Fabulous Fiction Firsts #232

Now for a change of pace...

Liar, Liar* * introduces P.I. Cat DeLuca and her Pants on Fire Detective Agency, known around the Windy City for its stellar reputation in catching cheaters, guaranteeing her clients evidence that would bring large divorce settlements.

Life takes a strange turn when a rogue reporter for the Chicago Tribune masquerades as a client with a liar-liar husband - one Chance Savino, a steamy guy with a pocketful of smuggled diamonds. When the FBI insists that Savino is killed in the same explosion that sends Cat to the hospital, Cat isn’t buying it. And when she finds her client dead on the floor with a knife in her chest and Savino rummaging through the apartment, she not only has to convince her family and the FBI she is not crazy, she has to get herself off the murderer's "Must Kill" list.

Debut author K.J. Larsen is in truth, Julianne, Kristen and Kari Larsen, three sisters who are hard at work on the next Cat adventure.

Liar has been picked as one of Library Journal Best Books 2010 Genre Fiction. Hey, Stephanie Plum, you have been warned. Cat is moving in.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #231

If you enjoyed historical mysteries by Louis Bayard (Black Tower), and Ariana Franklin (The Mistress of the Art of Death) then I am confident you will find The Rhetoric of Death* * * by Judith Rock just your cup of tea.

This "amazing"* debut is set in 17th century Paris where young Charles du Luc, a former soldier has been sent by The Bishop of Marseilles to assist in teaching rhetoric and directing dance at the prestigious college of Louis le Grand. On his first day, the school's star dancer disappears from rehearsal, and the next day another student is run down in the street. When the dancer's body is found under the worst possible circumstances, suspicion falls on him as a newcomer, and finding the actual killer becomes both a personal mission and a source of deadly danger.

Against the backdrop of a Paris swollen with intrigue and religious strife, first-novelist Rock (a dancer, choreographer, seminarian, and former auxiliary NYPD police office) brings first-hand knowledge of dance, choreography, acting, police investigation, and teaching to a new series rich with historical details and well-drawn characters.

Reader might also like S.J. Parris' Heresy which dramatizes religious strife in an earlier era.

* * * = Starred Reviews

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die

The title of this book says it all, really. In this darkly humorous collection of short stories, a machine can take a blood sample and produce a slip of paper that will tell you in one to a few words how you will meet your demise. And all for $19.95! Your result, however, can be most vague. Results such as DROWNING, CANCER, OLD AGE may not be as clear-cut as they seem. For example, your death prediction may be “BURIED ALIVE”. But what if being buried alive does not necessarily mean buried alive in dirt? What if you were buried alive in a building that collapsed? Knowing the “prediction” usually only results in more questions. I really love the quote on the cover of the book by author Cory Doctorow. “Existentialism was never so fun. Makes me wish I could die, too!”

If the premise alone of Machine of Death does not entice you, following are just some of the titles of the stories in this collection:

Author Birthdays: Solzhenitsyn, Paley, Harrison

December 11th marks the birthday of authors Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Grace Paley, and Jim Harrison.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian historian and writer of fiction, as well as a Nobel laureate. His most extensive work of history is called The Gulag Archipelago; it discusses Soviet forced labor in the early 20th century, including the author's own experiences in a work camp.

Solzhenitsyn's fictional works are interesting and extensive. The First Circle is a tale written after the author's experiences at Gulag, as well as his diagnosis of cancer, and exile. Booklist called it a "many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale". Along those same lines, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich is a book about hope and life during Communist tyranny and its Siberian work camps.

Grace Paley was an American short story writer and poet. Among her works of prose are collections like The Little Disturbances Of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.

Paley's poetry has been described as having a "strong pulsating rhythm". Here at AADL we have a few collections, including Fidelity, Leaning Forward, and her New And Collected Poems. The Collected Stories has many of what are considered her "classic" stories in one volume.

