Fabulous Fiction Firsts #226

The Blindness of the Heart*** is Julia Franck's English language debut (translated from the German by Anthea Bell), - a rich, moving, and complex novel from one of Europe's freshest young voices.

Winner of the German Book Prize (2007) and a finalist for the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, it opens in 1945 with a young mother named Helene standing with her seven-year-old son in a provincial German railway station, amid the chaos of civilians fleeing west. Having survived with him through the horror and deprivation of the war years, Helene abandons her son on the station platform and never returns.

The story quickly circles back to Helene's childhood with her sister Martha in rural Germany at the outbreak of the First World War. As we follow Helene into adulthood, we watch as the costs of survival and ill-fated love turn her into a woman capable of the unforgiveable.

"Franck's impressionistic style and empathy encourage fresh responses to familiar subject matter—fine, disturbing, memorable work." ~Kirkus Reviews. Readers interested in character-driven war stories lyrical and spare, might find much to like in Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian.

*** = starred reviews (Read the New York Times review)

Author Birthdays: Dostoyevsky, Pound, Kimmel

October 30th marks the birthday of authors Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ezra Pound, and Eric A. Kimmel.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a Russian writer, and is probably now best know for his novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Among Dostoyevsky's other works are Notes from Underground, often considered the first existentialist novel, and The Idiot, which tells the story of a socially-outcast epileptic.

Ezra Pound was an early 20th-century American poet. As an expatriate, he lived in London, and later in Italy. During WWII he was imprisoned there for treason because of statements he made about FDR. During that time, he wrote The Pisan Cantos, which were later published as part of a larger work of 120 cantos.

Pound also wrote a long poem called Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. It is made up of 18 shorter poems, the first section of which is a sort of autobiographical epitaph. For more on this man's troubled life, you can read one of the many biographies we have on him.

Eric A. Kimmel is a Jewish-American children's book author. He won the Caldecott Honor and Newbury Honor for his picture book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, as well as the Sydney Taylor Book Award for The Chanukkah Guest and Gershon's Monster.

Kimmel does not only write picture books, nor does he do exclusively Jewish tales. He has many other folklore stories in his grasp, like the Russian Baba Yaga, the Norwegian Boots and His Brothers, and the Mexican The Witch's Face. Also, his story of The Gingerbread Man has been described as having a "strong narrative, good dialogue, and a fine chorus" by School Library Journal Review.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #225 (What's New in Paranormal Romance)

So you think you don't read romance. Well, you might want to think again. If you had dismissed Romance as a genre for its characteristic lack of character development, these two titles might change your mind.

Christine Feehan, spins-off on her Drake Sisters series with Water Bound*, - the first in her Sisters of the Heart series.

Again, set on the shores of Sea Haven (inspired by lovely Mendocino), sea urchin diver Rikki Sitmore rescues a man from drowning, a man with no memory yet he possess the violent instincts of a trained killer.

"Feehan takes readers into turbulent, uncharted waters as a courageous, high-functioning autistic heroine with the power of a water mage is paired with a tormented hero with numerous psychic gifts and major issues of his own, delivering an edgy, compelling, character-rich (contemporary) romance".

One Touch of Scandal** by Liz Carlyle is a supernatural Victorian trilogy opener.

Accused of murdering her employer, governess Grace Gauthier begs the mysterious--and possibly dangerous--Lord Ruthveyn to help her unmask the real killer and clear her name.

A dark-eyed Lucifer, Ruthveyn guards his secrets and his shadowed past carefully. Grace’s plight and her quiet beauty moves him. He is determined to save Grace. But his growing passion places his own heart at risk and threatens to expose his dark gifts to the world.

"Grace's tenacity, wit, and compassion make her a very believable, multidimensional character and the perfect match for Ruthveyn's brooding and dark secrets. The romance sizzles, its unpredictability propelling this complex story far beyond its contemporaries."

* (*) = starred review(s)

Author Birthdays: Crichton, Korman, Burroughs

October 23rd marks the birthday of authors Michael Crichton, Gordon Korman, and Augusten Burroughs.

Michael Crichton was an American author and screenwriter, probably most famous for Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, both of which were novels turned into movies. Among his lesser known--but critically praised--works is A Case of Need, his debut and award-winning mystery novel.

Crichton's final work, published the year after his death, is Pirate Latitudes. As you might guess from the title, it's about a 17th-century Caribbean pirate trying to take a Spanish galleon.

Gordon Korman is a 47-year-old Canadian children's and young adult author. He won the Air Canada Award for promising authors in Canada when he was only 16. He also has many ALA recognitions for his young adult novels.

Korman has written many youth series, including the Everest, Island, and Dive series. He also wrote the second book in the 39 Clues series, One False Note.

Augusten Burroughs is an American writer, best known for his novel Running with Scissors. The story was intended by Burroughs to be a "memoir" of a family, which he later had to call a "book", since the family it was based on sued. The story was made into a film in 2006.

Burroughs' latest work was published last year. Called You Better Not Cry: Stories For Christmas, it's a set of short autobiographical stories relating to the holidays.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #224

First-time novelist John Verdon created an extraordinary fiction debut in Think of a Number**.

This suspense thriller begins in the idyllic Catskills (NY) where Dave Gurney, one of the most celebrated NYPD homicide detectives retires from a life dominated by violent crimes and attempts to repair a strained marriage rocked by personal tragedies. Then a college friend showed him a series of taunting letters that end with “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.” Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly. What begins as a diverting puzzle quickly ignites into a massive serial murder investigation.

Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates. An absolutely fresh brain-twister and a compulsive page-turner.

** = starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Wilde, O'Neill, Grass

October 16th marks the birthday of authors Oscar Wilde, Eugene O'Neill, and Gunter Grass.

Oscar Wilde was an Irish novelist and playwright who was exiled to France after being convicted for being a gay man. You can read about this imprisonment in one of his poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Wilde's most famous works include the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and one of his plays, The Importance of Being Earnest, both of which have been made into films.

Eugene O'Neill was a Nobel-winning American playwright. Some of his plays won Pulitzer Prizes, including Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, and Strange Interlude. He also had a Swedish stage acting award named in his honor.

O'Neill's plays are often tragic and pessimistic. This can perhaps be seen the best in his play Long Day's Journey Into Night, which is a sort of biography of his family. The play was made into films in 1962 and 1987.

Günter Grass is a Nobel-winning German novelist. He is probably most well-known in the States for his first novel, The Tin Drum, which is the first in the Danzig Trilogy. The book was also made into a German language film.

The most recent of Grass's works to be translated into English, aside from his autobiography, is called Crabwalk. It describes the sinking of a German refugee ship in 1945 by a Soviet submarine. The ship, MV Wilhelm Gustloff, really existed, though Grass's characters are fictional.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #223

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe* is NOT, a how-to manual. Author Charles Yu a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award winner (for his short story collection Third Class Superhero) delivers his debut novel, a razor-sharp, ridiculously funny, and utterly touching story of a son searching for his father . . . through quantum space-time.

Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time-travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician—part counselor, part gadget repair man—steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally.

When he’s not taking client calls, Yu visits his mother (stuck in a onehour cycle, she makes dinner over and over and over) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. Accompanied by TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog named Ed, and using a book titled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe as his guide, Yu sets out, and back, and beyond, in order to find the one day where he and his father can meet in memory.

"A fascinating, philosophical and disorienting thriller about life and the context that gives it meaning."

Critics are comparing Yu to Mark Danielewski and an early Douglas Adams. Don't miss this one.

* = Starred review

More October's Books to Film

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The Social Nework, considered by people in-the-know as perhaps, the best film of the year, is based on Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires : the founding of Facebook, a tale of sex, money, genius and betrayal - a fast-paced, inside look at a story of fortune gained and innocence lost, and how a company that was created to bring people together ultimately tore two friends apart.

In 2003, Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg were Harvard undergrads and best friends looking for a way to stand out among the university’s elite and competitive student body. Then one lonely night, Zuckerberg hacked into the campus computer system to pull off a prank that crashed Harvard’s network. This stunt almost got him expelled, but it also inspired Zuckerberg to create Facebook, the social networking site, and their small start-up quickly went from college dorm room to Silicon Valley. But different ideas about Facebook’s future tested their relationship that eventually spiraled into out-and-out warfare.

Opening this weekend is Red, a star-studded espionage-thriller, based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis (writer) and artist Cully Hammer.

Paul Moses (Bruce Willis) retired -- until the CIA, his former employer decided he was too dangerous to live. When a kill team interrupts his solitude, he changes his status from green to red. As the bodies pile up, the men who set this ruthless killer back into action feel safe in their Langley offices without realizing that Moses has a different plan.

Author Birthdays: Bunin, Narayan, Barthelme

October 10th marks the birthday of authors Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, R. K. Narayan, and Frederick Barthelme, among others.

Ivan Alekseevich Bunin was a Russian author, and the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote novels, poetry, and short stories, as well as a commentary on Leo Tolstoy, which is somewhat autobiographical. We have a few books of his collected short stories in our collection. One of the more well-known stories is Sukhodol, which was supposedly a biography of his family.

Bunin's real star work is the first full-length novel, which made him famous in Russia. Entitled The Village, it is a realistic portrayal of village life in Russia during the Revolution.

R. K. Narayan was an Indian writer, nominated multiple times for the Nobel Prize, though he never won. Of his works, The Guide is perhaps the most praised. It is a novel that shows the change of an Indian man into a sort of spiritual mentor. Spirituality seems to be a common theme for Narayan, as he also wrote a few Hindu religious retellings, like Gods, Demons, and Others and a modern prose version of The Mahabharata.

Narayan's novels are often based in the fictional town called Malgudi, including his first, Swami and Friends, which got him noticed by fellow author Graham Greene.

Frederick Barthelme is an American author and editor of The Mississippi Review literary magazine. He is the brother of fellow author Donald Barthelme.

Barthelme's latest book is called Waveland. Set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Booklist called it a "...powerfully atmospheric story of loneliness and risk". You can read an interview from last year about it at Fictionaut Blog.

October's Family-Friendly Books to Film

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Based on the remarkable true story in William Nack's Secretariat : the making of a champion, the film chronicles the spectacular journey of the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Housewife and mother Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane) agrees to take over her ailing father’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery, with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and what may be the greatest racehorse of all time.

Already in theaters is the animated IMAX 3D Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based on the first 3 books in Kathryn Lasky's ever-popular fantasy series The Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

After Soren, a young owlet, is pushed from his family's nest by his older brother, he's plucked from the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school, the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owl, where Soren suspects there is more to the school than meets the eye. He and his new friend, the clever and scrappy Gylfie, find out that St. Aggie's is actually a training camp where the school's leader can groom young owls to help achieve her goal--to rule the entire owl kingdom. Later they meet with two more orphaned owls, the indomitable Twilight and pensive Digger, and the four form a band as they journey to a refuge that may exist only in legend--the Great Ga'Hoole Tree.

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