Fabulous Fiction Firsts #398

If you were bewitched by The Night Circus, mesmerized by A Discovery of Witches, and enthralled by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, then you would not want to miss Helene Wecker's debut The Golem and the Jinni, a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale drawn from Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature and mythology.

Chava, a golem is a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi as a commission for an unpleasant furniture maker wanting a wife. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago. A chance meeting on the streets of turn-of-the-century New York brings an unlikely friendship for these mythical creatures.

As Chava, unmoored and adrift her owner having died at sea, arrives in New York harbor, Ahmad is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Forming an unexpected friendship, Chava and Ahmed must learn how to survive undetected among the immigrant communities, cope with their individual challenges and desires, while preparing to battle a dangerous adversary.

"Wecker...writes skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon strangers in a strange land".

"Wecker deftly layers their story over those of the people they encounter, from the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom".

" (a) spellbinding blend of fantasy and historical fiction".

Wild Swan Theater Presents Charlotte's Web

Balcony seats are still available for Saturday April 27 and Sunday April 28 to see Charlotte's Web staged by Wild Swan Theater. The show is for grades K-5. Location is Towsley Auditorium. From the Wild Swan website: "Charlotte’s Web is possibly the best loved of all American stories for children. Set in the rural Midwest, it tells the touching story of a rare friendship between a little pig, Wilbur, and Charlotte, a most uncommon spider. The magical words that Charlotte spins in her web not only earn Wilbur a county fair blue ribbon and save his life, but inspire all of us to value what we can share with each other." More information is here.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #393

Named Book of the Year 2011 by The Economist, The Afrika Reich * is "remarkable for the plot that is clever, imaginative ... wholly unexpected. In a crowded field, (it) stands out as a rich and unusual thriller, politically sophisticated and hard to forget ".

Debut novelist Guy Saville (blog) will hold you in suspense as he spins a tale of an alternate world where a victorious Nazi Germany sets its sight on Africa.

After the "Dunkirk Fiasco", a humiliated Britain under Prime Minister Lord Halifax, signed a non-agression pact with Hilter for peace in Europe and to bring her POWs home. 1952, Africa. The swastika flies from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. The SS enslaves the native populations and threatens the ailing British colonies. At the helm reigns the architect of Nazi Africa Germany - Walter Hochburg, the psychopathic governor-general of Kongo.

Burton Cole, a retired assassin is hired to eliminate Hochburg. He is motivated less so by the huge purse that would save his little farm, than by a personal score to settle. But when his mission turns to disaster, Cole realizes his small team of mercenaries has been betrayed, and they might not make it out alive.

"Saville gets everything right - providing suspenseful action sequences, logical but enthralling plot twists, a fully thought-through imaginary world, and characters with depth."

"A skin-of-the-teeth escape at the end foreshadows a series." Book 2 (2014) and Book 3 are sure things. The waiting is the tough part.

Fans of alternative history would also enjoy In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (you would love this one if you are a jazz fan as well); The Plot Against America by Philip Roth; and Hitler's Peace by Philip Kerr.

* = starred review

Living Life with the Gift of Do-Overs

What if there were second chances? Or third chances? How many tries would it take for you to get your life right? Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories, weaves a tale of life and death in Life After Life that pulls the reader into the story of a woman who possesses an extraordinary gift: multiple chances at a single life.

It’s a snowy night in England in 1910. Ursula Todd is born. Ursula Todd dies before drawing her first breath. On the same snowy night in 1910 England, Ursula Todd is born again, and this time lives to tell the tale. Her life will follow this cycle of reincarnation throughout her childhood, adolescence and adulthood, taking her through countless catastrophic deaths, wars, family tragedies, and world-altering events. Each one of her deaths brings about a new lease on life, and a chance for Ursula to avoid the paths that lead to her untimely demises.

Atkinson weaves a lovely tale of life, death, rebirth and strength. It's a tale that takes readers on a journey with Ursula, a woman who experiences the turbulent times of the 20th century with wit, charm and compassion.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #391

If you are a fan of Alice Hoffman, Kaye Gibbons, and Sarah Addison Allen, you would want to get to know Rita Leganski. Set in the 1950s New Orleands, her debut novel The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow * is a magical story about the lost art of listening and a wondrous little boy who brings healing to all who love him.

Mute since birth, Bonaventure Arrow is born with the extraordinary gift of hearing. At five, he can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He also hears the voice of his dead father, William Arrow, mysteriously murdered by a man known only as the Wanderer.

With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.

"A fine novel about love, loss, revenge and forgiveness that also touches on themes of race and class discrimination"

"Suffused with the mystical charm of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou, Leganski's lyrical debut novel conjures dreams of voodoo, the power of healing, and the distinction between hearing and listening... Simply enchanting."

