Fabulous Fiction Firsts #437 - Ars longa, vita brevis (Art is long, life is short)

At the heart of Thomas Van Essen's debut - The Center of the World *, is perhaps the greatest painting by the renowned British painter J. M. W. Turner, and Henry Leiden, a middle-aged family man with a troubled marriage and a dead-end job, who finds his life transformed by the discovery of the painting in a secret compartment at his summer home in the Adirondacks.

Unlike the marine paintings Turner is known for, The Center of the World is a mesmerizing and erotic painting of Helen of Troy, so scandalous at the time that it was believed to have been burned by John Ruskin. Van Essen reimagines the 19th C. setting where Turner struggled to create this painting at the home of his patron Lord Egremont, and Elizabeth Spencer, Turner's muse and the model for his Helen.

"Filled with sex, beauty, and love (of all kinds), this richly textured novel explores the intersection between art and eroticism." "Van Essen writes gracefully and makes accessible the issue of art as transcendence...an appreciation for how art moves the human heart."

The Girl You Left Behind * by Jojo Moyes is about a 100 year-old painting that serves as catalyst in linking two loves stories, one set in occupied France during World War I, the other in contemporary London.

Liv Halston could not part with the painting her late husband David, a brilliant architect gave her as a wedding gift. Readers would be able to deduce that it is the same painting that Édouard, an artist who studied with Henri Matisse, painted of his wife Sophie Lefèvre, a village innkeeper before he headed off to war in 1916. The mystery is the odyssey of how this painting - The Girl I left Behind ended up in the hands of the Halstons, and who is the rightful owner - whether it is the Lefèvre heirs, the WWI occupying German kommandant who coerced a bargain with Sophie, or Liv who treasures it as the last link to the man she lost too soon?

"Moyes has created a riveting depiction of a wartime occupation that has mostly faded from memory. Liv and Sophie are so real in their faults, passion, and bravery that the reader is swept along right to the end. This one is hard to put down!"

Needing no introduction is Donna Tartt. In this her 3rd novel which took a good part of a decade to write The Goldfinch * * , the name is taken from a small, exquisitely rendered painting.

13 year-old Theo Decker miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend's family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

"The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America, and a drama of almost unbearable acuity and power. It is a story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the enormous power of art."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

New and Award-Winning Historical Fiction for Teens

Reading historical fiction can be a great way to learn more about past eras while still enjoying the fictional embellishments and projections of an author. This can be especially true for teens, as historical fiction presents a unique way to relate to coming-of-age individuals from the past and learn facts about bygone events and characters that can turn out to be helpful in school.

On our new teen shelf currently is The Red Umbrella, added to our collection in October 2013, which details the repercussions of the communist revolution on a teenage girl and her family living in Cuba in 1961. The author, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, makes the character of Lucia relatable and the events that Gonzalez describes are exciting and historically relevant.

Also new on our list of teen historical fiction is My Beautiful Hippie, by Janet Nichols Lynch. The story paints a vivid portrait of the cultural revolution in San Francisco in the late 1960s, and details the struggles of a teenage girl to fulfill the expectations of her traditional middle class family despite being drawn intensely to the alternative culture sweeping through the city.

Ann Rinaldi, who has been writing teen historical fiction for nearly 3 decades, is known for her carefully researched and extremely absorbing portraits of United States history. One of her most famous novels, The Fifth of March, tells the story of the Boston Massacre from the perspective of a servant in the house of John Adams. Rinaldi skillfully details the events of the Salem witch trials in her 1992 book A Break With Charity and describes the horrors of the Battle of Gettysburg in her most recent book, The Last Full Measure. Many of her over thirty historical novels for teens have won awards, including a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age for The Fifth of March and ABA’s Pick of the Lists for her book The Coffin Quilt.

For more historical fiction recommendations for teens, check out the Historical Fiction-Librarians’ Choice for High School list on the public lists section of our website!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #436 - “Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.” ~Truman Capote

Just released to great anticipation is P.S. Duffy's debut The Cartographer of No Man's Land * *.

When his beloved brother-in-law Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus MacGrath, a ship's captain in hardscrabble Snag Harbor, Nova Scotia, puts aside his pacifist upbringing to join the war, in order to find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly to the front. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief.

"Duffy's astounding first novel depicts terrifyingly real battle scenes, rich in subtle details, displaying the intimacies shared among soldiers and the memories that haunt them."

