Q&A with MELISSA PIMENTEL

PimentelM-AuthorPic2Although Love By The Book is a novel, the premise comes from an experiment that you conducted in your own life, that you turned into a blog called “Love by the Book.” What made you want to try this and how did you come up with the idea?

The idea came after a year of semi-successful dating in London. I’d come out of a serious relationship the year before (a marriage, in fact) so I wasn’t looking for anything remotely serious… and yet every time I tried to convey that to a guy, they seemed to think I was trying to trick them. It was getting annoying, so when the idea came to me to try these different dating guides – and effectively turn my love life into a science experiment – it instantly appealed. I’ve always thought that dating should be fun – when I was in college, I used to play a game called “wrong or funny” with my roommate in which we’d get ourselves in slightly awkward/controversial situations with guys and then ask each other if the situation was wrong or funny (the best ones were both) – so this felt like killing two birds with one stone: making a game out of dating and also (maybe, hopefully) learning something about male behavior along the way.

Why did you decide to write this as a novel and not as a memoir?

In truth, I ran out of material! The real-life experiment was going really well for a few months. It was fun (if exhausting) and the blog was starting to get some traction… but then lo and behold, I went on a first date with one of the test subjects and fell in love. It was sort of a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I was happy to have met the love of my life (we’re now engaged) but on the other, I was kind of annoyed that I had to give up the project. I actually tried to keep it going for the first month we were together, but it was getting too weird. An editor at Penguin who had been following the blog suggested a try to fictionalize it, and here we are! Continue reading

Upcoming: CROOKED by Austin Grossman (Mulholland)

GrossmanA-CrookedI only recently read (and loved) Austin Grossman‘s You, but ever since I have been keeping my eyes open for news on his next novel. As it happens, today SF Signal shared the cover and synopsis for CROOKED, which is due out in July 2015. (Gargh! That’s so far way!) Here’s the synopsis:

This is the story of Richard Nixon, America’s last defense against a supernatural Cold War.

Richard Nixon’s life is a compellingly human story: historically epic, richly strange. His career spans World War II, the Cold War intrigue, the Mad Men sixties, and the turbulent seventies. He went from political phenomenon to master schemer to a joke, sobbing in the Oval Office.

But what if Nixon was actually a man who had stumbled on a terrible supernatural secret? A leader who did what he had to do to protect humanity, at the cost of disgracing the entire nation?

What if our worst president was really a pivotal figure in the secret history of the twentieth century, caught in a desperate struggle between ordinary life and horrors from another reality?

He’s not a crook. He’s a hero. So cut Nixon some slack. He saw the devil walk.

I still need to read Soon I Will Be Invincible. I’m sure I’ll manage that before Crooked hits shelves.

Rat Queens, Vol.1 – “Sass & Sorcery” (Image Comics)

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe | Artist: Roc Upchurch

Who are the Rat Queens?

A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit.

It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!

Collects: Rat Queens #1-5

In the tradition of Skullkickers (also published by Image) and Princeless, Rat Queens is a tongue-in-cheeky, funny take on traditional sword-and-sorcery tropes. We have the classic fantasy band of adventurers, with an amusing dynamic. That they happen to all be women is a nice touch, too, and Wiebe clearly shows (without any type of preaching) that there’s no reason why only big, hulking male barbarians or wizened, white-bearded sages have to be at the centre of fantasy adventures. Someone in the Rat Queen’s home town is setting up the local mercenary bands – engineering deadly assignments intended to eradicate them entirely. Unfortunately for the conspiracists, the Rat Queens won’t go down without a fight, a lot of killing and plenty of raucous fun.

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As the first volume, we’re still only just getting to know the characters by the end, but I am very eager to read more of their adventures. There is a perfect balance between action, story, and just plain fun in this first volume. At the same time, Wiebe does not ignore the importance of character development, and we start to see them develop a good deal over the course of this collection – there’s still plenty of scope for expansion, which I have no doubt the creative team will firmly exploit in the future.

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There were so many great touches throughout that just made me like the characters more – the unusual, perhaps conflicting character traits and mannerisms they have round them out wonderfully (one, for example, has extreme social anxiety, despite being able to throw down with a troll – below), and even after this short introduction to them, we start to see them as fully-rounded, three-dimensional characters. The dialogue and interaction between the cast is sharp and funny. There are a fair few background gags and asides that a quick read might miss (poor, put upon Dave, for example).

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The artwork is clear, if slightly cartoony. This does not detract from the story, rather it enhances and complements it perfectly – Upchurch realises the action and visual gags extremely well. Like my other favourite artists, Upchurch has a gift for drawing and presenting facial expressions, and conveying so much with a simply smirk, raised eyebrow, or knowing glance. It really adds an excellent, bonus nuance to how the characters interact with each other.

A must-read for fantasy and comics fans. Long live the Rat Queens! Can’t wait to read book two.

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Review: THE RADLEYS by Matt Haig (Canongate Books)

HaigM-RadleysAn unconventional, intelligent vampire novel

Just about everyone knows a family like the Radleys. Many of us grew up next door to one. They are a modern family, averagely content, averagely dysfunctional, living in a staid and quiet suburban English town. Peter is an overworked doctor whose wife, Helen, has become increasingly remote and uncommunicative. Rowan, their teenage son, is being bullied at school, and their anemic daughter, Clara, has recently become a vegan. They are typical, that is, save for one devastating exception: Peter and Helen are vampires and have – for seventeen years – been abstaining by choice from a life of chasing blood in the hope that their children could live normal lives.

One night, Clara finds herself driven to commit a shocking – and disturbingly satisfying – act of violence, and her parents are forced to explain their history of shadows and lies. A police investigation is launched that uncovers a richness of vampire history heretofore unknown to the general public. And when the malevolent and alluring Uncle Will, a practicing vampire, arrives to throw the police off Clara’s trail, he winds up throwing the whole house into temptation and turmoil and unleashing a host of dark secrets that threaten the Radleys’ marriage.

