Fabulous Fiction Firsts #361

Known as the Babe Ruth of Bank Robbers, Willie Sutton, one of the most notorious criminals in American history is also a folk hero to some. He stole over $2 millions, often in costumes (thus dubbed "the actor"), engineered dramatic prison breaks and was serving virtually a life sentence when he received a surprise pardon on Christmas Eve in 1969.

In his debut novel, Sutton *, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter J. R. Moehringer relays, in electrifying prose, the highs and lows of Sutton's dramatic life, from the thrill of the heist and his great, doomed love affair to the brutal interrogations by cops and the hell of years spent in solitary confinement, all the while probing the psyche of an enigmatic man who had a genius for thievery and an even greater capacity for self-delusion.

"A captivating and absorbing read", that will appeal to true crime fans who enjoyed Catch Me if You Can : the amazing true story of the youngest and most daring con man in the history of fun and profit! by Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. (as a feature film).

For biographical fiction of other famous crime figures, try Bill Brooks' Bonnie and Clyde : a love story and And All the Saints by Michael Walsh, based on the life of Owen "Owney" Madden, the most influential mobster of the 20th century.

* = starred review

October's Books to Film

The Paperboy is based on Peter Dexter's novel, the enthralling story of two brothers (Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron) who investigate a case involving a death row inmate (John Cusack). Convinced by a mysterious woman (Nicole Kidman) that the inmate is innocent, the brothers embark on a journey that is filled with betrayal.

Pitch Perfect (PG-13) is based on Mickey Rapkin's Pitch Perfect:The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory. In this new comedy, Beca arrives at her new college, she finds herself not right for any clique but somehow is muscled into one that she never would have picked on her own: alongside mean girls, sweet girls and weird girls whose only thing in common is how good they sound when they sing together. "Loaded with new takes on old favorites to hits of right now that are seamlessly mixed together, mashed-up and arranged like you've never heard before" .

Starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson, and directed by Jason Moore of the Broadway sensation Avenue Q, the musical.

Putting a new spin on the Emily Brontë classic, Wuthering Heights is the love story between Heathcliff, a boy taken in by a kind father and Cathy, the farmer's young daughter. This film adaptation promises to be beautiful and evocative, bringing a somewhat more modern take on an old favorite.

Fans of James Patterson's Alex Cross series will be pleased to see the young homicide detective/psychologist (Tyler Perry) coming to life and facing off with a serial killer (Matthew Fox). When the high-stakes game of cat and mouse gets personal, Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits in this taut and exciting action thriller, entitled Alex Cross (PG-13).

Filled with action, romance and mystery, Cloud Atlas (R rated) is a breathtaking adaptation of the novel (also in audio) by David Mitchell - six interwoven stories that leads up to a post-apocalyptic dystopian version of a Pacific Island nation. It explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future, how one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.

Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #356

Anyone interested in rollicking adventure, puzzle-solving/code-breaking, the history of books and printing, digital technology, conspiracy theory, secret societies, quirky San Francisco (Did I catch just about everybody?) would find Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore * immensely enjoyable. (Coming out in October, I will be doing a lot of hand-selling in the meantime. Get on the waiting list if I were you. )

It didn't take long for Clay Jannon, an unemployed graphic artist/web designer to realize that Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is anything but the obvious. Working the grave-yard shift, his customers never buy but "borrow" archaic volumes according to some elaborate scheme. Mr. Penumbra's strict missive of never looking into any of the volumes produces just the opposite effect and soon, Clay finds himself, and his willing dot.com recruits plunging (Googlers figure prominently in the plot and the solution) head-long into a heroic quest of complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, and digging at the truth behind secrets that reach back to the famous Venetian printer Aldus­ Manutius. "A gleeful and exhilarating tale".

"With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that's rare to the world of literary fiction."

Debut novelist Robin Sloan, a native of Michigan is a gradate of Michigan State University (Economics). He was a member of the Media Partnerships team at Twitter before becoming a writer and a "media inventor".

