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.

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)

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