Fabulous Fiction Firsts #459 - Paris, far more than setting

Novelists' endless fascination with the city and we readers can't seem to get enough of it.

A Paris Apartment * - cramp, decrepit, shuttered for 70 years but it is Paris, and it is in the 9th arrondissement. Sotheby's European furniture specialist April Vogt is glad for the assignment, and for putting a little distance between her and a troubled marriage. Under the dust sheets, she finds a treasure trove of priceless furniture and works of art - one being a stunning portrait of Marthe de Florian, owner of the apartment and one of Belle Epoque's most renowned actresses/courtesans.

In Michelle Gable's debut, once April begins to read over letters and journals written by Marthe, suddenly it is no longer about the materiality and provenance of the objects, but more about an extraordinary life lived and the secrets buried in the apartment. In the process, April is force to take a deeper look into herself.

"Gable's debut is strongest when Paris is the focus...". "With its well-developed, memorable characters and the author's skillful transitioning between story lines, finding similarities in the lives of two women decades apart, this stunning and fascinating debut will capture the interest of a wide audience but particularly those interested in stories about women behind famous men..."

I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You * is a sardonic dig at Richard Haddon's predicament. In Courtney Maum's debut, as the novel opens in 2002, English artist Richard Haddon is on top of the world. His first solo show in a trendy gallery sold out. His beautiful French wife Anne, is a successful attorney with pedigree, and wealthy in-laws had bestowed on the young couple a palatial apartment at an enviable Paris address. Then Anne finds the letters from Richard's mistress, a brash and sexy American journalist who has since moved on. Well, sort of.

In an effort to win back Anne's respect and affection, Richard intends to create the next masterpiece, proposing a controversial installation that would be a sly critique on Iraq's role in the global conflict around the issues of Weapon of Mass Destruction.

"Equally funny and touching, the novel strikes deep, presenting a sincere exploration of love and monogamy. These characters are complex, and their story reflects their confusion and desire... (a)n impressive, smart novel". (This debut is one of Library Reads picks for June).

Now, most appropriate for the City of Love, Emma Mars' (a pseudonym) Hotelles * - "Rife with sexual tension and mystery" this first tale in a trilogy is about a young Paris escort; the Hotel des Charmes where each room is dedicated to one of French history's greatest seductresses; and a silver notebook.

"Funny, sensual, candid, and revealing". It has been compared to The Story of O by Pauline Réage, originally published in 1954 and quickly became the talk of the Paris salons and cafes. While the identity of the author remains shrouded for 40 years, the novel went on to win the prestigious Prix des Deux Magots in 1955, and is still one of the most "curious and mysterious novels of recent times".

While I have your attention...just one more. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 * *, an electrifying union of fact and fiction by Francine Prose, built around a famous photograph entitled Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932 by Brassai. Prose originally intends to write a biography of Violette Morris, a decorated athlete, race-car driver, and Nazi collaborator (she is the one NOT in a dress).

"In an intricately patterned, ever-morphing, lavishly well-informed plot..., it is Paris in the 1920s (that) shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves." "A dark and glorious tour de force".

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Audiobook for Kids: Rooftoppers

As a baby, Sophie is found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck and is taken in by the man who found her, eccentric Englishman Charles Maxim who uses books for plates and toast for bookmarks! Sophie and Charles live a quiet, happy life together until Sophie’s twelfth birthday, when the authorities decide that Charles is not a fit guardian. Rather than letting Sophie be taken to an orphanage, Sophie and Charles embark on a quest to find Sophie’s mother with the cello case as their only clue. The pair travels to Paris where Sophie meets the illusive rooftoppers who agree to help her with her search for her missing mother.

The audiobook of Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell has the feel of a classic with its gorgeous writing, gentle humor and determined young heroine, and narrator Nicola Barber gets the accents exactly right. The novel is also reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo with its adventures through the secret world of Paris.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #453 - "Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies" ~ Jane Austen

The Zodiac Deception * by award-winning reporter for the New York Times Gary Kriss is a fast-paced WWII espionage thriller. "Crisp prose and a well-structured storyline" also makes it entertaining.

June 1942, Princeton professor David Walker didn't exactly volunteer, but OSS chief Wild Bill Donovan convinced him posing as German astrologer Peter Kepler was the only option other than prison, considering his checkered past. Walker's mission: rely on his skills learned as a protégé of both Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, to use illusion, sleight of hand and deception to gain Heinrich Himmler's trust and persuade him to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

From Berlin to Paris to Cairo; from Hitler's Eagle Nest to Himmler's occult Wewelsburg Castle, Walker walked a tightrope of deceit, navigating impossible challenges. To further complicate the mission, he fell in love with a maker of Nazi propaganda films and must rescue her from Paris' labyrinth underground sewers.

"Gary Kriss's The Zodiac Deception is a memorable debut, an unforgettable thrill ride through the dark heart of World War II Germany." A sequel is in the works. Stay tuned.

David Downing, author of the John Russell espionage series set in WWII Berlin, begins a new series with Jack of Spies, set on the eve of the First World War.

