Author Birthdays: Sackville-West, Spillane, Tharoor

March 9th marks the birthday of authors Vita Sackville-West, Mickey Spillane, and Shashi Tharoor.

Vita Sackville-West was an English writer and aristocrat who won the British Hawthornden Prize twice. Born to a Baron, she had lived in the famous Sissinghurst Castle during her lifetime. Among her most well-known books are The Edwardians, which is about two aristocratic siblings in the early 20th century, and All Passion Spent, about an octogenarian woman who spurns the Victorian ideals.

Sackville-West, a bisexual, was lovers with fellow authors Violet Trefusis and Virginia Woolf; some of her letters to Woolf have been compiled into a book, and a book on Trefusis also contains correspondence between lovers.

Mickey Spillane was an American crime novelist, best known for his detective character Mike Hammer. Spillane was also into film; his novel Kiss Me Deadly was made into a movie, and the author himself actually played a detective in Ring of Fear.

Spillane's work in the hardboiled fiction genre is a bit different than many others. A writer for the Washington Post said in 2001 that "Spillane never really wrote sex scenes; he wrote about sexuality in a way that was unapologetically sensual and often seemed more provocative than the act itself". A good example is his first novel, I, the Jury.

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian writer and advocate, as well as a member of Indian Parliament and former Under-Secretary General of the UN. He has written both fiction and non-fiction, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in 1991. His novels include the award-winning The Great Indian Novel, and Show Business, called by Booklist "an animated and deliciously satirical critique of the Bombay film industry".

Among Tharoor's non-fiction works are The Elephant, The Tiger, And The Cell Phone: Reflections On India, The Emerging 21st-century Power, which discusses India's highs and lows, and Bookless In Baghdad: Reflections On Writing And Writers, a collection of essays which Library Journal described as resonating "with readers of any nationality, helping them understand the global purpose of literature, feel the inherent responsibility, and hear a call to action".


Starcrossed is the second novel by historical fantasy author Elizabeth C. Bunce, and the first book in the "Thief Errant" series.

The story stars a learned and streetwise thief, Digger, who, in order to escape the wrath of the kingdom Inquisitor and his policing Greenmen, finds herself and her fate entwined with that of a party of drunken nobles. With the group is Lady Merista, a young girl whom Digger quite suddenly discovers is deeply into something punishable by torture and death -- magic. Digger becomes torn between her developing love for her young friend, the suspicious and dangerous activity of Merista's parents, the blackmailing and vengeful friend of her host, and her mantra: Stay Alive. Don't get caught. Don't get involved.

If you like intrigue, spies, magic, romance, and a sassy heroine, this is a must-read. Bunce not only presents a vivid and fast-paced tale, but also an addictive world, moving characters, and a great tension between people and their rulers. Historically, the story throws us into a sense of the Inquisition and the witch craze in Europe.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #245

Paula McLain will be reading and signing The Paris Wife at Borders on Liberty Street, Wednesday, March 2, at 7 pm.

In Paula McLain's The Paris Wife : a novel * *, Hadley Richardson takes center stage in this fictional biography of a marriage - between a quiet and supportive older woman (by 8 years) to her charismatic and soon-to-be famous husband Ernest "Hem" Hemingway.

Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious "gin-soaked and jazz-infused" years in the expatriate lifestyle of the 1920s Paris. Readers are also treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Much more than a "woman-behind-the-man" homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental and yet sympathetic tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled. Compelling and a pleasure to read.

For background information and research for this novel, here is an interview with the author at The Hemingway Project website. May I also suggest Hadley, a biography by Gioia Diliberto?

Poet Paula McLain (Like Family : Growing up in Other People's Houses : a memoir) received an MFA from the University of Michigan and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. This is the first of her novels in our collection.

* * = Starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Shirer, Cornwell, Sandford

February 23rd marks the birthday of authors William L. Shirer, Bernard Cornwell, and John Sandford.

William L. Shirer was an American writer of mostly non-fiction history books. Much of his works focus on Nazi Germany, which isn't surprising, considering he was a WWII journalist who actually reported from Berlin. Part of his book 20th Century Journey called "The Nightmare Years", about his time in Germany, was made into a TV movie with Law & Order star Sam Waterston playing the journalist.

Shirer's "This is Berlin" is a collection of his radio broadcasts from said city. As noted by Library Journal, it gives "the reader a sense of the drama and tension of 'history as it happens'". He also wrote a diary of the days leading up to the war.

