Welcome to End Times, Player One

Douglas Coupland’s 2010 novel, Player One, is the kind of book that is more engaging in the questions that it asks than in the narrative itself. The story -- four strangers trapped in an airport lounge while an apocalyptic event transpires around them -- is becoming pedestrian, but the ideas the characters discuss here are far more interesting than other works in this genre. Those familiar with Coupland’s previous works, like Generation X and Microserfs, will recognize this as another fine zeitgeist piece where the characters look at life in this moment, then back at what it was, and into what it will become.

Some questions the novel poses: What happens when we stop seeing our lives as stories? Why is memory making so crucial to our humanness? Would we be able to survive without a sense of linear time? What are the consequences of living in frankentime, which is what time feels like when you realize you spend all your life on the Internet? Is singularity a real possibility and how close are we? Will globally linked computer systems form an overriding post human sentience? And will this new sentience relieve people of the need to be individuals?

Perhaps the best part of the entire book is the glossary at the end, where dozens of concepts that were only briefly alluded to in the novel are given identifiable terms, which in turn unlocks many of the questions above.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #289

Erin Morgenstern's debut novel The Night Circus * * * * won't be out until this coming week but the queue has been forming for sometime, and rightly so. This is my Fantasy PICK OF THE YEAR and I won't be surprised to see it on a couple of award lists.

Without warning or fanfare, Cirque des Rêves (the Circus of Dreams) would arrive (and leave) at the edge of town under the cover of night. But in between, well, expect to be amazed and enthralled, intrigued and perplexed, confounded and confused, but royally entertained as no circus could (for you, the readers as well).

Celia and Marco, two young illusionists are not only tied to the running of the circus, but are locked in a contest of skills. As the acts grow more elaborate, imaginative, and fantastical, they fall hopelessly in love, only to find that the challenge is an ultimate one. Only one will survive. And the game must play out.

Multiple plotlines and perspectives; inventive and cinematic settings; engaging secondary characters; lush and seductive prose all build towards a breathtaking and stunning (and the reader a bit stunned, I expect) conclusion, with reckless fearless love at the center pulling strings and casting spells.

"A literary Mr. Toad's Wild Ride,... completely magical".

"A feast for the senses and the heart."

Rights sold in 22 countries. Film rights to Summit Entertainment. 175,000-copy first printing. When you get it in your hands, lock the door, turn off your phone, and tell your Mom not to worry - you'll call her later, much later... You wouldn't want to be disturbed.

* * * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #288

At long last, got my copy of Rules of Civility * by debut novelist Amor Towles. Mesmerized by the seductive language and imagery, my lunch temporarily forgotten, I found myself at MOMA at the 1966 Walker Evans' Exhibition Many Are Called, of photos taken on the New York City subways in the 1930s with a hidden camera.

Narrator Katey Kontent is at the opening with her husband Val, who has no knowledge of Katey's connection to one of Evan's subjects - Tinker Grey, and Katey is intent on keeping her secrets private.

New Years Eve 1937, the 25 year old Katey and roommate Eve Ross met Tinker Grey, a handsome patrician banker with easy charm at a Greenwich Village jazz bar, this chance encounter would alter the course of their lives.

The title, taken from George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (see appendix) is a reminder that how spur-of-the-moment decisions could define one's future, and bear in mind always, Rule #110, that the "Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience".

"Elegant and captivating... , Rule of Civility is remarkable for its strong narrative, original characters and a voice influenced by Fitzgerald and Capote, but clearly true to itself". It is also a tribute and a kaleidoscopic portrait of arty-boozy-jazz-aged Manhattan in the late1930s when an optimistic nation was rising out of the Depression and the world was being drawn into another war. Amidst the prosperity, the contrast between the working masses and privileged class was never more stark.

Snappy dialogue and descriptive prose, wrapped in a compelling narrative would please Edith Wharton readers. Also try Louis Auchincloss. His Manhattan Monologues and East Side Story (among his 60 works) will affirm his rightful claim as the "chronicler of New York's Upper Crust" and the master of manners.

* = Starred review. (Here are links to reviews in USA Today and The New York Times).

September's Books to Film

Drive, an action-packed speed thriller starring Ryan Gosling as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night.
When he falls for Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld, he find himself shifting gears and going on the offense. Based on the mystery novel Drive by James Sallis (also available in audio).

I Don’t Know How She Does It is based on the novel by Allison Pearson. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Kate Reddy, whose daily life is a non-stop balancing act - between her job and family. Complicating matters is Kate's charming new business associate Jack (Pierce Brosnan), who begins to prove an unexpected source of temptation.

