Friday, March 28, 2008

Mystery writer Truman, daughter of president, dies

Margaret Truman, the only child of former President Harry S. Truman who became a concert singer, actress, radio and TV personality and mystery writer, died Tuesday. She was 83.

For the complete article:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician by Catherine Maccoun

Having read several self-help and personal-improvement books over the past few years, the recent trends are hard to ignore. Most of the books on the market covering these themes tend to simplify life changes and introspective reevaluation to the point of claiming it is as easy as saying ‘Yes I Can’. With the popularity of The Secret and guided imagery, even talking to yourself is taken out of the equation, and simply wishing or imagining personal improvements is supposed to be enough to bring about radical change.

So reading Catherine MacCoun’s book, On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician, is a much needed breath of fresh air in what has always seemed a cliché and uninspired genre.

MacCoun’s title and subject matter may at first put some readers off with its references to arcane alchemical arts and magical properties. But what she has actually managed is to offer a fresh perspective into how people make choices, perceive the world around them, and live their lives. She does so by introducing us to an innovative blend of spiritualism and psychology, in much the same way that Alchemy itself blends scientific observation with objective mysticism.

Granted, chapters like the one that uses scenes and terminology from Harry Potter to illustrate a point may take the magician aspect of the book a tad too far for some people. But the message within is much more grounded in reality than some of the ‘guided imagery’ feel-good books cluttering the bookstore shelves these days.

The true test of any book of this nature is the ability of the reader to glean something constructive and useful from its pages, even if they do not buy into the author’s overall message. Readers of MacCoun’s latest will undoubtedly have no trouble walking away wiser and more aware, no matter their take on becoming a Modern Magician. And that, as they say, is magic.

Reviewed by S. Michael Wilson

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and prophet of the satellite era, dies aged 90

The science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke - famed for his visionary predictions of the future - has died aged 90.

He will be remembered as someone who for more than half a century popularised scientific reality through science fiction, and who lived long enough to see many of his most outlandish predictions become first fact and then history.

In more than 70 books, countless short stories, articles, film scripts and TV shows, Clarke painted his vision of the future that may at times have veered towards the romantically idealistic but was nevertheless always grounded in plausible scientific reality.

He provided the inspiration for what some fans claim to be the best science fiction film ever made - 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There are two kinds of science fiction writers - those who paint a picture of alternative, future or alien worlds governed by fantasy and whimsy, and those whose fiction is rooted firmly in the laws of physics.

Clarke, along with his American contemporary Isaac Asimov, was firmly in the latter camp.

His stories were often little more than an excuse to air a technological or scientific postulation. Clarke's astronauts mostly eschewed the “warp drives'”and “wormholes” beloved of most sci-fi writers and relied instead on good old-fashioned rockets.

Clarke, who was wheelchair-bound, had been suffering from heart and breathing problems when he died in his adopted home of Sri Lanka at 7.30pm GMT yesterday, according to an aide.
In later life he had suffered from post-polio syndrome, a result of contracting a brief bout of the disease in his youth.

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore paid tribute to his friend last night, saying: “He was a great visionary, a brilliant science fiction writer and a great forecaster.

“He foresaw communications satellites, a nationwide network of computers, interplanetary travel - he said there would be a man on the moon by 1970, while I said 1980 - and he was right.”

Born the son of a farmer in Somerset in 1917, Clarke was a radar specialist for the RAF during the Second World War and took up writing full-time in the 1940s.

In 1945, Clarke made perhaps his most famous and accurate prediction.

He wrote an article in Wireless World predicting that, one day, it would be possible to use satellites in fixed “geostationary” orbits, 23,000 miles above the Earth, as in effect giant radio masts, allowing radio, telephony and television signals to be relayed from any point on the planet to another.

Although this was a dozen years before the first satellite would be launched, Clarke had come up with the idea for worldwide satellite-broadcasts.

