Fabulous Fiction Firsts #344 - The Highly Irregular Irregulars

Hey folks, meet Harry and Buck.

Harry Lipkin, Private Eye * (by first-time novelist Barry Fantoni) 87 yr.-old Miami PI takes on cases the police have no interest in, like trying to catch the household help who has been stealing heirlooms and gems from a wealthy widow. With a weakness for blintzes and lemon tea, and can't stay awake on a crucial stake-out, Harry still gets the job done. The final scene when Harry gathers all the suspects in a typical country-house caper fashion is as startling to Harry as it is to the reader. But never mind that! This "slim semicozy" with Harry's splendid first-person observations about south Florida folks is sure to please.

Harry's twin separated at birth (just kidding) is Buck (Baruch) Schatz. In Don't Ever Get Old * * * * by Daniel Friedman, this 87 yr.-old retired Memphis cop when summoned to the death bed of a fellow WWII POW, is shocked and dismayed to find out that a vicious Jew-hating Nazi guard is alive and enjoying a stolen fortune in gold, right here in America.

Chain-smoking, abrasive, and forgetful - with a cop's watchfulness and his .375 Magnum still intact, Buck goes on a quest with his well-meaning chatterbox of a grandson in tow, but not counting on a murderous crew coming out of the woodwork, all with claims on a piece of the fortune. "With all the finesse of a garbage truck at a flower party, Buck is pure pleasure to watch."

"Short chapters, crackling dialog, and memorable characters make this a standout debut."

They might be old but it would be a big mistake to count them out.

* = starred review

* * * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #340 - Accidental Sleuths

Tessa Harris' The Anatomist's Apprentice (in audio) opens in 1780 London with the death of 19 year-old Sir Edward Crick, a dissolute young man mourned only by his sister Lady Lydia Farrell. Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia, known for his forensic skills and unconventional methods, is asked to investigate when Lydia's husband Capt. Michael Farrell comes under suspicion.

(Debut novelist) "Harris has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and even veteran armchair puzzle solvers are likely to be surprised".

In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram lives a solitary life in a London attic, devoting all his time and effort to the writing of an architectural history of English churches. When Mary Emmett writes to ask him to look into the suspicious death of his friend John while in the care of a remote veterans' hospital, his investigation forces him to face his own demons, and draws him back into the world of the living.

"At once a compelling mystery and an elegant literary debut, British historian Elizabeth Speller blends the psychological depth of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy with lively storytelling from the golden age of British crime fiction", in the first of a projected series with The Return of Captain John Emmett (2011). Just released is the follow-up, entitled The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton in which Bartram arrives in the village of Easton Deadall and is embroiled in a dangerous case involving a murdered woman who may be linked to the disappearance of a child years earlier.

Both of these debut mysteries/series will appeal to fans of the Inspector Ian Rutledge series (in audio) by Charles Todd (Charles Todd is the joint pseudonym for the mother-and-son writing team of Charles Todd and Caroline Todd, pseudonyms of David Todd Watjen and Caroline L.T. Watjen); the John Madden series by Rennie Airth; the Nell Bray Series by Gillian Linscott; and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.

June's Books to Film

Snow White and the Huntsman. In this retelling of the most beloved fairy tales of all times, Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) must join forces with the fierce Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who was recruited by the evil Queen (Charlize Theron) obsessed with being the fairest woman in the land. Meanwhile, a handsome prince (Sam Claflin) falls hopelessly under Snow White's spell.

Bel Ami Guy de Maupassant's classic tale of passion in late18th-century Paris is adapted in a scintillating erotic drama starring Twilight's Robert Pattinson as a destitute young soldier who plots to gain power by seducing the mistresses of the city's most influential men. Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Colm Meaney co-star.