Jim Harrison is an American author, born in Grayling, Michigan. His most well-known work might be Legends of the Fall, which is actually made up of three stories and was later put to film. His latest publications, from last year, are called The Farmer's Daughter, another collection of three novellas, and a collection of poetry entitled In Search of Small Gods.

Harrison also wrote a memoir. The book outlines his life, including childhood tragedy, his alcoholism and cocaine habit, love of nature, and, the hopefully more upbeat discussion of his associations with famous men like Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Buffett.

Author Birthdays: Rilke, Butler, Woolrich

December 4th marks the birthday of authors Rainer Maria Rilke, Samuel Butler, and Cornell Woolrich.

Rainer Maria Rilke was an Austrian poet who wrote in both verse and lyrical styles. His best known work is called Duino Elegies (German Duineser Elegien), which he wrote in the early 20th century. Other works include the Book of Hours (German Stundenbuch), which was inspired by the spirituality of Russia, and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, written in Paris and centered around themes of existentialism.

Rilke often used figures of Greek mythology in his poetry. One, Sonnets to Orpheus, has a public domain translation which you can read online. You may also be interested in checking out a biography on him.

Samuel Butler was a Victorian writer. His most famous pieces are probably the satire Erewhon and the novel The Way of All Flesh.

If you are interested in reading any of Butler's works, many are available for free download on Project Gutenberg. He wrote many essays as well as fiction, and they discuss anything from Darwin and evolution to the possible homosexuality of Shakespeare.

Cornell Woolrich was an American writer who also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopley. He wrote many, many mysteries, including Fright, the story of a man who strangled his mistress after his wedding day, and Manhattan Love Song, which is widely considered one of the beginning works of noir.

Woolrich also wrote short stories, some of which have been made into movies. Rear Window is probably the most well known. For a more complete listing of the 20+ films based on his works, visit Wikipedia.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #230

Published posthumously, Beverly Jensen's debut The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay * comes highly recommended by someone I trust and I was not disappointed.

In 1916, Idella and Avis Hillock live on the edge of a chilly bluff in New Brunswick, a hardscrabble world of potato farms and lobster traps, rough men, hard work, and baffling beauty. From "Gone," the heartbreaking story of their mother's medical crisis in childbirth, to the darkly comic "Wake," which follows the grown siblings' catastrophic efforts to escort their father, "Wild Bill" Hillock's body to his funeral, the stories of Idella and Avis offer a compelling and wry vision of two remarkable women. The vivid cast includes Idella's philandering husband Edward, her bewilderingly difficult mother-in-law- and Avis, whose serial romantic disasters never quell her irrepressible spirit. Jensen's work evokes a time gone by and reads like an instant American classic.

Beverly Jensen earned an MFA in drama from Southern Methodist University. After her death in 2003, her story "Wake" was published in the New England Review, included in The Best American Short Stories of 2007, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Sisters brings to mind Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan another moving tale of two sisters. It won the 2001 Governor General's Award and the The Scotiabank Giller Prize - two of the most prestigious Canadian literary awards.

* = starred review

Author Birthdays: Pohl, Schulz, Robinson

November 26th marks the birthday of authors Frederik Pohl, Charles Schulz, and Marilynne Robinson.

Frederik Pohl is a 90-year-old American science fiction writer and National Book Award, Hugo Award, and Nebula Award winner. His book Jem won the National Book Award in 1980, Man Plus and Gateway both won the Nebula Award in 1976 and 1977 respectively, and Gateway also won the Hugo Award in 1978.

Pohl has written 7 series and at least 30 other novels, over 20 collections, as well as an autobiography and some non-fiction works. One of the stand-alone novels is The Coming of the Quantum Cats, which includes Nancy Reagan as President of the United States and an escapee Stalin who found his refuge in America. His latest work, the finishing of a novel started by Arthur C. Clarke, is called The Last Theorem.

Charles Schulz was an American cartoonist, best known for the comic strip and cartoon Peanuts and its characters, though his first cartoon was actually one called Li'l Folks. His honors are probably a bit more prestigious than most authors': the Congressional Gold Medal, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even being the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade.

