Author Birthdays: James, ten Boom, Archer

April 15th marks the birthday of authors Henry James, Corrie ten Boom, and Jeffrey Archer.

Henry James was an American writer, probably best known for his novella The Turn of the Screw, often spoken of in terms of its ambiguity; (it is uncertain whether the main character is experiencing ghosts, or psychological repression.)

James has many other stories worth mentioning. The Portrait Of A Lady and The Bostonians are both well-known. Lesser known, James also published travel writings, like Italian Hours.

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch author and Holocaust survivor; her autobiography, The Hiding Place tells the story of how she aided and hid Jews from the Nazis. It was also made into a movie in 1975.

Ten Boom's family was arrested in 1944, and Corrie spent time in a Dutch prison and two concentration camps. The second concentration camp killed its women prisoners only one week after she was released. Her last book, I Stand at the Door and Knock, is full of Christian devotionals.

Jeffrey Archer is an English author and life peer. He has a novel coming out this year, Only Time Will Tell, set in the 1920s-40s, which will be the first book in series. Last year he published a book of short stories, And Thereby Hangs A Tale.

Archer's first novel was the mystery Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, of which Library Journal said "anyone with any interest in money will find entertaining."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #256

Harvard grad Edward Conlon is a former detective with the New York City Police Department. His memoir Blue Blood (2004) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; a New York Times Notable Book; and has been adapted into a popular television series.

His highly anticipated debut novel Red on Red * * * * tells the story of two NYPD detectives, Meehan and Esposito and their fierce and unlikely friendship. One damaged and introspective, the other ambitious and unscrupulous, they nevertheless prove to be complimentary and a successful team working the rough Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, handling gritty crimes of suicides, rapes, gang wars, and the disappearance of a troubled Catholic schoolgirl who is a mystery in her own right.

A potent mix of strong story line, police jargon, crisp dialog, black humor, with complicated romances thrown in for good measure, makes this a captivating thrill ride. A readalike for Lou Manfredo's Rizzo's War (and its follow-up Rizzo's Fire), and gritty police/crime thrillers of Joseph Wambaugh, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane.

* * * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #253

Some called it "rich and evocative"; some thought it "odd, dark and often creepy", but all the reviewers seemed to agree that Lori Roy's Bent Road * * ( * * * * ) is an exceptionally well-written debut, and a captivating, and suspenseful tale of a dysfunctional family and community.

Young Arthur Scott fled a small Kansas town, moved to Detroit and raised a family. Unnerved by the 1967 riots, he packs up his family and moves back home where the mysterious death of his older sister Eve still haunts him after 20 years.

While Arthur and the oldest daughter slip easily into rural life, others in the family struggle with loneliness and displacement, especially his only son, Daniel. Then a battered red truck is seen cruising ominously along on Bent Road and a young girl disappears without a trace.

Family secrets, small town dynamics, coerced silence, and ruined lives drive the plot towards its shattering revelation and conclusion, "reminding us that simplicity of landscape does not necessarily mean simplicity of life".

Lori Roy was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas where she worked for years as a tax accountant before turning her focus to writing. Her work has appeared in the Chattahoochee Review, and she is the recipient of the Ed Hirschberg Award for Excellence in Florida Writing.

A readalike for Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning; No Mercy by Lori Armstrong; and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.

* * = starred reviews. (Read the NPR review).

* * * * = 4-star review in an upcoming issue of People Magazine.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #249

High body count, fast-paced action, murder, conspiracy, secret society - if that's right up your alley, then you would like Scott Mariani's The Mozart Conspiracy : a thriller (due out early next week).

A centuries-old mystery. An “accidental” death. A conspiracy that may end in murder. Former British Special Air Service officer Ben Hope is running for his life. Enlisted by Leigh Llewellyn—the beautiful, world-famous opera star and Ben’s first love—to investigate her brother, Oliver’s, mysterious death, Ben finds himself caught up in a puzzle dating back to the 1700s and might somehow be connected to mysterious death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

British author Miriani makes his U.S. debut with the second in his series featuring ex-SAS warrior Ben Hope. For fans of Dan Brown, James Rollins, and Robert Ludlum.

