August Book to Film, Part 2 (A Fabulous Fiction First)

(Already in theaters - Sorry, I am allowed a vacation, right?) The Time Traveler's Wife is based on Audrey Niffenegger’s phenomenal debut novel. (My goodness, 223 holds!)

A literary sensation and perpetual bestseller since its publication in 2003, Time is a “soaring love story” of Clare (an artist) and Henry - a rather dashing librarian at the famous Newberry Library in Chicago, who is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. Periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, disappearing spontaneously for experiences alternately harrowing and amusing.

Segments of the novel is set in South Haven, Michigan - Niffenegger’s (interview) birthplace and Chicago, where she now lives.

August also brings us her much anticipated new novel in 6 years - Her Fearful Symmetry - a most captivating story about two sets of twins, a rather determined ghost, and some very interesting happenings around London's Highgate Cemetery, where the novel is largely set. You could expect nothing less than the fabulous storytelling that made The Time Traveler's Wife a must-read. Another all-nighter, seriously. I am sure I won't have to remind you to GET ON THAT WAITING LIST NOW.

(Audio) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #174

Reminiscent of Mary McCarthy's The Group (1963), Joanna Smith Rakoff's debut novel A Fortunate Age* chronicles the lives of a group of New York twentysomethings Oberlin grads. whose ambitions and friendships threaten to unravel as they chase their dreams, shed their youth, and build their lives during the heady and turbulent dot-com era and sobering post-9/11 landscape.

Narrated by Christina Moore, Fortunate is “a wonderful, funny, and spot-on portrait of a new generation”.

For fan of The Big Chill (1998), who might also enjoy Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives (about grads. from that certain university in Ann Arbor, Michigan); Alice Adams’ Superior Women (Radcliffe); and Martha Moody’s Best Friends (Oberlin).

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #173

Debut novelist Naseem Rakha is an award-winning journalist whose stories have been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered.

"The murder of a child dredges up the most painful emotions. There is no justice in it, no justification, and no way to find solace. Remorse and vengeance become inseparable from the souls of the people left behind. Yet, somehow there are inspirational stories of those who have come to forgiveness....I found this baffling situation as a reporter covering an execution for public radio and then later in interviews with the parents of murder victims". (From author's website).

The Crying Tree is that story, told through the lives of two main characters: Irene Stanley, the mother of slain 15-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley, and Tab Mason, the stoic and determined superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary who is preparing to execute the boy’s murderer.

Powerful and touching, it’s "a story of love and redemption, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the transformative power of forgiveness". For novels on grief and forgiveness, we also recommend Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger and Looking for Normal by teen novelist Betty Monthei.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #172

Bich Minh Nguyen's memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner was named one of the 2008 Michigan Notable Books and the Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007. It received the 2008 Kiriyama Prize and the PEN/Jerard Award. It has been selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as the current The Great Michigan Read.

In Nguyen's fiction debut Short Girls, narrators (in alternate chapters) Van and Linny Leong, estranged sisters who have chosen divergent paths since their latch-key days, returned home to celebrate their father’s U.S. citizenship and his reality TV debut to demo the Leong Arm - an invention for short people.

With keen insight, humor and compassion, the author examines what it means to be short – from stature, identity, expectations, ambition, to the distance between us. Beautifully written and expertly told, this is ultimately a universal tale about sisterhood; the cultural and family history that binds us; and the rights to set the standard by which we are measured.

Readers of women's fiction on the theme of sibling relationships might also enjoy The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele, or Julia Alvarez's wonderful portrayal of the immigrant experience in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. For pure entertainment value - there is nothing more delightful than Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes.

* = Starred Reviews.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #171

What promises to be a rather formulaic chick lit., mildly entertaining summer escapist read turned out to be a compulsive page-turner - twisty, sexy and magical.

In debut novelist Margot Berwin's Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, recently divorced Lila Nova impulsively purchased a bird of paradise from the hunky plant guy at a Manhattan green market to spruce up her depressingly lifeless apartment. Soon she was hooked - on David, as well as the lore and lure of tropical plants.

A chance discovery of a rare plant at an odd Laundromat and its enigmatic proprietor Armand took Lila deep into the Yucatan jungle, in search of extreme adventure and the nine mythical plants of desire. Little did Lila know what await her amidst unspeakable beauty and magic, would be treachery and heartbreak, but ultimately, also self-knowledge and redemption.

Hothouse Flower is fresh, fun, and wonderfully captivating - everything you would want for a lazy summer’s eve.

