Film Adaptation Alert: Me Before You

Jojo Moyes’ novel Me Before You might break your heart, sure, but it’s also going to make you laugh and remember to appreciate the loved ones in your life. The story starts with Will Traynor, a wealthy man with a big appetite for life, in the board room or on his global thrill-seeking expeditions, enduring an accident that leaves him a quadriplegic. Enter Louisa Clark, an ordinary, small-town girl, who lands a position as his caretaker and starts off just trying to get through each day without infuriating him. Eventually, a bond develops, and soon, they find great happiness in each other’s company.

This is a story about knowing your own mind and what it is to love with true unselfishness, and how difficult both of those things can be. It manages to be both meaningful and quirky without becoming too heavy-handed or too wacky. And yeah, you’re going to want to have some tissues handy at the end, but the range of emotions you’ll experience on the way are well worth the tears.

The book has now been adapted into a feature film, starring Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clark and Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin. The movie comes out June 3, and the official trailer has just been released.

Become an Expert in All Things Wheel of Time!

It's been almost 3 years since the final volume of the Wheel of Time series was published, and if you're anything like me, you're ready for more Wheel of Time. Well, we're in luck, because Robert Jordan's wife (and editor) along with others from his editorial staff have published a wonderful companion to the series entitled The Wheel of Time Companion. It is in many respects an encyclopedia of all things Wheel of Time, lovingly put together by the people who knew the series best, along with help from Jordan's notorious record keeping. What you'll see in this book will spoil many of the RAFO (read and find out) moments from the series, so if you're still working your way through the series, read with caution lest you ruin some of the best revelations!

For those new to the series, the Wheel of Time is a series of 14 books (and one prequel) starting with The Eye of the World. Like many epic fantasies, the story deals with an ancient prophecy, the Prophecy of the Dragon, and the return of the Dark One, Shaytan, who was sealed away by male magic users during one of the previous ages of the world. The series has been read by millions of people worldwide. The series was finished by Brandon Sanderson after author Robert Jordan's death.

If you are a fan of epic fantasy, check out the Wheel of Time series. And if you are a fan of the series, you must check out The Wheel of Time Companion.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #578

The Longest Night * * by Andria Williams is inspired by a little-known historical fact - the nation’s only fatal nuclear accident, which occurred on January 3rd, 1961. Williams’ debut explores the lead-up to the tragedy through the eyes of a young army specialist and his wife.

Idaho Falls, 1959. Neither Paul Collier nor Nat(alie) fits in very well in their new home. Paul, the newest enlisted man at the experimental nuclear reactor, is dismayed at the problematic and dangerous condition of the reactor. When a clash with his buffoonish supervisor turns violent, he is deployed to Greenland for 6 months.

Left behind with two young children and pregnant with a third, Nat tries to make friends with the prim-and-proper army wives whose scintillating marital drama play out behind closed doors. But she finds her deepest friendship with a handsome young Mormon cowboy named Esrom, who proves to be both a help and a bright spot in her life, as well as a temptation and fuel for the rumor mill. Upon Paul's return, a nuclear event will force them to make decisions that will alter the course of their lives and others in the community.

"A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way." May we also suggest: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit; You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon; and Changing Light by Nora Gallagher.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #577

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington, the Indie Next List and the American Booksellers Association Indies Debut Pick of the Season, is a coming-of-age novel shot-through with ‘70s rock-n-roll.

Titled after a Neil Young song, it is set in Spencerville, Virginia, 1977, where 8-year-old Richard “Rocky” Askew worships his older brother, Paul, who allows him to tag along as he cruises around in his Chevy Nova, cigarette dangling from his lips, arm slung around the beautiful Leigh, daughter of Judge Bowman.

Unfortunate events pit the Askews against their wealthier neighbors, the Culvers and each other, triggering an unforgivable act of violence from Paul who disappears, but not before taking Leigh with him. Years later, as the Askews are struggling with declining health and financial ruin, Paul returns, looking for redemption and forgiveness. After a mysterious double murder brings terror and suspicion to their small town, Rocky and his family must reckon with the past and find a way to rebuild relationships - with each other, and with the town.

For readers who enjoyed My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh; A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash; and The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #576

One of February 2016 LibraryReads picks, Be Frank with Me * by Julia Claiborne Johnson, is one of the most enjoyable read I have come across for quite awhile.

M.M. (Mimi) Banning, whose first (and only) novel won her the Pulitzer as well as the a National Book Award at age 19, is desperately in need of a new book that would pull her out of financial ruin, having been the victim of Madoff-like investment adviser. Besides a substantial advance, she requires that her publisher send an assistant who "must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane, and no English majors or Ivy Leaguers", to manage her household and her 9 year old son, Frank.

