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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #337

For the adrenaline junkies, here's one for you. Matthew Quirk, DC reporter for The Atlantic, no stranger to crimes and the seedier side of politics and corruption, brings to you a gripping debut thriller.

Mike Ford (Harvard Law) lands a dream job at the Davies Group, Washington's most powerful consulting firm, thus rubbing shoulders daily with "The 500 * " , the elite men and women who really run Washington -- and the world. Thinking that he has put enough distance from the small-time con man father and his blue-collar roots, he is unprepared for the demands of his new job - to cheat, steal, and this time, maybe even kill, as he finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun, pursued by two of the world's most dangerous men, one of them a trained killer, and the other, closest to his heart.

"Combining the best elements of political intrigue and heart-stopping action" this debut calls to mind classic thrillers by John Grisham, David Baldacci and Brad Meltzer. Film rights sold to 20th Century Fox.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #335

STOP!!! If you are an adrenaline junkie, go no further. This WWII espionage by Laurent Binet will leave you wanting. But if you are a patient reader of literary fiction and a student of history, then you would find HHhH * * * quite a little gem. (Also available in the original French in our World Language Collection).

HHhH = Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich ("Himmler's brain is called Heydrich" ) - the most dangerous man in Hitler's cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich : "The Blonde Beast", "The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia", "The Butcher of Prague", "The Man with the Iron Heart" - implacable cruel and seemingly indestructible, until two men, a Slovak and a Czech recruited by the British secret service, tried to kill him in broad daylight on a bustling street in Prague, in a most daring assassination plot, codenamed Operation Anthropoid.

In this debut novel, winner of the 2010 Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, though we know the outcome of this historic event, we willingly agreed to be led, by the seasoned hand of a master storyteller to follow Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis from their dramatic escape of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to England; from their recruitment to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone, from their stealth attack on Heydrich's car to their own brutal death in the basement of a Prague church. A parallel storyline is the narrator/author's effort to capture this heroic act on paper. A "zealous amateur historian", disarmingly honest with his mistakes, but relentless and dogged with his subject and materials, attempts to lay the whole affair in geopolitical context.

"A seemingly effortlessly blend of historical truth, personal memory, and remarkable imagination... a work at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing", Paris born Laurent Binet, is the author of La Vie professionnelle de Laurent B., a memoir of his experience teaching in secondary schools in Paris. He is a professor of French Literature at the University of Paris III. The fluid translation by Sam Taylor is a superb choice for lovers of historical literary works and WWII fiction, especially The Girl in the Blue Beret.

Watch-alike: Valkyrie, and Army of Crime.

* * * = starred reviews

Checkout the Thrilling Tale, "God's Spy"

If you are looking for a new adventure and don't shy away from murder, intrigue and graphic violence, God’s Spy could be the next book for you! Originally published in Spain, Juan Gomez-Jurado's God’s Spy is a thrilling story about a serial killer loose in Vatican City just after the death of the last pope, Pope John Paul II. The tale alternates between past events leading to the killer's arrival in Vatican City and the present circumstances, where a new Pope must be elected and potential candidates for the honor are being murdered.

Our serial murderer is revealed from page one, a former priest forced into a rehabilitation home for wayward clergy members with substance abuse problems or sexual repressions that manifest as physical abuse. Led by Paola Dicanti, head of the Laboratory for Behavioral Analysis, investigators must find the killer before another victim can be taken. Using her incredible talents, Paola must get inside of the mind of the disturbed priest and create a profile that will enable investigators to track him down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this book is a great read if you have an interest in psychological profiling and general intrigue.

Luther, on DVD

BBC’s Luther is a psychological crime drama starring Idris Elba (The Wire) as Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. Elba does a smashing job of portraying Luther, a brilliant yet troubled detective with a dark side. While battling crime in London he’s dealing with a prior case that haunts his existence, as well as coping with the fact that his wife has left him. Luther is an impulsive, emotionally-charged man, on the brink of violence, and often unable to control his emotions at times when he should.

The show focuses on Luther and the detectives he works with. As a twist, former murder suspect Alice decides to make Luther a new pet project and the two are locked in a battle of wits. That keeps things interesting, as they realize they have more in common than Luther would like. It’s a definite must-see for fans of British crime dramas or police procedurals. Thus far, Season 1 and Season 2 have been released on DVD, and a third season is in the works. After such cliff hanger endings, I can't wait!

Fabulous Fiction "Firsts" #328

Gillespie and I is British author Jane Harris' second novel (first in our collection), and a follow-up to her award-winning The Observations (2006).

Writing her memoirs in her Bloomsbury flat in 1933, Ms. Harriet Baxter recounts the summer of 1888 when she traveled to Glasgow as a well-heeled, youngish spinster, eager to embrace the excitement of the International Exhibition.

Untethered, self-assured but nevertheless adrift and grieving from the recent death of her kindly aunt, Harriet was immediately drawn to Ned Gillespie, a young, immensely talented painter and his large, eccentric family. "The initially playful narrative tone darkens decidedly as the double mystery of Ned's eventual suicide and Harriet's reliability as a memoirist steadily unpeels."

This "elegant novel of love, loss and redemption among the Victorians and Caledonians", is "irresistible and unforgettable". Already long listed for the Orange Prize, and shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards, it "places (Harris) alongside Michel Faber, D.J. Taylor, and Sarah Waters as a gifted 21st-century conjuror of new 19th-century novels incorporating our own era's sensibilities while deeply honoring the milieu of the characters she creates."

"A rewarding, gripping, and disconcerting novel".

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