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By Beaver Keeping a reading journal can be very satisfying. Not only do you get a feeling of accomplishment each time you add a new entry, but you’re creating a guide you can refer to whenever you need a reminder … Continue reading

Fictional Fête: 15 Fantasy Guests

Absolute BlankBy Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)

Dear Fiction Readers and Writers,

Do you remember that cool TV show from the 1970s—Fantasy Island? For some of you this may be a way-before-your-time era, but for the rest of you, you might recall a Mr. Roarke and his cute little friend, Tattoo, who entertained guests in their fantasy pursuits. They would wait at the Fantasy Island dock in their matching white tuxedos at the start of every episode. “The Plane! The Plane!” I imagined in my own kid-way what my fantasy would be should I pay the million-dollar guest ticket price for my fantasy to become real. I had many fantasies (which I won’t share!), but sadly I never could afford the million-dollar fee.

I’ve grown up since then and have discovered that there are other ways to a good fantasy that are “off-island.” Here’s one of mine: I’m having a small fête this month. I’ve decided to invite only the people I like: good and bad, famous and infamous alike. The thing is that the guests are fictitious characters from a few of my favorite novels. (I have many favorites!) The venue is my imagination.

Bon Appetite!
Harpspeed

P.S. In case you are curious, my character guest list follows:

Background Image: Jesper Larsen-Ledet/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: Jesper Larsen-Ledet/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

  1. Icy Sparks (from Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio)

Ten-year-old orphan Icy Sparks is from 1950s Kentucky who has an interesting trait: uncontrollable tics and some of the most outrageous cursing I have ever heard. She is someone who really says what she thinks. Icy doesn’t know it but she has Tourette Syndrome. I like her very much because she is a precocious, quirky character who changes the other characters in her story. I would vote for her if she ran for president.

  1. Mina Murray (from Dracula by Bram Stoker)

Wilhelmina ”Mina” Murray is a remarkable character and a marvel, she (I can’t recall if I’m remembering Winona Ryder from the 1990s film version) and that modern fancy-dancy typewriter that she uses to type personal letters to her fiancée, Jonathan, who’s under the impression that he’s the hero in Stoker’s horror story—when in fact it is Mina who is the real star. If you don’t believe me—ask Dracula. Mina’s character marks the rise of the modern female detective. If I go missing, please call Mina. Posthaste!

  1. Dustfinger (from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke)

Dustfinger is a supporting character that I followed in Funke’s three-volume story, Inkheart. He is a tragic and talented character who can breathe fire and curiously is also a reluctant hero. He has his own agenda but puts it aside to help the other protagonists. Still, Dustfinger can be unreliable and is sometimes a curmudgeon. Aren’t we all at some time? I enjoyed his dry wit and actor Paul Bettany’s very human portrayal of this complicated character in the film version, too. I think Dustfinger would amaze my guests with his special skills, but I won’t pay him until the show is over!

  1. Hig
  2. Bangley
  3. Jasper (from The Dog Stars by Peter Heller)

Hig is the main character in Peter Heller’s post-apocalyptic story, The Dog Stars. Hig is optimistic, philosophical, and loves nature. He flies around in a small Cessna plane with his faithful dog, Jasper, looking for signs of life and renewal all the while quoting Whitman and Johnny Cash. I think I met my literary soulmate in Heller’s story, if that is possible. If I invite him to my dinner party he will probably bring Jasper and his cranky friend, Bangley, who balances Hig’s optimism with his self-righteous mistrust of everyone and everything and whom I also like very much. You can’t invite one without inviting the other. It wouldn’t be very kind with the lack of people in their lonely world and limited opportunity for socializing. There is plenty of room at my table, and besides, who doesn’t love a good argument with their dinner? Please pass the **** salt!

  1. Mary Beth Mayfair (from The Witching Hour by Ann Rice)

Remind me to warn my guests that Mary Beth is a witch. (Some people are squeamish about that kind of thing.) Not the pointed black hat kind but rather the modern-world kind of witch. She comes from a long line of witches. You could say that it is the family business. I don’t like everyone in her family, but I do like her. She is very kind to strangers and children and exceptionally talented in bilocation and managing money. (Did I mention that her family are millionaires?) In fact, if she ever gives you money, she’ll tell you to spend it quick because somehow coin or cash always return to their place of origin be it Mary Beth’s coat pocket or beaded purse. She’s the bee’s knees for sure! Wouldn’t she be fun to go shopping with?

  1. Laura Ingalls Wilder (from The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

I know what you are thinking—but how can I not invite Laura? She is one of my oldest character-friends. Laura is a protagonist in her own life story that is truly memoir. Heck, they even made a TV series about her life. There’s that, and the fact that she was a big influence on me both personally and professionally. I quite figuratively and literally grew up with her. Her stories kept me company and occupied me on many a rainy day, during the long, boring, sometimes tumultuous middle years up through my teens and beyond. I caught up with her again in my twenties and later again in the classroom. Laura was one of my icons in children’s literature and has earned her velvet chair at my table. Subject closed. Icy will be her dinner partner. Maybe I’ll seat Jasper between them just for fun. Dogs are people, too, you know.

  1. Kirby Mazrachi (from The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes)

When I think of this character, the word tenacious pops up into my head. It’s a perfect adjective for her and if you’ve met her already you will understand and perhaps agree. You see, Kirby, single-handedly went after a time-traveling serial killer who targeted his victims when they were children. It gives me chills just thinking about her adversary, a serial killer—very creepy bedtime reading—and his modus operandi of stalking little girls and then returning for them when they were older. Kirby was one of his victims, but she survived him and decided to end this creep’s career. It wasn’t easy because she had to navigate in a crime story that was also science fiction. How do you track someone through time? Kirby found a way. I’ll seat her next to Mina. They have much in common. Don’t you agree?

