Illusions, Wonders and Nights at the Circus

Lose yourself inside the black-and-white world of Le Cirque des Rêves, the enchanting fantasy world in Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus. Morgenstern weaves a tale of illusion, passion, romance and rivalry between two illusionists set in a 19th century circus. This novel is a feast for the senses, a magical ride for a reader who loves a slowly-unfolding story full of descriptive and elegant prose and detailed imagery.

Le Cirque des Rêves, or The Circus of Dreams, is not an ordinary circus. It arrives in towns without warning, mysteriously, as if appearing out of thin air. It opens at dusk and closes at dawn, and houses within its wrought-iron gates black-and-white tents full of grand illusions and hidden magic.

The circus itself is a remarkable world, but ultimately serves as a performance space for the two key characters, Celia Bowen (the daughter of a famed illusionist, Prospero the Enchanter) and Marco Alisdair (student of the Mysterious Mr. A.H.). The two illusionists are unwillingly – and for a time, unknowingly – pitted against each other in a game of magical talent and ingenuity. The game is simple: the best illusionist wins, the loser pays a terrible price. But when love gets in the way… the price may be higher than Celia or Marco could have anticipated.

October's Books to Film

The Paperboy is based on Peter Dexter's novel, the enthralling story of two brothers (Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron) who investigate a case involving a death row inmate (John Cusack). Convinced by a mysterious woman (Nicole Kidman) that the inmate is innocent, the brothers embark on a journey that is filled with betrayal.

Pitch Perfect (PG-13) is based on Mickey Rapkin's Pitch Perfect:The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory. In this new comedy, Beca arrives at her new college, she finds herself not right for any clique but somehow is muscled into one that she never would have picked on her own: alongside mean girls, sweet girls and weird girls whose only thing in common is how good they sound when they sing together. "Loaded with new takes on old favorites to hits of right now that are seamlessly mixed together, mashed-up and arranged like you've never heard before" .

Starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson, and directed by Jason Moore of the Broadway sensation Avenue Q, the musical.

Putting a new spin on the Emily Brontë classic, Wuthering Heights is the love story between Heathcliff, a boy taken in by a kind father and Cathy, the farmer's young daughter. This film adaptation promises to be beautiful and evocative, bringing a somewhat more modern take on an old favorite.

Fans of James Patterson's Alex Cross series will be pleased to see the young homicide detective/psychologist (Tyler Perry) coming to life and facing off with a serial killer (Matthew Fox). When the high-stakes game of cat and mouse gets personal, Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits in this taut and exciting action thriller, entitled Alex Cross (PG-13).

Filled with action, romance and mystery, Cloud Atlas (R rated) is a breathtaking adaptation of the novel (also in audio) by David Mitchell - six interwoven stories that leads up to a post-apocalyptic dystopian version of a Pacific Island nation. It explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future, how one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.

Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #356

Anyone interested in rollicking adventure, puzzle-solving/code-breaking, the history of books and printing, digital technology, conspiracy theory, secret societies, quirky San Francisco (Did I catch just about everybody?) would find Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore * immensely enjoyable. (Coming out in October, I will be doing a lot of hand-selling in the meantime. Get on the waiting list if I were you. )

It didn't take long for Clay Jannon, an unemployed graphic artist/web designer to realize that Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is anything but the obvious. Working the grave-yard shift, his customers never buy but "borrow" archaic volumes according to some elaborate scheme. Mr. Penumbra's strict missive of never looking into any of the volumes produces just the opposite effect and soon, Clay finds himself, and his willing dot.com recruits plunging (Googlers figure prominently in the plot and the solution) head-long into a heroic quest of complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, and digging at the truth behind secrets that reach back to the famous Venetian printer Aldus­ Manutius. "A gleeful and exhilarating tale".

"With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that's rare to the world of literary fiction."

Debut novelist Robin Sloan, a native of Michigan is a gradate of Michigan State University (Economics). He was a member of the Media Partnerships team at Twitter before becoming a writer and a "media inventor".

