Fabulous Fiction Firsts #187

In Lou Manfredo's Rizzo's War*, veteran NYPD detective Joe Rizzo has always subscribed to the notion that “there is no right, there is no wrong, there just is” – a rule he tries to instill in his movie-star handsome, young and freshly-minted partner Mike McQueen. Their beat – the Bensonhurst, Brooklyn neighborhood where their savvy, courage and compassion is called on daily to keep the streets safe. But when a councilman’s daughter goes missing and they are forced to operate under the radar, with dubious boundaries, and no safety net, it is their trust in each other that's sorely tested.

Strongly character-driven, this police procedural sparkles with authenticity. (Born and raised in Brooklyn, Manfredo served in the Brooklyn criminal justice system for twenty-five years). The well-paced plot is firmly anchored in the physicality of the setting. Big city politics, organized crime, corruption, compounded by personal and family drama, old wounds, and new threats add complexity and suspense to the storyline.

Comparison with Joseph Wambaugh's The Choirboys(1975) is inevitable. This projected series debut and FFF will also please fans of the late Ed McBain's ever-popular 87th Precinct mystery series.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #186

Seriously one of the best nordic crime fiction of the year, Anders Roslund's projected new series debut Box 21* is violent, horrific, and strangely gripping.

Over the course of a rainy summer's week in Stockholm, a Lithuanian prostitute viciously beaten close to death, three Stockholm police detectives investigating the case, sundry petty criminals, and a young doctor at the edge of despair cross path when one of them holds the the city hostage at gunpoint. While lives are lost, scores settled, secrets unearthed (Locker no. 21), friendship and honor severely tested, it is shame that drives the well-crafted thriller to its explosive and tragic conclusion.

Students of human nature and readers of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahlöo's Martin Beck series, Henning Mankell, and Karin Fossum - "Norway's Queen of Crime," will find this irresistible and affecting.

* = Starred reviews

November's Books to Film

The Box is a horror film based on the 1970 short story Button, Button by Richard Matheson, previously adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) is a teacher at a private high school and her husband, Arthur (James Marsden), an engineer working at NASA are, by all accounts, an average couple living a normal life - until a mysterious man appears on their doorstep and presents a life-altering proposition and an impossible moral dilemma: the box.

Almost too bizarre to believe The Men Who Stare at Goats is based on Jon Ronson's (2004) comedic and eye-opening exploration of the government’s attempts to harness paranormal abilities to fight its wars.

Reporter Bob Wilton discovers a top-secret wing of the U.S. military when he accompanies an enigmatic Special Forces operator on a mind-boggling mission. Starring Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges.

And if you need ME to tell YOU about New Moon - the second installment of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, then you should just skip it. Seriously! And if you are going, I hope you have tickets in hand already. (Opening Nov. 20th).

Rebecca Miller, a painter and actress before turning her hand to writing and directing, directs the adaptation of her debut novel The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (FFF, 2008).

When her stable public life is disrupted by her older husband's decision to retire to a community, 50-year old Pippa Lee begins to lose her grasp on reality. Embarking on a bittersweet journey of self-discovery, accompanied by a new, strange and soulful acquaintance, Pippa must now confront both her volatile past and the hidden resentment of her seemingly perfect life in order to find her true sense of self.

Previously, Rebecca Miller's feature film adaptation of her short-story collection Personal Velocity (2001) won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #185 - Reading the World

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Of the 33 first novels nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (see blog), some have already won major awards, some have been blogged, some became media darlings, some bewitched us, and some chilled and thrilled us.

Here are a few that would challenge us, move us and perhaps even grow us a little:

A Girl Made of Dust is written by a woman who experienced firsthand the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. It captures both a country and a childhood plagued by a conflict that even at its darkest and most threatening, carries the promise of healing and retribution.

The White King by György Dragomán (translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry). Eleven-year-old Djata's life in the totalitarian state is changed forever when two men lead his father away one day. However brutal, Djata's world is tempered by the hilarious absurdity of the situations, by his enduring faith in his father's return, and by moments of unexpected beauty, hope, and kindness. Startling and heartbreaking, recommended for fans of Mark Haddon, David Mitchell, and Marjane Satrapi.

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramaphone by Saša Stanišić ( translated from the German by Anthea Bell). Fleeing the violence and destruction of his native Bosnia with his family for safety in Germany, Aleksandar Krsmanoviæ remains haunted by the past and his memories of Asija, the mysterious girl he had tried to save and whose fate he is desperate to discover.

A first-time novelist at 76, Bernard du Boucheron caused a literary sensation in France with The Voyage of the Short Serpent, - a tale (translated from the French by Hester Velmans) of a bishop's attempted reclamation of a medieval Scandinavian colony in Iceland. The bishop sets off in the company of the captain and crew of the Short Serpent.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #184

Recently picked by Booklist as one of the ten top first novels of the year, Carolina De Robertis's debut novel The Invisible Mountain* is a "deeply intimate exploration of the search for love and authenticity, power and redemption, in the lives of three women, and a penetrating portrait of a small, tenacious nation, Uruguay, shaken in the gales of the twentieth century."

This gripping and lyrical story, at once expansive and lush with detail, begins with Pajarita, a healer with a mysterious second birth, her daughter Eva , a poet who suffered sexual assault as a child, and granddaughter Salome who as a revolutionary endures arrest, torture and imprisonment.

