Fabulous Fiction Firsts #313

Rod Rees' highly imaginative The Demi-Monde : Winter * * kicks off a "brilliant, high concept series that blends science fiction and thriller, steampunk and dystopian vision. "

Demi-Monde, a computer-simulated military training virtual world is dominated by history’s most ruthless and bloodthirsty psychopaths—from Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich to Tomas de Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisition’s pitiless torturer, to Stalin’s bloodthirsty right-hand man/monster, the infamous Lavrentiy Beria.

When the U.S. President's daughter, Norma Williams, becomes trapped in the Demi-Monde, a young jazz singer named Ella Thomas accepts the assignment to enter the computer-generated world to rescue her. But when Ella stumbles upon a plot to merge the real world with the Demi-Monde, her mission suddenly expands from a simple retrieval to the survival of the real world.

Fans of The Matrix; Philip Jose Farmer's classic Riverworld series; and Tad William's Otherland series will find this "elegantly constructed, skillfully written" page-turner irresistible. As we move into the second week in February, could Spring be far behind?

* * = 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.

Winners in Genre Fiction - RUSA’s 2012 Reading List

The American Library Association's Reading List Council have selected their top picks for 2012 in eight popular genres. Among the winners (and the shortlists) are some of the best by first-time novelists.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson. (See FFF blog)
Each morning, Christine wakes with no memory. From the clues she left herself, she tries to piece together her identity and sort lies from the truth. The unrelenting pace thrusts the reader into the confusion of a waking nightmare in which revelations of her past lead to a frantic crescendo.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (See FFF blog)
Le Cirque des Rêves is utterly unique, disappearing at dawn in one town only to mysteriously reappear in another. At the heart of the circus are two young magicians, involved in a competition neither completely understands. The dreamlike atmosphere and vivid imagery make this fantasy unforgettable.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell
In the early days of Dodge City, a genteel, tubercular Southern dentist forges a friendship with the infamous Earp brothers. Combining historical details and lyrical language, this gritty psychological portrait of gunslinger Doc Holliday reveals how the man became the legend.

The Ridge by Michael Koryta
The unexplained death of an eccentric lighthouse keeper in the isolated Kentucky woods, followed by a mysterious threat to a nearby large cat sanctuary prompt an investigation by a journalist and the local sheriff. Palpable evil and a sense of dread drive this chilling tale.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (See FFF blog)
An introverted mathematician matches wits with a brilliant former colleague to protect the neighbor he secretly adores from a murder charge. Although the reader knows the murderer’s identity from the beginning, this unconventional Japanese mystery remains a taut psychological puzzle.

Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
Ambitious dressmaker Marcelline Noirot will do almost anything to secure the patronage of the Duke of Clevendon’s intended bride. Neither her calculated business plan nor his campaign of seduction can withstand the force of their mutual attraction. Witty banter and strong-willed characters make this a memorable tale.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
The missions of a jaded cop and a dedicated ice hauler officer collide as the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. A mystery adds a noir touch to this space opera featuring deeply flawed yet heroic characters, non-stop action and Earth versus Mars politics.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (See FFF blog)
A former foster child struggles to overcome a past filled with abuse, neglect and anger. Communication through the Victorian language of fflowers allows her to discover hope, redemption and a capacity for love. Damaged, authentic characters create an emotional tension in this profoundly moving story.

Betrayal: History Repeats Itself

With the recent re-release of both the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as the three prequels on Blu-ray, interest in what has been called an "American epic space opera" has shot through the roof. Most people are familiar with the classic story of a band of rebels trying to overthrow an evil empire and bring peace back to the galaxy, but not many know much about the back stories of the characters or about the plethora of books, often referred to as the "expanded universe," that tell those stories.

Aaron Allston's Star Wars : Legacy Of The Force, Betrayal, book one in a series of nine, takes place 35 years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and follows some of the characters from the movies, as well as introducing some new faces. Han Solo and Princess Leia have married and are the parents of three children. Luke Skywalker has married Mara Jade (reformed smuggler and aid to Emperor Palpatine) and they have a son. Betrayal follows these characters as they deal with trouble within the Galactic Alliance, resistance from The Corellian system, and a rift in the Jedi Order. The series also contains a side plot involving the bounty hunter Boba Fett and his culture's (Mandalorian) role in the Galactic conflict.

With well-known characters and an exciting plot, Betrayal is a good read and an easy entrance for those looking to get into the huge world of the Star Wars expanded universe.

Super 8, on DVD

It’s the summer of 1979 and six young friends witness a train crash while making a super 8 film. The crash is epic as it is, and then the story turns into a mysterious adventure when the boys discover what was on the train and that it has escaped into the night. A series of unexplainable events start wreaking havoc on their small town and Joe, the local deputy’s son, and his pals are keeping their secret and dealing with the consequences.

