Fabulous Fiction Firsts #430 - “War doesn't negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace." ~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Architect Charles Belfoure - "an up and coming Ken Follett." (Booklist) impresses with his debut - The Paris Architect *.

1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard took on a lucrative but dangerous commission to design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jew. It was to be so invisible that the most determined German officer wouldn't find; a challenge he could not resist to outwit the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city.

When one careless mistake resulted in tragedy, Lucien saw the plight of the Jews through new eyes, and the commission took on new meaning.

"Belfoure's portrayal of Vichy France is both disturbing and captivating, and his beautiful tale demonstrates that while human beings are capable of great atrocities, they have a capacity for tremendous acts of courage as well." "Heart, reluctant heroism, and art blend together in this spine-chilling page-turner."

Loosely based on British author Rhidian Brook's family history, The Aftermath is the emotionally riveting story of two families, one house, and love grown from hate.

Having been appointed Governor of Pinneberg, Bristish Army Col. Lewis Morgan was charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Hamburg devastated by Allied bombing. He was to station his family in a grand house on the River Elbe. Rather than forcing its owner to vacate, Lewis insisted that the two families would share the house.

In this charged atmosphere, exacerbated by domestic stress and war-related bitterness and grief, German architect Stefan Lubert and his teenage daughter, Freda, Lewis, his wife Rachel and their surviving son Edmund were forced to confront their true selves, navigating between desires, loyalties, and the transforming power of forgiveness.

For fans of Sadie Jones' Small Wars and other historical fiction that deals with the complexity of war. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies; and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer immediately came to mind.

* = starred review

Alice Munro wins the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

In early July of this year, 82-year-old Alice Munro told the New York Times, that Dear Life: Stories (2012) was her last book. She was going to retire.

Perhaps Ms. Munro would like to rethink that decision. The Swedish Academy in Stockholm announced today that Munro, one of Canada's literary treasures, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. This prestigious award is given for an author's life's work. In Ms. Munro's case, that includes 14 short story collections.

Ms. Munro is no stranger to notable awards. In 1980 she was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction for The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1979). Twenty-nine years later, she won the rebranded Man Booker International Prize.

The National Book Critics Circle Award for 1998 went to Ms. Munro for The Love of a Good Woman:Stories, a collection that also garnered her the first of two Giller Prizes. She won the second in 2004 for Runaway: Stories.

Ms. Munro is the first Canadian (and 14th woman) to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in its 113-year history.

One can only hope she changes her mind about that whole retirement thing.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #429 - "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once" ~ Stephen King

The Bookman's Tale : a novel of obsession by Charlie Lovett is set in Hay-on-Wy where the antiquarian bookseller/restorer Peter Byerly relocates after the death of his wife, Amanda. While casually browsing in a bookshop, a portrait of Amanda stumbles out of an 18th-century study of Shakespeare forgeries. Of course, it isn't really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture's origins. In the process, he learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

"(A) sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature's most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession: a romance."

"Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett (bio.) has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end.

"A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment." Shakespeare aficionados might further their excursion with Jennifer Lee Carrell and her Shakespearean scholar-turned-theater-director Kate Stanley thriller series.

I am totally captivated with Mark Pryor's The Bookseller : the first Hugo Marston novel (in BOCD). Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris is at loose ends. Contemplating a visit stateside to his estranged wife, he purchases a gift for her from his friend Max, an elderly bouquinistes. When Max is abducted in broad daylight, Martston looks on powerlessly to intervene. The police is uninterested, calling it a hoax but it piqued the interest of Claudia Roux, an attractive crime reporter.

With the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green, Marston launches an investigation. Pressure mounts as other booksellers are found floating in the Seine, they suspect that Max's disappearance is connected somehow to his activities as a Nazi hunter, and to the precious volume now in Marston's hands.

"Pryor's (true crime blogger, D.A.Confidential) steady and engrossing debut combines Sherlockian puzzle solving with Eric Ambler-like spy intrigue... the author winningly blends contemporary crime with historical topics. Pair with Cara Black's Aimée Leduc series for both locale and tone."

Reader might also enjoy the bookseller/amateur sleuth Victor Legris series set in belle-epoque Paris by Claude Izner, the pseudonym for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, both second-hand booksellers on the banks of the Seine and experts on 19th c. France.

