Elmore Leonard, crime writer extraordinaire, has died

Elmore Leonard, longtime Michigan resident who captivated his readers for years, died this morning in his beloved Detroit.

Born in New Orleans in 1925, he started out as a writer of western fiction. One of his earliest (1953) westerns, 3:10 to Yuma, was the first of many of his novels to be made into a movie. In the case of Yuma, both the 1957 original release, starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford and the 2007 remake, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, were popular.

Once westerns reached their peak in the early 1960s, Leonard stuck with his copywriting career which had funded his writing since the 1950s. Then in 1965, his agent sold the film rights to Hombre(1961) (on order) which was released two years later, starring Paul Newman and Fredric March.

With the money from that sale, Leonard switched gears and began writing one entertaining, suspenseful crime novel after another, many of which, again, were optioned into movies. First up was The Big Bounce, 1969, which hit the the silver screen in 1969 and again with the remake in 2004.

Get Shorty, the movie (John Travolta and Rene Russo, 1995), was based on his 1990 novel by the same name.

In all, more than two dozen Elmore Leonard novels got the Hollywood treatment.

Critics and fans adored his books, marveling at his gift for dialog and spare storytelling. On July 16, 2001, Leonard wrote an article for the New York Times. In WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle, he laid out his ten rules for writing which have become revered guidelines ever since.

Elmore Leonard was the recipient of multiple awards, including a couple of Edgars, a Peabody, and the Owen Wister Award.In addition he had honorary PhDs from The University of Michigan, Florida Atlantic University and University of Detroit Mercy.

Mr, Leonard, who had suffered a stroke on July 29th of this year, was 87 years old.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #420 - Sugar 'n spice and everything nice?

Well, I'll let you be the judge. But seriously, 2 phenomenal debuts from across the pond, with unforgettable young protagonists, not to be missed.

A published poet, and one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists Jenni Fagan knocked it out of the park with her dazzling The Panopticon * *, which has been named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and The Scotsman.

Anais Hendricks, 15 is headed for the Panopticon, the much dreaded last-resort for chronic young offenders after she is found covered with the blood of a police officer. Violent, "permanently whacked on...drug(s)", and the product of foster homes (23 before she turned 7), she is a survivor and a counter-culture outlaw. Though experience taught her to only rely on herself, she finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon, and soon forms strong bonds with the other troubled teens. Their struggle is with their keepers, especially when Anais is convinced she is part of a sinister experiment.

"Dark and disturbing but also exciting and moving thanks to a memorable heroine and vividly atmospheric prose."

"Anais's story is one of abandonment, loss, and redemption."

2013 Thriller Award nominee for Best Paperback Original Novel, Alex Marwood's (the pseudonym of a successful journalist) debut The Wicked Girls * * * is "(a) gritty, psychological thriller that asks the question: How well can you know anyone?"

On a fateful summer morning in 1986, 11 year-olds Jade Walker and Annabel (Bel) Oldacre meet for the first time. By the end of the day, they will both be charged with murder. Journalist Kirsty Lindsay, while following leads on a series of attacks on young female tourists in a seaside vacation town comes face to face with Amber Gordon, now a janitor for a carnival where the most recent crime is committed. This is their first meeting in 25 years after spending years in two separate British correctional facilities.

Kirsty and Amber, with new, vastly different lives, and unknowing families to protect, are desperate to keep their wicked secret hidden, and to uphold their probationary condition never to have contact with each other.

Marwood intersperses the contemporary serial-killer story line and hour-by-hour accounts of what happened the day the girls met 25 years ago. "This chilling debut is chock-full of surprises. If Tana French and Gillian Flynn stayed up all night telling stories at an abandoned amusement park, this is awfully close to what they might come up with."

"Gripping and fast-paced", it will appeal to fans of the Academy Award-nominated film Heavenly Creatures and the novels of Rosamund Lupton and Chevy Stevens."

