Fabulous Fiction Firsts #208

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Miguel Syjuco's impressive debut Ilustrado*** (see definition) is most worthy of the buzz.

The panel of judges proclaimed it "brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed, ...ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor".

It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River. Gone is the controversial lion of Philippine literature as well as is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families.

Miguel, his student and only friend, embarks on a literary archeological dig - through Crispin's poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga, tracing 150 years of history of The Philippines. To our great surprise, the story bring us full circle to young Miguel.

"Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent."

Born in 1976 in Makati, Miguel Syjuco lived in many cities of the world since his undergraduate days at Ateneo de Manila University. With a master’s at Columbia University, PhD at the University of Adelaide (Australia), he currently lives in Montreal. He had worked in many jobs, from editor of a dotcom, bartender, apartment painter to powerseller of ladies’ designer handbags on eBay until February 2009 when he focused full time on his writing.

Readalike: Homecoming* by Bernhard Schlink - another epistolary novel about history, identity, deception, and discovery.

*** = starred reviews

Steampunk Discovered (and rediscovered)

If you (like me) are new to Steampunk, here is a good definition : "A subgenre of science fiction, it typically (but not always) employs a Victorian setting where steam power and advanced technologies like computers coexist and often features themes, such as secret societies, found in mystery novels."

Though steampunk has been around since the 1980s, (check out these classics) there is a recent crop of exemplary new titles. A personal favorite is Boneshaker by Cherie Priest - a must-read for alternative history fan. It's the 2009 winner of the PNBA Award; and has been nominated for the 2010 Hugo and the Nebula Awards.

Seattle, 1860, rumors of gold, greedy Russians and inventor Leviticus Blue's Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine set the stage for this "impressive and auspicious genre-hopping adventure". When this machine inadvertently triggers the release of a deadly gas that transforms people into the living dead, a wall is built around the uninhabitable city to contain the epidemic. 16 years later, teenage Zeke Wilkes, Blue's son, impetuously decides that he must go into the walled city to clear his father's name. His distraught mother Briar, follows in an airship to try to rescue him.

Boneshaker is exceptionally well written. The plot credibly builds around zombies, steampunk technology, underground societies, mad scientists in a mix of horror/mystery. The fast-paced action is balanced by captivating characters, a strong female protagonist, and tender mother-child relationship. The young courageous Zeke will appeal to the YA crowd.

I first discovered the versatile YA author and an associate editor for Subterranean Press Cherie Priest in her genre-bending adult debut Fathom : a chill/thrill fantasy tale set in her native Florida. Part fairy tale, part modern gothic horror, it had me sleepless for a week.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #206 : Let's meet the girls

Inspired by a real event, Heide Durrow's first novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky * won the 2008 Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

As this measured and sorrowful tale unfolds, the girl – Rachel has come to live with her grandmother in a mostly black community of Portland, Oregon. Light-skinned and blue-eyed (thanks to her Danish mother), Rachel is the only survivor of a family tragedy – her mother having thrown her children off a roof, jumped to her death. We watch as Rachel, smart, disciplined, and self-possessed, endures her grief and confronts her identity as a biracial woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

Meanwhile in Chicago, young Jamie, a witness to the rooftop incident, re-lives the horrific event in his mind constantly while enduring even worse fate in the hands of his prostitute mother.

As the child of an African American father and a Danish mother, Durrow brings piercing authenticity to this provocative "family saga of the toxicity of racism and the forging of the self”. It succeeds as both a modern coming-of-age tale and relevant social commentary. (Check out the author's amazing family album) .

In Ali Shaw’s charming debut The Girl with Glass Feet, young Ida Maclaird returns to remote St. Hauda’s Land because she is strangely, and slowly turning to glass. There she meets Midas Crook, a lonely islander who prefers to see the world through his camera lens. As Ida and Midas search for the mysterious scientist who might hold the cure to Ida's affliction, they stumble onto mysteries from the past that further bind them together.

Inventive and richly visual, a fable of young lovers on a quest, Girl combines magic realism and the conventions of a romance. Enchanting, melancholic yet whimsical. Totally captivating. Shortlisted for the 2009 Costa First Novel Award and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

Ali Shaw is a graduated of Lancaster University and has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

* = Starred review

Thumbs Up Teen Book Award

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Vote for your Favorite Teen title of the year; twenty picks make up the Thumbs Up list. From prolific Laurie Halse Anderson, to newcomer, Gayle Forman there’s a title to suit varying tastes. One of the choices is an Edgar Award nominee, The Morgue and Me where a teen spy learns of a murder cover-up through his summer job as an assistant at a morgue. Shaun Tan, in my opinion, sits near the top of this list with Tales from Outer Suburbia fifteen short takes with illustrations as part of the telling. In one story, ‘Eric’ a teeny tiny house guest, who does care, even though he hangs out in the pantry, is memorable. Or, in ‘Alert But Not Alarmed’ missiles are stored in the backyards all around suburbia and over the years become dog kennels, places hollowed out to start seedlings, and always painted a cool color. Check out the complete list of Thumbs Up titles here.

April is National Poetry Month

"National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern." - Poets.org

Started in 1996, National Poetry Month is celebrated with posters, events, and inspiration for poets.

