Fabulous Fiction Firsts #192

Blacklands*** is a taut and chillingly brilliant debut by British journalist/screenwriter Belinda Bauer.

Steven Lamb, an under-sized 12 yr. old boy, armed with a shovel, could be seen digging along the wild moors of Shipcott (Somerset), oblivious to the weather. He is digging for treasure - no, not the kind fascinating to boys his age, but for his uncle’s body. 18 years ago, young Billy Peters disappeared and unhinged his family.

Dejected with the lack of results, Steven knows convicted serial killer Arnold Avery could show him where to dig. After all, he buried them. Steven writes and Arnold answers. What begins as a cat-and-mouse mind game between a naive but determined boy and a clever and sadistic pedophile turns deadly when Avery senses an opportunity to relive his crime.

"Bauer displays remarkable talent in pacing, plotting and, most important of all, getting beneath the skin of even her most repellent characters". What was originally conceived as a short story about a boy and his grandmother (from the author's note) is likely to be one of the shining stars in crime fiction this year. Shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award.

Readalikes: Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost, and In the Woods by Tana French.

*** = Starred reviews

January Book to Film

YouthYouth

Youth in Revolt is based on C.D. Payne's, hilarious, take-no-prisoners novel about a cynical, sex-obsessed teenager's pining love for an intelligent girl he met on vacation at a trailer park.

The movie opens to mixed reviews by the Wall Street Journal and Time.

Girls Interrupted

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by author Joanne Greenberg is a now-classic semi-autobiographical account of a sixteen-year old girl’s struggle with schizophrenia. Following traumatic events that occurred during childhood, Deborah withdraws further into herself, living in a fantasy universe called Yr (pronounced “eer”), and drifts in and out of reality. After a suicide attempt, Deborah’s parents seek treatment for her in an institution.

The story is reminiscent of Susannah Kaysen’s 1993 memoir, Girl, Interrupted. Kaysen was institutionalized in the 1960s after a suicide attempt and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. However, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden was published many years earlier (1964) under the pseudonym Hannah Green, and of course, deals with a very different kind of mental illness. Still, a major theme in both of the books is that both of the young women feel "safe" being on the "inside", and feel liberated from social stigma and responsibility. But they both eventually realize that unless they take steps toward their recovery - frightening as the "outside" world may be - they will remain hospitalized, and never actually, truly, be free.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #191

Leila Meacham's debut Roses* is getting huge buzz among advance readers and the publishing community and has been favorably compared to works of Barbara Taylor Bradford and Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds).

This multi-generational saga is set in a small East Texas town where two founding families - The Tolivers and the Warwicks (descendants of the houses of Lancaster and York of the War of the Roses fame) control its powerful timber and cotton industries.

When Mary Toliver inherits her family's cotton plantation, Somerset, it tears apart her family; and causes her to lose the love of her life, timber magnate Percy Warwick. Now at 85, Mary is determined the family curse will not claim another generation of Tolivers, and set her plans in motion to sell off the plantation.

Spanning much of the 20th century, this old-fashioned saga of secrets and passion, feud and revenge will entertain and appeal to Gothic-romance readers and moviegoers of such "Southern-fried epics" as Gone with the Wind and Giant (based on a novel by Edna Ferber).

* = Starred Review

An Extraordinary Child with a Special Destiny

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is the story of a hyperactive pre-teen boy who discovers that his real father is one of the great Greek gods of mythology. That makes him a demigod, a half-god half-mortal with special powers and a special destiny. He is whisked away to a magically protected camp where he discovers a whole community of demigod kids learning to survive and develop their special talents in a world suddenly full of magic and monsters. Percy soon discovers that a great evil is trying to use him to return to the world, and nobody can be trusted, not even the gods of Olympus.

This series bears many strong thematic resemblances to the Harry Potter series, and its a great fit for any kids or adults who enjoyed Harry Potter and are looking for other things in the same vein. However, Riordan writes from the perspective of young Percy and uses Percy's irreverent (and often sarcastic) voice to ensure things stay light-hearted on his quests of near-constant monster battles and conflicts.

