Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

The Walking-Away World

Editor’s Pick: Lust For Justice: The Radical Life & Law of J. Tony Serra


As part of their “Outspoken Authors” series, PM Press brings the first SF author to be an Internet Legend. Cory Doctorow disdains conventional publishing and goes the route of Creative Commons.

In “Great Big Beautiful” he describes an immortal in a krapnatz post-apocalyptic world who is in an unappealing situation; perpetually on the cusp of puberty, with two pubic hairs to call his own, the protagonist is trapped with the mind and body of a boy who has spent decades beginning to notice girls but doesn’t know why he is noticing. In an ironic counterpoint, he has stewardship of an animatronic carousel from the 1965 New York World’s Fair and late of Epcot Center that pays endless and unchanging homage to progress.

Along with the novella, the book also has a striking essay,”Creativity vs. Copyright” about how the Digital Management Rights Act is a threat to consumers but which has the main intent of utterly controlling the artists whose works the Act is supposed to protect. And finally, there is an interview with Terry Bisson.

Doctorow is the most important voice to emerge in this digital age, and this book shows just why he is so important.

Order from amazon.com.

by Zepp Jamieson

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson. All rights reserved.

Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

Also From PM Press


Michael Moorcock’s latest collection of essays, “London Peculiar and Other Non-Fiction” is a mixed bag. It’s divided into sections: London, Other Places, Absent Friends, Music, Politics, and Reviews and Introductions. “London Peculiar” presumably refers to the toxic black miasmas of sulfur dioxide that famously enveloped London from the time of Shakespear until the 1960s, the infamous soft-coal “fogs.”

As someone who, like Moorcock, was raised in London, I read his accounts of the city with a fair bit of interest. His was the more dramatic childhood since I came along about 15 years later and missed that whole “insane-Germans-lobbing-high-explosives-at-my-head” thing.

The most strident Londoner will probably find little of interest in grumbles from 1980 about how zoning panels are permitting gentrification to ruin some of the more interesting parts of the city. For all that, I had a huge laugh at Moorcock noting that surprisingly little of post-war London was preserved on film, and what there was existed in “Carry On” movies, and usually blocked by Sid James’ head. I’ve found myself watching those old flicks and sharing the same complaint. “Hattie! Move over! You’re blocking Islington! You’re blocking ALL of Islington!” Yes, I scream at long-dead comedians in fifty year old black and white movies. I need help.

“Other Places” is mostly about Texas, where Moorcock resides, and is singularly lacking in the expected fish-out-of-water element. Moorcock likes his new neighbors, and seems tickled that he’s better known to them as an amateur musician than as a writer. His stance on politics, less surprisingly, is puzzled astonishment at the American flat-earth right.

“Absent Friends” is a discussion of people who are dead, usually people Moorcock liked and respected. Andrea Dworkin, JG Ballard, Phil Ochs and Thomas Disch get loving attention, as they should. Moorcock has a deep respect for voices which are unique and fearless, and for originality of thought. This stance informs the entire volume from this point onward.

The most striking thing about this volume is the level of erudition. It isn’t enough to say that Moorcock read thousands of books; he ABSORBED them. He sounds like he did a stint in Disch’s “Camp Concentration” and survived. He had little use for work he considered facile or derivative–he dismisses Heinlein, and by extension much of American “golden age” science fiction–with the single word “mechaporn.” Moorcock loves the Titus Groan series, found Lord of the Rings a bit of a slog, and has no use for the Harry Potter books. That’s a good nutshell encapsulation of his view on literature.

There’s a sense in the essays themselves of looking back, rather than forward. He’s likely to write about HG Wells and Conan Doyle, but little or nothing about present-day writers such as Gaiman, the Foglios, or Stephenson. About the only active writer he deems worthy of more than cursory mention is Alan Moore.

Not many people will read every article in the book. But everyone who reads it will find jewels along the way, and come away with the realization that the things Moorcock treasures in his surroundings, his friends, and his fellow artists are among the very best that life has to offer.

Order from amazon.com.

by Zepp Jamieson

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson. All rights reserved.

Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

pretty. by Jillian Lauren. Plume/Penguin.

Bebe Baker is someone you meet every day. She’s behind the counter at the fast food place, or answering the phone at your dentist’s office, or explaining what sort of screws to use for a metal roof at the local hardware store. She may have even done your hair and nails today.

Maybe you noticed her palms were scarred, or that she walked with a slight limp, and you may have vaguely wondered what her story was. You may have guessed that she made some bad choices and had some bad luck, and was just getting her life back together.

You just met Bebe. There’s millions of them out there, and some probably lived on your block. They still do, if that block is in a seedier part of town.

‘pretty’, which is Jillian Lauren’s second work, opens like a film noir. It’s LA, so the alleyways are wider and more sunnier and lined with peeling stucco instead of ancient brick, and Jack Nickolson’s “Jake” would have recognized the area, and it’s inhabitants, instantly. There’s druggies and hookers, strippers and burnout cases, crazy vets and proselytizers. There’s even jazz musicians.

But this is Bebe, small town girl who drifted west on the arm of a sax player, so there’s no grand conspiracies, no huge crimes, no mystery corpse conundrums to unravel. It’s just about a well-meaning girl who has had her life shattered, and is working the rehab system, trying to stay clean, trying to become a beautician. Nothing happens in the book that would merit four column inches in the LA Times’ “Metro” section.

This leaves you with Bebe, her friends, fellow students, and persons of nuisance value (Bebe isn’t the sort who makes enemies). It gives the story a verisimilitude and authority that no film noir could manage. You’ve MET these people and dealt with them. Perhaps you know them well. Chances are you do.

Lauren doesn’t quite have a full sense of Southern California, but that ends up being a minor issue. Her knowledge of, and compassion for the characters in the book is spot-on, and it makes for a compelling and engrossing read with likeable faces sprinkled throughout.

After making your way through this novel, you’ll likely want to tip the next Bebe you encounter generously.

Order from amazon.com.

by Zepp Jamieson

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson. All rights reserved.

Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

OF MICE AND MENTAL STATES. Gordon Reece. Penguin/Viking.

A lot of writers have a sadistic streak in them. They are, after all, the absolute gods of the universes they create, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to mess with the characters, especially if, for plotline reasons, the characters have to be weak or vulnerable.

Writers so tempted have to avoid overdoing it, as the results are usually grotesque, although Joel and Ethan Cohn made it work brilliantly in “A Serious Man”, where they took a sweet, inoffensive little guy and just had the universe unload on him. Even as you felt horrified, you laughed.

So when I read that Gordon Reece’s “Mice” was about two women who were “timid, nervous and obliging” in a suspense horror novel, I opened it with a sense of foreboding. At best, I was expecting something like Richard Bachman’s less appealing novels, and at worst, an utter atrocity like “The Human Centipede” or the Saw series.

Reece surprised me. He likes his two central characters. He respects them. As a result, they don’t implode emotionally and psychologically for the titillation of readers so mean they would despise John Steinbeck’s Lenny. The mother and daughter cope, with some difficulty. Reece also avoids the opposite extreme, and doesn’t have them going all “Burning Beds” on the world. The Guardian accurately depicted it as “a sophisticated psychological thriller.”

As a result, the reader likes Shelley, the 15 year old narrator, and her mother. The adversaries they face, while quite ordinary, are genuinely dangerous, and any reader who has ever been pushed around (and that would be most of us at one time or another) finds a great deal of room for empathy.

Reece offers the reader a sly wink early on, when he has Shelley, who hopes to become a writer, musing that she needed to learn the names of all the flowers in the lush gardens surrounding their new cottage “because that is something a writer would need to know.”

Thus, simply, the bond between writer and his creation is forged. And the reader is free to enjoy watching the straightforward but elegantly crafted plot unfold.

Order from amazon.com.

by Zepp Jamieson

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson. All rights reserved.

Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

LUST FOR JUSTICE. The Radical Life and Law of J. Tony Serra. Paulette Frankl. Foreword by Gerry Spence. Lightning Rod Publications.

Tony Serra is regarded as one of the top defense lawyers in America. If you’re ever charged with a serious felony, he is the guy to hire on the West Coast.

In Lust For Justice, which took 17 years to complete, Paulette Frankl tells us all the reasons why Serra has come to assume this place in the legal pantheon.

Basically, Serra is able to win unwinnable cases because he possesses the unique ability to become one with a jury. In order to do this, he must break down the walls that divide juror and lawyer and communicate on a visceral level – one with the outlaws of the world.