I really enjoyed this. I also read it quite a while ago, which is why I’m going to keep the review rather brief. It’s a different and original take on vampires – one that blends commentary on contemporary British society, middle-class life and anxieties, and is presented with a deft, light touch. Continue reading

Princeless Vol.1 – “Save Yourself” (Action Lab)

Princeless-Vol.1Writer: Jeremy Whitley | Art: M. Goodwin

Princeless is the story of Princess Adrienne, one princess who’s tired of waiting to be rescued. Join Adrienne, her guardian dragon, Sparky, and their plucky friend Bedelia as they begin their own quest in this one of a kind, action packed, all-ages adventure!

Collects: Princeless Vol.1 #1-4

This was a very pleasant surprise. It’s a progressive, all-ages comic book that should have massive appeal across age groups. The story is witty, well-written, and the artwork is filled with amusing and eye-catching details. I really enjoyed this, and think a lot of others will, too.

The story and ‘message’ (not wanting to get too academic about this) is also very good. It’s a story about a princess rebelling against the Fantasy/Fairy Tale Archetypes. It begins with her shrewdly pointing out the idiocy of sticking princesses in towers in the middle of nowhere guarded by hungry dragons. It’s the only time the financial flaw in such a plan has been pointed out… The rest of the book picks up on a number of fantasy tropes, not to mention the archaic conventions related to women (young, old, noble, and peasant). There were so many scenes that made me laugh or smile. Not only the moment when our heroine discovered the sword under her bed (“Oooh. Shiny.”); but also the excellent scene in which she acquires her own, proper armour.

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I won’t go into any more detail than that, as I think it would ruin many of the other jokes. You’ll find a great protagonist in Adrienne, you’ll grow attached to her new (almost Chewbacca-meets-dog) dragon companion, her zany new ally, and her brother is pretty great, too. I urge everyone to read this. If it found its way into the hands of young readers everywhere, as well as adults’, then it could do a lot for breaking down gender barriers in storytelling and genre fiction/media (in the long and short term).

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Princeless is a must-read for anyone looking for a progressive, fun comic book. Also perfect for anyone who enjoyed Frozen and other similar movies. I really can’t wait to read volume two. Very highly recommended.

Squirrel, Trapped Indoors, Seeks Alternative Food Hiding Place… Including a St. Bernard…

I found this via io9.com, but had to share it…

Theodore Roosevelt Responds to a Lampooning Review. Or, “This Probably Couldn’t Happen Today, on the Internet”

GoodwinDK-BullyPulpitUKAnyone who knows me, or perhaps anyone who reads my other blog, Politics Reader (yeah, I know, there’s a theme to the blog names), will undoubtedly have come across my interest in Theodore Roosevelt, his presidency and time. I am fascinated by the period of American history between (approx.) 1880 and the start of World War I. Given this interest, I devour pretty much any book I can get my hands on that focuses on that time and the people who shaped American history and politics then. At the moment, I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent, exhaustively-researched The Bully Pulpit. The book is about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the media. Today, I came across an amusing passage, which I thought I would share, here.

First, some context. Theodore Roosevelt was US president from 1901-08, first ascending to the Presidency after the assassination of William McKinley. Alongside his storied career in public service, he was a prolific author – between 1882-1919, he had 45 books and collections (of essays and letters) published. Finley Peter Dunne was a writer and humourist from Chicago, who wrote the nationally syndicated “Mr. Dooley” satires and lampoons.

In the fall of 1899, a copy of The Rough Riders, Roosevelt’s wartime memoir, came across Dunne’s desk. “Mr. Dooley’s” book review in Harper’s Weekly mocked Roosevelt’s propensity for placing himself at the center of all action: “Tis Th’ Biography iv a Hero by Wan who Knows. Tis Th’ Darin’ Exploits iv a Brave Man be an Actual Eye Witness,” Mr. Dooley observed. “If I was him, I’d call th’ book, ‘Alone in Cubia.’” Three days after this satirical assessment amused readers across the country, Roosevelt wrote to Dunne: “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall exact that when you next come east to pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.” (pp.257-8)

GoodwinDK-BullyPulpitUSThe full review is the first in Mr. Dooley’s Philosophy (which is available as a PDF online – pp.13-18). collected Dunne was clearly touched by Roosevelt’s letter, and in his reply to Roosevelt, accepting the invitation, he also said:

“… the way you took Mr. Dooley is a little discouraging. The number of persons who are worthwhile firing at is so small that as a matter of business I must regret the loss of one of them. Still if in losing a target I have, perhaps, gained a friend I am in after all.” (p.258)

Dunne never had to regret the loss of TR as a target, however. The reviewer continued to poke fun at TR (“the nation’s premiere target” as Goodwin calls him) for years to come, and the two remained friends throughout.

Today, when an author responds to a negative or critical review – especially on the internet – it never seems to go well for the author (see, for example, who-knows-how-many self-published authors lashing out at bloggers; or even the more recent, bizarre-and-quite-pathetic reaction to Ben Aaronovitch’s polite pointing out of a review’s factual misunderstanding). The above response and exchange between Dunne and Roosevelt… It could never happen today. Which is a real shame.

[I am currently reading The Bully Pulpit for review on Politics Reader. The book was provided by Goodwin’s UK publisher, Viking/Penguin. In the US, the book is published by Simon & Schuster.]

Guillermo Del Toro’s SIMPSON’s Opening Credits Sequence…

… is riddled with awesome SFF references. This has been doing the rounds on the SFF blogosphere, but I thought I’d share it as well, because it’s quite brilliant. Check it out: