I've finished A LITTLE LIFE and it was quite a journey

After picking it up, putting it down for a while, then picking it up again; I've finally finished A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara. It may be the saddest, most beautiful novel I've ever read.

At work (I work at Penguin Random House, specifically for DK), my colleagues in the sales department starting talking about this book, about how it spoke to them, it moved them, and how sad it was--and my curiosity was peaked. 

It was a substantial novel, the hardcover coming in just over 700 pages. I started reading it, but due to my habit of picking up more than one book at the same time, it sat for a while.

Back in May of 2015, I got the opportunity to meet the author as she was in the Random House midtown office, where a small group of us got the chance to discuss the novel with the author and her editor. 

They spoke like an old married couple, arguing about everything from the cover choice, which Hanya advocated for, even if it was a topic of strong opposing points of view. It is an photo by photographer Peter Hujar, entitled The Orgasmic Man, and the close-up, the squinting of pleasure or is it pain? It is definitely a conversation starter. 

When I had the chance to talk with the author briefly as she signed a copy for me, I told her how excited I was to read it, and mentioned our enthusiasm across the sales department. She was gracious, and echoed the sentiment on the title page, "Dear Jay, Thank you so much for your support. I so appreciate it," along with her signature. She was very inspiring. Also, I follow her on instagram where she posts great photos with accompanying text.

But it wound up taking a train ride down to Baltimore earlier this month that allowed me the time to finally sit with the novel and plow through it and get emotionally attached in the process.

When a colleague recently asked me why, why would I want to read something so sad I tried to explain, paraphrasing here. Sometimes the journey is something you can't turn away from. As sad as it can be, you get attached to the characters, in this case: JB, Malcolm, Willem and of course, Jude. You follow the four friends over the years and want to see them get through it, want to see how it all turns out. 

This was a tough one, but well worth the trip and investment, the characters will stay with me for some time.


"Out there, past them trees..." A short review of CALIFORNIA by Edan Lepucki

A subtle tale of life in the post-apocalyptic; in California by Edan Lepucki, a couple survives in isolation in the wilds of a broken world, fearful of what remains of civilization just beyond their reach.

Then the novel shifts as Cal and Frida discover then attempt to become part of a  community called The Land, which is somehow connected to their lives before the fall.

The novel is about the strength of a marriage at the edge of the world, the twisted bonds of family and the question of what one must do to survive and somehow retain some civility.

I marvel that this is a first novel, the author clearly had worked her way through revisions, honing her skills to create a beautiful and enthralling read.

There was something wonderful about the pacing of the novel, it really fit well with the story, discovering bits of backstory and what was really going on in The Land. I really enjoyed it.


Game of Thrones, Season 5 product showcase: Get Your Drink On

In my continued attempt to cover cool products related to HBO's GAME OF THRONES adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, let's act civilized and have a drink. And if you're a fan, there are some very cool products available now.

Also, as shown here, available from Calhoun Sportswear, are the house banners from GoT, so you can show your Stark or Baratheon, or other affiliation. Many of the popular houses are available. The banners run 30 by 50 inches, and have three grommet holes so you can hang wherever you please.

When at the HBO headquarters on April 13, for the product review, there were many cool items on display. Here are a few related to Dornish wines, and the like.

And on to the drinks accouterments table, where featured were various glasses, steins, coasters and wine stoppers. See detailed photos below, there are so many great gift ideas for your banner-men. 

The table display of most, if not all of the "barware" which included mugs, pint glasses, coasters and other collectables for those with the drinking appetites of King Robert, or perhaps Tyrion.

A coaster set from Dark Horse features the bold house sigils, a crowd pleaser for Sunday night GoT viewings. They add a hint of color and affiliation to any gathering with drinks. Not pictured are wax seal coasters available from Think Geek, inspired by the gratuitous wax stamping which runs rampant on the show. 
 The large stein mugs with sigil and house slogans are a favorite, whether you decide to actually drink out of them, or use them to hold the pens on your desk. They are a statement piece, even the Greyjoys get their moment, although I am particular to House Baratheon. They do have the best slogan of all the families. They just do.
I wouldn't have put the House Lannister pint glass front and center, but perhaps this is Casterly Rock we're looking at here. Anyway, a good pint glass or set of them goes a long way.

And last but not least, and perhaps the best photo I took that day, are the Dragon Egg wine stoppers from Olga Ganoudis. The eggs reflect the very ones given to Daenerys on her wedding day, and go a long way in stopping your wine from spoiling.

There you have it, more next time on jewelry, I think. I will check through my remaining photos, and see what we have next. Then after all of this, I'll get back to the books. And maybe a notebook feature as well.


Game of Thrones Season 5 Product Showcase, part 1: Upcoming Game of Thrones Monopoly Set

Greetings to all fans of HBO's amazing GAME OF THRONES series, meticulously adapted from the spectacular book series by George R.R. Martin. After tuning in to the first new episode on Sunday, I know that fans around the globe just can't get enough of Westeros and the amazing action that takes place there.

As a blogger who talks about books and popular culture, I was thrilled when I was invited to the HBO offices in midtown Manhattan to see the collection of upcoming licensed products tied to the HBO series, and they had many of the current and coming soon products on display. I plan to post a few times to focus on each of the product categories, but felt the premiere post should feature the new GoT Monopoly set which will be coming next month, in May, and which looks amazing.

All products are or will be available the online HBO shop in the US (store.hbo.com) and EU (hboshopeu.com), and the HBO shop in NYC on 6th Avenue & 42nd Street, and at retail outlets around the world. Get them while you can.

