Fabulous Fiction Firsts #322

The Professionals * *, they are not. But it did not stop Pender, Sawyer, Mouse and Marie, 4 recent college graduates with little career prospect, from taking up a life of crime. For 2 years, they have been lucky. Quick, efficient, well-planned, low-ransom kidnapping has worked like a charm as they zigzagged the country. With "retirement" within grasp, they picked the wrong victim.

Now, they got the attention of the true professionals - veteran investigator Kirk Stevens, FBI agent Carla Windermere, and an organized-crime outfit looking for payback.

The "finger-burning page-turner, filled with twists, surprises, and memorably complex characters" is a debut novel for Canadian author Owen Laukkanen who will be at Nicola's Books, this evening to read and sign this first of a projected series.

An alumnus of the University of British Columbia's Creative Writing BFA program, Laukkanen spent three years in the world of professional poker, traveling to high-stakes tournaments across the globe as a writer for PokerListings.com. A commercial fisherman when he's not writing, Laukkanen divides his time between Vancouver and Prince Edward Island, Canada. (More Info.)

* * = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #321

A.J. Kazinski, is a pseudonym for Danish director/screenwriter Anders RØnnow Klarlund and novelist Jacob Weinreich. Their first collaboration The Last Good Man * (translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally) was an instant bestseller when published in Denmark.

According to Jewish scripture: there are thirty-six righteous people on earth, without them, humanity would perish. Across the globe, from Beijing to Mumbai, from Chicago to Moscow, there is a rash of horrendous deaths that look, to a beleaguered Italian cop named Tommaso, like murders. The telltale sign being the strange markings on their backs. By his count, there have been 34. Only 2 are left.

In Copenhagen, veteran detective and hostage negotiator Niels Bentzon also begins to piece together the puzzle of these far-flung deaths. With the help of brilliant astrophysicis Hannah Lund, they parse out that the last 2 deaths will occur in Venice and Copenhagen where President Obama is to attend a world climate conference, and a terrorist is on a deadly mission.

With cleverly inter-weaving plotlines, this gripping, cinematic, and character-driven, top-notched thriller will appeal to fans of Jo Nesbo, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Peter Hoeg.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #317

Savvy, in-the-know readers are already queuing up for Chris Pavone's The Expats * *, coming out in March.

When her husband Dexter tells her they are relocating to Luxembourg for his new job as security consultant for an international bank, Kate is happy to hand in her notice, pack up her DC house, her young sons, and looks forward to living the expat life with weekends in Paris and skiing in the Alps. Once they are settled, things begin to unravel as Dexter's secrecy (not even the name of his employer), his frequent trips abroad (destinations unknown), and the suspiciously curious American couple who is determined to befriend them, trigger a trained response in Kate that uncovers layers of deceit and threatens to expose her own well-guarded secret.

In this "intricate, riveting and surprising" debut thriller, no one is who they seem to be, and no one is to be trusted, especially the guys in white hats. Twisty, suspenseful and downright tricky, with 50-million euros (not to mention lives and limbs) at stake, watch your steps!

"Standing on the shoulders of such giants as Robert Littell, Gayle Lynds, Eric Ambler, Helen MacInnes, and Daniel Silva, first-time novelist Pavone displays the best characteristics of the form and will earn a faithful and yearning readership."

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #314

The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen * has it all.

- Ty Hunter: A Hollywood leading man, a soldier and a spy "in the tradition of James Bond and Jason Bourne" - a wounded hero who is tough, smart and devilishly sexy.

- Ian Santel and Philip Frost: An enigmatic billionaire and his nefarious protege, two supremely sophisticated adversaries.

- Isabella Cavill: An alluring jewelry designer closely tied to these men.

- A global catastrophe hanging in the balance - in the form of three Soviet nuclear warheads.

And then, there is the non-stop action, intrigue, suspense, surprises, glamor and romance. Never mind that "wordiness, brand name-dropping, and sometimes trite dialog" could at times, test one's patience.

This worthy thriller also boasts something quite rare - an introduction by President Bill Clinton who just happened to be the author Thomas (Tommy) Caplan's lifelong friend since their freshman days at Georgetown, and whose "good lines and clever retorts" made it into Mr. Clinton's presidential inaugural addresses.

An obvious readalike to Ian Fleming. Readers familiar with Trevanian's Shibumi (1979) featuring the international assassin Nicholaï Hel and Barry Eisler's John Rain series might find Ty Hunter a new protagonist-to-watch in hopefully, a new series.

* = starred review

"Bitten & Smitten"

One of the many perks of working in a library includes shelving books. It's often during shelving that I find some of my favorite reads that I'd likely not come across otherwise. One of those books (and the rest in the series) is Bitten & Smitten by Michelle Rowen. The bright cover caught my eye and the witty summary sucked me in (pun fully intended).

Sarah Dearly, the saucy yet reluctant heroine, finds herself just trying to live through what she has dubbed the "world's worst blind date" when she suddenly wakes up to find herself being buried, almost undead, in a shallow grave. She escapes only to witness her blind date being "taken care of" by what she soon learns are vampire hunters. Unfortunately, thanks to the "love bites" left by her undead date, she now has to escape the hunters or wind up sharing more than just a bad night with her toothy date.