Even though he is a well-educated and is introspective man, Tony Serra nonetheless sees himself as a mirror-image of those down-trodden ones he is often called on to defend. You see, because Serra identifies with the every-day-man on the street, he is able to sway jurors who view him as one of them.

In Lust For Justice, Frankl presents the first biography of this dynamic personality: Man; poet; lawyer; and semantic warrior.

As Frankl notes, Serra has been practicing law for over 45 years, exclusively specializing in jury trials while serving as one of the best courtroom orators to ever enter the arena.

In turn, Frankl has constructed her dissection of Serra by examining several of his legendary cases, including his 1995 defense of Bear Lincoln, an American Indian accused of shooting a California Deputy Sheriff.

Via insightful and incisive reportage, Frankl asserts that Serra was able to gain Lincoln an acquittal because he instinctively understood the factors which separated renegade Indian from American police officer.

In his defense of Lincoln, Serra was able to show that the white man’s abuse of the Indian over the course of the last 500 years has colored every Indian’s ability to exist within the framework of our modern society. At the point when Serra demonstrated to the jury that Lincoln was no more than a frightened man surrounded by endless predators, they had no choice but to come in not guilty.

In Lust For Justice, Frankl imparts Serra’s human qualities to the reader, showing us exactly what the jury sees: A man of hope and passion who shares these secret parts of himself to defend the poor ones caught on the outside of the system.

And Frankl writes:

“The radical lawyer is a gadfly. He’s the canary in the coal mine; he sacrifices himself to alert others. He’s the Paul Revere who, whether he shows up with one lantern or two, is warning about the imminent arrival of the shock troops. Serra believes the end of America as a free society is marked by the end of the old-fashioned lawyer, whose rhetoric has opposed government, authority, and tyranny since the days of Patrick Henry.”

(Page 104)

In sum, Lust For Justice is about justice and one man’s quest for it. Through her rich and vibrant prose and original courtroom sketches, Frankl brings the best parts of Tony Serra roaring to life.

And suddenly we bear witness to a man who not only believes in himself and his earthly mission, but who also believes in the right of every citizen to live unfettered in freedom.

As Paulette Frankl so eloquently tells us in this long over-due biography, Tony Serra will fight this fight until the day he dies.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

WHEN SEX HURTS. A Woman’s Guide To Banishing Sexual Pain. Andrew Goldstein. Da Capo Press.

In this new release, women are presented with an incisive exploration into a taboo topic. For over 20 million women, the subject of painful intercourse is one that seldom sees the light of day. In point of truth, the majority of women can’t even bring themselves to utter the phrase to their gynecologist. However, with When Sex Hurts, all those embarrassed women now have a resource that’s been written just for them. In this groundbreaking text by Andrew Goldstein, a medical doctor with over 30 years experience confronting sexual dysfunction, readers are taught to ignore all the stereotypes and misconceptions that come with painful intercourse. Here, women will get a crash course in the primary causes and most effective treatments for this misunderstood affliction. Just how can you deal with the pain, stigma, and myths surrounding a topic you can’t even divulge to your husband? Well, the answer to that question comes in the form of Dr. Goldstein’s new treatise which presents clear, practical, up-to-date information on how to eradicate the pain that sometimes accompanies sex. As the good doctor points out, this problem will never go away by itself. Instead, each woman who is afflicted must take it upon herself to seek remedial measures. That first step comes in cracking open this book and surveying its information.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

TREE CRAFT. Chris Lubkemann. Fox-Chapel Publishing.

Go Green has become the collective mantra of the times, as people from the four corners of the world try to reconnect with the environment and live a conscious life, cognizant of their impact on the earth’s fleeting resources. Accordingly, Chris Lubkemann’s Tree Craft (due from Fox-Chapel in August 2010), adds to the ever-growing canon of green literature – a manual dedicated to teaching us how to re-use found wood and transform it into one-of-a-kind furnishings. In Tree Craft, Lubkemann (a seasoned writer and regular contributor to several wood-carving magazines) outlines how readers can use the wood they find strewn about the forest and beach and park to build practical items for both the home and office. For example, Lubkemann demonstrates how a simple branch can be used to build fashionable curtain rods that not only recycle a vital natural resource but also prove significantly more durable than those disposable plastic-based wares that line the shelves of the nation’s big-box stores. With incisive step-by-step instructions, Lubkemann educates readers on how to make some 35 projects – as Tree Craft evinces, things like photo frames, table lamps, clocks and planters can be built with ease using a few common household tools. Aside from its cool Green Message, what’s best about Tree Craft is in the way it’s written: Rather than lecture from the pulpit, Lubkemann proves himself to be a true teacher who shows his audience how it’s done by doing it with them. In this age of iPods, fast-food and endless consumption, Chris Lubkemann presents a book that slows us down a bit, urging each of us to open up our eyes and look around at what’s in front of us. Ultimately, Tree Craft is not just about building things. It’s also about seeing the many faces of the world that surround you.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

SONG OF SCARABAEUS. Sara Creasy. Eros.

Song of Scarabaeus (pocket-paperback) affirms that Sara Creasy is an up-and-coming writer who should be watched closely. In her debut novel, Creasy melds the science-fiction and romance genres as a means to create a platform all her own. Set on the planet Scarabaeus, Song of Scarabaeus tells the story of a woman named Edie – a technological mastermind trained by the government to program biocyph seeds ( a talent that eventually causes her to fall victim to kidnappers). Once Edie is banished to Scarabaeus and bodyguard Finn enters the plot, Creasy’s story really takes off – the narrative branching off in myriad directions as we come to bond with her characters on an emotional level. What’s best about Edie and Finn and the faces that populate Scarabaeus is found in the complexity of their voices – Creasy deftly layering her characters with traits that readers will immediately see in themselves. Accordingly, we are able to bond with Edie and Finn because they are part and parcel of our own condition – drunk on the same contradictions, shackled by the same needs, haunted by the same thirst for peace and understanding. Moreover, what also stands out about Song of Scarabaeus is Creasy’s boldness. Given the glut of mediocre and repetitive fiction released every week, it takes some real guts to buck the tide and trust your ideas, setting off down an original path. Here, Creasy actually stitches together three disparate genres – action, sci-fi and romance – to build a story that attacks the audience on multiple levels (emotional, visceral, sensory). The result is a novel that compels your attention from start to finish, leaving you only craving more.

Song of Scarabaeus marks the best science-fiction (from a first-time author) to hit the shelves in the first half of 2010.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello


Imagine working for a company run by children from “Lord of the Flies.” Only this time, everyone is Piggy except the volatile leader, David Miscavage.

Marc Headley’s Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology describes just such a nightmare. Headley worked at the International Headquarters of Scientology at Gilman Hot Springs, California from the age of 16 until he fled 15 years later on the back of a Yamaha.

Headley describes the Scientology compound as a Gulag complete with razor-wire fences and armed guards. Members had their mail opened and read and were allowed no outside phone calls. Headley clocked in over 100 hours a week for approximately $.36/hour, working as an audio visual boy charged with checking quality on thousands of cassettes. After years of work, he eventually became a producer of Golden Era Productions, responsible for presentations, lectures, and scripts.

Blown for Good goes into (almost mind-numbing) detail about every facet of Headley’s work. Readers will certainly be amused at glimpses of Tom Cruise, including the recording of his famous viral video. But the most compelling and horrifying scenes involve the tantrums of David Miscavage, Scientology’s leader and reigning martinet.

Scientology has long declared those who disagree with them “Suppressive Persons (Sps),” while scientologists have a policy of disconnecting rebel members from their families and friends. Some who caused trouble are often sent to the “Rehabilitation Project Force,” where they might clean latrines with a toothbrush or have remaining personal liberties (such as sleep) taken away.

But Miscavage, according to Headley, took the Scientology edicts a step further with abusive verbal attacks and physical violence (in one passage, Headley describes getting punched in the face for a casual remark), in addition to forcing members to run around the compound for days, sleep outside, or clean a sewage dump with their hands.

So why did he stay so long? Headley grew up with Scientology since the age of six and attended a Scientology school until he left for the International Headquarters at 16. The fear of leaving all he had known, including his wife (who would finally escape with him) is palpable throughout the book.

