Review: Carmilla Voiez's The Ballerina and the Revolutionary

Categories: Books

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Here at Houston Press we've followed the rise of Carmilla Voiez and her brand of dark, gothic, and sensual horror ever since her first novel Starblood debuted. Since the end of that trilogy of magical massacres she's moved on to less spectral, but no less sinister subjects. The Ballerina and the Revolutionary is by far the best Voiez has yet done.

It's the story of a young, gender-queer woman born Giselle but who now goes by the name Crow. She fled her mentally ill mother's home when she was 13, and now lives in London squatting with anarchists and taking every opportunity to clash with the police in the name of a cause. Suddenly, her brother shows up in her life and brings her home to see their mother on her deathbed, and Crow is forced to return to a house that may be haunted by more than memories.

The novel represents a bold new style of Voiez. In the Starblood trilogy her characters tended towards an obsession to the carnal and physical that often left them slaves to their own desires. By contrast Crow is a near-asexual presence that holds off physicality at arms length with an armor of razor shop emotional quills. She finds her definition in opposition, her pleasure in the pain of cutting her arm or the slam of a riot cop's shield against her head. She'd make a terrific villain if she wasn't in so tragic a set of circumstances.

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Jason Mott's Debut Novel The Returned Has Some "No-answer Questions"

Categories: Books

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(c) Randy Skidmore
Jason Mott, author of The Returned
What would you do if your dead loved ones came back to life? Just walked up to the front door and said, "Hey, I'm back." Author Jason Mott explores that idea in his debut novel The Returned. Along with earning Mott legions of readers, the book has inspired the ABC television series Resurrection.

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Mott's "overnight success" took a few years. After graduating from the creative-writing program at the University of North Carolina, Mott worked as a customer service representative during the day while writing at night. The Returned was the first title he sold, but it was the sixth manuscript he shopped around.

The soft-spoken Mott says the response to The Returned has made for quite a "whirlwind ride" over the last several months. Although he's worked at becoming a writer since he was 14, Mott says some aspects of his success have been unexpected.

"One thing I never saw coming was the e-mails from people who talk about how the book has inspired them, how they're remembering people that they lost," Mott tells us. "They've been very personal, very private stories and that people feel comfortable enough to share them with me has been very exciting, very special. I never saw that coming."

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The Minimalists Are in Houston to Help You Strip Down to What You Really Need

Categories: Books

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The Minimalists
Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Want to simplify your life? You can get advice from The Minimalists, two friends who blog and write about simplicity, when they appear at Brazos Bookstore on Tuesday to promote their new memoir, Everything That Remains.

The Minimalists are Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, childhood buddies who, in 2010, founded TheMinimalists.com. The site now gets around 2 million visitors a year, and offers lessons on things like solitude, volunteerism, the importance of community and other aspects of a more meaningful life.

But before the site began there was just Joshua Millburn, who was undergoing a quarter-life crisis. About five years ago, at the age of 27, he was the youngest director at his telecommunications company, making six figures. Then, in the span of a month, his mother died and his marriage ended.


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Lifetime Remakes "Flowers in the Attic," All My Dreams Come True

Categories: Books, Film and TV

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Flowers in the Attic on Lifetime
When I was 15, my best friend Kathleen handed me a book with a spooky looking house on the cover, titled, Flowers in the Attic. I took the book home and started it at bedtime that evening. Once opened, the book remained so until I turned the last page, at which point my brain exploded. Double incest! Incest BABIES! Homicidal moms and violent nanas!

I had just joined the legions of fans whose faces would light up at the mere mention of author V.C. Andrews and her iconic "Flowers" series. The 1978 film version of the book--starring Louise Fletcher, Victoria Tennant, and Kristy Swanson--is a perennial favorite, but like many fans I always found its departures from the novel disturbing. (Yes, I just said that the omission of incest from the first movie is more disturbing than the presence of incest in the original source material. CALL THE COPS. I am obviously a danger to society.)

The Lifetime channel premiered its remake of Flowers in the Attic last month. The updated version stars Ellen Burstyn, Heather Graham, and Kiernan Shipka as Cathy. AND I MISSED IT. The first time, anyway. I set my DVR remotely so I could watch as soon as I returned to Houston.

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Elizabeth Strout on Creating The Burgess Boys

Categories: Books

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Photo by Leonard Cendamo
Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Elizabeth Strout reads from The Burgess Boys for Inprint
The published version of Elizabeth Strout's newest novel, The Burgess Boys, differs greatly from what the Pulitzer Prize winner originally envisioned.

Strout, appearing at the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series on February 24, tells us the basic elements of The Burgess Boys, a novel about two adult brothers living in New York City who return to their hometown in Maine to help their sister when her teenage son commits a hate crime, are the same, but her depiction of them changed greatly. Brothers Jim and Bob have a complicated relationship; their conflict's rooted in the accidental death of their father, an accident Bob supposedly caused while still a young child. Jim, overbearing and aggressive, is a successful lawyer while Bob, meek and passive, is a legal aide.

"The central story is the same," Strout tells us. "The relationship between the boys is not that different. That stayed. What changed was my understanding of the characters. You spend so much time with them and rewrite so many scenes, that the characters just became more and more clear to me. That kind of refinement probably in some ways makes the book unrecognizable, if we could even find an earlier draft."