Here are a few product pictures of the upcoming Game of Thrones Monopoly set coming in May 2015. There are some very cool game pieces, which I've tried to get a few close ups of, see pictures below.

Stay tuned for more in the following days. 

The complete Game of Thrones Monopoly board with other gaming products lined up on the left and back. It looks like a very cool set.

A close-up of the game board reveals map details, some of the space details, such as Luxury Tax's aptly named, "Master of Coin" and hot (although dangerous) property "The Iron Throne"

In this second close-up photo shows the star of the game pieces, the Stark direwolf game piece. There's also a raven, an Iron Throne, a Dragon Egg, a crown and the last figure I can't quite make out but could be Dany or another character.

Stay tuned for more posts about other items at the showcase, such as GoT jewelry, home decor, house pennants, adult beverage items and more.

Jay of House Baratheon

Ours is the Fury

Disclosure: Although this blog is personal and all books selected and all topics are my own choice and reflect my personal opinions, I must mention that in my day job, I work at DK Publishing, and imprint of Penguin Random House, which also happens to be the parent company which publishes GRRM's books.


Hitting neutral in the tail of a commet...INTERSTELLAR

Finally rented INTERSTELLAR on Saturday night, and wow... just wow. The intense science of it: the relativity, time loops, hibernation sleep, the singularities, all of it is swirling in my head as if I was thrust into a black hole, floating aimlessly into the unknown. 

The film opened up so many possibilities, so many questions, and again I was very impressed by Christopher Nolan. The man makes a heck of a film. I do love a movie or book that you can't stop talking about after finishing it. My wife and I have talked more about science in the past few days than we have in some time. I can't seem to get it out of my head. 

It felt very apt that INTERSTELLAR was the next thing I posted about after finishing reading THE MARTIAN last month. There have been very strong space travel books and films of late, and I'm currently really into reading about this stuff.

In the coming weeks I look forward to posting about Ernest Cline's upcoming second novel, wonderfully titled, ARMADA. I'll just mention it now, with a detailed post coming soon, but what a ride it is... there is so much to say about it.

I leave you with this promotional poster for INTERSTELLAR, watching as an astronaut floats toward a black hole in the warping planet-scape, a surreal visual that I just love. Right up there with the space art I talked about recently when reviewing THE ART OF SPACE by Ron Miller a while back.

Go boldly...


What a Strange Trip: THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

I finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir today, and man, what a terrific novel. I know I'm a little late to jump on this bandwagon, but sometimes such is my lot in life. As my brother once said, I may show up late, but I show up.

Back to The Martian. I had picked up this book at some point last year when people at work had been talking it up, and I read the opening chapter and was very impressed. What happened next, a side effect of my past-life of being a book club acquiring editor: I soon after picked up another book, then another. I do this a lot, I start new books before finishing others. Sacrilege to purists, I know. It's a feeling that I need to read some of a lot of books instead of all of a few of them. It's a symptom of those many years with manuscripts and advance reader copies from various publishers stacked on my desk. Even though I've moved on in my publishing career, old habits...

Recently while out with some sf/f publishing friends, The Martian came up again in conversation. I went back to it and I'm so glad I did. I immediately fell right back into the plight of Mark Watney: abandoned on Mars, calculating each step of whether or not he can survive.

I'm not looking to give anything away, but the book is filled with twists and turns, insane surprises and high a level of dramatic tension that keep you flipping the pages. I will say I was enthralled, totally enveloped in the science of it all, the calculations, the fine line between survival and death, and the isolation Mark felt. It was a gripping novel that I can't stop talking about and I highly recommend.

Also, I can't wait to see Ridley Scott's film adaptation which will be releasing around Thanksgiving time this year. That will be epic and something to look forward to as we approach the end of the year.

So you see, sometimes you can go back. 

[This last line added for a friend, he'll know what I mean. Let's see if he's following along...]


12 MONKEYS, episode 1 on Syfy and the Art of Adaptation

I caught the first episode of the Syfy channel new series debut, 12 MONKEYS. The pilot episode evoked the ghost of the 1995 film, Twelve Monkeys, on which the series is based. I was intrigued, especially being that the film is one of my favorites of the 90s.

Packed with details, little things from the original film, like the scrambled phone message, the archaic yet futuristic time machine not fully explained, and the cabal of future scientists that emerge underground to lead the charge to take the planet back. It was nice to see little details, many of them a clear nod to the film, the series' inspiration, which I thought was handled well. The acting was very good, a nice debut with strong numbers from what I've read.

Also in promotion for this new series I read that Syfy planned to use the film as a jumping off point and plans to digress, which I'm okay with, depending on how it goes. Some adaptations such as Under the Dome and The Walking Dead have diverged from the the source material a great deal and have been incredibly successful. 

Some people don't like remakes or new adaptations and the like. I don't mind the idea if it is done right, or as long as it is done with a flair different enough yet reverent to the original. I like to think of a new generation, younger fans coming to the material, then searching out all that came before. It may bring them to the Terry Gilliam film, and the films that inspired him, as well as the books that have inspired all of this. If it brings more people to read science fiction, then it's a win in my book.

Admittedly, I have still not seen the French film, La Jetee, which is  the inspiration of the original film, but I will enlist Netflix to remedy that. And maybe have another post. Up until this point I haven't written about television and film much, but that might change. Especially if 12 Monkeys continues to impress.

Thought I'd end with one image of Bruce Willis from the film, a favorite shot of that very steampunk-y surface research suit made by the scientists. Stay tuned. 

DEAR CYBORGS by Eugene Lim, a little review

I had read a great little article on LitHub.com about this new novel from Eugene Lim and went to seek it out. Soon after I had acquired...