As we learn from Headley’s story, the rise of the internet may very well be the death knell of Scientology. Demonstrations by the anti-Scientology group Anonymous are frequently posted on YouTubeOperation Clambake, a Scientology watchdog website, includes recent exposes from around the world, including interviews with celebrity defectors like actor Jason Beghe, Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis, and most recently, the very face of Scientology’s Orientation videos, Larry Anderson. However, in a true twist of irony, it may be that Scientology’s most touted celebrity, Tom Cruise, has done more to expose what is now looking more like a cult than a religion (with Cruise’s bizarre behavior having been leaked to the world on video).

Moreover, people are testifying against Scientology in Australia, Germany, France, Belgium and all over the world. Unsurprisingly, Marc Headley and his wife have now been declared “Suppressive Persons” and have not spoken to any of their family since their escape.

In sum, Headley’s Blown for Good serves as a brave and honest account of a ‘world’ that’s largely been left to its own designs. At this point, it’s one of the first to be published. But soon – comes the deluge.

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by Jackie Jones

© Jackie Jones. All rights reserved.

Jackie Jones is a freelance writer from the Bay Area. She has been reviewing books professionally since 1990, with her pieces appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, Verdugo Monthly, Exurb Magazine and El Petit Journal. Reach her through The Electric Review

THE POETRY OF RILKE. Translated and edited by Edward Snow. Introduction by Adman Zagajewski. North Point Press.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry is a Godsend. Lyrical and soft-spoken, it attacks the muscle-tone of the mind, lighting the embers of the senses afire. Here, Edward Snow, a professor at Rice University and one of the leading experts on Rilke’s structure, has compiled the definitive collection on the German poet’s work. The Poetry of Rilke contains his richest and most absorbing pieces, including The Book of Hours (1905) and the Duino Elegies (1923) – the latter throbbing and whirring, the haunted images blooming within the deep layers of the soul (“…each to the other’s lips and kiss –: drink unto drink: O how strangely then the drinker slips from the deed” – at page 295). However, what truly makes this book vital is found in Snow’s translations – in rhythm with the writer, crystallizing into form, these interpretations pierce with precision and purpose, singing the song of Rilke’s heart though the webs of the grave. Yes, even though you might ‘know’ the poems already, these versions will nonetheless strike the consciousness – a collection at once crisp and new, driven by the sharp scalpel of Snow’s eye that imbues each and every line with nuance and vibrancy.

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by John Aiello

WHITE NOISE. Don DeLillo. Penguin Classics. Deluxe Edition.

Don DeLillo’s White Noise (winner of the 1985 National Book Award and hailed by Time Magazine as one of the best English-language novels 1923-2005) is regarded as a classic for many reasons, most notably because it features the unique ability to manipulate true ‘post-modern’ techniques as a way to dissect the changing face of society. In essence,Delillo’s mission is to show how and why our culture has ended up here, in this deformed and disconnected soul-less state.White Noise is set on the College-on-the-Hill, this place in ‘every man’s town’ where we come to meet Professor (and Hitler scholar) Jack Gladney. Gladney’s taut and multi-dimensional character was built to examine the universal forces (wives, husbands, children, careers, regret) that shape and compress most lives, leaving us as mere specters of ourselves. Delillo’s work stands out in terms of fiction for the way he makes his books collective stories that speak in one voice while singing the song of many people who plod along on the same path, facing the same morbid isolations. Why do we feel this way? Why do we think these things? Why don’t we seem to be moving? White Noise might not give you definitive answers to these questions, but it will nonetheless re-enforce the fact that you are not alone. Most of the faces you’ve passed on the street today on their way to that College-on-the-Hill are feeling just like you are.

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by John Aiello

MOON RIVER AND ME. A Memoir. Andy Williams. Viking.

Andy Williams is indeed a music legend – his soaring vocal epitomizes that big ballroom sound of the 60s that includes such crooners as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In Moon River And Me, Williams comes forward to tell his story his way. For decades, critics have praised Williams for his bright tenor and for the way he holds the stage; yet, to date, no one has told us the real history behind the man who washed away the cares of the world in the echoes of “Moon River.” Finally, at 82, Williams has decided it’s time to give his audience a record of his life. To this end, he candidly shares facts about his roots and his family, telling us how “The Williams Brothers” group (formed with his siblings) brought the singers to Los Angeles and ultimately gave Andy his shot at a solo career. Memoirs, in general, can be a terrifically hard sell – with the writers often consumed by their own celebrity and their own legacies, lacking the editorial savvy to know when the anecdotes don’t move the reader. However, Williams’ pen doesn’t suffer from self-aggrandizement. Instead, he has chosen to write about the meat of his life in poignant and in depth terms. For example, the passages chronicling his early years with “The Williams Brothers” are made painfully real when he tells us that the group had to barter with the funeral parlor and sing in the chapel daily in order to pay for their younger brother’s service. In addition, Williams offers stories on Judy Garland, Ronald Reagan, John Huston, Bobby Kennedy John Lennon and Howard Hughes, giving us insight into the faces who once owned the attention of every eye and ear. As far as memoirs go, Moon River And Me is both entertaining and meaningful, painting a picture of an era through the life of the man who put the waters of “Moon River” to music.

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by John Aiello

AMERICAN LIBRE. Raul Ramos y Sanchez. Grand Central Publishing.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez’s debut novel, America Libre, depicts a chilling near-futuristic tale of an America steeped in a battle of Hispanic-driven social tension.

After an innocent Latina is killed in Texas, riots erupt throughout the barrios in a strife-torn America. The government responds with fear, and extreme anti-immigration laws emerge (in addition to a Hispanic faction looking to redraw the U.S. borders.

As the riots come closer and closer to home, Manolo Suarez, an out-of-work veteran, is forced to question just where his allegiance lies: with a country that has become increasingly oppressive or with his race. However, after a chance at a job arises, Suarez is forced to realize that neutrality is not truly a viable option.

In America Libre, Sanchez creates a novel that cannot be ignored. Like the best futuristic fiction, Sanchez uses elements of modern-day society to force the reader to question their own beliefs. Thus, this novel cannot be tossed off as work of implausibility; to the contrary, the plausibility of the extremism on both sides makes for a wonderfully uncomfortable journey.

However, what saves America Libre from being a purely political book is Sanchez’s well-rounded characters and the world that he creates for them. For example, Manolo is a traditional man who cares deeply about his family; this makes for a refreshing change when he is tempted by his attractive boss.

Blasting through typical Hispanic stereotypes, Sanchez creates characters as diverse as the Latin American countries.America Libre is set in Los Angeles, and it is clear that Sanchez knows his area well, with the setting used a secondary character to drive a novel filled with dangers, sanctuaries, and communal beauty.

In the end, America Libre is an explosive first novel for Sanchez and he accomplishes what so many authors strive to build: A compelling, exciting, and ultimately enjoyable book that forces readers to examine the society in which they live.

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

HOLLYWOOD IS LIKE HIGH SCHOOL WITH MONEY. Zoey Dean. Grand Central Publishers.

In Zoey Dean’s latest novel, Taylor Henning, twenty-four and fresh from film school, has just landed her dream job as an assistant at a major movie studio. New to Hollywood, rooming with her best friend, Magnolia (a dog-walker and waxing specialist), Taylor is ill-prepared for the back-biting of the LA-scene that eventually brings her to the cold realization thatHollywood is like school – but with money. In order to keep her job intact, Taylor has to start acting like the popular kid on campus; thus, she solicits help from her boss’s teenage daughter, Quinn, who quickly coaches the Hollywood rookie on the art of being ruthless. As Taylor studies under the watchful eye of Quinn, we’re left to wonder if she’s adopting the superficial persona she’s always fought against. Hollywood is Like High School serves as a fun and fast paced read that reveals the core of the Hollywood scene (catch the name-drops and mentions of glamorous designer labels) while simultaneously painting a real-time picture of all those 24-year-olds who flee to LA from college bent on finding that ever-elusive something. Throughout the book, Zoey Dean’s style stands tall as she adeptly blends drama with humor to tell a story of friendship and soul-searching (bringing us back to that misunderstood outsider buried somewhere deep inside of everyone).

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.


It’s hard to believe that there could be a more influential or layered fairy tale than Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. In short, Baum’s story of a land called Oz captured the imagination of a multitude of generations as it taught young readers to see beyond their own four walls. Here, Rebecca Loncraine, an accomplished writer from the U.K., offers an insightful tour of the life and times of Oz’s great creator. Interestingly, even though Oz is known throughout the world for multi-dimensional characters like DorothyToto and the Tin Man, few readers know much about the man who dreamed up these faces. In The Real Wizard, Loncraine presents the first biography of Baum, shedding light on the man and his motivations. For example, Loncraine’s passages summarizing Baum’s time on the Great Plains are evocative and rich in detail, exploring the edge from which Baum ultimately wrote. Just in time for the 70th anniversary of MGM’s epic film-interpretation of Baum’s classic, The Real Wizard finally gives the man who created this world beyond time his due.

