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June 2011

Surrealist Rikki Ducornet Plumbs Depths of Psycho Trauma in "Netsuke"


Rikki Ducornet—surrealist, absurdist, pure anarchist at times—is one of our most accomplished writers, adept at seizing on the perfect details and writing with emotion and cool detachment simultaneously. I love her style because it is penetrating and precise but also sensual without being overwrought. You experience a Ducornet novel with all of your senses.

Sometimes, too, the territory Ducornet explores is dark indeed. Such is the case with her latest, Netsuke, a take-no-prisoners decadent psycho-drama about a monstrous psychoanalyst, his artistic wife named Akiko, and the patients that he either tries to cure or to sexually conquer. The psychoanalyst’s self-destructive tendencies engulf his relationship with Akiko and threaten to destroy his practice. No one would mistake him for sympathetic—pompous, loathing, loathsome—yet in the Nabokovian nature of his revelries about his cruelties the character holds the reader’s attention. There’s a lightness of touch in his antics on the page that recall the attempts other ill-doers to garner favor with an audience. Indeed, the novel mesmerizes in its fascination with the psychoanalyst’s destruction of anything worthwhile around him, and the reader becomes a voyeur unable to look away.

The title refers not just to the miniature sculptures gifted to him by his wife but his own trophies: clues from his clients introduced into his home life with Akiko. He gets a little thrill from his personal connection to them and Akiko’s ignorance of that connection. Sometimes these clues are just hints he drops or places they go together instead of physical objects, but regardless symbolize the ever-growing distance between Akiko and the psychoanalyst—and, perversely, a need to communicate with her.

The writing is superb, whether detailing disturbing moments fraught with drama or revealing the doctor’s thoughts: “You fill a house with precious things; they break. You fill a heart with precious things; it breaks. In the end it all breaks. All night long I hear bones snapping. My nights are my star chamber. In my dreams the elusive sweetness of the world is just around the corner: up a tree, waiting in the silver tower, at the top of the mountain, in a box secreted at the bottom of the sea.”

Eventually, the doctor encounters a client he cannot categorize and can’t conquer in quite the same way as the others. Eventually, too, Ducornet begins to show us Akiko’s point of view, to undermine the wit and linguistic cleverness of the doctor’s account. What can at times lull the unwary reader into believing is just wickedly terrible adventures becomes imbued with a deep sadness. The ending is a short, sharp shock of the real and has an inevitability that in no way takes away from the reader’s initial discomfort at encountering it.

Netsuke has teeth and claws. It isn’t a comfortable book for a reader to inhabit, and yet it has important things to say, embedded in the deadly beautiful prose. As might be expected considering the subject matter, Netsuke has drawn diverse reactions. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, and the New York Times a mixed review that I think missed the point. Readers owe it to themselves to encounter this slim but complex novel on its own terms.

Best of the Year So Far: Romance Books We Love


Earlier this week we launched our Best of the Year So Far lists, and I’m particularly excited about the Romance list we put together. It was so difficult to choose our favorites for this year—there were way more than ten to choose from!—but as these lists tend to do, it forced us to think about what makes a Romance book truly great and focus on the ten most memorable books of the year (so far).

Our number one Romance pick of the year was Sarah MacLean’s Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, starring feisty, Italian-born Juliana Fiori (who you might remember from MacLean’s first book in the Love by Numbers series, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake).

Juliana is notorious for her difficulties conforming to the inscrutably complex rules of London society. One night, after thwarting the advances of an unwanted suitor, Juliana hides in a carriage—only to be discovered by its owner, Simon Pearson, Duke of Leighton, a man famed for his hauteur and aversion to scandal. Juliana resolves to teach him a lesson about living a passionate life before he marries his proper (read: dull) fiancée, while the “Duke of Disdain” agrees to watch over Juliana and protect her from further faux pas before she brings ruin to her family. But the Duke is hiding a scandal of his own, and when he becomes the center of the ton’s gossip, he realizes that the woman he wants by his side is the one who has caused—and weathered—a few scandals of her own.

I loved the realistic yet delightfully witty banter in Eleven Scandals, and I felt for both Juliana, who tries so hard to repress her unconventional nature (it’s not worth it, Juliana!), and Simon, whose primary motivation is to protect his family’s secrets, even at the expense of his own happiness. But what propelled this novel to the top of our favorites so far this year were the brilliant, fully realized set pieces (the best being a bittersweet Guy Fawkes Day bonfire) and the heart-wrenching role-reversal at the end. We won’t spoil it here—you’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends.

