Fabulous Fiction Firsts #232

Now for a change of pace...

Liar, Liar* * introduces P.I. Cat DeLuca and her Pants on Fire Detective Agency, known around the Windy City for its stellar reputation in catching cheaters, guaranteeing her clients evidence that would bring large divorce settlements.

Life takes a strange turn when a rogue reporter for the Chicago Tribune masquerades as a client with a liar-liar husband - one Chance Savino, a steamy guy with a pocketful of smuggled diamonds. When the FBI insists that Savino is killed in the same explosion that sends Cat to the hospital, Cat isn’t buying it. And when she finds her client dead on the floor with a knife in her chest and Savino rummaging through the apartment, she not only has to convince her family and the FBI she is not crazy, she has to get herself off the murderer's "Must Kill" list.

Debut author K.J. Larsen is in truth, Julianne, Kristen and Kari Larsen, three sisters who are hard at work on the next Cat adventure.

Liar has been picked as one of Library Journal Best Books 2010 Genre Fiction. Hey, Stephanie Plum, you have been warned. Cat is moving in.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #231

If you enjoyed historical mysteries by Louis Bayard (Black Tower), and Ariana Franklin (The Mistress of the Art of Death) then I am confident you will find The Rhetoric of Death* * * by Judith Rock just your cup of tea.

This "amazing"* debut is set in 17th century Paris where young Charles du Luc, a former soldier has been sent by The Bishop of Marseilles to assist in teaching rhetoric and directing dance at the prestigious college of Louis le Grand. On his first day, the school's star dancer disappears from rehearsal, and the next day another student is run down in the street. When the dancer's body is found under the worst possible circumstances, suspicion falls on him as a newcomer, and finding the actual killer becomes both a personal mission and a source of deadly danger.

Against the backdrop of a Paris swollen with intrigue and religious strife, first-novelist Rock (a dancer, choreographer, seminarian, and former auxiliary NYPD police office) brings first-hand knowledge of dance, choreography, acting, police investigation, and teaching to a new series rich with historical details and well-drawn characters.

Reader might also like S.J. Parris' Heresy which dramatizes religious strife in an earlier era.

* * * = Starred Reviews

Author Birthdays: Rilke, Butler, Woolrich

December 4th marks the birthday of authors Rainer Maria Rilke, Samuel Butler, and Cornell Woolrich.

Rainer Maria Rilke was an Austrian poet who wrote in both verse and lyrical styles. His best known work is called Duino Elegies (German Duineser Elegien), which he wrote in the early 20th century. Other works include the Book of Hours (German Stundenbuch), which was inspired by the spirituality of Russia, and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, written in Paris and centered around themes of existentialism.

Rilke often used figures of Greek mythology in his poetry. One, Sonnets to Orpheus, has a public domain translation which you can read online. You may also be interested in checking out a biography on him.

Samuel Butler was a Victorian writer. His most famous pieces are probably the satire Erewhon and the novel The Way of All Flesh.

If you are interested in reading any of Butler's works, many are available for free download on Project Gutenberg. He wrote many essays as well as fiction, and they discuss anything from Darwin and evolution to the possible homosexuality of Shakespeare.

Cornell Woolrich was an American writer who also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopley. He wrote many, many mysteries, including Fright, the story of a man who strangled his mistress after his wedding day, and Manhattan Love Song, which is widely considered one of the beginning works of noir.

Woolrich also wrote short stories, some of which have been made into movies. Rear Window is probably the most well known. For a more complete listing of the 20+ films based on his works, visit Wikipedia.

November's Books to Film

fair gamefair game

As the holiday season approaches, November promises big movie hits inspired by even bigger bestsellers.

A suspenseful and star-studded adaptation of an ex-undercover agent’s autobiography entitled Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government. This riveting action-thriller is based on real-life undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson whose career was destroyed when her covert identity was illegally exposed.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is based on the last and final installment in Stieg Larsson's mega-bestseller, the Millennium trilogy.

Lisbeth Salander lies in critical condition, fighting for her life. If and when she recovers, she’ll be stand trial for three murders, unless she can prove her innocence, and will plot revenge - against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.

Love & Other Drugs is a comedic exposé of the highly competitive and cutthroat world of pharmaceuticals. It is based on the real-life experiences of one-time Pfizer rep Jamie Reidy, who as an ambitious college grad schmoozes doctors, nurses, hospitals and begins a relationship with a woman suffering from Parkinson's, all while competing against other salesmen who try to push their brand of drugs. Loosely based on Jamie Reidy's Hard Sell : The evolution of a Viagra salesman.

No shortage of eye-candy with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway starring.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #224

First-time novelist John Verdon created an extraordinary fiction debut in Think of a Number**.

This suspense thriller begins in the idyllic Catskills (NY) where Dave Gurney, one of the most celebrated NYPD homicide detectives retires from a life dominated by violent crimes and attempts to repair a strained marriage rocked by personal tragedies. Then a college friend showed him a series of taunting letters that end with “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.” Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly. What begins as a diverting puzzle quickly ignites into a massive serial murder investigation.

Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates. An absolutely fresh brain-twister and a compulsive page-turner.

** = starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Stevens, Greene, Finney

October 2nd marks the birthday of authors Wallace Stevens, Graham Greene, and Jack Finney.