Straw Dogs is based on The Siege of Trencher's Farm-Straw Dogs by British writer Gordon Williams. In this re-make of a 1971 film, David and Amy Sumner, a Hollywood screenwriter and his actress wife, return to her small hometown in the deep South to prepare the family home for sale after her father's death. Once there, tensions build in their marriage and old conflicts re-emerge with the locals, including Amy's ex-boyfriend Charlie, leading to a violent confrontation.

Killer Elite is based on a shocking true story that pits two of the world's most elite operatives --- Danny, an ex-special ops agent, and Hunter, his longtime mentor --- against the cunning leader of a secret military society. Originally published as The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes.

Michael Lewis's Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game (also in audio) is now adapted in a film starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane - the Oakland A’s general manager who reinvents his team to outsmart the richer teams by signing undervalued players considered flawed but who have a knack for winning games.

What’s Your Number? is based on the novel 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak. When Delilah Darling reads a survey revealing that most people have 10.5 sexual partners in their lifetime, she begins to feel like a tramp. She’s slept with 19 men so far --- almost twice the national average. Unwilling to up her number, but also unable to imagine a life of celibacy, Delilah tracks down every man she’s ever slept with in a last-ditch effort to make it work with one of them.

New Book Clubs to Go

Thank you for all the nice comments about our Book Clubs to Go, and the title suggestions. Rest assured that we are listening....

Just in time for another season of book clubs after the summer break, we will be rolling out 8 new titles this week. (The new totes we ordered finally came in after a long delay. Your patience is greatly appreciated).

The Help. Perennial bestseller and now a major motion picture. (No, there is no DVD in the tote but we will put one in when it is released).

Cutting For Stone The story of twin brothers orphaned at birth, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, but torn apart by their passion for the same woman.

Waiting Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor is torn by his love for two women: one who belongs to the New China of the Cultural Revolution, the other to the ancient traditions of his family's village. Winner of National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

The Surrendered A brilliant, haunting, heartbreaking story about how love and war unalterably change the lives of those they touch.

The Art of Racing in the Rain A tale in which Enzo, a loyal family dog, tells the story of his human family, how they nearly fell apart, and what he did to bring them back together.

A Fierce Radiance Set in the early days of penicillin, this ambitious medical thriller combines history, commercial rivalry, espionage and thwarted love.

Lark & Termite Set in rural West Virginia Lark and Termite follows an inquisitive 17-year-old girl; her younger, developmentally challenged brother; and their aunt, the hardworking woman who raised them, through a single, eventful week in 1959.

Snow A spellbinding tale of disparate yearnings – for love, art, power, and God – set in a remote Turkish town cut off from the rest of the world by a snow storm. By a Nobel laureate.

We will be bringing out new titles intermittently. Watch out for them.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #287

British television writer/producer/director Simon Toyne's Sanctus * * * opens with a heart-pounding scene high above Ruin, a city in Turkey, in which a monk climbs to the top of a mountain called the Citadel and jumps off, carrying with him an ancient secret that could shatter the foundations of the Christian Church.

American newspaper reporter Liv Adamsen learns that her phone number, carved into a small leather strap, has been found inside the monk's stomach. All signs point to the possibility that this might be her brother who went missing years ago. Trying to unravel the mystery of his death might prove too dangerous for Liv. But nothing and no one could hold her back.

This well-researched, high-concept thriller of grand conspiracies is the first in a projected trilogy. Strong female character and non-stop action make this a must-read of the fall publishing season. Foreign rights sold in 27 countries, 100,000-copy first printing.

* * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #286

Back in June, Nancy Pearl raved about Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding *. She read a preview copy and was doing some heavy-duty hand-selling. This week, NPR gave it a glowing review.

Henry Skrimshander, the star pitcher of Westish College's Harpooners is on the brink of greatness, destined for big league stardom, rising above his small-town roots. However, an errand pitch goes disastrously off course, making havoc with the lives of 5 individuals.

Henry's confidence is deserting him, his bright future is in jeopardy. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate, is caught up in a dangerous affair. The college president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, is home licking her wounds from a failed marriage, looking for a fresh start. Mike Schwartz, Henry's best friend and team captain, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own.

"Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others."

"Harbach paints a humorous and resonant portrait of a small college community while effectively portraying the Wisconsin landscape and a lake that provides an almost mystical source of solace and renewal."

A big-hearted and defiantly old-fashioned coming-of-age story in the tradition of Chaim Potok's The Chosen, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Scott Lasser's Battle Creek.

