Fabulous Fiction Firsts #264

It's not just another love story and I bet you would enjoy it.

Haley Tanner's wondrous debut Vaclav and Lena * speaks eloquently about the tenacity of young love.

Set in the Russian immigrant community at Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other since they met on a play date as children. Apart from the shared émigré subculture, the struggle to fit in and to get ahead, they also share a consuming secret - a magic act that they would perform at Coney Island's Boardwalk as "Vaclav the Magnificent and Lena, his lovely assistant".

One day, Lena disappears as if by a cruel magic trick. Angry and brokenhearted, Vaclav steadfastly says goodnight to Lena every night without fail for the next seven years. Then on her 17th birthday, Lena simply reappears, and with an unusual request for Vaclav.

"Haley Tanner (check out her website) has the originality and verve of a born storyteller, and the boldness to imagine a world in which love can overcome the most difficult circumstances. In Vaclav & Lena she has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else."

Bittersweet and captivating. An upbeat readalike for Nicole Krauss' The History of Love.

* = Starred Review

Author Birthdays: Baum, Porter, Bulgakov

May 15th marks the birthday of authors L. Frank Baum, Katherine Anne Porter, and Mikhail Bulgakov.

L. Frank Baum was an American children's author most well known for his story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; there were at least 17 total Oz books that Baum wrote.

Baum also wrote short stories about the magical land of Mo. You may be interested in looking up other books by Baum which were actually published under the pseudonyms Edith Van Dyne, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cooke, Suzanne Metcalf, and Laura Bancroft.

Katherine Anne Porter was an American writer and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner (for The Collected Stories). She was also nominated numerous times for the Nobel Prize.

Porter's novel Ship of Fools was a best-seller and was made into a film starring Gone with the Wind's Vivien Leigh.

Mikhail Bulgakov was a Russian playwright and novelist. His most well known work was The Master and Margarita, a novel about the Devil visiting Soviet Russia. The book is something of a cult favorite now.

In addition, we have a collection of six of Bulgakov's plays. There is also another of Bulgakov's novels at AADL, Heart of a Dog, which is a strange story about a dog-turned-kind-of-man.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #263

Touch *, Alexi Zentner's debut is set in Sawgamet, a north woods boomtown gone bust, where the cold of winter breaks the glass of the schoolhouse thermometer, and the dangers of working in the cuts are overshadowed by the mysteries and magic lurking in the woods. Stephen, a pastor, is at home on the eve of his mother's funeral, thirty years after the mythic summer his grandfather returned to the town in search of his beloved but long-dead wife. And like his grandfather, Stephen is forced to confront the losses of his past.

"Touch introduces you to a world where monsters and witches oppose singing dogs and golden caribou, where the living and the dead part and meet again in the crippling beauty of winter and the surreal haze of summer."

It brings to mind another powerful debut Three Day Road by fellow Canadian Joseph Boyden. It is a stunning tale of brutality, survival, and rebirth set in Northern Ontario where Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman journeyed to retrieve Xavier Bird, her only relation, who has returned from the trenches of Europe, gravely wounded and addicted to morphine.

Sharron Smith, a librarian who knows everything Canadian (mostly books and authors), also suggests Gil Adamson's The Outlander as a readalike for its setting (wilderness); the suspense (the deadly pursuit of a young woman accused of murder); the style (slow and lyrical unfolding of the storyline); and the elements of magical realism.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #262

After the second ice age, America Pacifica is one of the last habitable places and it is the only home that 18 year-old Darcy ever known. The island is ruled by a mysterious dictator named Tyson where education, food and the basic means of survival are strictly rationed and controlled by the "chosen" few.

Darcy lives a hand-to-mouth existence with her mother Sarah, a pearl diver by trade, in a leaky apartment. When Sarah disappears, Darcy embarks on a quest to find her. Along the way, Darcy learns about her island home's history, the secrets her mother guarded fiercely, and the same secrets that now put Darcy in mortal danger.

In Anna North's richly imagined debut novel set in the near future, she chooses to downplay the "science" aspects in favor of a more naturalist and realistic narrative, from the perspective of a likable heroine who is plucky and resourceful as she is melancholic and vulnerable. "An entertaining, stylishly written doomsday novel."

Readers looking for a readalike to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games might find Darcy a new protagonist to root for.

Fans of post-apocalyptic dystopian, global-disaster survival story might also enjoy the Flood series by Stephen Baxter.

Author Birthdays: Leroux, Jarrell, White

May 6th marks the birthday of authors Gaston Leroux, Randall Jarrell, and Theodore White.

Gaston Leroux was a French author most known for his novel The Phantom of the Opera, which has been made into both a musical and a few films.

Leroux also wrote detective novels, two of which have been translated into English: The Mystery of the Yellow Room and The Perfume of the Lady in Black, which are both part of the series on the character Joseph Rouletabille.

Randall Jarrell was an American writer of poetry, children's books, and essays. We have his Complete Poems here at AADL; his collection The Woman at the Washington Zoo won the National Book Award for poetry is within it.

Among Jarrell's works for children, we have The Animal Family, a Newbery Honor Book, and The Bat-Poet, which was illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are).

Theodore H. White was an American historian. His book The Making of the President, 1960 won the Pulitzer for General Nonfiction in 1962. It details the election of JFK, and is the first in a "series" of books about elections.