If you take the science fiction element of E.T., the adventure of The Goonies, young boys fighting evil on their own, as in The Monster Squad, and the thriller element of Cloak and Dagger, all mixed with today’s technology, you might get Super 8. It’s your classic little boy adventure story on a modern scale.

The fact that it’s written and directed J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg makes it all the more credible, but it’s still not a perfect film. It has its plot flaws here and there, but it’s cinematically beautiful, and still a fun watch if you’re into those kinds of films. I loved learning that Abrams, the cinematographer, and another producer were friends when they were young and shared a love of movie making and super 8 films. It was fun watching the special features on the DVD and learn of the dream behind the film and their own film ambitions in the late 70s.

Of Dragons and Singing Ships...

Anne McCaffrey, author of nearly 100 books, and best known for the Dragonriders of Pern series, died of a stroke on Monday at her home in Ireland. She was 85. She will be remembered as the writer who created magical worlds full of daring female characters whether riding dragons or navigating ships. The way women were portrayed in scifi/fantasy was transformed by her. Some of her books were written as a response to how women were unrealistically portrayed in the mostly male-dominated genre of scifi/fantasy at the time. McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award, for her first Pern novella "Weyr Search"(in 1968) published in the magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and the first woman to win a Nebula for her 2nd Pern story, Dragonrider (in 1969). These two stories plus a third ultimately became her first Pern novel, Dragonflight. Her other book, White Dragon was the first hard cover science fiction book to make the New York Times bestseller list. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. Other series she will be remembered for include the Crystal Singer series, the Petaybee series, and the Acorna series, to name a few.

On Amazon: Teens Devouring The Hunger Games Trilogy

Guess which mega blockbuster book still reigns #1 atop Amazon's Best Sellers in Teen Books? If you guessed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, you win the chance to scroll slowly through this fascinating Amazon list -- only to spot Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, in Amazon's #3 bestselling slot. Keep scrolling . . . and there's Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, at #4. Very impressive, particularly when you remember that the first book came out in 2008. Hard to say how many more books Amazon might sell as we approach release of the first Hunger Games movie in March 2012. Apparently "The Hunger Games" book has been translated into 26 languages and rights have been sold in 38 countries.

Lionsgate Acquires Chaos Walking Series

Author Patrick Ness' tremendously successful, teen dystopian trilogy, Chaos Walking, may soon be adapted as a series of feature films. Lionsgate entertainment company, the studio behind the Hunger Games films as well as The Departed and The Grudge, has acquired the rights to this harrowing, ultraviolent tale of survival against all odds.

13 year old Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown, a secluded settlement on New World where all of the women have died. The town has a terrible, secret history that forces Todd into exile, pursued by a demonic preacher and a rapidly growing army hunting him down. New World is plagued by "the Noise," a germ-born cloud of thoughts -- audible to the world -- that projects out from each man, leaving no one's thoughts private. Todd's journey is not only one of survival, but also one of his awakening to the dark truths of New World and their consequences on his conscience.

The books in the Chaos Walking trilogy are The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men, all of which are part of the AADL's Teen collection.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #290

Screenwriter for the 2008 cult film classic Fanboys, Ernest Cline makes his fiction debut with Ready Player One *, "an exuberantly realized, exciting, and sweet-natured cyberquest."

In the year 2044, global warming and oil crisis have rendered the world bleak and inhospitable. To escape, orphaned Wade Watts immerses himself into OASIS - a virtual utopia where you could be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

While he spends his days on video games with his avatar Parzival, Wade soon joins an increasingly violent effort to solve a series of puzzles hidden by OASIS's creator James Halliday who promises an immense fortune as well as the rights as his heir. Joining the hunt are powerful players who are willing to commit real murder to beat Wade to the prize.

"Mind-twisting settings, nail-biting action, amusing banter, and unabashed sentiment make for a smart and charming Arthurian tale that will score high with gamers, fantasy and sf fans, and everyone else who loves stories of bumbling romance and unexpected valor."

"...a blend of Avatar, The Matrix , and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

" A great geek beach book, an unapologetic romp with brains and style."

Check out the book's website for news and photos. Movie adaptation already in the works.

* = starred review (See the New York Times review).

Time to LOL: More MST3K Films

If you’ve been scarfing down the many Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs AADL owns, and are ready for some new additions, you’re in luck. Joel Robinson and Mike Nelson, with Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo and Gypsy (yes, all robots!) will keep you laughing as they poke fun of the best of the worst movies- often science fiction B movies. These guys are the best at what they do. Hot off the delivery truck are some new discs for you to get on the hold list for.

Volume 14: Mad Monsters, Manhunt in Space, Soultaker, Final Justice

Volume 15: The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy, The Girl in Lovers Lane, Zombie Nightmare, Racket Girls

Volume 17: The Crawling Eye, The Beatniks, The Final Sacrifice, Blood Waters of Dr. Z

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