Schulz has one "autobiography", and had many biographies written about him, including Sparky: The Life And Art Of Charles Schulz and Schulz And Peanuts: A Biography.

Marilynne Robinson is a five-time award-winning American writer. Housekeeping won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award; Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ambassador Book Award; and Home, a companion to Gilead, won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Robinson's newest book is a non-fiction work entitled Absence Of Mind: The Dispelling Of Inwardness From The Modern Myth Of The Self. The book consists of lectures given at Yale University about science, religion, and consciousness.

Teen Stuff: "I Am Number Four"

Pittacus Lore's sci-fi thriller, I Am Number Four, is best tagged as Alex Rider meets The Hunger Games, as readers tail 15-year-old John Smith, one of nine refugees from Planet Lorien who is hiding on Earth from the merciless Mogadorians. Aiming to wipe out the super-powered teens one number at a time, the Mogadorians have killed three of the Loriens already, and John is Number Four.

John plans to hide out in the rural town of Paradise, Ohio, with his guardian, Henri, and blend in as an average high school student. But several challenges, including a burgeoning love interest, a particularly sinister bully, and Number Four’s own growing powers are rapidly making him a marked target.

I Am Number Four is the first novel in the planned six-book series, "The Lorien Legacies." A film version is already in production for a 2011 release, with producers Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay behind the action, and hotly buzzing actor Alex Pettyfer in the lead role.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #229

The fact that Gentleman Captain is the first in a projected series is "jolly good news" for fans of Patrick O'Brian, C. S. Forester, and Dewey Lambdin.

1662: Restoration England. Cromwell is dead, and King Charles II has reclaimed the throne after years of civil war. It is a time of divided allegiances, intrigue, and outright treachery. With rebellion stirring in the Scottish Isles, the king asks Matthew Quinton to take command of a new vessel and sets sail for Scotland to defuse this new threat.

Matthew Quinton is loyal, if inexperienced, having sunk the first man-of-war under his command. Upon taking command of the Jupiter, he faces a resentful crew, a suspicion that the previous captain was murdered, and the growing conviction that betrayal lies closer to home than he had thought.

With cannon fire by sea and swordplay by land (and a hint of romance) Gentleman Captain is a "rousing high-seas adventure in the finest nautical tradition" from a talented storyteller.

Author J.D. Davies is one of the foremost authorities on the 17th century British navy and has won the 2009 Samuel Pepys Award for his Pepys's Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare, 1649-1689.

* * = Starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Atwood, Foster, Moore

November 18th marks the birthday of authors Margaret Atwood, Alan Dean Foster, and Alan Moore.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer who has won many literary awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Handmaid's Tale and the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin. She has also published novels like The Penelopiad, a reworking of Homer's Odyssey that focuses on Penelope, and The Tent, a collection of short stories and line drawings.

Atwood has also written many books of poetry. Among them are The Door, published in 2007 and discussing the topic of old age, and True Stories, which is dedicated to fellow poet Carolyn Forché and focuses on the subject of human rights.

Alan Dean Foster is an American sci-fi and fantasy writer. Among his numerous series are Flinx and the Commonwealth, Dinotopia, Spellsinger, and The Taken Trilogy.

Singular novels by Foster include Quozl, a tale of alien "invasion", which Booklist has called "entertaining and even comic at times without being frivolous", and Parallelities, a story of parallel worlds in which the main character, Max, finds himself many times over.

Alan Moore is an English writer and popular adult graphic novelist. His most popular works would probably be the graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta, both of which were made into films. He has won many awards for his works, including the Jack Kirby Award, the Eagle Award, and the Harvey Award.

Moore has also written many other adult graphic novels. From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like Watchmen, were turned into films as well. The Ballad of Halo Jones, categorized as a "feminist space opera", tells the story of Halo Jones and her need to escape her boring, futuristic world. Promethea, another one set around a superheroine, has been noted to be "awash in references to mythology, literature, religion, and arcania".

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