Fabulous Fiction Firsts #229

The fact that Gentleman Captain is the first in a projected series is "jolly good news" for fans of Patrick O'Brian, C. S. Forester, and Dewey Lambdin.

1662: Restoration England. Cromwell is dead, and King Charles II has reclaimed the throne after years of civil war. It is a time of divided allegiances, intrigue, and outright treachery. With rebellion stirring in the Scottish Isles, the king asks Matthew Quinton to take command of a new vessel and sets sail for Scotland to defuse this new threat.

Matthew Quinton is loyal, if inexperienced, having sunk the first man-of-war under his command. Upon taking command of the Jupiter, he faces a resentful crew, a suspicion that the previous captain was murdered, and the growing conviction that betrayal lies closer to home than he had thought.

With cannon fire by sea and swordplay by land (and a hint of romance) Gentleman Captain is a "rousing high-seas adventure in the finest nautical tradition" from a talented storyteller.

Author J.D. Davies is one of the foremost authorities on the 17th century British navy and has won the 2009 Samuel Pepys Award for his Pepys's Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare, 1649-1689.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #228

It is not everyday that a debut novel is named as a finalist in these many awards:

- 2009 Governor General's Literary Awards for Fiction
- 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean)
- 2010 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award
- 2010 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award - Fiction Book of the Year

WINNER of the 2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean * does not disappoint.

"You must look for the mean between extremes, the point of balance," Aristotle advises his royal pupil, the future military genius in this bold reimagining of one of history’s most intriguing relationships: between legendary philosopher Aristotle and Alexander the Great, the rebellious son of his boyhood friend Philip of Macedon.

Told in the brilliantly rendered voice of Aristotle - keenly intelligent, often darkly funny, The Golden Mean brings ancient Greece to vivid life via the story of this remarkable friendship between them.

"But before this impressively researched, vividly detailed novel settles into a contest of wits and wills between determined teacher and often unmanageable student, Lyon builds a fascinating portrait of the Athenian sage " - a sensualist gratified and enthralled by the world's often inexplicable plentitude, emphatically earthbound in his affection for the bewitching Pythias; or in awakening the potential for rationality in Alexander's seemingly mentally retarded older brother Arrhidaeus (perhaps the novel's most sympathetic character).

"As authoritative and compelling as Mary Renault's renowned novels set in the ancient world. One hopes we may learn more about Lyon's immeasurably brilliant, unflappably human Aristotle."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #226

The Blindness of the Heart*** is Julia Franck's English language debut (translated from the German by Anthea Bell), - a rich, moving, and complex novel from one of Europe's freshest young voices.

Winner of the German Book Prize (2007) and a finalist for the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, it opens in 1945 with a young mother named Helene standing with her seven-year-old son in a provincial German railway station, amid the chaos of civilians fleeing west. Having survived with him through the horror and deprivation of the war years, Helene abandons her son on the station platform and never returns.

The story quickly circles back to Helene's childhood with her sister Martha in rural Germany at the outbreak of the First World War. As we follow Helene into adulthood, we watch as the costs of survival and ill-fated love turn her into a woman capable of the unforgiveable.

"Franck's impressionistic style and empathy encourage fresh responses to familiar subject matter—fine, disturbing, memorable work." ~Kirkus Reviews. Readers interested in character-driven war stories lyrical and spare, might find much to like in Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian.

*** = starred reviews (Read the New York Times review)

Author Susan Messer "Grand River and Joy"

grandrivergrandriver

With good reason the University of Michigan's Honors Program in the College of Literature and Science selected Grand River and Joy as its required reading book this past summer for incoming Honors students.

Join us downtown at 7pm Thursday, November 4th as Susan Messer discusses her latest book, a finely written novel about events surrounding the riots in Detroit during the late 1960s. The story encapsulates important volatile issues like race, class and economic inequality that remain relevant in today's world.

If you would like to explore the topic further, try Violence in the Model City by Sidney Fine
and The Detroit Riot of 1967 by Hubert Locke.

Author Birthdays: Crichton, Korman, Burroughs

October 23rd marks the birthday of authors Michael Crichton, Gordon Korman, and Augusten Burroughs.

Michael Crichton was an American author and screenwriter, probably most famous for Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, both of which were novels turned into movies. Among his lesser known--but critically praised--works is A Case of Need, his debut and award-winning mystery novel.

Crichton's final work, published the year after his death, is Pirate Latitudes. As you might guess from the title, it's about a 17th-century Caribbean pirate trying to take a Spanish galleon.

Gordon Korman is a 47-year-old Canadian children's and young adult author. He won the Air Canada Award for promising authors in Canada when he was only 16. He also has many ALA recognitions for his young adult novels.

Korman has written many youth series, including the Everest, Island, and Dive series. He also wrote the second book in the 39 Clues series, One False Note.

Augusten Burroughs is an American writer, best known for his novel Running with Scissors. The story was intended by Burroughs to be a "memoir" of a family, which he later had to call a "book", since the family it was based on sued. The story was made into a film in 2006.

Burroughs' latest work was published last year. Called You Better Not Cry: Stories For Christmas, it's a set of short autobiographical stories relating to the holidays.

