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).

Author Birthdays: Shakespeare, Marsh, Laxness

April 23rd marks the birthday of authors William Shakespeare, Ngaio Marsh, and Halldor Laxness.

William Shakespeare was and is probably the most well-known English poet and playwright in history. You may know him for writing Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Love's Labour's Lost, and Twelfth Night. Almost all of his plays have been produced on stage, in film, or both.

Shakespeare's lesser known works, though I feel silly saying that at all, may be some of his many histories, like Coriolanus, about a Roman leader; Troilus and Cressida, a story of the Trojan War; Cymbeline, about a legendary British king and his daughter; or The Life and Death of King John, about the famed signer of the Magna Carta.

Ngaio Marsh was a writer from New Zealand who is probably best known for her detective novels. Her name may also be familiar to those who watch the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, since the show is based on her works about Roderick Alleyn.

Marsh also wrote short stories, which we have collected in Alleyn And Others: The Collected Short Fiction Of Ngaio Marsh. She wrote so many books that I don't know, really, which one to talk about, so I'm going with the best title: Killer Dolphin, an Alleyn mystery set in the Dolphin Theater.

Halldor Laxness was an Icelandic author and Nobel Prize winner. He wrote three rounds of stories that focused on the Icelandic people: Salka Valka, Independent People, and The Light of the World (also called World Light).

Laxness also wrote The Fish Can Sing, called by the publisher "a poignant coming-of-age tale marked with his peculiar blend of light irony and dark humor". It tells the story of an orphan who changes his dream of becoming a fisherman when he meets an Icelandic celebrity.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #257

In Paul Elwork's atmospheric debut The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead * 13 year-old twins Emily and Michael Stewart, privileged, precocious and orphaned from the Great War are allowed to roam aimlessly around their family's estate along the Delaware River until one day Emily discovers a special "gift" that they take to fool the neighborhood children as "spirit knockings".

Somehow this game of contacting the dead catches on with adults reeling from loss and grief, desperate to believe in life after death. In the meantime, Emily is trying to piece together her own family's history, reaching back to plantation life in Virginia, and discovering family secrets planted along the way.

Loosely based on true events from the early 20th century, this "subtle and moving portrayal of people in the grip of powerful emotions that overwhelm rational thinking will haunt readers long after they put the book down." "Family secrets, a love triangle, and a duplicitous magician add to the darkening atmosphere of a thought-provoking novel that blurs the boundaries between faith and trickery."

* = starred review

Gatsby House Demolished

F. Scott Fitzgerald who immortalized the decade long era known as the roaring 1920s with his book The Great Gatsby has been hit with sad news. The renowned white mansion commonly known as Land's End which inspired the posh residence of Daisy Buchanan is being demolished.

At the height of its glory during the 1920s and 1930s, the mansion was host to lavish parties and was known to be frequented by Fitzgerald himself, along with Winston Churchill, The Marx Brothers, and Ethel Barrymore. It was twenty-four thousand square feet and was located near a bird sanctuary. The mansion was staffed by twenty people, maintained a tennis court, a seventy-foot swimming pool, and two sandy beaches on the premises.

Located in Long Island the great white mansion had fallen into such disrepair that there was no other choice but to demolish the famed residence. In its place a cluster of new homes will go up bringing close to another iconic feature of the roaring 1920s.

April's Books to Film

Directed by Julian Schnabel, starring Hiam Abbass , Freida Pinto, Makram J. Khoury , Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave, Miral is based on the novel by Rula Jebreal, translated from the Italian by John Cullen.

Spanning the years 1948-1994, Miral revolves around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and real-life Palestinian woman Hind Husseini, who started the Dar Al-Tifl orphanage in Jerusalem in the wake of the 1948 partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel.

miralmiral

Soul Surfer is based on the book Soul Surfer : a true story of faith, family, and fighting to get back on the board, about Bethany Hamilton. It is the inspiring story of a talented teen surfer who lost her left arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, through sheer determination and unwavering faith.

Author Birthdays: James, ten Boom, Archer

April 15th marks the birthday of authors Henry James, Corrie ten Boom, and Jeffrey Archer.

