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19 Jan 2010 A Time to Every Purpose

To every thing there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
…He has made every thing beautiful in his time.

—from Ecclesiastes 3

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01 Jan 2010 Kalo Podariko 2010!

“Happy First-Foot” again for 2010, and may the first foot to cross your threshold today bring you health, happiness and prosperity in the new year.

When it’s typed or written, “2010” looks really different from “2009”—more consistent, streamlined and futuristic. A solid, stable, blocky-looking year. I’m counting on you, 2010, to follow through on that promise. 2009 was a very good year for me in many ways (like this, this and this) but it was an exhausting and heartrending roller coaster of a year in other ways, purely personal. I am ready for some consistency. Some solid, stable, blocky-looking days and weeks and months. Bring them on, 2010.

My resolutions: love more, laugh more, read more, write more. Kalo Podariko!

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26 Dec 2009 The Day After Christmas

Cressie: “Uh-oh, I don’t think we were supposed to start taking down the decorations quite yet. Boo, quick, help me hide the evidence!”

Boo: “We are so busted.”

Cressie, Boo, The Broadcasting Legend™ and I will be back in 2010. We wish everyone a very safe and happy New Year!

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25 Dec 2009 A Joyous Christmas to All

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As seers of old have sung.
It came, a blossom bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.

(Photograph of a tiny brave rose bush just outside our front door, blossoming despite our out-of-the-ordinary Christmas morning snow.)

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24 Dec 2009 Book Shopping, Day Twenty-Four

It’s Christmas Eve at last, and this wonderful book is a celebration of the charming 19th-century poem we all learn as children:

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

First published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” (more commonly known from its first line, as “The Night Before Christmas”) is credited with pretty much single-handedly (or single-footedly—a little poetry humor there) creating the American conception of Santa Claus. It was much reprinted and, as we would say today, “went viral.” Some years later, in 1844, Clement Clarke Moore, a Bible scholar and professor of Oriental and Greek literature at Columbia College, modestly took credit for writing it. This has recently been disputed by Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and a scholar of authorial attribution, with some very interesting bits of literary forensics.

But it doesn’t really matter who wrote the text. This gorgeous pop-up book is a perfectly delightful way to re-read it every year, and introduce it to tiny young readers. Robert Sabuda is a master of intricate paper engineering, and as Paul Hughes writes in the Amazon.com review:

“Santa pops in and out of the chimney, beds fold out, a window shade rises and falls, and, in a clever nod to Moore’s not-a-creature-was-stirring text, it’s a family of mice who are receiving Santa’s nighttime visit. A pull-out tab even lets readers interact, when Santa’s sleigh glides out on the clouds and over an intricately realized village. It’s hard to pick a favorite scene here, but you can bet that kids will love the book’s pop de résistance, in which Santa’s lead reindeer nearly fly right up your nose (if they don’t knock you out of your chair first).”

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore and Robert Sabuda is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. You may not have it in time for tonight, but it will be a wonderful addition to all your nights-before-Christmas to come.

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23 Dec 2009 Book Shopping, Day Twenty-Three

[Here’s another guest post for another fabulous book to pre-order, this time from my friend and crit partner Lisa Brackmann. Book pre-orders do make great last-minute gifts, you know.]

Howdy! I’m thrilled to be Elizabeth’s latest guest for her Twenty-Four Days of Christmas Book Shopping Marathon blog series! Before we get into my book, can I just say I’ve read The Second Duchess, and it is awesome? I’d tell you all to pre-order it too, but I think it’s still too soon. So, just, pre-pre-order it! You’re in for a treat. [Thanks, Lisa! And may I just add that as one of your crit partners I’ve also read Rock Paper Tiger, and it’s absorbing, suspenseful, and simply crammed with fascinating time-and-place atmosphere.]

Okay, back to me. My debut novel Rock Paper Tiger is coming from Soho Press in June 2010. Which is a ways off, but that means your recipient will have a nice, shiny new book just in time for summer vacation.

