Author Birthdays: Shelley, Winton, Lehane

Today marks the birthday of a few notable writers.

First, I'd like to mention Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English Romantic poet, famed for his idealism, as well as being a social radical. You may recognize the last name; he was married to Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. Shelley was known to be friends with fellow poet Lord Byron, and he was admired by many writers of the next generations, including Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, and even Karl Marx.

Second, it is also the birthday of Australian Tim Winton. Winton has been acknowledged with the Man Booker Prize shortlist for his novels The Riders and Dirt Music, and also the Miles Franklin award for FOUR different novels: Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, and Breath. Cloudstreet is often described as one of Australia's best-loved novels.

Third, I should also mention Dennis Lehane, the writer of the mystery novel Shutter Island, which was recently adapted into a film, as well as Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, which were also made into motion pictures.

Lastly, though he isn't really a writer, we should wish a happy birthday to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #217

Conor Fitzgerald's The Dogs of Rome introduces Commissario Alec Blume in a new projected contemporary police procedural with a smooth blending of a corrupt bureaucracy and a flawed, world-weary hero.

Seattle born expat. Alec Blume, the proverbial outsider and loner, is now police chief commissioner in Rome. When someone brutally murders Arturo Clemente, an animal-rights activist married to a prominent politician, Blume is called late to the scene. It is immediately clear that he must negotiate his way through a labyrinthine minefield that includes crooked cops, unscrupulous politicians, and an ancient city whose very history is steeped in the corruption associated with organized crime.

This promising debut is reminiscent of the early Aurelio Zen series by Michael Dibdin, gritty crime thrillers with an European setting. A personal favorite is still Cabal (1993).

For fans of another American expatriate police procedural - the Urbino McIntyre series by Edward Sklepowich, and the excellent The Commissario Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon, both set in Venice.

Summer: Pseudoscience

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Many of us are fascinated by aliens, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, fortune telling, ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Summer and your front porch swing seem like the best combination to indulge in this guilty pleasure.

Plato probably didn't know he started a legend and an industry about Atlantis in The Dialogues Of Plato when he wrote "There was an island opposite the strait which you call the Pillars of Hercules, an island larger than Libya and Asia combined..." Gateway to Atlantis is an interesting account that somehow makes the case for Atlantis being located in the Caribbean, most likely Cuba. No matter, Andrew Collins writes an entertaining book with some wonderful illustrations. The same may be said for Imagining Atlantis which really is a fascinating historical and archaeological detective story.

Bizarre Beliefs allows you to cover UFOs, crop circles, Nostradamus, ghosts, Tutankhamun and more all in one book! Ancient Mysteries is another compendium covering Stonehenge, the Sphinx, the Somerset Zodiac, Easter Island, Druids and Schliemann's Treasure.

Finally, Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs claims to solve various mysteries such as who killed Marilyn Monroe, does Bigfoot exist, what really makes crop circles and why it rains frogs.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #215

The Ice Princess** is economist-turned-novelist Camilla Lackberg's #1 bestseller in Sweden (pub. 2003) and the winner of 2008 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel . Ice Princess is the first of her novels to reach the US market.

Set in winter in the coastal town of Fjallbacka, Erica, a thirtysomething biographer returns to her hometown to deal with her parents' untimely death. On a whim, she visits her childhood friend Alex only to find her dead in the bathtub, in an apparent suicide. Alex's grieving parents and Erica's curiosity compel her to delve deep into Alex's past as well as her relationships. Working with a local police officer, Patrik, they uncover secrets and sordidness that the town folks would have preferred to stay buried under their glossy lifestyle and pristine landscape.

This will appeal to fans of Nordic crime fiction and psychological thrillers who prefer a strong female presence, especially those of Asa Larsson and other notable female writers such as Karin Alvtegen Karin Fossum, Mari Jungsted, and Helene Tursten.

** = starred reviews

Reading about 'Making it Happen' with Crafty Mysteries!

Considering the theme for our 2010 Summer Reading Game: Make it Happen, it would be prudent to mention that crafts are great! Creating something with your own two hands is very satisfying, especially if it turns out better than you planned! Unfortunately for me, I was not born with the DIY gene and my crafting skills do not pay the bills. Instead of crying into my hot glue sticks, I found that I prefer reading about people who do have the skills that I do not possess. Here are some great crafting themed cozies for all of you DIY loving people out there:

Cozy Winners

Anybody who loves a good cozy mystery should check out the Agatha Award fiction winners!

The Agatha Awards celebrate mysteries written in the traditional style. This translates to more atmosphere and less of the graphic scenes you may find in a Noir or True Crime novel.