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by John Aiello

GO SPANISH. Speak and Read The Pimsleur Way. Simon and Schuster.

GO ITALIAN. Speak and Read The Pimsleur Way. Simon and Schuster.

What sets a foreign language audio apart from its competition? In essence, these kinds of resources are to be measured by approach and methodology – the idea here is to teach students to develop an intimate relationship with the nuances of the new language they’re trying to learn.

Simply, no one can truly speak in another tongue until they’ve burrowed through the granite of its foundations, immersing themselves in its myriad shapes and melodies. Accordingly, the Pimsleur Method has been celebrated for half-a-century as the way to retain any new language.

The Pimsleur Method is the brain-child of Dr. Paul Pimsleur, whose approach is premised on techniques that draw from the secrets of memory. In sum, Dr. Pimsleur’s research documented that when students are introduced to new information at “increasing intervals” they retain the data for longer periods – moving “from short term into long-term, or permanent, memory.”

Thus, Pimsleur’s program drives students to learn a new language in the same fashion that they learned their native tongue – slowly acquiring vocabulary and then splicing it into the melody, rhythm and intonation of every-day conversation. The result is a lesson-plan that drives students to confront language by absorbing it into the thirsty layers of the brain.

These hallmark releases bring students indispensible introductory audio courses on both Spanish and Italian. Each contains eight 30-minute sessions which allow listeners to gain a foothold on the material in easily digestible ‘bite-sized’ portions. In addition, a reading book with over 50 reading lessons is included. Bonus material features an MP3 CD with audio files of the 8 lesson plans along-side an MP3 file containing three hours of reading lessons. Finally, each selection features a digitalultralingua dictionary with some 200,000 items on it (with a vast compendium of colloquial terms).

These Pimsleur sets prove perfect for the at-home student looking to gain command of a new language outside the classroom.

Order both from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

DILLINGER’S WILD RIDE. Elliot J. Gorn. Oxford.

Say ‘John Dillinger’ and people immediately become attentive. In retrospect, Dillinger was one of the most notorious American criminals to ever traverse these streets – his image inflicting waves of fear in the hearts of law enforcement (and the citizenry they were sworn to protect). In this compelling new book by author/professor Elliot Gorn, the year which made ‘Dillinger’ a household name is dissected in detail as we come to immerse ourselves in the myth of this larger-than-life figure. Dillinger’s Wild Ride takes a long and probing look into his journey through America – beginning in June of 1933 and culminating with his death in July of 1934. For that one fleeting year, Dillinger was the king of crime, his every move the subject of half-page headlines. And during that one short year, Dillinger pushed the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover to the limits, inspiring new anti-crime legislation while seducing the Depression-torn country with his spit-in-your-face-I- take-no-prisoners attitude. In turn, Gorn’s treatise is expertly realized, his pen drawing an intimate sketch of a cinematic phantom that traveled the edges: There in the shadows splitting the streets, stopping only long enough to storm the next bank and filch the next vault. What’s best about Dillinger’s Wild Ride is found in Gorn’s own take-no-prisoners style; much like the outlaw himself, Gorn refuses to dance about his subject: Instead, he confronts the legend of Dillinger with spirit, toughness and depth, extrapolating the essence of the man by-way of this carefully constructed reportage while simultaneously granting us entree into this great dark gated mirror of underworld history.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

THE PROSECUTION RESTS. Editor: Linda Fairstein. Little Brown. 

The Prosecution Rests presents a collection of page-turning short stories full of action and intrigue, its characters teetering on all sides of the law. Here, editor Linda Fairstein collects a variety of pieces with a variety of plots, with each selection meant to give the reader a different view of the law (as lawyers, criminals, judges and police officers are all represented in this exciting anthology).

Each selection in The Prosecution Rests presents a puzzle for the reader to solve, forcing us ‘to put together the pieces’ and solve each case by the end of the story. For example, in Designer Justice,” Phyllis Cohen begins her story with a crime, leaving the reader wondering if the criminal will ultimately be caught and be brought to justice (while in “My Brother’s Keeper,” by Daniel J. Hade, offers the reader a crime, but does not reveal the true nature of what happened until the very end).

 The element that makes The Prosecution Rests successful can be found in the wide range of material it covers: Linda Fairstein’s stories of intrigue, court drama and revenge inspire us to form deep and intimate relationships with people outside the bounds of the law (as we come to come to live a few moments ‘in their skin’ among their demons).

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

BUSY WOMAN SEEKS WIFE. Annie Sanders. Grand Central Publishing.

Alex Hill is the London business executive in Annie Sanders’s loveable novel Busy Woman Seeks Wife.  As an executive in a global sportswear company, Alex seems to have her working life in order. However, in reality, Alex is far too busy trying to run an advertising campaign to manage her own life.

In this fun read, Sanders begins the novel with action as Alex arrives home to witness some not-altogether-innocent happenings in her bedroom. With a refreshing twist, Sanders involves the maid and a stranger – a turn which provides for some compelling and funny moments as the reader witnesses each aspect of Alex’s response.

While the plot of Busy Woman Seeks Wife is fun and original, its Sanders’s grand cast of characters that make the novel a truly entertaining read. Here, Sanders has built a diverse and unique ‘family’ that is both intriguing and likeable.

For example, take a hard look at Alex’s best friend, Saffron: This stay-at-home mom struggles with her identity, but instead of making her hate her job as a mother, Sanders allows Saffron to love the aspects of cooking and caretaking.

In this novel, Annie Sanders takes gender roles and flips them on their collective head as a means to show her audience that the world is stocked with a charming array of disparate faces all trying to find their place amid our modern-day chaos. With its layered plot and loveable characters, Busy Woman Seeks Wife ultimately proves to be a heartwarming love story that working women and housewives alike will savor.

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

by John Aiello

THOM GUNN: SELECTED POEMS. Edited by August Kleinzahler. FSG. 

Thom Gunn was a poet of tremendous imagination whose love of language and expression stained every breath that he took and every word that he wrote (while it remains truly unfortunate that Gunn’s books were never as thoroughly appreciated as was the work of his Beat Generation contemporaries).

In Selected Poems, many of Gunn’s best and most universal poems are presented in a brand new volume that should be cause for celebration among the poet’s ardent fans.

Before Gunn’s death in 2004, he was writing on a plane that rivaled the work of both Gary Snyder and Michael McClure: His poetry imbued with a depth of character with a natural splendor that glistened like raw blood on the naked page.

And the poet writes:

“One image from the flow

Sticks in the stubborn mind:

A sort of backwards flute”

(From The Gas-Poker)

More than anything else, Gunn’s work transferred a passion for life to literature. And this collection, meant to celebrate his existence and all that he accomplished as a man of letters, brings the bare essence of his poetry back to us in terms both stark and vibrant.

Alas, what has any poet but his holy bucket of words? And what, then, to bequeath to this world save these descriptions of the faces that he saw as walked down the sacred path:

“She dramatized herself

Without thought of the dangers.

But ‘Never pay attention,’ she said

‘To the opinions of strangers.’ “

(From My Mother’s Pride)

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

ABOVE THE LAW. Tim Green. Grand Central Publishing.

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. Little Brown.

February 2009 saw the release of two new fast-paced crime dramas: Tim Green’s Above the Law and the latest James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge collaboration, Run For Your Life. In sum, both novels serve as fine examples of the genre, exciting stories filled with twists, turns and great villains that make for fun quick reads.

Run For Your Life revisits Detective Michael Bennett, who is given the assignment to hunt down a serial killer on the loose in New York City.  In the story, Bennett has a lot on his plate: Not only does he have a serial killer to deal with, but he also has ten flu-stricken kids to care for.

Patterson and Ledwidge give the recently widowed Bennett some help in the form of a spunky Irish nanny (Mary Catherine) and his not-so-traditional priest-father, Seamus. These supporting characters are intense and vibrant, creating a world outside of the police force that allows the reader to completely step into Bennett’s life.

Patterson and Ledwidge kick off the novel with a bang as Bennett is immersed in hostage negotiations.  Here, the reader is thrust deep into the action, thrust into the middle of Bennett’s life (as we encounter him at work as a police officer and then later at home as a father).  At this point we are allowed the chance to see Bennett for who he really is:  A kind-hearted man who cares deeply about his job and his kids.