  1. Mr. Rochester (from Jane Eyre by Emily Bronte)

Oh my stars! Edmund Charles Fairfax Rochester is wonderful! Maybe you have met him already if you have read Jane Eyre? He is an amazing character. He is probably the best friend anyone could ever have next to Jasper, of course. He is so charming and witty and interesting and mysterious in a beguiling, romantic way, of course. He’s the quintessential Romantic Era hero. He always says what he means and even though he can be aloof and secretive, he never lies… well, except maybe once to Jane, but really who could blame him? I will have to warn my guests not to get too attached to him. He’s already taken.

  1. Scarlett O’Hara (from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)

Katy Scarlett O’Hara seems to have a dark cloud hanging over her all the time. But the thing about Scarlett is that no matter how bad things get—and they do get pretty bad by modern standards—she loses her baby, her husband, her friends, and her home to the Yankees. Yet despite it all, Scarlett is always so very optimistic. After all, “Tomorrow is another day.” She doesn’t stay down long. She is an also an opportunist. What I call an optimistic-opportunist because she always finds a way to get what she wants or what she needs, by default—if you can call Rhett Butler a default. I wouldn’t. Anyway, she’s coming and hopefully not dressed in the living room drapes and she will be sitting between Bangley and Dustfinger. Oh what fun!

  1. Ralph Truit (from A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick)

As you might have guessed, I’m a sucker for romance and the American West. Ralph is, too, even though he says he isn’t. He’s the worst kind of romantic—hopeless! Anyway, he placed an advertisement in a Chicago newspaper in 1907 for an “honest and reliable wife” and got more than he bargained for when a woman named Catherine Land answered his advertisement and, let’s say, stole his heart among other things. But don’t feel too badly for Ralph. He had a plan of his own and Catherine was quite surprised, as was I. Ralph will be sitting next to Hig; they are both pretty even-tempered individuals and I think would get on well.

  1. Jim Quick (from Darling Jim by Christian Moerk Holt)

Jim is a storyteller who travels around Ireland, going from pub to pub on his Harley like a bad-boy from the bygone beat generation, seducing young women, stealing from them, and maybe killing them, too. Nobody is perfect! Not even Jim. However, Jim is a wonderful antagonist who picked the wrong women to prey on: three feisty Irish sisters who I think got the better of him—or was it the other way around? I’m hoping Jim will have some stories to share. Don’t worry! I will turn out his pockets when he arrives and hide the butter and steak knives before and after dinner. He’ll be sitting with Mina and Kirby. Those two will keep him out of trouble, no doubt.

  1. Harpspeed

As for me, my story is still being written.

  1. Reader

I left an empty seat for you, dearest Toasted Cheese reader and writer. Come fraternize.

Who’s On Your Guest List?

A Pen In Each HandBy Harpspeed

Dear Fiction Readers and Writers,

It’s your turn. Imagine you could meet a favorite character from a work of fiction. Any character. Whom would you choose? A character from your own shelves? A character from your past? Or how about a character you haven’t met yet? Perhaps, someone who was once recommended to you? (For me it would be that astronaut from the book and the film, The Martian.) A stranger-character? How intriguing that would be!

Now imagine you could invite a dozen or more characters to your house for a party or a backyard barbecue or what-have-you? The trick is to know your characters well, to be select with your choices: Would they like each other? Would they share similar traits or politics? Would you break out the tequila or the sherry or make a grab for Chekov’s gun on the wall?

Please share this occasion with your friends at Toasted Cheese. Tell us who you plan to invite and do tell us why. Or tell us after the fact. Was it a “screaming” success or did you lose a few guests? Did any characters run off together? Any foul play? Just a sentence or two is fine. We can read between the lines. We’re pretty good at that.

Harpspeed
TC Reviews Editor

P.S. A few words to the wise: You may want to steer clear of the psychopaths and vampires. They can be so unpredictable! If you insist on inviting one or more, be sure to have a strong antagonist or protagonist with them to keep them in check. And be mindful: characters can change whether for good or for bad. Those are the best characters and the most interesting guests! They also stay with us long after their stories resolve.

Recycled: Books

Absolute BlankBy Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)

Last spring I attended a vintage craft fair and my take-away was unexpected. The fair was a delightful mix of antiques and art but with a twist—the old and the new were fused together in a recycling theme. Familiar objects got a second life as they were transformed into something new with added parts and new purpose like the birdhouses made from broken crockery and ancient-looking license plates. Painted signs from bygone days were transformed into coffee tables. Purses and tote bags were created from recycled juice boxes, candy wrappers, and burlap sacks straight from somebody’s barn. I felt a resurgence of my own creativity happening with every step, every glance, and every touch. Some of the crafts I wanted to try out like the folk art ocean buoys and the wind chimes made from fishing wire, spoons, and glass doorknobs. Both would look pretty nifty in my front garden I thought.

I walked around for about an hour when I spied the book tent. I was almost giddy and I could hardly wait to see what treasures awaited inside. I paused a moment for a crowd of young families to exit and stepped into the small space immediately surprised at what I didn’t see—where were all the books? I expected a table of stacked books sorted by author or genre: contemporary fiction novels piled high–crime, mystery, horror, historical, romance–and another section of non fiction–biography, poetry, memoir, coffee table books on various subjects, crates of old trade journals and magazines. But there were no tables. No crates. No vintage journals.  Not even an old Playboy magazine. When the last of the crowd headed toward the door flap I saw bookcases lining the perimeter—books at last!

