More December's Books to Film

Steven Spielberg directs Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis in War Horse (PG-13), based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo - a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War.

It begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets.

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is adapted by Director Tomas Alfredson for Universal Pictures into a feature film starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy.

This international espionage action-thriller is set at the height of the Cold War when George Smiley, a disgraced British spy, is rehired in secret by his government in fear that MI-6 has been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviets.

The Informationist

This is a gritty, dark mystery with the incomparably corrupt Equatorial Guinea used for a backdrop. Reviewers of Taylor Stevens' debut novel have touted The Informationist as similar to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Let the comparisons between Vanessa Munroe and Lisbeth Salander end here. While both stories are fast-paced and intriguing, this is unlike any other thriller you have read.

Many portions of The Informationist are so raw the reader may have to stop and process it to try and understand where such powerful scenes come from. One minute the fugitives are discussing the variety of West African coup attempts from the past three decades, and the next, Munroe conceals herself on a rooftop to suffer the religious diatribes pounding in her head.

The author’s personal history may be the source for these powerful sections. Stevens was born into the Children of God cult, from which she escaped with her family at the age of 28. For two decades she was constantly uprooted and moved to various countries to do the groups bidding; at no time was she outside the cult’s control. Even after escape, her life was deeply affected by her upbringing. Combining her life experiences with her previously untapped storytelling talents resulted in the creation of the Vanessa Munroe series.

December's Books to Film

Steven Spielberg directs the animated film adaptation of The Adventures of TINTIN. This first of a planned triogy is base on a very popular comic book series created in 1929 by a Belgian artist who called himself Hergé. Clever and ever-curious, TINTIN is a reporter-turned-detective whose pursuit of villains, criminals, treasure and the occasional artifact takes him all over the world, along with a colorful cast of friends. Hergé based his stories on real-world events and cultures - from space exploration to Arab oil wars.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's critically acclaimed novel in which 9 year-old Oskar Schell embarks on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York in order to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

I was perfectly happy with the original film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in his Millennium Trilogy. But I could be persuaded to take in the American remake coming this month with some irresistible big names (Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer) and a sizzling newcomer (Rooney Mara).

Benjamin Mee's memoir is adapted in the feature film We Bought a Zoo. Benjamin Mee, a former newspaper columnist, known for his humorous "Do It Yourself" column in the UK’s Guardian Weekend moved his family to an unlikely new home: a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside. Mee had a dream to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. Nothing was easy, given the family’s lack of experience as zookeepers, and what follows is a magical exploration of the mysteries of the animal kingdom, the power of family, and the triumph of hope over tragedy.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #299

Former TIME Jerusalem Bureau Chief Matt Rees, known for his award-winning Omar Yussef mystery series set in modern day Palestine, now brings to his devoted readers a historical stand-alone set in late 18th century Vienna.

When Madame Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenburg (known to her family as Nannerl) received news of her estranged younger brother Amadeus Mozart's death in December 1791, she rushed to Vienna to pay her final respect. Grief turned to suspicion as Nannerl learned that Mozart told his wife he was being poisoned. Soon she found herself ensnared in a web of intrigue and drama among jealous lovers, sinister creditors, rival composers, secret societies and came to learn a side of her brother she had not known.

In Mozart's Last Aria *, "Rees nails the details of Mozart's Vienna with precision, seasoning his story with musical details that will delight fans of classical music. The author renders Nannerl very sympathetic and teases in a touch of romance that is both bittersweet and unexpected. ... A beautiful book illuminated by the author's own musical background that moves slowly and deliberately to a fine conclusion. "

For historical mystery with a strong sense of place and a touch or romance, try also works by Deanna Raybourn and C.S. Harris.

* = starred review

November's Books to Film (You KNOW! the season is upon us)

Brian Selznick's charming Caldecott Medal winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret : a novel in words and pictures (2007) is one for the whole family to hit the big screen on November 23rd. In this moving and entertaining film adaptation, an orphaned boy secretly lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station and looks after the clocks. He gets caught up in a mystery adventure when he attempts to repair a mechanical man. Martin Scorsese directs a star-studded cast of Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law.

Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is the highly anticipated next chapter of the blockbuster The Twilight Saga. The new-found married bliss of Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen is cut short when a series of betrayals and misfortunes threatens to destroy their world. Wide release on the 18th, savvy fans know the drill.

The gritty noir novel London Boulevard (2001) by Ken Bruen has been adapted into a feature film starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone. An ex-con hired to look after a reclusive young actress finds himself falling in love, which puts him in direct confrontation with one of London's most vicious gangsters.

In A Dangerous Method, adapted from the book by John Kerr, on the eve of World War I, Zurich and Vienna are the setting for a dark tale of sexual and intellectual discovery. Drawn from true-life events, it explores the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the beautiful but disturbed young woman who comes between them. Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, and Viggo Mortensen.

George Clooney, Judy Greer, and Matthew Lillard star in The Descendants, adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Wealthy Hawaiian landowner Matt King has his life upended when his wife, Joanie, is involved in a boating accident. King struggles to reconnect with his two daughters as the three of them take a journey to deliver the news of Joanie's imminent death to the man with whom she was having an affair.

My Week With Marilyn, is based on Colin Clark’s (played by Eddie Redmayne) controversial memoir. The film centers on the tense relationship between Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) during production of The Prince and the Showgirl. In the early summer of 1956, 23-year-old Colin Clark, just down from Oxford and determined to make his way in the film business, worked as a lowly assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. In his diary, one week was missing, and this is the story of that week when Colin introduced Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #296

Release scheduled for this coming week, first in the projected Nina Borg mystery series, The Boy in the Suitcase * marks the debut of co-authors Lene Kaaberbol (visit the website of this well-respected teen author) and Agnete Friis.

When asked by an estranged friend Karin to help retrieve a suitcase from a locker at the main Copenhagen train station, Nina Borg, Red Cross nurse and a compulsive do-gooder can't refuse. After dragging it home, Nina discovers inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive. When Karin is brutally murdered, Nina realizes that her life and the boy's are in jeopardy. In an increasingly desperate trek across Denmark, Nina tries to figure out who the boy is, where he belongs, and who exactly is trying to hunt him down.

Winner of the 2008 Harald Mogensen Award for Best Danish Crime Novel, and a finalist for the Scandinavian Glass Key Award, this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of Scandinavian crime fiction, many also by women writers with strong female protagonists.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #293 (Revised)

30,000 ft. over the Atlantic, the movies are mindless and sleep eludes you. Your best hope is a good book and this cozy mystery debut did not disappoint.

East bound, I was delighted with Wicked Autumn: a Max Tudor novel * by G. M. Malliet. It brings to mind the Three Pines Series by Louise Penny, with a idyllic English village setting and the usual "tangled alliances and animosities" found in small, insular communities. When the ever-unpleasant and bossy Wanda Batton-Smythe (think Hyacinth Bucket for those of you who like your humor British) is found dead at the Harvest Fayre, the suspects are many. Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent and the newly installed village vicar, finds himself quickly involved in the police investigation.

Winner of the 2008 Agatha Award for Death of a Cozy Writer (part of the St. Just Series) "G.M. Malliet serves up an irresistible English village—deliciously skewered—a flawed but likeable protagonist, and a brilliantly modern version of the traditional drawing room mystery" in this first of a projected cozy series. The sleuthing clergy frame would appeal to fans of the Clare Ferguson series by Julia Spencer-Fleming.

News Alert!!!! (November 1st)

Also just released is Canadian C.C. Benison's Twelve Drummers Drumming *, the first in a cozy series featuring the sleuthing Father Christmas (a.k.a. The Reverend Tom Christmas) - dedicated village (think St. Mary Mead) vicar, a retired magician (who still has a trick or two up his sleeves), and a single father mourning a recent loss.

Tight plotting, strong characterization, enchanting setting, "A crime novel that Agatha Christie might have been justly proud to claim as her own". ~ Margaret Maron

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #294

I saved this one for the Schiphol to DTW flight, knowing that I will need something gripping to ward off the fatigue. Most appropriately, the opening scene is set in Amsterdam.