Any successful crime drama needs a compelling hero, and Bennett definitely fulfills that role. However, for a novel of this genre to rise above its competition, a terrifying villain is also essential.

And Run For Your Life does not disappoint on this front either.

The villain in the story, known simply as The Teacher, is a psychopathic killer who wants to teach the city of New York a lesson, his actions unpredictable, his killings ruthless. Accordingly, we are compelled to read on, lost in his every heinous moment.

Throughout the novel, perspectives switch between Bennett and The Teacher. And it is this device that renders the novel truly exciting as readers are able to simultaneously experience Bennett’s hunt for the killer as they come to know both characters on an intimate plane.

By allowing the reader to delve into The Teacher’s head (seeing into his mind and hearing his thoughts), we are able to experience the murders as they happen (moving at an unrelenting pace until the last page of the novel is finally digested).

While Run For Your Life leaves us guessing to who the real killer is, Tim Green’s Above the Law does not hide the fact that the villain in his story is U.S. Senator Chase, a man who shoots an illegal immigrant named Elijandro.

The opening pages of the novel Green’s novel escort us into a complex society of corruption, giving the reader bits and pieces of the big picture without ever allowing us to see how it all comes together until the end of the story.

In Above the Law, Green brings back Casey Jordan, the heroine of his bestseller, The Letter of the Law.  Jordan is an attorney who gave up a successful practice to open up a woman’s legal clinic outside of Dallas. Jordan plays a key role in this book as she digs deep into the case of Isadora’s deportment, adding a crisp depth to Green’s opus.

Green deftly introduces new characters as the story advances, creating complications that force the reader to reconsider what they thought they knew. The progression of the story feels natural, with Green creating a society wholeheartedly corrupt (without ever causing the audience to feel manipulated).

The landscape of Texas serves an apt setting for Above the Law, the vast countryside allowing for murders to be hidden and lives to be erased.  By having the story set near Mexico, Green is able to artfully illustrate the plight of the illegal immigrant without stopping the story to make his point.

As noted, Green gives the reader tiny pieces of the puzzle throughout the story, but it is not until the end that the picture finally comes together as we come to root for Casey and, ultimately, respect her.

In essence, Casey Jordan is about standing up for the little people and putting her life on the line for what is right. And in these uncertain times, this is a lesson we all can learn from.

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

BONE CROSSED: A Mercy Thompson Novel. Patricia Briggs. Ace Hardcover.

In this complicated and compelling story, novelist Patricia Briggs puts her imagination and completely original voice on full display.

Bone Crossed marks the 4th installment of Briggs’ urban fantasy series. Here, we come to be introduced to Mercy Thompson, whose persona looms rich with allegory, whose countenance changes shape with the silent passage of time into space.

In the story, Mercy is at war with the self as she straddles the line between this world and the next. At the point when she chooses alpha werewolf Adam as her companion, Mercy is thrust into dark naked realms of revenge and betrayal. And soon after, her life is marked in crossed bones, sign and symbol that Mercy is no longer safe from the vampires and their individual agendas.

Where to go? What to do? Even though there are plenty of people around, Mercy is, ultimately, left to confront her demon-predators alone (dependent on her own insight and delicate perception, trusting only in the strength of her own eyes).

And therein lies the lesson of Bone Crossed: In this life, each of us is responsible for our own plight, responsible for the decisions that we make and the steps that we take. Accordingly, it is up to each person to sharpen their eyes and learn to think clearly and tread carefully.

In this life, the challenge is to gain enough strength to live with passion and die with dignity and bravery and honor. And as Mercy Thompson shows us, these challenges are universal to urban worlds of fantasy and fiction and to human worlds of economic fallout and war-torn country sides.

In sum, this novel is note-worthy both for Briggs’ writing (which dangles tantalizingly between fantasy and reality) and for Mercy Thompson’s noble fight, fighting to choose good over evil, truth over deception.

If you’re looking to take an entertaining ride through a grand labyrinth of a book that will leave you wiser for the journey, then Bone Crossed is for you.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

THE BRENNER ASSIGNMENT. Patrick K. O’Donnell. De Capo Press.

Just in time for the Christmas holiday season, The Brenner Assignment marks a fast-paced Word War Two epic that grips the reader with a sharp intensity seldom seen in today’s middle-of-the-road literature. Melding the blow-by-blow reportage of Mailer’s’ The Executioner’s Song with the high drama of Hemingway’s best short fiction, military historian Patrick O’Donnell manages to tell the story of a small platoon of Americans who were assigned a dangerous and almost impossible task, to sever the Third Reich’s supply lines at Brenner Pass. While most World War Two stories written today mistakenly attempt to be bigger than life, what’s best about The Brenner Assignment is that it captures the human elements of war in true-to-life wordscapes (showing that valor and bravery are often only the by-products of ordinary men persevering against hard-edged odds). Featuring immaculate prose and exhaustive research (note that some of the details for this book actually grew from a diary that was once buried in a bottle), O’Donnell has created a movie in book form that will captivate its reader from start-to-finish. If there’s a veteran in the house, this book makes for a natural gift that will entertain as it educates and enlightens.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

STOCK TRADER’S ALMANAC 2009. Jeffrey A. Hirsch. Yale Hirsch. John Wiley.

It’s hard to think that there could have ever been a release timelier than this one, as the 2009 Almanac hits at the same time that the world financial markets teeter on the brink of ruin and the U.S. Government prepares to invest in private banks. Yes, these are tumultuous times in the business sector and investors are pulling out of the market in droves. But is the wholesale panic worth it? As history proves, Wall Street has been a creature of habit adhering to patterns. And the ones who make real dough playing the market know this. In other words, they are adept at reading the past and then playing the patterns to capitalize on a given stock’s up-swing. Here, Hirsch and Hirsch have created a handy almanac organized in calendar format that shows the market’s likely direction by day/week/month based on historical precedent. Serving as a barometer in book form, the 2009 Almanac analyzes patterns and trends in the financial markets and then synthesizes the information into digestible bites that should afford wary investors a kind of security blanket as they summon forth the courage to venture back onto the big money street.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Snapshots In Fiction

REGRET. Gabrielle Faust. Dark Region Press.

Marcus has the job from hell. He got it shortly after he was eaten by his comfy chair, which was a trap for his soul placed by a demon, Desiderium. Desiderium, however, turns out to be a somewhat inept demon, and Marcus quickly seizes control.

Hell, like any big business, is unforgiving of failure, and Desiderium soon ends up in whatever the infernal equivalent of mail-room stock boy is – with no hope of re-climbing the demonic ladder.

Marcus, meanwhile, is given Desiderium’s job, which is that of entrapping humans in their own regrets and forcing them to self-destruct, thus earning a spot next to Desiderium in the lowest orders of hell.

The idea is simple: The more souls Marcus entraps, the higher he rises in hell’s hierarchy.

In terms of structure, humans tricking and defeating malevolent supernatural entities was a standard plot-d

evice for writers at work in the time of the ancient Greeks, but Gabrielle Faust has moved it into a new and intriguing direction by having Marcus not just defeat the demon, but replace him.

Marcus finds that as he is growing new powers and abilities and skills, he is surrounded by competing demons, none of whom are particularly happy with the new competition for their territories.

Regret, the new novella from Gabrielle Faust, serves as an impressive Faustian tour of the inner hells that people endure and create, showing how those same regrets can paralyze even powerful demons – including ones that didn’t start out as humans.

The pacing in Regret is rapid, as befits a novella, with the characterizations and descriptions sure-footed and absorbing, all of which culminates in a compelling and well-crafted work that implores the reader to not allow personal regrets to consume the best parts of life.

Yes, we all have regrets. But spending an hour curled up with this novella is not something that will add to that weight.

Order from Gabrielle Faust.com

by Zepp Jamieson

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson. All rights reserved.

Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

Recently Released

THE GIRL MADE COOL. Alan Fox. Story Focus Communications.

Novelist Alan Fox certainly has a unique take on the world – this writer looking for hope amid the ruins that threaten to consume us. In his new book, The Girl Made Cool, Fox presents three stories about the different ways that people connect and find love.

In the first story, “The Girl Made Cool,” from which the novel draws its title, Fox spins a tale about a couple who are falling deeply in love with each other – the only fly in the ointment is that the woman doesn’t quite know it’s happening.

Instead, she believes she’s falling for a handsome and suave man whose sense of perfection is nonetheless speckled with ghostly doubt. As the novella unfolds, the men lock into battle and vie for their queen (while the queen steps back from herself, on a quest to taste and see her real soul).

