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

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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

SFWASFWA

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.

Crossroads: Literature and Music

In the late 19th century, the marriage of philosophical literature and modern music was epitomized by composer Richard Strauss. Consider Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, a symphonic work based on Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which was published a mere 10 years earlier. Nietzche's novel captures several central tenets of his philosophy, namely, the superman, the will to power, and the idea of eternal recurrence. Take the force of these ideas and allow the compositional genius of Strauss to capture them in music, and you usher in 20th century music. Director Stanley Kubrick was impressed enough with the piece to use the opening measures during key scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Also check out Strauss' brilliant 1905 opera, Salome, based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name, published approximately 10 years prior to the musical piece. The final scene of Salome continues to shock audiences and exalt sopranos in performances to this day.

Cormac McCarthy's Meditation on Evil: Blood Meridian

The bloodline of malice that runs from Grendel's Mother to Iago to Moby Dick reaches its apocalyptic incarnation in Judge Holden of Cormac McCarthy's 1985 novel, Blood Meridian. Set on the Mexico-U.S. border in the late 1800s, the Judge, the Kid, and the rest of Glanton's historically-based gang are hired scalp hunters tracking down Apaches and Comanches for anyone willing to foot the bill.

Saying this story isn't for the faint of heart is a devastating understatement; the incessant and brutal violence begins on page four and only increases in severity until the epilogue, where a mysterious figure rises from the desert floor, presumably to take on -- if not replace -- the ageless Judge. This is McCarthy's unparalleled master work of fiction, dense in symbolism and as mercurial in style as a Schoenberg twelve-tone piece. Both difficult and complex, Blood Meridian is probably not the best introduction to McCarthy's work, but for those who found Anton Chigurh compelling in No Country for Old Men, introduce yourself to the Judge.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #158

Can't believe I'm #112 on the request list for Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife*! The waiting is going to be unbearable.

Praised by critics as "fierce and sophisticated", this fiction debut (after a memoir) is set in 1907 Wisconsin. Catherine Land answered well-to-do businessman Ralph Truitt's newspaper ad for "a reliable wife". As she stepped off the train, it was obvious that Truitt has been deceived. Both these complex characters have plenty of traumatic baggage that is peeled away layer by layer as the two engage in a darkly dangerous game of check and checkmate.

Reliable "calls to mind the chilling tales of Poe and Stephen King, and at its core this is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. It melds a plot drenched in suspense with expertly realized characters and psychological realism." ~Bookpage

* = Starred Reviews

Spring Books to Movies

The Soloist is based on The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music - an emotionally soaring drama in which Journalist Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a former classical music prodigy, playing his violin on the streets of L.A. As Lopez endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives.

Published in 1995, Bret Easton Ellis' The Informers is "a collection of loosely connected short stories that captures a week in L.A. in 1983, featuring movie executives, rock stars, a vampire and other morally challenged characters in adventures laced with sex, drugs and violence", now adapted as a major motion picture. Read more about Ellis and his interview about the movie.

Directed by Ron Howard, the much anticipation Angels & Demons will be in theaters on May 15th. Based on Dan Brown’s (2000) novel, Tom Hanks reprises his role as Harvard religious expert Robert Langdon (in The Da Vinci Code) who finds that the Illuminati -- the most powerful underground organization with ancient roots is willing to stop at nothing, even murder, to advance its goals.

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