Fabulous Fiction Firsts #484 -“Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us.” ~ Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis

In these 14 links stories (one of which won a 2014 O. Henry Prize), 14 yr.old Rainey Royal lives with her famous jazz musician father in a once-elegant Brownstone in Greenwich Village after her mother ran away to an ashram. Surrounded by her father's groupies and hangers-on, predators disguised as her father's best friend, she is lonely and vulnerable. Thankfully, there is her best friend Tina. As she tries desperately to nurture her own artistic talent and build a substitute family, she rebels in unconventional, sometimes criminal ways.

"Landis' captivating first novel is a ringing tribute to friendship, autonomy, and artistic presence." She "offers a rich, sometimes challenging portrait of young women doing their best to grow in the absence of positive role models."

From National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree (see the video interviews) and Rona Jaffe Award-winner comes an urgent, intensely visceral debut novel about a young waitress whose downward spiral is narrated in electric prose - Love Me Back.

Merritt Tierce follows Marie, a single mother who gives in to brutally self-destructive tendencies with alcohol, drugs, self-cutting and one-night stands, looking for obliteration if not pleasure. The one thing that brings her life focus is her job as a waitress in an upscale Dallas steakhouse which she tackles with an easy smile and strong work ethic. "You keep your standards high and your work strong but these are necessary for success; you keep your dignity separate, somewhere else, attached to different things."

"(A) flawed thing of beauty, as terribly uncomfortable to read as it is often brilliant,...Tierce's first novel is unsentimental and unresolved but ultimately laced with an undercurrent of hope."

If you have never read indie author K.A. Tucker, praised for her "likeable characters, steamy liaisons, and surprising plot twists" (Kirkus Reviews), you might really enjoy Five Ways to Fall.

Purple-haired, sharp-tongued Reese MacKay knows all about making wrong choices; she's made plenty of them in her twenty-odd-years. So when her violent "redecorating" of her two-timing ex-husband's apartment lands her in jail, she decides to accept the only life-line thrown to her and moves to Miami to work for her stepfather, a renowned attorney.

Things are going well. Reese even finds she enjoys legal work and is good at it... until an embarrassing last-fling on a tequila-soaked weekend in Cancun walks into the office, and introduces himself as Ben Morris, the firm's new ace attorney. Now if Reese and Ben are truly smart, they would have stay clear of each other. But that won't make for a good story.

"A fun, flirty, super sexy love story that offers all of the best of opposites attracting".

New Teen Fiction!

Strange and Ever After is the third and final book of the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy, by Susan Dennard. This fun and unique series blends together lots of great elements: fantasy, romance, steampunk, historical fiction…and zombies! In this final installment, main character Eleanor Fitt travels to Egypt to track down and battle the evil necromancer who kidnapped her mother, brother, and friends. The conclusion of this pursuit causes unexpected consequences that will change Eleanor, and the world, forever. Haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy? Start with Something Strange and Deadly and follow with A Darkness Strange and Lovely, before finding out how it all ends in Strange and Ever After.

Touted as a combination of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, Cammie McGovern’s new book Say What You Will is a heartfelt and honest story. Amy, who was born with cerebral palsy, has struggled her whole life to move, communicate and even control her facial expressions. When she finally decides to hire student aides to assist her during her senior year of high school, Matthew, who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and crippling fears, is thrust into her life. Despite their physical, psychological and emotional differences, a friendship blossoms between the two. Readers will fly through this book eager to find out if the teens’ unique connection may grow into something more.

The Ring and the Crown, by prolific teen author Melissa de la Cruz, is set in an alternate 19th century world in which the Franco-British empire controls the only source of magic. Told from the perspective of five different characters related to the royal court, the story is a light and fun historical fantasy/romance. In order to protect the empire, Princess Marie-Victoria must enter into a loveless marriage with the heir to the Prussian throne. With the aid of her childhood friend Aelwyn, Marie conspires to escaper her fate… and potentially changes the fate of the entire world while she’s at it!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #483 - The Ann Arbor Connection

Ann Arbor author Julie Lawson Timmer's debut novel Five Days Left * * is part of the Penguin First Flights program. If you missed her live chat on Sept. 10th, click on this link for an archived edition.

Wife, mother, and top-notch Texas lawyer, Mara Nichols is losing her battle with a rapidly-progressing case of Huntington's disease. She has set a date to end her life to cut short a decline she believes will destroy her family. Now she has five days left in which to prepare herself, tidy her affairs, and say goodbye to her loved ones. While in Royal Oak (MI) middle-school teacher Scott Coffman dreads having to part with his foster son, eight-year-old Curtis. In five days, he will have to relinquish Curtis back to his junkie mother when she is release from prison. Mara and Scoot meet anonymously in an online therapy forum, and through their daily posts, Timmer deftly compares their shared dilemmas of when and how to let go.

