Friday Fiction Feature

Welcome once again to the Friday Fiction Feature, the weekly post that honors great writing as well as notable new releases! One of the more interactive posts, the Fiction Feature includes recommendations from readers collected the previous week. Do you have an author you would like featured here? Send me an email (bschillace) or post a comment!

Today, I will be looking at some up and coming YA releases, as well as some favored new releases of authors–one of whom is on tour! (PS: Scroll down for THIEFTAKER and MEMORY OF BLOOD…plus an anecdote about reading backwards.)

Jonathon Friesen’s THE LAST MARTIN is a new release by Zonderkidz (author represented by the Knight Agency). A fun new adventure of the Gothic variety, this text reminds me a bit of the John Bellairs series (circa 1950s). There’s always a Martin. One Martin. Martin Boyle already has plenty to worry about. His germaphobic mother keeps him home from school if she hears so much as a sneeze, and his father is always off somewhere reenacting old war battles. Julia, the most beautiful girl in school, won’t even speak to Martin, and the gym teacher is officially out to get him. Which is why Martin really doesn’t need this curse hanging over his head. On a trip to the family cemetery, Martin wanders among the tombstones of his ancestors and discovers a disturbing pattern: when one Martin is born, the previous Martin dies. And—just his luck—Martin’s aunt is about to give birth to a baby boy, who will, according to tradition, be named Martin. Martin must find a way to break the curse, but every clue seems to lead to a dead end. And time is running out!

One of Delacourt’s books for young readers, Kendare Blake’s ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD was a Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year title and one of NPR’s Top 5 Young Adult Novels of 2011. It introduces us to Cas Lowood, who has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.

Released in 2011, Jason Lethcoe’s NO PLACE LIKE HOLMES is a bit of mystery fun for the youngest of Sherlock lovers. When Griffin is sent to stay with his detective uncle at 221A Baker Street for the summer, he is certain that his uncle must be the great Sherlock Holmes! But Griffin is disappointed to discover that Holmes lives at 221B Baker Street and his uncle lives unit 221A. His uncle is a detective, just not a very good one. But when Griffin meets a woman with a case that Holmes has turned away for being too ridiculous, he and his uncle team up to help her. Along the way, Griffin shows his uncle just what it means to have true faith in God, even when the case challenges that.  The woman claims that her husband was eaten by the Loch Ness Monster, but monsters aren’t real—or are they?

I thought, given our focus on mystery, these three YA/young reader novels were a sound addition to the Friday Feature!

NEW RELEASES (for the not-so-young-adult)

Now on a short author tour, D.B. Jackson brings us history, mystery and–fantasy! What more do you need? Introducing THIEFTAKER. A warm evening in colonial North America’s leading city. Smoke drifts across the city, and with it the sound of voices raised in anger, of shattering glass and splintering wood. A mob is rioting in the streets, enraged by the newest outrage from Parliament: a Stamp Tax . Houses are destroyed, royal officials are burned in effigy. And on a deserted lane, a young girl is murdered. Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker of some notoriety, and a conjurer of some skill, is hired by the girl’s father to find her killer. Soon he is swept up in a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery. The murder has drawn the notice of the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce, a rival thieftaker in Boston; of powerful men in the royal government; of leaders of the American rebels, including Samuel Adams; and of a mysterious sorcerer who wields magic the likes of which Ethan has never encountered before. NOTE: Jackson will join us here for an interview in the future!

This next one is quite dear to me, as I am a big fan of Bryant and May. Christopher Fowler’s latest release just hit American shelves in March 2012 (we were behind schedule for some reason–UK got it sooner). I will give the synopsis below, but first, a little about my introduction to the crime-solving duo.

I am an avid reader, but I don’t read in a straight line. I sometimes read books backwards, last chapter, second to last, and so on. (Incidentally, that does interesting things to Uncle Tom’s Cabin). I also often read a series backwards, beginning at the end. Naturally, when I purchased my first two of the Fowler series, I bought the latest and the first, intending to read them in reverse order. Surprise! The first of the series is actually the last, told from the latter year perspective of Detective May–a reflection on their first case. I was nonplussed. I had just been beaten at my own game–as if the crusty, history-loving Bryant had me in the cross-hairs of his somewhat dismissive sights. In love from day one–I present the latest from Bryant and May: MEMORY OF BLOOD.