Audiobook: A Spooky Ghost Story for Teens

In the mood for a scary story this fall? Then give The Diviners by Libba Bray a listen.

Set in 1920s New York City, this paranormal tale pits a ghostly serial killer – who has returned from the grave to fulfill his gruesome mission – against seventeen-year-old diviner Evie O’Neill. As the story begins, Evie’s ability to divine memories from objects lands her in enough trouble to send her off to New York City to stay with her uncle, the curator of the “Museum of Creepy-Crawlies.” When her uncle is called in to help with a murder investigation, Evie soon finds herself caught up in the hunt for the Occult Killer.

The diverse cast, which also includes a lively Ziegfield girl, a charming pick-pocket and a Langston-Hughes-loving poet, are all expertly voiced by narrator January LaVoy.

The audiobook was also named one of YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults 2013.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #428 - "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage" ~ Anais Nin

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber is based on the real life story, (check out one of many incredible primary sources) of a 19th-century American woman who sought freedom and independence while disguised as a man.

In 1855, when no women traveled unescorted, hunted with a rifle, got paid for a back-breaking day's work, or dressed the way she wanted, Lucy Ann Lobdell hopped a train at daybreak in her brother's cast-offs, and started a new life as Joseph Lobdell, a music/dance instructor in Honesdale, Pa., far from her New York home, her disapproving family and a young daughter she had to leave behind.

As Joseph Lobdell, she finds not only a wealth of economic opportunity but also the chance to participate in intellectual and political discussions. However, the danger of being exposed meant quick escapes and sudden leave-taking, even from the woman she came to love.

"A well-crafted 'memoir' of an unforgettable person, with plenty of questions about freedom, love and responsibility."

"What makes this story stand out is the author's skill in imagining the life of a transgender woman in a time when women had virtually no power in the world and when different sexual orientations were considered grave mental illnesses. By serving as Lucy's voice —not to mention doing what was obviously a great deal of historical research, —the author becomes her advocate and encourages readers to do the same. A unique and important book. "

Reader might also be interested in Wild Life by Molly Gloss; and Women of the Frontier : 16 tales of trailblazing homesteaders, entrepreneurs, and rabble-rousers by Brandon Maire Miller for stories of strong and courageous women who seriously pushed boundaries.

An exciting parallel and just release yesterday is Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, "A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge - the story of Alma Whittaker, who bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas".

Tom Clancy, king of techno-military thrillers, has died

Tom Clancy, author of nail-biting military suspense novels, known for their eerie prescience, has died.

Mr. Clancy turned a lifelong obsession for all things military-and-technological into instant success with his first novel, The Hunt for Red October (1984), published by the Naval Institute Press, housed at the U.S. Naval Academy. It was the NIP's first novel -- Clancy's detailed military descriptions caught their attention. It also captured then-President Ronald Reagan's interest as well; thus Mr. Clancy's instant rise to bestsellerdom.

Clancy's unerring accuracy with details had many convinced that he had connections inside the Pentagon. He adamantly denied all such charges, but did say, "I've made stuff up that's turned out to be real, that's the spooky part."

His series character, Jack Ryan, first seen in The Hunt for Red October, has made fourteen more appearances over the past three decades, the latest in Threat Vector which was published last year. The last Jack Ryan novel, Command Authority, will be released at the end of this year.

Several of his thrillers starring Jack Ryan (who morphed, during the course of the series, from U.S. Naval Academy instructor to CIA spy/Director to U.S. President) were turned into successful movies.Alec Baldwin, played Ryan in the 1990 release, The Hunt for Red October. Harrison Ford did the honors in the next two Jack Ryan films, Patriot Games (1992), and
Clear and Present Danger (1994). Ben Affleck appeared as Ryan in The Sum of All Fears in 2002.

Mr. Clancy, who died in a Baltimore hospital, was 66.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #427 - "One man's magic is another man's engineering..." ~ Robert A. Heinlein

This fall's BIG book (563 pp.) is Emily Croy Barker's much anticipated The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. Marketed as a readalike for Lev Grossman's The Magicians series and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, "...this ambitious, densely packed debut" by journalist Barker tells of a young woman's ordeal after walking through a portal into an alternate world where to survive, she must learn real magic. A dark fairy tale with plenty of curb appeal for fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans.