Henry James was an American writer, probably best known for his novella The Turn of the Screw, often spoken of in terms of its ambiguity; (it is uncertain whether the main character is experiencing ghosts, or psychological repression.)

James has many other stories worth mentioning. The Portrait Of A Lady and The Bostonians are both well-known. Lesser known, James also published travel writings, like Italian Hours.

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch author and Holocaust survivor; her autobiography, The Hiding Place tells the story of how she aided and hid Jews from the Nazis. It was also made into a movie in 1975.

Ten Boom's family was arrested in 1944, and Corrie spent time in a Dutch prison and two concentration camps. The second concentration camp killed its women prisoners only one week after she was released. Her last book, I Stand at the Door and Knock, is full of Christian devotionals.

Jeffrey Archer is an English author and life peer. He has a novel coming out this year, Only Time Will Tell, set in the 1920s-40s, which will be the first book in series. Last year he published a book of short stories, And Thereby Hangs A Tale.

Archer's first novel was the mystery Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, of which Library Journal said "anyone with any interest in money will find entertaining."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #256

Harvard grad Edward Conlon is a former detective with the New York City Police Department. His memoir Blue Blood (2004) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; a New York Times Notable Book; and has been adapted into a popular television series.

His highly anticipated debut novel Red on Red * * * * tells the story of two NYPD detectives, Meehan and Esposito and their fierce and unlikely friendship. One damaged and introspective, the other ambitious and unscrupulous, they nevertheless prove to be complimentary and a successful team working the rough Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, handling gritty crimes of suicides, rapes, gang wars, and the disappearance of a troubled Catholic schoolgirl who is a mystery in her own right.

A potent mix of strong story line, police jargon, crisp dialog, black humor, with complicated romances thrown in for good measure, makes this a captivating thrill ride. A readalike for Lou Manfredo's Rizzo's War (and its follow-up Rizzo's Fire), and gritty police/crime thrillers of Joseph Wambaugh, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane.

* * * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts # 255

Rebecca Rasmussen's masterfully written debut novel The Bird Sisters * is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Elderly spinster sisters, known around Spring Green, Wisconsin for their interest in "bird repair" look back on their lives spent in the same house, and especially the summer of 1947. Then, sweet Milly was known as a great beauty, and Twiss a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. It was the summer of the accident that ended their father's prospects as a golf pro; their mother's despair of her reduced circumstances; the local priest ran off to Mexico as a loss of faith; and Asa, the young man who played a part in their adolescence awakening . More importantly, it was the summer of Bett, their older cousin whose visit forever changed their lives.

"Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, ...this wistful but wise story is enchanting and timeless. A splendid choice for those searching for literary coming-of-age novels".

While novels about sisters abound, this is, nevertheless a welcomed addition.

* = starred review

Author Birthdays: Hersh, Kingsolver, Okorafor-Mbachu

April 8th marks the birthday of authors Seymour Hersh, Barbara Kingsolver, and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

Seymour Hersh is an American award-winning journalist and author. Many of his articles were written for The New Yorker. He won a Pulitzer in journalism for his writing on the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.

Hersh's books include a biography of JFK, called The Dark Side of Camelot, which portrays the late president as reckless, and was very controversial after its publication. He also wrote Chain Of Command: The Road From 9/11 To Abu Ghraib, which discusses topics like the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Barbara Kingsolver is a multi-award-winning American author, whose latest novel was the popular The Lacuna, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010.

Kingsolver's best known work might be The Poisonwood Bible, which is about a missionary family who moves to the Belgian Congo in the mid-20th century. Her most interesting book, in my opinion, might be her non-fiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life, which outlines Kingsolver and her family as they attempt to eat solely locally-grown food for one year.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a Nigerian-American fantasy writer. Her newest book, Who Fears Death, was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2010.

Okorafor-Mbachu has written some young adult novels, which may be of interest to many teens in world literature classes who are looking for something a bit more modern than the classics. Her novel The Shadow Speaker is set in a futuristic West Africa and relays the tale of a girl with magical powers who is seeking vengeance.

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