Fabulous Fiction Firsts #146

In Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, the twin sons of a secret love affair between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Addis Ababa, Marion and Shiva Stone are orphaned by their mother's death in childbirth and father's disappearance. Coming of age in an Ethiopia on the brink of revolution, they are bound together by a shared interest in medicine and forever divided by their love for the same woman.

"An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others". Moving, elegant, and beautifully written.

Lauded for his sensitive memoir about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the '80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences. Board-certified in internal medicine and in pulmonary and infectious diseases, he attended the Iowa Writers Workshop and is currently on the faculty at Stanford University.

Science Fair is beyond fun for Middle Schoolers and beyond

Science FairScience Fair

What a hilarious book! Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson bring science fairs to a whole new level in this comedy-thriller of a novel. Science Fair: a story of mystery, danger, international suspense, and a very nervous frog, features Toby and his best buds, Micah and Tamara. They battle, suffer, endure, and enjoy(?) the usual middle school happenings. Meanwhile, Grdankl the Strong, president of Kprshtskan, is plotting to take over the American government and destroy America, and plans to secretly use the kids of Hubble Middle School to activate the plan by using their Science Fair projects in an elaborate scheme.

The rich kids at Hubble cheat on their science project year after year and are able to get away with it because of who their parents are. This year’s prize is $5,000 and Toby and his friends are determined to win, not only for the money, but to stick it to the rich Manor Estate kids. Oh, and there’s that whole matter of Toby needing the money to pay off the two guys he’s being chased by, Vader and Wookie, to whom he sold some of his dad’s Star Wars memorabilia to via Ebay. Needless to say this is one fun and bumpy road to the Science Fair. Watch out for the attack robot owl!

Happy Birthday Alice Walker!

alice walkeralice walker

Happy Birthday to one of my favorite writers, Alice Walker. Born February 9, 1944, she is best known as the author of The Color Purple, which won her a Pulitzer Prize. A self-proclaimed "womanist", she is politically active in several different areas that often surface in her work: civil rights, the anti-nuclear movement, the environment, the women’s movement, and the movement to protect indigenous peoples. Her fight to end female circumcision in Africa is discussed in Warrior Marks : Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, as well two of her fictional works The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy. Walker was the editor of I love myself when I am laughing ... and then again when I am looking mean and impressive : a Zora Neale Hurston reader and was instrumental in bringing Hurston's work back into print. She has published an impressive amount of her own work as well, including novels, short story collections, poetry, children's books, essays, and autobiographical reflections. Click here to watch Alice Walker share a poem she wrote to mark the inauguration of Barack Obama, and to see her speak with legendary 93-year-old civil rights activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #145

Fans of NPR-Books shouldn't miss first-novelist Jamie Ford's interview and discussion of his Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Set in Seattle 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, amidst mounting racial tension and the frenzy of Japanese Americans' relocation, is the heartwarming story of Henry Lee, his first love Keiko Okabe and their shared passion for jazz.

For a closer look at this chapter in our shared history, see the Manzanar Series - images captured by Ansel Adams. Readers might also try Sandra Dallas' Tallgrass, a vivid portrayal of life in the internment camps and how they, forever altered our cultural landscape.

Also recommended is Disappearing Moon Cafe by Sky Lee, "...a feisty, complex, and award-winning first novel" - an intimate look at the many facets of Chinatown USA.

Read more about Jamie Ford from his website and the Panama Hotel on which the title is based. For book groups, a discussion guide is available.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #143

Looking for your Dream House* ? Beware of that small clapboard house on Macon Street, not far from the campus of the University of Michigan (fictitious, of course).

Pushcart Prize winner Valerie Laken's first novel is one stunning cautionary tale. Hoping to rekindle their troubled marriage while renovating a historic house in Ann Arbor, Kate and Stuart Kinzler learn that the house had been the scene of a devastating murder some 20 years earlier while the Prices, a working-class black family, lived there.

When Stuart walks out in the middle of Kate's ambitious remodeling, Kate forms new relationships with two men who have ties to the murder and the house.