Rock Paper Tiger is mainly set in China, a country where I’ve spent a considerable amount of time (in fact, I just got back and am trying to write this post while slightly jet-lagged). One of the reasons I wrote the book was that I felt today’s China was underrepresented as a setting in contemporary fiction. I’m not sure why, because if ever there were a place with the sorts of complexities, contradictions and global importance that make for a rich and relevant setting, that would be China. If I’ve managed to capture a tiny fraction of any of that, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.

Your guide through this territory is one Ellie Cooper, an American and former National Guard medic who has plenty of reasons to get lost on the other side of the planet from her native country. Estranged from her husband, she’s tending bar in a Beijing dive and hanging out with video gamers and performance artists – one artist in particular, Lao Zhang, who has a few secrets of his own. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

Rock Paper Tiger has some suspense and thriller elements, but for me it is more of a journey story and a meditation on global communities, in both the positive and negative sense. What does it mean to live in a surveillance society? How do we live creative and free lives in a world that is dominated by huge, impersonal organizations that are largely indifferent to “ordinary” people’s individual concerns? What will Ellie do when she runs out of the Percocet she uses to self-medicate, and will her failure to forward her mother’s prayer chain emails to ten people she wants to bless really result in disastrous consequences?

You can find out more about Rock Paper Tiger at my website, and in the Spring 2010 Soho Catalog (hey, that’s my book on the cover!). Rock Paper Tiger is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and IndieBound. (Hey, Barnes and Noble! Where’s the pre-order? Get with the program already!).

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22 Dec 2009 Book Shopping, Day 22

beutneralcestis[Again today I welcome a guest blogger—this time with a suggestion for new twist on book-giving: the pre-order! So many wonderful books are coming out early in 2010, and it’s so easy to pre-order, print off the page and tuck it in a pretty card to put in your loved one’s stocking. They’ll thank you when a beautiful book appears to brighten the doldrums of February!]

Hello! I’m Katharine Beutner. First of all, many thanks to Elizabeth for kindly inviting me to write a guest post for her holiday book-shopping series about my forthcoming book! [You’re very welcome! –Elizabeth.]

Like Elizabeth’s The Second Duchess, my debut novel Alcestis gives voice to a fabled female character who lived a remarkable life. Alcestis retells the story of a Mycenaean queen who chooses to go to the underworld in her husband’s place. In Alcestis’ world, the gods are not abstractions—they’re her relatives. Her grandfather Poseidon might drop in to visit at any time, and might not be very pleasant when he does. The novel follows Alcestis from her childhood through her marriage to her cousin Admetus, the young king of Pherae, then shadows her into the underworld. She’s one of few female characters in Greek mythology to make this journey, but the myth of her life is not widely known.

My inspiration for the novel came from two sources. The first is the beautiful Rilke poem about Alcestis, which I read as a teenager. (I highly recommend Stephen Mitchell’s translations of Rilke.) I studied classics in college, and finally read Euripides’ Alcestis after graduating. I love Euripides, but I was stunned by the ending of the play, in which Alcestis is rescued from the underworld by the hero Heracles, a friend of her husband’s, and brought back to life as if nothing had happened. Essentially, she’s treated like a prize, while men who venture into the underworld—Odysseus, Orpheus, and later Aeneas—get their own epic poems. I wanted to write a version of Alcestis’ story that would not only cover the three days she spent in the underworld, but would allow readers to experience life in a world peopled by capricious gods.

Alcestis will be published on February 1, 2010—it’s currently available for pre-order at Amazon (in Kindle format, too!), Barnes & Noble, Powells, and IndieBound.

[Elizabeth again. I can’t wait for my own pre-ordered copy of Alcestis to arrive, and an “IOU” of Alcestis to come would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves historical fiction, Greek mythology, or simply strong tales of remarkable women.]

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21 Dec 2009 Book Shopping, Day Twenty-One

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale[I invited our beautiful eldest granddaughter Bella K. to guest-blog about a YA book she’d give as a gift. Here’s the delightful result.]