Photo credit: Pimthida/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Background Image: Pimthida/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I made my way over to a case that displayed classics. They were shelved with their covers facing out. There weren’t very many but I did spy some familiar old friends:  Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, Scrooge, and The Great Gatsby himself. They were hard cover editions and I reached for Mary Shelley’s book. It had a black leather cover with faded, etched details. I held it in my hand a moment and when I was sure no one was watching I lifted it up to my face and inhaled deeply. It smelled old and oily and reminded me of saddle leather. It was a beautiful book and would be “a first” in my collection of classic novels. I brushed its cover with the palm of my hand… so soft and worn like it belonged to Frankenstein himself. I turned the cover over to see what was on the back and that was when I noticed the spine. Someone had carefully taken it apart and added thin leather strapping like shoelaces that held its two covers in place. (The spine flipped open and shut thus hiding the strapping.) I opened the copy and found its pages had been replaced with blank ones–it was a literal absolute blank. I fanned through it and felt a little pinch in my heart. All that was left of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece was its leather façade. I replaced it and reached for Huckleberry Finn and felt another pinch.

On another shelf I spied Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and some kid’s books from the golden age of children’s literature—a Dick and Jane story from the 1950s, and other books that I didn’t recognize. They were all the same inside. They were all just the covers devoid of their printed pages, reduced to notebooks or journals. I picked over a few more when I caught the eye of the proprietor. She smiled and was about to say something when two women came in and distracted her. They went straight for the rose-colored copy of Vanity Fair, marveling at the ingenuity of the “artist” who created such a thoughtful and “useful” article.

Meanwhile, I stood there in horrified fascination watching them pull the journals from the shelves as I had done just moments before. It was like witnessing something terrible and not being able to look away. In those moments, I thought about the authors—how they would feel to see their life’s work capitalized upon in such a grotesque manner. My spell broke when one of the women asked me if I was going to buy the remains of the Jane Austin book that I was clutching to my chest. I shook my head and gave her the copy before leaving.

I thought about this encounter all the way home. I felt repulsed. Had the covers of the journals been replicated, made to “look” like the books themselves, then I would be okay with it. Some of the most revered classics and artwork have had their cover images borrowed and placed on tote bags and mugs. I own a graphic T-shirt with the imprint of a famous Japanese woodcut painting that I wear guilt-free. But the books on display at the vintage craft fair were in fact the real covers of real books, the skeletal remains of what I considered to be icons of our literary culture. I felt a small fissure forming in one my ventricles. Was I over-reacting?

I thought some more.

I thought about the physical life cycle of a book. A book is created inside a publishing house and is born in the bookstores and in the big warehouses waiting for its first owner. After purchase it may linger on a shelf for weeks or months or even years before being read and then perhaps given away or re-sold. The lucky ones might make their way to a secondhand book shop or onto Craigslist or tragically and most likely end up in the carton at the end of someone’s driveway after a yard sale, homeless and at the mercy of the elements.

The story is not over. Perhaps a book dealer comes along and pulls the weathered volume out of the box and recognizes that it is a first edition collector’s item. It is sold at auction. That is a fortunate book, indeed, and it will spend its days in a glass library to be revered, but sadly again, never read. Better still, maybe the yard-salers will donate their unwanted collection to local charities that will distribute them to public institutions or maybe send them abroad as ambassador books to those who have a dire need for books. Books that don’t make the cut I presume would be put in the recycled paper bin or worse burned as kindling. My heart feels heavy from this thought. So what do we do with books that have outlived our need for them? Books that are beyond repair?

In my ideal world, we would send them to my figurative friend, Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, a character‬ from Cornelia Funke’s YA novel, Inkheart. Mo is a craftsman who makes his living repairing books and has the added talent of breathing life into characters that he reads aloud. A true book doctor he is. But there are no more Mos in the real world. At least none that I can think of outside of museums and monasteries…

Still, some people might argue that that we should be saving trees and reading books and other print on electronic devices. In fact, many readers I know are moving away from hard copies and are doing just that. When they are finished they have the option to save their book electronically, or click the delete button and be done with it. Nothing wasted or left behind. Yet, what of the rest of us whose books inhabit a shelf or more?  Should we have a funeral for them and bury them in the backyard? Rip out their pages and make paper wallets and cute origami animals?

In late November I returned to the fairgrounds, this time to visit the vintage holiday bazaar, some of whose artists and crafters I had seen earlier. Many of their wares were recreated art on a holiday theme. Not surprising, I also found more recycled books. This time carved into the shapes of pine trees and candy canes and letters that made words like: JOY and CHEER and MERRY. I admit that I wasn’t feeling very joyful or cheerful or merry as I picked through them. I found their pages intact but impossible to read due to their re-shaping and re-sizing. Once again, people found them to be clever and charming and bought them for $10 a piece. I suppose that the world won’t miss a 1972 copy of Reader’s Digest or an Encyclopedia Britannica that predates the Internet.

s-book

In fact, I received a monogram book as a gift. Ironic it is and even more so now that it is displayed in a place of honor facing out on the shelf alongside some of my favorite volumes. The book is in the shape of my first initial letter and was given to me by a very-special-somebody who recognizes me truly as a lover of books, a purveyor of novels and stories, a life-long reader. The recycled book may have indeed reached its final use and in its last life, it shall remain on my shelf indefinitely despite its appearance because it still resonates meaning.

A Book in Two Hands

A Pen In Each Hand

By Harpspeed

When I was ten or eleven years old I had a doctor’s appointment at Children’s Hospital in Boston and while waiting in the big lobby inside the main entrance to the building, I spied several of my Little Golden Books on a shelf. I knew they were mine because when I opened their covers, I found my name in my mother’s beautiful looping script with the date of receipt and the occasion for the gift. I remember looking around at the other children and seeing what I believed to be my copy of Goldilocks in the hands of a little girl and feeling a little awed of my mother and happy at the same time to see something that I had loved bring joy to someone else.

