Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Doctor Who Forever Autumn by Mark Morris

Doctor Who: Forever Autumn
Author: Mark Morris
Publisher: Random House UK (Nov. 28, 2007)
Hardcover, $11.99
ISBN-10: 1846072700
ISBN-13: 978-1846072703

It’s the day before Halloween in the small New England town of Blackwood Falls. Every home is decorated with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and goblins; the children are choosing their costumes from Tozier’s Costume Emporium, and the adults are making the final preparations for the town’s annual Halloween Carnival. But Halloween in Blackwood Falls will be anything but ordinary this year…

Rick Pirelli and his best friends Thad and Scott love Halloween. Before they head off to pick up their costumes, they notice an eerie green glow coming from the base of a tree in Rick’s backyard. The tree, with bark as black as pitch, gave the town of Blackwood Falls its name. The boys unearth an ancient book filled with strange symbols, and unwittingly set into motion a chain of events that will endanger the entire town.

The Doctor and Martha arrive just as an ominous green mist descends upon Blackwood Falls. The mist seems to be coming from the exact spot where the boys found the strange book. The unnatural fog soon has people in the town feeling uneasy, and the Doctor notes that it seems to be feeding off the people’s deepest fears. When monstrous creatures called Hervoken begin attacking residents of Blackwood Falls, the Doctor and Martha are the town’s only hope. Can they stop the growing threat before it’s too late?

This is one of my favorite Doctor Who novels. Mark Morris did an excellent job in capturing the spirit of the television show while still making the story his own. The Doctor and Martha are portrayed very well, and there are a lot of fun references to past adventures. Forever Autumn is a great Halloween read for any Doctor Who fan.

Rating: 7/10.

Buy Doctor Who: Forever Autumn
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex

Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody
Author: Michael Rex
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (Aug. 14, 2008)
Hardcover, $14.99
ISBN-10: 0399245340
ISBN-13: 978-0399245343

In a cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of –
Martians taking over the moon

So begins this delightfully creepy parody of the bedtime classic, Goodnight Moon. Instead of Goodnight Moon’s bunny, Goodnight Goon features a young werewolf trying to go to sleep. The little werewolf says goodnight to many familiar Halloween sights such as mummies, bats and witches' hats, all in the familiar rhyming cadence of Goodnight Moon.

The artwork shows looks of spooky (but not too spooky) sights sure to delight young children on Halloween night.

Rating: 8/10.

Buy Goodnight Goon:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

Review: The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen

The Darker Side
Author: Cody McFadyen
Publisher: Bantam (Sept. 30, 2008)
Hardcover, $24.00
ISBN-10: 0553806947

ISBN-13: 978-0553806946

Smoky Barrett is no stranger to violent crime. She sees it every day in her job as an FBI Special Agent, but she has also experienced it firsthand. Three years ago, her husband and daughter were killed by a serial killer Smoky was chasing. The same man brutalized Smoky, leaving her face horribly disfigured. Her personal tragedies give Smoky a unique insight into both the mind of a killer and the sorrow of a victim.

When the transsexual son of a prominent United States Congressman is killed on a on a passenger plane – in mid-flight – the President himself wants Smoky and her talented investigative team on the case.

The investigation leads them to a twisted and prolific serial killer who calls himself the Preacher. Serial killers are collectors and the Preacher is no exception. However, precisely what he collects sets him apart. The Preacher is collecting the darkest secrets of his victims, forcing them to confess their sins before he murders them. He’s also taunting Smoky and her team, telling them that “time is life” and they must catch him before he kills again.

In The Darker Side, Cody McFadyen has created a compelling, gritty crime procedural. I frequently found myself re-reading passages, not to deepen my understanding of the story, but to savor McFadyen’s writing style. This is not a bare bones thriller with little prose or character development. The descriptions and characters are rich and well-formed, and the plot never stalls. I was truly sad to finish this book, and I can’t wait to see where Mr. McFadyen takes Smoky Barrett next.

Rating: 8/10.

Buy The Darker Side:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Finally, Philly!

In addition to being a bookworm, I'm also a lifelong resident of suburban Philadelphia and a very passionate baseball fan. So, tonight? Pretty much perfect.

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, the 2008 World Series Champions.

Book Review: Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino

Belly of the Whale
Author: Linda Merlino
Publisher: Kunati Inc. (April 1, 2008)
Hardcover, $19.95
ISBN-10: 1601640188
ISBN-13: 978-1601640185

For many mothers, the eve of their daughter’s fifth birthday would be cause for celebration. For Hudson Catalina, it’s anything but.