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #354

Two debut novels sharing the same title, each very distinct and worlds apart. But fantastic, just the same.

In Silver * * by Rhiannon Held, Andrew Dare, a werewolf enforcer/protector for the Roanoke pack, picks up a scent no one has ever encountered. It belongs to beautiful "Silver" - wild and crazy, having been tortured and injected with silver into her veins.

She represents a terrible threat to every Were on the continent unless Andrew join forces with her. While tracking down her attacker and the menace behind the threat, they discover their own power and their passion for each other. "Urban fantasy takes a walk on the wild side"

"The combination of engaging characters and a well-developed world will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next installment. A must-read for fans of Kelley Armstrong's Bitten (2001), another compelling werewolf story".

For perilous game of pack politics, try Toby Barlow's award-winning Sharp Teeth * *.

For fans of the recent crop of exceptional urban fantasies of Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf, and Anne Rice's The Wolf Gift.

Silver: return to Treasure Island * by biographer and UK poet laureate Andrew Motion, is a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. It picks up twenty years later and finds Natty, the daughter of Long John Silver, teaming up with Hawkins' son, Jim, on a dangerous voyage to the legendary island in search of their fathers' hidden treasure.

This "clever and satisfying high-seas tale of madness and brutality, treachery and courage, resourcefulness and romance" is not to be missed.

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #345

Alif the Unseen * *, Alif - the first letter of the Arabic alphabet is the code name for a young Arab-Indian hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern security state. He makes a good living working behind layers of firewall, shielding himself and his clients from "The Hand" - the all-knowing government electronic security force, run by the man who is now engaged to his beloved.

Driven underground, Alif discovers Alf Yeom (The Thousand and One Days), the secret book of the jinn, which may unleash a new level of information technology and for him, a lifeline.

"With shades of Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, ...Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut, a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, religion, technology and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner".

" (An) intriguing-sounding blend of cyberfantasy and The Arabian Nights ".

G. Willow Wilson is the author of a graphic novel Cairo (2007) and a memoir The Butterfly Mosque. She divides her time between the US and Egypt and Alif, her first prose novel, was completed during the season of the Arab Spring.

Here is a recent Publishers Weekly interview with the author.

* * = starred reviews

July's Books to Film

The Amazing Spider-Man ( PG-13) is based on the Spider-Man comics

Peter Parker, an outcast high schooler, abandoned by his parents as a boy, struggles to figure out who he is. When Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance --- leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors, his father’s former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.

Killer Joe (NC-17) is adapted from Tracy Lett's play (1993) about a small-time drug dealer who hires a hit man to murder his mother for her life insurance money. Starring Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church.

Savages (R) is based on the novel by Don Winslow (in audio)

Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben and Chon run a lucrative, homegrown industry raising some of the best marijuana ever developed, until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands a partnership.

Based on the Batman comics, The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13) opens eight years after Batman vanished into the night. Turning fugitive and assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for the greater good.

But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist with ruthless plans for Gotham.

Action + Dystopia + Romance = "Divergent"

Check out Divergent, Veronica Roth's first young adult book, and like me, you may find yourself staying up way too late reading it. Exciting and dystopian, this book may remind you of The Hunger Games, although it also manages to hold its own weight in the world of contemporary teen literature. Divergent was written for age 14 and up.

The novel is set in Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, where sadly, Lake Michigan has become a swamp, but some trains are still running. Society is divided into five factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). All sixteen-year-olds, including Beatrice, must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. In the vicious initiation process for her selected faction, Beatrice struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out choices. Everyone undergoes extreme physical and psychological tests, including disorienting computer simulations. "Tris" -- her new name -- is small but mighty, as she decides who her friends are and tries to save her family. Her love interest, Tobias, is fascinating and mysterious. Readers will be left wondering where this relationship can possibly lead in such a dangerous world.

