December's Books to Film

Steven Spielberg directs the animated film adaptation of The Adventures of TINTIN. This first of a planned triogy is base on a very popular comic book series created in 1929 by a Belgian artist who called himself Hergé. Clever and ever-curious, TINTIN is a reporter-turned-detective whose pursuit of villains, criminals, treasure and the occasional artifact takes him all over the world, along with a colorful cast of friends. Hergé based his stories on real-world events and cultures - from space exploration to Arab oil wars.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's critically acclaimed novel in which 9 year-old Oskar Schell embarks on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York in order to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

I was perfectly happy with the original film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in his Millennium Trilogy. But I could be persuaded to take in the American remake coming this month with some irresistible big names (Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer) and a sizzling newcomer (Rooney Mara).

Benjamin Mee's memoir is adapted in the feature film We Bought a Zoo. Benjamin Mee, a former newspaper columnist, known for his humorous "Do It Yourself" column in the UK’s Guardian Weekend moved his family to an unlikely new home: a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside. Mee had a dream to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. Nothing was easy, given the family’s lack of experience as zookeepers, and what follows is a magical exploration of the mysteries of the animal kingdom, the power of family, and the triumph of hope over tragedy.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #301

British historian (Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, And Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, which was made into a television mini series in 1999) Stella Tillyard brings a dramatic flare to her well-crafted and meticulously researched debut novel Tides of War * .

Set in Regency England, this epic tale rides the line between romance and adventure. Newly married and charmingly unconventional Harriet is left behind when husband James leaves to fight alongside the Duke of Wellington at the Peninsular War (1812-15) in Spain. As Harriet befriends the older and protective Kitty, Lady Wellington, her life begins to change in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, James is seduced by the violence of battle, and then by Camile Florens.

"With dazzling skill Stella Tillyard explores not only the effects of war on the men at the front but also the freedoms it offers the women left behind." We watch as the city of London - a city in love with science, the machine, and money ushers in modernity. Characters real and fictional such as émigrés investor/banker Nathan Rothschild, scientist Frederick Winsor, Spanish artist Francisco Goya, and Surgeon General James McGrigor add verisimilitude to the layered plot.

This debut novel will delight fans of Bernard Cornwell who like their historicals fast-paced and action-packed. Cecelia Holland and Philippa Gregory fans would appreciate the romance element and gorgeous period details.

* = starred review

Of Dragons and Singing Ships...

Anne McCaffrey, author of nearly 100 books, and best known for the Dragonriders of Pern series, died of a stroke on Monday at her home in Ireland. She was 85. She will be remembered as the writer who created magical worlds full of daring female characters whether riding dragons or navigating ships. The way women were portrayed in scifi/fantasy was transformed by her. Some of her books were written as a response to how women were unrealistically portrayed in the mostly male-dominated genre of scifi/fantasy at the time. McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award, for her first Pern novella "Weyr Search"(in 1968) published in the magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and the first woman to win a Nebula for her 2nd Pern story, Dragonrider (in 1969). These two stories plus a third ultimately became her first Pern novel, Dragonflight. Her other book, White Dragon was the first hard cover science fiction book to make the New York Times bestseller list. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. Other series she will be remembered for include the Crystal Singer series, the Petaybee series, and the Acorna series, to name a few.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #300

How often would one come across a novel inspired by execution? One that was a runaway bestseller in Germany when it was first released, and sold over 200,000 copies in the U.S. as an Amazon e-book? I could only think of one.

Time: 1659
Setting: Shongua, an impoverish Bavarian village ravaged by war, plague and time
The Novel: The Hangman's Daughter

When a dying boy pulled from the river bears an ancient mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, the local midwife is quickly accused of witchcraft. Hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to coerce a confession out of her (by torture if necessary), to spare the village of fear and dark memories. When more children disappear, the mounting hysteria threatens to erupt into chaos. Jakob is convinced that the midwife is innocence but his might be the lone voice of reason if not for his clever and headstrong daughter Magdelena and Simon, the university-educated son of the town's physician (who is hopelessly in love with Magdelena against convention and his father's wishes). The three must race against the clock to unravel the truth, catch the real killer in order to prevent further bloodshed. In the meantime, they unknowingly place themselves in the path of true evil.

"Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangman’s Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria", telling the engrossing story of a compassionate and courageous man.