"Laken is masterful at character construction as she explores issues of race and class and conveys the wreckage of individual lives and the emotions evoked by a house that is the source of joy and dreams as well as the site of tragedy." You might be interested in Mary Beth Lewis' article in the February issue of the Ann Arbor Observer on Laken's own Ann Arbor "dream house" experience.

On the theme of historic renovation, readers would find much delight in Katie Fforde's charming and witty Restoring Grace, or John Smolens' moody, suspenseful mystery, set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Fire Point.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #142

Janice Y.K. Lee's debut novel The Piano Teacher* opens in 1952, when naive and newly married (to a minor colonial administrator) Claire Pendleton is hired by the wealthy Chen family as a piano instructor. Seduced by the lavish lifestyle of Hong Kong's expatriate community, she begins an affair with the Chen's English chauffer, Will Truesdale who is deeply marked by a tragic past during the Japanese Occupation.

Shifting back and forth between Clair's story in 1952 and Will's war-torn Hong Kong 10 years prior, the narrative is a lush examination of East-West relations and a rich and intimate look at what happens to people under extraordinary circumstances.

Readers interested in this time period might also want to check out the intensely political, thrillingly erotic, Ailing Zhang's (Eileen Chang) Lust, Caution, a novel on which a hauntingly moving and seductive Ang Lee film is based.

Others interested in the expat. experience might enjoy Oswald Wynd's The Ginger Tree (1977).

* = Starred Reviews

'Rabbit' is dead: John Updike, age 76, succumbs to lung cancer

The Associated Press reports that John Updike, the American novelist, poet and critic, died today, according to a statement released by his publisher. He was the author of more than 60 books, for decades a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Testimony by Anita Shreve

A scandal at Avery Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, is the basis of the novel, Testimony. Anita Shreve, also the author of the Pilot’s Wife, tells the story of three teenage boys, a 14 year-old girl and a videotape.

In her latest novel, Shreve skillfully illustrates how the actions of a few can impact many. Each chapter is told by a different character, but mainly by Mike, the headmaster of Avery Academy, and those involved with the tape. As the story unfolds, Shreve gives the details as to why the tape was made, but all is not what it seems.

Testimony is a well-written, intriguing novel.

Audio Fabulous Fiction First #141

BBC Audiobooks production of Catherine O'Flynn's "heartbreaking, hilarious, immensely rewarding" debut novel What Was Lost* is not to be missed.

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the story begins with 10 year-old Kate Meaney, amateur sleuth/loner, except for the unlikely Adrian, adult son of a local shopkeeper, and Teresa, a girl who sets new standards for naughtiness. Then, one day, Kate disappears.

20 years later, two employees of the Green Oak Shopping Center where Kate doggedly set up surveillance of her bank robber "suspect" begin seeing Kate's ghost on the security camera. All at once, the many lives that were affected by her disappearance converge and collide.

As clever and engaging as Kate Atkinson's Case Histories (2004), and the latest in the Jackson Brodie series, When Will There be Good News? (2008), guaranteeing you many hours of deligthful listening.

*= Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #140

P.J. Brooke is the pen name of the husband & wife writing team of Philip O'Brien and Jane Brooke. Both active in the Scottish government, they live part of the year in the old Moorish district, the Albayzin in Granada, where Blood Wedding* is set.

First in the Sub Inspector Max Romero series, the story begins with the death of lovely Leila, a Muslim postgraduate student, found near Max's own family estate, and the prime suspect's link to a shadowy terrorist group. The mystery surrounding the death of poet Federico Garcia Lorca during the Spanish Civil War adds depth and complexity to the plot.

Compelling characters, exotic and atmospheric setting, and the smooth weaving of historical and cultural details make this a strong addition to the Euro-crime genre.

Highly recommended as a readalike for Carlos Ruiz Zafón's (author's website) The Shadow of the Wind (2004), set in Barcelona, and the Inspector Alvarez series set in Mallorca.

* = Starred Review

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