For the crew of the New Strand Theatre, the play The Two Murderers seems less performance than prophecy when a cast party ends in the shocking death of the theater owner’s son. The crime scene is most unusual, even for Bryant and May. In a locked bedroom without any trace of fingerprints or blood, the only sign of disturbance is a gruesome life-size puppet of Mr. Punch laying on the floor. Everyone at the party is a suspect, including the corrupt producer, the rakish male lead, the dour set designer, and the assistant stage manager, who is the wild daughter of a prominent government official. It’s this last fact that threatens the Peculiar Crimes Unit’s investigation, as the government’s Home Office, wary of the team’s eccentric methods, seeks to throw them off the case. But the nimble minds of Bryant and May are not so easily deterred. Delving into the history of the London theater and the disturbing origins of Punch and Judy, the detectives race to find the maniacal killer before he reaches his even deadlier final act.

Friday Fiction Feature

Welcome back to the Friday Feature!

The Power of Readers:

Yesterday, I had an enlightened conversation with a media studies colleague  about the relationship between authors and readers. New media, she was explaining, has changed the way we interact. Many publishing houses ask their authors to do some self-promotion, and Twitter and FB have made authors more accessible to their readers. No longer is the author hidden behind the hedge of imprint; they are there, blogging, tweeting, talking about their life and writing.

But this practice is both new–and old. In the 18th century (and 19th, too, really) there was a symbiotic relationship between those who wrote and those who read. Many texts were circulated heavily among friends before they hit the press, and the reader feedback for Samuel Richardson’s now-classic Clarissa is almost as famous as the book itself. Charles Dickens, who wrote serially, was also influenced (perhaps less directly) by peer and reader response–and as an actor, tailored his dramatic readings to his audience. What we have seen with new media, I think, is a return to that symbiosis. Readers and writers together create worlds, and venues like this one (partly through your suggestions) help bring new books to the attention of the public.

And so, as I list the featured fiction today, let me thank all of those who made recommendations this week! You are part of the grand design!

Recommended Reading!

Just released this week, BLOODLINE is the latest from author James Rollins. Praise and recommendation for the work has been lighting up my twitter feed since Tuesday (and a number of folks I follow claim to have been up all night reading it!) The plot:  Infiltrating an ancient citadel (in Galilee, 1025), a Templar knight uncovers a holy treasure long hidden within the fortress’s labyrinth: the Bachal Isu — the staff of Jesus Christ — a priceless icon that holds a mysterious and terrifying power that promises to change humankind forever. A millennium later, Somali pirates hijack a yacht off the coast of the Horn of Africa, kidnapping a young pregnant American woman. Commander Gray Pierce is enlisted for a covert rescue mission into the African jungle. The woman is no rich tourist: she’s Amanda Gant-Bennett, daughter of the U.S. president. Suspicious that the kidnapping masks a far more nefarious plot, our protagonist (Gray) must confront a shadowy cabal which has been manipulating events throughout history…and now challenges the current presidency.  Get your copy today! And follow Rollins on twitter @jamesrollins.

My own top pick for today is from China Mieville. I confess that Moby Dick is my favorite novel (and that I try to convert my students to a similar way of thinking). I actually published an article recently called A Fish’s Scale on the subject. So, naturally, I am in love with this work. In his new novel, China Mieville brings Moby-Dick to dry land. The world of RAILSEA consists of continents and islands linked by train tracks (these are the railsea), and populated by frightening creatures (enormous mole rats, “greatstoats,” meat-eating earwigs). Captain Naphi of the moletrain Medes, for example, pursues Mocker-Jack, an “old-tooth-colored … great southern moldywarpe” more often rumored than seen: “There’s nowhere I’d go and nothing I’d not cross to reach it,” she says. Our hero and guide to the Medes is young Sham Yes ap Soorap, reluctant apprentice to the train’s doctor. When the Medes investigates a wreck, Sham finds a film clip that serves as a treasure map, and perhaps a metaphysical key to the origin of this world. (Oh, Queequeg!)

This next series–CAL LEANDROS (Nightlife) by Rob Thurman–has been a long-standing one, though the latest, Doubletake, was just released this year. My friend and colleague Andrea Wood recommended it to me–she has been following this series and several others represented by the Knight Agency (and Lucienne Diver) for years. She has kindly offered up her praise for this urban fantasy (and retake on the changling myth):

I have been an avid follower of the Cal Leandros series since the first book (Nightlife) came out. Thurman does urban fantasy at its best, creating compelling characters in the two tightly bonded Leandros brothers who deal with monsters in NYC on a daily basis–all while trying to escape the specters of their past. The novels are fast-paced, with a cast of side-characters you will also come to love, and filled with a measured balance of snarky humor, angst, and action. While the plot lines are always interesting, it is really the characters that shine in this series and keep me coming back for more!

I have mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating. Barry Lyga’s I HUNT KILLERS asks the all important question: What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad? Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say. But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could–from the criminal’s point of view. The Fiction Reboot has the privilege of hosting this author for an interview in the near future; stay tuned!