Harbach, a native of Wisconsin (Harvard and University of Virgina) is the cofounder of literary journal n + 1. This is his debut novel.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #285 (August's Nordic Crime Fiction)

This week Denmark's best-selling crime writer Jussi Adler-Olsen makes his U.S. debut with this first novel in the Glass Key Award-winning Department Q series, The Keeper of Lost Causes * * * (translated by Lisa Hartford), called "superlative" and "twisty" by reviewers.

After a near-fatal shooting that left him volatile and guilt-ridden, brilliant Homicide Detective Carl Morck is assigned to run Department Q, a new section of the Copenhagen Police dedicated to resolving the most notorious unsolved crimes.

Between napping and genial banter with his assistant Assad, Morck is surprised to find that one particular case snags his attention - the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a beautiful and popular politician who vanished 5 years ago during a ferry crossing and assumed dead.

Only the reader is privy to the fact that Merete is alive, imprisoned and subjected to the most horrendous treatment. "Adler-Olsen deftly advances both stories simultaneously" in this absorbing psychological thriller.

Comparisons to Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Jo Nesbo are inevitable but this newcomer holds his own, and with strong prose and a sense of humor.

* * * = Starred reviews

Also noteworthy is Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie * *, smoothly weaving history, legend, and police procedural in the first of a crime series set in Iceland.

Boston PD Detective Magnus Jonson is on loan to the Icelandic Police Force in Reykjavik, and walks right into the murder investigation of Professor Agnar Harldsson. It is a homecoming of sorts for Magnus while keeping him out of the assassins' reach until he could testify on police corruption.

Amid the wild and desolate landscape, rumors swirl of an ancient manuscript connected to an Icelandic saga, and a precious ring of terrible power. Magnus's unorthodox investigative techniques prove problematic with his Icelandic hosts while his father's unsolved murder two decades ago inadvertently comes into play, adding to the complex storyline and the intrigue.

"Ridpath does a fine job of immersing us in Icelandic culture, and Magnus,... is a thoroughly fascinating character. Exotic and compelling, a first-class mystery. " Arnaldur Indriđason is in good company.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #284

Once in awhile, a book comes along and moves you so unexpectedly that you keep thinking about it long after you'd turned the last page. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut The Language of Flowers * (being released today) is as memorable as anything I have read of late.

32 foster homes, 18 years of abuse, neglect and disappointment fail to prepare Victoria Jones for life on her own after being emancipated from the California foster-care system. Squatting in the local park is dangerous but it allows her to care for the personal garden she secretly (and illegally) cultivates. Flowers and their language she understands. People she avoids.

When a local florist discovers Victoria's gift with flowers, she offers her a job and soon her talent is in demand as word gets around that her bouquets have the ability to transform and affect change. All the while, Victoria guards her solitude - until a mysterious vendor at the flower market marks her with his own unique offerings, the meaning of which sends Victoria to the San Francisco Public Library, and forces her to come to terms with a secret that haunts her.

Readers wanting to learn more about the symbolic language of flowers would be pleased to find a glossary included at the back of the book. Or check out The Language Of Flowers : Symbols And Myths by Marina Heilmeyer and Kate Greenaway's definitive The Illuminated Language Of Flowers.

Readers might try She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb for another moving, character-driven, bittersweet, coming-of-age story of grief and self-acceptance. In Julie Orringer's debut collection How to Breathe Underwater: stories we meet young protagonists trapped in awkward, painful situations who discover surprising reserves and wisdom in themselves.

* = Starred review (and one on NPR)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #283

South Asia Bureau Chief of The New York Times Amy Waldman's The Submission * * * is "a dazzling, kaleidoscopic" debut novel that re-imagines the aftermath of 9/11, at once "piercing and resonant."

When the winner of a high-profiled competition to design a memorial for victims of a terrorist attack is revealed to be Mohammad "Mo" Khan, an American born Muslim architect, instantly everyone has an opinion and a need to debate the selection.

Claire Burwell, the self-possessed widow on the jury and Mo's fiercest defender finds herself pressured by outraged family members. Journalist Alyssa is desperate to capitalize on the controversy. Families of the victims struggle with grief and remembrance while weighing the moral quandaries of doing the right thing. No one was prepared that Mo's submission of a garden design meant "to provide a way for the families, the nation to mourn and to remember all that was lost ... and also to heal" would become the catalyst that divides a nation.

While there is no shortage of post 9/11 fiction, " Waldman fluidly blends her reporter's skill at rapid-fire storytelling with a novelist's gift for nuanced characterization. She dares readers to confront their own complicated prejudices steeped in faith, culture, and class. This is an insightful, courageous, heartbreaking work that should be read, discussed, then read again."

* * * = Starred reviews

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