It is 1913, Jack McColl, a globe-trotting Scottish car salesman with an uncanny ear for languages, travels from city to great city trying to sell his company's luxury car, the Maia, while collecting intelligence for His Majesty's Navy. As the world tumbles towards war, his spy duties intensify along with danger quotient.

Meanwhile, a sharp, vivacious American suffragette journalist has wiled her way deep into his affections whose family may be involved in a plot against the British, putting him in the impossible position to choose between love and country.

"(F)ull of rich historical and cultural details", both of these FFFs would appeal to fans of Alan Furst, Philip Kerr; and Kate Mosse's latest Citadel (2014), where a group of WWII French Resistance women fighters risk everything to protect astonishing secrets buried in a village nestled deep in the Pyrenees.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #451

Retirement is pretty fabulous and I highly recommend it. However, there are certainly aspects of my work that I truly missed, blogging about books is one of them. So, Muffy is back, and just in time to bring you this wonderful first novel, published to coincide with the celebration of Will's 450th birthday this month.

Dark Aemilia * * is based on the life and loves of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer - the first woman poet to be published (in English), whom historians have called a "proto-feminist", choosing to dedicate many of her poems to a host of distinguished women.

British novelist Sally O'Reilly begins her U.S. debut with a young Aemilia, one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites at court, and mistress to Henry Carey, first Lord Hunsdon, the Queen's lord chamberlain. Learned and intelligent, she captivates the brash, young playwright Will and their clandestine affair proves to be her undoing. As the estrangement between them grows with each misunderstanding and misfortune, their love persists - painfully and without hope.

"With elegant style, masterly wordplay, and an eye for historical detail, O'Reilly beautifully relates a passionate and tragic love story, worthy of two such well-known figures". She also casts Aemilia in the shadowy role of the "Dark Lady" - the object of Shakespeare's late sonnets, and further fuels the debate as to the authorship of his plays.

"O'Reilly brings her star-crossed lovers together and drives them apart through plot twists that are, for once, credible outgrowths of the characters' personalities and beliefs, finally giving them a tender, heartbreaking parting. First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging." For fans of Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant.

* * = 2 starred reviews

The Other Typist is a can't-put-it-down read!

The Other Typist, the first novel by Suzanne Rindell, is a gripping historical fiction psychological thriller. The book’s simple description does not prepare readers for the true suspense that lies between the pages! Set in New York City during the height of Prohibition, the story is narrated—somewhat unreliably—by the typist Rose, who works at a police precinct in the city. A self-described plain, old-fashioned girl, she is both horrified and entranced by the fashionable, wild new typist named Odalie who is hired at the precinct. The wily Odalie quickly befriends Rose, and as the lives of the two girls become more and more enmeshed, Rose’s fascination with Odalie turns into obsession.

Readers get the impression throughout the book that something is soon to go terribly wrong, but it is difficult to predict what this turning point in the story may be. The book progresses towards its shocking, but seemingly inevitable end at a brisk clip, while the author’s simple, yet fantastic descriptions of the clothes and atmosphere of 1920s New York set a stunning backdrop to the events of the novel. Initially expecting a quiet historical fiction story, I ended up finding that I could not put The Other Typist down. Fans of The Great Gatsby must give The Other Typist a try.

Missing Downton Abbey? Try these readalikes!

For Downton Abbey fans, the recent conclusion of Season 4 on PBS brings a long wait before we get to enjoy more of Lady Mary, Tom Branson, Anna, and our other favorite characters. If you are missing Downton Abbey, why not try some of the Downton Abbey readalikes that the AADL has to offer? The library has some wonderful fiction and non-fiction books that will transport you back to the time period of Downton Abbey, making the wait for Season 5 a bit easier!

Try Lady Almina and the Read Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, the fascinating story of the real family that inspired the creation of the television show, written by the Countess of Carnarvon, an inhabitant of the castle today. The true story and the show have many parallels, and this amazing book draws on diary entries, letters, photographs and remaining physical materials to paint a vivid picture of life at Highclere Castle during the early twentieth century. This book also has a companion: Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey, which tells the story of the American woman who married the man who would eventually become the 6th Earl of Carnarvon. Similar to Cora and Lord Grantham, Lady Catherine and her husband must struggle to cope with changes in the traditions of the British aristocracy during the tumultuous period after World War I.

If fiction is more your style, try the sweeping novel Belle Cora, the story of a determined woman who was orphaned at a young age, sent into near slavery at her aunt and uncle’s farm, and eventually ends up in Gold Rush California, the adventures piling up along the way. The story paints a vivid picture of the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. We also have A Star For Mrs. Blake, the story of five American women who travel to France in the early 1930s to seek out the graves of their sons, who all died during World War I. The women are drastically different and meet for the first time right before they set out on their journey. Readers of A Star For Mrs. Blake will enjoy this moving story and recognize the book’s descriptions of the post-war era in Europe from the more recent seasons of Downton Abbey.

We also have Park Lane, the story of a young girl who takes a position as a housemaid in 1914 on Park Lane in London and gets caught up in the lives of the home’s wealthy inhabitants, and A Spider in the Cup, a mystery set in 1933 that begins with the discovery of the body of a young woman in the Thames River.