Finally, I would like to share the recommendation of another friend and colleague, Carsten Timmerman. Though not a new release, this one is well worth coming back to. He suggests the modern German fantasy: Otfried Preussler’s ROBBER HOTZENPLOTZ trilogy (first volume published in German in 1962; English translation 1974). Carsten is reading Hotzenplotz 3 in two-chapter installments to a five-year old at the moment–enjoying every minute! Preussler also wrote interesting books for young adults. Krabat is an excellent example (not suitable for five-year-olds!) You can read a review by Erin Horáková here.

Thank you once again for checking in–and please, lets keep the symbiosis going! Send you recommendations between now and next Friday to this blog (by comment) or to my twitter feed @bschillace. I can also be reached via email through my website.


Next week:

  • Monday: Advice about agents
  • Tuesday: Keeping to the writing schedule (from a researcher/professor/editor now revising two YA series at once–sigh!)
  • Wednesday: Second installment of my Here Comes Troubelle mini-series
  • Thursday: Interview with Alex Grecian, The Yard
  • Friday: The Fiction Feature (all about you, dear readers!)

Vacation Writing: Friday Fiction Feature

The vacation draws to a close… Thank you for joining us on the shores of Dale Hollow Lake! For today’s Friday Feature, I will be honoring some titles recommended by family members (in the spirit of vacation togetherness). Some are new. Some are old. Some are classics. All are worthwhile. Followed by a list of new releases–and a call for recommendations–I present: good summer reading.

According to my brother, Joe, native Kentuckian Wendell Berry’s JAYBER CROW gives you “a perspective on a life well-lived.” For thirty-nine years Berry has brought us stories and has been the winner of numerous literary awards. Jayber Crow is the story of a man’s love for his community and his abiding and unrequited love for Mattie Chatham, “a good woman who had too early made one bad mistake”. Sent to an orphanage at the age of ten, Jayber grows up knowing of loneliness and want, and learns how to be a watchful observer of human goodness and frailty. With the flood of 1937 he returns to his native Port William to become the town’s barber. Slowly, patiently, the observer becomes participant.”This is a book about Heaven”, writes Jayber, “but I must say too that it has been a close call.”

An excellent story for children and one that I remember from my own youth, Jane Langton’s THE FLEDGLING gives us an interesting look at nature and possibility. So when her stepcousins Eleanor and Eddy tell her that she can’t fly, Georgie doesn’t get discouraged — she just tries harder She feels a peculiar lightness when she leaps from the top of the staircase, and is even more certain of her seemingly impossible ability when she jumps from the porch and soars to the rooftop before landing safely on the ground. And now that a mysterious Canada goose is visiting Georgie’s window on a nightly basis, the Hall family begins to wonder just what Georgie is capable of….

I purchased Barbara Cooney’s MISS RUMPHIUS while on a trip to Maine. My brother and his wife were about to have their first child, Nicholas. I loved the wonderful images, and the story, too–Miss Rumphius (the aunt of the narrator) is looking for purpose in life, and a way to make the world more beautiful. Interestingly enough, the book’s patron saint (on the inside leaf) is St. Nicholas. A perfect choice (though accidental) for my nephew!

G. K. Chesterton’s THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY is a psychological thriller that centers on seven anarchists in turn-of-the-century London who call themselves by the names of the days of the week. Chesterton explores the meanings of their disguised identities in what is a fascinating mystery and, ultimately, a spellbinding allegory. As Jonathan Lethem remarks in his Introduction, The real characters are the ideas. Chesterton’s nutty agenda is really quite simple: to expose moral relativism and parlor nihilism for the devils he believes them to be. This wouldn’t be interesting at all, though, if he didn’t also show such passion for giving the devil his due. He animates the forces of chaos and anarchy with every ounce of imaginative verve and rhetorical force in his body.

Friend, colleague and independent bookseller Chris Livingston (The Bookshelf, Winona, MN) recommended this book to my husband, Mark. He read it with excited interest (often in airports, between cities). Richard Ford’s CANADA opens in 1960 in Great Falls, Mont., a frontier town Ford has written about before, most notably in his affecting and largely underrated 1990 novel “Wildlife,” which begins with this: “In the fall of 1960, when I was 16 and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him.” All that follows is told from the point of view of Joe Brinson, an older narrator looking back on the 16-year-old boy he’d been when the fragile equilibrium at his family’s center was lost.

NEW YA RELEASES: For more information, please visit STRANGE CHEMISTRY.

1) Changeling – Philippa Gregory

2) Hemlock – Kathleen Peacock

3) Railsea – China Miéville

4) Endure – Carrie Jones

5) Black Heart Blue – Louisa Reid

6) The Girl in the Clockwork Collar – Kady Cross

7) Legacy – Jenna Burtenshaw


Next week we will be talking to David Bain, author of Gray Lake. Until then, please send along your Friday recommendations!