For fans of Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells and Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate . Plant enthusiasts and eco travelers would do well to also check out Susan Orlean’s award-winning The Orchid Thief.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #170

In Romance novelist Linda Castillo's chilling mystery debut Sworn to Silence*, Kate Burkholder is a "gun-toting, cursing, female chief of police" at Painters Mill, (Ohio) an idyllic Amish community that prides itself in distancing from the complication of modern life, that is, until a serial killer resurfaces to terrorize the town. The current victims all sport the killer's signature - Roman numerals ritualistically carved into their abdomens.

Kate has good reason to worry - well above her duty to protect and defend - as she is a surviving victim of torture and rape 16 years ago. What transpired estranged her from her family and her faith, and left her totally isolated with a secret she is desperate to keep.

"Deeply flawed characters in a distinctive setting make this a crackling good series opener, recommended for fans of T. Jefferson Parker and Robert Ellis, whose books take place in very un-Amish settings but who generate the same kind of chills and suspense.”

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #169

The Frightened Man* launches a historical mystery series set in Jack-the-Ripper era London. Author Kenneth Cameron also writes military thrillers with his son under the name Gordon Kent.

Infamous American ex-lawman Denton now lives a solitary life in London, (we will discover his tragic past) sporadically turning out sensational novels of questionable quality. He is smitten with a two-timing mistress, well-served by his Jeeves-like Sergeant Atkins, and gets himself tangled up in the gruesome murder of a young prostitute. It all started with the visit of a frightened stranger who claims to have witnessed Jack the Ripper at work.

“A gripping page-turner, Cameron's novel combines a devilishly clever plot, enigmatic characters, a foreboding atmosphere, and a shocking finale. A top pick for all crime collections.” ~ Booklist

Fans of atmospheric historical mysteries set in London might also like C.S. Harris’s Where Serpents Sleep (2008), 4th in the Sebastian St. Cyr series featuring a Regency-era gentleman sleuth. Dust and Shadow: An account of the Ripper killings by Dr. John H. Watson (2009) by Lyndsay Faye is a fictionalized documentary of the most famous serial killer in history.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #168

Move over, Mdm. Precious Ramotswe (of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency). Or at least make room for Vish Puri!

Tarquin Hall introduces India's "Most Private Investigator" in his The Case of the Missing Servant*. Portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swath through modern Delhi's swindlers, cheats, and murderers.

Pleased with a break from the usual screening of prospective marriage partners, Puri investigates the murder of a maidservant while keeping an eagle eye on his widowed "Mummy-ji" who is determined to sleuth alongside his team of colorful undercover operatives. Ingeniously combining modern investigative techniques with 2000 year-old Indian principles of detection, Puri is a welcome addition to the pantheon of exotic sleuths.

Strong local color, sly humor, endearing characterization and keen observation make this debut mystery a wild and deligthful ride. Future cases are to be expected.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #167

In Repeat After Me*, (Ann Arbor native) Rachel DeWoskin, author of the laugh-out-loud funny and poignant Foreign Babes in Beijing: behind the scenes of a new China impresses readers and critics alike with her debut novel of modern China and one American girl's struggle to find herself there.

This complex love story of cultural intersection begins with Aysha Silvermintz and recent immigrant Chen Da Ge, a sporadic and moody student assigned to her ESL class. Under the pretense of helping him gain citizenship, they marry.

The story picks up 13 years later with Aysha living in Beijing with her daughter, immersing them both in the daily life of their adopted home, and struggling to make sense of the mystery that was Chen. "A tender story of manic love and loss, this is a heartbreaking and uplifting novel with memorably off-kilter leads".

"DeWoskin demonstrates a smart, sophisticated literary agility", .... (her) firsthand knowledge of China, its language, and its traditions, as well as life in New York City, and her characters live and breathe". * = Starred reviews.

Click here to watch Rachel DeWoskin on her experiences living in China, a presentation at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #166

Former Publishers Weekly editor Emily Chenoweth's luminous debut Hello Goodbye* is perhaps one of my favorites this season. It is "deeply moving and yet unsentimental... beautifully crafted, intimate and sweet, funny and intelligent".

During one week in August, the Hansen family returns to vacation at a historic resort in the White Mountains. Helen, who is at her last stage of a terminal illness is there to say goodbye to a lifetime of friends, while husband Elliott relishes a respite from his caretaking duties. College-aged Abby has yet to come to terms with grief and loss as she teeters at the bright cusp of adulthood.

Hello is lyrical and poetic. It manages to be heartbreaking and life-affirming at the same time. It will resonate with you long after the last page is turned. A worthy contender for the tearjerker award.

* = starred reviews

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