Although it has always been considered a controversial book, you haven't read nothin' until you've read Lolita. It is the most beautifully written book of all time (in my opinion). The lyrical style of prose is a device used by Vladimir Nabokov to distract the reader from the sordid nature of the tale and to disguise the satire completely. Through what could be described as a sleight of hand trick, he lulls the reader under a complacent spell, ignoring what the narrator is saying and instead focusing on how lilting the speech itself is. It has been a highly contested book from all sides since its date of publication, with some arguing it is pornographic while others consider it above all other novels. If you are interested in hearing more about critics' reviews of the book, follow the links below.

National Review Critique

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #82

The Chicago Way*, is a debut thriller by Michael Harvey, a Chicago-based attorney and the co-producer of the A&E award winning documentary Cold Case Files : The Most Infamous Cases (1998), which inspired the likes of CSI and Cold Case.

Michael Kelly, “the latest incarnation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe”, (Library Journal) is an ex-Chicago cop turned PI, “ with a taste for liquor, (and an) esoteric penchant for classical literature". When his former partner turned up dead after asking Michael for help on an 8 year-old rape case, and the local brass showed up at his door, Michael smelled cover-up, big time!
In this “… fast-paced thrill ride through Chicago's seedy underbelly” Harvey has created a tough, smart crime fighter (think Spenser and Sam Spade). What stand out in this first novel are not only Harvey's knowledge of forensics and his firm grip on criminal investigations, but also how Chicago is rendered in all its many moods and facets.

For another recent debut of note set in the Windy City, try Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself

* = Starred Review

A Dangerous Innocent, An Accidental Heroine

It has been a long wait for fans of Amy Bloom, but her new novel since Love Invents Us (1997), will be payback enough. It's heartbreaking, romantic, and completely unforgettable.

Away*, a historical novel set in the 1920s, is based loosely on the life of Lillian Alling, as documented in Cassandra Pybus’ meticulously researched The Woman Who Walked to Russia (2002).

In Away,, Lillian Leyb, a 22-year-old Jewish immigrant arrived in New York City alone, mourning the loss of her young daughter. Sheer determination got her the much sought-after job as a seamstress at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre and the attention of the handsome lead actor and his very connected father.

But when word came that her daughter might be alive in Siberia, Lillian was determined to make her way there. The journey was arduous, to say the least.

“Encompassing prison, prostitution and poetry, Yiddish humor and Yukon settings, Bloom's tale offers linguistic twists, startling imagery, sharp wit and a compelling vision of the past. Bloom has created an extraordinary range of characters, settings and emotions. Absolutely stunning.” ~Publishers Weekly

* = Starred Reviews (see the August 20th New York Times Review).

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #80

Well, I wasn’t going to read it. Another Chicklit. I thought, and a bit too cute, judging from the cover. But I was stuck in an airport and it was there. Soon I was turning pages, surprised to be hooked by this engaging debut about a wounded healer and her African elephants.

In Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer, horse-trainer Neelie Sterling is not a good listener. She knows that and she tries hard. But when her cheating husband, veterinarian Matt tells her his partner is having his baby, Neelie can’t deny that she is dense and blind as well.

As a last-ditch effort to save her marriage, she volunteers to join Matt's rescue mission to save injured elephants in Zimbabwe. The trip is dangerous, exhilarating and the nursing of the elephants back home is grueling and frustrating. However, Neelie soon learns that healing could be mutual and there is “still” life (pretty marvelous at that) worth living, especially when the charming millionaire who sponsored the rescue comes knocking.

Nicely paced and sparkled with humor, a debut novel to wrap up the summer. The elephants will steal your heart and the romantic in you will cheer. For fans of Jennifer Weiner and Jenny Colgan.

The Last Chinese Chef

The recent release of featured film No Reservations reminds me of the equally engaging The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones.

Mones, author of Lost in Translation (1998) gives us a “page-turner both exciting and wise, one to nourish the head, the stomach, and the soul” ~David Henry Hwang.

In this The Pilot’s Wife meets the The Iron Chef, Maggie McElroy, a recently widowed L.A.-based food writer must fly to Beijing to sort out a paternity claim filed against her husband’s estate. It looks like international lawyer Matt has kept some devastating secrets. To finance her trip, she takes on an assignment to profile a new shining star in the Beijing culinary scene – an Eurasian named Sam who comes from a long line of illustrious imperial chefs and is picked as a contender in an upcoming culinary Olympic trial.