In The Woman in the Fifth, adopted from the novel by Douglas Kennedy, American professor and novelist Tom Ricks traveled to Paris to see his young daughter, hoping also to reconnect with his estranged wife. After being robbed, he was forced to work in a seedy hotel as a night watchman, until he met a sophisticated woman named Margit at a literary event. Margit encouraged Tom to write again but he was unsettled by a series of murders taking place around him. Starring Ethan Hawke, and the very busy Kristin Scott Thomas (MPAA Rating: R)

The multifaceted Seth Grahame-Smith - novelist/producer/cinematographer has adopted his own novel for the big screen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Benjamin Walker plays Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who discovers vampires planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

Longmire is the new A&E television series based on the popular mystery series by Craig Johnson. Robert Taylor plays Walt Longmire, the charismatic, dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Widowed only a year, Longmire is a man in psychic repair, trying to bury his pain behind a brave face and dry wit. Often turning to close friend and confidant Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) for support, he sets out to rebuild both his personal and professional life, one step at a time.

Checkout the Thrilling Tale, "God's Spy"

If you are looking for a new adventure and don't shy away from murder, intrigue and graphic violence, God’s Spy could be the next book for you! Originally published in Spain, Juan Gomez-Jurado's God’s Spy is a thrilling story about a serial killer loose in Vatican City just after the death of the last pope, Pope John Paul II. The tale alternates between past events leading to the killer's arrival in Vatican City and the present circumstances, where a new Pope must be elected and potential candidates for the honor are being murdered.

Our serial murderer is revealed from page one, a former priest forced into a rehabilitation home for wayward clergy members with substance abuse problems or sexual repressions that manifest as physical abuse. Led by Paola Dicanti, head of the Laboratory for Behavioral Analysis, investigators must find the killer before another victim can be taken. Using her incredible talents, Paola must get inside of the mind of the disturbed priest and create a profile that will enable investigators to track him down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this book is a great read if you have an interest in psychological profiling and general intrigue.

April's Books to Film

Based on Nicholas Sparks' novel The Lucky One (PG-13), it follows U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault as he returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive --- a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Learning her name and where she lives, he shows up at her door.

In Think Like a Man (PG-13) - the film adaptation of Steve Harvey's bestseller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man : what men really think about love, relationships, intimacy, and commitment, 4 interconnected and diverse men whose love lives are shaken up after the ladies they are pursuing buy Harvey's book and start taking his advice to heart. When the band of brothers realize they have been betrayed by one of their own, they conspire using the book's insider information to turn the tables and teach the women a lesson of their own.

In The Pirates! Band of Misfits (PG), Hugh Grant stars in his first animated role as the luxuriantly bearded Pirate Captain --- a boundlessly enthusiastic, if somewhat less-than-successful, terror of the High Seas. With a rag-tag crew at his side, and seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked against him, the Captain has one dream: to beat his bitter rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz to the much coveted Pirate Of The Year Award. We have Author Gideon Defoe to thank for his two adventurous tales in The Pirates! Band of Misfits : an adventure with scientists & an adventure with Ahab

In the film The Raven (R) when a serial killer who bases his methods of killing on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories (beginning with The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Pit and the Pendulum and working his way through other stories), Poe joins forces with a young Baltimore detective to solve the crime. The script is based on biographies of Edgar Allan Poe

Unsolved Mystery....Solved?

Eerie coincidences, unexplained voices coming through television sets, cryptic, even rambling messages appearing as if out of nowhere embedded in seemingly impossible parts of city streets...somebody knows something about the Toynbee tiles, but nobody's talking....

For decades, people have been happening upon hundreds of these mysterious tiles in cities as far west as Kansas City, as far north as Boston, and as far south as Santiago, Chile. Yes, even Detroit has a few, though it's not really clear if both are still there or if they've been paved over. All have a variation of the same message:

Toynbee Idea
in Kubrick's 2001
Resurrect Dead
on Planet Jupiter

But what do they mean? Who put them there and how? Who is Arnold Toynbee, and what does he have to do with 2001: A Space Odyssey? Are the Toynbee tiles messages from aliens? Time travel blueprints? Paranoid and even anti-Semitic rants? 9/11 predictions? Just another form of street art?