Poets.org offers a listing of ways to celebrate, including reading a book of poetry, attending a poetry reading, Googling a poem, and even adding a verse to your e-mail signature.

Here at AADL, we can certainly help with at least the first of these! For starters, you could try some older poets, such as Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, and T.S. Eliot.

For the younger crowd, I would recommend Shel Silverstein, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and perhaps even Dr. Seuss.

For a more contemporary piece, you might try the National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 2009, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy by Keith Waldrop. We also have the 2008 winner, Fire To Fire: New And Selected Poems by Mark Doty.

As for me, I think I'll celebrate, in closing, with a short poem that I happen to love:

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."
-Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #205

Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault** is a novel that probes “the moral and emotional minefield of heroic Samaritan acts”. When forty-something divorced Clara Purdy plows into the Gage family car; she could not have imagined its impact (pun not intended).

Thankfully, no one is seriously hurt but Lorraine Gage’s medical attention reveals advanced cancer, and the rest of the homeless Gages (minus Clayton who takes off for parts unknown) are invited into the guilt-ridden Clara’s empty house and quiet circumscribed world.

Domestic chaos mixes with joy as Clara cares for the three young children and learns to tolerate cantankerous Grandma. Unexpected support from neighbors and relatives rally around her and Clara even finds the strength to begin, at least tentatively, a new relationship.

Good marks Canadian writer Endicott’s U.S. debut and is the 2009 winner of a Commonwealth Writers Prize. Reviewers considered her a talent to watch and praised her “deft and winsome touch” in handling provocative issues. For readers of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg and Anita Shreve. “An enchanting and poignant novel”.

** = Starred reviews

Author's Forum: A World Without Ice

U-M geophysicist Henry Pollack – who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore – will join U-M weather and climate scientist Richard Rood in a conversation called A World Without Ice on Wednesday, April 14, from 5:30-7 p.m. at U-M Harlan Hatcher Library. Topics covered will include why ice matters, the delicate geological balance between ice and climate, and the pending crisis of a world without ice. The discussion is being presented by the Author’s Forum, a collaboration between the U-M Institute for the Humanities, University Library, Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, and the Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Past Academy Awards

The Oscars air Sunday, March 7th, which makes now a great time to watch a few past Oscar winners with your kids. The Best Animated Feature Film Category was introduced in 2001, and the winners make great movies to enjoy with your family.

Films distinguished by winning Best Animated Feature Film include Shrek (It's sequel, Shrek 2 was also nominated in 2004), Spirited Away (a Japanese anime film dubbed with English actors), Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Happy Feet, Ratatouille, and WALL-E. Clearly computer generated movies by Pixar have been big winners in this category.

Treasure Planet earns an honorable mention from me as my personal favorite nominee for Best Animated Feature Film, as I've always liked Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and I think setting the story in space only improved it.

Quirky Mystery Novels starring the Quirky Spellman Family

The Spellmans are not your ordinary family, nor are they your ordinary crew of private investigators. That’s right, the Spellmans are all in the family P.I. business.

Lisa Lutz’s series starts with The Spellman Files, which introduces us to the family, and centers around the rebellious Izzy, who at the age of 28 is obsessed with Get Smart, is sneaking out of windows, assuming false identities, and performing background checks on potential boyfriends. Eventually Izzy wants out of the business (like her lawyer brother David) and her mother gives her “one last case” before she is allowed to quit. Izzy is always into trouble, and her much younger sister Rae is following in her footsteps… until she goes missing, and Izzy finds herself on the other side of the interrogation table. Will Izzy be able to call it quits?

Mom is tailing Izzy, Uncle Ray always wears his lucky shirt, and keeps going on “lost weekends” requiring the family to hunt him down and bail him out of whatever insanity he got caught up in during his black outs. His namesake, young Rae, is addicted to sugar, when she gets grounded she is denied going on stake-outs, and she won’t do anything without being paid or negotiating first. Not your typical bunch! Follow Izzy and the zany Spellman family for more adventures in the laugh out loud Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, and coming soon is The Spellmans Strike Again. (Note: The Spellman Files, won a 2008 Alex Award, given annually to ten books written for adults that appeal to young adults age 12-18.)

Oscar-worthy Movies for Kids (or Kids at Heart)

The Animated Film category is always filled with children's movie nominations, but the really special kids' movies can hold their own against adult movies in the other categories. This year Up has been nominated for five Oscars, including best picture. It's a computer animation about an old man who rigs thousands of helium balloons to his house and floats away on an adventure.

If you like clay-mation you might be interested to know that the newest Wallace & Gromit film, the mysterious A Matter of Loaf and Death is nominated for best Animated Short Film. The Wallace and Gromit films are always big hits at the Academy Awards. The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, and the feature-length Curse of the Were-Rabbit (featuring the voices of Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter) all received Academy Awards in previous years, and A Grand Day Out was nominated in 1990, but it lost to Creature Comforts, which is another clay-mation movie by the same filmmaker, Nick Park.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is nominated for best cinematography. The Harry Potter films have not yet won any Oscars despite their wild popularity and six past nominations. Neil Gaiman's Coraline, featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher is nominated for best animated feature film. Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog both earned Oscar nominations too, but they won't hit library shelves until March, so don't forget to place your holds on them after they're ordered because they are sure to be popular.

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