Mones begins each chapter with some fascinating, well-researched and mouth-watering tidbits on the history of Chinese cuisine and gastronomy that would entice foodies but as Sam’s audition banquet approaches and Maggie’s efforts for a DNA match become problematic, readers will be increasingly drawn to the undeniable bond between them. Early in her visit, Maggie scoffs at the idea that "food can heal the human heart", Mones smartly proves her wrong. Delicious!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #79

Consumption* by first time novelist Kevin Patterson, after his well-received The Water in Between: A Journey at Sea (2000), his travel memoir which critics raved as “A high-seas adventure story that combines the wry wit and deep reflection of A Walk in the Woods with the action and suspense of A Perfect Storm”, is a must-read for fans of psychological mystery.

Consumption recounts beautiful Victoria's reentry into Rankin Inlet after spending her teenage years in a TB sanitarium in Manitoba. In the intervening years this Canadian Inuit hamlet has seen great social and economic changes with the influx of southerners, bringing with them diseases, greed and psychic alienation. Victoria’s adjustment is made more difficult when she marries the ambitious diamond mine supervisor and becomes involved with a Yankee doctor.

Patterson (himself a physician) “seamlessly works murder, sex and intrigue into the mix and offers a terrific cast that makes arctic life, and the ties of kin, palpable, …and delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation”. For fans of Arnaldur Indriðason, Hakan Nesser, and Asa Larsson, and those who want their mystery served decidedly chilled.

*= Starred Reviews

Fabulous(?) Fiction Firsts #76

If you need a quick dose of breezy chicklit. for the dog days of summer, give Katherine Center's debut novel The Bright Side of Disaster a try. I have it on good authority that it is quite engaging.

Jenny Harris never anticipated single motherhood but when her fiance ran out for cigarette the night she went into labor and never returned, she has her hands full. Things are not all bad though, apart from sleep deprivation, baby worries and the raging hormones... She found new friends in a mommy group and a handsome neighbor with a particular talent with cranky babies. It's too bad that her fiance has a change of heart.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #74 - Iranian Gems

If you enjoyed Anita Amirrezvani’s dazzling debut novel The Blood of Flowers, don’t miss the much anticipated debut The Septembes of Shiraz* by Dalia Sofer, due out next month (holds are accepted now).

Anita Amirrezvani grew up in San Francisco with her mother while spending much time over the years with her father and his extended family in Tehren, including the summer of 1979, at the onset of the Iranian Revolution when she was about to turn 17. Blood of Flower, tells the story of a 17th century unnamed female narrator who, at 14 journeys to Isfahan to learn rug weaving, a trade dominated by men. As she blossoms into a brilliant designer, her prospect for personal happiness grows dim, in this “Dickensian tale of one woman’s struggle to live a life of her choosing”.

Dalia Sofer was born in Iran and fled with her family in 1982 at the age of 10. The Septembers of Shiraz recounts the struggles of the Amin family at the wake of the Iranian Revolution, when father Isaac, a Jewish rare-gem dealer is wrongly accused and imprisoned for being an Israeli spy. His wife Farnaz begins to question the loyalty of those around them. Young daughter Shirin takes immense risk to safeguard the rest of the family, while older son, alone in the United State deals with isolation and falls into the embrace of an unlikely family.

These two novels by first-time authors deal with the universal themes of identity, alienation and love while painting a vivid portrait of Iran, then and now. Great reads.

* = Starred Review

A good sketch is better than a long speech

I've been in to picture books, comics, manga, graphic novels or what ever you prefer to call the medium of artistic story telling for a long time. I remember trying to explain my appreciation for graphic novels to my parents. They looked at me with slightly puzzled, slightly worried looks...

" are they called graphic novels because they are violent?"

"Some are some aren't, but thats not important"

"... so are they called graphic novels because they have naughty pictures?"

"Some do some don't, but that's not important"

".. so is it the foul language that makes them graphic?"

" NO!, they are called graphic because of the art work."

Looking for something to read? Try...

In the back of Fly By Night, Frances Hardinge gives us the following warning: "This is not a historical novel. It is a yarn. Although the Realm is based roughly on England at the start of the eighteenth century, I have taken appalling liberties with historical authenticity and, when I felt like it, the laws of physics."

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