Fabulous Fiction Firsts #231

If you enjoyed historical mysteries by Louis Bayard (Black Tower), and Ariana Franklin (The Mistress of the Art of Death) then I am confident you will find The Rhetoric of Death* * * by Judith Rock just your cup of tea.

This "amazing"* debut is set in 17th century Paris where young Charles du Luc, a former soldier has been sent by The Bishop of Marseilles to assist in teaching rhetoric and directing dance at the prestigious college of Louis le Grand. On his first day, the school's star dancer disappears from rehearsal, and the next day another student is run down in the street. When the dancer's body is found under the worst possible circumstances, suspicion falls on him as a newcomer, and finding the actual killer becomes both a personal mission and a source of deadly danger.

Against the backdrop of a Paris swollen with intrigue and religious strife, first-novelist Rock (a dancer, choreographer, seminarian, and former auxiliary NYPD police office) brings first-hand knowledge of dance, choreography, acting, police investigation, and teaching to a new series rich with historical details and well-drawn characters.

Reader might also like S.J. Parris' Heresy which dramatizes religious strife in an earlier era.

* * * = Starred Reviews

Author Birthdays: Solzhenitsyn, Paley, Harrison

December 11th marks the birthday of authors Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Grace Paley, and Jim Harrison.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian historian and writer of fiction, as well as a Nobel laureate. His most extensive work of history is called The Gulag Archipelago; it discusses Soviet forced labor in the early 20th century, including the author's own experiences in a work camp.

Solzhenitsyn's fictional works are interesting and extensive. The First Circle is a tale written after the author's experiences at Gulag, as well as his diagnosis of cancer, and exile. Booklist called it a "many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale". Along those same lines, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich is a book about hope and life during Communist tyranny and its Siberian work camps.

Grace Paley was an American short story writer and poet. Among her works of prose are collections like The Little Disturbances Of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.

Paley's poetry has been described as having a "strong pulsating rhythm". Here at AADL we have a few collections, including Fidelity, Leaning Forward, and her New And Collected Poems. The Collected Stories has many of what are considered her "classic" stories in one volume.

Jim Harrison is an American author, born in Grayling, Michigan. His most well-known work might be Legends of the Fall, which is actually made up of three stories and was later put to film. His latest publications, from last year, are called The Farmer's Daughter, another collection of three novellas, and a collection of poetry entitled In Search of Small Gods.

Harrison also wrote a memoir. The book outlines his life, including childhood tragedy, his alcoholism and cocaine habit, love of nature, and, the hopefully more upbeat discussion of his associations with famous men like Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Buffett.

Untouchable

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand is the story of a young man named Bakha, an “Untouchable”. As an Untouchable, Bakha is of the lowest caste in Indian society and works as a sweeper and latrine cleaner. But Bakha longs for a life free from the daily abuses inflicted by the higher classes. He must walk down the street announcing his presence because he cannot touch – by accident or no – a member of the higher classes, for they shall be “polluted.” He may not enter a temple or a school, for the building shall then be polluted as well. Bakha endures insults such as “pig” and “filth” day to day, and he and his family live in utter poverty. There seems to be no end in sight, but there is a glimmer of hope in one man might inspire change in India. A beautiful book.

Untouchable, a work of historical fiction, was first published in 1935, during the British Raj (reign) before the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Today, many Untouchables are now self-described as “Dalits”, and integrate less noticeably into urban areas, having more employment and education opportunities. Although the Indian Constitution outlaws caste discrimination, in rural areas, some discrimination still survives. The following are some non-fiction titles relating to India and the caste system in history:

Untouchables: One Family's Triumphant Journey Out Of The Caste System In Modern India

Caste: At Home In Hindu India

The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives In The Victorian Raj

The Hindus : : An Alternative History

Laura Ingalls Wilder Exhibition at UM Dearborn

Now through December 12th, the University of Michigan--Dearborn's Mardigian Library is hosting an amazing collaborative exhibition celebrating the 5th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie". Eleven museums and institutions from throughout the county have contributed Wilder artifacts and items from the time period to this must-see event for Wilder fans. More information can be found at UM's bulletin on the event. Please note that the event has been extended through Sunday, December 12th. This event is open and free to the public.

Directions to the Dearborn campus and maps can be found here. The exhibition can be found in the Berkowitz Gallery, on the third floor of the Mardigian Library (marked ML on campus maps). Parking is free; the closest lot is across from the library and space is usually available on nights and week-ends. The parking structure (marked MPS on campus maps) always has available parking. Don't forget to check out great Wilder materials right here at the AADL!

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.

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