In keeping with his visions of a future that others could barely imagine, he coined Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

In 1953, while scuba diving in Florida, he met Marilyn Mayfield, marrying her a fortnight later. But she left him six months later. Clarke settled in Sri Lanka in

One short story made him famous. The Sentinel - a tale of a mysterious alien race which had accelerated human evolution - was noticed by the film director Stanley Kubrick, who met Clarke in Trader Vic's bar in New York to discuss how it could be turned into “the perfect science fiction movie”.

From the roof of Kubrick's Manhattan apartment, the pair spotted a mysterious object tracking across the sky.

The UFO was, they decided, a good omen and they signed the deal. (The UFO turned out to be a secret Pentagon spy satellite).

The result was spectacular. 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, has been hailed by its fans as the best science fiction movie ever made; its detractors claim it is incomprehensible gibberish, especially the ending, which differs from Clarke's more straightforward original.

Unusually for a celebrity writer, Clarke was always highly approachable - he described himself as a “failed recluse”, holed up in his luxury Colombo home.

His phone number was listed in the Sri Lankan directory. Until his health really started to go downhill in the late 1990s, he would always answer calls from fans personally, often spending half an hour or more chatting away about space elevators of the possibilities of colonising the Moon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: Killer's Payoff by Ed McBain

Killer's Payoff veers from the ensemble feel of the previous novels by adhering strictly to one crime, in this case the murder of a blackmailer. The lack of any secondary criminal investigations taking place in the background doesn't take away from McBain's usual layered narrative, as extra time is well spent exploring all of the different paths an investigation can take simultaneously, especially in a case complicated by victims that are as secretive than the criminals themselves. How do you track down and interrogate suspects to a blackmailer's murder, when even the innocent ones have something to hide?

The drama isn't as intense as in previous novels, which might explain the novel's absence of side stories to lighten the mood. Since the victim of the case is a criminal himself, the lack of sympathy allows for a lighter approach to the narrative that keeps the mood hovering between serious and humorous. The overall effect is that this installment comes off more like a straight Mystery novel, which can either be viewed as a welcome break in the series format or an unfortunate lapse in the author's recognized style.

Carella and Hawes take up the main brunt of the detective work, with Kling and Meyer doing their fair share, while Willis and Brown pull backup duty with minor roles such as stakeouts and wiretaps. Hawes actually spends a good portion of the novel flying solo, making up for earlier trangressions while gaining a reputation as a rather effective ladie's man by bedding a series of beautiful witnesses and strangers, offering a welcome change of pace from the serious love lives of Kling and Carella. McBain's stable of characters also grows beyond the precinct, as sympathetic informant Danny Gimp and the ex-husband of the previous novel's murder victim each lend a hand.
Reviewed by S. Michael Wilson

Friday, March 14, 2008

Press Release: Simon & Schuster Sets New One Week Record with Twenty-Four New York Times Bestsellers

On March 23, 2008, the New York Times bestseller list will include a record-breaking total of 24 separate bestsellers from various imprints of Simon & Schuster, Inc. The previous Simon & Schuster record was set on the December 24, 2006 list, which featured 21 separate bestsellers.

Of the 24 titles, four are the #1 sellers on their respective lists: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult (Hardcover Fiction), Losing It By Valerie Bertinelli (Hardcover Nonfiction), The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Paperback Trade Fiction), and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous Hardcover).

This bestseller accomplishment highlights the breadth of Simon & Schuster's publishing programs, with at least one bestseller in each of the eleven New York Times categories. These include new titles as well as many long-running bestsellers, including The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (113 weeks), John Adams by David McCullough (29 weeks), 21: Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich (56 weeks), The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (61 weeks), and The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black (60 weeks).