Bernard Cornwell is an English historical novelist, best known for his novels centered on character Richard Sharpe, which take place during the Napoleonic Wars. They were also adapted into a television series.

Cornwell has also written stories in the times of Saxon and Arthurian Britain, and the American Civil War. His latest, The Fort, published last year, is a tale of the Revolutionary War, more specifically, of the Penobscot Expedition.

John Sandford (born John Camp) is an American journalist and novelist, probably best known for his Prey series, featuring the character Lucas Davenport. His newest novel, Buried Prey, is in this series and comes out in May.

Sandford's other works include the novel Dead Watch, which has been called "full of suspense, political intrigue, and violence" by Library Journal; you can also see some of his journalistic exploits on his website.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #243

Michael David Lukas's debut novel The Oracle of Stamboul beautifully evokes life in 19th-century Turkey.

Raised by a doting father after her mother's death at childbirth, Eleonora Cohen is recognized as a prodigy (aka The Oracle) at an early age. Unable to endure her stepmother's iron-fisted discipline, Eleonora stows away on the ship that bears her father to Stamboul (modern day Istanbul) on business. When tragedy strikes, Eleonora's extraordinary genius comes to the attention of Sultan Abdul Amid II who is impressed with her shrewd political evaluations, and seeks her advice that might have changed the course of history.

"The exotic sights and sounds of nineteenth-century Turkey spring vividly to life, ... In addition to conducting a delightfully quirky magical mystery tour via an appealingly quirky heroine, Lukas also paints a bold portrait of an empire precariously poised on the chasm between an old and a new world."

Readers intrigued with historic Istanbul might enjoy Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red (audio), translated from the Turkish by Erdağ Göknar. Set in In sixteenth-century Istanbul, a furor erupts when the sultan hires a group of artists to illuminate a great book. An intellectual mystery that will appeal to fans of Umberto Eco, Iain Pears, and Arturo Perez-Reverte.

Also check out The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, first in a mystery series, and the Edgar Award Winner for a First Novel. In 1836, Europe is modernizing and the Ottoman Empire must follow suit. But just before the sultan announces sweeping changes, a wave of murders threatens the fragile balance of power in his court.

Katie Hickman's The Aviary Gate is a "lush, ancient tale of treacherous secrets, forbidden love, and murder in an Ottoman palace where a British sea captain’s daughter is held captive in the sultan’s harem in 16th-century Constantinople.

* = Starred review

Author Birthdays: Ford, Banks, Ellis

February 16th marks the birthday of authors Richard Ford, Iain Banks, and Warren Ellis.

Richard Ford is an American writer. He won the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner Award for the sequel Independence Day, which is the second in a trilogy of books featuring the character Frank Bascombe, also seen in The Sportswriter and The Lay of the Land.

Ford's first novel was A Piece of My Heart, a "story of two godless pilgrims" which turns violent. His first collection of short stories, Rock Springs, is described by Booklist as having "characters so put upon by life that resorting to desperate acts even murder is totally within the realm of possibility".

Iain Banks is a Scottish author. If you see a book written by Iain M. Banks, that's also him, but specifically in the sci-fi genre. He was named one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945" by the New York Times.

Banks's newest novel is one of those M. sci-fi ones, called Surface Detail. Part of the "Culture novels", it continues the line of stories of the Culture, an interstellar society that is both socialist and utopian. If you're not interested in sci-fi, his 2009 Transition, a historical fiction novel (perhaps erroneously published under the name Iain M. Banks), might be more your style.

Warren Ellis is an English writer of mostly graphic novels, though his Crooked Little Vein is a mystery (non-graphic) novel. One of his works, Red, you may recognize, since it was recently made into a film starring Bruce Willis.

Among Ellis's other many graphic novels is the series Fell, which is extremely interesting in its layout. Ellis created the graphic novel so that it would be cheap to buy--$1.99, actually--by using more panels per page to create less pages.

Hidden Gems: Books Unjustly Dusty #11: Booker Bridesmaid


Novelist Beryl Bainbridge died this past July. The Man Booker Prize Foundation has created a special prize, and asks the public to vote which of her five shortlisted novels deserves the accolade Man Booker Best of Beryl.

Described as “slightly dotty” and having a “mordant wit” Bainbridge wrote several novels and a column in the London Evening Standard.