All Cry Chaos* is the first in a proposed series introducing an aging, ailing Interpol agent Henri Poincare. American (Harvard) James Fenster, a gifted and eccentric mathematician is assassinated on the eve of a World Trade Organization meeting where he is to present a revolutionary theory. The hit is as elegant as it is bizarre. Crisscrossing the Atlantic in search of answers and more importantly, a very clever killer, Poincare meets up with more puzzles than leads. Meanwhile, a vicious war criminal with scores to settle is exacting revenge on Poincare's family in his absence.

A "masterful and gripping tale," weaving fractals and chaos theory into an international mystery that also confronts great moral and theological questions. " 'Thoughtful, beautifully written."

This accomplished debut by Leonard Rosen, an established textbook author will appeal to fans of cerebral and mathematical mysteries such as Arturo Sangalli's Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery and Michael Gregorio's Critique of Criminal Reason. Readers who favor cloak-and-dagger, globe-trotting intrigue with a flawed protagonist a bit past his prime would be reminded of recent titles of John LeCarre and Olen Steinhauer where the stake is high and the personal costs, higher.

* = starred review

Ann Arbor District Library Staff Picks Mysteries

The Staff Picks shelf is downtown on the first floor. Fresh for October, here are a few selections that the mystery loving Ann Arbor District Library staff is recommending:

R. Austin Freeman was a British mystery writer unjustly overshadowed by his contemporary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Don’t let that deter you from reading The Stoneware Monkey And The Penrose Mystery. His main character and crime solver Dr. Thorndyke is at least as interesting and cunning as Sherlock Holmes, just not as well-known. Freeman was a physician in the Colonial Service and served in Africa where he undoubtedly led an interesting life that led to a rich imagination.

John Burdett’s Bangkok Haunts is the 3rd outing with Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep and is well-written and fast-paced. “This is surreal Thailand where a devout Buddhist cop, speaking slick Chandler-eze, avenges the death of his partner and soul brother.“ Bangkok, man? "Great city, lousy traffic." – Guardian UK

City of Lost Girls is the story of Dublin detective Ed Loy once again trying to lay his demons to rest (think drink, etc.) by solving the murders of two young cast members gone missing while making a film in Dublin. Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Declan Hughes is for "Readers who enjoy their mysteries gritty, bitter and decidedly dark will undoubtedly enjoy this literary pint of extra stout noir." – Chicago Tribune

Heartwood by James Lee Burke takes place in the Texas Hill Country with a local criminal kingpin who has a wife that our hero, Billy Bob, is in love with. “Burke is a master at setting mood, laying in atmosphere, all with quirky, raunchy dialogue that’s a delight.” – Elmore Leonard

September's Books to Film

Drive, an action-packed speed thriller starring Ryan Gosling as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night.
When he falls for Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld, he find himself shifting gears and going on the offense. Based on the mystery novel Drive by James Sallis (also available in audio).

I Don’t Know How She Does It is based on the novel by Allison Pearson. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Kate Reddy, whose daily life is a non-stop balancing act - between her job and family. Complicating matters is Kate's charming new business associate Jack (Pierce Brosnan), who begins to prove an unexpected source of temptation.

Straw Dogs is based on The Siege of Trencher's Farm-Straw Dogs by British writer Gordon Williams. In this re-make of a 1971 film, David and Amy Sumner, a Hollywood screenwriter and his actress wife, return to her small hometown in the deep South to prepare the family home for sale after her father's death. Once there, tensions build in their marriage and old conflicts re-emerge with the locals, including Amy's ex-boyfriend Charlie, leading to a violent confrontation.

Killer Elite is based on a shocking true story that pits two of the world's most elite operatives --- Danny, an ex-special ops agent, and Hunter, his longtime mentor --- against the cunning leader of a secret military society. Originally published as The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes.

Michael Lewis's Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game (also in audio) is now adapted in a film starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane - the Oakland A’s general manager who reinvents his team to outsmart the richer teams by signing undervalued players considered flawed but who have a knack for winning games.

What’s Your Number? is based on the novel 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak. When Delilah Darling reads a survey revealing that most people have 10.5 sexual partners in their lifetime, she begins to feel like a tramp. She’s slept with 19 men so far --- almost twice the national average. Unwilling to up her number, but also unable to imagine a life of celibacy, Delilah tracks down every man she’s ever slept with in a last-ditch effort to make it work with one of them.

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