*= starred review

Voyage to Kazohinia


Finally seeing a wider publication, Voyage to Kazohinia by Sandor Szathmari, should be a highly revered classic but has never received its well-deserved due (at least in the English language) until now. It was originally published in Hungary in 1941, then in Esperanto in 1958, and had a very small, limited release in an English translation in the 1970s. But New Europe Books has given it a 4th life and a wider distribution, which I hope brings it more readers. Often compared to Gulliver’s Travels meets Brave New World with a touch of 1984 to boot, Voyage is the story of one, Gulliver, stranded on an island populated by two very different societies. The one he initially finds himself amongst are the Hins who, on the outset, seem to live in a utopia: no politics, no war, no starvation, and no disease. They enjoy a high standard of living for all, and no need for money since production is based on need. But there is a flip side: no art, no casual conversations (they only talk about rational needs), no sense of history (everything is about the here and now), no love, and no individuality (everyone wears the same style of dress for instance). It becomes unbearable as lack of conversation and loneliness take hold, so Gulliver decides to live with the Behins, who he has heard have feelings, in their walled off community. The Hins refer to them as “madmen” and he will soon discover why. This is satirical writing at its best. It will make you think about all the odd societal conventions as well as the political institutions that civilization hath wrought.

#1 Amazon Teen Bestseller: Angelfall

Currently the bestselling teen book on Amazon is Angelfall(Penryn and the End of Days, Book 1, the debut novel of Susan Ee. Romantic and dystopic, this novel has spent 97 days so far on Amazon's list of the top 100 teen books. It was written for readers about age 14 and up.

The novel opens shortly after angels of the apocolypse descended to destroy the world, seeking revenge against humans for killing the archangel Gabriel. When warrior angels grab a little girl, the child's 17-year-old sister, Penryn, makes a deal with Raffe, a handsome injured angel, and they set out through Northern California toward San Francisco, the angels' stronghold.

According to Amazon, the author "used to be a lawyer but loves being a writer because it allows her souped up imagination to bust out and go feral."

Sci-fi/Fantasy Award Nominees


The Nebula Awards, voted on by notable Scifi/Fantasy writers, are to be awarded in May and the nominees for best adult novel are:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed: Fantasy writing doesn't get much better than this. World building that takes place in a medieval city that reminds one of an Arabian fairy tale for adults or a Ray Harryhausen adventure. One reviewer described it as, "...swashbuckling mythos mania."

Ironskin by Tina Connolly: Fey scarred Jane finds employment as a governess for a fey child following a war between fey and humans in this alt-Victorian, Jane Eyre-inspired fantasy. Great pick for older teens too!

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin: Some may know Jemisin from her Inheritance trilogy, nominated for multiple awards, this book is the first of the Dreamblood series, rich in character and substance (Jungian psychology, Egyptian history)

The Drowning Girl, by Caitlín R. Kiernan: Taking a real world subject like schizophrenia and creating a fantasy element around it can be difficult to say the least, but Kiernan accomplishes both with the character, Imp, who has 'hauntings', missing timelines, & odd coincidences

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal: Sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey set in an alternate Regency-era with some romance, lots of magic, & a bit of espionage to boot. You can place holds on the 3rd book in this series Without a Summer due out in April. Jane Austen fans take note of this inspired novel!

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson: My pick for winner. This is a brilliant, thought-provoking novel. It has real world building since Earth is eeking by from severe climate changes, terra-forming Mars, Mercury, & Venus has happened. The main character, Swan, is pulled into a plot involving personal artificial intelligences (qubes) and the destruction of the worlds. Award-winning author, Robinson, continues to amaze with some realistic possibilities for our distant future. Read the transcript or listen to the podcast with him from Wired here.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #383 - Not Your Grandmother's Harlequin

Kate Cross opens her Clockwork Agents series with Heart of Brass (2012), and quickly follows with Touch of Steel * (2013).

In Heart, set in 1898 London, Lady Arden Grey is an undercover agent for one of the most powerful organizations of this steam powered world - the Wardens of the Realm, a group with extraordinary abilities, dedicated to protecting England against evil.

Her husband and fellow agent Lucas Grey, Earl Huntley disappeared during a secret mission. Now, Arden is being stalked by an assassin working for their rival - The Company who is none other than Luke.

"Cross has imagined a fascinating world of science in Victorian England. Her characters are three-dimensional and sympathetic; the devices (including the first vibrator) add punch to an already rich love story. Inventive and extremely clever dialog and situations make this series debut an enthralling read".

In Touch, reeling from her brother's death, American spy Claire Brooks has vowed revenge on the member of The Company who she believes to be responsible: Stanton Howard. But when she chases the man to London, Claire is captured by the Wardens of the Realm and placed in the custody of the Earl of Wolfred, the dashing Alistair Payne.

Seeing the prospect of retribution slipping away, Claire convinces Alistair that she has defected and will help him take down The Company. As they travel via steam liner, Claire and Alistair must pretend to be engaged, neither could deny the growing attraction between them.

