Fabulous Fiction Firsts #184

Recently picked by Booklist as one of the ten top first novels of the year, Carolina De Robertis's debut novel The Invisible Mountain* is a "deeply intimate exploration of the search for love and authenticity, power and redemption, in the lives of three women, and a penetrating portrait of a small, tenacious nation, Uruguay, shaken in the gales of the twentieth century."

This gripping and lyrical story, at once expansive and lush with detail, begins with Pajarita, a healer with a mysterious second birth, her daughter Eva , a poet who suffered sexual assault as a child, and granddaughter Salome who as a revolutionary endures arrest, torture and imprisonment.

" De Robertis is a skilled storyteller in relating the stories of these stalwart women, but it is her use of language from the precision of poetry to the sensuality of sex that makes this literary debut so exceptional".

Readers of historical fiction from a strong female perspective would also find interesting The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allenda; and the 2004 National Book Award winner The News from Paraguay* by Lily Tuck.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #183

If you were moved by her memoir The Glass Castle*, you would find Jeannette Walls's debut novel Half Broke Horses* no less "authentic, irresistible, and triumphant".

While The Glass Castle is the tale of a child of a scholarly, alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother; her nomadic, hardscrabble upbringing, heartbreaking betrayals before finding the resources and will to leave home; Half Broke Horses is the story of Ms. Walls's grandmother - Lily Casey Smith.

This first-person fictional biography of a "horse-breaking, moonshine-selling, ranch-running, airplane-flying, pistol-packing, school-teaching, indomitable pioneer" begins with a young Lily, tough and wise beyond her years, saving her siblings during one of west Texas' flash floods.

Family photographs, archival materials and research lend an air of oral history to the narrative. Reflecting on the experiences of her grandmother and mother, Walls says, “It’s a bit of an anachronism, but there’s a lot to be said for the tough pioneer spirit and the untamed wilderness. I think it’s important that we don’t forget our roots. And our own half-brokeness."

For novels of other indomitable women, try The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss and The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas.

* = Starred reviews (See the New York Times review)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #182

From the creator of CSI television series Anthony E. Zuiker come this sensational debut Level 26 : Dark Origins.

This is no ordinary crime thriller. In fact, it is the first digi-novel. It combines the book format, film, and interactive digital technologies into an intense storytelling experience.

Level 26 refers to law enforcement personnel's category of evil - with 25 being the most sadistic of torture-murderers. Now Steve Dark, the ultimate crime-scene tactician is on the trail of the most brutal of killers - one that they have invented a new level for. Code named "Sqweegel", this clever, twisted serial killer has been taunting the police and eluding capture for decades. His choice of victims appears to be random. Nobody is safe.

Readers will be able to log onto www.level26.com (special code and clues scattered through the text) to access digital movies featuring the characters, crime-scene details and more. It is an experience like no other.

Go ahead, double-check doors and windows and sleep with the lights on. I did. I drew the line on taking sharp objects to bed though.

Teen Stuff: Spotlight on Pete Hautman

Pete Hautman is the National Book Award winning author of a strikingly unusual set of novels found in the AADL's Teen Fiction collection. Take his 1996 sci-fi, Mr. Was, where teenager Jack Lund discovers a secret door that takes him 50 years into the past inside the attic of a crumbling cliff estate that he and his mother share to escape from his abusive father. Or Invisible, the story of two boys who have been best friends forever, bound together by their fascination with fire though separated by their vastly different degrees of popularity at school.

Another great choice is the 2004 National Book Award winner, Godless, about Jason, a sharp 15-year-old who breaks from the tenets of his unshakably Catholic father and starts his own mock religion that worships the Ten-Legged God, a water tower at the center of town. One night's rituals on top of the water tower will test Jason, his religion, and his friendships in this quirky, yet thoughtful perspective on organized religion.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #181

chemistrychemistry

In Chemistry for Beginners*, for Dr. Steven Fisher, the female orgasm is his life’s work. At the brink of the breakthrough of a miracle drug that could cure female sexual dysfunction (think Viagra), one of his test subjects – Annie G is wracking havoc with his data, his scientific mind and his carefully guarded heart.