Year-to-date, Simon & Schuster has had 55 New York Times bestsellers, six of which hit #1.
Simon & Schuster's New York Times bestsellers for March 23, 2008

Hardcover Fiction: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult (Atria, #1) Duma Key by Stephen King (Scribner, #13)

Hardcover Nonfiction: Losing It by Valerie Bertinelli (Free Press, #1) An Inconvenient Book by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe (Threshold Editions, #10) The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx with Ian Gittins (Pocket Books, #15)

Paperback Trade Fiction: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, #1) Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult ( Washington Square Press, #2) The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, #16)

Paperback Mass-Market Fiction: I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark (Pocket Books, #2) The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Pocket Books, #10) Laced by Carol Higgins Clark (Pocket Star, #18)

Paperback Nonfiction: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Scribner, #8) John Adams by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, #11) 21: Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich (Free Press/Pocket Star, #14)

Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous Hardcover The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (Atria/Beyond Words, #1) YOU: Staying Young by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz (Free Press, #5) Become a Better You by Joel Osteen (Free Press, #6)

Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous Paperback The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey (Free Press, #10)

Children's Picture Books Smash! Crash! by Jon Scieszka (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, #6)

Children's Chapter Books Tweak by Nic Sheff (Ginee Seo/Atheneum, #3) The Nixie's Song by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, #5) Glass by Ellen Hopkins (McElderry, #9)

Children's Paperback Books Legacy by Kate Brian (Simon Pulse, #5)

Children's Series The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, #2)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: Atom by Steve Aylett

This is the third book I've read by Steve Aylett, the first two being (in order) Slaughtermatic and Gothic Hall. Both of these are personal favorites of mine, which I eagerly force upon unsuspecting friends and family whenever possible. Compared to these two, however, his newest novel Atom falls short.

Now, this isn't a bad book, not in the least. The basic premise is that of a retelling of The Maltese Falcon in the future-cyber-surreal city of Beerlight, except that the mysterious object everyone scrambles after is not a black statue, but Franz Kafka's brain. That alone should give you an idea of the lengths of madness traveled, and Aylett does so with his gifted ability to throw unforgettable one-liners and curt descriptions at you until you're bruised and bleeding and begging for more. For this the novel is not lacking.

My only real problem was the lack of depth achieved. The characters (including our hero, Taffy Atom) run around only half defined and barely memorable as individuals. And the storyline felt thrown together, as merely an excuse to throw around the players. That's not always a bad thing, mind you, but Aylett is capable of so much more, and has proven it in the past. Slaughtermatic (which was only 20 pages longer) not only felt real and drew you into the bizarre and complex storyline and characters, but he even succeeded in drawing out the individual personalities of two people who were essentially the same person!

So, as I said, I'm not saying this is a bad book. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it to others, although new readers of his may want to try the other two titles I mentioned first. It is simply not his best. But here's to hoping it is his worst.
Reviewed by S. Michael Wilson

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: The Crime Doctor by EW Hornung

Is an ape-like murderous thug blackmailing your girlfriend for her jewelry? Missing a few top-secret military blueprints? Plagued by a few pesky arsons and murders at your sprawling country manor house? Is an archfiend planning your death? Need to have a criminally insane member of the upper crust quietly spirited away to a private asylum before the bloodlust strikes again? If so, call the Crime Doctor.

In the mid 1800’s England was an empire. Under British colonial rule, Queen Victoria’s armies occupied twenty-five percent of the nations of this planet, implementing parliamentary law and English culture across the globe. No other fictional character bolstered the perception of Anglo-supremacy and Christian virtue than Sherlock Holmes, the UK’s foremost consulting detective. But in the early 1900s, the English empire started to crumble. Their involvement in the Boer wars, a difficult and bloody campaign that saw the conception of concentration camps for women and children, had the British citizenry equally divided between support and protest. Out of this moral ambiguity and social turmoil comes EW Hornung’s Crime Doctor, a man who himself crippled in that horrific campaign. He is not portrayed as a superman who needs the intellectual challenge of pursuing criminals to sway his boredom, but as an all too human solider, who after being cured of his injury that caused a personality imbalance, has a deep seeded desire to help his fellow man by the eradication of crime, by using any means at his disposal.

THE CRIME DOCTOR was critically acclaimed when first published but unfortunately Dr. Dollar’s thrilling adventures came to a halt shortly after because of the death of the author. Such the pity because the Crime Doctor is an intriguing character, one whom could stand shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Philo Vance as well as Hornung’s most popular creation, Raffles, the Gentleman Cracksmith.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Scribner Acquires Next Novel By John le Carré

Scribner and Pocket Books have acquired U.S. publication and audio rights to John le Carré's next highly anticipated novel, A Most Wanted Man. The announcement was made today by Susan Moldow, Executive Vice President and Publisher of Scribner.