"Pötzsch... delivers a fantastically fast-paced read, rife with details on the social and power structures in the town as well as dichotomy between university medicine and the traditional remedies, which are skillfully communicated through character interactions, particularly that of Magdalena and Simon. The shocking motivations from unlikely players provide for a twist that will leave readers admiring this complex tale from a talented new voice."

Debut novelist Oliver Pötzsch descends from the Kuisls, a well-known line of Bavarian executioners who beheaded prisoners by sword. There were 14 hangmen in the family, spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. Each inheriting the profession from his father, and each had to undergo a rigorous training that culminated in the executioner’s having to produce a “masterpiece” beheading in order to receive proper certification.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #299

Former TIME Jerusalem Bureau Chief Matt Rees, known for his award-winning Omar Yussef mystery series set in modern day Palestine, now brings to his devoted readers a historical stand-alone set in late 18th century Vienna.

When Madame Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenburg (known to her family as Nannerl) received news of her estranged younger brother Amadeus Mozart's death in December 1791, she rushed to Vienna to pay her final respect. Grief turned to suspicion as Nannerl learned that Mozart told his wife he was being poisoned. Soon she found herself ensnared in a web of intrigue and drama among jealous lovers, sinister creditors, rival composers, secret societies and came to learn a side of her brother she had not known.

In Mozart's Last Aria *, "Rees nails the details of Mozart's Vienna with precision, seasoning his story with musical details that will delight fans of classical music. The author renders Nannerl very sympathetic and teases in a touch of romance that is both bittersweet and unexpected. ... A beautiful book illuminated by the author's own musical background that moves slowly and deliberately to a fine conclusion. "

For historical mystery with a strong sense of place and a touch or romance, try also works by Deanna Raybourn and C.S. Harris.

* = starred review

November's Books to Film (You KNOW! the season is upon us)

Brian Selznick's charming Caldecott Medal winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret : a novel in words and pictures (2007) is one for the whole family to hit the big screen on November 23rd. In this moving and entertaining film adaptation, an orphaned boy secretly lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station and looks after the clocks. He gets caught up in a mystery adventure when he attempts to repair a mechanical man. Martin Scorsese directs a star-studded cast of Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law.

Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is the highly anticipated next chapter of the blockbuster The Twilight Saga. The new-found married bliss of Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen is cut short when a series of betrayals and misfortunes threatens to destroy their world. Wide release on the 18th, savvy fans know the drill.

The gritty noir novel London Boulevard (2001) by Ken Bruen has been adapted into a feature film starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone. An ex-con hired to look after a reclusive young actress finds himself falling in love, which puts him in direct confrontation with one of London's most vicious gangsters.

In A Dangerous Method, adapted from the book by John Kerr, on the eve of World War I, Zurich and Vienna are the setting for a dark tale of sexual and intellectual discovery. Drawn from true-life events, it explores the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the beautiful but disturbed young woman who comes between them. Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, and Viggo Mortensen.

George Clooney, Judy Greer, and Matthew Lillard star in The Descendants, adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Wealthy Hawaiian landowner Matt King has his life upended when his wife, Joanie, is involved in a boating accident. King struggles to reconnect with his two daughters as the three of them take a journey to deliver the news of Joanie's imminent death to the man with whom she was having an affair.

My Week With Marilyn, is based on Colin Clark’s (played by Eddie Redmayne) controversial memoir. The film centers on the tense relationship between Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) during production of The Prince and the Showgirl. In the early summer of 1956, 23-year-old Colin Clark, just down from Oxford and determined to make his way in the film business, worked as a lowly assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. In his diary, one week was missing, and this is the story of that week when Colin introduced Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #298

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is the first title in our collection by novelist Monique Roffey, made memorable in its audiobook format by the narrator.

Adjoa Andoh is an accomplished British film, television, stage and radio actor who made her Hollywood debut as Nelson Mandela's Chief of Staff Brenda Mazikubio in Clint Eastwood's Invictus. She brings drama and texture in narrating this story of a marriage both passionate and tortured - between expat. George (British), Sabine Harwood (she is French) and Trinidad, the island that came between them.

Lush, and full of opportunities for a white man, George was immediately seduced by the landscape, and the easy expat. lifestyle, stretching a 3-year contract stay into a lifetime. Sabine hated the incessant heat, humidity, and the savage brutality of an island awakening to nationalism where the colonials were barely tolerated. In the early days, the only comfort which Sabine took was in the green bicycle that she rode all over the island oblivious to the stares and speculation, and her secret fascination with the charismatic freedom fighter Eric Williams, an Oxford-educated black man.