Why not give such a book that no longer has a shelf life in your home to someone who will appreciate it? The life of a book will increase if every reader considers the next reader. Early spring, I sort through my own books that are ready for their second or third or fourth life and keep them ready-to-go at a moment’s notice.

Photo credit: henry.../Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo credit: henry…/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Here are some general places in frequent need:

  1. Shelters
  2. Hospitals
  3. Schools and child care facilities
  4. Library book sales
  5. Senior centers
  6. Armed services (soldiers home & abroad)
  7. Prisons
  8. Charities—big and small—that will use or re-sell or re-distribute books abroad to those who have lost their books or have none.

Places to sell them:

  1. Your local used bookstore (if you can find one!)
  2. Over the Internet to specific buyers looking for your copy in places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble used book markets, eBay, and Craigslist.

The Toasted Cheese Wish Book:
Books by TC Authors

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

‘Tis the season for giving—and giving back. All the authors in our Wish Book have had work published in Toasted Cheese, written an article for Absolute Blank, and/or been interviewed at Absolute Blank. The list includes numerous New York Times bestsellers, a Newbery Award-winning author, and the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award grand prize winner, as well as many other award winners and just plain awesome writers.

At TC, we’re all about community, so if you’re looking for a book, as a gift or for yourself, we encourage you to consider choosing one of these. If you buy via a Toasted Cheese link, you’ll be supporting TC as well.

You can follow many of these authors on Twitter by subscribing to our TC Authors and TC Interviewees lists. Authors: if you’re on Twitter and we’ve missed you, do let us know and we’ll add you.

If you’re an author with a connection to Toasted Cheese and a book coming out in 2013 (or if we missed your 2012 release) and you’d like to be included in next year’s wish book, email reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com with the subject line “Toasted Cheese Wish Book”. And to everyone on this year’s list: congratulations!

P.S. If you’re looking for a writing goal for the new year, any of these would be great candidates for a Candle-Ends review!

Children’s & Young Adult

I'm BoredI’m Bored (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012) written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Ages 3–8.

“This tongue-in-cheek twist on a familiar topic is sure to entertain anyone who’s ever been bored—or had to hear about someone else being bored—and is filled with comedian Michael Ian Black’s trademark dry wit, accompanied by charismatic illustrations from newcomer Debbie Ridpath Ohi.”

A New York Times Notable Children’s Book for 2012.

Erin Bellavia interviewed Debbie Ridpath Ohi in July 2012.

Follow Debbie on Twitter: @inkyelbows.


The Mysterious Benedict Society Complete CollectionThe Mysterious Benedict Society Complete Collection (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Ages 8 and up.

“This hardcover boxed set includes all five books in the New York Times bestselling series. Filled with page-turning action and mind-bending brain teasers, these wildly inventive journeys are sure to delight.”

Also by Trenton Lee Stewart:

Mollie Savage interviewed Trenton Lee Stewart in September 2007.


The Wild BookThe Wild Book (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012) by Margarita Engle

Ages 10 and up.

“Fefa struggles with words. She has word blindness, or dyslexia, and the doctor says she will never read or write. Every time she tries, the letters jumble and spill off the page, leaping and hopping away like bullfrogs. How will she ever understand them?”

Also by Margarita Engle:

Margarita Engle’s poems “War Zone” and “Las Sirenas” appeared in the December 2005 issue of Toasted Cheese.


ExtraordinaryExtraordinary*: *The True Story of My Fairygodparent, Who Almost Killed Me, and Certainly Never Made Me a Princess (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2011) by Adam Selzer

Ages 12 and up.

“Jennifer Van Der Berg would like you to know that the book ostensibly written about her-Born to Be Extraordinary by Eileen Codlin-is a bunch of bunk. Yes, she had a fairy godparent mess with her life, but no, she was not made into a princess or given the gift of self-confidence, and she sure as hell didn’t get a hot boyfriend out of it.
Here’s the REAL scoop…”

Also by Adam Selzer:

Erin Bellavia interviewed Adam Selzer in August 2010.

Follow Adam on Twitter: @adamselzer


Exit StrategyExit Strategy (Flux, 2010) by Ryan Potter

Ages 14 and up

“Looming above Zach Ramsey’s hometown are the smoke stacks of the truck assembly plant, the greasy lifeblood of this Detroit suburb. Surrounded by drunks, broken marriages, and factory rats living in fear of the pink slip, Zach is getting the hell out of Blaine after graduation. But first, he’s going to enjoy the summer before his senior year.”

Ryan Potter’s story “Dale’s Night” was Boots’s Pick in the June 2004 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Lisa Olson interviewed Ryan Potter in June 2011.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @FreelancerRyan


Mystery

Frozen Heat (Nikki Heat, #4)Frozen Heat (Hyperion, 2012) by Richard Castle
Nikki Heat Book 4

“NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat arrives at her latest crime scene to find an unidentified woman stabbed to death and stuffed inside a suitcase left on a Manhattan street. Nikki is in for a big shock when this new homicide connects to the unsolved murder of her own mother. Paired once again with her romantic and investigative partner, top journalist Jameson Rook, Heat works to solve the mystery of the body in the suitcase while she is forced to confront unexplored areas of her mother’s background.”

Also by Richard Castle:

Amanda Marlowe interviewed Richard Castle in September 2010.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @WriteRCastle


SleepwalkerSleepwalker (Harper, 2012) by Wendy Corsi Staub

“The nightmare of 9/11 is a distant but still painful memory for Allison Taylor MacKenna—now married to Mack and living in a quiet Westchester suburb. She has moved on with her life ten years after barely escaping death at the hands of New York’s Nightwatcher serial killer. The monster is dead, having recently committed suicide in his prison cell, but something is terribly wrong. Mack has started sleepwalking, with no recollection of where his nighttime excursions are taking him. And here, north of the city, more women are being savagely murdered, their bodies bearing the Nightwatcher’s unmistakable signature.”