Nan Graham, Vice President, Editor-in-Chief of Scribner, who will edit the book, negotiated the agreement with attorney Michael Rudell for the novel which will be published in October 2008 simultaneously with le Carré's longtime British publisher Hodder & Stoughton and with Penguin Canada. The acquisition of A Most Wanted Man marks a return for le Carré to Scribner who published his runaway New York Times bestsellers Single & Single (1999) and The Constant Gardener (2000), which later became the award-winning film directed by Fernando Meirelles.

Set in Germany, A Most Wanted Man is one of le Carré's most stunning novels, an urgent, contemporary story delivering readers deep inside the intelligence agencies operating in the "war on terror."

"We are thrilled to be publishing John le Carré again," said Susan Moldow. "A Most Wanted Man will remind readers why he is one of the most important writers of our time, offering his unparalleled and timely examination of the world's most pressing threat."

"Le Carré is in a class of his own and he's at the top of it here," added Nan Graham. "A Most Wanted Man is a fiercely intelligent take on the way we fight terrorism now and an extraordinarily moving story about the integrity of some of the men and women on the ground. The characters are as complex and compelling as any le Carré has ever given us."

"I'm pleased with this novel and encouraged by Scribner's enthusiasm," said John le Carré. "It was one of those books that, once started, seemed to write itself. The end took me by surprise, then scared me stiff."

John le Carré is the author of twenty novels -- many of them number one bestsellers -- including The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Constant Gardener, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Little Drummer Girl,The Russia House, and The Tailor of Panama. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages and have been the basis for award-winning, format-bending films and television.

Book Review: Ku Klux Klan America’s First Terrorists Exposed

In the first part of the century, the Klan’s influence on the American way of life was omni-present. They gathered at high-profile gatherings like parades, political events and war rallies. Their posts warning all enemies of the US to beware of KKK justice was seen by hundreds of thousands in many newspapers of the day while from the pulpit preachers exalted their moral Christian virtues. They even appeared (in mockery and satire) in an “Our Gang” comedic short, Lodge Night, and a Walt Disney cartoon, “Alice and the Dog Catcher.” But through the decades the KKK ranks dwindled as their violent and racist tactics came to light. Because of shame and embarrassment, magazine articles and other popular culture media, both pro Klan and anti Klan, was censored or buried.

Ku Klux Klan America’s First Terrorists Exposed brings the reader back to the time when the KKK was still the subject of debate. Then as the title of the book suggests, exposes them as a ruthless band of subversives by first-hand accounts, investigative news reporting, and law enforcement agencies files. The period vernacular in this book can be offensive and shocking at times, but is necessary to convey the nation’s attitude at that time to its citizens of color.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Book Review: Amazing Fantasy THE TERROR of TIM BOO BA Omnibus vol.1

“Many are the wonders of the vast universe. But none so fantastic as… TIM BOO BA!” This bold statement scripted by Marvel’s founding father – Stan “the Man” Lee, foretells the terrible reign of the cruel reptilian dictator, who is finally bested by ….well, that would be telling, and unfair to the reader because most of this story’s charm, like many others contained in this volume, derides from Twilight Zone “inspired” surprise ending. Some much so, Lee stated in an interview with Will Murray regarding his Amazing Fantasy scripts, “I used to get letters from readers ‘Hey, I just saw Twilight Zone, and they used one of your stories from issue so-and-so.’”

Amazing Fantasy THE TERROR of TIM BOO BA Omnibus vol.1 beautifully reprints in their entirety: Amazing Adventures #1-6, Amazing Adult Fantasy #7-14 and Amazing Fantasy #15 -- that’s 416 pages (scripted and executed by Marvel’s A-list talent: Lee, Ditko, and Kirby) brimming with evil alien invaders, rampaging giant monsters, and the creation of Marvel’s greatest and most influential superhero -- Spider-man! This collection is a must have for vintage monster comic book fans.