"A suspenseful, buzz-worthy novel offering a sure-footed depiction of two women who lost their childhoods."

* * * = starred reviews
* * = starred reviews

JJ Cale, revered singer-songwriter, has died

JJ Cale, known as the founder of 'the Tulsa Sound' for his brilliant understated sensitivity on the guitar, coupled with his minimalist lyrics and his passion for the engineering side of the sound studio, has died.

Cale was late in getting his music out there. His first album, Naturally was released in 1972 when he was 33. It contained the song, Crazy Mama which made it to #22 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart that year. By his own admission, Cale wouldn't have minded the fortune, but eschewed the fame. So it wasn't until Eric Clapton joined forces with Cale on their Emmy-winning album, Road to Escondido (2006) that Cale was reluctantly drawn back into the limelight.

Cale claimed that his genius in the recording studio where he discovered the power of drum machines, was born of necessity. In an interview with Aaron Kayce, Cale told him, "I first started out doing that because of the economics; I didn't have enough money to hire a band. Now that I have enough money to hire a band, I still like that; it's kind of an art form in itself."

Cale's roster of Blues artists who sing his praises is impressive: First and foremost is Eric Clapton who said, "...I was impressed by the subtlety by what wasn't being played." Neil Young also weighed in on Cale: "JJ's the one who played all that s*** first...he's got that thing. I don't know what it is."

On February 23, 2009, Critic Michael Corcoran wrote in the Austin American Statesman "...Cale serves the blues rock like the best $1.99 breakfast you've ever had...Nobody can hit it hard and soft at the same time, and still carry a melody, like this 70-year-old boogie minimalist."

JJ Cale's death, at 74 of a heart attack last Friday, brings to mind his lyrics of Roll On's final cut, "enough is enough, can't do it no more/ Bring down the curtain, close the door."

The Man Booker Prize 2013 longlist has been announced

The Man Booker Prize (formerly Booker Prize), one of the major literary prizes has announced its longlist of novels for 2013.

Among the longlist nominees is NoViolet Bulawayo, one of three first-time novelists. We Need New Names, set in Ms. Bulawayo's home country of Zimbabwe, follows 10-year-old Darling and her friends who make a game of scrambling for food in a desolate shantytown. When given the opportunity to move to Detroit to live with her aunt, Darling struggles to adapt to the shocking differences between her new life and her old.

Pulitzer Prize winner (for The Namesake, 2003), Jhumpa Lahiri, has been nominated for The Lowland. Her tale also involves a protagonist who comes to America. The Mitra brothers are inseparable until Subhash, the elder, leaves Calcutta and moves to America to attend college. His brother, Udayan, stays in India and becomes ever more immersed in the violent Communist uprising of the late 1960s.

In Ruth Ozeki's nominated title, A Tale for the Time Being, the migration works in reverse. Sixteen-year-old Nao was happy enough in her California life before her father moved the family back to Tokyo. Unable to endure the relentless bullying anymore, Nao plans to commit suicide. First, she wants to record the life of her centenarian grandmother. Her writing ends up in a lunchbox which washes ashore in Canada and is discovered by a writer named Ruth.

For a complete list of the longlist nominees, check out this link.

Then watch for these dates: The shortlist will be announced on September 19th. The winners will be names on October 15th.

Michael Hastings, brilliant journalist who brought down a General, has died

Michael Hastings, author and award-winning journalist for Buzzfeed, died yesterday in Los Angeles.

In the June 22, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Hastings wrote a blistering piece on then-General Stanley McChrystal who was commander of American forces in Afghanistan. Quotes from McChrystal and his aides were so highly critical of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden that the General resigned shortly thereafter. Hastings received a 2010 Polk Award for this article.

Hastings' early career as a driven, heat-seeking missile for the truth included writing for Gentleman's Quarterly and Newsweek. Then in 2007, Hastings' world was rocked. He and his fiancee, Andi Parhamovich were both stationed in Baghdad (he was writing for Newsweek; she was an aide worker for The National Democratic Institute. Andi died in an ambush on January 17th and Hastings returned to his parents' home in Vermont, where holed up in their attic for two months while he wrote I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story (2008), a keening, bitter, loved-filled tribute to Andi.