Also by Wendy Corsi Staub:

Erin Nappe Bellavia interviewed Wendy Corsi Staub in April 2004.

Follow Wendy on Twitter: @WendyCorsiStaub


Defensive WoundsDefensive Wounds (William Morrow, 2011) by Lisa Black

“When Marie Corrigan, a Cleveland defense attorney with a history of falsifying evidence and no shortage of enemies, is found dead in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton, most people would agree that she had it coming. Forensic investigator Theresa MacLean is summoned to the crime scene by her daughter, Rachel, who is working the front desk. But even before Theresa enters the room, she knows that she’s walking into a forensic nightmare—for crime scenes at hotels, even the most luxurious, are teeming with trace evidence that has been left behind by innumerable guests and may or may not be related to the murder. But what Theresa finds is even worse than she imagined.”

Also by Lisa Black:

Lisa Black’s story “In the Bleak December” placed second in the first annual Dead of Winter writing contest. Theryn Fleming reviewed Evidence of Murder in the December 2012 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Paranormal

The Beautiful LandThe Beautiful Land (Ace Trade, 2013) by Alan Averill

2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Grand Prize Winner.

“Tak O’Leary is a Japanese-American television host who vanished off the grid after a failed suicide attempt. Samira Moheb is an Iranian-American military translator suffering from PTSD as a result of her time in the Iraq War. They have been in love from the moment they met, and because they never told each other, they are destined to be apart forever. But thanks to a mysterious invention buried deep in the Australian Outback, they now have one more chance to get it right.”

Alan Averill’s story “Things Difficult to Say” appeared in the December 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Alan on Twitter: @frodomojo


Ashes of HonorAshes of Honor (DAW, 2012) by Seanan McGuire
An October Daye Novel

“It’s been almost a year since October ‘Toby’ Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills-but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.”

Also by Seanan McGuire:

Seanan McGuire’s article “Finding Your Fairy Godmother: A Guide to Acquiring a Literary Agent” appeared at Absolute Blank in September 2009. Erin Bellavia reviewed Ashes of Honor in September 2012.

Follow Seanan on Twitter: @seananmcguire


BlackoutBlackout (Orbit, 2012) by Mira Grant
Newsflesh Trilogy #3

“Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies—and if there’s one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it’s this: Things can always get worse.”

Also by Mira Grant:

Erin Bellavia interviewed Mira Grant in April 2011.

Follow Mira Grant on Twitter: @miragrant


Bad Apple.jpgBad Apple (Vagabondage Press, 2012) by Kristi Petersen Schoonover

“After an unfortunate incident on a Maine apple orchard, precocious teen Scree is left with a father she’s not sure is hers, a never-ending list of chores and her flaky brother’s baby, who she is expected to raise. In a noble move to save the child from an existence like her own, Scree flees to a glitzy resort teeming with young men just ripe for the picking. But even as life with baby becomes all she’d dreamed, Dali-esque visions begin to leach through the gold paint. Bad Apple is a dark, surreal ride that proves not all things in an orchard are safe to pick.”

Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s story “King of Bull” was the winner of the seventh annual Dead of Winter writing contest.

Her stories “A Bone to Pick” and “Wailing Station” placed second in the eleventh and sixth annual competitions respectively. Her story “Bridging Christmas” placed third in the eighth annual Dead of Winter contest.

Follow Kristi on Twitter: @KPSchoonover


Attic ClownsAttic Clowns (Redrum Horror, 2012) by Jeremy C. Shipp

“Meet a paranoid astronaut whose jealousy drives him to extremes beyond murder.a miniature circus spawned from the mind of woman with too much control.the underling demon Globcow who desires redemption even more than the taste of human feet. Men, women, children, and things beyond imagination all interconnect in ATTIC CLOWNS, where laughter is only the prelude to the bizarre and terrible.”

Also by Jeremy C. Shipp:

  • Fungus of the Heart (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010)
  • Cursed (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2009). Nominated for the 2009 Bram Stoker Award.

Stephanie Lenz interviewed Jeremy C. Shipp in October 2009. Harlan County Horrors (Apex Publications, 2009), edited by Mari Adkins, includes stories by both Jeremy and Stephanie.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @JeremyCShipp


Shock Totem 5Shock Totem 5: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted (October 2012) edited by K. Allen Wood

“The fifth issue of Shock Totem is yet another eclectic mix of horror fiction and nonfiction. This issue features previously unpublished stories from the likes of Ari Marmell, Darrell Schweitzer, Joe Mirabello, Mekenzie Larsen, and others. There is also a five-part, illustrated microfiction serial, by Kurt Newton, a conversation with horror legend Jack Ketchum, nonfiction by Nick Contor, reviews and more.”

Back Issues:

Stephanie Lenz interviewed K. Allen Wood in May 2011.

Follow Allen on Twitter: @KAllenWood


Last Stand in Zombie TownLast Stand in Zombie Town (Damnation Books, 2012) by C.L. Bledsoe

“Retired cop Earl Bedford is living the good life with his wife, Jalina, getting fat and rich robbing banks. After their last job goes south, they hang up their masks. Unfortunately, a terrorist group calling itself the Right Hand of God contaminated food supplies all over the country with something resembling rabies. Now, Earl and Jalina have to deal with the crazy Federal agent on their tail—T.S.N.—don’t ask him what it stands for. That makes him mad.—and it’s the end of the world, apparently. Earl just wants to go someplace warm, not battle his zombie-fied neighbors.”

Also by C.L. Bledsoe:

C.L. Bledsoe’s poems “Pause” and “4 Short Poems About Sex” appeared in the March 2005 issue of Toasted Cheese. “The Bank” appeared in the December 2009 issue.

