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.

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

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