Friday, December 31, 2010

Mario Acevedo Talks About His Favorites and Himself

Mario, in his own words:
When I was four years old, my aunt asked what I wanted for Christmas. My answer: “I want a machine gun.” So even at that tender age, my expectations from life were a little different than most.

Years later, I bought my first computer and decided to write a novel. Four computers later, and with six unpublished manuscripts gathering dust under my bed, I finally wrote a story good enough to get the interest of an agent and a publisher.

I was born in El Paso, Texas, and spent most of my childhood in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with travels to visit family in Pacoima, California, and Chihuahua, Mexico. After graduating from New Mexico State University, I was commissioned into the Army to serve in the Infantry where I finally got to play with machine guns. Later I hoodwinked the Army into letting me fly attack helicopters. (If you’ve ever seen me drive, you’ll wonder about the wisdom of letting me have the controls of an aircraft.)

Subsequent life as a civilian has been like living in a pinball machine. I worked as an engineer in corporate America and got downsized. Earned my masters’ in Information Systems from the University of Denver and found another corporate gig. Saw that job sail across the Pacific when I was outsourced and laid off again. Thankfully, I have two bright and handsome sons in college who will take care of me as I grow older.

What’s kept me grounded are my forays into art. The highpoints include being the artist-in-residence for Arte Americas in Fresno, California, and being called from the Reserves to serve in Operation Desert Storm (the easy war against Iraq) as a combat artist. Add teaching art to prisoners at the Avenal State Prison and organizing art fundraisers for various pet rescue groups.

All this time I was scribbling my stories, sending them out, and collecting rejection slips. What changed my luck was joining the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers which introduced me to real authors and the advice needed to get published. Now I’m busy writing my Felix the vampire detective novels. And I’ve decided that I no longer want a machine gun for Christmas.

Mario Acevedo writes the Felix Gomez detective-vampire series for Eos HarperCollins.

Here’s the list of my favorite books of 2010. They’re not in order of preference as each book impressed me in a special way.

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
A friend recommended this to me. It’s a tightly-drawn family saga about a bi-racial daughter (African/Native American), and her Native-American mother and grandmother. What propels the story are Dorris’ mesmerizing prose and his keen portrayal of the injustices and humiliations we inflict on one another and the ties that keep us together.

The First Rule

A favorite mystery writer and his hard-boiled noir novels always land on the top of my to-be-read pile. In this book, we dig into the emotional trauma hidden beneath Joe Pike’s thick scab of stoicism. Along with sidekick Elvis Cole (who’s also no slouch in the badass department) the two PIs unravel the conspiracy behind the death of a forgotten friend at the hands of international gangsters. Crais’ smooth and well-crafted prose delivers an excellent and engrossing story.

Cast-off Coven

If Walls Could Talk

Arsenic and Old Paint

These three books are the works of Juliet Blackwell though Arsenic was co-written with her sister under another pen name, Hailey Lind. All are cozy mysteries set in the present-day San Francisco Bay area. National bestseller Cast-off Coven gives us Lily Ivory, a young witch who runs a vintage-clothing store. If Walls was picked by Suspense Magazine for its Best of 2010 and is the first in a new series featuring haunted home restoration, with Melanie Turner, a late thirty-something owner of a home remodeling company. Arsenic has Annie Kinkaid, a faux-finishing artisan trying to keep her life going amid murderous capers. Despite the nearly identical settings, all three stories are unique. What holds each plot together is a crisp who-done-it (always a homicide), the marvelous details of her home city (which are not only interesting but integral to the story), and her wonderful and layered characters. Blackwell’s sparkling narrative, easy humor, and thoughtful insights keep the reader hooked and smiling in appreciation.

Art Nouveau

I enjoy losing myself in a good art book especially when the subject is Art Nouveau. Here, Sembach does more than catalog the major works of the style, he reviews the impact of the movement in cities that developed and promulgated Art Nouveau. While many readers are aware of the influence of Art Nouveau in Glasgow, Paris, and Barcelona; what about Weimar and Helsinki? Besides giving a good history lesson in decidedly academic yet engaging prose, Sembach unveils the major personalities behind the movement.

The White Tiger

The winner of the 2008 Booker Prize, I picked up this novel, asking myself: Okay, why did Adiga deserve this award? Answer: because it’s a damn good story. It’s a breezy and incisive critique of modern Indian society. What do Indians think of working in those call centers and dealing with us whining Americans? Adiga spares little in this humorous and scathing tale that will upend your perceptions of the world’s largest democracy; one that remains hobbled by the caste system and corruption.

King of the Chicanos

A favorite local author, Ramos tackles the mythos behind the Chicano movement through the life of a very flawed man, Ramon Hidalgo, who rises from migrant laborer to become a prominent activist in the 70s Mexican-American civil rights movement and then falls into obscurity. Ramos deftly weaves fiction with history in a story that both educates and entertains.

As for 2011, I'm still waiting on word back on my proposals.

Jackie's Top 10 (Plus 10 More)

These are the best of a VERY fine crop. I agonized about which books and which order,
but I've decided to go with:
Sooo very different from any other book I've ever read--mesmerizing.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Brought me back to old friends in a brand new way, reminded me of a more innocent time.

Alice I Have Been
Another visit to the past, this time with in-depth clarity of a sad but fascinating life lived in the shadow of "enchantment".

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
Intense story of the survivor of a family tragedy and those whose lives were touched by her.

