Fabulous Fiction Firsts #242

Benjamin Hale's "mischievous debut" The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore * is a love story between the world's first speaking chimpanzee and a primatologist. Just bear with me here, alright?

Born and raised in captivity (no less, at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, famous for its primate house), Bruno is unlike any chimpanzee in the world - precocious, self-conscious and very gifted, and he speaks. Primatologist Dr. Lydia Littlemore takes him into her home to oversee his education and nurture his passion for painting but has a rough time with his more primal urges and outbursts which ultimately cost her her job, and send the unlikely pair on the road.

"Like its protagonist, this novel is big, loud, abrasive, witty, perverse, earnest and amazingly accomplished.... it goes beyond satire by showing us not what it means, but what it feels like to be human -- to love and lose, learn, aspire, grasp, and, in the end, to fail."

Caution!!!!!! Exuberantly detailed sex between species might offend some readers. Proceed at your own risk.

Benjamin Hale is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he received a Provost's Fellowship to complete this novel, which also went on to win a Michener-Copernicus Award.

Readers who enjoyed Sara Gruen's Ape House and Laurence Gonzales' Lucy (blog) will find this a delight.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #238

Deborah Harkness, a professor of history at the University of Southern California, a Fullbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center scholar/author (The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution) surprised everyone in her circle, including herself when she secretly started writing A Discovery of Witches,* a novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

While researching in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young Yale scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery but her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and soon a horde of demons, witches, and vampires descends upon the library and she is the only one who can break its spell. Once "neckbiter"-good-kisser, and renowned geneticist Matthew Clairmont enters the scene, well, you can guess what comes next in this literary and sophisticated "bodice-ripper".

Called by reviewers as "one of the better fantasy debuts" in recent memory, it will appeal to fans of Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series, as well as fantastic romances such as Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. There are also the faint whispers about Harry Potter and the Twilight saga. Well, I'll let you be the judge.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts # 237

Readers familiar with "Ava Wrestles the Alligators", the opening story in Karen Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006) will be pleased to find Ava front and center in Swamplandia!* * *, - her "spectacularly crafted" first novel due to hit the market next week.

Swamplandia! is a shabby tourist attraction deep in the Florida Everglades, owned by the Bigtree clan of alligator wrestlers. When Hilola, their star performer, dies, Swamplandia! and all its quirky inhabitants are unmoored.

Some take off for parts unknown, one falls in love with an ancient ghost. To set things right, 13 year-old Ava embarks on an odyssey to the Underworld that is at once spellbinding and terrifying.

"Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell's archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air."

"Quirky, outlandish fiction", a phantasmagorical tale of teens left on their own. "To say it's offbeat is to seriously underestimate its weirdness." ~Kirkus Reviews

Selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists, and the New Yorker's 20 under 40, Karen Russell is an irrepressible new voice in contemporary fiction. You don't want to miss this.

* * * = Starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Hoffmann, Wharton

January 24th marks the birthday of authors E. T. A. Hoffmann and Edith Wharton.

E. T. A. Hoffmann was a German writer of fantasy and horror. His most popular and well-known work is probably The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which has been translated, reworked, and made into movies and ballets.

Hoffmann wrote many novellas. Among them are "Mademoiselle de Scudery", which is a tale of crime that takes place in 17th-century Paris, and "The Sandman", which is a horror story about the folklore character of the same name. Both can be found in the Penguin Classics collection of Hoffmann's stories.

Edith Wharton was an American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner (for The Age of Innocence). She wrote novels, short stories, poetry, and even some non-fiction travel and descriptive books, and was the friend of fellow author Henry James. Some of her works have been made into movies.

Many of Wharton's works are set in turn-of-the-century New England. Among these are The House of Mirth, which is the story of a woman who is caught up in shallow New York society life, Ethan Frome, which illustrates the unhappy marriage of a rural Massachusetts couple, and The Custom of the Country, which tells the satiric story of a spoiled New York heiress.

2011 Best in Genre Fiction - American Library Association Reading List Council Awards

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The Reading List annually recognizes the best books in eight genres: adrenaline (including suspense, thriller and adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and women’s fiction. This year’s list includes novels that will please die-hard fans, as well as introduce new readers to the pleasures of genre fiction - and what pleases me most is to see many debut novels among the winners and on the shortlists.

Adrenaline
The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

Fantasy
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Historical Fiction
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Horror
The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Mystery
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Romance
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Science Fiction
The Dervish House by IIan McDonald

Women’s Fiction
Solomon’s Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson

Author Birthdays: Fry, Bester, Moorcock

December 18th marks the birthday of authors Christopher Fry, Alfred Bester, and Michael Moorcock.

Christopher Fry was an English playwright, best known for the romantic comedy "The Lady's Not for Burning", which resembles Shakespeare's comedies, but contains a sense of post-WWII sentiments. It is considered the "spring" play out of his seasonal series, which also includes autumn "Venus Observed", winter "The Dark is Light Enough", and summer "A Yard of Sun".

Fry also wrote the plays "The Boy with a Cart" (a celebration of Saint Cuthman of Steyning) and "A Phoenix Too Frequent" (a comedy based on Petronius's tale of the Ephesian widow).

Alfred Bester was an American science fiction writer and winner of the FIRST Hugo Award for his book The Demolished Man, set in a futuristic world filled with telepathy; it is often called a precursor to the cyberpunk subgenre.

Bester's other works include the novels Psycho Shop, written in conjunction with fellow sci-fi writer Roger Zelazny, and The Stars My Destination, an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. He also wrote quite a few short stories, collected in titles like Virtual Unrealities.