" (T)he world of shipping and the uncertainty of the uncharted front line provide poignant metaphors for the characters' navigation of conflict, loss, and change, as well as their journey back to each other— and to themselves.".

A Baltimore native and a science writer for the Mayo Clinic, Duffy spent summers sailing in Nova Scotia.

Coming out shortly is Canadian journalist and novelist Brian W. Payton's The Wind is Not a River * *. The reader is treated to a little-known aspect of World War II, one that the U.S. government at the time, took great pains to keep from the public eye.

Desperate to understand the war that claimed the life of his younger brother Warren, journalist John Easley headed to the Territory of Alaska to investigate the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. In April 1943, he was shot down in a seaplane just off the remote and barren island of Attu. He and the only other survivor - a young Texan aviator named Karl Bitburg, battled the elements, starvation while trying to evade capture by the 2,000 Japaneses soldiers.

In the mean time, 3000 miles south in Seattle, John's wife Helen, resolved to search for her missing husband and to bring him home, signed on with the USO troupe to entertain the troops in Alaska as a dancer/performer.

"Payton has delivered a richly detailed, vividly resonant chronicle of war's effect on ordinary people's lives."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Amazon Teen Bestseller: The Book Thief

The Kindle edition of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak currently is #5 on Amazon's Best Sellers in Teen & Young Adult Books. First published in 2007, the bestselling book was made into a movie that will be in theaters in November. In the novel, Death tells the story of Liesel, a German girl during World War II whose storytelling and book thefts help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding.

Eleanor Catton wins the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries

Yesterday, Eleanor Catton, a New Zealander born in Canada just 28 years ago, became the youngest author to capture the coveted Man Booker Prize, Great Britain's most prestigious literary award.

Her 830-page novel, The Luminaries, is also the longest book to ever win the Booker, which is 42 years old. Set during the New Zealand gold rush in 1866, The Luminaries has been described as a brilliant reinvention of the Victorian "sensation novel." Robert MacFarlane, chairman of this year's committee, waxed eloquent about Ms. Catton's achievement: "...dazzling...luminous...extraordinarily gripping....It is a novel of astonishing control."

Ms. Catton, who studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, completed The Luminaries in just two years, completing it when she was 27.

Despite her youth, The Luminaries is not her first novel. That honor goes to The Rehearsal (2010), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (renamed the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction] and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

In addition to instant fame and a full calendar of speaking engagements, Ms. Catton received the prize purse worth £50,000 ($79,854.50).

This year's Man Booker Prize recognizes another milestone. Next year the prize will be open to any novel written in English and published in Great Britain, no matter where the author was born.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #430 - “War doesn't negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace." ~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Architect Charles Belfoure - "an up and coming Ken Follett." (Booklist) impresses with his debut - The Paris Architect *.

1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard took on a lucrative but dangerous commission to design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jew. It was to be so invisible that the most determined German officer wouldn't find; a challenge he could not resist to outwit the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city.

When one careless mistake resulted in tragedy, Lucien saw the plight of the Jews through new eyes, and the commission took on new meaning.

"Belfoure's portrayal of Vichy France is both disturbing and captivating, and his beautiful tale demonstrates that while human beings are capable of great atrocities, they have a capacity for tremendous acts of courage as well." "Heart, reluctant heroism, and art blend together in this spine-chilling page-turner."

Loosely based on British author Rhidian Brook's family history, The Aftermath is the emotionally riveting story of two families, one house, and love grown from hate.

Having been appointed Governor of Pinneberg, Bristish Army Col. Lewis Morgan was charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Hamburg devastated by Allied bombing. He was to station his family in a grand house on the River Elbe. Rather than forcing its owner to vacate, Lewis insisted that the two families would share the house.

In this charged atmosphere, exacerbated by domestic stress and war-related bitterness and grief, German architect Stefan Lubert and his teenage daughter, Freda, Lewis, his wife Rachel and their surviving son Edmund were forced to confront their true selves, navigating between desires, loyalties, and the transforming power of forgiveness.

For fans of Sadie Jones' Small Wars and other historical fiction that deals with the complexity of war. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies; and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer immediately came to mind.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #429 - "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once" ~ Stephen King

The Bookman's Tale : a novel of obsession by Charlie Lovett is set in Hay-on-Wy where the antiquarian bookseller/restorer Peter Byerly relocates after the death of his wife, Amanda. While casually browsing in a bookshop, a portrait of Amanda stumbles out of an 18th-century study of Shakespeare forgeries. Of course, it isn't really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture's origins. In the process, he learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

"(A) sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature's most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession: a romance."

"Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett (bio.) has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end.

"A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment." Shakespeare aficionados might further their excursion with Jennifer Lee Carrell and her Shakespearean scholar-turned-theater-director Kate Stanley thriller series.

I am totally captivated with Mark Pryor's The Bookseller : the first Hugo Marston novel (in BOCD). Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris is at loose ends. Contemplating a visit stateside to his estranged wife, he purchases a gift for her from his friend Max, an elderly bouquinistes. When Max is abducted in broad daylight, Martston looks on powerlessly to intervene. The police is uninterested, calling it a hoax but it piqued the interest of Claudia Roux, an attractive crime reporter.

With the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green, Marston launches an investigation. Pressure mounts as other booksellers are found floating in the Seine, they suspect that Max's disappearance is connected somehow to his activities as a Nazi hunter, and to the precious volume now in Marston's hands.

"Pryor's (true crime blogger, D.A.Confidential) steady and engrossing debut combines Sherlockian puzzle solving with Eric Ambler-like spy intrigue... the author winningly blends contemporary crime with historical topics. Pair with Cara Black's Aimée Leduc series for both locale and tone."

Reader might also enjoy the bookseller/amateur sleuth Victor Legris series set in belle-epoque Paris by Claude Izner, the pseudonym for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, both second-hand booksellers on the banks of the Seine and experts on 19th c. France.

Audiobook: A Spooky Ghost Story for Teens

In the mood for a scary story this fall? Then give The Diviners by Libba Bray a listen.

Set in 1920s New York City, this paranormal tale pits a ghostly serial killer – who has returned from the grave to fulfill his gruesome mission – against seventeen-year-old diviner Evie O’Neill. As the story begins, Evie’s ability to divine memories from objects lands her in enough trouble to send her off to New York City to stay with her uncle, the curator of the “Museum of Creepy-Crawlies.” When her uncle is called in to help with a murder investigation, Evie soon finds herself caught up in the hunt for the Occult Killer.

The diverse cast, which also includes a lively Ziegfield girl, a charming pick-pocket and a Langston-Hughes-loving poet, are all expertly voiced by narrator January LaVoy.

The audiobook was also named one of YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults 2013.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #428 - "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage" ~ Anais Nin

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber is based on the real life story, (check out one of many incredible primary sources) of a 19th-century American woman who sought freedom and independence while disguised as a man.

In 1855, when no women traveled unescorted, hunted with a rifle, got paid for a back-breaking day's work, or dressed the way she wanted, Lucy Ann Lobdell hopped a train at daybreak in her brother's cast-offs, and started a new life as Joseph Lobdell, a music/dance instructor in Honesdale, Pa., far from her New York home, her disapproving family and a young daughter she had to leave behind.

As Joseph Lobdell, she finds not only a wealth of economic opportunity but also the chance to participate in intellectual and political discussions. However, the danger of being exposed meant quick escapes and sudden leave-taking, even from the woman she came to love.

"A well-crafted 'memoir' of an unforgettable person, with plenty of questions about freedom, love and responsibility."

"What makes this story stand out is the author's skill in imagining the life of a transgender woman in a time when women had virtually no power in the world and when different sexual orientations were considered grave mental illnesses. By serving as Lucy's voice —not to mention doing what was obviously a great deal of historical research, —the author becomes her advocate and encourages readers to do the same. A unique and important book. "

Reader might also be interested in Wild Life by Molly Gloss; and Women of the Frontier : 16 tales of trailblazing homesteaders, entrepreneurs, and rabble-rousers by Brandon Maire Miller for stories of strong and courageous women who seriously pushed boundaries.

An exciting parallel and just release yesterday is Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, "A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge - the story of Alma Whittaker, who bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas".

Kings and Queens Galore!

Have you been watching the hit British television drama "The White Queen"(based on the bestselling series “The Cousins’ War” by Phillipa Gregory) lately? It’s set against the backdrop of the 15th century War of the Roses and tells the story from the point of view of several major characters in this epic fight between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. If you like the show, be sure to read the series that it is based on The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Kingmaker's Daughter and The Lady of the Rivers).

Can't get enough? If you want some historical background on this exciting era you can read The Women of the Cousins' War, also by Phillipa Gregory. You also may be interested in The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA and The Winter King : Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England.

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