After a long battle with breast cancer, Hudson is tired. She’s tired of the toxic treatments that leave her sick for days, tired of putting on a brave face for family and friends, tired of imagining her children’s lives without a mother. She has given up all hope of beating the disease that claimed her mother’s life when Hudson was just 14 years old. She decides to stop her treatments and resigns herself to her fate.

But fate has something else in mind for Hudson Catalina. A trip to the Whales Market for cupcake decorations for her daughter’s birthday turns into a night of terror. Held hostage by a former student, Hudson regains her will to live, but has it come too late?

Linda Merlino effectively portrays Hudson’s hopelessness and despair, while still giving the reader a sense of her underlying strength and, eventually, her hope. At just under 200 pages, Belly of the Whale is a quick read, but its enduring and inspirational message will stay with you long after you read the final page.

Rating: 7/10.

Buy Belly of the Whale:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

The Halloween Tree
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (Oct. 1988)
Hardcover, $15.99
ISBN-10: 0394824091
ISBN-13: 978-0394824093

"Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked."
-- The Halloween Tree, p. 4

Why do we dress up on Halloween? How did the tradition of trick-or-treating begin? Why are witches, skeletons and ghosts associated with Halloween? The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury takes the reader on an incredible journey through the history of Halloween.

It’s Halloween night, and for 13-year-old Tom Skelton and his friends, it’s the most exciting evening of the year. But when they meet up to go trick-or-treating together, they realize that one of their friends is missing – Joe Pipkin, “the greatest boy who ever lived.” When they arrive at Pipkin’s house, Pip emerges, his face deathly pale. He says that he’s not feeling well but he’ll catch up with his friends at a house at the edge of town.

The boys arrive at the house to find an incredible sight: a giant tree filled with jack-o-lanterns, the Halloween Tree. There they meet the mysterious Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, the sinister yet genial owner of the home. When he questions the boys about the significance of their costumes, the boys, dressed as a Skeleton, Mummy, Witch, Ghost, Gargoyle, etc. all realize that they don’t know the stories behind their Halloween costumes. Mr. Moundshroud offers to help them discover the history of All Hallows’ Eve, but the boys know they have to wait for Pip. When Pip appears, his friends call to him, but as Pip approaches, he stumbles and vanishes into the darkness. Mr. Moundshroud then takes the boys on an amazing journey through time and space, not only to learn the history of Halloween, but also to save their dear friend, Pipkin.

Mr. Moundshroud takes them to ancient Egypt, England during the time of the Druids, Notre Dame in the Middle Ages, and finally to the cemeteries of Mexico for the Day of the Dead. At each magical stop, they learn something new about how the traditions of Halloween were shaped by different cultures across the centuries, culminating in the holiday we know today.

Bradbury spins an imaginative and haunting tale of friendship and discovery in this remarkable book. While The Halloween Tree was first published in 1972, my first exposure to the story came from the excellent Cartoon Network television special that aired in the 1990’s. If the special is ever made available on DVD, I’ll be first in line to purchase it. Until then, the book will be a treasured yearly tradition for me.

Rating: 9/10.

Buy The Halloween Tree:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

Guest Blogger: Linda Merlino, Author of Belly of the Whale

Today I'm delighted to welcome Linda Merlino as a guest blogger here at Bookish Ruth. Look for my review of Linda's novel, The Belly of the Whale, tomorrow. -- Ruth

Author Linda Merlino
I am NOT a breast cancer survivor, but I wrote a story about a woman with breast cancer. Belly of the Whale is not a novel about breast cancer. The story is about fear, about facing your fear, and recognizing fear when it manifests. Survival comes in all forms, it depends on what hand you are dealt. For me, survival has meant getting by on my own. This began at the age of three. No, I wasn’t left at the side of the road, but I was abandoned by my father and had to learn to navigate the planet adjusting to his being gone.

Never for a minute think that the loss of a parent at a young age is easy. There is always the question of why, and if I was better would that have changed anything. Hudson Catalina carries the loss of her mother, at the age of fourteen, deep in her heart. She fears the beast, breast cancer. For twenty-four years she has run away from the demon that has haunted her only to realize that she must face this fear head on.

I’ve learned a lot about survival, and my book Belly of the Whale brings much of what I learned to its pages. Sometimes what is written causes a visceral reaction. Sometimes it is easier to deny emotional truth with outrage. The response from readers of Belly of the Whale has overall been very positive, but a few have found the main character to be a person one might love to hate. Very often the truth is too difficult to face, the possibilities of the how’s and why’s are not greeted with an open heart. Better to deny, than to embrace.