"Absorbing, deeply affecting, and ultimately uplifting, it heralds the arrival of an author to watch." Perfect for fans of thoughtful, issue-driven fiction of Carol Rifka Brunt; Jacquelyn Mitchard; and Jodi Picoult.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street * by Susan Jane Gilman (UM, MFA in Creative Writing, and author of several well-received nonfiction titles) is "an ambitious and lavish immigrant rags-to-riches-to-rags first novel rife with humor and moxie."

At 75, American businesswoman Lillian Dunkle (think Leona Helmsley) is facing federal tax evasion charges, and no one is shedding any tears. This abrasive and ruthless entrepreneur started life as Malka Treynovsky, the youngest of 4 daughters in a poor Russian Jewish immigrant family. Soon after their arrival in New York, she was quickly abandoned and taken in by a kindly Italian ices peddler, and renamed Lillian Maria Dinello. Through grit, wits, and some luck, she, along with her husband Albert Dunkle, built the successful Dunkle's Famous Ice Cream empire.

"Gilman's numerous strengths are showcased, such as character-driven narrative, a ready sense of wit, and a rich historical canvas, in this case based on the unlikely subject of the 20th-century American ice cream industry. "

Readalikes: Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies; My Notorious Life by Kate Manning; and The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani.

* * = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

A Princess and a Pig Switch Places...

What would happen if a princess and a pig switched places? If you guessed a lot of laughs, you’re right! Check out Jonathan Emmett’s hilarious picture book The Princess and the Pig to find out exactly what happens when a princess is raised by pig farmers and a pig is raised… as a princess! Perfect for fans of Robert Munsch’s classic picture book The Paper Bag Princess, and my favorite picture book discovery this year.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #482

Winner of the 2010 Oe Prize, Japan's prestigious literary award, established to honor Kenzaburō Ōe; and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize - The Thief is the first novel by Fuminori Nakamura (in audio format) to be translated into English.

The nameless titular character is a deft Tokyo pickpocket, a loner who moves anonymously at the fringe of society. Through his mentor, he was drafted into an armed robbery by Kizaki, a vicious gangster. A simple job turned deadly when he learned that the old man they robbed was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. Meanwhile, his last tenuous connection to society is a desperate young boy forced into clumsy shoplifting by his addicted, prostitute mother. With nowhere left to run, the thief must barter his life with a labyrinthine test of his thieving prowess.

"Mystery/crime aficionados with exacting literary standards, as well as fans of Miyuki Miyabe; Natsuo Kirino; and Keigo Higashino" will find much to like here.

Watch for the October release of Nakamura's next novel to reach these shores - Last Winter We Parted is a "creepy if elegantly-crafted" standalone. The narrator, a nameless writer, gets assigned to pen an exposé of Yudai Kiharazaka, a 35-year-old Tokyo art photographer awaiting execution for burning two models to death.

Man Booker Prize 2014 Shortlist Announced!

The shortlist of books under consideration for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction was released today.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (US)
Boring, contradictory dentist Paul watches as his identity is stolen online, and is horrified to observe that fake Paul may be better than actual Paul. This is a brilliant send up of the absurdity of modern life and cleverly calls into question the reality of identity in a virtual world.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Australia)
This is the epic tale of an Australian in a Japanese POW camp, tormented daily by his surroundings but also by the memory of an illicit affair, who receives life-changing news as he struggles to care for his fellow soldiers imprisoned on the Thai-Burma death railway.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (US)
Fowler's 22-year old narrator steals the show in this novel about a family in which the scientist parents raised their two children alongside Fern, a chimpanzee that they treat as one of their own human children, and the repercussions that occur when they are separated.

J by Howard Jacobson (UK)
Previous Booker winner Jacobson has written a dystopian tale on par with 1984 and A Brave New World, where brutality rules, the past is off limits, and even the act of falling in love is regarded with suspicion.

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (UK)
The saga of a Calcutta family in 1967, The Lives of Others explores the family dynamic through issues as dramatic as political extremism and as mundane as feuding in-laws, capturing within it the differences between generations and the changes in society through the lens of the Ghosh family.

How to be Both by Ali Smith (UK)
How To Be Both is a pair of intertwined novellas featuring protagonists living centuries apart, connected by the fluidity of creativity and time.

This is the first year that all authors are eligible for consideration. Previously, the prize was only given to authors within the British commonwealth, so it's pretty exciting to see two Americans make it to the shortlist in their first year of eligibility.

A longlist of contenders was released in July; the final winner will be announced on October 14th.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #481 “Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that's what.” ~ Salman Rushdie

If the cover jacket of Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix reminds you of retail catalogs for a particular furniture superstore with a maize-and-blue logo, it is intentional. No, I am not talking about that other BIG HOUSE.

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find the showrooms vandalized, furniture smashed and glassware broken. To put an end to the mystery, the snarky store manager assigns Amy and Ruth Ann to stay overnight in the store to catch the culprit, while Matt and Trinity on their own, are filming a reality show, hoping to find evidence of ghost-haunting. Together, they find more than they bargained for in this fun horror novel.

