Fabulous Fiction Firsts #164

At the heart of Enrique Joven's gripping debut (translated from the Spanish) The Book of God and Physics* is the Voynich Manuscript - a puzzling document that has fascinated generations of cryptologists both amateur and professional with its odd drawings and strange text, as yet undeciphered.

This 500 year-old oddity found its way to the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where a Jesuit physics teacher and two resourceful collaborators try to pierce the mystery, including the possible murder of a well-known scientist. The Church, on the other hand, seems to be going to great lengths to keep the book's meaning hidden.

"Joven's sophisticated perspective indeed opens insights into the current controversy pitting Darwinism against intelligent design. A book to delight lovers of well-crafted fiction and well-anchored fact." ~ Booklist

Debut author Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane deals with yet another archival puzzler connected to the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history - the Salem witch trials. Fan of Matthew Pearl would find themselves two new authors to watch.

* = Starred review

Five Best Novels of Summer

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Jessa Crispin said it best...

"The problem with "summer reading" is that too many times it's synonymous with brainless and poorly constructed novels that leave you unsatisfied. Sure, you want something light yet gripping enough to hold your attention on an airplane, but you don't want something that leaves the sensation of having eaten a dinner consisting solely of Sweet Tarts. Here are five books that will suit your palate just fine this summer."

In her piece On The Hunt For Fabulous Fiction, she just happened to picked three of my most anticipated summer read, already tucked away in my beach bag.

#1 The Scenic Route, by Binnie Kirshenbaum
#2 Follow Me, by Joanna Scott, and
#3 Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

If you are looking for inspiration and sound recommendations, try the complete printable list of NPR's Summer Books 2009 - including The 10 Best Summer Cookbooks; Best Fiction For Every Kind Of Summer Day; and Best Mystery, Crime Novels.

Hey, we would love to hear what you are reading this summer. And don't forget to sign up for our Summer Reading Program.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #163

This "wickedly brilliant" cozy by Canadian journalist Alan Bradley won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crimewriter's Association.

Set in a quaint English village, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie* features one of the most engaging amateur sleuths since Harriet the Spy.

11 year-old Flavia de Luce, a walking encyclopedia of the practical use of poison, is thrilled to find a corpse in the cucumber patch of the family's crumbling manor. A missing piece of custard pie, a dead snipe bearing a priceless "gift" on the door step, a retired librarian with a menacing secret and a shell-shocked WWII soldier are among her suspects but the bumbling police arrest her father for the crime. It is all up to Flavia to save the day.

Pure delight. Sequel likely, and most eagerly anticipated.

* = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction First #161

The Chathrand Voyages Trilogy opens with The Red Wolf Conspiracy* and marks the debut of fantasy author Robert V.S. Redick.

The I.M.S. Chathrand, a floating city carrying a reluctant princess bride sets sail on a peacemaking mission. Among the passengers and crew is a young sailor bearing a family curse, a tribe of miniature warriors, a magic rat, assassins, treacherous mermaids and monstrous slavers, all desparate to unlock the mystery and conspiracy of the Red Wolf, a powerful ancient artifact.

This epic fantasy of maritime adventures, bloody diplomacy is vibrant, fresh and exciting. It won over this reluctant fantasy fan from the very first page. Trust me on this one.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #160

Etta, by first-time novelist and Emmy award-winning television reporter Gerald Kolpan is a richly imagined fictional account of the life and loves of Etta Place, the beautiful, adventurous and elusive companion to Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (a.k.a the The Sundance Kid).

Born Lorinda Jameson, the story traces her privileged upbringing as a Philadelphia debutante, the tragedy that rendered her destitute, a new identity as Etta Place, to working as a "Harvey girl" in the Wild West where she met up with Robert LeRoy Parker (a.k.a Butch Cassidy) and the Hole in the Wall Gang.

Incorporating diary entries, telegraph messages, and news clippings into the narrative, Etta is "a compelling love story, high adventure, and thrilling historical drama". The vivid setting and skilled storytelling make this tale both captiviting and entertaining.