We’ll be discussing our Best of the Year So Far picks in Romance here on Omni over the next few weeks. We’d love to hear what you thought about our picks, as well as the ones we missed—join the conversation in the comments!

Guest Essay: Jeff Abbott on Building a Hero


Jeff Abbott is the international-bestselling, award-winning author of ten mystery and suspense novels, including Adrenaline, available tomorrow (July 1).

Writing a new crime or suspense series is a bit like getting married. You tie yourself and your future to your new creation. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your new series hero. Not to mention all the supporting cast (think of them as in-laws or your spouse’s close friends). You have to create with care when you start a new series, or you’ll quickly find yourself stuck in dead ends.

The key is in how you build the hero of your story. He or she must carry the world of your fiction. And in creating the hero for my new series, I probably invested more thought than I ever had before on fleshing him out before I started writing.

I had written four thrillers in a row when I got the idea for a new series. I’d thought of doing a series because readers often asked if the main characters from my thrillers would be returning for more adventures. I said, I’ll do a series if the right idea comes. And one day at my desk—I was doodling a picture of a globe, and for some odd reason drew a martini glass beneath it—Sam Capra came in a flash: an ex-CIA agent who ends up owning bars around the world.

Ex-CIA. Bars. All over the world.

The idea stopped me cold, and then I felt warm, because the idea felt so right. The very idea suggested intrigue, foreign locales, colorful characters. A man with the skills of a spy, but without the bureaucracy or the rules; and bars around the world, meaning I could let him find adventure (and a new supporting cast, if I liked) in locales both plain and exotic. The bars would be an entrée for him into danger, a reason to pull him into cases, a legitimate excuse to travel the world; the settings would be widely varied. At the same time I realized there would be a consistent backdrop: a dark underworld of crime and intrigue, one tied to the rise of global crime syndicates, some of whom wield more economic power than major corporations. (Did you know twenty percent of the world’s economy is illicit now? It means about 14 trillion dollars worth of illegal activity.) The cities would change, but that fact of underlying criminality would be a constant for Sam.

Continue reading "Guest Essay: Jeff Abbott on Building a Hero" »

Medal-Winning Monsters

Patrick Ness not only won this year's Carnegie Medal for Monsters of Men, he's also the first author to have had all three books in a trilogy shortlisted for the award.  Monsters of Men is the final book in one of my all-time favorite YA series, Chaos Walking, which began with The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.  This year's win came with the following praise from the Carnegie judging panel chair, Ferelith Hordon, “Patrick Ness creates a complex other world, giving himself and the reader great scope to consider big questions about life, love and how we communicate, as well as the horrors of war, and the good and evil that mankind is capable of. It's also an enthralling read that is well nigh impossible to put down.”   I agree wholeheartedly--reading this book, as the others before it, was a richly rewarding experience, and I tore through each one with a fervor that belied their hefty page count.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Book 1) takes off with a bang in the outpost of Prentisstown where all the women are dead, thoughts are audible(!), and Todd, the only remaining boy, escapes the gruesome fate that would accompany his approaching 13th birthday.  As Todd tries to find a legendary town of possible safety he meets a girl--the first he'd ever seen--who is also alone and in danger, adding her voice to this remarkable story. Ness' endings are satisfying but left me anxious for more, as the secrets, suspense, and unexpected plot twists built from one book to the next.   I’m glad I came to this story on the eve of Monsters of Men because it would have been torture to have to wait a year between books.  In fact, just revisiting the novels here makes me want to read them all over again—they really are that good.   I had the chance to meet Patrick Ness last year, just as Monsters of Men was published, you can check out the video interview below (see more video here) and hear what he has to say now in his Carnegie acceptance speech [MP3].



Tim Ferriss Reviews "Anything You Want," and More from Derek Sivers

Anything_You_WantTim Ferriss is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Workweek. He has a diverse background of experience, including working as an actor, speaking seven foreign languages, holding a world record in tango, and being a national Chinese kickboxing champion. He has written for Maxim and the Philadelphia Inquirer, has appeared on MTV and CBS radio, and has been interviewed or featured in such major publications as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and more. Read his review of Derek Sivers's Anything You Want:

I love this book!