If you enjoy black humor and historical novels and don’t know about her, you have just hit the jackpot.

The Ann Arbor District Library has several of her titles: According to Queeney about the life and times of Dr. Samuel Johnson, An Awfully Big Adventure delves into 1950s Liverpool with a story of an aspiring actress, The Birthday Boys is her take on the doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1912 by Robert Scott, Every Man for Himself covers the Titanic disaster, and Master Georgie is a wonderful novel set during the Crimean War.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #240

Mr. Chartwell : a novel * is a tragicomic fantasy set in July 1964 when an elderly and retired Winston Churchill summoned Esther Hammerhans, a library clerk at the House of Parliament, to Chartwell, his home in Kent to act as his temporary secretary. Tagging along is Mr. Chartwell, aka Black Pat, "a colossal hound, odoriferous, walking, talking physical mess of an animal, who inexplicably exudes a most charming, seductive manner".

It is not a secret that Churchill struggled with depression - his bête noire as he called it, the "black dog" that accompanied him throughout his life. When widowed Esther decides to rent a room in her London flat to Mr. Chartwell, she has no idea what she's allowing into her solitary life.

One reviewer pleads that we: "Please, willingly suspend disbelief and allow debut author Rebecca Hunt's vivid imagination to take you on this exuberant funhouse ride through a week in the lives of Esther, Winston, two matchmakers, the easygoing love interest, and the buttoned-up library director at the House of Commons".

"Rococo both in its imagination and phrasing", it cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor,and a quirky assortment of characters.

A witty, intelligent curiosity of a novel, longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

* = Starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Bernhard, Coetzee, Walker

February 9th marks the birthday of authors Thomas Bernhard, J. M. Coetzee, and Alice Walker.

Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian writer of novels and plays. While we have many of his works in English, according to the man himself, they can't be the same as his original, German novels. Bernhard believed that "translation is impossible".

Among Bernhard's books are Wittgenstein's Nephew, which has been called "a vehicle for Bernhard's captivating prose, his bitter pessimism and anger and his clever, if sarcastic wit"; The Voice Imitator, a collection of 104 short stories; and The Loser, a story of three piano virtuosos, written in first-person monologues.

J. M. Coetzee is a South African-American-Australian writer, and winner of the Booker Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature, among other awards. His novels Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace are among the books that have won.

Coetzee, a vegetarian, writes about subject like animal cruelty and welfare, in novels like Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello. He has also written a few "fictionalized" autobiographies, including Youth, which focuses on the few years he spent in London after fleeing South Africa.

Alice Walker is an American writer of novels and poetry, and is widely known for her work The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize and has been made into a film and Broadway musical. She was also the first African-American woman to win the National Book Award, also for The Color Purple.

Walker has also written Possessing The Secret Of Joy, which Booklist says depicts female circumcision "as mutilation of not only the body but the psyche", the multi-historical fiction novel The Temple Of My Familiar, and perhaps the poetry collection with one of the greatest titles I've ever seen, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.

Author Birthdays: Grey, Oe, Morrison

January 31st marks the birthday of authors Zane Grey, Kenzaburo Oe, and Grant Morrison.

Zane Grey was an American author who wrote primarily westerns; his most famous was probably Riders of the Purple Sage. Many of his books were turned into movies, including Fighting Caravans (starring Gary Cooper) and The Thundering Herd (with Harry Carey).

Grey's westerns also include Betty Zane, which was inspired by his great-great-grandmother of the same name and was his first novel, and The Great Trek: A Frontier Story, which was inspired by Grey's deep-sea fishing trip to Australia in 1935.

Kenzaburo Oe is a Japanese writer and Noble Prize winner. His first novel was Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, which Booklist called a "bleaker and more pessimistic" Lord of the Flies.

Oe's books are almost all influential. A Personal Matter is a semi-autobiographical story that touches on the subject of his son's brain hernia; also semi-autobiographical is The Changeling, which includes a fictionalization of the suicide of Oe's brother-in-law.

Grant Morrison is a Scottish comic writer and adult graphic novelist. He has done quite a few issues of Batman and Robin graphic novels, as well as many other superhero works with DC Comics.

Morrison's other works include the graphic novel series WE3, which is about three household pets turned deadly cyborgs, and Sebastian O, the steampunk story of an alternate Victorian London and the assassin Sebastian.

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