Author Birthdays: Wilde, O'Neill, Grass

October 16th marks the birthday of authors Oscar Wilde, Eugene O'Neill, and Gunter Grass.

Oscar Wilde was an Irish novelist and playwright who was exiled to France after being convicted for being a gay man. You can read about this imprisonment in one of his poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Wilde's most famous works include the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and one of his plays, The Importance of Being Earnest, both of which have been made into films.

Eugene O'Neill was a Nobel-winning American playwright. Some of his plays won Pulitzer Prizes, including Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, and Strange Interlude. He also had a Swedish stage acting award named in his honor.

O'Neill's plays are often tragic and pessimistic. This can perhaps be seen the best in his play Long Day's Journey Into Night, which is a sort of biography of his family. The play was made into films in 1962 and 1987.

Günter Grass is a Nobel-winning German novelist. He is probably most well-known in the States for his first novel, The Tin Drum, which is the first in the Danzig Trilogy. The book was also made into a German language film.

The most recent of Grass's works to be translated into English, aside from his autobiography, is called Crabwalk. It describes the sinking of a German refugee ship in 1945 by a Soviet submarine. The ship, MV Wilhelm Gustloff, really existed, though Grass's characters are fictional.

Author Birthdays: Williams, O'Connor, Stewart

September 17th marks the birthday of authors William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Connor, and Mary Stewart.

William Carlos Williams was an American poet and pediatrician. He is typically regarded as a Modernist, though sometimes as an Imagist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1963 for his collection Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

Williams also wrote Paterson, a five-book poem, often considered his "epic". The 1992 edition contains clarifying notes on the poem. A Library Journal review noted that "By exploring the local, Williams sought to descry the universal and to find in city and landscape symbolic analogues for the essential issues of human life."

Frank O'Connor was an Irish short-story writer who served in the Irish War of Independence; he was published in The New Yorker. One of his autobiographies, An Only Child, was even quoted by JFK in a speech he gave while president.

In addition to his own, O'Connor also wrote a book on the subject of short stories in general, called The Lonely Voice. The book discusses other authors such as Chekhov, Joyce, and Hemingway.

Mary Stewart is an English writer, probably most well-known for her historical fantasy quintet, The Merlin Chronicles, which begins with the book The Crystal Cave.

Stewart has also written mystery novels, most of which have a touch of romance, such as The Stormy Petrel and My Brother Michael.

Author Birthdays: Buchan, Isherwood

August 26th marks the birthday of authors John Buchan and Christopher Isherwood.

John Buchan was a Scottish novelist and Governor General of Canada. He wrote mainly adventure fiction, five books of which contain the manly and MacGyver-like character Richard Hannay. Three other stories by Buchan feature the middle-aged reluctant hero Dickson McCunn, whose adventures start in the book Huntingtower.

Baron Buchan also wrote historical fiction, like the mystery Witch Wood, which features romance and religion in 17th century Scotland, and even a novel about a terminally ill man, his death and redemption, called Sick Heart River.

Christopher Isherwood was an English-born American author. One of his novels, Mr. Norris Changes Trains, was inspired by his life as an expatriate in Berlin in the 1930s. The main characters include the narrator, William Bradshaw, and the masochistic Arthur Norris.

Another of Isherwood's novels is A Single Man, which centers on a middle-aged gay Englishman and his recent partner's loss, which he must learn to cope with. It was recently made into a film by Tom Ford, and it stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

Author Birthdays: Ann M. Martin

August 11th is the birthday of American author Ann M. Martin.

Best known for her 14-year-long series The Baby-sitters Club, Martin has written quite a few novels and other series for children as well.

Among the other series are The Doll People and Main Street.

Among the novels are Belle Teal, which features a young girl who encounters racism, death, and abuse as she grows up, A Dog's Life: The Autobiography Of A Stray, which is told by a stray dog and gives a great perspective on the many perils homeless animals face, and the 2003 Newbery honor book A Corner of the Universe, which tells the story of a girl named Hattie, set in the 1960s.

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Have you heard of the Made in Michigan Writers Series? Published by Wayne State University Press, the series features Michigan authors in the fiction, non-fiction, short story and poetry genres.

The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, by Michael Zadoorian
Short fiction stories about characters living in and around Detroit, surviving the odds.

Eden Springs, by Laura Kasischke
Using historical sources, a novella about the House of David religious colony that was based in Benton Harbor, Michigan in the early 20th century.

As If We Were Prey: Stories, by Michael Delp
Darkly humorous yet touching collection of short stories about men in a small northern Michigan town.

Birth of a Notion; Or, The Half Ain't Never Been Told: A Narrative Account with Entertaining Passages of the State of Minstrelsy & of America & the True Relation Thereof (From the Ha Ha Dark Side)
by Bill Harris
Using prose and poetry, Harris studies preconceived notions of “blackness” in nineteenth century American culture to the early twentieth century, investigating sources of lasting stereotypes and racist imagery.

An American Map: Essays, by Anne-Marie Oomen
Northern Michigan native Anne-Marie Oomen’s contemplative and inspirational essays from her travels across America.

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