Fiction Winners (written in 2009):

Best Novel: A Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)

Best First Novel: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press)

Recent Fiction Award Winners

In the past month or so, a few big awards have been announced in fiction in various genres. Paul Harding’s debut novel Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A New England clock repairer lies on his deathbed. The novel intertwines his final thoughts, with the memories of the death of his father, with an intricate look at life and death. Many star reviews for this eloquently written work. Apparently the book was rejected several times from publishers before being picked up.

John Hart’s The Last Child, won the 2010 Edgar Award for best novel, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. (This is the second Edgar in a row for Hart, as he also won it in 2008 for Down River.) In The Last Child, 12 year old Alyssa goes missing in rural North Carolina, and her twin brother Johnny is determined to find her. His family fell apart after the disappearance, a local officer is trying to solve the case, a year later another girl goes missing, and Johnny is convinced it was the same perpetrator. A well written stunner of a case.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America awarded the 2009 Nebula Award for best novel to Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl. This debut novel is a tale of Bioterrorism in a post-petroleum future Thailand. Calories become currency and bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profit. Star reviews are all over the place for this book.
AwardsAwards

BBC Historical Drama: Part 3

Part 3 - Charles Dickens

Lately, I've been reading a lot of historical fiction based in England. With images from those books/novels in mind, I started checking out different historical dramas, the best of which I've seen are from BBC. Step into the 1800s and get involved of the lives of two Martin Chuzzlewits, Lady Deadlock, Thomas Gradgrind, and Noddy Boffin.

Martin Chuzzlewit described as an “opulent narrative feast” is the story of two Martin Chuzzlewits, one a elderly wealthy gentleman that despises his scheming relatives that hope to win his fortune, the other; his grandson, a well-meaning egoistic youth that has fallen in love with his Grandfather’s ward.

Bleak House is said to be one of Dickens best adaptations, following the life of Lady Deadlock, a faithful and dutiful wife whose secret is about to be discovered which leads to blackmail, murder, and a tragic death.

Thomas Gradgrind, father of Louisa and Tom, teaches them to live with reason and practicality instead of emotion and imagination, which in turn makes Louisa cold and distant yet yearn for love and Tom a drunk and a gambler. Will Thomas realize that what he preaches to his children may eventually lead them to their downfall? This is the story of Hard Times.

Our Mutual Friend is a dark and involved yet romantic portrayal of how lives are affected and transformed after the heir to a large garbage made fortune drowns.

AADL also owns several miniseries based off of better known works of Charles Dickens, such as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, Old Curiosity Shop, and of course A Tale of Two Cities.

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is one Dickens series we have on DVD that was not made by BBC.

A few Dickens novels turned miniseries that we do not have on DVD, but do have in print are: Pickwick Papers, Dombey and Son and Barnaby Rudge

If you’ve missed previous parts of my BBC Historical Drama blog, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #208

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Miguel Syjuco's impressive debut Ilustrado*** (see definition) is most worthy of the buzz.

The panel of judges proclaimed it "brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed, ...ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor".

It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River. Gone is the controversial lion of Philippine literature as well as is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families.

Miguel, his student and only friend, embarks on a literary archeological dig - through Crispin's poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga, tracing 150 years of history of The Philippines. To our great surprise, the story bring us full circle to young Miguel.

"Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent."

Born in 1976 in Makati, Miguel Syjuco lived in many cities of the world since his undergraduate days at Ateneo de Manila University. With a master’s at Columbia University, PhD at the University of Adelaide (Australia), he currently lives in Montreal. He had worked in many jobs, from editor of a dotcom, bartender, apartment painter to powerseller of ladies’ designer handbags on eBay until February 2009 when he focused full time on his writing.

Readalike: Homecoming* by Bernhard Schlink - another epistolary novel about history, identity, deception, and discovery.

*** = starred reviews

Happy birthday, Lois Duncan!

Today marks the birthday of American novelist Lois Duncan.

Perhaps best known for her teen suspense and mystery fiction, Duncan has also held a more lighthearted pen in such works as the children's book Hotel for Dogs (perhaps better known for the screen adaptation) and a picture book called Songs of the Circus.

However, her teen novels were her biggest hit, and they are quite entrancing. My favorites include few of the ones not adapted for the screen--Gallows Hill and Down a Dark Hall. Gallows Hill features Sarah, a girl who is suspected by her peers of being a witch, which leads her into an investigation of the Salem Witch Trials. Down a Dark Hall tells the story of a young girl named Kit and her eerie encounters at a new boarding school.

One story of Duncan's that might sound more familiar would be Killing Mr. Griffin, the tale of high school students who kidnap their English teacher, which was made into a TV movie in 1997.

The most well-known may also be the least best example of her work. I Know What You Did Last Summer was turned into a movie, but Duncan had no part in the creation of the film, and actually did not like the final product.

Perhaps most representative is the true story of Lois Duncan's search for her own daughter's killer, Who Killed My Daughter?.

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