Beatrice and Virgil
This book is here because it is the first book in a very long time that I had to struggle, fight, re-read, ponder and gnash my teeth about in order to make peace with it. It's a challenging read from an unapologetic author, and it's brilliant in it's harshness and metaphor.

Half a Life
This book is starkly honest about the continuing consequences of a teenage accident, and how survivors guilt has built his helped to form half of his life.

Crocked Letter, Crooked Letter
Southern fiction about a secret friendship between a black boy and a white boy, and what that friendship costs them when trouble visits them as adults. You can feel Mississippi in every page of this book.

Still Missing
This tale of a brutal kidnapping/imprisonment is told in the character's voice as she goes through therapy after her rescue. Riveting and unforgettable.

The Madonnas of Echo Park
Interconnected short stories giving voice to the plight of the Hispanic in East LA. Eye opening and resonant.

American Terroir
Vivid tales of the food, and of the people who bring it to us, in the America's. Not a day goes by that I don't think of some small tidbit from this remarkable book.

Of course, I have an "Honorable Mention" list, as well, in no particular order:
Impatient With Desire
The Postmistress
Making Toast
Bucolic Plague
The Irresistible Henry House
The Happiness Project
The Passage
Immortal Milk
The Christmas Chronicles

TC Tidbit:The Top 2010 Books on Social and Political Awareness

from our friends at

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kelly O'Connor McNees Favorite 2010 Reads

Kelly O’Connor McNees is a former editorial assistant and English teacher. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is her first novel. She says, "I am looking forward to a great 2011. The paperback for The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott goes on sale May 3, 2011, with a gorgeous cover. And I am at work on a new historical novel, set just after the Civil War, in Nebraska."

Kelly's 2010 Favorite Reads:

The Woodsburner

This brilliant novel is based on the little-known historical fact that Thoreau accidentally set the Concord Woods on fire as a young man—the same woods in which he would later carry out his experiment at Walden Pond. But Thoreau is just one of several fascinating characters in this story, and the destructive and cleansing power of fire is a metaphor throughout. This is a deeply satisfying book

Prodigal Summer

I don’t know why I came so late to the Barbara Kingsolver party. Fear, probably—fear of how good her novels would be. And it turns out that the fear was completely justified. Kingsolver is an exquisite writer and a captivating storyteller. These three loosely connected stories will transport you to Southern Appalachia and introduce you to characters who will haunt the time you spend away from the pages. Kingsolver’s Tennessee forest is alive with fertility, and so is, well . . . you’ll just have to read it. A pretty steamy ecology lesson.

How to Hold a Woman

This slim novel in stories examines a family broken by the disappearance of a child. Each sentence is like a polished stone, and Lombardo captures the nuance of how grief distorts and changes relationships. I am in awe of this writer.


Simon Bear is an ambitious physician who treats patients who have chronic pain, and he believes his ship has come in the day he discovers a new drug that may give them some relief. But Simon is blind to the fact that he, his wife, and their teenage daughter are suffering just as much as his patients are, from a pain they cannot measure. This is the story of a fractured marriage told from both sides, and the well-intentioned things we do to redeem ourselves—things that only make matters worse. Ledger is an assured, skillful writer and this book is full of nearly unbearable tension. Couldn’t put it down!

Ruth Hall

Fanny Fern—the pseudonym under which Sarah Willis wrote—was one of the most famous writers of her day. Like Louisa May Alcott, she wrote to earn a living and became in her own time a hero for woman who sought to claim greater independence. Ruth Hall, Fern’s autobiographical novel that was first published in 1854, feels fresh and modern. Its chapters consist of short scenes and conversations, and the narrator of the tale has a wicked sense of humor, even as she tells the sad story of Ruth’s widowhood and desperate efforts to get published.

Anything by the late, great Laurie Colwin

Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat. I’ve read a few of Colwin’s novels and story collections this calendar year, but not for the first time. Happy All the Time, Family Happiness, A Big Storm Knocked It Over, Goodbye Without Leaving, Another Marvelous Thing and more are the most wonderful books you’ve probably never heard of. Colwin also has some delicious food essays originally published in Gourmet, now collected in Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Colwin’s fiction is funny and sad and quiet and warm, and I promise you will fall in love with her.

Sarah C. List of "Books I Enjoyed Greatly":

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


At Home

Sh*t My Dad Says

Awkward Family Photographs

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

When You Reach Me

The Christmas Magic

I Am the Dog

City Dog Country Frog

TC Tidbit: Publisher's Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2010

Picture books, Fiction and Non-Fiction.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Long Time Teaching and Reading Favorites of Corinne Demas

Corinne Demas is the author of two collections of short stories, three novels, a memoir, a collection of poetry, a play, and numerous books for children. She is Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of the Massachusetts Review.

Her latest project is the young adult fiction novel Everything I Was, coming out in April, 2011.

Here are some of my book picks--

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, John Updike's collection Problems and other Stories, Eudora Welty's wise and sweet One Writer's Beginnings, Katherine Mansfield's Selected Short Stories , and Anton Chekhov's Short Stories are some of the books I use in my short story writing seminar-- I've read them many times, and still find them filled with riches.

A prolific and brilliant contemporary short story writer everyone should read is William Trevor. I'd recommend any single collection of his or The Collected Stories. I just got his just-published, Selected Stories, which aren't stories selected from The Collected Stories, but in fact, all new ones.