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #353

In Benjamin Wood's The Bellwether Revivals *, bright, bookish Oscar Lowe escapes his squalid upbringing and finds new life amid the colleges and spires of Cambridge as a care assistant at a local nursing home. Lured into the chapel at Kings College by the otherworldly organ music, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student, and her brother Eden's exclusive circle of the very wealthy and privileged.

Eden, a charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, believes that music can cure, and convinces their close-knit circle to participate in a series of disturbing experiments, thus putting in motion the devastation foretold in the gripping opener, "two people lie dead, and a third sits nearby, barely breathing".

"A sophisticated debut novel about the hypnotic influence of love, the beguiling allure of money and the haunting power of music".

For fans of the PBS Masterpiece Mystery Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis series created by Colin Dexter, many of which are based on his novels, set in Oxford.

Another great academic mystery set in Cambridge is the second in the Detective Constable Lacey Flint series Dead Scared * * (2012) by S. J. Bolton, a brilliant psychological thriller, and a follow-up to Now You See Me (2011).

British-born Benjamin Wood was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of British Columbia, Canada, where he was also the fiction editor of the literary journal PRISM international. Wood is now a lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London.

* = Starred review

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #351

With a lot of the men off fighting at the various fronts, 1943 Berlin is virtually a City of Women * *.

Beautiful Sigrid Schröder stoically copes with a tedious job, a hostile mother-in-law, rationed food, air raids, the constant fear of denouncement and that (Gestapo) knock on the door. Sigrid is sustained by her secrets - afternoons spent at the cinema and the stolen hours with a Jewish lover. Though cautious and street-smart, Sigrid is unwittingly drawn into dangerous activities by a young neighbor's appeal for help. When her husband returns wounded and embittered from the Russian Front, things quickly become treacherous.

"World War II Germany may be familiar ground, but David R. Gillham's (debut) novel—vividly cinematic yet subtle and full of moral ambiguity, not to mention riveting characters—is as impossible to put down as it is to forget."

"This is an exemplary model of historical fiction generously laced with romance, suspense, and exciting plot twists. Readers who enjoy the grim side of historical fiction or who prefer romance infused with eroticism will find this novel appealing."

For fans of Alan Furst whose loosely connected Night Soldiers novels, set just prior to and during the Second World War, are superb historical espionage thrillers, "in the tradition of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene".

Readers might be reminded of Julie Orringer's romantic WWII saga The Invisible Bridge , and Julia Franck's The Blindness of the Heart, a touching depiction of the horrors of war on a human scale.

* * = starred reviews

Good Listening for Teens: Chasing the Bear

If you're heading out on an end-of-summer car trip, here's a good book on CD to take along: Chasing the Bear by Robert B. Parker. Written for age 12 and up, the story introduces readers to young private investigator Spenser, star of Parker's bestselling adult novels, at age 14. Speaking to his girlfriend Susan, Spenser reflects on his youth and teen years and how he helped his best friend, Jeannie, when she was abducted by her dangerous dad. This story is memorable because of the humorous parts and the overall suspense of the narrative.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #348

If you are a fan of Paul Dorion's Mike Bowditch and Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder, mystery series set in small towns, then you would find much to like with Julia Keller's debut A Killing in the Hills * * * (and hopefully, the first in a projected series).

Like Mike (game warden, wilderness Maine), and Kate (police chief, Amish Country, Ohio), it is homecoming of sorts for Bell (Belfa) Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Few know of her past, not even at Acker's Gap, where 29 years ago her 10 year-old world came apart in a brutal murder.

Now 3 elderly men are gunned down, execution-styled at a local diner on a busy Saturday morning. Carla, Bell's rebellious daughter with anger issues, is one of few witnesses who has a good look at the killer but she is not about to tell her mother. As the investigation flounders, more bodies pop up around town, Carla decides to track down the killer as a way to repair the fragile relationship with her mother. In the meantime, Bell is determined to get to the bottom of the case involving the death of a 6 year-old at the hands of his handicapped friend.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Chicago Tribune Pulitzer-winning journalist Keller has fashioned a debut mystery with "an impeccably paced plot, supple prose, and indelibly drawn characters... A page-turner with substance and depth, this is as suspenseful and entertaining as it is accomplished."

* * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #345

Alif the Unseen * *, Alif - the first letter of the Arabic alphabet is the code name for a young Arab-Indian hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern security state. He makes a good living working behind layers of firewall, shielding himself and his clients from "The Hand" - the all-knowing government electronic security force, run by the man who is now engaged to his beloved.

Driven underground, Alif discovers Alf Yeom (The Thousand and One Days), the secret book of the jinn, which may unleash a new level of information technology and for him, a lifeline.

"With shades of Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, ...Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut, a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, religion, technology and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner".

" (An) intriguing-sounding blend of cyberfantasy and The Arabian Nights ".

G. Willow Wilson is the author of a graphic novel Cairo (2007) and a memoir The Butterfly Mosque. She divides her time between the US and Egypt and Alif, her first prose novel, was completed during the season of the Arab Spring.

Here is a recent Publishers Weekly interview with the author.

* * = starred reviews

Action + Dystopia + Romance = "Divergent"

Check out Divergent, Veronica Roth's first young adult book, and like me, you may find yourself staying up way too late reading it. Exciting and dystopian, this book may remind you of The Hunger Games, although it also manages to hold its own weight in the world of contemporary teen literature. Divergent was written for age 14 and up.

The novel is set in Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, where sadly, Lake Michigan has become a swamp, but some trains are still running. Society is divided into five factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). All sixteen-year-olds, including Beatrice, must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. In the vicious initiation process for her selected faction, Beatrice struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out choices. Everyone undergoes extreme physical and psychological tests, including disorienting computer simulations. "Tris" -- her new name -- is small but mighty, as she decides who her friends are and tries to save her family. Her love interest, Tobias, is fascinating and mysterious. Readers will be left wondering where this relationship can possibly lead in such a dangerous world.

This is the first book in the “Divergent” series. The next installment is Insurgent, in which, according to Publishers Weekly, "the novel's love story, intricate plot, and unforgettable setting work in concert to deliver a novel that will rivet fans of the first book."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #341 "A sister is a gift to the heart..."

3 debut novels - from the wilds of British Columbia to the idyllic Swedish countryside, from WWII Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, - the stories of sisters.

In Frances Greenslade's Shelter *, living almost off-the-grid with their hippie parents in the Pacific mountains, Maggie and Jenny experience their first blow when their father is killed in a logging accidents. Then their mother disappears, leaving them with almost strangers. It is up to them to build the shelter, both physical and emotional— to sustain themselves as they move into adulthood.

"Heartbreaking and lushly imagined,Shelter celebrates the love between two sisters and the complicated bonds of family. It is an exquisitely written ode to sisters, mothers, daughters, and to a woman's responsibility to herself and those she loves."

I am Forbidden * brings to life four generations of one Satmar family. 1944 Transylvania, little Mila was rescued from certain death and raised with Atara, the daughter of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community. As the two girls mature, Mila's faith intensifies, while her beloved Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore, and continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters make force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they've ever known.

"A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide". Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, breaking from the fold when she was nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Science from Columbia University, a Master of Architecture from Harvard, and a PhD in Romance Studies from Cornell. I Am Forbidden is her English-language debut.

Drowned *, set in the idyllic countryside during a short-lived Swedish summer, Marina, a burnt-out college student visits her older sister Stella who is living with Gabriel, a famous writer as charismatic as he is violent. As Marian gradually comes under Gabriel's spell, she also senses unease in Stella and the many secrets she keeps. With recurrent references to Ophelia, savvy readers could already anticipate the plot that mixes "hothouse sensuality with ice-cold fear". A compelling psychological thriller not to be missed.

Debut novelist Therese Bohman is a magazine editor and a columnist writing about literature, art, culture, and fashion. She lives in Sweden. Translator Marlaine Delargy serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review. She lives in England.

* = starred review

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