Small Gems

small gemssmall gems

As in years past, when the days get shorter and the to-do-list gets longer, it is hard to find time to read. I would tend to reserve literary door-stoppers like Wolf Hall and The Children's Book for when I could carve out a large chunk of time, and look for the small gems.

Urban fantasy lovers (and Jim Butcher fans) would not want to miss his stand-alone 12,000 word novelette, set in the Dresden Files. Backup is narrated by Harry's big brother Thomas - only this time, Harry is the one in BIG trouble!

In Muse of Fire, Hugo winner Dan Simmons "combines his fine prose with a well-developed sense of wonder and love for reworked literary and mythological materials". In the far future, The Earth's Men, an interstellar troupe of Shakespearean players meet up with the Archons - members of the usually invisible ruling caste and change human and non-human history. This intellectual adventure story of astonishing richness and depth, wit and erudition will please and entertain.

The Moon Opera a "tiny, perfect novel" by Bi Feiyu give us not only a glimpse into the Chinese opera world but also deep into a woman's heart. With drama, intrigue, jealousy, retribution and redemption, it introduces Western readers to one of the most respected authors and screenwriters in modern China.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #189

Emily Arsenault's charming debut The Broken Teaglass* is quietly getting some much-deserved hand-selling, and I am glad.

Two young lexicographers stumble onto clues scattered among the citations file at the dictionary publishing office where they work. Written as “cits”, they reference a fictitious book called The Broken Teaglass but seem to be a confession to a decade-old unsolved murder case involving the “The Glass Girl”. What begins as curiosity for two active young minds turns strangely personal when many of the players involved clearly resemble their senior colleagues and mentors.

Clever word play, behind-the-scenes look at the dictionary publishing industry, and well-drawn characters make for a delightful, quietly humorous and off-beat mystery. The author has worked as a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster dictionary, an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She wrote The Broken Teaglass to pass the long, quiet evenings in her mud brick house while living in rural South Africa.

Wordsmiths and puzzle-lovers should also try Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, and Blind Submission by Debra Ginsberg.

* = Library Journal's Fall 2009 Editors' Picks

Teen Stuff: 'how i live now' by Meg Rosoff

In Meg Rosoff's Printz award winning novel, how i live now, the next world war takes place on British and American soil, and it's no good guys versus bad guys with appropriately color-schemed wardrobes. It's terrorism, chaos, distrust, and civil war. And the victims are not in uniform. They, like American teen Daisy living with her cousins in rural England, are civilians sequestered away from their families, surviving on food scraps and trying to avoid friendly fire or the next car bomb.

The narrative is told through Daisy's voice, captured in fragments, run-ons, and not-so-random capitalization for emphasis. This at first comes off as naive, a youth playing with style for its own sake, but as the stakes grow steadily higher and her family begins to rely on the strength she didn't realize she has, that same voice becomes poignant, even profound in its ability to capture a sense of truth amidst anarchy, a voice of reason in life during wartime. After reading the first half of the book, I nearly abandoned ship. After finishing the second half, I'm recommending it every chance I get.

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” ~ Garrison Keillor

GiftGift

I always look forward to NPR's holiday guide to book-giving. In the Best Books of 2009 there is certain to be something marvelous for almost everyone on my list (and yours too).

There are the "lush and elaborately illustrated titles" on the Big And Beautiful: Best Gift Books that a kindle just won't do.

For the adventurous literati, there are the Best Foreign Fiction picks. Or, like Susan Stamberg, you place your trust in Indie Booksellers' top picks. Alan Cheuse and Glen Weldon also share their season's favorites.

For families young and old, Sally and Stephen Kern have a simple and inexpensive way to bring families together in A Holiday Reading Tradition For The Whole Family, where they keep a box of special books about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the winter solstice just for this time of year. (Available as a podcast).

For the music lovers on your list, you can rely on Best Music Of 2009.; or David Dye's (of World Cafe) The Top 10 Albums Of 2009; as well as the 2009 Best Music For Kids.

For the younger readers on your list, I like the New York Times' Notable Children’s Books and graphic novels.

Alright, if only toys will do (Oh, I do understand!) - at least make it eco-friendly. The Parents' Choice Foundation's annual holiday gift guide is indispensable for parents and grandparents alike. Buy if you must, but first check out the parents' guide in making sound media choices for the family.

Happy Holidays and please, make it a safe one.

Up in the Air

up in the airup in the air

Jason Reitman's film, Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, comes to local movie theaters on December 25, but you can get a preview of the story that's being hailed as the most timely of the year by reading the book of the same title by Walter Kirn. Reitman spent several years adapting the novel into a screenplay, turning it from a story about a guy who gets paid to lay people off into one man's search for self-realization and fulfillment.

In the film, Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a frequent flyer, motivational speaker, professional firer, and reveler in the superficial pleasures of what Chuck Palahniuk called the "single serve life." All this changes when a new female coworker introduces a cost-cutting idea that threatens to end his flight hopping lifestyle. The film has some local connections too, for several scenes were filmed at Detroit Metro Airport, and one sequence features real-life Detroit residents that have recently lost their jobs.

Other thematically related items at the AADL include the book Fired!: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, & Dismissed, created by actress Annabelle Gurwitch, as well as her DVD and CD also called Fired!

