Speaking of dragons...

Since Summer Reading's got some serious dragon power, I thought I'd mention a few teen fantasies. Great segue, huh?

The first is Robin McKinley's Newbery Medal winner, The Hero and the Crown, which was also an ALA Notable Book and ALA Best Book for Young Adults book. It tells the story of Aerin, a princess--and an outcast--who grows up to defeat dragons rather than become a queen. The story takes place in a land called Damar, and is a prequel to another of McKinley's Newbery winners, The Blue Sword. See? There was a dragon in that one.

Secondly, I'd like to mention the Books of Pellinor, written by Alison Croggon. The series is a quartet, and takes place is a civilization which Croggon tries to convince us once existed, sometime 10,000 years ago. She even includes fake citations, as if she were doing research in a library with its ancient manuscripts. The first book, The Naming, starts us off with the main character, Maerad, and her companion, Cadvan. The second continues their story, and the third focuses on her brother, Hem, and his mentor, Saliman. The fourth concludes with the siblings united, and working against evil. Unfortunately, there aren't really any dragons, though we do encounter some talking animals.

By the way, if you haven't seen them yet, check out the dragons in the Downtown Youth area, as well as at the West and Malletts Creek branches.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #213

the twinthe twin

The Twin, a debut novel by Gerbrand Bakker quietly beats out a number of seasoned writers and front runners (see the shortlist) to win the 2010 International Impac Dublin Literary Award - the largest and most international prize of its kind. It involves libraries from all corners of the globe, and is open to books written in any language.

When his twin brother Henk dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return to the small family farm. He resigns himself to taking over his brother's role and spending the rest of his days working in the remote Dutch countryside. Now 37 years later, Helmer finally is able to move his invalid father so that he could make a home for himself. Then the woman once engaged to Henk appears and asks Helmer to take in her troubled eighteen-year-old son.

"Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, The Twin ultimately poses difficult questions about solitude and the possibility of taking life into one's own hands. It chronicles a way of life which has resisted modernity, a world culturally apart, and yet laden with familiar longing."

$31,000 of the $123,000 prize will go to David Colmer whose superb translation allows the novel's authentic voice to be heard by English readers.

NPR was first to recognize The Twin by placing it on a list of Best Foreign Fiction of 2009.

School Library Journal picked it as one of the Best Adult Books for High School Students 2009.

For the budding novelists out there, take heart. This is the third year in a row that a debut novel has won.

Imperial Bedrooms

Imperial Bedrooms is the sequel, 25 years later, to Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. Everybody's older, but has anyone really changed? Clay is back in Los Angeles from New York assisting with casting for a screenplay he has written called "The Listeners." In typical Ellis fashion, paranoia ensues, all "friends" are suspect and Clay is faced with his own demons - and not all of them may be personal. When Clay meets a young actress named Rain Turner, things get even more complicated and mysterious.

Imperial Bedrooms does not match up to other novels like Less Than Zero, American Psycho or Glamorama but I think it's still a worthwhile read for Bret Easton Ellis fans. It's fast-paced, and actually quite short at under two hundred pages. I'm a little in love with the creepy cover, too.

Cynical Tabby

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of Garfield's first comic strip, which debuted in 1978 in over 40 newspapers.

Created by Jim Davis and named after his grandfather, Garfield held the Guinness World Record for the world's most widely syndicated comic.

While I was never into comics as a kid, I remember, quite fondly, watching the Garfield and Friends animated television series. However, nowadays, I know that kids are really into graphic novels, and so our collection of Garfield graphic novels will probably be more of a hit than that show from the 90s.

Either way, you can sit down, enjoy some lasagna, and have a good time.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #212

What makes a reader "perfect"?

The answer might lie somewhere in Perfect Reader*, the "sparkling, shrewd, and at times hilarious" debut by Maggie Pouncey.

Twentysomething Flora Dempsey is stunned to find herself named literary executor of her late father - a critic, an eminent scholar and college president in a small New England town. Beside the house, the family dog, Flora finds she has also inherited a manuscript of her father's erotic poems inspired by a girlfriend Flora didn't know he had, a girlfriend who wants to see them published!

In a year of grieving, Flora revisits her childhood memories of her parents' divorce, losing a best friend following a terrible accident while debating whether to publish her father's manuscript.

"Pouncey has skillfully created a portrait of small-town academia, where the relationships between reader and text are just as elusive and complex as the relationships between father and daughter, husband and wife, or between two lovers".

* = starred review

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It

Having loved the movie, A River Runs Through It, when the book recently crossed my path I decided to give it a try. In the forward, it is praised to the skies by Annie Proulx and I can see why. It is a perfectly beautiful, evocative, autobiograhical tribute to the three things that Norman Maclean loved: being raised in Montana near the Big Blackfoot river, fly fishing, and his brother, Paul, the one who raised fly fishing to an art, and who lived wild and free and died young.

Now I am not that interested in fly fishing. Nevertheless, the descriptions of Norman and Paul wading through the shadowy pools of the Big Blackfoot, luring the trout with imitations of various flies, are so lyrical and beautiful that I could see and feel and hear the river and their total artistry in fishing it.

