Fabulous Fiction Firsts #295

Now for something fun... try The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a novel in pictures * by novelist Caroline Preston. It is the first of its kind - a scrapbook novel.

Former archivist at Harvard's Houghton Library, Preston pulls together her personal collection of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus and other prized ephemera to create an engaging Frankie Pratt as she makes her way in the dazzling world of the1920s. Preston chronicles Frankie's growing up a small New England town, the grief of losing her father, crossing paths with the likes of “Vincent” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) at Vassar, meeting exiled Russian princes, living free and wild in Paris as she searches for success and love.

"Lighter than lightweight but undeniably fun, largely because Preston is having so much fun herself." A total pleasure and visual feast. Definitely for scrapbookers and vintage hobbyist.

* = starred review

Balogh Fans Rejoyce, Dudley Prequel Released

Bestselling Welsh-Canadian author Mary Balogh has completed her three book "Mistress," or "Dudley," series with the recently published The Secret Mistress. Known for her thoroughly developed regency sagas, Balogh finally provided her fans with the story of Angeline Dudley and The Earl of Heywood (Edward Ailsbury).

Angeline Dudley, sister to the Duke of Tresham, is naïve and youthfully exuberant to the point of disapproval by this year’s most eligible bachelor, the Earl of Heywood. After his brother is killed in a curricle race, Edward is happy to do his familial duty of taking over as earl and doing what is proper: marrying and procuring heirs. Angeline, having met Edward's good friend Eunice Goddard, is determined in her scheme to see the two of them married. Little does she realize that there is a plot to see her settled with the stodgy, stick in the mud earl.

While Balogh’s novels are not fast paced, they have fantastic characterization and landscaping for novels of the romance genre. The storylines are developed enough to be believable and contain charm and wit to boot. Balogh is best known for her "Slightly" series about the Bedwyn family, the "Simply" series and her books about the Huxtable family.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #288

At long last, got my copy of Rules of Civility * by debut novelist Amor Towles. Mesmerized by the seductive language and imagery, my lunch temporarily forgotten, I found myself at MOMA at the 1966 Walker Evans' Exhibition Many Are Called, of photos taken on the New York City subways in the 1930s with a hidden camera.

Narrator Katey Kontent is at the opening with her husband Val, who has no knowledge of Katey's connection to one of Evan's subjects - Tinker Grey, and Katey is intent on keeping her secrets private.

New Years Eve 1937, the 25 year old Katey and roommate Eve Ross met Tinker Grey, a handsome patrician banker with easy charm at a Greenwich Village jazz bar, this chance encounter would alter the course of their lives.

The title, taken from George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (see appendix) is a reminder that how spur-of-the-moment decisions could define one's future, and bear in mind always, Rule #110, that the "Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience".

"Elegant and captivating... , Rule of Civility is remarkable for its strong narrative, original characters and a voice influenced by Fitzgerald and Capote, but clearly true to itself". It is also a tribute and a kaleidoscopic portrait of arty-boozy-jazz-aged Manhattan in the late1930s when an optimistic nation was rising out of the Depression and the world was being drawn into another war. Amidst the prosperity, the contrast between the working masses and privileged class was never more stark.

Snappy dialogue and descriptive prose, wrapped in a compelling narrative would please Edith Wharton readers. Also try Louis Auchincloss. His Manhattan Monologues and East Side Story (among his 60 works) will affirm his rightful claim as the "chronicler of New York's Upper Crust" and the master of manners.

* = Starred review. (Here are links to reviews in USA Today and The New York Times).

July's Books to Film (and a nice way to get out of the heat)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is based on the novel by Lisa See.
China. Parallel stories, generations apart. Two young girls bound together by circumstances, history, and a secret language written on the folds of a white silk fan.

Sarah's Key is based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.
Paris, July 1942: 10 yr.old Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret hiding place to save him from the Nazi round-up. Sixty-seven years later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

The film Cowboys & Aliens is adapted from Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's work of the same title.
1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution, a town that lives in fear. But this stranger the town rejects might just be the only hope from the marauders from the sky.