Nora Fischer expects Adam to propose, instead he is off to marry someone else. Once a promising academic, her dissertation is hopelessly stalled and her advisor has lost interest. During a miserable weekend at a friend's wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she is transformed into a stunning beauty and living a fairy tale life, complete with glamor and promise of love. Then the elegant veneer shatters. Her only real ally and a reluctant one at that is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. Under his tutelage, Nora studies magic. To their surprise, Nora's academic training and resolve makes her an apt student. When an opportunity to slip back through the portal to her former life presents itself, Nora faces a tough decision.

"Barker weaves together classic fantasy and romantic elements (including shout-outs to Pride and Prejudice and hints of Wuthering Heights) to produce a well-rounded, smooth, and subtle tale."

Teen Stuff: Eleanor & Park

A realistic young adult love story, Eleanor & Park is set during one school year in 1986. Riding the bus in high school can be perilous. With the anxiety of “assigned” seats and bullies yelling comments, it’s a terrible way to start the day and the school year. Eleanor & Park meet on the school bus, and eventually their hearts burst open for each other as they pour over comics and mixed tapes. They are a pair of misfits who end up matching perfectly. The book is touching and funny, and reminds us what it is like to be young and in love, and to stop at nothing to try to be together, even with family situations that make loving and living all too hard.

The book is written in the voice of both Eleanor & Park, with alternating chapters, so it’s nice to get a sense of what’s behind both teen’s thoughts. Author Rainbow Rowell’s new book Fangirl is also getting a lot of buzz.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #426 - For the lists-makers among us...

If it wasn't for my good friend, I might have missed The Life List, a debut novel by Michigan author Lori Nelson Speilman. It has been sitting there in my to-read pile. Too many books, you know how that is.

Set between Chicago's swanky Gold Coast and the immigrant neighborhood of Pilsen, we are swept along with a young woman in a perplexing journey in search of her adolescent dreams.

Anticipating being made CEO of her mother's multimillion-dollar cosmetics company at the reading of the will, Brett Bohlinger is instead fired and rendered almost homeless. To receive her portion of the inheritance, she is to fulfill a list of life goals her teenage self compiled, which makes the grief-stricken 34 year-old questions her mother's intention. Some of the goals are downright impossible - like establishing a relationship with a father who died 7 years ago. Others are outrageously impractical, like buying a horse and having a baby or two.

With the help and support of the handsome attorney her mother selected as executor, Brett grudgingly accepts the challenges which eventually bring her back to love, the best inheritance of all. "Spielman's debut charms as Brett briskly careens from catastrophe to disaster to enlightenment." Rights to 20 countries. Film optioned to Fox 2000.

Lists-lovers would also enjoy The Sunday List of Dreams by Kris Radish, and The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski.

If you despair of storybook endings wrapped up in a shiny package, then I would suggest The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum, a realistic and well-written portrait of a young woman on the cusp of having it all.

How about some unusual lists? Here are the New Yorker's "The Hundred Best Lists of All Time."

UM Professor, Dr. Susan Murphy, is one of this year's MacArthur Foundation 'Geniuses'

This morning, Dr. Susan Murphy, the H.E. Robbins Professor of Statistics and Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Michigan, was awarded one of two dozen new MacArthur Fellows,

Dr. Murphy's current focus is on adaptive intervention, which involves developing plans to work with patients who have chronic or relapsing illnesses (such as, substance abuse or depression) where effective courses of treatment are constantly adjusted for maximum benefit.

Novelist Karen Russell is another new Fellow. The first story in her debut collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006) served as the basis for her much acclaimed first novel, Swamplandia (2011), set in the Everglades and narrated by 13-year-old Ava. Swamplandia was one of three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Alas, no award in that category was given last year, due to the lack of the minimum required number of votes.

These "Genius Awards", as they are affectionately known, come with no strings attached. The Fellows are free to spend the money as they wish. This year, the Geniuses received a raise. The formerly half-million dollar reward has been bumped to $625,000, paid out yearly for five years.

For a complete list of the MacArthur Foundation Fellows for the Class of 2013, check here.

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