Follow C.L. on Twitter: @clbledsoe


Romance

Undead and UnstableUndead and Unstable (Berkley Hardcover, 2012) by MaryJanice Davidson

“Betsy’s heartbroken over her friend Marc’s death, but at least his sacrifice should change the future — her future — for the better. But it’s not as if Betsy’s next few hundred years will be perfect. After all, her half sister, Laura, is the Antichrist. Laura’s mother is Satan, and family gatherings will always be more than a little awkward.”

Also by MaryJanice Davidson:

Erin Nappe Bellavia interviewed MaryJanice Davidson in June 2006.

Follow MaryJanice on Twitter: @MaryJaniceD.


Hidden ParadiseHidden Paradise (Harlequin, 2012) by Janet Mullany

“Louisa Connelly, a recently widowed Jane Austen scholar, needs some relief from her stifling world. When a friend calls to offer her a temporary escape from her Montana ranch, she is whisked into a dizzying world of sumptuous food, flowing wine.and endless temptation.”

Also by Janet Mullany:

Janet Mullany’s story “Snow, The Seven and The Moon” was the winner of the first annual Dead of Winter writing contest. “The Companions Are Chosen” was Best of the Boards in December 2001. “A Perfect Evening” appeared in the September 2001 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Her article “Enter At Your Own Risk: The Strange, Twilight World of Writing Competitions” appeared at Absolute Blank in November 2002.

Follow Janet on Twitter: @Janet_Mullany.


On Deadly GroundOn Deadly Ground (Steeple Hill, 2011) by Lauren Nichols

“The prowler on the construction site of her new camp didn’t frighten Rachel Patterson…at first. Fear comes when her home is torched—and worsens when a body is unearthed on the campgrounds. Someone’s trying to cover up a murder, and if Rachel can identify the intruder, she might be the only witness. Her neighbor, Wildlife Conservation Officer Jake Campbell, is determined to keep the lovely widow safe. But when a misunderstanding separates the pair, their distance risks more than the growing feelings between them. It leaves Rachel alone and unguarded, which could be just the chance the killer needs.”

Also by Lauren Nichols:

Erin Nappe Bellavia interviewed Lauren Nichols (Edie Hanes) in February 2003.


General Fiction

The Freak ChroniclesThe Freak Chronicles (Dzanc Books, 2012) by Jennifer Spiegel

“The short stories in this collection explore, both implicitly and explicitly, the notion of freakiness. They worry over eccentricity, alienation, normalcy, and intimacy. What is it that makes one a freak, makes one want to embrace quirkiness, have the fortitude to cultivate oddity? Is there a fine line between abnormality and the extraordinary? Jennifer Spiegel’s stories delve into these questions and others.”

Also by Jennifer Spiegel:

Jennifer Spiegel’s story “Be Happy” was Boots’s Pick in December 2010.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @JenniferSpiegel


Consonant Sounds for Fish SongsConsonant Sounds for Fish Songs (Aqueous Books, 2012) by Traci Chee

“These stories are about death, God, and love, and they are connected by motifs of fish and music that resonate throughout the collection, transforming what you read as you read it. Because fish are signs of both life and death, and music is for joy and mourning and monsters alike.”

Traci Chee’s story “Derek” appeared in the June 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Traci on Twitter: @tracichee


Hallways and HandgunsHallways and Handguns (MuseItUp Publishing, 2012) by Nathaniel Tower.

“A series of tragic events at Rosehill Academy, a middle-class Midwest high school, tests the limits of human relationships. Beginning with the tragic suicide of a beautiful but little-known girl and the rumors of the inappropriate relationship that caused it, everyone at the school becomes affected in some way by the events that occur in the week that follows. During the course of that week, a resignation, overdose, bout with alcoholism, death threat, and school shooting all impact the lives of everyone. Was the suicide a catalyst for all of these events, or was it merely a coincidence?”

Nathaniel Tower’s story “The J” was the winner of the Spring 2009 Three Cheers and a Tiger writing contest.

The Oaten Hands” was Baker’s Pick in the March 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese and “Montanawich” was Boots’s Pick in June 2011.

Follow Nathaniel on Twitter: @BartlebySnopes


LossesLosses (Vagabondage Press, 2012) by Robert Wexelblatt

“A single father who is a new IRS agent, his cherished and imaginative little girl, a divorced woman having second thoughts about motherhood, a couple who think two ways about becoming parents, a mysterious and crooked financial wizard-these are the people from whose relationships, enterprises, gains and losses this story is woven. Has there been a crime and, if so, can the miscreant be caught? How valid are the claims of a father and a mother? When they clash, what becomes of their child?”

Robert Wexelblatt’s story “Disappearing” was Ana’s Pick in the September 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.


The Real DealThe Real Deal (BrickHouse Books, 2012) by Miriam N. Kotzin

“Abe Featherman, elected as the first Native American President of the United States, discovers that he is a pawn of his wealthy backers who don’t want him to run for a second term. His campaign manager, Franklin, who knows all his secrets, takes charge of the outrageous kabuki designed to get him out of office. Meanwhile Featherman transforms himself from a phony to the real deal.”

Also by Miriam N. Kotzin:

Miriam N. Kotzin’s flash story “The Patsy” appeared in the June 2004 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Miriam on Twitter: @sextoygirl


The IlluminationThe Illumination: A Novel (Pantheon, 2011) by Kevin Brockmeier

“At 8:17 on a Friday night, the Illumination commences. Every wound begins to shine, every bruise to glow and shimmer. And in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes, written by a husband to his wife, passes into the keeping of a hospital patient and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely.”

Also by Kevin Brockmeier:

Mollie Savage interviewed Kevin Brockmeier in July 2006.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @illumination_bk


Damn Sure RightDamn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011) by Meg Pokrass.