Finally, why not try your hand at a few Downton Abbey-motivated recipes while you wait for Season 5? AADL has The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and Edwardian Cooking: 80 recipes inspired by Downton Abbey’s elegant meals.

Happy Downton-inspired reading (and cooking)!

Hildegard of Bingen

IlluminationsIlluminations

Illuminations, A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, by Mary Sharratt, is a radiant and absorbing book, providing a deeply moving portrayal of the life of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century German mystic. Because she was the 10th child in her family and, perhaps more importantly, because even as a very young child she was visited by visions and her parents did not know what to do with her, she was “tithed” to the church. Yes, given away. At the age of eight, she and a young noblewomen for whom Hildegard served as a companion were locked away in the anchorage of a monastery. For the next 30 years Hildegard never left that small, bricked-up enclosure. You have to read the story to understand how and why this could possibly have happened.

The isolation, cruel as it was, allowed her several advantages. She learned to read and was supplied with all the books from the monastery’s library, even on subjects normally restricted to girls. She learned to play the psaltery and began to compose stirring vocal and instrumental music. She learned herbal medicine and kept herbs and flowers in pots in the small courtyard of the anchorage and made salves and remedies used in the monastery’s infirmary. She developed a fierce, independent spirit, chafing against the suffering of her young years, which in later life gave her the courage to rebuke the church for its practices. Still experiencing her visions, in the long hours of her seclusion, she “saw” the great power and love at the center of creation, with the holy Mother soothing her lonely soul.

After being released from her confinement, she continued her spiritual seeking, founding a community of nuns and becoming the abbess. She was tireless in her devotion to her “daughters” and her work as a healer, writer, teacher, composer and visionary. She produced a tremendous flowering of artistic and intellectual accomplishment and innovation. Although she was often at odds with church authority she also enjoyed the support of several popes and archbishops, as well as the king of Germany, and she kept up prodigious correspondences with them and other dignitaries. But perhaps she would most want to be remembered for the spiritual truths she envisioned, of Caritas, Divine Love, which came to her as a living light.

We own several works of fiction and non-fiction about Hildegard as well as a sampling of her own writings on an array of subjects. Two dvds tell her story as well. Mostly she has left behind her music, of which we have a generous representation in our collection.

Amazon Teen Bestsellers: Rush Revere and the First Patriots

Apparently radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh is trying to make American history come to life for young people, in a series of books about "time-travel adventures with exceptional Americans." The first book in the series is Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, in which Limbaugh created the character of a middle-school teacher named Rush Revere. In the second book, "Rush Revere and First Patriots," the character is transported back to the time leading up to the American Revolution. The second book currently is #9 on Amazon's list of Best Sellers in Teen and Young Adult Books.

ALA's 2014 Reading List Winners - Librarians' Top Picks in Genre Fiction

Congratulations to this year's winners in 8 genre fiction categories, just announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. It is great to see among them some first novels. An added value of the Reading List (as opposed to the Notable Books) has always been the inclusion of the shortlists which enriches the readers exploration of the genres.

Adrenaline Winner:
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. This modern spy novel pits two covert operatives against each other in an intricate cat-and-mouse game. As Dominika and Nathaniel ply their tradecraft, they navigate the moral ambiguities of a post-Cold War world where no one is as they seem and betrayal is business as usual.

Short List
The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad, a FFF (blog)
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, a FFF (blog)
Lexicon by Max Barry
Lost by S.J. Bolton

Fantasy Winner
Vicious by V.E.Schwab. A friendly rivalry turns vicious when college friends Victor and Eli obtain super-human powers and use them for very different purposes. This dark paranormal fantasy, a riveting tale of vengeance and redemption, proves that extraordinary powers don’t necessarily make superheroes.

Short List
The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
American Elsewhere by Robert Bennett Jackson
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, a FFF (blog)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #449

Inspired by the true story of African-American WWII veteran Isaac Woodard, Deborah Johnson's The Secret of Magic * is a clear-eyed depiction of the post-war Deep South, and a young female attorney's attempt of the impossible - attaining justice for a black man.

Joe Howard Wilson called his father from a rest stop to let him know that he was within hours of being home. But he never arrived. Two weeks later, his body was found.

A newly minted attorney at the NAACP office in New York, Regina Robichard worked for a young Thurgood Marshall who sent her down to Revere, Mississippi, after receiving a letter asking that they look into the murder of a black war hero. The letter was signed by M(ary) P. Calhoun, a reclusive author whose novel The Secret of Magic about white and black children playing together in a magical forest, had captivated a young Regina.

"Johnson offers a completely engaging Southern gothic with unforgettable characters in this fictionalized account of a pivotal NAACP case from the 1940s".

"Passionate but never didactic, Johnson wisely allows the novel's politics to play second fiddle to the intimate, nuanced drama of the young black Yankee and middle-aged white Southerner in this provocative story about race in America that becomes a deeply felt metaphor for all human relationships."

* = starred review

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