Icelander by Dustin Long

IcelanderIcelander

The main character in Icelander is known only as Our Heroine. Set in an alternate universe, this postmodern tale starts out with Shirley MacGuffin found murdered the day before the town’s annual celebration of Our Heroine’s mother, the famous sleuth, Emily Bean. Our Heroine has no interest in following in her mother’s footsteps and running around town solving cases, but she gets wrapped up in “the facts” and is thrown into a wild predicament which takes her places she never imagined.

Told from multiple points of view, Icelander is an intense, confusing, absurd, wacky, and magical adventure, akin to The crying of Lot 49, with Nabokovian influences, only laced with Norse mythology. The book is a treat, if you’re up for falling into a rabbit hole. A friend gave me this McSweeney’s book as a gift, and it ended up being quite a delightful surprise. You’ll find yourself either loving or hating this book.

If you still have questions after reading the book, I recommend the following Q&A with the author, and also this author interview.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #172

Bich Minh Nguyen's memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner was named one of the 2008 Michigan Notable Books and the Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007. It received the 2008 Kiriyama Prize and the PEN/Jerard Award. It has been selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as the current The Great Michigan Read.

In Nguyen's fiction debut Short Girls, narrators (in alternate chapters) Van and Linny Leong, estranged sisters who have chosen divergent paths since their latch-key days, returned home to celebrate their father’s U.S. citizenship and his reality TV debut to demo the Leong Arm - an invention for short people.

With keen insight, humor and compassion, the author examines what it means to be short – from stature, identity, expectations, ambition, to the distance between us. Beautifully written and expertly told, this is ultimately a universal tale about sisterhood; the cultural and family history that binds us; and the rights to set the standard by which we are measured.

Readers of women's fiction on the theme of sibling relationships might also enjoy The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele, or Julia Alvarez's wonderful portrayal of the immigrant experience in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. For pure entertainment value - there is nothing more delightful than Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes.

* = Starred Reviews.

Wintergirls

“Why don’t you have one of the muffins? I bought oranges yesterday, or you could have toast or frozen waffles.”

Because I can’t let myself want them because I don’t need a muffin (410), I don’t want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag.

Those familiar with young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson know that her novels center around hard-hitting subject matter that is often a little controversial. Her 2001 novel Speak dealt with a teenage girl that eventually becomes mute after a severe trauma and social isolation. In Anderson's newest novel, Wintergirls, high school senior Lia deals with the death of her once best friend Cassie, her feelings of guilt surrounding the death, a dysfunctional home life, and her struggle with anorexia and self-mutilation. The book, written in the voice of Lia, delves deep into her thoughts and feelings which are often quite different from what she chooses to express vocally or what she tells herself to feel (or eat). She is haunted day and night by Cassie, and is swiftly losing her grip on reality. The question is, can Lia recover?

According to author Anderson, she had received many letters from her young readers that were struggling with eating disorders which had prompted her idea for Wintergirls. Highly recommended.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #171

What promises to be a rather formulaic chick lit., mildly entertaining summer escapist read turned out to be a compulsive page-turner - twisty, sexy and magical.

In debut novelist Margot Berwin's Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, recently divorced Lila Nova impulsively purchased a bird of paradise from the hunky plant guy at a Manhattan green market to spruce up her depressingly lifeless apartment. Soon she was hooked - on David, as well as the lore and lure of tropical plants.

A chance discovery of a rare plant at an odd Laundromat and its enigmatic proprietor Armand took Lila deep into the Yucatan jungle, in search of extreme adventure and the nine mythical plants of desire. Little did Lila know what await her amidst unspeakable beauty and magic, would be treachery and heartbreak, but ultimately, also self-knowledge and redemption.

Hothouse Flower is fresh, fun, and wonderfully captivating - everything you would want for a lazy summer’s eve.

For fans of Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells and Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate . Plant enthusiasts and eco travelers would do well to also check out Susan Orlean’s award-winning The Orchid Thief.

* = Starred Review

HOT HOT Zombie Lit.

A ton of pre-pub hype didn't prepare us for the reception to Pride and prejudice and zombies: the classic Regency romance -- now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem! In Seth Grahame-Smith's Austen spin-off (with 85% of Jane's original text), life in Regency England has been disrupted by undead brain-eaters so aggressive that even young ladies are trained in the deadly arts of zombie defense. Elizabeth, skilled with sword, musket, and kung fu, is an especially gifted warrior, making her even more irresistible to Mr. Darcy, who is himself a fearsome slayer of zombies. A bloody good time is guaranteed.

The dark horse of the bunch (and a personal favorite) is perhaps Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne.

Andy Warner, newly risen zombie from a fatal car crash finds life after death sucks. The Undead are shunned, fearful of capture by Animal Control and subject to recreational zombie-bashing by Breathers (the living). Thank goodness for Undead Anonymous, where he meets gorgeous Rita, and Ray, a hunter who simmers a mean stew. So, what is that tasty special ingredient anyway? By turns funny, tender, and gruesome, you won't be disappointed.

