Fabulous Fiction Firsts #279

Patricia McArdle's Farishta is the winner of the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, "notable for its informed view of modern Afghanistan and its affecting story of one woman making a difference."

Angela Morgan witnessed the death of her husband during the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and suffered a miscarriage as a result. After 2 decades of hiding out in backwaters of the State Department, she must take the one assignment available or face mandatory retirement.

At a remote British army outpost in Mazar-i-Sharif (northern Afghanistan), Angela is unwelcome among the soldiers and unaccepted by the local government and warlords, especially frustrating is the enigmatic Mark Davies, a British major who is by turns her staunchest ally and her fiercest critic. Determined to contribute to the Afghan reconstruction, Angela slips out of camp disguised in a burka to provide aid to the refugees in the war-torn region. She becomes their farishta, or "angel" in the local Dari language, and discovers a new purpose.

"Drawing on the experiences of the author as a retired diplomat in Afghanistan, Farishta is a deeply moving and fast-paced story of a woman struggling to move beyond a past trauma, and finding a new community, a new love, and a new sense of self in the process." Recommended for readers interested in fiction set in contemporary Afghanistan.

For a realistic look at the trials and tribulations of a female diplomat, take a look at Valerie Plame Wilson's ordeal as documented in Fair Game : my life as a spy, my betrayal by the White House (now adapted as a movie).

Teen Stuff: New Dystopian Novels

YALSA's The Hub: Your Connection to Teen Reads, has been high on my RSS feeds for their sharp book recommendations and reviews. In a recent post, they point out how the massive success of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy -- and the movies coming soon -- have inspired a resurgence of the dystopian novel in teen fiction over the past few years.

As a genre, dystopian novels are threaded by the existence of an oppressive society that purports to create a perfect place to live...and fails disastrously. The best dystopian lit raises questions about how our own society operates, which makes these books engaging selections for book groups.

Here's what The Hub recommends (click here for the AADL list):

"Wither by Lauren DeStefano (a futurist world in which the first generation is almost immortal but in subsequent generations females die at age 20 and males at 25 so girls are forced to become breeders in polygamous marriages) and Megan McCafferty’s Bumped (it’s 2036 and identical twins rebel against the expectation that they will become fanatically religious wives and mothers or high-priced surrogates for couples made infertile by a widespread virus).

Ally Condie’s Matched (pbk. out in Sept.) and its sequel Crossed (out in Nov.) features a world where death is mandatory at age 80 and teenagers’ marriage partners are predetermined by the Society. In Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, the government believes that love is a disease and 18-year-old teens receive a government-mandated cure to make them happy and safe.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre has both dystopian and post-apocalyptic elements. A plague years ago has forced people to live in underground enclaves fighting cannibalistic freaks for food. On naming day, at 15, teens’ earn the right to join the group best suited to them – as Hunters, Breeders or Builders. Deuce has lived in the enclave all her life and unquestioningly accepted the word of her elders when they say no one can live Topside. When she’s cast out she realizes the elders lied."

Whimsy and Wisdom from Wayside School

Picking exactly the right BOCD for a long family car trip can be very important. For a steady stream of witty, engaging stories, try The Wayside School Collection, by Louis Sachar. For newbies, Wayside School was supposed to be 30 classrooms on one level, but accidentally it was built 30 stories high with one classroom on each level. Characters -- both kids and adults -- are engaging, hilarious, and entirely believable (at least to me). The BOCD collection has 7 discs each lasting 77 minutes -- for a total of almost 9 hours of listening. Hit the road, pop in Disc 1, and prepare for happy listening!

Author Birthdays: Potter, Ashbery, Davis

July 28th marks the birthday of authors Beatrix Potter, John Ashbery, and Jim Davis.

Beatrix Potter was an English author known for her children's books, most notably The Tale of Peter Rabbit. There are actually over 20 tales of Peter Rabbit and his fellows, like Mrs. Tittlemouse and Mr. Tod.

Potter's other works include The Fairy Caravan, about a guinea pig who runs away from home to join the circus, and the sort-of-autobiography Letters to Children From Beatrix Potter, edited by Judy Taylor.

John Ashbery is an American poet. According to the Academy of American Poets, he has won nearly every major American award for poetry, and has quite a few other awards as well.

Ashbery's collections include the Griffin Poetry Prize winner Notes From the Air, and the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle and National Book Award winning Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

Jim Davis is an American cartoonist. You've probably at least heard of his most famous strip, Garfield. In addition to the actual strip, he also helped to write and produce the many TV shows, specials, and CGI movies starring the lazy cat.

While his main cartoon is Garfield, Davis also wrote U.S. Acres, also called Orson's Farm, which you still might recognize if you have ever watched the animated series Garfield And Friends.

If you're looking for Summer Game points, try taking a look at some of those titles!

Not Your Average Book Group

Looking for ways to kick up your book group this summer? At a recent Booklist webinar, several publishing bigwigs tossed around ideas for making your group more social and less stuffy.

Magazines. If you're stressed for time and reading Cutting for Stone in four weeks just isn't going to happen, then consider using an issue of a magazine or just one article. You can now put magazines on hold through your online account at the AADL, and the title selection is massive. Try a trending topic in a lesser known mag, like Commentary or The Crisis. Or go for the adventurous with Rock and Ice or Ski.

Go Out. Minnesota's largest open book group goes by the name Books & Bars, who says their group "isn’t your mother’s book club. We provide a unique atmosphere for a lively discussion of interesting authors, fun people, good food and drinks." They read everything from The Hunger Games series to McCarthy's The Road.

