key for your true Literary New York experience, but it's key to Dorothy Parker. She was not only a member of the vicious circle, but she was a resident of the hotel on and off and her ghost is reputed to haunt the halls.

The group first gathered in the Algonquin's Pergola Room (now called The Oak Room) at a long rectangular table. As they increased in number, Algonquin manager Frank Case moved them to the Rose Room and a round table. Initially the group called itself "The Board" and the luncheons "Board meetings." After being assigned a waiter named Luigi, the group re-christened itself "Luigi Board." Finally they became "The Vicious Circle" although "The Round Table" gained wide currency after cartoonist Edmund Duffy of the Brooklyn Eagle caricatured the group sitting at a round table and wearing armor. To join this hallowed group "the price of admission [was] a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto."

Despite all the famous writers and celebrities who have lived at The Algonquin over the years I can't help but smile at the hotel's most famous current resident, Matilda the Cat! The tradition of having a cat in the hotel was started by Frank Case after he took in a stray. Though Frank didn't realize what he was starting with that first cat, Hamlet, who was named after that famous Dane by John Barrymore. Since then many a Hamlet and a Matilda have lived there. So go for the cat, stay for the literature!

As a final note I find it vastly entertaining that the offices of The New Yorker were actually located right across the street from The Algonquin, making Vicious Circle meetings easy to slip out to, but that location must wait for another day. Parker and her cronies where in at the beginning, and instead of starting out on West 44th street, the original offices where in the house of it's founder, Harold Ross and Jane Grant. Located in Hell's Kitchen, at 412 West 47th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue, the little white four story house is still standing, if you care to pay homage to a magazine that has fostered the arts for almost a century. The past and the present merge in New York, to create living history and an experience you won't easily forget if you are lucky enough to visit.

"I suppose that is the thing about New York. It is always a little more than you had hoped for. Each day, there, is so definitely a new day. "Now we'll start over," it seems to say every morning, "and come on, let's hurry like anything."

London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it. There is excitement ever running its streets. Each day, as you go out, you feel the little nervous quiver that is yours when you sit in the theater just before the curtain rises. Other places may give you a sweet and soothing sense of level; but in New York there is always the feeling of "Something's going to happen." It isn't peace. But, you know, you do get used to peace, and so quickly. And you never get used to New York."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review - Charis Cotter's The Swallow

The Swallow by Charis Cotter
Published by: Tundra Books
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Kindle, 322 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Polly and Rose live next door to each other. Polly's house is too full of people and her macabre tastes make her long to see a different kind of person, one who is no longer alive, ie, a ghost. Rose's house is the opposite of Polly's and is always empty and Rose has the dubious ability to see ghosts. The two soon strike up an unlikely friendship and Polly is right jealous of Rose's "gift." Yet maybe there's a reason she can see ghosts? There's a tombstone behind their houses with Rose's name on it... perhaps Rose herself is a ghost? One thing is clear, there is something strange going on and Polly thinks that the two of them need to get to the bottom of the spooky goings on; because one of them might be a ghost.

If you've ever thought, wow there really needs to be a middle grade version of The Sixth Sense set in 1960s Toronto, then I have good news for you! If on the other hand you're looking for a story that isn't predictable like, oh, anything ever done by M. Night Shyamalan, look elsewhere. The main problem with The Swallow is that everything is so obvious. It's not like there was one of two things that surprised me. Oh no. Every. Single. Thing. Was. Expected. It's like Cotter has no ability to dissemble. She can't hide her story structure, and she certainly can't hide her big reveals. From the second Polly went into her attic I knew that there'd be a secret passage, because I'd read C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. Yeah, you didn't do a good job of hiding where that attic came from Cotter, much like everything else.

But as to each reveal, they were delivered exactly when you'd expect it. There was no flow to this story, no chance for surprises. It felt as if Cotter sat down and wrote the most rigid structure she could to tell her story, with each reveal carefully placed, and when she went from outline to prose not one thing was allowed to vary from that outline. I felt at times as if the book was more a rigid structure of steal that had words around it then an actual narrative. You could feel the story gripping the spine trying to be a real book. A good author transports us and makes us not see the craft behind the work. Cotter pulled back the curtain on the wizard and showed us that writing isn't magic, it's labor intensive, and not just for her, but for us as readers as well. The only positive that can be said for this book is that it was a short read so the pain was quickly over.