My mother is a breast cancer survivor. Her survival has everything and nothing to do with breast cancer. Her most recent fight for her life came from an infarction of the superior mesenteric artery. Not cancer. She survived. Her doctors are still in awe of her determination, of her sheer will to stay glued to the planet. This embodies survival. This embraces hope.

I do not feel that I need to defend my story. There comes a time, even if it is one day, that we might feel the need to pull the covers up over our head; to let go of hope; to free fall. For those who are staunchly defensive of their position in never wavering from loss of hope, I applaud them. This is very brave and requires an amazing amount of will power. To never, even for a minute, think a negative thought is remarkable. Bravo.

For all those who have questioned and had moments of indecision, for all those who have stood on the precipice of hopelessness, Belly of the Whale will remind you what it is like to be reeled in, to reconfirm your faith and your spirit and to acknowledge the fact that we are human and that there are times when we are tested seemingly beyond our capabilities.

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon Giveaway Winners

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in my giveaway for Tethered by Amy MacKinnon.

The winner of the signed hardcover copy is Corinne!

The winner of the paperback ARC is xicanti!

Congratulations to both of you. Please e-mail me at ruth at bookishruth dot com with your addresses, so Amy and I can send out your books!

Stay tuned for another great giveaway coming soon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interview with Publisher Lou Aronica

Publisher Lou AronicaAs publisher of Avon Books, Lou Aronica launched the Eos imprint, now celebrating its tenth anniversary. Also at Avon , he built publishing programs for Dennis Lehane, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, J.A. Jance, Stephanie Laurens, Lisa Kleypas, Bruce Feiler, and Peter Robin son. Neil Gaiman, whose work Lou acquired, reached #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Of course, Lou is known for many other accomplishments. He launched the Bantam Crime Line and Bantam Spectra imprints, has been honored with a World Fantasy Award, and has published more than a dozen award winning-novels. At one point he had acquired five consecutive winners of the Nebula Award.

Authors he’s developed over his career continue to reign over bestseller lists and include Elizabeth George, Diane Mott Davidson, Amanda Quick, Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen and William Gibson. And is there any reader who can’t imagine the thrill of working alongside Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov?

Commercially, his biggest accomplishment is the acquisition and design of the Star Wars book publishing program, which “jump-started” the Star Wars book franchise and was initiated at a time when others had very little interest in the series.

You can visit his new publishing house, The Story Plant, by visiting

I'm delighted to host Lou Aronica today at Bookish Ruth. Lou, thanks so much for sharing your time with me and my readers.

You helped launch the incredibly successful Star Wars book franchise. I'm one of the millions of fans grateful for a look at Star Wars beyond what we see in the films. Can you tell us about the process of turning such a hugely successful movie series into a book franchise? What were some of the challenges you faced with the project?

The most important part of the process was re-thinking the movies in a novelistic way. We wanted the Star Wars books to work as fiction, not simply novelized versions of what people saw on the screen. That meant digging into the story to explore the characters in much greater depth than any film can, giving much more time to backstory and subplots, and concentrating more heavily on relationships and politics. When I made the deal with Lucasfilm, I told them that I wanted to launch with an ambitious trilogy of novels and that I wanted to ask an award-winning science fiction writer to create them for us. They loved this because it showed that we took the property very seriously. We went to Timothy Zahn who wrote novels of real depth and substance. Ultimately, we got what we were looking for – not the movies on the page, but the novelistic equivalent of the movie experience.

The first two books published by The Story Plant, American Quest by Sienna Skyy and Capitol Reflections by Jonathan Javitt, are both works of fiction. Will The Story Plant focus primarily on fiction or branch out into non-fiction as well?

Our first lists contain only fiction because we want to establish ourselves as fiction publishers first. Eventually we will publish nonfiction as well, though all of it will have a strong narrative base. We want people to see The Story Plant as a source for great storytelling.

What were some of the challenges you and Peter Miller faced in starting The Story Plant? What has been the most rewarding part of launching a new publishing house?

There have been numerous challenges, from convincing investors that it made sense to put their money in book publishing, to finding books that we wanted to make a major commitment to, to setting up the company’s infrastructure. It was all very exciting, actually, because it forced us to affirm our dedication to this project.

The most rewarding part of launching a new publishing house is being able to work closely with writers to develop their novels and to develop plans to bring their novels to readers. I missed this part of the business when I was away from this side of publishing and it was exciting to realize that I hadn’t romanticized it – it really was a fulfilling as I remembered it being.