Michael Moorcock is an English science fiction and fantasy and literary writer, and winner of about 15 awards. Among those, I will mention the Nebula Award for Behold the Man and the World Fantasy Award for Gloriana.

Many of Moorcock's series and standalone novels are in a similar world/universe grouping known as The Eternal Champion. Among these are works like The Jewel in the Skull of the Hawkmoon series and Elric: The Stealer of Souls, which is a collection of (some of the) stories with the character Elric.

Author Birthdays: Atwood, Foster, Moore

November 18th marks the birthday of authors Margaret Atwood, Alan Dean Foster, and Alan Moore.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer who has won many literary awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Handmaid's Tale and the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin. She has also published novels like The Penelopiad, a reworking of Homer's Odyssey that focuses on Penelope, and The Tent, a collection of short stories and line drawings.

Atwood has also written many books of poetry. Among them are The Door, published in 2007 and discussing the topic of old age, and True Stories, which is dedicated to fellow poet Carolyn Forché and focuses on the subject of human rights.

Alan Dean Foster is an American sci-fi and fantasy writer. Among his numerous series are Flinx and the Commonwealth, Dinotopia, Spellsinger, and The Taken Trilogy.

Singular novels by Foster include Quozl, a tale of alien "invasion", which Booklist has called "entertaining and even comic at times without being frivolous", and Parallelities, a story of parallel worlds in which the main character, Max, finds himself many times over.

Alan Moore is an English writer and popular adult graphic novelist. His most popular works would probably be the graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta, both of which were made into films. He has won many awards for his works, including the Jack Kirby Award, the Eagle Award, and the Harvey Award.

Moore has also written many other adult graphic novels. From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like Watchmen, were turned into films as well. The Ballad of Halo Jones, categorized as a "feminist space opera", tells the story of Halo Jones and her need to escape her boring, futuristic world. Promethea, another one set around a superheroine, has been noted to be "awash in references to mythology, literature, religion, and arcania".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #227 (What's New in Urban Fantasy)

"This may be the most beautiful book about zombies this reviewer (Library Journal) has ever read", now THAT! got my attention.

The reviewer is referring to Alden Bell's debut The Reapers are the Angels * *

For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. 15 year-old Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can't remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.

Alden Bell is a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord. He teaches at a New York City prep school and is an adjunct professor at The New School. He lives in New York City with his wife, the Edgar Award-winning mystery writer, Megan Abbott.

Two other new Urban Fantasy series of note...

Cat Adams kicks-off a new series with Blood Song. (Cat Adams is the pen name of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp)

Betrayed by her royal employers, bodyguard Celia is changed into a part-vampire and targeted by both human and supernatural adversaries while she leans on friends to survive and help her discover the source of her transformation. "Adams hammers home a page-turner.... a treat for urban fantasy fans who like smart, feisty heroines and complex, fast-paced stories".

Clever and assured, with an authentic NYC setting, Black Swan Rising launches an urban fantasy series with an unusual heroine by Lee Carroll, a collaboration between Hammett Award winning mystery novelist Carol Goodman and her husband, Lee Slonimsky.

Stumbling into a strange antiques shop where an enigmatic clerk asks her to open a vintage silver box, New York City jewelry designer Garet unleashes a centuries-old prophecy tied to her true identity as the latest in a family of women who have been killed by an evil force.

* * = starred reviews

October's Family-Friendly Books to Film

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Based on the remarkable true story in William Nack's Secretariat : the making of a champion, the film chronicles the spectacular journey of the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Housewife and mother Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane) agrees to take over her ailing father’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery, with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and what may be the greatest racehorse of all time.

Already in theaters is the animated IMAX 3D Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based on the first 3 books in Kathryn Lasky's ever-popular fantasy series The Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

After Soren, a young owlet, is pushed from his family's nest by his older brother, he's plucked from the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school, the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owl, where Soren suspects there is more to the school than meets the eye. He and his new friend, the clever and scrappy Gylfie, find out that St. Aggie's is actually a training camp where the school's leader can groom young owls to help achieve her goal--to rule the entire owl kingdom. Later they meet with two more orphaned owls, the indomitable Twilight and pensive Digger, and the four form a band as they journey to a refuge that may exist only in legend--the Great Ga'Hoole Tree.

Author Birthdays: Williams, O'Connor, Stewart

September 17th marks the birthday of authors William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Connor, and Mary Stewart.

William Carlos Williams was an American poet and pediatrician. He is typically regarded as a Modernist, though sometimes as an Imagist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1963 for his collection Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

Williams also wrote Paterson, a five-book poem, often considered his "epic". The 1992 edition contains clarifying notes on the poem. A Library Journal review noted that "By exploring the local, Williams sought to descry the universal and to find in city and landscape symbolic analogues for the essential issues of human life."

Frank O'Connor was an Irish short-story writer who served in the Irish War of Independence; he was published in The New Yorker. One of his autobiographies, An Only Child, was even quoted by JFK in a speech he gave while president.

In addition to his own, O'Connor also wrote a book on the subject of short stories in general, called The Lonely Voice. The book discusses other authors such as Chekhov, Joyce, and Hemingway.

Mary Stewart is an English writer, probably most well-known for her historical fantasy quintet, The Merlin Chronicles, which begins with the book The Crystal Cave.

Stewart has also written mystery novels, most of which have a touch of romance, such as The Stormy Petrel and My Brother Michael.

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