Though what is most aggravating to me is that this could have been a unique story! We have the 1960s, we have the ghostly aunt/doppelganger, vintage shoes, creepy pictures of Rose and Winifred dressed alike, and yet it felt like it could be happening right now because none of these interesting aspects are delved into or exploited for the benefit of the story! Instead we get two girls, Polly and Rose, who are just as annoying and whiny as any kid today with no sense given to us readers of how they fit into their time to better explore the sixties. They are completely unlikable in the beginning, and even if you grudgingly like them a little later, the jeopardy they get placed in is so badly contrived that they are never able to rise up and save the book. In a true sign that shows how utterly commonplace everything about the book is, the girl's voices are basically the same. If it weren't for their different situations and the little label saying who's head we're in, I doubt you could tell which girl was which.

As for the ghosts. Well, I have problems with them. First, let's take the ghosts as a whole, and I won't talk about how thick Rose is, we'll just accept that as a given. The ghosts seem to have been given stupid characteristics, like the ability to eat and touch so that we wouldn't know that Polly was dead all along. Oops, I hope you hadn't planned on reading this book, because yeah, spoilers! Though with Cotter's writing if she'd been allowed to write the book's blurb, well, she would have signaled you into that twist in just those few short sentences. Since when can ghosts eat? Like seriously, I think this would be the number one thing on my "things ghosts can't do list." Haunt, yeah, move objects, yeah, give me nightmares, yeah, eat my food, NO! Also more specifically, Winifred is like the worst developed ghost ever. She's angry and crazy and remorseful and a loving sister? Yes, people can be a cornucopia of different personality traits, but, you know what? It has to be explained. Just having her go from crazy to contrite, it doesn't work.

But what I really want to know is was this book a teaching moment? So many of the reviews and blurbs talk about how this book will help kids with concepts like grief and acceptance. If this book was written to tell a rigidly plotted story and it just happened to help with grief and acceptance, well, I'm ok with that. On the other hand, if this book was written just to teach kids about these concepts? NO! I am not a fan of the "teaching moment." I want learning to be a byproduct of reading not the be all end all. Plus, when did everything have to be made "improving" for children? All literature had to teach them lessons. All toys had to be educational. WTF people! How about literature is there to teach kids the joy of reading? And how about toys being there to grow their imagination? I loved toys but I was slow to books. If I had read this book as a kid, it would have put me even more off reading, it's middle grade meh.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 624 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author behind the Starz original series The White Queen comes the story of lady-in-waiting Margaret Pole and her unique view of King Henry VIII’s stratospheric rise to power in Tudor England.

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors."

After binging on The White Queen I am SO READY for more of the Cousins' War!

Nightmares by Jason Segel
Published by: Delacorte Books for Young Readerse
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jason Segel, multitalented actor, writer, and musician, teams up with New York Times bestselling author Kirsten Miller for the hilariously frightening middle-grade novel Nightmares!, the first book in a trilogy about a boy named Charlie and a group of kids who must face their fears to save their town.

Sleeping has never been so scary. And now waking up is even worse!

Charlie Laird has several problems.

1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.

2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.

3.He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap.

What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed.

And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good."

I was really sad I couldn't go to BEA this year, mainly because Jason Segel was there... at least I have this book... and my love for Jason Segel.

Engines of War by George Mann
Published by: Broadway Books
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
""I've had many faces. Many lives. I don't admit to all of them. There's one life I've tried very hard to forget-the Doctor who fought in the Time War."

The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. The Daleks and the Time Lords deploy ever more dangerous weapons in desperate attempts at victory, but there is no end in sight.

On the outer rim of the Tantalus Eye, scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor's TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox.

As the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam amongst the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven't the Daleks simply killed the humans?

Searching for answers, the Doctor meets 'Cinder', a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey and set in chain events that will change everything. And everyone."

While there are many new Doctor Who books coming out today, all with Doctors who have never had a book yet, this is the one I'm most excited for! Why? War + my friend George Mann = Win!

Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman
Published by: Vertigo
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A dark and frightening fully painted novella, MR. PUNCH tells the tale of a young boy's loss of innocence results from a horrific confrontation with his past. Spending a summer at his grandfather's seaside arcade, a troubled adolescent harmlessly becomes involved with a mysterious Punch and Judy Man and a mermaid-portraying woman. But when the violent puppet show triggers buried memories of the boy's family, the lives of all become feverishly intertwined. With disturbing mysteries and half-truths uncontrollably unraveling, the young boy is forced to deal with his family's dark secrets of violence, betrayal, and guilt.

Written by New York Times best-selling novelist Neil Gaiman, with unwordly illustrations by artist Dave McKean, MR. PUNCH - 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION is the new deluxe cut of this landmark original graphic novel. Includes bonus material."

A swanky anniversary edition! Also, it's Mr. Punch, who if he doesn't, should definitely scare you!

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