That's how Alice Whitley ends up in the fortress-like Bel Air mansion. While Mimi is prickly and reclusive, it is Frank that wins Alice over, despite the disasters mother and son bring upon themselves. A walking encyclopedia of trivia facts and Hollywood lore, Frank dresses with the flare of a 1930s movie star and speaks with the confidence and wisdom beyond his years. Having no friend of his own age, Frank gradually opens up to Alice. When their sexy family friend Xander shows up, things decidedly take on an interesting turn.

"Johnson's magnificently poignant, funny, and wholly original debut goes beyond page-turner status...Her charming, flawed, quietly courageous characters, each wonderfully different, demand a second reading while we impatiently await the author's second work."

Readalikes: Marisa De los Santos' Love Walked In; Brooke Davis' Lost & Found, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, all fabulous fiction firsts.

* = starred review

Two delightful novels from an unexpected author.

Tove Jansson might be best known for The Moomins, her series of books and comics about a group of hippo-like characters and their Scandinavian home, but she is also responsible for a number of books for adults, two of which I have recently read and enjoyed immensely.

The Summer Book, written in 1972, is a moving and poignant story about a young girl, Sophia, who spends the summer with her grandmother on an island in the gulf of Finland. As the season progresses, these two develop a relationship that blooms with trust and truth, becoming tighter and clearer as the days pass. Their discussions skirt around the death of Sophia’s mother and the absence of her father, yet the seemingly small topics of their exchanges reveal the true nature of the love between girl and grandmother. Their conversation, humorous and sometimes heartrending, sparkles like the clear summer light that fills the book.
“‘Wait a minute!’ Grandmother said. She was very upset. ‘I’m not through! I know I do everything. I’ve been doing everything for an awfully long time, and I’ve seen and lived as hard as I could, and it’s been unbelievable, I tell you, unbelievable. But now I have the feeling everything’s gliding away from me, and I don’t remember, and I don’t care, and yet now is right when I need it!’”

Jansson’s spare writing hides the fact that this book is startlingly complex. As is a book she wrote ten years later, The True Deceiver. Like The Summer Book, The True Deceiver is about the relationship between two women. In most other ways, it is the polar opposite of The Summer Book. The True Deceiver takes place in the dead of winter in an undisclosed Scandinavian location. Where in The Summer Book, the relationship between the main characters grows closer as the story unfolds, here, it dissolves. The True Deceiver is “a novel about truth, deception, self-deception and the honest uses of fiction,” says Ali Smith in her introduction. Katri, the antagonist, is a wolfish loner who moves in with an aging author of children’s books, Anna. Anna is easily manipulated and Katri sets out to take over Anna’s life and finances. As the story proceeds it becomes less clear as to who is the “true deceiver,” who is playing games with whom. The thriller-like, yet haunting quality of this book will keep you turning the pages. The writing is sharp and Jansson’s well-crafted words reflect the nature and surroundings of this Nordic land, the quiet, hushed feeling of her prose mirroring the snowy terrain, hiding what truly lies beneath.

Each of these two books distill the essence of the seasons, the summer light, the weighty, sleepy feeling of it, an old woman who is always fighting exhaustion and a young child for whom summer provides the ultimate adventure and escape from heavier matters. And the dark, heavy snow, the thorough chill and the hush it creates. Two women isolated from a small village, hiding truths from each other and themselves.

As Ali Smith says in her review of The Summer Book in The Guardian , “her [Jansson’s] writing is all magical deception, her sentences simple and loaded.”

Waiting for the Winds of Winter?

Although temperatures and snow have indicated the return of Winter, fans of George R.R. Martin are still waiting for Winter to come. Earlier this month Martin, writing on his blog, indicated that the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire -- The Winds of Winter -- would not be released before the sixth season of Game of Thrones airs on HBO. Many fans were disappointed, but Martin received an outpouring of kind words and support.

In the meantime, thanks to a recently published collection of short stories, those who are jonesing for a jaunt through Westeros can pick up A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by Martin. Join unlikely heroes Dunk and Egg -- a hedge knight and his squire -- as they battle royalty, fight for water rights (way more fun than you’d think), and witness the rise of a usurper.

Martin’s signature writing style is apparent throughout the book and complemented perfectly by Gary Gianni's illustrations.The amount of pure fun (and relatively less death) in the book make it a must read for anyone who has dreamed of enrolling in the lists at a lord’s tournament or just simply relaxing in the shade of a mighty elm.

