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!

2013 Edgars have been announced

Last night, the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2013 Edgars, the mystery genre's most prestigious awards.

Some of the winners are:

Best Novel -- Dennis Lehane for Live by Night. Joe Coughlin, younger brother of Danny Coughlin (The Given Day, 2008) and the son of a cop, becomes a crime boss in Florida in 1926 during the Prohibition.

Best First Novel -- Chris Pavone for The Expats. Kate Moore used to be a CIA spy until she met, fell in love with, and married Dexter. Parenthood turns her off to the dangers of espionage, but her professional radar is triggered when Dexter's job moves them to Luxembourg where new friends, fellow expats, Bill and Julia, do not seem to be what they claim to be.

Best Paperback Original -- Ben H. Winters for The Last Policeman. It takes a special detective to investigate a homicide masquerading as a suicide, when an asteroid is six months away from destroying Earth. But NH investigator, Nick Palace, is no ordinary cop.

Best Fact Crime -- Paul French for Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China -- In 1937 China, the teenage daughter of a retired British consul is brutally murdered and her father refuses to rest until he finds who committed this heinous crime. French brings to edge-of-seat life, the chain of evidence in this case.

For a complete list of all the winners, please check here.

The winners of the 2013 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards have been announced!

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) released the winning titles of the 2013 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards on April 17th.
Be sure to check out the other honor lists as well for these awards, located on the ABA's website.

***

The Indies Choice Book Awards
From the ABA website: "The Indies Choice Book Awards reflect the spirit of independent bookstores nationwide and the IndieBound movement. Book of the Year winners and Honor Award recipients are all titles nominated by ABA member booksellers to the Indie Next Lists."

The winners of the 2013 Indies Choice Book Awards are listed below. Click on the titles to find them in the AADL's catalog, or on the authors' names to see more books they've written, and/or different formats of their award winning books!

Adult fiction: The Round House: A Novel, by Louise Erdrich

Adult non-fiction: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

Adult debut book of the year: The Snow Child: A Novel, by Eowyn Ivey

Young adult book of the year: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

***

E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards
"The winners of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, reflecting the playful, well-paced language, the engaging themes, and the universal appeal to a wide range of ages embodied by E.B. White’s collection of beloved books."

The winners of the 2013 E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards are listed below. Click on the titles to find them in the AADL's catalog, or on the authors' names to see more books they've written, and/or different formats of their award winning books!

Middle-reader level: Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Picture book level: Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen (Illus.)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #399

Originally published in Germany in 2001, The Russian Donation * * is the first book in the Dr. Hoffmann series by Christoph Spielberg (translated by Gerald Chapple), and the 2002 winner of Germany's Friedrich Glauser Prize for Best Debut Crime Novel.

When a former patient and hospital employee Misha Chenkov shows up dead at the ER, Dr. Felix Hoffmann, physician at a Berlin teaching hospital is surprised and perplexed. He becomes suspicious when his autopsy order goes unfulfilled, the body is cremated, and hospital records simply vanished. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Hoffmann stumbles into an intricate conspiracy that reaches from the bowels of the hospital to its highest offices and puts his life at risk.

Spielberg, a physician has created a reluctant sleuth who is strong, resourceful, and "unwilling to put up with any crap". Look for future cases to follow.

For fans of Robin Cook's medical thrillers who might also enjoy Helene Tursten's Night Rounds (2012) which features Detective Inspector Irene Huss of the Violent Crimes Unit in Goteborg, Sweden.

* * = Starred reviews

George Jones, Country-Western heartbreak crooner, has died

George Jones, whose beautiful sad country ballads consoled countless broken hearts, died today in Nashville.

Born in Pensacola, TX in 1931, Jones lived his songs. Famous for missing concerts when he was on a drunken tear, he survived drugs, car crashes, several divorces and repeated financial ruin. His third marriage, in 1969, to Tammy Wynette took the meaning of tempestuous into the stratosphere. They wrote and sang of the endless drama and tragedies in their relationship which lasted just six years, but produced some real blockbuster country songs, such as Good Year for the Roses and \We're Gonna Hold On. Their daughter, Georgette, told their story from her point of view in her 2011 memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George.

One of his most wrenchingly sad songs; He Stopped Loving Her Today, was pure George Jones at his mournful best. The song's subject yearns tragically for years for a lost love and dies with a smile on his face.

Jones won countless awards for his body of work. He was honored by the Country Music Association, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and last year he was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jones, who had been hospitalized on April 18th, was 81.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #397

For over a decade, US publishers have been looking for English language books that deal with Chechnya, a volatile and bloody Russian Republic consistently in the news. They were thrilled when Whiting Award & Pushcart Prize winner Anthony Marra, (Stegner Fellow, Iowa Writers' Workshop) submitted his novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena *.

In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed, a failed physician, to the bombed-out hospital where Sonja, the only remaining doctor treats the wounded rebels and refugees. Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal, and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate,

"Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure".

"...simply spectacular. Not since Everything Is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized". ~ Ann Patchett

"Remarkable and breathtaking,... a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft-forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice.” ~ Adam Johnson

For readers who enjoyed The Tiger's Wife; Cutting for Stone; and City of Thieves.

* = starred review

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