In essence, “The Girl Made Cool” serves as a 21st-century parable, urging the reader to look at themselves with compassion and introspection. The lesson here is about learning to forgive your failures and accept the who that you are. According to Fox, if you can really do this, happiness follows in step.

The next story in the collection, “Hell Has Blue Skies,” chronicles the life and times of Jack Flynn, beginning in the days after he graduates from college and enters the business world.

New to the annals of American commerce, Flynn is immediately disgusted by the assortment of liars and cons that cross his path. However, in the midst of the madness he encounters, Flynn is able to to reach out and touch his real self – this unique and sensitive soul whose original way of looking at the world allows him to master both business and love.

The book culminates with “The Lovely Lady at the Love Museum”— an action packed short story about the union of an anthropologist and businesswoman who have come together to fight New York City developers and preserve the ‘love museum’ (reviving lost pieces of themselves along the way).

The Girl Made Cool proves Fox to be an accomplished writer with a nuanced pen, as each story draws on the specters of poetry and imagination to dissect a theme that has compelled human attention since the dawn of time.

Ask ten random people on the street what’s the one thing they want to have in their future, a nine will likely say: “I want to love somebody and I want them to love me back. I want to have a connection. I want to be cared for. I want somebody to be there when I die.”

And that, in effect, is what The Girl Made Cool is about – the journey toward love and self-fulfillment. But digging deeper, Fox’s message is about stripping away the illusion that people can be perfect. Instead, these stories are meant to teach people that love cannot be experienced unless you accept the other person for who they are – warts and all.

As you’ll see, the faces that populate the pages of The Girl Made Cool exist far out-of-step with the mainstream – these dreamers on their individual missions look beyond what’s there, looking into the soul of what is.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER. Robin Oliveira. Viking.

Compelling to the last page, Robin Oliveira’s debut novel, My Name is Mary Sutter has the ring of an instant classic. This epic Civil War tale of one woman’s struggle to become a surgeon is so expertly and elegantly crafted, from the details of 1860’s Albany and “Washington “City,” through the “detritus of war: broken caissons, splintered wheels, discarded muskets, the carcasses of horses swelling in the morning sun.”

Mary Sutter comes from a long line of midwives and is well- versed and armed with Florence Nightingale’s “Notes on Nursing” and Gray’s Anatomy. But even the woman who saved the British army in the Crimea is a recluse during these times. Mary thinks Nightingale hides so she’ll be heard. For no one will listen to Mary either; no one will give her a chance to even get near a medical school.

Then, there is the boy next door. While knowledgeable in the “struts and valves” of the heart, Mary is helpless in its romantic functions and incapable of flirting. Thomas regards her as an exceptional woman but it is her twin sister Jenny he falls for, leaving Mary secretly shattered and more determined to pursue her goal. While it has echoes of “Little Women” – the spirited sister versus the frivolous one the boy falls for, as well as the Civil War backdrop – Oliveira’s novel is a much more complex portrait of love and choices. It’s a realistic and empathetic portrayal of a broken heart without the expected romantic devices – a book unpredictable all the way to its end.

Mary’s choice is to leave surreptitiously and head straight to the first hospital she can find to offer her services. She is immediately rebuffed by a pugnacious Dorothea Dix, who finds her too young. Oliveira’s talent as an historical novelist is evident as the appearances of Dix, John Hay, Seward, Stanton, and, most of all, Lincoln fit effortlessly and crucially into her narrative.

Most striking of all is Oliveira’s unflinching descriptions of 19th century medicine, including ghastly amputations as well as tragic birth scenes, artfully juxtaposed by poetic descriptions of the battlefield. For instance, the horror of the famous Antietam cornfield where, for a brief moment, the soldiers are lulled by memory into “some silken reprieve” until their shock of carnage and their own surreal doom: “This thirst is not thirst,” writes Oliviera, “This pain is not pain. This world is not being rent in two [t]hat howling is only a whisper…I am not here…[b]attles are conversations. An exchange. A dialogue…[N]one of this is true.”

And earlier, at another scene of slaughter, Oliviera writes, “Sighs and sorrows and heartrending cries resounded through the starless atmosphere. Dante, Mary thought.”

My Name is Mary Sutter is a remarkable first novel. And one that manages to combine an unforgettable heroine with just the right balance: historical facts with an evocative and truly believable love story. Its ambition and glory and yearning, set in a colossally bloody and beautiful dreamscape.

Order from amazon.com

by Jackie Jones

© Jackie Jones. All rights reserved.

Jackie Jones is a freelance writer from the Bay Area. She has been reviewing books professionally since 1990, with her pieces appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, Verdugo Monthly, Exurb Magazine and El Petit Journal. Reach her through The Electric Review

 THE BLACK TOWER. Louis Bayard. William Morrow. 

Louis Bayard’s latest novel, The Black Tower, is an intriguing read from start to finish, as the veteran storyteller immerses us in a whirlwind of quirky characters amid a fascinating and layered plotline.

Set in nineteenth-century Paris, the novel begins as Monsieur Hector Carpentier recalls the year 1818, when his daily routine was jarred out of the ordinary by a notorious criminal-turned-detective known simply as Vidocq.

Circa 1818, Hector is a 26-year-old medical student living with his mother and their many student-boarders in Paris’famed Latin Quarter. It’s truly a pedestrian life until the day Vidocq shows up at the door to investigate why Hector’s name was found scribbled on a piece of paper and stuffed into the pocket of a murdered man.

Just that fast, Hector is dragged into a dark and murky murder mystery surrounding the assumed-dead Dauphin, Louis Charles of France, and Hector’s own father (who was the Dauphin’s doctor during the French Revolution). As the story turns forward, Vidocq and Hector rush through the city at break-neck pace, donning disguises and assuming fake personas in pursuit of clues.

Stylistically, Bayard creates a collection of enigmatic characters and then drives them with real-life rumors surrounding the imprisonment and subsequent death of Louis Charles. Moreover, Bayard alternates prose with journal entries from the Dauphin’s doctor; this technique artfully teases readers with hidden clues while giving the story its body and continuity (this masterful back-and-forth managing to address curiosities and answer questions just as the reader is about to formulate them).

With colorful dialogue and vivid descriptions of Paris and its residents, Bayard sketches an authentic and solid backdrop for his compelling mystery. As long-time fans will quickly note, Bayard’s writing is at fluid and bursting with wry humor, traits that manage to keep the pages turning as we lose ourselves in this evocative ‘who-done-it.’

In sum, The Black Tower proves to be a captivating read for both history buffs and mystery aficionados alike, this taut well-paced novel that leaves you wanting more.

Order from amazon.com

by Chelsea Kerrington

© Chelsea Kerrington. All rights reserved.

Chelsea Kerrington is a freelance writer and graduate student at Emerson College in Boston. Reach her through The Electric Review

THE GIVEN DAY. Dennis Lehane. William Morrow.

Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, The Given Day, about the 1919 Boston Police Strike, is destined to become a classic in the historical fiction genre.

Here, Lehane completely captures the chaotic atmosphere of the era, depicting the emergence of unions, the advent of socialism, the great influx of European immigrants into the country and the general disillusionment caused by World War I.

In The Given Day, Lehane has carefully constructed the plot to give readers sufficient background on the era; thus, when the 1919 Boston Police Strike occurs later in the novel, they are able to fully understand the devastation the event inflicted.

The Given Day confronts issues ranging from racial tension to the balance between capitalism and social responsibility (in addition to the roles of immigrants, workers’ rights and the pursuit of the American Dream that still resonates within many of us)

Throughout his story, Lehane manages to capture what every historical novel strives to for: A compelling plot driven by well-rounded characters that coincides with a significant event in history.

The Given Day centers around three main characters: Luther Laurence, an African American on the run; Danny Coughlin, the Boston Police Chief’s son; and Babe Ruth. As he constructs the story, Lehane wisely chooses three characters representing different demographics as a means to explore all segments of Boston’s society, in turn making the city itself a living breathing presence.

Through his characters, The Given Day traverses all corners of Boston. With punchy prose, Lehane grabs his readers and forces them to take note of the frantic beauty of this old city “the spring leaked without complaint into summer and the summer unfurled in bright yellows and etched greens and the air smelled so good it could make you cry.”) (p. 222).