Kate Cross also writes as Kathryn Smith. Writing steampunk allows her to combine her love of fashion, history and science fiction.

For fans of The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (A Novel of the Iron Seas).

*= starred review

The Listen List 2013

Established in 2010 by the CODES section of Reference and User Services Association (RUSA, a division of the American Library Association), The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration seeks to highlight outstanding audiobook titles that merit special attention by general adult listeners and the librarians who work with them. The Listen List Council selects these 2013 winners. They include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and plays.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Narrated by Daniel Weyman.
In a gravelly yet gleeful voice, Weyman narrates this swashbuckling genre-blend of spies, gangsters, and a doomsday machine. The lavish and imaginative story of Joe Spork, a clockmaker out of his depth as he attempts to save the world, is brilliantly realized through Weyman’s attention to inflection, characterization and pacing.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Narrated by Simon Vance.
In this grim and gripping tale, masterfully told, Vance brings Tudor England to life.
Beautifully accented and paced, his pitch-perfect narration deftly navigates the large and diverse cast and the intricate plot machinations to create a stunning glimpse into a dangerous time when Henry VIII ruled and Thomas Cromwell served as his “fixer.”

The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell. Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.
The discovery of a blood-covered little girl wandering in Central Park draws police detective Kathleen Mallory into an investigation involving long hidden secrets of New York’s elite. Rosenblat’s warmly expressive voice embodies each character effortlessly while adroitly managing the pace of Mallory’s gritty and harrowing tenth case.

The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell. Narrated by Nicholas Tecosky. (on order)
Welcome to the world of Shug Akins, a thirteen-year-old loner coming of age in the Ozarks. Tecosky skillfully demonstrates that the vernacular of this country noir novel is at its lyrical best when spoken aloud. In a youthful detached voice, he authentically captures the violence, poverty, and heartbreaking bleakness of Shug’s life.

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this lively ninth Pink Carnation romp, Eloise and Colin are beset by a film crew, while in the 19th century, agent Augustus Whittlesby, infamously bad poet, investigates rumors of Napoleon’s plotting and encounters love. Reading’s companionable, husky voice reveals all the humor in the rich banter and bad verse, as well as the passion.

Heft by Liz Moore. Narrated by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka. (on order)
This magnificent dual narration illuminates a poignant story of the isolation, family relationships, and new beginnings of two lost souls on a collision course. Szarabajka’s richly sonorous voice captures morbidly obese Arthur’s physical and emotional weight while Heyborne’s quietly expressive voice exposes the desperation of the teenaged Kel.

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz. Narrated by Derek Jacobi. (on order)
In a refined, resonant, and delightfully self-aware voice, Jacobi re-creates the world of Sherlock Holmes. His pacing is lovely – leisurely, inviting, and seductive – while his accents are grand and fit the characters perfectly. In this authorized addition to the canon, Holmes investigates a conspiracy linking criminals to the highest levels of government.

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith. Narrated by Ari Fliakos. (on order)
Fliakos’ unflinching depiction of Geiger, an expert in the art of “information retrieval” (aka torture), intensifies this absorbing and disturbing thriller. He sets the mood from the opening line, offering a tormented, affectless but surprisingly sympathetic hero. His skill in creating tone, character and pace enhances the haunting quality of Geiger’s world.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Narrated by Alan Cumming.
Cumming makes “The Scottish Play” an electric event, allowing modern audiences a chance to experience it with the same excitement, horror and wonder Shakespeare’s contemporary audiences surely felt. From stage directions delivered in furtive whispers to the cackle of the witches and the grim resolution of Lady Macbeth, Cumming astounds.

Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. Narrated by Dion Graham.
With his raspy, whispery voice Dion Graham inhabits musical genius Miles Davis in this tell-all autobiography that flows like a jazz riff. While setting the record straight about Davis’s career, lovers, addiction and racial issues, Graham channels Davis’s voice and cadence so completely that listeners will believe they’re hearing the master himself.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Narrated by Ari Fliakos. (on order)
Affectionate and playful, Ari Fliakos’ narration is addictive as he expertly voices full-bodied characters, savoring their eccentricities, in this imaginative work of “geek-lit.” His optimistic wonder and understanding of the subtext bring tension to even the minutiae of this grand quest by a motley crew of book lovers hoping to crack the code of immortality.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Narrated by David Timson. (on order)
Timson’s irrepressible performance of this rollicking romp through 1830s England in Dickens’s first novel invites listeners along as Pickwick and his crew ramble through the countryside. With broad satire and clever irony, Timson proves a delightful guide through slapdash adventures and a host of eccentric characters.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Narrated by Simon Prebble. (on order)
Prebble’s performance is like listening to a full cast production so great is his skill in crafting characters. Navigating memories of both “upstairs” and “downstairs,” dutiful butler Stevens revisits past pains and triumphs. Prebble creates a poignant reflection of a life given to service seen through the eyes of a man finally questioning his purpose.

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