Fabulous Fiction Firsts #490

Librarian (Louisiana) Ashley Weaver's stylish and charming debut Murder at the Brightwell features "a spunky heroine, a tense romance and red herrings galore" that would bring to mind Agatha Christie who created some of the most endearing and enduring amateur sleuths.

1932 England. Young Amory Ames, on impulse, accepts an invitation from her former fiance Gil Trent to vacation at the Brightwell, a luxurious seaside resort catering to the society set. The express purpose is for Amory to intervene in the forthcoming marriage of Gil's sister Emmeline to Rupert Howe, a disreputable ladies' man. No one sees the sharp prick of the irony more then Amory whose floundering marriage to the notoriously charming playboy Milo is a constant source of sorrow.

But when Rupert is found murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime, Amory must set aside their marital ennui, and reluctantly enlists Milo's help in finding the killer and clearing Trent's name. Soon, the pair's sleuthing puts them at the scene of a second murder, and in harm's way.

"A pleasant debut novel, nicely evoking the 1930s with strong atmosphere and the beginnings of some intriguing characters."

Readers eagerly anticipating a follow-up might want to get cozy with Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man series (and the 1934 film adaptation that is now a classic); the Australian Miss Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood (adapted into an exquisitely-costumed period television series); and the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson, set in Scotland.

New Teen Fiction at the AADL!

Wow! A fresh crop of exciting new teen books is on order at the AADL. Here’s a preview of just a few of the upcoming new arrivals:

Anatomy of a Misfit is Andrea Portes’ very first novel. It’s already gaining notoriety for being “hilarious, devastating, and ultimately triumphant” and is based loosely on real events from the author’s life. Anika is the third most popular girl in school and works hard to maintain her social position even though on the inside her thoughts are dark and diabolical AND she has a crush on the nerdiest guy in school (although, in her defense, he has come back from summer vacation way better looking than he was last spring). Readers will love Anika’s witty commentary and the high school setting is portrayed poignantly. The book rockets towards its final, wrenching tragedy, but readers should stick it out to the ultimate, victorious ending.

The Jewel, by Amy Ewing, is the first book in the new Lone City series. Violet is purchased at auction by the Duchess of the Lake to serve as a surrogate mother for future royal children. As Violet fights to stay alive through the struggles of her daily existence it begins to seem as though her fate might be a hopeless one. Then, she meets the gentleman hired to be a companion to the Duchesses’ niece and everything changes. Suddenly, her life seems worth living again as the two begin an illicit romance. The consequences of this romance, however, are more than either of them had bargained for.

Split Second, by Kasie West, is the sequel to the popular Pivot Point, which was published in early 2013. In Pivot Point, readers were introduced to Addie, who has the remarkable ability of being able to see the future of both potential outcomes when she is faced with a choice. Split Second continues with the story of Addie, who has recently realized that she also has the ability to manipulate time… but not without a price. In order to mitigate the effects of her time manipulation, Addie must enlist the help of her best friend Laila as well as that of a handsome new boy at school who seems immune to her charms.

Other teen books recently added to the collection include Deliverance, the third book in the Defiance series, Sway, the story of a boy who woos a girl for his best friend… but then develops feelings for her himself, and Magnolia, the story of two Southern teenagers who realize that their hatred for one another might actually be love after a devastating storm sweeps through their town.

If you’re browsing for these or any other teen titles, don’t forget that our teen collection at the Downtown library is now located on the third floor!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #489 -“Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”~ Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game

In The Distance, a "dark, ultra-contemporary and relentlessly paced debut thriller by Helen Giltrow, a London socialite, desperate to put some distance from her criminal past must contend with the outrageous demand of a hit man.

Behind the closed door of her sleek, high-security London apartment, Charlotte Alton is Karla - who, with a few keystrokes and for the right price, could make anyone disappear. The only mistake she'd ever made in an otherwise perfect career is revealing her face to a man named Simon Johanssen, an ex-special forces sniper turned killer-for-hire. Now, after a long absence, Johanssen has resurfaced with a job, and he needs Karla's help. This time - to take out an inmate inside an experimental prison colony, against impossible odds.

