Fabulous Fiction Firsts #116

Lauren Groff's "exuberant" debut The Monsters of Templeton* is a "fantastically fun read, a kind of wild pastiche that is part historical novel and part mystery, with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure".

Pregnant and troubled, archaeology student Wilhelmina (Willie) Upton slinks home to Templeton, N.Y., after a disastrous affair with her professor, on the very day a long-feared sea monster surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass, quite dead. When Vi, Willie's flower-child mother let slip that Willie's father is in fact a respected citizen in town rather than a nameless hippie from Vi's commune days, Willie dives headlong into untangling the roots of the town's greatest families and her father's identity.

Brilliantly incorporating accounts from generations of Templetonians — as well as characters borrowed from the works of James Fenimore Cooper, who named an upstate New York town Templeton in The Pioneers, Groff, a native of Cooperstown(on which Templeton is based), will delight readers with Willie's sharp wit, literary/historical references and lore.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #115

Michigan native Scott Sigler's previous novels are "free, serialized podcasts that generated a large online following and saw over 4 million downloads".

His print debut Infected* will thrill and chill SF and horror fans with a mysterious disease that is turning ordinary Americans across the country into raving, screaming, homicidal maniacs.

CIA operative Dew Phillips and Center for Disease Control epidemiologist Margaret Montoya race in vain to capture a live victim. Meanwhile Perry Dawsey - a hulking former University of Michigan football star awakens one morning to find several mysterious itchy welts growing on his body. Soon Perry finds himself acting and thinking strangely, hearing voices ... he is infected.

With numerous references to Michigan and the UM, this is definitely a fast-paced and captivating read. Try the podcast just for fun and stop scratching!

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #114

Set in west Dorset, British filmmaker Poppy Adams' "eerie, accomplished debut", The Sister, is "an engrossing psychodrama" of four generations of the Stone family as they gather for a reunion of sorts at their crumbling Victorian manor.

Murder, illicit sex, long-buried secrets and painful memories have estranged them for decades and this reunion will surely bring matters to an explosive conclusion.

Dark, chilling and gothic. Perfect to start your summer reading.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

An audiobook with 10+ discs will probably not come home with me. The problem is not in the writing, but in the reader/narrator. Few readers are dynamic enough to keep my interest for ten hours, so when I found an audiobook with multiple readers, I knew that someone had figured this out.

Jonathan Safran Foer's second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is told through several perspectives (a la Faulkner) and voiced through three excellent readers: Barbara Caruso, Richard Ferrone, and Jeff Woodsman. The story begins in New York City a few years after 9/11, where Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old with a penchant for inventions, tambourines, and Stephen Hawking, searches for the lock that fits the key he found hidden in his deceased father's closet. Essentially a tale of loss and recovery, Oskar's startling wit and cautious self-awareness make this a highly inviting listen. The novel is also available in our collection.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #113

Civil & Strange is a quietly engaging American debut for Irish poet Cláir Ní Aonghusa, nicely captured by the cover art.

Fans of vintage Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope would appreciate the lovingly detailed dynamics of village life and relationships.

Ellen Hughes, a Dublin schoolteacher escapes a crumbling marriage to live in Sligo, a small farming village where she spent childhood summers. She buys and renovates the family home and renews her friendship with an older woman Beatrice, and tentatively explores romance with a newcomer.

"The refreshing blasts of reality give the book emotional heft, and the credible romance that eventually develops is a break from the standard mold". Highly recommended.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #112

Malaysian Preeta Samarasan scores high marks with critics for her debut Evening is the Whole Day*.

This impressive novel is based on an earlier version that won the 2005-6 Avery and Jule Hopwood Awards while Preeta Samarasan (check out her website) was a graduate student at The University of Michigan.

On the outskirts of Ipoh (Malaysia), The Rajasekharans, a wealthy Indian family, suffers a series of personal and familial tragedies that begin with the death of the matriach, Paati, and the disgraceful dismissal of a young servant girl. Most affected by all of the uproar is 6 year-old Aasha, who is harboring a secret that could further devastate not only her family, but the entire community.

Samarasan "scores impressively with the creation of an intimate, gossipy omniscient narrative voice that's the perfect vehicle for her slowly unfloding, intricately layered story".

For fans of Kiran Desai and Arundhati Roy.

Heart of Darkness

Recently I reread Heart of Darkness, a book that gets better every time. Joseph Conrad is able to masterfully portay human corruption through a story of an expedition into a mysterious continent as well as the soul itself. The next time you are perusing our shelves, consider rereading an old classic. You may enjoy it even more the second time. Visit a list of Pulitzer Prize Winners for possible Re-Read candidates.

The Princess Diaries: Audiobooks

When Mia Thermopolis learns she's a princess her world changes--for the worse! This story turns most little girls' dream into a nightmare for one New York teen. In The Princess Diaries Meg Cabot imagines the hijinks, antics, and neurotic wonderings of a modern unwilling royal.

Two different voice actors read these books but they have similar styles, so if I hadn't checked the back, I might not have noticed. Anne Hathaway, who plays Mia in the movie, reads some while the rest are read by Clea Lewis who has acted in several TV shows as well as done voices for cartoons. Some of the boys sound different with the different readers, but Mia sounds pretty much the same throughout. They also start with beautiful classical music over the Little Princess quotes at the beginning of each book which are probably the most moving things in the entire series.

I listened to seven of these which might lead one to believe that I like them, and I suppose I would have to confess I didn't hate them as much as I initially wanted to, but I still think the movie version is better. The reason being is that in the movie you can imagine that Mia is smart which makes her easier to sympathize with. In the book you can't hold onto any such delusions since you can see her every inane thought. Admittedly her father and grandmother are far more comical in the books, but the movie (while not the most profond) is definitely more profound than these books.

Jhumpa Lahiri is simply elegant

I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book Unaccustomed Earth and, once again, was spellbound by her gorgeous prose. Hopefully you are familiar with her previous works Interpreter of Maladies (she won a Pulitzer Prize for this one in 2000!) and The Namesake. This latest work, a collection of short stories, follows Lahiri's previous path of exploring life through the eyes of Indian immigrants and their children raised in America. Not only does she make everyday life seem extraordinary, she also dives deep into intimate, haunting story-telling of love, identity, grief, tradition, and attachment. While her writing nods to tales of immigration, it ultimately finds a place in any culture where characters confront the secrets of the human heart. Her rich, emotional stories will unsettle you, get under your skin and leave you wanting more.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #111

The History of Lucy’s Love Life in Ten and a Half Chapters is fun, fluffy and fantastical.

29 year-old commitment-phobic Lucy is staring at the prospect of a perfect life with dishy and nice Anthony (with whom she had 400 plus one-night stands) and chucks it all, wondering if there’s something better on the horizon.

Sacked from her pointless job and bored, an errant time machine sends Lucy on a dating frenzy with bad boy Lord Byron, Leonardo da Vinci, Ovid and Casanova (a sweet guy, really). It’s a thrill ride but there’s also a lesson to be learned. The question is… Is Lucy ready for it?

This British chick lit./fantasy/romantic comedy is the first to be published in the United States by Deborah Wright, a graduate of Oxford University with three best-selling novels in the U.K.

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