This is the first book in the “Divergent” series. The next installment is Insurgent, in which, according to Publishers Weekly, "the novel's love story, intricate plot, and unforgettable setting work in concert to deliver a novel that will rivet fans of the first book."

June's Books to Film

Snow White and the Huntsman. In this retelling of the most beloved fairy tales of all times, Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) must join forces with the fierce Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who was recruited by the evil Queen (Charlize Theron) obsessed with being the fairest woman in the land. Meanwhile, a handsome prince (Sam Claflin) falls hopelessly under Snow White's spell.

Bel Ami Guy de Maupassant's classic tale of passion in late18th-century Paris is adapted in a scintillating erotic drama starring Twilight's Robert Pattinson as a destitute young soldier who plots to gain power by seducing the mistresses of the city's most influential men. Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Colm Meaney co-star.

In The Woman in the Fifth, adopted from the novel by Douglas Kennedy, American professor and novelist Tom Ricks traveled to Paris to see his young daughter, hoping also to reconnect with his estranged wife. After being robbed, he was forced to work in a seedy hotel as a night watchman, until he met a sophisticated woman named Margit at a literary event. Margit encouraged Tom to write again but he was unsettled by a series of murders taking place around him. Starring Ethan Hawke, and the very busy Kristin Scott Thomas (MPAA Rating: R)

The multifaceted Seth Grahame-Smith - novelist/producer/cinematographer has adopted his own novel for the big screen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Benjamin Walker plays Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who discovers vampires planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

Longmire is the new A&E television series based on the popular mystery series by Craig Johnson. Robert Taylor plays Walt Longmire, the charismatic, dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Widowed only a year, Longmire is a man in psychic repair, trying to bury his pain behind a brave face and dry wit. Often turning to close friend and confidant Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) for support, he sets out to rebuild both his personal and professional life, one step at a time.

"Lamb," an Unusual Gospel

I am currently on my second copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. My first copy of Christopher Moore's novel was read, re-read, and loaned out so often by myself and others that it eventually fell apart.

Jesus' pal Biff is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing thirty-year "gap" in the Gospels by writing his account of growing up with the Messiah. Moore writes with a sense of humor and sarcasm that some may find crude or offensive, but others may find themselves laughing out loud every few pages. This "gospel" is nothing like what you would expect; it's full of all the taboo topics: religion, politics, sex, drugs, and rock (just rock, you know...stonemason stuff?). Since Moore pokes fun not only at Christianity, but also at Buddhism, Hinduism, and just about every other major religion, this is a book for those who don't take religion or life too seriously. I find myself picking up Lamb any time I need a good dose of wit and sarcasm or a good reminder to step back and laugh.

Ray Bradbury, master of Science Fiction and Fantasy, has died

Ray Bradbury, brilliant, prescient, prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy, died yesterday in Los Angeles.

Bradbury is credited with bringing science fiction into mainstream fiction by dispensing with a lot of the technical lingo and focusing on speculation and metaphors to dig into science and technology versus civilization.

Mr. Bradbury won dozens of awards for his enormous body of work. He captured his first prize, the 1947 O. Henry Award, for a short story called Homecoming, which was discovered by Truman Capote, who was an editor at Mademoiselle Magazine. One of his most well-known books, The Martian Chronicles further advanced his career in 1950.

Bradbury followed that success with Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. He took his notion about literature and society -- "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." -- and turned it into a classic that has been read by generations of high school students. In 1966, it became a chilling movie, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner.

Bradbury's passion for books and reading and libraries was in stark contract to his skepticism for formal education. He elaborated on this contrarian idea in an essay he wrote that can be found in the May 1971 issue of Wilson Library Bulletin (45, 9, 842-851). The title speaks for itself -- How Instead of Being Educated in College, I Was Graduated from Libraries.

Paying tribute to his grandfather, Danny Karapetian said, "...to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know."

Bradbury was 91.

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