As Danny Coughlin walks his beat “from one end of Hanover Street to the other, from Constitution Wharf to the Crawford House Hotel,” Lehane lets Boston’s neighborhoods come alive (p. 34).  By the end of the novel, readers feel like they too have walked the streets with these misfit characters. In turn, when the strike inevitably happens, we are able to immediately connect with the pain of a wounded Boston.

As he writes, Lehane never lets the story stop for history; instead, he forces the plot to charge head-first into historical events.  With riveting prose that chronicles the spirit of the times, Lehane draws us in, artfully juxtaposing dialogue with action to convey information (rather than just doling out paragraph after paragraph of history like so many historical novels will do).

Moreover, Lehane chooses characters that are immersed in the history of the times: By focusing on Danny Coughlin, a police officer who finds himself continuously invested in the Boston Social Club (the police officer’s union), the author is able to demonstrate just what formidable obstacles the officers faced.

Stylistically, Lehane is able to masterfully pace his novel, allowing one event to build up to the next: When the strike finally explodes, men are transformed by this sudden catastrophe that has enveloped their lives.

Make no mistake, The Given Day is an American novel and in its pages Dennis Lehane has managed to revive myriad social issues while uncovering the events that precipitated the Boston Police Strike of 1919 (creating a compelling array of characters that serve to reveal the intricate web of social mores that made up America in the early twentieth century).

Ultimately, Lehane forces each reader to question how these social mores stand up today, leaving us to question if we, as a nation, have changed. And by virtue of causing us to ask the question, Lehane presents a magnificent historical novel that will be relevant to American culture for years to come.

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

Quick Picks

From the Editor: In this column from contributing writer Jacob Aiello, we survey some of the most intriguing titles in new fiction and non-fiction, each book noted for its nuance and depth and for the original step it takes into these wild realms of literature.

THE WALKING-AWAY WORLD. KENNETH PATCHEN. Introduction by Jim Woodring. New Directions

Walking-Away WorldKenneth Patchen was that rare infant prodigy, a veritable Mozart with a canvas and a bottle of ink who could look at you (at us) and show exactly what we were and what we could be (his work brimming with all the clarity and innocence of a child asking his father why he drinks). The author of the cult novel The Journal Of Albion Moonlight (in addition to various acclaimed collections of poetry) is perhaps best remembered for his “picture-poems”: These single panel paintings created in the manner of William Blake’s illuminated poems and featuring sparse expressionistic figures set around simple phrases (“The Argument of Innocence can only be lost if it is won”; or “In the long run this is a race where everybody ends up in a tie, sorta.” In essence, Patchen’s pieces are the bumper stickers on the chariots of the angels. And in the end, Patchen himself was destined to serve as the forgotten conscience of a lost generation whose words and pictures expressed the sweet imagination that eludes the world today. In this, a reissue of three of his picture-poem collections (WonderingsHallelujah Anyway, and But Even So), New Directions reintroduces the poet’s warmth, humanity and wondrous sense of humor to a brand new generation of readers.

Also Of Note from New Directions Books

WE MEET. Kenneth Patchen. New Directions.

With an introduction from “freak-folk” musician Devendra Banhart, this companion volume to The Walking-Away World blends the wild impulse of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories with William Blake and E.B. White to create an originality all its own. But don’t take my word for it. For as Charles Mingus said while ruminating on the poet: “Patchen’s a real artist [and] you’d dig him.”

BOWIE IN BERLIN: A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN. Thomas Jerome Seabrook. A Genuine Jawbone Book.

Few rock musicians have managed the longevity, the originality and consistency of quality like David Bowie. As a matter of fact, I could probably list them all on my left hand. Without using my thumb. Of course, Bowie’s on that list next to Bob Dylan (whose various incarnations were brought so vividly to life in Todd Hayne’s recent I’m Not There). Moreover, one could deduce that, in Dylan, Bowie was able to find an archetype that mirrored the trajectory of his own career. In 1971, on the cusp of his glam-rock era, Bowie released the oft-underappreciated Hunkey Dory (which included the country-tinged “Song For Bob Dylan”). Five years later, having released some of the era’s most memorable and influential records (Ziggy StardustAladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs, while building some colorful archetypes all his own),Bowie fled to Berlin with longtime collaborator Iggy Pop (where the two came to explore the divided city and the various reservoirs still untapped within their own characters). During this period, which soon became known as The Berlin Era,Bowie wrote some of his most original and unapologetic work (LowHeroes and Lodger, in addition to producing Pop’s first two solo records). In this treatise, Bowie’s period of reinvention is impeccably detailed by Seabrook, who features an ear for both the music and for the stories this duo of sonic mavericks created. With its detailed rundown of these seminal albums, In Berlin will likely send you back to the Bowie archives, not just for a date with these records, but to rediscover an oeuvre that is as innovative as it is enduring.

THE SAVAGES: THE SHOOTING SCRIPT. Screenplay and Introduction by Tamara Jenkins. A Newmarket Shooting Script Series Book.

2007 seemed to be the year for films about dementia. First there was Sarah Polley’s beautifully wistful Away From Her, adapted from the Alice Munro short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” And then Tamara Jenkins’ bittersweetThe Savages. It also seemed to be the year for keen, witty screenplays, with Diablo Cody’s Juno snatching up the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but again it was Jenkins’ The Savages that was sorely overlooked. Under Jenkins’ direction, the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as the Savage siblings (in addition to the wonderful Philip Bosco as Savage) brought warmth and a magnetic dynamism to the roles. However, the importance of an exceptional screenplay to any film should not be under-estimated. And the depth of this script is truly compelling, as it forces us to ask big questions about ourselves. Ultimately, this story inspires to look at dark questions about forgiveness and pain, a quintessential examination of the human condition.

Included here in Jenkins‘ introduction are tidbits about her initial meeting with the star actors, a hilarious scene in which she wonders, Did John Huston ever arrange muffins for his actors? Did Peckinpah steam milk? However, as interesting as these behind-the-scenes moments are to discover, it’s the script itself that reigns supreme: This beautiful, tragic, funny and redemptive story that provides the basis for what is destined to be a classic film.

by Jacob Aiello

OLD DEVIL MOON. Christopher Fowler. A Serpent’s Tail Book.

In this, Christopher Fowler’s tenth collection of short stories, the author spins some delightfully twisted yarns about nocturnal museums and macabre innocence, about madness and desperation, each piece delivered with a deft turn of phrase and a uniquely British sense of humor. For example, in “The Lady Downstairs,” the legendary Sherlock Holmes is shown up in the case of Lady Templeford by his own landlady, Mrs. Hudson (while in the sweetly sublime “Take It All Out, Put It All Back,” a young man learns how to manipulate luck in order to sculpt his fate). The latter story calls to mind the fiction of Roald Dahl, wherein the schemers of the world out to pull one over on the arbiters of nature fail even as they succeed. “Take It All Out” even has a scene reminiscent of Dahl’s “The Man From the South,” wherein our luckless protagonist, Lukas Forrest, asks a friend to chop off his pinky finger so that he can claim his karmic due. The stories contained within Old Devil Moon mark a new kind of horror story: These stories of modern man meant to show what we’re capable of achieving at our most desperate hour. It’s a terrain that’s been explored ever since man invented a nib and a phial of ink in which to dip it, this place long inhabited by the likes of Dahl and Ian McEwan. And now, we’re bound to find Christopher Fowler lurking there as well.

by Jacob Aiello

THE GRIN OF THE DARK. Ramsey Campbell. Tor.

On a primeval level, there is something frightening about clowns, as the subject and symbol has been used to terrifying effect from writers like Raymond Carver and Stephen King (and now, Ramsey Campbell). Tubby Thackeray’s his name, and back in the days of silent film, he was a contemporary of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s at the point where he’s been cast to the dustbins of celluloid that our story begins, following down-and-out film critic Simon Lester as he sets out to resurrect his reputation with a new biography of the long-forgotten film star. As Simon views scattered frames of film, Tubby begins to emerge in full form: A creature more demon than comedian, a specter in face paint and clown-garb. Read on and you will quickly discover why The Washington Post Book World described Campbell as “One of the premier horror writers of the English-speaking world.” As fans of the genre already know, Campbell has often been compared to that other master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft. And like Lovecraft, Campbell chooses to explore a mythical cold supernatural evil (a technique that allows him to hold his readers captive, jailed here by the image of Tubby as it appears on film). As Campbell shows us, it’s quite a worthy medium: The old black-and-white movies are eerie and haunting, reviving old actors long dead and then allowing them to move about with all the ease and grace that eludes the rest of us. As a writer, Campbell knows just how to exploit that eeriness to full effect, building stories that are as compelling as they are terrifying. And once you read this one, you won’t be able to look at clowns (or even Chaplin’s “The Tramp”) the same ever again.

by Jacob Aiello

Recommended Reading

MADONNA: LIKE AN ICON. Lucy O’Brien. A Harper-Entertainment Book.