Like a lot of people, I'd never heard of this mystery before. I stumbled upon it just as if it was a Toynbee tile itself when I checked out the fantastic 2011 documentary, "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles." Deliciously creepy, even spine-tingling at times, with otherwordly music and strangely-lit interviews with colorful characters, this film does a great job of explaining the phenomenon...and just might even solve it. Originally a Kickstarter project, the film went on to receive several accolades including Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. If you plan to watch, I'd recommend staying away from Wikipedia beforehand as it could ruin a bit of the suspense-factor here. Those who remember the show "Unsolved Mysteries" and fans of "The X-Files" will appreciate the style of this documentary!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #321

A.J. Kazinski, is a pseudonym for Danish director/screenwriter Anders RØnnow Klarlund and novelist Jacob Weinreich. Their first collaboration The Last Good Man * (translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally) was an instant bestseller when published in Denmark.

According to Jewish scripture: there are thirty-six righteous people on earth, without them, humanity would perish. Across the globe, from Beijing to Mumbai, from Chicago to Moscow, there is a rash of horrendous deaths that look, to a beleaguered Italian cop named Tommaso, like murders. The telltale sign being the strange markings on their backs. By his count, there have been 34. Only 2 are left.

In Copenhagen, veteran detective and hostage negotiator Niels Bentzon also begins to piece together the puzzle of these far-flung deaths. With the help of brilliant astrophysicis Hannah Lund, they parse out that the last 2 deaths will occur in Venice and Copenhagen where President Obama is to attend a world climate conference, and a terrorist is on a deadly mission.

With cleverly inter-weaving plotlines, this gripping, cinematic, and character-driven, top-notched thriller will appeal to fans of Jo Nesbo, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Peter Hoeg.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #317

Savvy, in-the-know readers are already queuing up for Chris Pavone's The Expats * *, coming out in March.

When her husband Dexter tells her they are relocating to Luxembourg for his new job as security consultant for an international bank, Kate is happy to hand in her notice, pack up her DC house, her young sons, and looks forward to living the expat life with weekends in Paris and skiing in the Alps. Once they are settled, things begin to unravel as Dexter's secrecy (not even the name of his employer), his frequent trips abroad (destinations unknown), and the suspiciously curious American couple who is determined to befriend them, trigger a trained response in Kate that uncovers layers of deceit and threatens to expose her own well-guarded secret.

In this "intricate, riveting and surprising" debut thriller, no one is who they seem to be, and no one is to be trusted, especially the guys in white hats. Twisty, suspenseful and downright tricky, with 50-million euros (not to mention lives and limbs) at stake, watch your steps!

"Standing on the shoulders of such giants as Robert Littell, Gayle Lynds, Eric Ambler, Helen MacInnes, and Daniel Silva, first-time novelist Pavone displays the best characteristics of the form and will earn a faithful and yearning readership."

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #311

When it comes to thrillers, I am a hard one to please. But Chris Morgan Jones's debut The Silent Oligarch * * * really hits the mark.

First published in Britain as An Agent of Deceit, this financial puzzler zigzags across datelines, geography and glittery lifestyles, global politics and ruthless business schemes, base instincts and noble courage as an intelligence agent pursues a money launderer to expose the dealings of a shadowy Russian oligarch.

It is not clear how a minor government bureaucrat like Konstantin Malin could control half of Russia's oil industry, command a vast fortune and absolute fear from those he deals with, including Richard Lock, a hapless money launderer bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, and greed. Benjamin Webster intends to find out.

A journalist turned corporate espionage investigator, Webster is hired by a swindled financier to ruin Malin. A more personal motivation might be to settle the score for the gruesome death of a colleague years ago in a remote Kazakh jail.

As Webster's investigation closes in on Malin's game and Lock's colleagues begin dying mysteriously, he goes on the run.

"With a mysterious, complex plot and terrific local color, this novel resonates to the pounding heartbeats of the boldly drawn main characters. John Le Carre, Martin Cruz Smith, and Brent Ghelfi will be inching over in the book display so readers in search of erudite, elegant international intrigue can spot the newcomer."

~ "smart first novel, a taut thriller"

* * * = Starred reviews

The Inaugural Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration

Established in 2010 by the American Library Association Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of RUSA, The Listen List recognizes and honors the narrators who are a pleasure to listen to; who offer listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading; and who achieve an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace.