For teens, there is Daniel Waters' Generation Dead, where dead teens are coming to life at Oakvale High. Goth girl Phoebe is drawn to the undead Tommy, while Adam, Phoebe’s best friend/secret admirer broods. What begins as a macabre teen love triangle swiftly morphs into a thought-provoking examination of intolerance. Utterly absorbing.

Take a peek at the eclectic list of recommended zombie flicks, soundtracks and playlists, in Devour Books, Not People: A Librarian Picks the Best Zombie Lit., this timely round-up of top picks in this hot genre will chill and entertain.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #170

In Romance novelist Linda Castillo's chilling mystery debut Sworn to Silence*, Kate Burkholder is a "gun-toting, cursing, female chief of police" at Painters Mill, (Ohio) an idyllic Amish community that prides itself in distancing from the complication of modern life, that is, until a serial killer resurfaces to terrorize the town. The current victims all sport the killer's signature - Roman numerals ritualistically carved into their abdomens.

Kate has good reason to worry - well above her duty to protect and defend - as she is a surviving victim of torture and rape 16 years ago. What transpired estranged her from her family and her faith, and left her totally isolated with a secret she is desperate to keep.

"Deeply flawed characters in a distinctive setting make this a crackling good series opener, recommended for fans of T. Jefferson Parker and Robert Ellis, whose books take place in very un-Amish settings but who generate the same kind of chills and suspense.”

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #169

The Frightened Man* launches a historical mystery series set in Jack-the-Ripper era London. Author Kenneth Cameron also writes military thrillers with his son under the name Gordon Kent.

Infamous American ex-lawman Denton now lives a solitary life in London, (we will discover his tragic past) sporadically turning out sensational novels of questionable quality. He is smitten with a two-timing mistress, well-served by his Jeeves-like Sergeant Atkins, and gets himself tangled up in the gruesome murder of a young prostitute. It all started with the visit of a frightened stranger who claims to have witnessed Jack the Ripper at work.

“A gripping page-turner, Cameron's novel combines a devilishly clever plot, enigmatic characters, a foreboding atmosphere, and a shocking finale. A top pick for all crime collections.” ~ Booklist

Fans of atmospheric historical mysteries set in London might also like C.S. Harris’s Where Serpents Sleep (2008), 4th in the Sebastian St. Cyr series featuring a Regency-era gentleman sleuth. Dust and Shadow: An account of the Ripper killings by Dr. John H. Watson (2009) by Lyndsay Faye is a fictionalized documentary of the most famous serial killer in history.

* = Starred review

Following the crowds to Nora Roberts

Just for fun, I typed Nora Roberts into our catalog--245 hits. More than Stephen King! Wow, I thought, maybe I will read one of these in our Summer Reading Game. Then, for more fun, I searched J.D. Robb, the name under which Roberts writes police procedurals. Whoa, another 72 hits! Clearly Roberts is beyond prolific, and you can learn (lots) more about this bestselling phenom in Lauren Collins’ wonderful profile in the June 22 New Yorker. As many as 27 Nora Roberts books are sold every minute, the article suggests.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #168

Move over, Mdm. Precious Ramotswe (of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency). Or at least make room for Vish Puri!

Tarquin Hall introduces India's "Most Private Investigator" in his The Case of the Missing Servant*. Portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swath through modern Delhi's swindlers, cheats, and murderers.

Pleased with a break from the usual screening of prospective marriage partners, Puri investigates the murder of a maidservant while keeping an eagle eye on his widowed "Mummy-ji" who is determined to sleuth alongside his team of colorful undercover operatives. Ingeniously combining modern investigative techniques with 2000 year-old Indian principles of detection, Puri is a welcome addition to the pantheon of exotic sleuths.

Strong local color, sly humor, endearing characterization and keen observation make this debut mystery a wild and deligthful ride. Future cases are to be expected.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #167

In Repeat After Me*, (Ann Arbor native) Rachel DeWoskin, author of the laugh-out-loud funny and poignant Foreign Babes in Beijing: behind the scenes of a new China impresses readers and critics alike with her debut novel of modern China and one American girl's struggle to find herself there.

This complex love story of cultural intersection begins with Aysha Silvermintz and recent immigrant Chen Da Ge, a sporadic and moody student assigned to her ESL class. Under the pretense of helping him gain citizenship, they marry.

The story picks up 13 years later with Aysha living in Beijing with her daughter, immersing them both in the daily life of their adopted home, and struggling to make sense of the mystery that was Chen. "A tender story of manic love and loss, this is a heartbreaking and uplifting novel with memorably off-kilter leads".

"DeWoskin demonstrates a smart, sophisticated literary agility", .... (her) firsthand knowledge of China, its language, and its traditions, as well as life in New York City, and her characters live and breathe". * = Starred reviews.

Click here to watch Rachel DeWoskin on her experiences living in China, a presentation at the Ann Arbor District Library.

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