The Lightning Thief, the first book of the series, is being made into a movie which is due to be released later this year. It has the potential to be great, despite its lack of my most favorite character, Nico di Angelo. That kid is awesome. Am I right?

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #190

In Victor Lodato’s “phenomenal” debut, Mathilda Savitch***, fearless and observant 13 year-old Mathilda Savitch is determined to sleuth and find the person who pushed her older sister – wild and beautiful Helene, in front of a moving train. Mathilda is convinced that Helene’s secrets lie dormant in their computer and the cryptic and increasingly alarming emails from a stranger will lead her to the killer.

At times heartbreaking and hilarious, the compelling page-tuner grapples with serious issues while never allowing us to lose sight of the immediacy of Mathilda’s chaotic reality, making her a sympathetic and engaging narrator.

Victor Lodato (recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of numerous awards including the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays), “indelibly captures the fragile vulnerability and fearless bravado of adolescence through Mathilda’s impeccable voice, one that rages with alienation, frustration and confusion as much as it aches with hope, wonder and desire. “

Comparison to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is inevitable. Highly recommended.

*** = Starred reviews

Sassy, Swashbuckling Hotdog Vendor of the Big Easy

A Confederacy of Dunces is classic novel which takes place in New Orleans. Resplendent in plaid, Ignatius J. Reilly is our hefty hero. He is full of empty threats and hot air (literally), and lives a life committed to "theology and geometry" and the "occasional cheese dip". This Picaresque novel follows his absurd exploits, which end in disaster and hilarity. John Kennedy Toole's writing is effortlessly funny and subtly socially aware, and will appeal to a broad audience.

The novel was published in 1980, eleven years after Toole's death, and won him a posthumous Pulitzer in 1981. Despite repeated attempts, the story has mysteriously resisted being made into a feature film. Perhaps Ignatious C. Reilly is a character better left to our imaginations.

AADL owns several copies of A Confederacy of Dunces, including large print and BOCD formats.

Garth Nix: Fantasy from Down Under

Did you like Harry Potter? If so, try the short, complex series for teens featuring magic, royal blood lines, the kind-of-but-not-really undead, and a sassy talking cat by Garth Nix, called the Abhorsen (also known as Old Kingdom) trilogy, started in 1995.

Its first book, Sabriel, features a young girl who must rescue her father from the depths of Death itself. Along the way, she is helped--or perhaps hindered--by her father's "pet" cat, Mogget, and a strange boy she released from an even stranger prison.

The second book, Lirael, introduces a new character, the dark-haired Lirael, who feels absolutely isolated in her home at the Clayr's glacier. In order to gain a friend, she has to create one out of magic she learns as a Second Assistant Librarian. With her new friend, the Dog, she must help Sabriel's son, Prince Sameth, fight to save the world.

In the final book, Abhorsen, Lirael, who is now Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and Prince Sameth face off against the evil threatening the world, with the help of their friends and families. The climactic ending to the trilogy provides interesting insight into society. Publisher's Weekly stated that it is "at once an allegory regarding war and peace and a testament to friendship...a thought-provoking fantasy."

Nix also has a few series for the slightly younger crowd, including the still-in-progress Keys to the Kingdom, vaguely reminiscent of the fantastical world of Alice in Wonderland, and the magical Seventh Tower series, starring the downtrodden and loveable Chosen named Tal.

Pushing Push

Judging by the number of holds in our catalog, it looks like people are aware that we have the book Push which is the basis for the movie Precious and which has been receiving high praise lately. I used to work in the Washington DC Public Library, and Push was a staple in our collection... We needed to have it because it was consistently circulating among the African-American teenagers who frequented our library. Prompted by what I've been reading about the movie, I finally read the book recently, and it is quite a story, full of pain and tragedy but also much hope and courage. I really appreciate that it is her education in reading and expressing herself through writing that become Precious's lifelines as she rebuilds her life.

I saw the movie this weekend, and it captures the book quite well. Seeing so many unseasoned actors offering such deft performances is always a thrilling experience. I like to think that people will be talking about this story after they have read the book and seen the movie.

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.

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