"Written in stylish, sophisticated prose, The Distance is a tense and satisfying debut in which every character, both criminal and law-abiding, wears two faces, and everyone is playing a double game."

"The graphic violence and torture has this thriller bordering on horror, like the work of Chelsea Cain, so be forewarned that it is not for the squeamish."

Gangsterland * * * by Tod Goldberg. Like Karla, Sal Cupertine, legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, has only made one mistake in his line of work, but it is a big one - killing 3 undercover FBI agents in a botched sting operation. To stay alive, he agrees to "the family's" radical idea. After a few surgeries and some intensive studying, Rabbi David Cohen is born, spouting quotes from the Torah or the Old Testament, leading a growing congregation in Las Vegas, and overseeing the temple and the new cemetery - a convenience both as a money and body-laundering scheme for the Mob. Meanwhile, a rouge FBI agent is on his trail, seeking vengeance for the murder of his three fellow agents.

"(W)ickedly dark and funny, Gangsterland (is) a morality tale set in a desert landscape as ruthless and barren as those who inhabit it."

"Sal's transformation and intermittent edification into Rabbi Cohen is brilliantly rendered, and Goldberg's careening plot, cast of memorably dubious characters, and mordant portrait of Las Vegas make this one of the year's best hard-boiled crime novels."

* * * = 3 starred reviews

National Book Award Finalists Announced


It's book award season! Britain announced their Booker Prize winner yesterday, and this morning brings the list of National Book Award finalists. There are five finalists in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. The list includes major names, such as past National Book Award winner Marilynn Robinson, former US Poet Laureate Louise Gluck, and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.

You can view the list of finalists in the AADL catalog, read more about these titles, and place holds. The winners will be announced November 19th.

2014 Man Booker Prize awarded to Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Australian author Richard Flanagan, has won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. The Man Booker is of British origin and comes with an award of 50,000 pounds. This was the first year that the prize was open to all authors writing in English, regardless of their nationality. In previous years, only citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe were eligible.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a story of love and war spanning over six decades. Beginning during World War II, the story follows the life of an Australian surgeon, Dorrigo Evans, who is being held in a prisoner-of-war camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway. As he struggles on the outside to save his men from disease, abuse, starvation and death, he is ravaged on the inside by memories of an affair he had several years earlier with the wife of his uncle. Readers learn not only of Dorrigo’s experiences in the POW camp, but of his childhood in Tasmania, his life before the war in Melbourne, and his experiences once the war is over.

Flanagan worked on this book for twelve years, and the Guardian (UK) calls it, “A masterpiece… a symphony of tenderness and love, a moving and powerful story that captures the weight and breadth of life.”

The other books short listed for the Man Booker Prize were To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, J: a novel, The Lives of Others, and How to be Both.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #488 - “I was made and meant to look for you and wait for you and become yours forever.” ~ Robert Browning

I am so pleased to have discovered The Awakening of Miss Prim * by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, a charming and intelligent debut novel that is already a bestseller in Europe.

An ad for the post of a librarian for a private collection brings Prudencia Prim to the remote French village of San Ireneo de Arnois. Intelligence, highly accomplished and self-assured, she accepts the job (we will find out the reasons soon enough) though she finds the situation highly peculiar. Her employer "the man in the wingchair", a book-loving intellectual, is dashing yet "stubborn, domineering, and arrogant" (his own words), always ready with a critique of her cherished Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. What disturbs Prudencia most is the flock of children that "the man in the wingchair" is determined to home-school with a most unconventional curriculum.

As Prudencia settles into her routine and gets acquainted with the neighbors and the villagers, she finds them capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the modern world outside. Her hope for friendship might indeed open her heart for much more. "Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a distinctive and delightfully entertaining tale of literature, philosophy, and the search for happiness."

In a recent interview with the Madrid-based investigative-journalist-turned-author, she disclosed that the Village of San Irenoe de Arnois is an imaginary place, inspired by the European tradition; where small communities were often built near abbeys; where people’s lives have a human scale; and where tradition and culture are regarded as treasures - a welcome respite and curiosity in "a world that’s so fast and so noisy." Sorry, folks. Hope you haven't packed your bags already.