This engaging and smart, romantic comedy (no longer an oxymoron, thanks to Anthony Strong - a pseudonym for Anthony Capella) is presented in the form of a scientific paper, complete with footnotes (totally believable and absolutely hilarious) and illustrations. The uniquely contemporary male perspective, memorable quotes, satirical jabs at academia, clinical research, and the drug business will surely entertain. The tentative and problematic courtship is tantalizing (think D.H. Lawrence's Lady C.), at times heartbreaking, and oh so itchy sexy.

Easily the best romance of the year, from a newcomer to the genre. Best quote: "Sex is biology, love is chemistry". And some of the best sex scenes since Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #180

If you liked Lauren Groff's fantastic debut The Monsters of Templeton* (blog) then you would delight in Nancy Mauro's New World Monkeys*.

At once " fun, funny and touching" and "weird, disturbing and intensely engaging", the novel centers on Lily and Duncan, unhappily married Manhattan yuppies, a dilapidated old house, a wild boar, small-town secrets, and a bit of nasty buried in the backyard.

"Debut novelist Mauro perfectly balances humor and soulfulness in this poisonously funny, torchlight eerie, psychologically astute tale of archaic instincts, deviance, and violence." Quirky? Yes. But it will appeal to those who favor happy endings and romantics who insist on believing that love really does conquer all.

* = Starred reviews

Jack London: A Man for All Seasons

In honor of Banned Book Week (September 26−October 3) I present to you, Jack London. I was surprised to learn that The Call of the Wild (1903) was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929 for being “too radical” – although the banning of the book may have had more to do with the fact that London was a well known socialist, rather than the story itself - which is about a sled dog named Buck during the Klondike Goldrush. However, regardless of his political leanings, it was The Call of the Wild which brought the charismatic author the most success and fame.

So, if you haven’t read The Call of the Wild, To Build a Fire, or White Fang since childhood, maybe it’s time for another look. I also recommend Martin Eden – London's semi-autobiographical novel about a young working class sailor in California struggling to become a respected writer against all odds. Want to learn more about Jack London? Check out some of these biographies available. Also, you may want to take a peek at The Jack London Online Collection – a fantastic resource. Most of his writings are available on the site, as well a photo archive, research aids and much, much more.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #179

Swedish short-story writer Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of "humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care."

The Unit* is set at the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material, where men and women of a certain age without families or indispensable jobs are sent to participate in medical experiments and donate organs to more essential members of society.

50 year-old Dorrit Weger finds "The Unit" a pleasant, clean, lovely place, where friendship is easy and the experiment harmless. But soon, she begins to notice other campers faring less well. When her roommates are being ushered off one by one to their final donations, she panics. An unlikely development as a result of an expected alliance forces Dorrit to confront choice.

For Orwell and Huxley fans and those who enjoyed Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Kauzo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

* = starred review

Simon's Cat

If you are a cat lover check out the hilarious wordless comic strip collection called Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield. Tofield, a British animator, started with animated shorts of the same name, available for free on his website. Tofield does all the characters including the 'meows'.

Here is one of my favorites:

If you are interested in knowing more about cats and caring for one, AADL has many books to choose from, click here for a list

Teen Stuff: Being and Nothingness

In his 1943 essay, Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre claims, "It is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation." Sartre's awareness of the ability of death and/or absence to create meaning in life continues to resonate with authors and readers sixty years later. What has brought the authors below to reexamine this theme of loss and recovery? The sudden destruction of the WTC towers perhaps, or the disappearance of a viable American job market, or maybe something darker still.

Take Gregory Galloway's 2005 fiction, As Simple As Snow, a teen/adult crossover novel about a homogenized high school boy whose life suddenly becomes meaningful when his quirky, spontaneous girlfriend disappears the day before Valentine's Day. Or Carol Plum-Ucci's 2001 Printz Honor Book, The Body of Christopher Creed, where the titular character's mysterious absence casts a menacing shadow over a small town, eventually exposing the dark secrets of the people closest to him. And in John Green's 2006 Printz Award Winner, Looking for Alaska, Miles Halter's new life at Culver Creek boarding school is everything he could have hoped for in the "great perhaps" he was seeking, until tragedy gives his life new focus. Check out all of these novels from the AADL today.

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