Fabulous Fiction Firsts #371

O.K. I will admit it. When my copy of City of Dark Magic arrived in the mail, I was more intrigued by the fact that they claimed to know nothing about the author Magnus Flyte. He appeared to have operated under several identities, and may have ties to one or more intelligence organizations, including the CIA, the Mossad, and a radical group of Antarctic separatists. They also claimed that the manuscript came manually typed on Marrakesh's Hotel La Mamounia stationary, and mailed to offices of Penguin Books in New York in January 2012.

But almost immediately, I was hooked, hooked by the story, the mystery, the fantasy, the alchemy, the romance, the music, and the old world charm that is Prague - home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it's whispered, hell portals.

When impoverish grad student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven's manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Upon arrival, she learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide, and the cryptic notes he left could be warnings.

What reviewers called "a rom-com paranormal suspense" could simply be one of the most entertaining novels of the year. Will appeal to fans of Deborah Harkness and Beatriz Williams.

It turns out Magnus Flyte is a pseudonym for the writing duo of Meg Howrey (see FFF blog) and Christina Lynch. Howrey was with the Joffrey Ballet and winner of the Ovation Award. Lynch is a television writer and former Milan correspondent for W magazine.

December's Books to Film

Lay the Favorite (MPAA Rating: R) , Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn star in this adaptation of Beth Raymer's Lay the favorite: a memoir of gambling who transforms from a stripper in Tallahassee to gambler's assistant in Las Vegas,working for Dink, one of the most successful sports gamblers in the business.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (MPAA Rating: PG-13), yet another adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit : or, There and back again. Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage star in this adventure of Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Jack Reacher (MPAA Rating: PG-13) is based on Lee Child popular thriller series featuring Jack Reacher, a drifter and a former US Army Police major with authority issues. This feature film is adapted from the novel One Shot. The selection of Tom Cruise to play Reacher has been highly controversial, and you don't want to know what I think.

When a gunman takes five lives with six shots, all evidence points to the suspect in custody. On interrogation, the suspect offers up a single note: "Get Jack Reacher!" So begins an extraordinary chase for the truth, pitting Jack Reacher against an unexpected enemy, with a skill for violence and a secret to keep.

Needing no introduction is the highly anticipated release of Les Misérables (MPAA Rating: PG-13) based on Victor Hugo's novel. Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, it tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption --- a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), their lives change forever.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #370

Based on the 80 year-old unsolved murder case of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister, City of Saints * * by debut novelist Andrew Hunt is the 2011 Tony Hillerman Prize winner.

On a cold February morning in 1930, Salt Lake City Sheriff Deputy Art Oveson is called to a gruesome crime scene where young Helen Pfalzgraf, wife of a prominent physician, lay battered and dead in an open field. As it is an election year, Art and his foul-mouthed partner Roscoe Lund are under great pressure to quickly solve this high-profile case.

Among the suspects are the victim's husband, her adoring step-daughter, and her many lovers. The investigations take Oveson and Lund into the underbelly of Salt Lake City, a place rife with blackmail and corruption, underneath a veneer of "upright Mormonism and congeniality".

This engrossing...procedural steadily builds up steam and explodes in all the right places".

"(T)his hard-edged whodunit with echoes of James Ellroy warrants a sequel."

Andrew Hunt is a professor of history in Waterloo, Ontario. He grew up in Salt Lake City.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #369

Writing for the first time as B.A. Shapiro, Barbara Shapiro's The Art Forger is a richly-detailed and well-researched literary thriller based on the 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where 13 works of art (download the images) worth over $500 million were stolen, making it the largest unsolved art crime in history.

In this "classy and pleasurably suspenseful debut", "a cleverly plotted art-world thriller/romance with a murky moral core", Claire Roth, on the 21st anniversary of the heist, is presented by Aiden Markel, the handsome owner of a prestigious gallery with a Faustian bargain: if she agrees to forge one of the Degas masterpieces (fictional) stolen from the Gardner, he would arrange for a one-woman show of her works in his gallery. But when the Degas is delivered to her studio, Claire begins to suspect that it too, may be a forgery. Luckily for both of them, Claire is as fine a sleuth as she is an artist because their freedom (and their lives) are now hanging in the balance.

"The result is an entrancingly visual, historically rich, deliciously witty, sensuous, and smart tale of authenticity versus fakery in which Shapiro artfully turns a clever caper into a provocative meditation on what we value most".

Shapiro’s next project is a novel about the early years of the abstract expressionists, when many worked for the Works Progress Administration. Eleanor Roosevelt is a character. Can't wait.

Will appeal to fans of the popular television seriesWhite Collar (about to start its 4th season in January), Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa, The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber, and Theft : a love story by Peter Carey.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #367

In late 18th century Sweden, the Octavo is a form of fortune-telling (cartomancy) with playing cards that reveals the 8 persons when identified, could influence favorably, a significant event in one's life.