For Pym and Von Arnim readers, this is an author to watch.

* = starred review

My Life in Middlemarch

All avid readers have at least one book that has had a profound impact on their life. For Rebecca Mead that book is Middlemarch. She explores this connection between individual and text in My Life in Middlemarch, a fabulous mixture of biography, memoir, and literary criticism. Mead demonstrates how a novel can speak to an individual on multiple levels and engage with readers. This is not a typical memoir which is author-centric. Instead the focus is more on George Eliot’s biography and how it relates to her work (Middlemarch in particular).

There is a lovely quote near the middle of the book which captures Mead’s view of literature and the overall tone of My Life in Middlemarch, “A book may not tell us exactly how to live our own lives, but our own lives can teach us how to read a book.”

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #487 - “There are two ways of seeing: with the body and with the soul. The body's sight can sometimes forget, but the soul remembers forever.” ~ Alexandre Dumas

In What is Visible *, debut novelist Kimberly Elkins presents a "wonderfully imaginative and scrupulously researched" fictional memoir of the life and challenges of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind woman to learn language, some fifty years before Helen Keller. Though she was an internationally renowned figure in the mid-19th century, Laura has been all but forgotten by history.

At age 2, Laura lost her sight, hearing, and the ability to taste and smell from scarlet fever. At age 7, she was taken from her family home in Hanover, New Hampshire by Dr. Samuel Howe, founder of the Perkins Institute in Boston, and taught to communicate via hand spelling. Laura soon became celebrated figure attracting hundreds to exhibitions at the Institution, including a visit by Charles Dickens and Dorothea Dix. But Laura suffered greatly when Dr. Howe married and began a family of his own.

"Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Howe, his poet wife Julia, and Laura's beloved teacher Sarah Wight, this is a complex, multilayered portrait of a woman who longed to communicate and to love and be loved. Elkins fully captures her difficult nature and her relentless pursuit of connection."

Blind * * *, a YA debut by Ann Arbor native (Community High) and Alex Award winner (Big Girl Small) Rachel DeWoskin is "one of those rare books that utterly absorbs the reader into the life and experience of another."

When 14 yr. old Emma Sasha Silver loses her eyesight in a freak accident, she must relearn everything from walking across the street to learning to decipher braille. After a year at the Briarly School for the Blind, she is finally able to return home. But just as she is able to start high school and try to recover her friendships and former life, one of her classmates is found dead in an apparent suicide.

"DeWoskin...skillfully balances the pain of loss with the promise of new experiences and discovery.... The life of a formerly sighted teen blossoms in Emma's strong voice as she explores the world, conquers fears, and attempts living everyday life again with her large, bustling, Jewish suburban family. A gracefully written, memorable, and enlightening novel. "

”A vivid, sensory tour of the shifting landscapes of blindness and teen relationships."

* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Texts from Jane Eyre

In the hilarious new book Texts from Jane Eyre, and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Chracters, readers get to see goofy, imagined text conversations involving characters from many well-known books. This fun book is a quick read, and definitely offers some hearty chuckles by placing centuries-old characters in the modern day. I was especially pleased by how well the author, Mallory Ortberg, takes the often-humorous neuroses of these characters and accurately imagines how they would come through via text message. Even the writing style of the book that each character appears in is maintained in the texts. Ortberg initially wrote some “text” series for the website The Toast and you can see those—and get a preview of the book!—here.

Fantasy for Kids: A Snicker of Magic

There’s something magical about Midnight Gulch – or, at least, there used to be. When twelve-year-old Felicity Pickle moves to Midnight Gulch with her little sister Frannie Jo and their wandering-spirit mother, the only magic she is hoping to find is a home. Soon, though, Felicity is caught up in the story of how Midnight Gulch lost its magic and plots a way to break the old curse and bring the magic back.

If you enjoyed recent Newbery-Honor-winners like Savvy or Three Times Lucky, then you should definitely check out A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. All three feature spunky heroines with unique, lyrical voices and surrounded by lovably quirky communities who support our heroines when they need them.

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