Hastings' last hard copy book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War on Afghanistan came out last year. His last book, published earlier this year in Kindle-only format, is
Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama's Final Campaign

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #404

Peggy Blair, a Canadian attorney-turn-novelist opens what we anticipate to be a superb series with The Beggar's Opera *, winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice award.

On Christmas morning Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit was called when fishermen found the body of a young boy last seen begging on the Malecon, and the sore subject of a heated argument between visiting Canadian policeman Mike Ellis and his estranged wife. With his wallet in the pocket of the dead boy, Ellis became the prime suspect. But Ramirez only have 72 hours to prove his case while dealing with a form of dementia, when the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved cases haunt his every step.

"The Beggar's Opera exposes the bureaucracy, corruption, and beauty of Hemingway's Havana".

The Caretaker * * by A.X. Ahmad opens Christmas week on Martha's Vineyard. With most of the summer folks gone, Ranjit Singh, a landscaper is lucky to get work as caretaker for Senator Neal's home, and saves him from crawling back to Boston to work as a grocery clerk. A broken furnace forces him to move his family into the Senator's house until 2 armed men break in, searching for something hidden among the Senator's antiqued doll collection. Forced to flee, Ranjit is pursued and hunted by unknown forces, and becomes drawn into the Senator's shadowy world. As the past and present collide, Ranjit must finally confront the hidden event that destroyed his Army career and forced him to leave India.

"Tightly plotted, action-packed, smart and surprisingly moving, The Caretaker takes us from the desperate world of migrant workers to the elite African-American community of Martha's Vineyard, and a secret high-altitude war between India and Pakistan".

"Beyond the masterfully crafted, high-adrenaline story, readers will be fascinated by Ranjit's strong Sikh faith, rarely seen in American fiction".

"Top-notch effort in the first of a promising trilogy".

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

Jean Stapleton, a.k.a. Edith Bunker to a whole generation of adoring fans, has died

Jean Stapleton, who forever endeared herself to millions of TV viewers in her role of the ditzy-but-wise Edith Bunker, has died.

As Edith Bunker, sweet wife to the unapologetic, stuck-in-his-ways, working class Queens, NY conservative bigot Archie Bunker (played by the late Carroll O'Connor) in the popular 1970s sitcom All in the Family, Stapleton packed whole essays of timid disagreement into her nasally, softly screechy "Oh, Archie" or "Oh, my!". And when Archie would go too far and Edith stood up to him, Archie cowed and audiences cheered.

Ms. Stapleton played against character. She was a strong feminist playing the role of a meek, submissive, taunted housewife to Archie's often-derisive persona. As the women's movement gained traction on the national political stage, the shows' writers kept pace. One of the most memorable episodes centered on Edith's rare flare-up, pushing back against Archie's resistance to her volunteer work in a senior citizens' residence.

In addition to the four consecutive Emmys that the show won, Ms. Stapleton earned three (19721, 1972, and 1978) or her own.

For those who thought glass would shatter on a weekly basis with the opening song of All in the Family, sung by O'Connor and Ms. Stapleton, whose latter contribution was to hit impossibly loud off-key fingers-down-the-blackboard notes, it may come as a surprise to learn that Ms. Stapleton had a lovely voice, as evidenced by her extensive work on Broadway, the movies Bells Are Ringing (2005), and TV (she sang with The Muppets).

Ms. Stapleton, who was 90, died Friday in New York.

Jack Vance, science fiction writer, has died

Jack Vance, one of the most underappreciated masters of science fiction and fantasy and mystery, died Sunday at his Oakland, CA home.