In Karen Engelmann's debut novel The Stockholm Octavo * * * Emil Larsson, a low-level bureaucrat is under pressure to marry. His sight is set on Carlotta Vingstrom, a voluptuous woman of means and connection. Mrs. Sparrow who runs a gaming establishment uses the Octavo to weave a special fortune for Emil, charging him with finding the eight people in his life who can make or break his future - a search that becomes dangerous when his ambitions become enmeshed in a larger scenario involving a plot against King Gustav himself. As 8 characters emerges, they each have their own story to tell, from Fredrik Lind, the gregarious calligrapher, to the Nordéns, refugees from France. In the midst of the intrigue is the folding fan owned by a lady known simply as the Uzanne.

"Mysterious, suspenseful, and, at times, action-packed, ...Engelmann has crafted a magnificent story set against the vibrant society of Sweden's zenith, with a cast of colorful characters balanced at a crux of history."

Literary entertainment at its best, and "a stylish work by an author of real promise". For fans of Andrew Miller, especially Pure (2012); and David Liss.

* * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #365

Peter May is no stranger to mystery fans. Beside several stand-alones, he is the author (website) of 2 series: the award-winning Chinese Thrillers (featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell), and the Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo Macleod, set in France.

Just released in the US is The Blackhouse * *, first in the Lewis Trilogy, set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.

Two bodies are found hanging from trees: one in Edinburgh, the other on the Isle of Lewis. Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod is assigned to the case, bringing him back to Crobost, and to a past haunted by tragedy and regrets.

"A gripping plot, pitch-perfect characterization, and an appropriately bleak setting drive this outstanding series debut". In the acknowledgments, May, who is also a long-time television dramatist, reveals that he drew much of his inspiration from five years filming on the island.

Readers might also enjoy Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie for similar plot, and Tana French for tone. For mysteries with a strong sense of place, try Arnaldur Indriðason, probably the most atmospheric among Nordic crime fiction writers.

* * = starred reviews

Fabulouos Fiction Firsts #364

Michael Ennis's The Malice of Fortune * is a historical thriller on a vibrant canvas and an epic scale - a must for Bravo's The Borgias fans.

Holding her young son hostage, Pope Alexander VI dispatches former courtesan, Damiata, to the remote fortress city of Imola to learn the truth behind the murder of Juan, his most beloved illegitimate son. Once there Damiata becomes a pawn in the political machinations between the charismatic Duke Valentino and the condottieri, a powerful and brutal cabal of mercenary warlords which Damiata suspects. As the murders multiply, she enlists the help of an obscure Florentine diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli, and an eccentric military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci to decipher the killer's taunting riddles.

Ennis, museum curator, former faculty (University of Texas) and an expert on Renaissance history and art, bases this well-researched novel on actual events in the final weeks of the year 1502, as witnessed and faithfully documented in Machiavelli's The Prince, while deliberately burying the truth between its lines.

"This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, with which it is sure to be compared".

"Fans of superior historical mystery writers such as Steven Saylor (The Gordianus series set in ancient Rome) and Laura Joh Rowland (mysteries set in Edo Japan) will be enthralled".

* = starred review

James Bond: Pushing 60 and Still Looking Good

Everyone's favorite suave secret agent, James Bond, is headed back to the big screen with the upcoming release of Skyfall. The new flick stars Daniel Craig in his third outing as Bond, alongside a killer cast including Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem as the newest Bond villain, and Ben Whishaw in his debut as the gadget-master Q. The flick, which continues to dig into Bond's origins as seen previously in 2006's Casino Royale, has been receiving early critical acclaim as one of Agent 007's best. Opening in theaters everywhere November 9, Skyfall happens to come out exactly 50 years after the original Bond movie, Dr. No, which starred Sean Connery in 1962.

But before Skyfall arrives in theaters, AADL's collection offers plenty of ways to celebrate Mr. Bond's big birthday--and another even bigger 007 milestone. WhilJames Bond: Daniel Craig as James Bond.James Bond: Daniel Craig as James Bond.e Bond may be 50 in movie years, he's existed on the printed page for almost 60. Casino Royale, the original Bond story by Ian Fleming, was published in 1953 and is available via the AADL catalog. Fleming went on to write 14 James Bond books. His final one, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, was published in 1966, two years after his death. Fleming's series has been followed by numerous additional Bond books by authors including Jeffery Deaver, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, and Charlie Higson (who wrote the Young Bond series for teens).

And for those looking to get caught up on the movies, AADL has Bond flicks from the original Dr. No to 2008's Quantum of Solace. For true devotees, try the original 1967 film adaptation of Casino Royale, a wacky spoof of spy films with an all-star cast including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, George Raft, and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

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.

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