Based on the real-life experience of Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia as detailed in his book I was Saddam's Son, The Devil's Double recounts how he was ordered to become the body double to Saddam's son- the notorious "Black Prince" Uday Hussein, a reckless, sadistic party-boy with a rabid hunger for sex and brutality.

Good Neighbors is based on Chere Voisine by Chrystine Brouillet.
Neighbors Spencer and Louise have bonded over their fascination with a recent string of murders. When Victor moves in, they hit it off. But as they soon discover, each of them has their own dark secret. What they once thought of as a safe haven is as dangerous as any outside terrors they could imagine.

The First Avenger: Captain America is based on the Marvel Comics series by Ed Brubaker.
Steve Rogers volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super Soldier known as Captain America, joining forces with Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter to wage war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.

Author Birthdays: Stone, Garfield, Howatch

July 14th marks the birthday of authors Irving Stone, Leon Garfield, and Susan Howatch.

Irving Stone was an American historical fiction author. His most well known novel may be The Agony and the Ecstasy, a book about the Renaissance artist Michelangelo. The book was also made into a movie starring Charlton Heston.

Stone's main works are all fictionalized biographies. In addition to Michelangelo, he also wrote books on artists Vincent Van Gogh and Camille Pissarro. The novel of Van Gogh was also made into a movie.

Leon Garfield was a British children's historical fiction writer. He also adapted many Shakespearean tales for children, which we have in both written and audio formats, as well as the television show Shakespeare: The Animated Tales.

Garfield's original works include Smith, which is about a 18th century London pickpocket, and The Empty Sleeve, a ghost story featuring protagonist twins.

Susan Howatch is a British fiction writer known for her family sagas and religious themes. Her most popular series is probably the Starbridge Series of six books about a fictional Anglican diocese called Starbridge. The first book in the series is Glittering Images.

Howatch also wrote many stand-alone books. These include The Waiting Sands, which Library Journal described as "three tales of romantic suspense," and Penmarric, a novel set in medieval Cornwall.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #275

Daisy Goodwin's The American Heiress * * is the story of Cora Cash - beautiful, vivacious, spoiled and very wealthy (Gilded Age - Newport). The only thing missing in her life is a title, so her domineering mother thinks.

So off they go, to the playground of the aristocracy, and sure enough, they land the most eligible bachelor in England. Cora suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, and madly in love. Ivo Maltravers, (beleaguered by death duties and a crumbling country estate), Cora comes to find, could be withdrawn, secretive, and increasingly duplicitous (no surprise to the knowing reader). Though her fortune is eagerly anticipated, it does not smooth her way with her powerful mother-in-law, snobby servants, or the insular English society. Cora soon learns that wealth cannot buy everything, and she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

"Witty, moving, and brilliantly entertaining".

"A shrewd, spirited historical romance with flavors of Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, Upstairs, Downstairs and a dash of People magazine that charts a bumpy marriage of New World money and Old World tradition."

"...Goodwin, borrowing elements from a variety of beloved romance classics, keeps you guessing until the very last pages of this fun and finely tuned historical".

Daisy Goodwin attended film school (Columbia) after earning a degree in history (Cambridge). She is a British television producer, a poet 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life , and chaired the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. This is her debut novel.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #273

If you enjoy a leisurely afternoon browsing in antique shops, or find yourself searching out flea markets in your travels, then I think you will find a little treasure here. 13, rue Thérèse came out earlier this year but I waited for the audio book, and I was not disappointed. Jefferson Mays and Mia Barron did an amazing job bringing drama and breathing life into this recording of Elena Mauli Shapiro's debut novel.

Trevor Stratton, an American academic working in Paris is fascinated with a box of personal artifacts found in a filing cabinet in his new office. Sorting through the photographs, postcards, handkerchief, letters, and other vintage keepsakes that once belonged to a woman named Louise Brunet, Trevor begins to imagine and invent a life for her at 13, rue Therese, Paris, - from losing a young lover on the WWI battlefield, a marriage to someone of her father's choosing, to a daring and passionate affair with a married neighbor.