" De Robertis is a skilled storyteller in relating the stories of these stalwart women, but it is her use of language from the precision of poetry to the sensuality of sex that makes this literary debut so exceptional".

Readers of historical fiction from a strong female perspective would also find interesting The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allenda; and the 2004 National Book Award winner The News from Paraguay* by Lily Tuck.

* = Starred Reviews

October Books to Film, Part 2

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The much anticipated Amelia, based on Journalist Susan Butler's exhaustively researched biography entitled East to the Dawn : The Life of Amelia Earhart, throws new light on many of the more controversial elements of the aviator's life and death. A star-studded biopic with Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor (Oh, I am SO there!) Check out the The New York Times movie review.

The Damned United is based on British author David Peace's fictional account of Brain Clough's brief spell as manager of Leeds United Football Club in 1974. Clough, played brilliantly by Micheal Sheen, is portrayed as a deeply flawed hero.

David Peace was named one of the Best of Young British Novelists by Granta in their 2003 list. He is also the author of Toyko Year Zero, (FFF), a riveting mystery of a real-life serial-killer case in post-WWII Japan.

The Vampire’s Assistant is a fantasy-adventure about a 16 year-old who unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires. Pulled into a fantastic life of misunderstood sideshow freaks and grotesque creatures of the night, one teen will vanish from the safety of a boring existence and fulfill his destiny in a place drawn from nightmares.

This teen crowd-pleaser is adapted from Darren Shan's immensely popular series Cirque Du Freak. With Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe playing the leads, expect long lines at the box office.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #183

If you were moved by her memoir The Glass Castle*, you would find Jeannette Walls's debut novel Half Broke Horses* no less "authentic, irresistible, and triumphant".

While The Glass Castle is the tale of a child of a scholarly, alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother; her nomadic, hardscrabble upbringing, heartbreaking betrayals before finding the resources and will to leave home; Half Broke Horses is the story of Ms. Walls's grandmother - Lily Casey Smith.

This first-person fictional biography of a "horse-breaking, moonshine-selling, ranch-running, airplane-flying, pistol-packing, school-teaching, indomitable pioneer" begins with a young Lily, tough and wise beyond her years, saving her siblings during one of west Texas' flash floods.

Family photographs, archival materials and research lend an air of oral history to the narrative. Reflecting on the experiences of her grandmother and mother, Walls says, “It’s a bit of an anachronism, but there’s a lot to be said for the tough pioneer spirit and the untamed wilderness. I think it’s important that we don’t forget our roots. And our own half-brokeness."

For novels of other indomitable women, try The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss and The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas.

* = Starred reviews (See the New York Times review)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #182

From the creator of CSI television series Anthony E. Zuiker come this sensational debut Level 26 : Dark Origins.

This is no ordinary crime thriller. In fact, it is the first digi-novel. It combines the book format, film, and interactive digital technologies into an intense storytelling experience.

Level 26 refers to law enforcement personnel's category of evil - with 25 being the most sadistic of torture-murderers. Now Steve Dark, the ultimate crime-scene tactician is on the trail of the most brutal of killers - one that they have invented a new level for. Code named "Sqweegel", this clever, twisted serial killer has been taunting the police and eluding capture for decades. His choice of victims appears to be random. Nobody is safe.

Readers will be able to log onto www.level26.com (special code and clues scattered through the text) to access digital movies featuring the characters, crime-scene details and more. It is an experience like no other.

Go ahead, double-check doors and windows and sleep with the lights on. I did. I drew the line on taking sharp objects to bed though.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #181

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In Chemistry for Beginners*, for Dr. Steven Fisher, the female orgasm is his life’s work. At the brink of the breakthrough of a miracle drug that could cure female sexual dysfunction (think Viagra), one of his test subjects – Annie G is wracking havoc with his data, his scientific mind and his carefully guarded heart.

This engaging and smart, romantic comedy (no longer an oxymoron, thanks to Anthony Strong - a pseudonym for Anthony Capella) is presented in the form of a scientific paper, complete with footnotes (totally believable and absolutely hilarious) and illustrations. The uniquely contemporary male perspective, memorable quotes, satirical jabs at academia, clinical research, and the drug business will surely entertain. The tentative and problematic courtship is tantalizing (think D.H. Lawrence's Lady C.), at times heartbreaking, and oh so itchy sexy.

Easily the best romance of the year, from a newcomer to the genre. Best quote: "Sex is biology, love is chemistry". And some of the best sex scenes since Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #180

If you liked Lauren Groff's fantastic debut The Monsters of Templeton* (blog) then you would delight in Nancy Mauro's New World Monkeys*.

At once " fun, funny and touching" and "weird, disturbing and intensely engaging", the novel centers on Lily and Duncan, unhappily married Manhattan yuppies, a dilapidated old house, a wild boar, small-town secrets, and a bit of nasty buried in the backyard.

"Debut novelist Mauro perfectly balances humor and soulfulness in this poisonously funny, torchlight eerie, psychologically astute tale of archaic instincts, deviance, and violence." Quirky? Yes. But it will appeal to those who favor happy endings and romantics who insist on believing that love really does conquer all.

* = Starred reviews

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