"Roffey succeeds wonderfully in writing an informative and deeply moving novel about her homeland. The white woman on the green bicycle is in fact her mother."

"Narrator Adjoa Andoh becomes each of the characters in turn, flawlessly giving voice to a variety of accents--from the languid and lilting cadence of the natives of Trinidad to the clipped and imperial English of the main character, Sabine. In addition to being a virtual chameleon in the realm of accents, Andoh portrays both men and women with equal ease and breathes life into each character so that the listener is apt to forget that anyone is narrating at all. As a result, it is less of a listen and more of an experience."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #297

Michigan author Caitlin Horrocks will be at Nicola's on Friday, November 11 @ 7pm to read from her debut collection of short stories This Is Not Your City *.

In these darkly comic stories, 11 women confront dramas both everyday and outlandish. Isolated by geography, emotion, or circumstance they find no simple escapes. Their acts of faith and acts of imagination in making do are as shrewd as they are surprising.

The first story "Zolaria" in particular hits close to home. Though the title of the collection cautions one that it is not your city, Ann Arborites will recognize landmarks such as Little Sister Lake, Dolph Park, Wagner & Newport roads, Forsythe Junior High,and the gas station at Miller and Maple that stood empty for years. In this story a young mother looks back on the enduring yet troubled bond with a childhood friend and its chilling effect on her relationship with her young daughters.

In "Going to Estonia," Ursula's desire for a relationship leads her into an unusual involvement with her Helsinki neighbor.

In the titular story, Daria, a mail-order bride struggles with the barricades of culture and family after her teenage daughter goes missing.

"Many of the stories are bleak, painfully and realistically detailing lives gone awry, to sometimes disturbing effect" but they never fail to offer earnest and compelling perspectives.

A note about the author... (Visit her website)

Caitlin Horrocks lives in Michigan by way of Ohio, Arizona, England, Finland, and the Czech Republic. Her stories and essays appear in The Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize , The Paris Review, among others. Her work has won awards including the Plimpton Prize, and a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Fellowship. Currently, she is an assistant professor of writing at Grand Valley State University. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the writer W. Todd Kaneko.

* = Starred review

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan

"Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to / and things go from bad to worse / darkness overcomes you / nobody understands / the world is a deaf machine / without sense or reason."

This begins The Red Tree, the first of three stories collected in the book, Lost & Found, by author + illustrator, Shaun Tan. The illustrations are evocative, surreal, and emotionally striking, a visual mixtape of tones and images of alienation and isolation that recall the likes of David Lynch, Tim Burton, and Chris Van Allsburg.

I lingered on one richly imagined page for five full minutes, allowing the words, "wonderful things are passing you by," play on repeat in my head as I became the red haired girl in the illustration, locked behind a window, staring out at a flying machine trailed by butterflies and heading toward a crimson sunset through the clouds. The reading experience was both an escape to a strange place as well as a deeply empathetic moment for that feeling of alone-ness and apart-ness from the world. This collision of complex -- and often dissimilar -- human emotions is the brilliance of Shaun Tan's work.

There is more hope in each story than I'm letting on. But it is a hope tempered by the notion that even a happy outcome cannot erase sadness or fill a lingering emptiness. This is a book that both adults and children will feel a powerful connection to, and it will draw readers back to find something that they might not have lost, but have missed without knowing it.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #296

Release scheduled for this coming week, first in the projected Nina Borg mystery series, The Boy in the Suitcase * marks the debut of co-authors Lene Kaaberbol (visit the website of this well-respected teen author) and Agnete Friis.

When asked by an estranged friend Karin to help retrieve a suitcase from a locker at the main Copenhagen train station, Nina Borg, Red Cross nurse and a compulsive do-gooder can't refuse. After dragging it home, Nina discovers inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive. When Karin is brutally murdered, Nina realizes that her life and the boy's are in jeopardy. In an increasingly desperate trek across Denmark, Nina tries to figure out who the boy is, where he belongs, and who exactly is trying to hunt him down.

Winner of the 2008 Harald Mogensen Award for Best Danish Crime Novel, and a finalist for the Scandinavian Glass Key Award, this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of Scandinavian crime fiction, many also by women writers with strong female protagonists.

* = starred review

Syndicate content