Ultimately, the novella is about trying to love the people who are in our lives but we who we don’t completely understand. “It is those we live with and love and should know, who elude us”, says Norman at the end. “Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them… I am haunted by waters.” Maclean wrote the book when he was 72 years old, looking back on his memories of the brother and the river he loved.

Your Tudor Tutor

Today would be the 501st anniversary for King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catharine of Aragon. I'm not sure what the correct present is for that specific anniversary, but I don't know that I'd be accepting whatever it would be from Henry.

King Henry VIII has fascinated many people, though, regrettably, mostly because of his six marriages (two of which ended in divorce, and two more in beheading). However, it may interest you that these are not his only...accomplishments.

Some notable books on the Tudor king which do not focus on his matrimonial issues include The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII And The Dissolution Of The Monasteries and Henry VIII: The King And His Court.

However, if you'd like to go the more traditional route, you'll have plenty of choices: The Wives of Henry VIII, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII among them.

Of course, there are also historical fiction books that contain the infamous king. While they are not necessarily as accurate as the non-fiction, they are just as entertaining, if not more so. The oldest of these would be Shakespeare's play, given the regal name Henry VIII. Among the more recent, there is the "autobiography" by Margaret George, as well as the well-known The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. Though, my personal favorite is not a book at all, but the Showtime television series The Tudors.

You may even want to take a look at his children. Each one showed off one bit of his overbearing personality. And I can guarantee one of them is probably just as interesting as he was.

Writers to Watch : 20 Under 40

It has been more than a decade since the magazine The New Yorker has published a “20 Under 40” list. The last one, in 1999, included some future literary stars who were then relatively unknown, like Jhumpa Lahiri, Nathan Englander, and Junot Díaz. (Relatively established authors like Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, and David Foster Wallace were also on the earlier list.)

This year's list is gender-balanced : naming 10 men and 10 women. They are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32; Chris Adrian, 39; Daniel Alarcón, 33; David Bezmozgis, 37; Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38; Joshua Ferris, 35; Jonathan Safran Foer, 33; Nell Freudenberger, 35; Rivka Galchen, 34; Nicole Krauss, 35; Yiyun Li, 37; Dinaw Mengestu, 31; Philipp Meyer, 36; C. E. Morgan, 33; Téa Obreht, 24; Z Z Packer, 37; Karen Russel, 28; Salvatore Scibona, 35; Gary Shteyngart, 37; and Wells Tower, 37.

The new list has its own distinctions. A significant number of the writers hail from outside the United States or have parents who do. All but two (Ms. Obreht and Ms. Russell) are in their 30s.

The process began in January, when editors in the fiction department started brainstorming. By e-mail they asked literary agents, publishers and other writers to suggest potential candidates.

The editors eventually whittled the possibilities down to a shortlist of roughly 40 eligible writers. A few prominent fiction writers, including Colson Whitehead and Dave Eggers, were slightly too old to make the cut. 20under4020under40

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #211

Perhaps this is one of the hardest blogs for me to write. I finished the book some weeks ago and have been thinking about it. I worried that whatever I write here is not going to do the book justice. My expectations were naturally high for Julie Orringer's debut novel The Invisible Bridge, coming 7 years after her prizewinning collection of short stories How to Breathe Underwater, and it did not disappoint.

This stunning and richly detailed WWII saga is not (as a lot of early readers feared) just another Holocaust novel. It opens with 22 year-old Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jew, a highly prized scholarship to study architecture in Paris and an unlikely love affair with the much older Klara, amidst the growing tide of anti-Semitism which eventually forces their return to Hungary. Throughout the hardships and injustices, Andras's love for Klara acts as a beacon. "Orringer's triumphant novel is as much a lucid reminder of a time not so far away as it is a luminous story about the redemptive power of love."

Cinematic in its settings, moving without being sentimental, "Orringer writes without anachronism, and convincingly." Don't just take my word for it, read the New York Times review.

Julie Orringer grew up in New Orleans and Ann Arbor. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Cornell University, and was a Stegner Fellow and Marsh McCall Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University and the Helen Herzog Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. Visit Julie's website.

**= Starred reviews

Myths and Myths Retold

Legends and myths have always fascinated me. I've been looking into them since I was little, and I am no less interested in them now. So, I figure, why not spread the joy?

Greek and Roman mythology are quite similar. In fact, some might say that the Romans essentially copied their earlier counterparts. Both cultures' stories are extremely telling; they include tales ranging from the long-loved IIiad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, to the more modern tellings of Rick Riordan's demi-god Percy Jackson, or the Odyssey parallels of James Joyce's Ulysses and the Cohen Brother's cinematic O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Egyptian mythology is quite different from the former two, though, oddly enough, Riordan also came out with a book based off of it.

Celtic mythology gives us stories like The Táin (Táin Bó Cúailnge), which has been interpreted in many ways, including in the music of The Decemberists.

Nordic mythology gives us the days of the week. Today, as we all know, is Frigga's Day. One of the Scaldic poets, Snorri Sturluson, might be of particular interest here. Though, if you're looking for something more contemporary, The Sea of Trolls series includes some really cool Vikings.

Perhaps the single book that most closely relates to this blog and its forms of mythology is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Library Journal describes it as "the vast and bloody landscape of myths and legends where the gods of yore and the neoteric gods of now conflict in modern-day America."

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