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Houston Author Dean James Tops the Bestseller Lists With The Silence of the Library

Categories: Books

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Courtesy of Dean James
Bestselling author Dean James
Houston-based author Dean James is something of a star -- his books have topped the bestseller lists, he's won several important awards, he has legions of loyal fans and followers and he managed to introduce a male protagonist in a cozy mystery series where female main characters are the norm. He's had several successful series; our favorite featured Simon Kirby-Jones, a gay vampire. James's latest series is the Cat in the Stacks mysteries, which he writes under the name Miranda James (he's also written under the pseudonyms Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman). The newly released Cat installment, The Silence of the Library, is already on the top of the bestseller lists (number eight on the New York Times list and number five on the Barnes & Noble list at the time of this writing).

But as popular as the very talented James is, he takes a back seat to Diesel, an oversize Maine coon cat that accompanies Cat protagonist Charlie Harris. "Diesel probably has more fans than Charlie or Miranda," James jokes.


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Romance Novelist Susan Mallery Returning Here With Her Latest Book in the Blackberry Island Trilogy

Categories: Books

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Susan Mallery
The first romance novel Susan Mallery ever read "I borrowed without permission from a friend's mother." And she loved it.

While in college she saw the local adult education center had a course in how to write a romance novel. "I finally took the class and it truly changed my life," she says, deciding that this was what she really wanted to do.

Now a best-selling romance novelist, she's headed to Katy Budget Books to appear there on February 25 timed to coincide with the release "Evening Stars," the final book in her Blackberry Island trilogy, published by Harlequin.

In the latest installment while one character sees the island off the West Coast as a place of retreat, another feels trapped by it. The only guarantee that Mallery gives her readers is that there will be a happy ending.

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The 10 Things I Learned on Being a Chick From Jason Ellis's "Awesome" New Book

Categories: Books, Bro Crap

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Let's talk about skateboarder-turned-MMA-fighter-cum-shock-jock Jason Ellis's new book, The Awesome Guide to Life -- Get Fit, Get Laid, Get Your Shit Together, shall we?

This book landed on my desk by some small miracle, perhaps sent over to us by the gods, and most definitely because somebody, somewhere knew I needed some learnin'. Some chick learnin'.

This book sure is something. You ever read a book and find yourself wondering where it has been all your life? Like, it's so life-altering and it enlightens you on so much about the world that you're completely enthralled, and you find yourself hanging on every word? Well, this is not one of those books, unless you're a glutton for punishment.

But we'll get to that. First, let's talk about Ellis. So this dude was once upon a time a skateboarder. He was a really good skateboarder, in fact, and he won lots and lots of awards and apparently also won a massive ego. He's retired from skateboarding now, and he has taken on a new career or six. He is now a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, a Howard Stern-wannabe, an author, and, judging by his book, a complete dick. I can use that word, considering he's used it at least 18 times in the first few chapters. I stopped counting after that.

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Carla Buckley Reveals The Deepest Secret

Categories: Books

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Photo Courtesy of Carla Buckley
Novelist Carla Buckley
Novelist Carla Buckley was at a turning point in her career when she started to work on her third novel. "I had signed a two book contract with Random House and this was a make or break time for me," Buckley tells us. "Was I going to be a career novelist? Or was I going to be a writer who got a lucky break and then never got anything else published? I was frantic trying to figure out what I wanted to do next."

Buckley settled on The Deepest Secret, a family drama about a mother and her teenage son. "To push that relationship into high [gear], I wanted to throw something in that they could both be struggling with." She choose to give the son a disease and searched for more than a year for the perfect ailment. In the end she chose xeroderma pigmentosum, an extreme sensitivity to light.

"I explored a number of illnesses and then I found this one. The moment I stumbled on this one, I knew it was the one I wanted to use. Everything fell into place. Once I knew what disease I was going to be talking about, I could see those characters and what they were facing, what was pushing them together and then pushing them apart."

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Christina Escamilla: The Angel of 64 Deaths

Categories: Books

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Photo provided by Christina Escamilla
If you're looking for a light read to while away a cold day with a warm book, then take my advice and stay as far away from Christina Escamilla's 64 Deaths as you can. The debut anthology from the local Houston writer is a brutal exercise in facing the horror of death and ending, and each of the short stories contained within is a solid punch straight to the heart. It's the most brutal thing I've read since Carmilla Voiez's Black Sun.

"We cannot believe that life is beautiful and in the same breath believe that death is this magical, far-off thing that only happens to the elderly," said Escamilla via email. "I think by looking at mortality, by looking at the pain, the loss and everything that comes with that empty darkness of death, we can fully appreciate what it means to be living."

Each story within 64 Deaths is, in essence, a brief look at a life as it is about to be snuffed out. Easily the stand-out of the collection is "12 Foot Deep," which is absolutely heartbreaking in a way that leaves you raw for days. In that story, a young girl of privilege feels abandoned and unloved by her busy parents. In defense, she's taken to holding her breath at the bottom of their pool, pretending to die and fantasizing endlessly about the beauty of her funeral.

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