Wallace Stevens was an American poet and lawyer, as well as a two-time winner of the National Book Award and a Pulitzer winner. Both awards went to his 1954 book of Collected Poems. However, he wasn't only famous for his poetry; in the 1930s, Stevens got in a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway.

Stevens was a Modernist. One of his poems, "The Man with the Blue Guitar" was inspired by Pablo Picasso's "The Old Guitarist." This poem in turn influenced artist David Hockney.

Graham Greene was an English writer, known for his books' religious themes. Greene was a Catholic, however the Church didn't always like his writing. Many of his stories were self-proclaimed thrillers, though not all. He liked to note that he wanted his serious works to be the main body used for criticism, not his "entertainments."

Many of Greene's books were made into films, including The End of the Affair, The Honorary Consul (US: Beyond the Limit), Stamboul Train (Orient Express), and The Quiet American. He also wrote both the novella and the screenplay for The Third Man.

Jack Finney was an American writer, probably best known as a Science Fiction novelist. One of his books, The Body Snatchers, was the basis for the sci-fi favorite Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and its many remakes.

Finney also wrote Time and Again, which is a tale of time travel, and includes several illustrations and images, some of which are actually from the 1880s. The story is about a man named Si, who is asked to perform in a secret government project which requires self-hypnosis in order to travel back in time.

Today is also the birthday of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, promoter of civil disobedience and non-violence.

Author Birthdays: Williams, O'Connor, Stewart

September 17th marks the birthday of authors William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Connor, and Mary Stewart.

William Carlos Williams was an American poet and pediatrician. He is typically regarded as a Modernist, though sometimes as an Imagist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1963 for his collection Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

Williams also wrote Paterson, a five-book poem, often considered his "epic". The 1992 edition contains clarifying notes on the poem. A Library Journal review noted that "By exploring the local, Williams sought to descry the universal and to find in city and landscape symbolic analogues for the essential issues of human life."

Frank O'Connor was an Irish short-story writer who served in the Irish War of Independence; he was published in The New Yorker. One of his autobiographies, An Only Child, was even quoted by JFK in a speech he gave while president.

In addition to his own, O'Connor also wrote a book on the subject of short stories in general, called The Lonely Voice. The book discusses other authors such as Chekhov, Joyce, and Hemingway.

Mary Stewart is an English writer, probably most well-known for her historical fantasy quintet, The Merlin Chronicles, which begins with the book The Crystal Cave.

Stewart has also written mystery novels, most of which have a touch of romance, such as The Stormy Petrel and My Brother Michael.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #221

William Ryan's The Holy Thief** opens in Moscow, 1936, when Stalin’s Great Terror is beginning.

In a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see. Captain Alexei Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD—the most feared organization in Russia—becomes involved. Soon, Korolev’s every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to The Zone, where enemies of the Soviet State, both real and imagined, meet their fate in the frozen camps of the far north.

Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves, rulers of Moscow’s underworld. As more bodies are discovered and pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.

With Captain Alexei Korolev, William Ryan has given us one of the most compelling detectives in modern literature. Readers will likely draw comparison to Leo Demidov, the hero in Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, another smashing debut when it was published in 2008.

Read Ryan's interview with 10 librarians and get a sense where the sequel will take us.

** = starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Parker & Bradbury

August 22nd marks the birthday of authors Dorothy Parker and Ray Bradbury.

Dorothy Parker was an American poet and satirist, noted for being a "wisecracker". She was a founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table, and was even put on the Hollywood blacklist for being a suspected communist in the McCarthy era.

Parker's poems were published in magazines such as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. The Nation said that her voice is, "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity." The New York Times published an obituary for her in 1967. In it, Alden Whitman wrote, "Miss Parker was a little woman with a dollish face and basset-hound eyes, in whose mouth butter hardly ever melted. It was a case, as Alexander Woollcott once put it, of 'so odd a blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth.'"

Ray Bradbury is an American novelist, best known for writing the dystopian Fahrenheit 451. In honor of his sci-fi greatness, Wikipedia notes that "an asteroid is named in his honor, "9766 Bradbury", along with a crater on the moon called "Dandelion Crater" (named after his novel, Dandelion Wine)."

However, Bradbury also wrote fantasies, horrors, and mysteries. Among the horrors is Something Wicked This Way Comes, which tells the story of a pair of 13-year-old boys who encounter a creepy traveling carnival. Bradbury's mysteries include a trilogy, narrated by an unnamed screenwriter. The first is Death is a Lonely Business, and it focuses on a string of murders in Venice, CA.

Hidden Gems: Books Unjustly Dusty #7

vandeweteringvandewetering

The wildly popular series of books by Stieg Larsson reminded me of other mystery series set in foreign lands.

Janwillem van de Wetering wrote a series of 14 books with the characters Grijpstra and de Gier who are both detectives and amateur musicians in Amsterdam. Grijpstra is a family man and de Gier is not (although he does love his cat) and they both envy the other's situation. The first book in the series, Outsider in Amsterdam, chronicles the murder of a spiritual advisor (van de Wetering was a Buddhist) along with drug trafficking in 1970s Amsterdam.

The Corpse on the Dike takes the two detectives deep into the Dutch Underworld to solve the murder of a man no one seems to know.

Van de Wetering is a good writer who ably weaves an intricate plot while making the reader care about the quirky detectives. He was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, the most prestigious award for crime and detective fiction in France in 1984.

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