Derek is the entrepreneur's entrepreneur. Just as important, perhaps more so--he is a phenomenal teacher. Whether detailing the fascinating rise of CDBaby, explaining catastrophic (but common) founder mistakes, or teaching me about relational databases in two minutes using analogies, he makes the complex simple. Moreover, he makes it all actionable.

If you want a true manifesto, a guidebook with clear signposts, and a fun ride you'll return to again and again, you have it here in this book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. --Tim Ferriss

Continue reading "Tim Ferriss Reviews "Anything You Want," and More from Derek Sivers" »

City of Ruin: Mark Charon Newton on His Legends of the Red Sun


Author Mark Charan Newton’s first novel in his epic Legends of the Red Sun fantasy series, Nights of Villjamur, received a great deal of praise, and now he’s set to break out with his follow-up, City of Ruin. What’s it about? “In the frozen north of a far-flung world lies Villiren, a city plagued by violent gangs and monstrous human/animal hybrids, stalked by a serial killer, and targeted by an otherworldly army. Brynd Lathraea has brought his elite Night Guard to help Villiren build a fighting force against the invaders….Meanwhile, reptilian rumel investigator Rumex Jeryd has come seeking refuge from Villjamur’s vindictive emperor—only to find a city riddled with intolerance between species, indifference to a murderer’s reign of terror, and the powerful influence of criminals.” Omnivoracious caught up with Newton recently to talk about his new novel and much more... Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what did you want to be?

Mark Charan Newton: Not at all--that was something that happened by accident. Initially I was taking a year out from university, waiting to enroll on a master’s degree in biodiversity. I managed to get a job in a bookstore, which was really where the writing spark came from--there, I read The Scar, by China Miéville. There was nothing like it on the shelf, so I thought why not try myself? You strike me as the kind of writer who very deliberately works at improvement from book to book. What did you learn between writing Nights and City of Ruin, and how did that affect this second novel in the series?

Continue reading "City of Ruin: Mark Charon Newton on His Legends of the Red Sun" »

Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Rosamund Lupton

We recently had the opportunity to chat with bestselling author Rosamund Lupton about her debut novel (and one of our Best Books of June), Sister. Read on to see what Rosamund had to say about London, sisterhood, her next novel, and more. --Lynette Before writing Sister, you worked for many years as a screenwriter. How does the process of writing a novel differ from writing for television?

Rosamund Lupton: When I was writing screenplays I was just one part of a creative process, it would take the talents of many other people to bring the screenplay to life. With a novel, you know what you type is the finished thing--there’s just me--and that feels both daunting and liberating. As a screenwriter I was often ticked off for "directing from the page" or "writing a novel not a script!" Now, I love being able to use as many words as I like to tell the story--a hundred thousand in the case of Sister--and being able to write the interior life of a character as well as their surface interactions. I love the way London almost becomes a character unto itself in this story. The city seems to mimic Beatrice’s emotional state while she searches for clues about Tess’s death. Why did you select London as the setting? Did you spend time exploring the places Beatrice visits?

51uo3nJmwfL._BO2,204,203,200_AA300_SH20_OU01_ Rosamund Lupton: I chose London as I know it so well, I’ve lived here for many years, and because, as you say, it possesses a chameleon quality to show a state of mind. For example, Hyde Park in the depth of winter is covered in snow and silent, with leafless trees and is so different from a bright Spring day when the trees and grass are green and there’s children paddling in the fountain. I’m not surprised its been used so often for films; it has a cinematic quality and at the beginning of the book it’s like a black and white film set to me. I already knew all the places Beatrice visits as they are close to where I lived for many years, or worked, so the city is like an old friend. Sister is written as a letter from Beatrice to Tess. Why did you choose to structure the novel this way?

Rosamund Lupton: At one point, Beatrice says to Tess, "it’s a one way conversation, but one I could only have with you." I felt that writing it this way continually demonstrates their intimacy. Also, as a former scriptwriter, I found it easier to tell the story as one character speaking to another; as if it’s one half of a dialogue. Did your relationship with your own sister impact how you crafted the relationship between Beatrice and Tess?

Rosamund Lupton: I know as an older sister how protective and responsible I’ve always felt towards my sister and I posed the question, what would you do if your sister went missing? I knew that Beatrice in the book would drop everything and get the first flight to find Tess--as I think almost any sister would do. Although Beatrice and Tess are very different from my sister and myself, the emotional truth of their relationship is one I know well. Like my sister and I, the closeness between them is made up of a million tiny details rather than simply the "big things." Some small details are drawn directly from my own life. For example, my sister and I wrote to each other at boarding school, and used jigsaw letters and ones with invisible ink.