The award-winning author (he won an Edgar, a Nebula, and a couple of Hugos, among others) got his start writing short fantasy stories for pulp magazines in the 1940s while serving in the merchant marine during WWII. In 1950, he published the first of his Dying Earth stories, which have since been collected in Tales of the Dying Earth (2000).

Vance had a unique, beautiful writing style that was described by fellow science fiction writer, Norman Spinrad as a "...baroque tapestry..." Vance was not much of a Gadget Guy. He found gadgets boring and said that his forte was telling "...a history of the human future."

Two of his closest chums, Frank Herbert and Poul Anderson built a houseboat together which they used on the Sacramento Delta.

Vance was 96 when he died on Sunday.

Dan Brown's latest novel, Inferno

Last week, Dan Brown's new novel, Inferno was released and is in hot demand. In this 476 page blockbuster, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor whose specialty in symbology takes him to Italy to unravel the secrets of Dante's Inferno, races against time to save the world.

Dan Brown came to the public's attention in 2003 when his intriguing, provocative, controversial The Da Vinci Code broke all sorts of publishing records and is, to this day, one of the bestselling novels of all time. Ever since, he has had one #1 bestseller after another. Just two years after The Da Vinci Code was released, Brown was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most influential People in the World.

Are you on the wait list for Inferno? Never fear, we have a list of great titles that share Brown's powerful formula of mixing history, religion, and/or literature and cryptography to tell a compelling story. Try some of these to tide you over until your number comes up.

Umberto Eco's very first novel, published in English 30 years ago, is considered a classic. In The Name of the Rose, Brother William of Baskerville, a 14th century monk, is sent to Italy to investigate seven deeply disturbing murders. Three years later, Sean Connery starred in the award-winning film version.

In The Eight (1988), Katherine Neville, tells the story of Catherine Velis, a computer pro for one of the Big Eight accounting firms. Velis is fascinated by the relationship between chess and mathematics and sets out on a dangerous quest to gather the pieces of an antique chess set, scattered across the globe. If found, the complete set will reveal a world-changing secret, which began in 1790.

Jonathan Rabb, in his popular 2001 The Book of Q, moves back and forth between sixth century Asia Minor and 20th century Croatia. Father Ian Pearse is a researcher at the Vatican Library who cannot forget his passionate affair eight years earlier with Petra. When he comes across the translation of an ancient scroll that reveals a shocking code, he returns to Bosnia (and, oh yes, Petra) to save the world from the secrets buried in the scroll.

Scrolls and diaries that beg to be decoded to reveal earth-shattering religious secrets, are at the center of The 13th Apostle (2007), by Richard and Rachael Heller. This time, the sleuths are Sabbie Karaim, a biblical scholar and ex-Israeli commando and Gil Pearson, an American cybersleuth who discover there are those who are willing to kill for this possible link to one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

If you are too impatient for your hold for the print version of Inferno, why not try Paul Michael's dramatic narrative performance in the audiobook version?

James Beard Foundation Cookbook awards


James Beard was a renowned American chef who introduced French cuisine and gourmet cooking to America. Called the "Dean of American cookery” by the New York Times in 1954, his foundation's awards are likened to the 'Oscars' of the culinary world. Just some of the award categories include best cookbooks (in various subcategories), chefs, & tv and radio cooking shows. The awards are voted on by culinary professionals & the full list can be found here. Below are some of the highlights:

Cookbook of the Year: Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America- delicious food from the many countries that comprise Latin America

Baking and dessert: Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza- From acclaimed Portland baker, Ken Forkish, comes this popular book about how to make the perfect bread

Focus on health: The New Way to Cook Light: Fresh Food & Bold Flavors for Today’s Home Cook- More than 400 recipes for healthy eating

General cooking: Canal House Cooks Every Day- Recipes inspired by the authors' blog, Canal House Cooks Lunch, by home cooks for home cooks

International: Jerusalem: A Cookbook- 120 recipes that highlight the flavors of Jerusalem

Vegetable focused & Vegetarian- Roots: The definitive compendium with more than 225 recipes- one more reason to love your veggies!

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