Author Birthdays: Sackville-West, Spillane, Tharoor

March 9th marks the birthday of authors Vita Sackville-West, Mickey Spillane, and Shashi Tharoor.

Vita Sackville-West was an English writer and aristocrat who won the British Hawthornden Prize twice. Born to a Baron, she had lived in the famous Sissinghurst Castle during her lifetime. Among her most well-known books are The Edwardians, which is about two aristocratic siblings in the early 20th century, and All Passion Spent, about an octogenarian woman who spurns the Victorian ideals.

Sackville-West, a bisexual, was lovers with fellow authors Violet Trefusis and Virginia Woolf; some of her letters to Woolf have been compiled into a book, and a book on Trefusis also contains correspondence between lovers.

Mickey Spillane was an American crime novelist, best known for his detective character Mike Hammer. Spillane was also into film; his novel Kiss Me Deadly was made into a movie, and the author himself actually played a detective in Ring of Fear.

Spillane's work in the hardboiled fiction genre is a bit different than many others. A writer for the Washington Post said in 2001 that "Spillane never really wrote sex scenes; he wrote about sexuality in a way that was unapologetically sensual and often seemed more provocative than the act itself". A good example is his first novel, I, the Jury.

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian writer and advocate, as well as a member of Indian Parliament and former Under-Secretary General of the UN. He has written both fiction and non-fiction, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in 1991. His novels include the award-winning The Great Indian Novel, and Show Business, called by Booklist "an animated and deliciously satirical critique of the Bombay film industry".

Among Tharoor's non-fiction works are The Elephant, The Tiger, And The Cell Phone: Reflections On India, The Emerging 21st-century Power, which discusses India's highs and lows, and Bookless In Baghdad: Reflections On Writing And Writers, a collection of essays which Library Journal described as resonating "with readers of any nationality, helping them understand the global purpose of literature, feel the inherent responsibility, and hear a call to action".

Author Birthdays: Shirer, Cornwell, Sandford

February 23rd marks the birthday of authors William L. Shirer, Bernard Cornwell, and John Sandford.

William L. Shirer was an American writer of mostly non-fiction history books. Much of his works focus on Nazi Germany, which isn't surprising, considering he was a WWII journalist who actually reported from Berlin. Part of his book 20th Century Journey called "The Nightmare Years", about his time in Germany, was made into a TV movie with Law & Order star Sam Waterston playing the journalist.

Shirer's "This is Berlin" is a collection of his radio broadcasts from said city. As noted by Library Journal, it gives "the reader a sense of the drama and tension of 'history as it happens'". He also wrote a diary of the days leading up to the war.

Bernard Cornwell is an English historical novelist, best known for his novels centered on character Richard Sharpe, which take place during the Napoleonic Wars. They were also adapted into a television series.

Cornwell has also written stories in the times of Saxon and Arthurian Britain, and the American Civil War. His latest, The Fort, published last year, is a tale of the Revolutionary War, more specifically, of the Penobscot Expedition.

John Sandford (born John Camp) is an American journalist and novelist, probably best known for his Prey series, featuring the character Lucas Davenport. His newest novel, Buried Prey, is in this series and comes out in May.

Sandford's other works include the novel Dead Watch, which has been called "full of suspense, political intrigue, and violence" by Library Journal; you can also see some of his journalistic exploits on his website.

Teen Stuff: Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk

Kirkus Reviews call this new book by first time author Josh Berk one of 2010's best books for teens.

In The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Will Halpin is your average sarcastic, witty sixteen year old. He recently transferred from the School for the Deaf to attend the mainstream Carbon High. Not only is he singled out for being deaf, but also for being overweight and sudden friends with Devon Smiley, one of the biggest dorks in school.

Told from Will’s POV, the book is hilarious, as he has a lot to “say”, and keeps a notebook with observations of his classmates. He is skilled in lip reading, which is how he gets by at school, and he uses this to his advantage to get to know his peers from afar.