Hello, granddaughter of the Broadcasting Legend™ and the Time Traveler here to tell you about a fairytale first written by Grimm but twisted by one of my favorite Newbery-Honor-winning authors, Shannon Hale.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love fairy tales; I have princess dresses of every size from all ages. As my dress size got larger I started to see the unjustifiable bias against the fairer sex. The guys always got to be the heroes in fairy tales so I began to wonder… What would happen if the girls got to be the heroes? I was elated to discover the realm of twisted fairy tales where girls stepped forth as adventurers. Regrettably, the boys became… how shall I say it… less than Mr. Darcy. [LOL! —Elizabeth] Finally, I stumbled upon Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. At last, a story void of a single weak character! A daring princess, murderers, an unyielding prince, betrayers, evil impostors, heroic animal keepers, rescuers, and just a tad of romance. It blew my mind!

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee was born Crown Princess of Kildenree but after the death of her father, life takes a desperately wrong turn. First, her brother usurps her place of succession, becoming Crown Prince as she is sent away to marry the prince of the neighboring country, Bayern. Unfortunately, her lady-in-waiting Selia is not content to be a lady-in-waiting, and soon there is an evil revolt among the camp. In an instant, life is changed for Isi (as her true friends call her). She must hide her beautiful blonde hair to disguise herself from Selia’s evil guards in the dark-haired land of Bayern, while her impostor threatens the throne. When she is designated caretaker of the Bayern king’s geese, she is welcomed into an unpretentious world she never knew. Isi must learn who to trust and who to forgive if she is going to save the Kildenree from a deadly danger that could wipe out the entire country.

This small summary has just scratched the surface of what this book has to offer. Shannon Hale doesn’t just create a story, she creates a world that swallows you up and you never want to leave. The characters become your friends and you are genuinely worried about where their predicaments will lead them.

No matter how many times I’ve read Shannon Hale’s books, I always find myself in a place where I just can’t stop reading. The Goose Girl is only the first of what I hope will be a long series called the Books of Bayern, followed by Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Shannon’s newest creation Forest Born. These books are good for anyone on your list, big or small. Nothing beats a well-written book with fabulous characters and a plot so complex even I couldn’t guess the ending.

Find The Goose Girl and all Shannon Hale’s books at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. Buy in person at your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore to have your books in time for Christmas!

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20 Dec 2009 Book Shopping, Day Twenty

Ross Poldark by Winston GrahamRoss Poldark by Winston Graham is back, in new trade-sized reprints with gorgeous new covers. I have crumbling mass-market paperbacks (which were originally issued as tie-ins with the BBC television series, I think) and I think it’s time to update. If you—or someone on your gift list, of course—haven’t met Ross Poldark you have an unforgettable experience ahead of you with the saga of the Poldarks of Nampara, played out over twelve novels.

As an aside, I always envy the people who haven’t yet read the books I love. Gone with the Wind. The whole Angélique series by Sergeanne Golon. The Crawford of Lymond novels by the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett. Spangle and The Journeyer by Gary Jennings. The early Saint-Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Shogun by James Clavell. Oh, I could go on and on. I re-read them, and re-reading is a wonderful thing, but it’s not quite the same as that breathless first reading.

Anyway. Back to Ross Poldark. Ross is an Englishman, a soldier on the losing side of the war in America, come home in 1783 to a derelict estate in copper-mining Cornwall. He finds the woman he’s loved with peculiar intensity all through the years of war and separation preparing to marry to his cousin. And from there the story rockets on. There’s a teeming, colorful cast of characters, sharply drawn (I love whiskery old Aunt Agatha and the crop-tailed mongrel dog of “unimaginable parentage,” Garrick), from which eventually emerges the grubby, spitfire urchin Demelza Carne, first Ross’s kitchenmaid, ultimately his wife in the teeth of society’s disapproval.

There are various printings of the Poldark books—the one shown here is simply the newest in a long line. They’re well worth collecting, whether the covers match or not. (And for that matter, whether they’re new or not.) Search for “Ross Poldark” at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and of course at your favorite independent bookstore. In these last few days before Christmas shop a nearby brick-and-mortar bookstore to avoid expedited shipping charges.

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