“Damn Sure Right, the “wonderful, dark, unforgiving” (Frederick Barthelme) debut by Meg Pokrass, “conveys entire worlds that are touching, haunting, funny, moving, and strange in the most beautiful ways” (Jessica Anya Blau). “The brew master of flash” (Sean Lovelace), Pokrass writes “like a brain looking for a body” (Frederick Barthelme), making her the “new monarch of the delightful and enigmatic tiny kingdom of mirco- and flash fiction” (Brad Watson). This collection of eighty-four tales is sure to “ruin your waking hours the way you’ll want them ruined” (Kyle Minor)”

Meg Pokrass’s story “Waiting Room” was Boots’s Pick in the March 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Meg on Twitter: @megpokrass


Everyone Remain CalmEveryone Remain Calm (ECW Press, 2011) by Megan Stielstra

“In this debut collection of stories, Megan Stielstra will explain the following in revealing detail: how to develop relationships with convicted felons and 1970s TV characters; how not to have a threesome with your roommate; the life and death nature of teaching creative writing; and what happens when discount birth control is advertised on Craigslist. Witty, tough, imaginative, and hot-blooded, Megan Stielstra’s fiction and first person reporting are the missing links between Raymond Carver and David Sedaris.”

Megan Stielstra’s creative non-fiction “This Teacher Talks Too Damn Fast” appeared in the June 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Megan on Twitter: @meganstielstra


Hard to SayHard to Say (PANK Magazine, 2011) by Ethel Rohan.

“Hard to Say is a lovely, difficult, heartbreaking but ultimately beautiful and profound book about mothers, daughters, borders and boundaries, and our constant struggle to not surrender to our frailties. You won’t regret reading it.”

Also by Ethel Rohan:

Ethel Rohan’s flash story “Scraps” appeared in the December 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Ethel on Twitter: @ethelrohan


Please Don't Be Upset and other storiesPlease Don’t Be Upset and other stories (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011) by Brandi Wells.

“Please Don’t Be Upset is a collection of fifteen perfectly rendered stories—lists, instructions, yearnings, confessions, more—stories about imperfect mothers and daughters, women and men, strange stories about folded bodies and stalking deer, stories about the small, heartbreaking ways we fail each other, yet cling so tightly.”

Brandi Wells’s story “Flower-Eater” appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Brandi Wells on Twitter: @brandimwells


Mad to LiveMad to Live (PS Books Publishing, 2011) by Randall Brown

“Originally published in a limited edition by Flume Press in 2008, Randall Brown’s award-winning (very) short fiction collection, Mad To Live, sold out almost immediately. Fortunately for Brown’s fans (and soon-to-be fans), PS Books has published this deluxe edition of Mad To Live—complete with new cover art and four bonus tracks not included in the Flume edition!”

Randall D. Brown’s flash story “Great Grandmother Gorilla” appeared in the September 2004 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Randall on Twitter: @flashfictionnet


Poetry

Hurt Into BeautyHurt Into Beauty (FutureCycle Press, 2012) by Paul Hostovsky

“In his fourth full-length collection of poetry, Paul Hostovsky offers up the kind of fare that his readers keep coming back for—the humor mixed with poignancy, the heartbreak lined with a kind of palliative existential mischief—in poems that explore the nature of violence, illness, beauty, childhood, Deaf people and sign language, the art of love and the art of poetry.”

Also by Paul Hostovsky:

Paul Hostovsky’s poems “Dear Hallmark” and “Note” appeared in the March 2012 issue of Toasted Cheese. “Survivor,” “The Message,” “Ars PO,” “The Self,” & “Looking at Boobs with Aunt Edie” appeared in the December 2009 issue.


We Bury the LandscapeWe Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012) by Kristine Ong Muslim

“We Bury the Landscape is an exhibition of literary art. Ekphrasis, collected. One hundred flash fictions and prose poems presented to view. From the visual to the textual, transmuting before the gallery-goer’s gaze, the shifting contours of curator Kristine Ong Muslim’s surreal panorama delineate the unconventional, the unexpected, and the unnatural. Traversing this visionary vista’s panoply of “rooms of unfinished lives,” the reader unearths and examines and reanimates-revealing the transcendent uncanniness that subsists underfoot.”

Kristine Ong Muslim’s poems “U is for Ursula” and “Milking Time” appeared in the September 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Kristine on Twitter: @kristinemuslim


ProdigalProdigal (Pinyon Publishing, 2012) by Francine Marie Tolf

“‘We have lost our ability to name,’ Francine Marie Tolf writes: ‘We say antelope, owl, / as if these words had power. / As if the names of animals hadn’t long fled / back into animals.’ Thus, Tolf lays out the major themes of her second collection of poems, Prodigal: nature, animals, and language-plus a fourth: discoveries that occur when one of these intricate living strands intersects with another. Tolf doesn’t shy from the savagery humans inflict on earth and other animals, but instead encourages us to reflect and understand if we can.”

Francine Marie Tolf’s creative non-fiction “The Summer Before Eighth Grade” appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Letters from Under the Banyan TreeLetters from under the Banyan Tree (Aldrich Press, 2012) by Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas

“Carol Lynn’s Letters from Under the Banyan Tree is a delicate and deft-handed tribute to life’s rituals. This woven tapestry of organic imagery and calm reflection evokes that breathless twilight moment somewhere between grief and hope, where wisdom can grow. ~Fawn Neun”

Also by Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas:

Carol Lynn Grellas’s poem “When the Trees Were Bare” was Bellman’s Pick in the September 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Carol Lynn on Twitter: @secretpoet


The Best of the Barefoot MuseThe Best of the Barefoot Muse (Barefoot Muse Press, 2011) edited by Anna M. Evans

“An anthology of the best poems that appeared in the online journal, The Barefoot Muse, 2005-2010. Selected and arranged by Anna M. Evans.”