Popular football star Pat Chambers loses his life on a class field trip to Happy Memory Coal Mine. Who dunnit? Was it Will? Devon? The wacky busdriver “Jimmy Porkrinds”? The svelte Miss Prefontaine? The ghost of Dummy Halpin? Will and Devon, a misfit Hardy Boys team, assign themselves to the case and begin snooping around. They communicate their findings through text messages and minimal sign language.

Eventually the mystery gets solved, Will settles in, and it turns out that Will Halpin just might be a happy camper at his new high school after all. It’s great to see underdogs succeed! (For grades 9 and up.)

Ann Arbor District Library Staff Picks Mysteries

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The Staff Picks shelf is downtown on the first floor. There you will find what the mystery loving staff members of the Ann Arbor District Library are recommending this week:

The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald "A classically plotted British mystery... leavened with a wicked sense of humor"---New York Times Book Review.

Stephen King called her "the next suspense superstar" and Meg Gardiner is still going strong five years later with The Dirty Secrets Club.

Chris Grabenstein, author and president of Mystery Writers of America--which bestows the Edgar Awards, also authors the Ceepak mysteries. Rolling Thunder is a good introduction to New Jersey’s straight arrow cop John Ceepak and his sidekick Danny Boyle.

"CSI meets the Canterbury Tales" is how one reviewer described the historical crime thriller Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin.

Shamus Award winning author David Fulmer’s The Dying Crapshooter's Blues—delves into 1920’s Atlanta with an evil cop and a mysterious beauty named Pearl.

The UK’s Spectator Magazine describes author Arnaldur Indridason as "Once again Indridason demonstrates that the best Scandinavian crime writers can hold their own against their British and American rivals." Arctic Chill rounds out this week’s peek at StaffPicks mysteries.

Author Birthdays: Ford, Banks, Ellis

February 16th marks the birthday of authors Richard Ford, Iain Banks, and Warren Ellis.

Richard Ford is an American writer. He won the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner Award for the sequel Independence Day, which is the second in a trilogy of books featuring the character Frank Bascombe, also seen in The Sportswriter and The Lay of the Land.

Ford's first novel was A Piece of My Heart, a "story of two godless pilgrims" which turns violent. His first collection of short stories, Rock Springs, is described by Booklist as having "characters so put upon by life that resorting to desperate acts even murder is totally within the realm of possibility".

Iain Banks is a Scottish author. If you see a book written by Iain M. Banks, that's also him, but specifically in the sci-fi genre. He was named one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945" by the New York Times.

Banks's newest novel is one of those M. sci-fi ones, called Surface Detail. Part of the "Culture novels", it continues the line of stories of the Culture, an interstellar society that is both socialist and utopian. If you're not interested in sci-fi, his 2009 Transition, a historical fiction novel (perhaps erroneously published under the name Iain M. Banks), might be more your style.

Warren Ellis is an English writer of mostly graphic novels, though his Crooked Little Vein is a mystery (non-graphic) novel. One of his works, Red, you may recognize, since it was recently made into a film starring Bruce Willis.

Among Ellis's other many graphic novels is the series Fell, which is extremely interesting in its layout. Ellis created the graphic novel so that it would be cheap to buy--$1.99, actually--by using more panels per page to create less pages.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #239

Sara J. Henry's Learning to Swim : a novel (coming out this month) is the first in a projected mystery series.

Freelance writer Troy Chance rescues a child tossed off the back of a passing ferry onto frigid Lake Champlain. Gradually teasing out his story, made difficult by the fact that he only speaks French, Troy comes to understand that the boy, Paul had been kidnapped, held for months. When Troy tracks down Paul's father, successful businessman Philippe Dumond and returns Paul to Ottawa, she soon senses that Paul might still be in danger and in fact, is at the center of a bizarre and violent plot.

"A compelling plot, a pervading sense of foreboding, well-constructed characters..., Henry proves herself to be a smooth and compelling storyteller. And her lead is highly appealing: an athletic, fiercely independent young woman".

A readalike for crime-fiction authors Chevy Stevens, Norman Green and Gillian Flynn whose feisty female protagonists are also capable of making delightfully acerbic observations.

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