Continue reading "Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Rosamund Lupton" »

What are Your Favorite Books So Far?


Choosing the Best of the Year So Far list is a lengthy process. We read, nominate, discuss, cull, vote, rank, discuss some more, and list. Over the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed taking part in this process for my first time, and now that I’ve seen the proverbial sausage being made, I’m impressed by how well-oiled and professional the whole process is. Much thought and passion go into selecting these books, and I’m proud of the choices we’ve made.

But ranking books is a subjective act. Although we’ve tried to cast the widest net possible, not everyone is going to agree with our choices.

So here’s your chance to let your voice be heard. In the comments section, tell us your top three Books of the Year So Far. You can include any books you want, from any genres you like. You can even include books that we’ve selected (we’ll be happy to know you agree).

We’ll collect your choices and put together a list of Your Best of the Year So Far. If you have trouble limiting your choices to three books, don’t worry about it--make your list as long as you need to. Pick what you like and tell us why you like it (or why you don’t like something). Maybe you’ll turn someone else on to a good book. Which is the whole point.

Escoffier Returns: A New Edition of Le Guide Culinaire

41IBixSdWVL According to culinary lore, each fold in a chef's toque -- there are supposed to be 100 of them -- represents a different way to prepare an egg. And in case you're curious about what those preparations are, look no further than the newest edition of George Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, a book was about as revolutionary for its time as Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking was in 1984. As chef Heston Blumenthal writes in the introduction, "As well as creating new dishes...he also revised and reinterpreted the entire canon of haute cuisine, getting rid of finicky garnishes, heavy sauces and over-elaborate presentation."

The book is equal parts culinary textbook, recipe overview, and historical curiosity. In many ways, this is the opposite of most modern cookbooks. The recipes are brief -- no step-by-step walkthroughs or list of ingredients, only terse instructions ("Prepare and shallow poach the sole in a buttered dish with 1/4 cup white wine and the same amount of fish stock"), and there are no glamour shots of, say, Escoffier indulging in a pot de creme a la Nigella Lawson. But there are lengthy discussions of method and preparation, and about the basics (sauces, garnishes, and so on). And in case you were wondering, according to Escoffier there are 256 ways to prepare eggs -- which would make for one wrinkly chef's hat.

It's no surprise, then, that this book has a foreword from two important names in professional chef-dom right now: Heston Blumenthal, chef of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck, and Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America. But for civilians like me who won't be working on a chef brigade (which Escoffier invented, by the way!), this book is still a gold mine of inspiration: 5012 individual entries, sections on everything from hors d'oeuvres to libations, and even a few sample menus in the back in case you just can't figure out what to serve at your next big gathering, from melon balls and tomato soup all the way to the six dessert courses (yes, please!). For a hundred-year-old book to still remain a definitive standard in its field -- as another well-known culinary personality would say, it's a good thing.

Announcing Essential Books for Young Adults


Today we launched our Essential Books for Young Adults Store to highlight ten titles handpicked by Amazon editors, perfect for teens and parents looking for timeless, resonant, and well-written fiction outside of the classroom. For more on these books check out each one’s Essential review, featuring a plot synopsis and quotes from both industry and Amazon customer reviewers, within the Essential Books for Young Adults Store.

So without further ado, here are our picks:

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman

So why these books? Well, for starters, we love them. Secondly, our customers do too. All of the titles in the Essentials list have tens or hundreds (if not thousands!) of four or five-starred reviews and received wonderful responses from teenagers, parents, and other adults. And last but not least, because being a teenager is tough stuff and Crank, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Speak--all of the books in the list—recognize that. As a teen, suddenly the veil of childhood is lifted and everything--from the friends chosen and the sports teams joined to the the drugs taken—isn’t just a decision, it may define life. And yet there is one commonality on the road to adulthood--a lingering question thread throughout each and every one of the books we selected, no matter if the narrator is a nine-year-old stealing books as her country goes to war, a young man on trial for murder, or a young woman in the throes of a serious drug addiction. It’s this: Who am I now and who do I want to be?

So pick up one of the books listed above. You’re in for much more than a read--each is an exciting, riveting, and emotional experience.