Anna Evans’s story “Desert Creatures” appeared in the June 2006 issue of Toasted Cheese. Her story “Refuge” appeared in the September 2005 issue.

Follow Anna on Twitter: @Barefoot_Muse


Before the Great TroublingBefore the Great Troubling: Poems (Unbound Content, 2011) by Corey Mesler

“Acclaimed writer Corey Mesler returns with his second full-length collection of poetry, this time exploring interior landscapes as they relate to life and love, feelings and family, the perpetual process of growing up.”

Also by Corey Mesler:

Corey Mesler’s poems “Limited Edition,” “The Jay Underneath Yggdrasil” & “Last” appeared in the June 2005 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Corey on Twitter: @CoreyMesler


Dark SaltDark Salt: A Brush With Genius (JB Stillwater Publishing, 2011) by Lynn Strongin

“In this collection of late works by Lynn Strongin, we find that perfect balance of salt and water spiced with symbolism and metaphor that poet Strongin does so well. Jewish Temple offerings included salt and Jewish people still dip their bread in salt on the Sabbath as a remembrance of those sacrifices.”

Lynn Strongin’s poems “Smoke-Jumpers” and “Failed Nerve strikes like a fuse blown in a city, a whole power station:” appeared in the March 2006 issue of Toasted Cheese.

The Failure to Speak miraculous things,” “Hitting my Stride by Third Cabin Morning” & “Birch Candles” appeared in the December 2005 issue.


In the Palms of AngelsIn the Palms of Angels (Press 53, 2011) by Terri Kirby Erickson

“‘There is no store-bought redemption pasted to the ends of these poems, but neither will you find hopelessness, self-pity, a turning away from the world. What you will find at the core of all these poems is the timeless North Carolinian’s beneficent but ungilded witnessing.’ — From the Introduction by Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.”

Also by Terri Kirby Erickson:

Terri Kirby Erickson’s poem “Downpour” appeared in the September 2009 issue of Toasted Cheese.


In TransitIn Transit (David Robert Books, 2011) by Kathryn Jacobs

“The wit of Kathryn Jacobs’ In Transit is wry and observant, leavening humor with tart conclusions.”

Also by Kathryn Jacobs:

Kathryn Jacobs’s poems “Ocean Maps,” “The Tin Woodman” & “The Musical Dead” were Beaver’s Pick in the June 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of AdieuSeeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu (Cinnamon Press, 2010) by Arlene Ang

“Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu is concerned with images and perception; the intricacies and strangeness of human relationships and loss. Her language, sometimes surreal, always challenges expectations. Sensual and inventive, this is poetry that surprises; poetry that demands a response. Ang deploys sharp crafting and a unique voice.”

Also by Arlene Ang:

Arlene Ang’s poems “Behind This Cornea of Storms,” “Constrained Indolence” & “Dining in Brisighella” appeared in the March 2003 issue of Toasted Cheese.


Non-Fiction

The Mindful WriterThe Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life (Wisdom Publications, 2012) by Dinty W. Moore

“Going a step beyond typical “how to write” books, Moore illuminates the creative process: where writing and creativity originate, how mindfulness plays into work, how to cultivate good writing habits, how to grow as a writer — and a person! — and what it means to have a life dedicated to the craft of writing. There’s not a writer alive, novice or master, who will not benefit from this book and fall in love with it. Cover to cover, this wise little book is riveting and delightful. Readers will turn to The Mindful Writer again and again as a source inspiration, guidance, and support.”

Also by Dinty W. Moore:

Stephanie Lenz interviewed Dinty W. Moore in May 2006.

Follow Dinty on Twitter: @brevitymag


FiddleFiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel, 2010) by Vivian Wagner

“After a chance encounter with fiddle music, Vivian Wagner discovered something she never knew she had lacked. The fiddle had reawakened not only her passion for music, but for life itself. From the remote workshop of a wizened master fiddle maker in the Blue Ridge Mountains to a klezmer band in Cleveland, from Cajun fiddle music in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to a fiddle camp in Tennessee, Vivian’s quest to master the instrument becomes a journey populated by teachers and artisans–and ultimately creates a community that fortifies her through an emotionally crushing loss.”

Vivian Wagner’s creative non-fiction, “Potpies, Mudpies, and Macaroni: On Learning to Cook” appeared in the June 2008 issue of Toasted Cheese.

Follow Vivian on Twitter: @VWagner


Off Kilter
Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage (Pearlsong Press, 2008) by Linda C. Wisniewski

“Susan Wittig Albert calls Off Kilter a ‘splendid first memoir about the difficult business of finding balance in our lives. Funny, honest, deeply moving, Off Kilter reminds us just how hard it is to adjust to the physical pain, the emotional loss, and even the surprising beauty of being fully who we are.'”

Linda C. Wisniewski’s creative non-fiction “My Grandfather’s Ear” appeared in the March 2007 issue of Toasted Cheese. “A Connecting Thread” appeared in the December 2004 issue.

Follow Linda on Twitter: @Lindawis


Assaulted by JoyAssaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic (Zondervan, 2008) by Stephen W. Simpson

“Over the years, his beliefs about God were challenged by painful and confusing experiences in church as a teenager, the death of a beloved friend in college, and bouts of doubt and despair in graduate school. He married the girl of his dreams, yet he was still not happy. Then came the quadruplets.”

Stephen W. Simpson’s story “First Steps” won the Fall 2003 Three Cheers and a Tiger writing contest.

Steve’s article “The First Novel Marathon” appeared at Absolute Blank in November 2003. Theryn Fleming interviewed Stephen W. Simpson in August 2007.


Final Poll Results