What makes The Story Planet unique compared to other publishing houses?

I think the thing that most distinguishes The Story Plant from other houses is its complete dedication to author development. We aren’t looking for one-shot authors and we aren’t taking a blockbuster-or-bust approach to publishing. Every author on our list has a long-term publishing plan built around that author’s strengths with an eye toward consistent growth.

How has publishing changed since you first became involved with the industry? Do you feel that these changes are positive, negative, or evenly balanced between those two extremes?

Well, I started in publishing before the internet, when mall bookstores ruled the bookselling landscape, and when there were dozens of large independent publishers, so I’d say quite a bit has changed. I think the most negative thing that has happened in that time has been the decline of the independent bookstore. Independents were especially valuable in presenting new writers to the world and there has been no replacement for them. By far the most positive thing to happen has been the growth of the web. The internet makes it much more possible than ever before for writers to find readers, for readers to find writers, and for readers to find other readers. As publishers, I think we’re still a bit behind in learning how to use the internet to publish more effectively, but I think we’re making significant progress.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

My mentor Ian Ballantine advised me early in my career to “zig when everyone else is zagging.” What he meant by that was that the true breakthroughs happened when you operated away from trends. That’s become my overriding publishing philosophy (as evidenced by my being involved in a startup dedicated to new fiction at a time when publishers are running away from new fiction). It has worked out very well for me so far and I hope The Story Plant turns out to be the greatest manifestation of that philosophy.

What qualities do you look for in a book?

I love great characters. Without characters I can connect with, a story falls flat for me. I love writers who can bring the people alive on the page.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Serial Killer (Or: Hi, I'm not dead.)

This week's question:
Do you collect any series? Do you read series books? Fantasy? Mystery? Science fiction? Religious? Other genre? Do you use the series feature in LT to help you find new books or figure out what you might be missing from a series?

I've been on vacation for the past ten days. Unfortunately, my post announcing this never went live (Thanks Blogger), so if you were wondering about my whereabouts, A. You're awesome and B. I'm not dead.

Series books had a big part in shaping my love of reading. Most of what I read as a kid were series: Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, The Baby-Sitters Club (at one point I'd read all of the BSC books in publication), Nancy Drew, The Heather Reed Mysteries, and some much-coveted Cherry Ames books that I procured in a school library sale. As a teenager, I read and enjoyed a lot of books by L.M. Montgomery (although I still haven't read the Anne books, I've read just about every other book she'd written) and Janette Oke.

It's no surprise that my love of series books continues as an adult. Probably thirty percent, if not more, of the books I own are part of a series. When I find characters I like, I want to hang onto them for awhile. Most of my series books tend to be mysteries, young adult, or a combination of the two: Miss Marple Mysteries and Hercule Poirot Mysteries by Agatha Christie, the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King, The Land of Elyon by Patrick Carmen, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, the Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters, and a lots of television and movie tie-in series (Doctor Who, Torchwood, Star Wars, The X-Files), just to name a few.

I do browse LibraryThing's series feature from time to time. It's helpful for keeping track of which books I need, since, for the most part, I'm a series completist. I tend to hear about new series through other means, though. For instance, I discovered the Enola Holmes Mysteries while browsing Traci's library, I found the Cat Royal series by Julia Golding from the publisher's website, and I can blame the local PBS station, WHYY, for introducing me to Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Recently Added

This week's question:
LibraryThing's Recently Added feature: do you look at it? Do you use it for ideas? Is there something listed there now that looks interesting to you? What have you added to your LT library recently?

"Recently Added" is one of my favorite LibraryThing features. I'm an inherently curious person, so I love seeing what folks are adding to their libraries. I'm often amazed by how similar my tastes are to that of my friends on LibraryThing. For instance, Traci just added The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, which I downloaded as an audiobook yesterday.

Some of the books I've added recently: Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi, With Endless Sight by Allison Pittman, Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek, The Safety of Secrets by Delaune Michel, and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

What's new in your library this week?

Book Review: One Bad Apple by Sheila Connolly

One Bad Apple
One Bad Apple
Author: Sheila Connolly
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (Aug. 5, 2008)
Paperback, $6.99
ISBN-10: 0425223043
ISBN-13: 978-0425223048

Meg Corey has fallen on hard times. In the past few months, she’s been downsized out of her job at a Boston banking firm, forced to leave her apartment, and dumped by her boyfriend, Chandler Hale. When Meg’s mother decides to sell a rental property she inherited, Meg jumps at the chance for a new start. She moves into the historical home in the small town of Granford, Massachusetts, intending to renovate the home for a quick sale.

