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


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.

September's Books to Film


Written by 2003 Nobel Prize laureate J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace was awarded the Man Booker Prize (1999). In stunning prose, it tells the story of Professor David Lurie's extended stay at his daughter's smallholding and the incident of unimaginable terror and violence that forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship —and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

Starring John Malkovich, the film is shot in the ruggedly beautiful landscape outside of Cape Town, South Africa. See the New York Times review. Limited release September 18, nationally October 2nd.

The Informant, starring Matt Damon, is adapted from Kurt Eichenwald's 2000 bestseller, the "true story" about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s, who blew the whistle on the company's price fixing tactics and became the highest-ranked executive to ever turn whistleblower in US history.

Coco avant Chanel (Coco before Chanel) is based on Edmonde Charles-Roux's biography of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who begins her life as a headstrong orphan, and through an extraordinary journey, becomes the legendary couturier. In French - with Audrey Tautou playing the title role. Sumptuous cinematography and a sensational soundtrack.

Intersex Immortal Tilda Swinton

Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton is one of those people who make me want to see a movie just because she’s in it. The last film I saw her in was Orlando, a beautiful film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel about an English nobleman who stays eternally young, but does not stay eternally male. After about 200 years of life, Orlando becomes a woman and gains a new perspective on life. The film continues for another 200 years of life and ends showing Orlando as a mother in present-day England, a time and place added to the original story which Woolf did not live to see.

Tilda Swinton has a knack for being cast as characters who are androgynous, ageless, or both. In Constantine, a dark fantasy/action film based on the graphic novel series, she plays for both sides of the heaven/hell divide as the angel Gabriel, a genderless immortal. In the 2006 film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she rules with an icy fist as the ageless villain Jadis, the White Witch.

Swinton has also appeared in such popular films as Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

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