As Louise's life takes shape in Trevor's mind, he begins to notice Josianne, one of the young secretaries, and her eerie connection to the box. Trevor is intrigued and must find out why.

Elena Mauli Shapiro was born and raised in Paris, France, in an apartment below the real-life Louise Brunet’s. Shapiro found herself in possession of a box of Louise’s keepsakes after her neighbor died. They became the inspiration for the novel. See the real artifacts online at the book's website.

Joyce Saricks, Readers Advisory guru, focused her attention recently on the Unexpected Pleasures of audiobooks. I especially enjoy listening to translated works or works set in exotic locales. I often find them impromptu language lessons, with a bit of serendipitous armchair-traveling thrown in. 13 rue Therese was a real find.

Author Birthdays: de Saint-Exupéry, Toland, Fallaci

June 29th marks the birthday of authors Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, John Toland, and Oriana Fallaci.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French author most known for his children's fairy tale The Little Prince. The story has also been turned into a graphic novel and opera.

de Saint-Exupéry also wrote some things for adults, including the memoir Wind, Sand and Stars and the posthumous The Wisdom of the Sands, printed four years after his disappearance in 1944.

John Toland was an American historian, known for his works on WWII, especially the Pulitzer-winning The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. He also wrote a book on the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. In regards to the Japanese people, he was known to have said, "You don't have to take sides. All you have to do is get people's motivations."

Toland also wrote a biography of Adolf Hitler; in order to write the book, he actually interviewed people who had known Hitler. The biography is thought to be something of a "myth-buster."

Oriana Fallaci was an Italian writer and journalist, and opponent of the fascist regime during WWII. Interviews with History and Conversations with Power was compiled after her death and includes interviews with powerful leaders.

Fallaci also wrote some fictional works. These include A Man, which is a historical novel based upon the would-be assassin of a Greek leader, and Inshallah, a novel about Italian soldiers stationed in Beirut.

Author Birthdays: Haggard, Remarque, Brown

June 22nd marks the birthday of authors H. Rider Haggard, Erich-Maria Remarque, and Dan Brown.

H. Rider Haggard, also known as Sir Henry Rider Haggard, was an English author, mainly known for his works featuring the character Allan Quartermain, most notably the novel King Solomon's Mines.

Haggard's writing and characters have been the basis for many things: Quartermain was the prototype for Indiana Jones; his character Ayesha influenced psychologists and other writers; and his adventurous story lines influenced the "Lost World" genre's later writers.

Erich-Maria Remarque was a German author. His best known work was the WWI novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which was also made into a film.

Remarque's other novels include The Night in Lisbon, which tells the story of German refugees during the beginning of WWII, and Arch of Triumph, which was also made into a movie (starring Ingrid Bergman).

Dan Brown is an American novelist, best known for his book The Da Vinci Code, and the other novels starring the character of Robert Langdon.

Brown's first novel was Digital Fortress, which, like The Da Vinci Code, features code-breaking, though the main character is a mathematician rather than a "symbologist." In 2007, Brown also published a memoir about his work as a New York teacher.

Ben Franklin on Video

The Ben Franklin exhibit continues!

Obviously, there are many documentaries on Ben Franklin. One from the History Channel not only features Ben, it also has a snippet from the series Save our History. Another from the History Channel includes a small printed study guide. Ben is even the main subject of one of the discs of the channel's The Founding of America series.

There are also some more interesting DVDs we have that include Ben. Liberty's Kids, a chidlren's TV series from 2002 has Ben as one of its main characters. There is also a short Disney production based on the book Ben and Me.

Two characters that have been named after the real Ben are Benjamin Franklin Pierce, from M*A*S*H, and Benjamin Franklin Gates, from National Treasure.

My personal favorite is either the "Ben Franklin" episode of The Office, or the musical film 1776, starring Howard Da Silva as our beloved Ben.

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