Early December Books to Film

InvictusInvictus

A Clint Eastwood film, Invictus is based on John Carlin's Playing the Enemy : Nelson Mandela and the game that made a nation.

Set in post-apartheid South African, Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, a rugby captain entrusted by Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) with bringing socially unifying sporting glory to post-apartheid South African during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. (Dec. 11th)

The much anticipated The Lovely Bones is based on Alice Sebold's 2002 mega-hit. Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) plays Susie Salmon, a 14 year-old who has been murdered. As she watches over her family --- and her killer --- from heaven, she must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal. Also starring Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon.

Academy-award Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), a pre-eminent maker of fantasy and horror films, manages to bring "a kind of dreamy meditation on the fragile boundary between life and death", unexpectedly "soothing and solemn", visually stunning. Can't wait. (Dec. 11th)

A Single Man is based on Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same title. Set in Los Angeles in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, it is the story of a British college professor who is struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner. The story is a romantic tale of love interrupted, the isolation that is an inherent part of the human condition, and ultimately the importance of the seemingly smaller moments in life.

Colin Firth gives an award-worthy performance as George Falconer, and the all-grown-up "incandescent" Nicholas Hoult (cherubic in About a Boy) is Kenny - a lithe, graceful, angel of sorts. (Dec. 11th)

Up in the Air is based on Walter Kirn's 2001 novel about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate downsizing expert whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles and after he’s met a fellow frequent-flyer of his dreams. (Dec. 4th)

Booklist's Top 10 First Novels and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #188

Of Booklist's Top 10 First Novels 2009, 5 of them were blogged here. (Dream House, A Fortunate Age, The Invisible Mountain, Miles from Nowhere, and Precious). Quite a number of them are sitting on the shelves. Perhaps you would give them a second glance now.

And I happened to have just finished a 6th on the list - Grace Hammer : A Novel of the Victorian Underworld by Sara Stockbridge – a gripping and captivating debut novel set amidst the squalor of London’s East End where Grace makes a comfortable living managing her brood of pickpockets. Out of the blue, her checkered past is about to catch up with her. A magnificent ruby necklace might spell her doom. “Fast-paced, racy”, with plenty of intrigue, local color and masterfully realized characters.

Clearly, those folks at Booklist know how to pick them! Highly recommended by my good friend Jen Baker who knows her historical thrillers.

U-M creative writing alum to speak Friday

On Friday at 4 p.m., author and Nigerian priest Uwem Akpan -- a 2006 graduate of the U-M MFA creative writing program -- will speak at Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library about his debut short story collection, Say You're One of Them, which won a 2009 Oprah book award. The five stories in the book, set in five separate African countries, reflect the wisdom and resilience of children, even in horrible circumstances. At U-M, the author is a former Career-in-the-Making Fellow in the Institute for the Humanities.

Looking for a Christmas Read?

In previous years, I've suggested popular fiction for holiday reads. This year I have decided to concentrate on two of my favorite genres: Romance and Mystery.

Recently, I buried myself in Lisa Kleypas' Wallflower Series. The final book in this 5 part series is Wallflower Christmas. Once Lillian Bowman and the other Wallflowers are settled with beaus, it's time to find her elder brother Rafe a wife. If romance, action, mystery, and the supernatural meets your interest, try Kerrelyn Sparks' All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire part of the Love at Stake Series. If short stories are your thing try this Christmas compilation: Wish List with stories by Lisa Kleypas, Lynsay Sands, Claudia Dain, and Lisa Cach.

For good Christmas mystery reads try Deck the Halls and it's sequel He Sees You When Your Sleeping co-written by bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark. Regan Reilly, Carol Higgins Clark's dynamic young sleuth, meets Alvirah Meehan, Mary Higgins Clark's famous lottery-winning amateur detective, and both embark on a desperate search for Regan's kidnapped father and then reassemble in the sequel to help a family reunite during the holidays. Additionally, there is the short story collection Wolfsbane and Mistletoe with tales by talented authors such as Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Keri Arthur, and Carrie Vaughn.

For more suggestions of Romance, Mystery, as well as other Fiction Christmas reads, Check out: http://www.overbooked.org/booklists/subjects/themes/christmas.html

More November Books to Film

Feature film The Blind Side is based on Michael Lewis's sports biography The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.

Teenager Michael Oher, homeless, wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter is spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy who, without a moment’s hesitation, takes him in. What starts out as a gesture of kindness becomes much more as the family helps Michael fulfill his potential, both on and off the football field. Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, and Kathy Bates star in this inspirational film. (November 20th release)

The Road is based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, set in an indefinite, futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, a father and his young son make their way through the ruins of a devastated American landscape, struggling to survive and preserve the last remnants of their own humanity. (Starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron , it opens November 25th everywhere).

Newcomer Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Zac Efron star in Me and Orson Welles - based on a romantic coming-of-age novel about a teenage actor Richard Sameuls, who lucks into a role in Julius Caesar as it’s being re-imagined by a brilliant, impetuous young director named Orson Welles at his newly founded Mercury Theatre in NYC, 1937.

Author Robert Kaplow chronicles the roller-coaster week leading up to opening night when the charismatic-but-sometimes-cruel young Welles stakes his career on a risky production while Richard mixes with everyone from starlets to stagehands. When the mercurial Welles casts his eye on the woman with whom Richard himself had fallen in love, all hell breaks loose. (Limited release November 25th).

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