Meg soon finds that she’s in over her head. She’s a city girl, not a do-it-yourself weekend warrior, and she’s overwhelmed by the seemingly endless home repairs. To make matters worse, her ex-boyfriend unexpectedly turns up on her doorstep. Chandler Hale is working on a real estate development deal in Granford, and he asks Meg to give him inside information about her new neighbors. The development deal would provide a much-needed boost to the local economy, but it would also put a parking lot over the historic orchard on Meg’s property. Meg refuses to help Chandler and assumes that’s the end of it – that is, until his body is found floating in her newly-installed septic tank.

Suddenly Meg and her plumber, Seth Chapin, are the prime suspects in Chandler’s murder. Seth is a prominent land owner in Granford as well as Meg’s closest neighbor. Of the local residents, Seth and Meg would be most affected by the land deal. Both of them have motives to want Chandler out of the way, but they’re not the only ones. The looming development deal has created a lot of controversy in Granford, with the community evenly divided among those who oppose the deal and those who favor it.

Meg slowly finds herself falling in love with small town life, but she will have to prove her innocence before she can truly enjoy what Granford has to offer.

One Bad Apple is a charming start to Sheila Connolly’s Orchard Mysteries series. Meg is an endearing amateur sleuth, surrounded by a colorful cast of supporting characters. Connolly effectively captures the feel of a small New England town -- after reading One Bad Apple, I felt as though I’d spent the afternoon in rural Massachusetts. The apple-centric recipes in the back of the book are a great addition to the story. (I can’t wait to try the apple muffins and fresh apple cake.) With such a promising start, I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the Orchard Mysteries series.

Rating: 8/10.

Buy One Bad Apple:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

Aberrations Book Trailer

This summer, I fell in love with Penelope Przekop's debut novel, Aberrations. (My review is here, my interview with Penelope is here.) I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Penelope in August at one of her book signings. If you haven't read Aberrations yet, check out the brand new trailer for the book:

You can read about the making of the Aberrations trailer here at author Deanna Cameron's blog.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Salon: September Reading Wrap-Up

The Sunday

I read ten books in September, two more than my total for August, putting me at a 74 for the year. I've almost met my low goal in the 75 Book Challenge, so I'm happy. My high goal of 100+ looks easily attainable at this point.

Here are my September reads:
  1. The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen
  2. The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams
  3. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
  4. Enola Holmes and the Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
  5. Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins
  6. Run by Ann Patchett
  7. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
  8. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
  9. When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
  10. The Torchwood Official Magazine Yearbook by Titan Books
My Top 3 for September:

I have lots of reviews to catch up on, and I'm looking forward to reviewing all of these. Life's been hectic the last few weeks and being sick certainly hasn't helped. I'm going to spend the rest of the day finishing up my reads for Banned Books Week, James and Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

What did you read in September? Have you read any of the books on my list?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Book Giveaway: Tethered by Amy MacKinnon

Update: Amy MacKinnon has generously offered a signed, hardcover copy of Tethered for this giveaway. So I'll be giving away two copies of this great book, one paperback ARC and one signed hardcover.

I recently received two advance copies of Tethered by Amy MacKinnon. I'm devouring my own copy of the book (in between doses of Tylenol Cold & Flu) and thought I would offer the second ARC to a reader here at Bookish Ruth. (Please note that the ARC has a different cover than the cover image posted here.)

Here's a description of the book:

Clara Marsh is an undertaker who doesn’t believe in God. She spends her solitary life among the dead, preparing their last baths and bidding them farewell with a bouquet from her own garden. Her carefully structured life shifts when she discovers a neglected little girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral parlor, desperate for a friend.

It changes even more when Detective Mike Sullivan starts questioning her again about a body she prepared three years ago, an unidentified girl found murdered in a nearby strip of woods. Unclaimed by family, the community christened her Precious Doe. When Clara and Mike learn Trecie may be involved with the same people who killed Precious Doe, Clara must choose between the stead-fast existence of loneliness and the perils of binding one’s life to another.

I love the fact that the reader gets a look at a fairly unusual profession in Tethered. Leave a comment here for one chance to win. For an extra entry, tell me a title of a book you've read that featured a character with an unusual job. For three extra entries, link to this post on your blog. The contest will run until October 16, 2008 and I'll announce the winners the next day.