The Reading List 2016

At the ALA Midwinter in Boston, a committee of 8 librarians announced this past year's best of the best in genre fiction - the Reading List. The winner in each of the 8 categories are:

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Three sisters are driven apart in the aftermath of one’s disappearance. When a violent crime occurs new fears arise and relationships shift again. Long term effects of family grief are exploited by the compulsions of a psychopath. Brutal and disturbing, this is ultimately a story of love and empowerment.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
In this enchanted old-world fable, villagers threatened by a blighted magical wood allow the resident wizard to take one daughter into servitude for ten years. When he chooses klutzy Agnieszka, she faces an unexpected future and confronts the dangers of a wider political world and the roots of magical corruption.

Historical Fiction
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Raised by his eccentric ex-suffragette godmother to be a free-thinker, young Noel is thrown into chaos when the London Blitz forces him into the home of a scam artist loyal only to her layabout son. Thrust together, the two oddballs are forced to find a way through the wartime landscape.

The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Flamboyant antiques dealer Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang made his fortune by accidentally killing a vampire with a horde of treasure. To protect the only person he loves, his niece, he’s forced to return to old Europe to assemble an eccentric team of vampire hunters in this gory, witty caper.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
Cold cases cast a twenty-five year shadow of grief and guilt on the lives of two survivors of traumatic teenage crimes. New leads and new cases bring them back to Oklahoma City as past and present intersect in this poignant and compelling story of lives forever changed by random violence.

Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl
Sassy relationship advice columnist Veronica overcomes her commitment anxiety and gains confidence with the help of mountain-climbing librarian Gabe. Steamy romance evolves into a strong relationship as they scale a mountain of family conflicts and share secrets against a majestic Jackson Hole backdrop.

Science Fiction
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Insurgent Darrow inveigled his way into high Gold society in 2014’s Red Rising. In this dramatic, high octane follow-up, conflicting loyalties and his own ambitions lure Darrow into an untenable web of deceptions. Bolstered by new alliances, Darrow battles to overthrow corrupt lunar leadership and bring freedom to Mars.

Women’s Fiction
Re Jane by Patricia Park
Anxious to escape the strict upbringing of her uncle’s Flushing grocery, Korean-American Jane accepts an au pair position in the pretentious household of two Brooklyn academics and their adopted Chinese daughter. Park has created a bright comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living on one’s own terms.

Check out the complete list for a shortlist of honor titles in each category.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #575

The Blue Line, the first novel by Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian French politician/activist who made headline news when she was kidnapped by the FARC, a brutal terrorist guerrilla organization and rescued six years later. Her memoir Even Silence Has An End : my six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle (2010) was well-received.

Set against the backdrop of Argentina's Dirty War in 1970s and '80s, and infused with magical realism, Betancourt draws on history and personal experience in this story of love, loyalty, and sacrifice.

Julia was 5 years old when she first experienced the "gift", inherited from her grandmother. She was able to see future disasters unfold through the eyes of others and therefore, to intervene. At fifteen, Julia falls in love with Theo, a handsome revolutionary but they were drawn into the political chaos with the return of Juan Peron to Argentina. As Montoneros sympathizers and radical idealists, they were arrested and imprisoned and, brutally tortured. While many of their family members (and innocent citizens) were killed or simply disappeared, they somehow managed to escape but were separated.

The narrative opens some 30 years later, in Connecticut where Julia is working as a translator. The story of how Julia and Theo were reunited gradually comes together.

Read-alikes: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende; and the 2014 International Impac Dublin Literary Award winner The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez where a young man in Bogota reflects on the many ways in which his own life and that of others in his circle, have been shaped by his country's recent violent past.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #574 "So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof, a downpouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood..." ~ Virginia Woolf

Noah's Wife by Lindsay Rebecca Stark draws upon the motifs of the biblical flood story to explore the true meaning of community.

When Noah met his wife on a rain-battered whale-watching ship, the attraction was electric and mutual. The torrential downpour on their wedding day failed to spoil the happy occasion. Now Noah, a charismatic and energetic young minister has been called to a gray and wet little town in the hills where it has been raining for as long as anyone could remember, where everything - including the church is rotting in the rain.

Driven by her desire to help her minister husband revive the congregation, Noah's wife, who "has a talent for bringing out the best in people", is thwarted by the resistance of her eccentric new neighbors, and by Noah's crisis of faith.

As the river water rises, flooding the once-renowned zoo, the animals are evacuated - sending the penguins to the freezer at the local diner, the cheetah to the organist, the red fox to Noah's wife, and the peacocks (nursing a broken wing) to the general store. But the worse is still to come. And it will take everyone working together to keep their world afloat.

"Variously romantic, symbolic, philosophical, feminist, and fanciful, this is an atmospheric tale that meanders to a sweetly rousing conclusion. Forget the ark, forget the patriarch. It's the women who tend to triumph in this modern take on an Old Testament parable."

For character-driven novels about small-town life, readers might try The Next Queen of Heaven by Gregory Maguire; The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman; and The Mitford series by Jan Karon.

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