Some libraries are also organizing book groups in social settings, like Skokie Public Library's LitLounge, which hosts book swaps and trivia nights in addition to discussions. At the Oak Park Public Library in Illinois, they have Genre-X, a twenties and thirties book group that meets at The Snug, a room at the local brewpub and discuss in person what they've been chatting about via their Goodreads group.

For more book group ideas from Booklist, check out their quick and insightful blogs.

Road Trip BOCD: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie

After zipping through the novel Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar, I'm eager to hear the BOCD, narrated by Ryan MacConnell and the Full Cast Family. The novel is laugh-out-loud funny, as Scott navigates his first year of high school. English is his strong suit, and he hones his skills by writing to his soon-to-be-born baby brother. Very touching. The recorded book lasts 6 hours and 45 minutes, sure to be good entertainment on a summer road trip.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #278

Your read the New York Times review, now you cannot wait to read the book. Can't blame you.

I have to admit, this is my first Colin Cotterill, (and the first of a project new series) and it is sending me straight to his Dr. Siri Paiboun series, another unlikely and exotic sleuth (a septuagenarian Laotian coroner).

The intriguing title had me laughing out loud when I realized that it is derived from one of the many George W. Bush quotes, each heading a new chapter. “Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.” (September 17, 2004) Too far-fetched? It's for real, check it out!

Killed at the Whim of a Hat * * * features Jimm Juree, a thirtysomething "sardonic, self-important 'almost award-winning' " female crime reporter who has been exiled to Chumphon, (Southern Thailand) to run a seedy and decrepit beach resort with her eccentric and loony family.

The discovery of a buried Volkswagen van from the 1970s with two buried hippie passengers brings a flurry of excitement to this tiny village and hopes for a big journalistic break for Jimm Juree. Then there is a real murder and Jimm just cannot stay away, even if her life depends on it.

You will thank me later for not giving away the plot. "Cotterill combines plenty of humor with fascinating and unusual characters, a solid mystery, and the relatively unfamiliar setting of southern Thailand to launch what may be the best new international mystery series".

British expat. and CWA Dagger Awards winner Colin Cotterill taught in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before started training teachers in Thailand. He and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand.

* * * = Starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Benét, Robbins, Hinton

July 22nd marks the birthday of authors Stephen Vincent Benét, Tom Robbins, and S. E. Hinton.

Stephen Vincent Benét was an American writer probably best known for his short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster." He also won the Pulitzer for his book-length poems John Brown's Body and Western Star.

Benét also wrote an adaptation of the Roman legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women, which he called "The Sobbin' Women." This short story went on to inspire the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Tom Robbins is an American author who has been called a "psychedelic son of Mark Twain" by Booklist. He is known for his novels Even Cowgirls Get The Blues and Villa Incognito.

Robbins also has a collection of short stories and essays called Wild Ducks Flying Backward. Many critics have praised his non-fiction essays in the work for their humor.

S. E. Hinton is an American writer of children's, young adult, and adult fiction. She is best known for her teen novel The Outsiders, about friendship, gangs, and families (featuring a character whose name is worth Summer Game points), which was published when she was only 16 years old.

Hinton's adult fiction includes the novel Hawkes Harbor, which is about an orphan raised by nuns, who later goes out into the world to seek adventure, eventually finding an evil monster in a place called Hawkes Harbor.

Nicola's Books Hosts Panel of Fantasy/Sci-Fi Authors

Are you a fan of fantasy or sci-fi? Maybe you're even a fan of both! If so, you will want to be at Nicola's Books on Tuesday, July 26th at 7:00 p.m., when the local book store will be hosting authors Jacqueline Carey, Jim Hines, and Sarah Zettel. Jacqueline Carey is the author of the national bestselling series, Kushiel's Legacy, while Jim Hines is the author of the Goblin Trilogy and Princess Series, in which classic fairy tale princesses are given a new twist. Sarah Zettel is the author of the fantasy series Isavalta, and has also written five sci-fi novels that have garnered wide critical acclaim. These three authors will be discussing current trends for books in the fantasy and sci-fi genres at this free event.

Nicola's Books is located at the Westgate Shopping Center:
2513 Jackson Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

July's Books to Film (and a nice way to get out of the heat)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is based on the novel by Lisa See.
China. Parallel stories, generations apart. Two young girls bound together by circumstances, history, and a secret language written on the folds of a white silk fan.

Sarah's Key is based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.
Paris, July 1942: 10 yr.old Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret hiding place to save him from the Nazi round-up. Sixty-seven years later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

The film Cowboys & Aliens is adapted from Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's work of the same title.
1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution, a town that lives in fear. But this stranger the town rejects might just be the only hope from the marauders from the sky.

Based on the real-life experience of Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia as detailed in his book I was Saddam's Son, The Devil's Double recounts how he was ordered to become the body double to Saddam's son- the notorious "Black Prince" Uday Hussein, a reckless, sadistic party-boy with a rabid hunger for sex and brutality.

Good Neighbors is based on Chere Voisine by Chrystine Brouillet.
Neighbors Spencer and Louise have bonded over their fascination with a recent string of murders. When Victor moves in, they hit it off. But as they soon discover, each of them has their own dark secret. What they once thought of as a safe haven is as dangerous as any outside terrors they could imagine.

The First Avenger: Captain America is based on the Marvel Comics series by Ed Brubaker.
Steve Rogers volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super Soldier known as Captain America, joining forces with Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter to wage war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.

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