In this publication’s review of Thomas Jerome Seabrook’s Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town, I mentioned that I could probably list all of the musicians who have managed the longevity and reinvention of Bowie on my left hand, without using my thumb. In the course of making that point, I of course mentioned Bob Dylan. And add to that list Madonna. Since she exploded onto the pop-music scene in 1982 with her eponymous debut, she has consistently been a force with which to be reckoned. Whether as a musician, performance artist, dancer, actress, entertainment mogul or subject of the tabloid media, she has always pushed the boundaries of what it is to be a celebrity and a female public figure (just as a little example, Google the name “Madonna.” Not until the eleventh listing do you get an entry not related to the pop star. Not until the twelfth listing is there any mention of Jesus’ mother). Few other public figures seem to merit a biography as much as Madonna Ciccone, and with Madonna: Like An Icon, Lucy O’Brien truly does her subject justice. Having researched the inimitable icon since her debut in the 1980s, O’Brien breaks down Madonna’s career in not just one, but in three books (titled, appropriately enough, “Baptism,” “Confession,” and “Absolution”). Herein is all the fascination of Truth Or Dare, the romances with A-list celebrities, the firestorm over her hit song “Like A Prayer” (featuring a black Jesus and its subsequent condemnation by the Catholic Church), the simulated masturbation in “Like A Virgin,” and all that’s just in the first 150 pages! O’Brien herself has a celebrated career as an author and journalist, having already penned biographies of Dusty Springfield and Annie Lennox, as well as the aptly titled She Bop: The Definitive History Of Women in Rock, Pop & Soul, and She Bop II. One gets the sense, however, that Madonna is the figure she was always meant to write about, and Madonna: Like An Icon is the book she was always meant to write. 

by Jacob Aiello


Mystery novels have long been consigned to the sidelines as “genre fiction,” but few can deny the works of Raymond Chandler in distilling and expressing the ennui in the post-World War II afterglow. Going further, few can read The Maltese Falcon, “the stuff dreams are made of,” and not see in that big black bird all the existential angst and hope and ambition of the past fifty years. That said, Stuart Kaminsky is undoubtedly a mystery writer. The author of over fifty novels which include a series that followed a Hollywood private detective in the forties; a police investigator in Moscow; a police officer in Chicago; and now, a story chronicling the life and times of Lew Fonesca, a Florida process-server. In this, the fifth installment in the series (which the New York Times Book Review applauded for “Vivid characters and plenty of local color”), Fonesca returns to his hometown of Chicago intending to find the man who killed his wife four years earlier in a hit-and-run accident. The best private detectives are undoubtedly vulnerable people, those who channel their losses and personal tragedies into the search for justice (think Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon avenging his partner’s death). Here, as the plot unravels, the reader finds that there’s more to Fonesca’s hunt than finding his wife’s killer (instead, he’s looking for the most elusive of all quarries: inner peace). Despite its dark terrain, Always Say Goodbye is not without moments of wit as Kaminsky writes with a pen dipped in black humor while exploring the vast topography of loss, justice and grief. In the end, Always Say Goodbye is not only a good mystery book, it’s also just a plain good book.

by Jacob Aiello

THE TRAVELING COMPANION & OTHER PLAYS. Tennessee Williams. Edited and with an introduction by Annette J. Saddik. New Directions.

In his nearly fifty years as playwright, Tennessee Williams created some of the most indelible characters and some of the most compelling scenes ever to grace the American stage. His name alone conjures images of sweat-stained undershirts and the musky southern dusk, conjuring impulses of passion and fury, of jealousy and grief. It’s all in words like “mendacity” and “genius.” In the introduction to The Traveling Companion & Other Plays, a new collection of Williams’ later, more experimental work published recently by New Directions, the playwright confesses in an interview that his “life effort” was “transmuting madness into meaning.” Through the forties and fifties he did so with plays like The Glass Menagerie, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly, Last Summer. In his later years however, in response to the tumult around him, Williams wrote “freer,” more experimental works that “fit people and societies going a bit mad.” In The Traveling Companion, edited and with an introduction by Annette J. Saddik, twelve plays which have never been published are collected . However, their relative anonymity does not detract from their value, as Williams’ vast talent rises in full bloom. In The Day On Which a Man Dies, Williams borrows liberally from Japanese Noh theater, whereas in Kirche, K’Kinder, one sees perhaps traces of Brecht’s Epic theater, this conscious effort to speak with the audience rather than merely speaking to it. Since his death in 1983, Williams has been memorialized time and again as a titan of the American stage as we’ve seen “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” veer dangerously close to kitsch. But here, and just in time, we are presented with a collection that rediscovers the startling originality of Tennessee Williams: True bard of the avant-garde.

by Jacob Aiello

Also Of Note from New Directions

THE COLLECTED POEMS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, Edited by David Roessel and Nicholas Moschovakis. New Directions.

On his gravestone in St. Louis, Missouri, two words engraved into the granite describe Tennessee Williams’ legacy: “Poet. Playwright.” Included in this definitive collection are all of Williams’ poems, including those poems from his plays (for example “How Calmly Does the Orange Branch” from The Night of the Iguana), and poems previously left unpublished. Also included in this new edition is a CD of the author reading his work.

by Jacob Aiello 

THE SACRED PLACE. Daniel Black. A St. Martin’s/Griffin Book.

The Sacred Place begins with a seemingly insignificant transaction: It’s the summer of 1955 and a fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago named Clement walks into a general store in Money, Mississippi to buy a cold drink (never stopping to consider the mores of black-white relations in the pre-Civil Rights era south). However, Clement’s innocent subversion eventually results in his brutal murder as a small town’s black community is galvanized by its demand for equality. Unfortunately, it’s all too recognizable a tale that Daniel Black tells. Cut back to the summer of 1955: A fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago named Emmett Till whistled at a white woman in Money, Mississippi, and his brutal murder and the subsequent acquittal of his murderers preceded the galvanization of the black community, eventually sparking off the American Civil Rights Movement. It’s hard to fathom that this all happened just fifty years ago, and even harder to believe that Black’s novel is just as relevant in 2008. Yet, for the first time in history, a black man now stands on the brink of the presidency. And without minimizing Barack Obama’s accomplishments, one must readily admit that none of it could have ever been possible without the fortitude of Martin Luther King, Jr., without the subversive bravery of Rosa Parks, without the conviction of young Clement (whose community refused to allow his death and the cause of the oppressed to stand unanswered). 

by Jacob Aiello


Western civilization was founded in the minds of the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks. How we live as a society and how we think about ourselves as individuals (and as a communal whole) indeed finds its foundation on the shores ofGreece and Rome. But for Hillman, knowing how we got here is but one part of the equation. Instead, he is intent on delving deeper into the subject, with questions like: Was Aristotle high when he taught Alexander the Great? And was Socrates stoned while he developed his Socratic method? Believe it or not, The Chemical Muse attempts to answer these questions, and many more. Actually, the seed for Hillman’s book was planted back when he was in front of a doctoral dissertation committee, presenting his thesis on the use of medicinal drugs in the Roman Republic: “They [the committee] seemed to be preoccupied with just one particular chapter of my 250-page thesis,” he writes in the introduction. “What they disliked was the chapter in which I wrote about the Roman penchant for recreational drugs and the prevalent use of psychotropics by just about everyone in antiquity.” Eventually the committee insisted that he remove the offending chapter (which became the basis for this book). As you move through The Chemical Muse, you’ll note that Hillman’s treatise paints a curious chicken-before-the-egg kind of scenario that can be used to examine wanton drug and alcohol use by modern-day writers, artists and musicians. For example, did William Burroughs need heroin because he wrote so brilliantly, or did he write so brilliantly because he did heroin? And how big a part did psychotropic drugs play in the origins of democracy, science, philosophy and drama? Citing examples born in myth, medicine and literature, Hillman sets out to dissect this great mystery. And in the end, he thoroughly succeeds, his deftly structured narrative the vehicle from which we begin this illuminating and mind-expanding journey.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.

Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.


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This entry was posted on April 1, 2013 by in 2013, April 2013, Rat On Fiction & Nonfiction and tagged , , , .
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