Longtime pop-culture journalist Grady Hendrix (website) infuses sly social commentary on the nature of work in the 21st century economy to a traditional haunted house story, complete with illustrations of ready-to-assemble furniture and other more sinister accessories. "Nifty" is what a reviewer called it, and sure to entertain.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver, bestselling Teen author makes her adult debut with a mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones; Her Fearful Symmetry; and The Ocean at the End of the Lane - ”a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways."

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died. His estranged bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna return for their inheritance. Joining them are Alice and Sandra, ghosts of former residents bound to this country house. The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths. When a new ghost appears, the spirit and human worlds collide, with cataclysmic results.

Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, "Oliver's ear for dialogue is finely tuned. She's able to take the tropes of the traditional ghost story and give them new energy by creating ghosts who are realistic but still terrifyingly paranormal".

A page-turner, and one of this fall's buzz titles.

The Hundred-Year House * * * by Rebecca Makkai.

Located just north of Chicago, Laurelfield, designed in the English country style at the turn of the century for the Devohrs of Toronto, is home to Gracie Devohrs and her new husband Bruce. Sharing the antiquated carriage house are her daughter Zee, a Marxist literary scholar, Doug her out-of-work academic husband, Bruce's down-on-his-luck Texan son Case and his artist wife Miriam.

When Doug finds out Laurelfield served as an artists' and writers' colony in the 1920s, and Edwind Parfitt, the subject of his stalled biography (nevermind that it might be the only hope of a future academic position) had been a resident at the Colony, he is desperate to gain access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades, records that Gracie guards with a strange ferocity. But what he discovers when he finally gets his hands on them is more than he bargains for. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head.

"In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer."

"Its gothic elements, complexity, and plot twists are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. Chilling and thoroughly enjoyable."

* * * = 3 starred reviews

A Southern Charmer for Children

You’ve heard of Bigfoot, but have your heard of his cousin, the Sugar Man? Well, in Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, you can learn all about the illusive Sugar Man and the creatures who call his Texas swamp their home.

As the story opens, raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah have been charged with waking the Sugar Man if the swamp comes under danger. And of course, danger arrives right on schedule. But before it does, readers are treated to two richly interwoven stories – one about a pair of young raccoons trying to prove their merit as Swamp Scouts and another about a twelve-year-old boy trying to save his family’s restaurant after his grandfather’s death. Filled with fantastic turns-of-phrase, if you enjoy books with a strong Southern voice, then you’ll love this one. Plus, the audiobook is narrated by native Texan Lyle Lovett who adds a wonderful Southern charm to this story.

Nicola's Book: Meet Rachel DeWoskin

Author Rachel DeWoskin will visit Nicola's Books in Westgate Shopping Center on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m., following publication of "Blind," her debut young-adult novel.
From Publishers Weekly: " At the start of Emma’s freshman year, she loses her sight in a freak accident. Despite help and support from her parents, six siblings, best friend Logan, and classmates at Briarly—a school for the blind Emma attends before she “mainstreams” back to her local high school—Emma wants to curl up and die. But when Claire, a friend from her “old life,” kills herself by swallowing a cocktail of painkillers and drowning, Emma rethinks her “PBK” (poor blind kid) attitude and her approach to recovery. While writing the book, DeWoskin learned Braille at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind . . . " The book is for readers age 12 and up. DeWoskin, an Ann Arbor native, lives in Chicago. Her previous books include Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the scenes of a new China and Big Girl Small, which won the Alex Award from the American Library Association.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #480

The Frozen Dead * * by Bernard Minier is the U.S. release of an international best-seller set in the French Pyrenees. Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a remote small town, reached only by cable car, where winters are harsh and the wind relentless. On a brisk snowy morning, workers arriving for seasonal service of the hydroelectric power station discover a horrific scene - a headless, flayed body of a horse is suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.

The charismatic, Latin-quoting Commandant Martin Servaz of nearby Toulouse is called on to investigate this priority case since the Thoroughbred belongs to non-other than Eric Lombard, CEO of a multinational company and member of a very influential family with strong political ties to the area.

Just a few miles away on that same day, Diane Berg a young psychiatrist from Geneva starts her first job at the Wargnier Institute, a high-security asylum for the criminally insane. Uneasy with the unorthodox methods used on the patients/prisoners and some alarming behavior among the staff, Dr. Berg teams up with Commandant Servaz when DNA from one of the most notorious inmates (think Hannibal Lecter) of the asylum is found on the horse carcass.

"Complex, fast-paced, and completely absorbing. "

"The pervasiveness of evil in this tense and disturbing novel makes for very compelling reading, with the suspense bordering on horror. It should appeal to those who enjoyed Pierre Lemaitre's Alex (2013) as well as the edgier Scandinavian thrillers."

* * = starred review

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