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.

A Cautionary Tale, Because Teens Need Advice, Too

It didn't sound like a novel I would like, but Panic by New York Times bestselling author Sharon Draper turned out to be gripping and powerful. Written for ages 14 and older, the novel centers on a close-knit dance troupe and bad decisions made by two young dancers -- with horrible, undeserved consequences.

When Diamond goes to the mall with a friend, she leaves, alone, with a stranger who promises to make her a film star. She is kidnapped and held captive
by the man, who makes porn. Meanwhile, the other dancer, Layla, clings crazily to her sexy boyfriend, Donovan, who abuses her physically and emotionally. The story seems alarmingly realistic; once begun, it is hard to put down. Four alternating narrators tell the tale, adding richness to character development and plot.

In an article on Shelf Awareness.com, Sharon Draper allows that her latest book is "a little edgier than anything I've written, but I think it could save a life. . . .We tell our six-year-olds not to talk to strangers, not to talk to a man with a nice dog. We don't tell our teens anything. They think they're smart enough and mature enough to tell the difference between a nice guy and a bad guy."

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Debut novelist Jenny Milchman is definitely one to watch, if Cover of Snow * * (print format) is anything to go by.

Set in remote and insulated Wedeskyull, NY,, in the Adirondacks, Nora Hamilton wakes to find her world totally shattered with the suicide of her rock-solid husband Brendan. Leaving no note and giving no indication of his intent, Nora is at a loss. She needs answers but all she encounters is a bewildering resistance from Brendan's best friend and colleague, fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies layers of secrets and heart-breaking tragedies, which a powerful conspiracy will stop at nothing to keep buried.

"This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage. Fans of Nancy Pickard, Margaret Maron, and C. J. Box will be delighted to find this new author." ~ Booklist

Listen-alike:

Sister by Rosamund Lupton.

No time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon.

* * = starred reviews

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, award-winning screenwriter and novelist, has died

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Oscar-winning screenwriter and much-honored novelist, died today in Manhattan.

Ms. Jhabvala was born in Germany to Jewish parents who fled to England in 1939. In 1951, Ms. Jhabvala married an Indian architect. They lived in New Delhi for a quarter of century, an experience which informed much of her examination of the privileged lifestyle of the British upperclass in India.

In the early 1960s, she was discovered by filmdom's producer/director power team, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. They had read her 1963 novel, Householder (on order) and asked her to write the screenplay for the film (on order) by the same name which was released later that year.

Thus began a long successful partnership. The Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala 22-film collaboration resulted in two Oscars for Ms. Jhabvala -- A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1993).

Ms. Jhabvala was also feted with many literary awards, as well. In 1975, she won the then-called Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction (now known as the Man Booker Prize) for Heat and Dust. In 1984, she was tapped for one of the much-coveted MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Ms. Jhabvala's last novel, My Nine Lives was published in 2004. Her final book, a collection of short stories, A Lovesong for India came out two years ago. Her very last piece of published writing appeared in the March 25, 2013 edition of The New Yorker. It is a short story called The Judge's Will.

Ms. Jhabvala, who was85, died of an unspecified pulmonary ailment.

Audiobook for Kids: Spunky Girl Detective

Have you ever wanted to solve a mystery?

Well, in Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen, thirteen-year-old Sammy has no intention of becoming a detective until she happens to see a theft at the hotel across the street… and the thief sees her too. And she thought starting seventh grade was her biggest worry! Now Sammy is dodging the police, trying to outsmart a thief and hiding out from a suspicious neighbor, all while navigating the treacherous world of junior high.

This excellent audiobook series continues with Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man, Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy, Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf, Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Mustache Mary, Sammy Keyes and the Hollywood Mummy, Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes, Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception, Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen and Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaways.

Fans of spunky, modern girl detectives may also wish to check out these audiobooks: Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison, Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams and Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach.

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.

Benjamin Alire Saenz makes history -- he is the first Latino to win the PEN/Faulkner literary award

Benjamin Alire Saenz, a novelist from Texas, has become the first Latino to win the prestigious 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club (on order). Set along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, near the Rio Grande, Saenz's stories focus on the people who live and work along Avenida Juarez.

Saenz is no stranger to awards. Among the honors he has collected over the years as a poet and a novelist are the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1993 and the Southwest Book Award in 1996, given by Border Regional Library Association, for Carry Me Like Water. 1995.

Saenz, 58, was born in New Mexico. A former Catholic priest, he is now the Chairman of Creative Writing at the University of Texas, El Paso. This latest honor comes with a $15,000 check.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #390

Swedish TV screenwriter Alexander Söderberg's debut The Andalucian Friend ** is the first of a projected trilogy, an international suspense/thriller you won't want to miss.

Breaking her personal code never to date a patient, widowed nurse Sophie Brinkmann discovers that Hector Guzman, of quiet charm and easy smile, is in fact, the head of a powerful international crime organization. Regrettably, her previously uneventful and quiet life is but history, being drawn into Guzman's sinister world of drugs, arm dealing, turf wars, hit men and rogue cops. This single mother must summon everything within her to navigate this intricate web of moral ambiguity, deadly obsession, and craven gamesmanship.

Set largely in Stockholm, The Andalucian Friend is a powerhouse of a novel - ”turbo-charged, action-packed, highly sophisticated, and epic in scope". Little wonder that it was the smash hit of the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair. Film rights sold to Indian Paintbrush Productions.

A strong resemblance to one of my favorite FFF- The Expats (2012) by Chris Pavone, and reminds me also of The Boy in the Suitcase by Danish author Lene Kaaberbol.

* * = starred reviews (Initial print run: 100K)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #389

Child of Vengeance *, the debut novel by David Kirk is part military history, part family saga, part action/adventure, based on the real-life exploits of Japan's greatest samurai - the legendary Musashi Miyamoto.

17th-century Japan was a land in turmoil where lords of the great clans schemed against each other, served by samurai bound to them by a rigid code of honor. Abandoned at an early age by his samurai father, young Bennosuke is raised by his uncle Dorinbo, a Shinto monk in their ancestral village. Though urged by Dorinbo to renounce Bushido, the "Way of the Warrior", Bennosuke worships his absent father. When Munisai returns, gravely injured, Bennosuke is forced to confront truths about his family's history and his own place in it, leading eventually onto a path "awash with blood, bravery, and vengeance", and culminating in the epochal Battle of Sekigahara in which Bennosuke will first proclaim his name as Mushashi Miyamoto.

Legendary director Hiroshi Inagaki first captured the saga of Musashi Miyamoto on film in The Samurai Trilogy, adaptations of the novels by Eiji Yoshikawa. Readers might also enjoy samurai character-driven novels, especially the historical mystery series by Laura Joh Rowland which depicts the precarious fortunes of Lord Ichiro Sano.

British David Kirk first became interested in Japan when his father gave him a copy of James Clavell's Shōgun : a novel of Japan. He has written his dissertation on samurai cinema, and now lives and teaches English in Japan.

* = starred review

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