This inaugural list (Be sure to check out the wonderful listen-alikes with each of the winners) includes literary and genre fiction, memoir and history and features voices that enthrall, delight and inspire.

The 2012 winners are:

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren.
This sequel to Blackout, a stellar science fiction adventure, follows the plight of a group of historians from 2060, trapped in WWII England during the Blitz. In a narrative tour de force, Kellgren brings to life a large cast of characters, including a pair of street-smart urchins who capture the hearts of characters and listeners alike.

Bossypants by Tina Fey Narrated by Tina Fey.
In a very funny memoir made decidedly funnier by its reader, Tina Fey relates sketches and memories of her time at SNL and Second City as well as the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood. In a voice dripping with wit, she acts out the book, adding extra-aural elements that print simply cannot convey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.
Dominic Hoffman reads this elegiac novel of memory and redemption with fierce grace, inhabiting Mosley’s characters with voices perfectly crafted in pitch and rhythm. His rough, gravelly narration manages the pace and mood of the book with astounding skill, brilliantly capturing the mental clarity and fog of 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey’s world.

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert, Narrated by Edward Herrmann.
Ebert’s clear-eyed account chronicles his life from his youth in Urbana, Illinois, to his fame as a world-renowned film critic in Chicago. Herrmann’s engaging, affable reading mirrors the author’s tone—honest, often humorous, sometimes bittersweet—as he unhurriedly ushers listeners through Ebert’s moving reflections on a life well lived.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
Juliet Stevenson brings crisp clarity, a witty sensibility and a charming tonal quality to Eliot’s masterpiece of provincial life. Through her deft management of pacing and tone, she reveals character motivation and illuminates the many themes of the novel. But most of all she reclaims Eliot for listeners who thought they did not enjoy classics.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willg. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this Regency Christmas caper, a pudding, a spy, a hilarious school theatrical and a memorable country house party lead to laughter, love and an offer of marriage. Reading’s lovely English accent and exuberance are a perfect fit for the wide range of characters, from young girls to male teachers to members of the aristocracy.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray.
In this genre-bending romp, the “written” Thursday must rescue the “real” Thursday from a nefarious Bookworld plot. Emily Gray wears Thursday like a second skin, as she does the robots, dodos, and space aliens running around. The story is paced such that every nuance of pun and word play is captured and rendered aurally.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. Narrated by Jayne Entwistle.
Flavia de Luce, a terrifyingly proficient 11-year-old amateur chemist and sleuth, investigates the beating of a gypsy and the death of a villager in this third outing. Entwistle’s spot-on narration reveals the irrepressible, intrepid heroine’s prowess and captures a delicious range of secondary characters in these whimsical mysteries set in 1950s rural England.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø. Narrated by Robin Sachs.
The icy chill of the Norwegian countryside and a series of cold-blooded murders dominate this Harry Hole crime novel. Sachs contrasts Hole’s world-weary professional attitude, his unquenchable thirst for justice and his yearning for love and comfort, as he skillfully maintains a suspenseful pace and projects an overarching sense of doom.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble.
The tragedy and heroism of the French Revolution come alive through Prebble’s distinctive and graceful narration. As the lives of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton intersect, Prebble takes listeners deep into France and England, narrating terrifying descriptions and breathless acts of courage with a cadence that sweeps one away.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.
In this imaginative novel, Balkan physician Natalia, on a mission of mercy, learns of her beloved grandfather’s death. Duerden’s mesmerizing voice leads listeners through the complexities of this rich novel with its intertwining stories, while Sachs memorably relates her grandfather’s haunting tales in a gentle and gruff voice.

Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. Narrated by Nathaniel Philbrick.
In what should be required reading before cracking the pages of Moby-Dick, Nathaniel Philbrick’s homage to this great American novel compels the listener to experience Melville with an almost incandescent joy. His voice resonates with palpable enthusiasm and calls to mind a New England professor giving a fascinating lecture.

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