Anyone who enjoyed Robert Redford/Paul Newman/Katharine Ross's memorable classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) wouldn't want to miss this.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #159

This delightful debut by Canadian author Elizabeth J. Duncan won the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant.

In The Cold Light of Mourning*, Penny Brannigan, a Canadian expat, has made the Village of Llanelen home for decades, having been seduced but the breathtaking view of this part of the Welsh countryside as a young backpacker. Now manicurist and owner of the Happy Hands Nail Care shop, she has become an integral fabric of the community. When a young bride goes missing after her nail appointment on her wedding day, Penny gets involved.

Her budding romance with the local police inspector, colorful village personalities, quiet domestic routines and the idyllic setting will engage readers longing for a new voice in contemporary cozies. Cold will please fans of fellow Canadian Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, and brings to mind Joan Hess's Maggody series as well as the Kate Austen novels by Jonnie Jacobs, and the Ruby Crane series, set in western Michigan by Jo Dereske.

* = Starred Review

Brutal -- Michael Harmon

Teen literature certainly has grown up since Paul Zindel's The Pigman, as Michael Harmon's 2009 novel, Brutal, proves in this vivisection of bullying and intolerance in today's high schools. Harmon's lead is Poe Holly, a displaced and self-alienated punk rock singer whose outspoken attitude against the barbie doll status quo is tested when her outcast neighbor becomes the victim of several beatings at the hands of untouchable football star, Colby Morris. The novel is as much an analysis of the social strata that the school system fosters as it is a portrait of the disenfranchised individuals that the system tramples underfoot. Here, Brutal succeeds in speaking to both the students caught up in the scheme and the adults who have been shaped by it.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: Audiobook

Want to brush up on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince before the long awaited movie comes out in July? Why not try the audiobook? Jim Dale gives his usual stellar performance of the Harry Potter cast. I will admit I feel the music at the beginning did not feel dark enough for the story. They used the same music up to the Deathly Hallows audiobook where they finally changed it to something darker. And I've never liked Dale's voices for Narcissa and Bellatrix. He makes them both sound vaguely French, and both of them are just supposed to be British. Otherwise, though, this audiobook is just as excellent as the rest of the series.

A New Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver 2

In November, fans of Barbara Kingsolver will be in for a long-anticipated pleasure. Her first novel in nine years, The Lacuna, will be published by Harper Collins. Reminiscent of her novel, The Poisonwood Bible - ok, different continent, different turmoil, male protagonist, no missionaries - The Lacuna promises to be signature Kingsolver material: broad in scope, meticulously researched (she spent seven years on this one), set in turbulent political territory, and encompassing a passionate, emotional journey for the main character. Unlike most previous Kingsolver novels, some of the characters in The Lacuna are "real" - Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky.

Lacuna is a word which means literally "a gap", but it has many rich contexts of use , which right away piques my interest in this story - you can bet Barbara will have a point to make with that title! (Read here for some insights into her process.) And, of course, the personas of Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky are embedded with color and intrigue and depth - all the better to weave your fictional character around. For some background on the era and characters, the dvds The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo & Storm the Skies are instructive. The book Frida's Fiestas is a delight. And, of course, there is the excellent film Frida, which portrays the complex web of relationship between these three legendary figures.

The long wait is nearly over.

Nebula Award Winner

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The Nebula Award is an annual award given by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for the best U.S. book of those genres. The winner for best scifi/fantasy novel this year is Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is the 3rd in the Annals of the Western Shore series. If you have never read Le Guin, this and her Earthsea series may be a good starting point. Located in the Teen collection, these series are some of the best written & exciting fantasy adventure books. Adults will want to read them too! Le Guin is an extremely prolific writer. She writes for adults, teens, and children as well as writing non-fiction, poetry, & short stories. Other book awards she has received include a Hugo and Nebula for the Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed: an ambiguous Utopia; & the Locus SF Award for the Telling. She is also one of the finalists for the 2009 Locus SF Award for Lavinia.

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