White's other works include Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon, about the Watergate scandal, and his autobiography, In Search of History: A Personal Adventure.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #261

Amanda Hodgkinson's debut 22 Britannia Road * is "... (a) tour de force that echoes modern classics like Suite Francaise and The Postmistress". It is an eloquent, heart-wrenching account of one couple's struggle to reunite as a family after devastating wartime experiences.

When Janusz Nowak brings his wife and young son to the little house at 22 Britannia Road (Ipswich), they meet again after years of separation, almost as strangers. When Germany invaded Warsaw in 1939 Janusz enlisted, leaving Silvana and Aurek living lean and rough in the forest with other survivors. Finally liberated, they hope desperately for a fresh start as a family, only to find that their reunion is marred by mistrust, guilty secrets and things they thought they had left behind.

"Hodgkinson enters boldly into well-trodden, sensitive territory and distinguishes herself with freshness and empathy". A stellar example of literary WWII fiction.

Amanda Hodgkinson will be at Nicola Books, for reading and signing on May 12th.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #260

The title of both Steve Earle's new album and debut novel I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive * is taken from the Hank Williams song by the same name - his last single released during his lifetime. On January 1,1953 on the way to a concert, Williams suffered a fatal heart attack. He was only 29.

The novel opens in 1963 with Doc Ebersole, haunted by guilt (he is rumored to have given his good friend Hank the fatal morphine dose), wracked by addiction (morphine), a habit he supports by performing illegal abortions and other services in the seedy neighborhood of South San Antonio. Then he meets Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant in need of his services, and miraculous things begin to happen. Though Graciela sustains a wound on her wrist that never heals, she could heals others with the touch of her hand, even Doc.

Veteran singer-songwriter-actor, and author of an earlier collection of short stories Doghouse Roses, Steve Earle writes about what his knows, from his hometown of San Antonio, the music industry, to the hard & fast life on the road - morphine, mortality and once in a great while if luck would have it, miracles.

Check out Steve's tour dates this spring/summer to promote the album and the novel. He will be playing at The Majestic Theater in Detroit on July 30th, 2011.

* = Starred review

Author Birthdays: Niven, Dillard, Boyne

April 30th marks the birthday of authors Larry Niven, Annie Dillard, and John Boyne.

Larry Niven is an American author of science fiction. He is probably most well known for Ringworld, a winner of many literary awards, which has three sequels and a few prequels.

Niven's latest works include Stars and Gods, a collection of short stories and pieces of non-fiction, Betrayer of Worlds, a prelude to Ringworld, and The Best of Larry Niven, a collection of short stories with the author's explanations for them.

Annie Dillard is an American writer and former contributing editor of Harper's magazine. Her most well known work is The Maytrees, a story of "loving and longing", which was named one of the Top 10 Best Books of 2007 by the New York Times Book Review.

Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book about religion and philosophy in the style of a journal. She also has written a book of found poems called Mornings Like This.

John Boyne is an Irish author; you may have heard of his novel The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, which was also made into a film. His forthcoming novel is called The Absolutist, set to come out in the UK in May.

Boyne's other books include The Thief of Time, a mixture of historical fiction and fantasy about a boy born in the 18th century who doesn't age, and Crippen, a mystery set in the early 20th century.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #259

Who could resist a love story?

The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon's fiction debut comes on the heel of her well-received memoir - Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey, that chronicles the year-long series of bus journeys through a Pennsylvania city alongside her mentally disabled sister and the lessons she learned. It has been adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, starring Rosie O'Donnell and Andie MacDowell.

Her novel is the love story between a developmentally disabled young white woman and a deaf African American that span 40 years, despite insurmountable obstacles. On a rainy night in 1968, Lynnie Goldberg and Homan Wilson escaped from The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and found short-lived refuge with a retired schoolteacher, Martha. When Lynnie was being recaptured, Homan fled, leaving Martha to care for their infant daughter delivered in her attic. Over the next 40 years, Lynnie and Homan never stopped searching for each other.

While the description of life for the institutionalized is bleak and heartbreaking, one is sustained by the overwhelming love and faith between Lynnie and Homan, and the fortuitous (and inspiring) kindness of strangers.

For other titles about the developmentally disabled, try Like Normal People by Karen E. Bender and Small Victories : a novel by Sallie Bingham.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #258

In Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman living with Asperger's syndrome, in the attic of her family's enormous and historic home must learn to care for herself with her parents' unexpected death. Now her yuppie sister, Amanda wants to sell the house. Grieving Ginny retreats into her obsession with cooking, and at the wake, a batch of her Nonna's ribollita conjures up not only rich aroma and old family secrets, but also a ghost or two.

McHenry's debut novel is a "sensitive and realistic portrait of someone living with Asperger's,... (and) a touching tale about loss and grief, love and acceptance".

The author is an amateur cook who grew up in Michigan and Iowa. She now lives in New York, blogging about food and cooking at the Simmer blog.

Fans of foodie/culinary-themed Women's Fiction are no doubt familiar with Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients, Melissa Senate's The Love Goddess' Cooking School, and the lovely (and ghostly/magical) confections of Sarah Addison Allen.

Also hot-off-the-press in this genre are: Friendship Bread by Darien Gee (Pub. April 2011) and (audio) The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted: A Novel by Bridget Asher (Pub. March 2011).

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