Her escape leads her to Thierry de Bennicoeur, a moody vampire master who helps her evade the stakes of her stalkers. After stumbling through her first "undead days," Sarah realizes she's going to need a little more help than she thought when it comes to navigating the night. Michelle Rowen draws the reader into this light read with suspense and quick one liners.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #311

When it comes to thrillers, I am a hard one to please. But Chris Morgan Jones's debut The Silent Oligarch * * * really hits the mark.

First published in Britain as An Agent of Deceit, this financial puzzler zigzags across datelines, geography and glittery lifestyles, global politics and ruthless business schemes, base instincts and noble courage as an intelligence agent pursues a money launderer to expose the dealings of a shadowy Russian oligarch.

It is not clear how a minor government bureaucrat like Konstantin Malin could control half of Russia's oil industry, command a vast fortune and absolute fear from those he deals with, including Richard Lock, a hapless money launderer bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, and greed. Benjamin Webster intends to find out.

A journalist turned corporate espionage investigator, Webster is hired by a swindled financier to ruin Malin. A more personal motivation might be to settle the score for the gruesome death of a colleague years ago in a remote Kazakh jail.

As Webster's investigation closes in on Malin's game and Lock's colleagues begin dying mysteriously, he goes on the run.

"With a mysterious, complex plot and terrific local color, this novel resonates to the pounding heartbeats of the boldly drawn main characters. John Le Carre, Martin Cruz Smith, and Brent Ghelfi will be inching over in the book display so readers in search of erudite, elegant international intrigue can spot the newcomer."

~ "smart first novel, a taut thriller"

* * * = Starred reviews

The Inaugural Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration

Established in 2010 by the American Library Association Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of RUSA, The Listen List recognizes and honors the narrators who are a pleasure to listen to; who offer listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading; and who achieve an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace.

This inaugural list (Be sure to check out the wonderful listen-alikes with each of the winners) includes literary and genre fiction, memoir and history and features voices that enthrall, delight and inspire.

The 2012 winners are:

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren.
This sequel to Blackout, a stellar science fiction adventure, follows the plight of a group of historians from 2060, trapped in WWII England during the Blitz. In a narrative tour de force, Kellgren brings to life a large cast of characters, including a pair of street-smart urchins who capture the hearts of characters and listeners alike.

Bossypants by Tina Fey Narrated by Tina Fey.
In a very funny memoir made decidedly funnier by its reader, Tina Fey relates sketches and memories of her time at SNL and Second City as well as the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood. In a voice dripping with wit, she acts out the book, adding extra-aural elements that print simply cannot convey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.
Dominic Hoffman reads this elegiac novel of memory and redemption with fierce grace, inhabiting Mosley’s characters with voices perfectly crafted in pitch and rhythm. His rough, gravelly narration manages the pace and mood of the book with astounding skill, brilliantly capturing the mental clarity and fog of 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey’s world.

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert, Narrated by Edward Herrmann.
Ebert’s clear-eyed account chronicles his life from his youth in Urbana, Illinois, to his fame as a world-renowned film critic in Chicago. Herrmann’s engaging, affable reading mirrors the author’s tone—honest, often humorous, sometimes bittersweet—as he unhurriedly ushers listeners through Ebert’s moving reflections on a life well lived.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
Juliet Stevenson brings crisp clarity, a witty sensibility and a charming tonal quality to Eliot’s masterpiece of provincial life. Through her deft management of pacing and tone, she reveals character motivation and illuminates the many themes of the novel. But most of all she reclaims Eliot for listeners who thought they did not enjoy classics.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willg. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this Regency Christmas caper, a pudding, a spy, a hilarious school theatrical and a memorable country house party lead to laughter, love and an offer of marriage. Reading’s lovely English accent and exuberance are a perfect fit for the wide range of characters, from young girls to male teachers to members of the aristocracy.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray.
In this genre-bending romp, the “written” Thursday must rescue the “real” Thursday from a nefarious Bookworld plot. Emily Gray wears Thursday like a second skin, as she does the robots, dodos, and space aliens running around. The story is paced such that every nuance of pun and word play is captured and rendered aurally.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. Narrated by Jayne Entwistle.
Flavia de Luce, a terrifyingly proficient 11-year-old amateur chemist and sleuth, investigates the beating of a gypsy and the death of a villager in this third outing. Entwistle’s spot-on narration reveals the irrepressible, intrepid heroine’s prowess and captures a delicious range of secondary characters in these whimsical mysteries set in 1950s rural England.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø. Narrated by Robin Sachs.
The icy chill of the Norwegian countryside and a series of cold-blooded murders dominate this Harry Hole crime novel. Sachs contrasts Hole’s world-weary professional attitude, his unquenchable thirst for justice and his yearning for love and comfort, as he skillfully maintains a suspenseful pace and projects an overarching sense of doom.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble.
The tragedy and heroism of the French Revolution come alive through Prebble’s distinctive and graceful narration. As the lives of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton intersect, Prebble takes listeners deep into France and England, narrating terrifying descriptions and breathless acts of courage with a cadence that sweeps one away.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.
In this imaginative novel, Balkan physician Natalia, on a mission of mercy, learns of her beloved grandfather’s death. Duerden’s mesmerizing voice leads listeners through the complexities of this rich novel with its intertwining stories, while Sachs memorably relates her grandfather’s haunting tales in a gentle and gruff voice.

Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. Narrated by Nathaniel Philbrick.
In what should be required reading before cracking the pages of Moby-Dick, Nathaniel Philbrick’s homage to this great American novel compels the listener to experience Melville with an almost incandescent joy. His voice resonates with palpable enthusiasm and calls to mind a New England professor giving a fascinating lecture.

Winners in Genre Fiction - RUSA’s 2012 Reading List

The American Library Association's Reading List Council have selected their top picks for 2012 in eight popular genres. Among the winners (and the shortlists) are some of the best by first-time novelists.

ADRENALINE
Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson. (See FFF blog)
Each morning, Christine wakes with no memory. From the clues she left herself, she tries to piece together her identity and sort lies from the truth. The unrelenting pace thrusts the reader into the confusion of a waking nightmare in which revelations of her past lead to a frantic crescendo.

FANTASY
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (See FFF blog)
Le Cirque des Rêves is utterly unique, disappearing at dawn in one town only to mysteriously reappear in another. At the heart of the circus are two young magicians, involved in a competition neither completely understands. The dreamlike atmosphere and vivid imagery make this fantasy unforgettable.

HISTORICAL FICTION
Doc by Mary Doria Russell
In the early days of Dodge City, a genteel, tubercular Southern dentist forges a friendship with the infamous Earp brothers. Combining historical details and lyrical language, this gritty psychological portrait of gunslinger Doc Holliday reveals how the man became the legend.

HORROR
The Ridge by Michael Koryta
The unexplained death of an eccentric lighthouse keeper in the isolated Kentucky woods, followed by a mysterious threat to a nearby large cat sanctuary prompt an investigation by a journalist and the local sheriff. Palpable evil and a sense of dread drive this chilling tale.

MYSTERY
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (See FFF blog)
An introverted mathematician matches wits with a brilliant former colleague to protect the neighbor he secretly adores from a murder charge. Although the reader knows the murderer’s identity from the beginning, this unconventional Japanese mystery remains a taut psychological puzzle.

ROMANCE
Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
Ambitious dressmaker Marcelline Noirot will do almost anything to secure the patronage of the Duke of Clevendon’s intended bride. Neither her calculated business plan nor his campaign of seduction can withstand the force of their mutual attraction. Witty banter and strong-willed characters make this a memorable tale.

SCIENCE FICTION
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
The missions of a jaded cop and a dedicated ice hauler officer collide as the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. A mystery adds a noir touch to this space opera featuring deeply flawed yet heroic characters, non-stop action and Earth versus Mars politics.

WOMEN'S FICTION
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (See FFF blog)
A former foster child struggles to overcome a past filled with abuse, neglect and anger. Communication through the Victorian language of fflowers allows her to discover hope, redemption and a capacity for love. Damaged, authentic characters create an emotional tension in this profoundly moving story.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #307: Spotlight on Korea

Please Look After Mom a novel by Kyung-sook S(h)in (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim) is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.
Currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City and one of South Korea’s most widely read and acclaimed novelists, Sin has been honored with many literary prizes including France’s Prix de l’Inaperçu. Please Look After Mom is her first book to appear in English.

Chosen as one of the 9 Kirkus Reviews' New and Notable Fiction Debuts for 2011, Chicago author Samuel Park's This Burns My Heart is narrated by Soo-Ja, a woman struggling to provide a good life for her daughter in spite of her own unhappy marriage and a culture that grants no rights to women, the situation made even more difficult when her long-lost true love Dr. Yul returns.

Considered by critics and reviewers to be his break-out work, The Orphan Master's Son * * * by Adam Johnson (Stanford, Creative Writing) is not to be missed. I am sure some of you would not hesitate to point out that this is NOT his first novel. But how many of you had read Parasites Like Us (2003)? I thought so.

Pak Jun Do's father runs Long Tomorrows, a North Korean work camp for orphans where he is given his first taste of power. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, he rises through the ranks to become a valuable instrument of the state as a professional kidnapper. To stay alive, he must navigate and endure the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands from those in command, until he boldly takes on a treacherous role in order to save the woman he loves.

"Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master's Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love."

Adam Johnson will be in Ann Arbor Tuesday, January 24th, 7pm at Nicola's Books. Get there early.

* * * = Starred Reviews

More December's Books to Film

Steven Spielberg directs Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis in War Horse (PG-13), based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo - a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War.

It begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets.

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is adapted by Director Tomas Alfredson for Universal Pictures into a feature film starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy.

This international espionage action-thriller is set at the height of the Cold War when George Smiley, a disgraced British spy, is rehired in secret by his government in fear that MI-6 has been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviets.

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