Fabulous Fiction Firsts #414 - Spectacular Crimes, Foreign Climes

The Abomination * * is Book 1 of Jonathan Holt's Carnivia Trilogy, a propulsive tale of murder, corruption, and international intrigue set in 2 Venices, the modern physical world and its virtual counterpart.

Captain Kat Tapo must unravel a dark conspiracy linking the CIA and the Catholic Church when the Carabinieri fish a woman's body out of the icy water, dressed in the sacred robes of a Catholic priest - a desecration that is known as the Abomination. When another murder victim is discovered, a connection develops between Kat's case and an investigation being conducted by an American army lieutenant, Holly Boland, who is on the trail of classified documents that could reveal CIA involvement in inciting civil war in the Balkans. Throw in a computer wizard who has created a virtual Venice - Carnivia.com, which has become a repository for every sort of secret— - sexual, political, ­religious, —and you have a multistranded conspiracy thriller with plenty of pop.

"(A) beautifully complicated thriller... (a) brilliant blend of fascinating story lines, serious issues, impeccable research, gripping intrigue, and engaging characters, ... eminently satisfying from start to finish." Did someone mention Dan Brown?

The Square of Revenge * * is the English-language debut of Flemish crime writer Pieter Aspe (translated by Brian Doyle), set in the idyllic medieval city of Bruges.

When the wealthy and powerful Ludovic Degroof's jewelry store is broken into, nothing is stolen, but millions in jewels have been dissolved in aqua regia, an acid so strong it could melt gold. The only clue found is a scrap of paper on which a strange square has been drawn. Inspector Pieter Van In and the new DA Hannelore Martens find themselves unraveling a complex web of enigmatic Latin phrase, generations of sordid family secrets, a priceless collection of art.

"This best-selling European series...(with) its fair share of mayhem and intrigue but with little blood spilled, maintains a fast pace, a light touch, and a joy in the telling." For fans of the noir comedy In Bruges (2008), and Georges Simenon's Maigret series.

Professional translator of English-language fiction into Spanish, Antonio Hill's debut thriller The Summer of Dead Toys is already a bestseller in Spain.

A riveting crime thriller set during a sultry Barcelona summer, Inspector Hector Salgado, recently returned from a forced "holiday" is assigned to investigate the accidental death of a college student in one of the ritzier neighborhoods. As Salgado follows a trail that will lead him deep into the underbelly of Barcelona's high society, he comes face to face with dangerous criminals, long-buried secrets, and, of course, his own past.

"Gripping, sophisticated, and wickedly entertaining". "Reminiscent of Ian Rankin's Inspector John Rebus, or Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series as crime fiction fans explore the gritty side of another European city."

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #413 - Girls Rule

Actress Dagmara Dominczyk recently shared in a New York Times interview that "Those who know me know I love to write. Those who know me a little bit know I’m an actress. Those who don’t know me know I’m married to Patrick Wilson.”

In her debut novel The Lullaby of Polish Girls * the narrative follows the friendship of three women from their youthful days in Poland at the height of the Solidarity movement, to their complicated, not-quite-successful adult lives.

Anna and her parents lived among the Brooklyn immigrant community as political refugees. At twelve, she is sent back to Kielce to visit her grandmother, and over subsequent summers, develops intense friendships with two local girls - the ”brash and beautiful Justyna and desperately awkward Kamila. Told in alternate voices, it captures the joys and insecurities of coming-of-age, and the more heartbreaking struggles of hardship, marriage, and identity in womanhood.

Partly set in the Polish enclave of Wyandotte, Michigan, the film rights to this cinematic story has been sold. Let's hope they will film on location. Recommended for fans of Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook, and other modern novels of the expatriate experience in America. For a charming tale of growing up in a Polish American household, try Suzanne Strempek Shea's Hoopi Shoopi Donna.

Anne-Marie Casey, a former script editor and producer of prime-time British television drama delights readers on both sides of the Atlantic with her debut novel No One Could Have Guessed the Weather. (Released as An Englishwoman in New York across the pond).

Forced to give up her posh life and move to a tiny Manhattan apartment when her husband loses his job, Lucy unexpectedly falls in love with her new home and forges close friendships with three women who are also struggling with the disparities between the ambitions of their youth and middle age.

Inspired by her time living in Manhattan, "it's spot-on observant, laugh-out-loud funny, yet laced with kindness through and through."

"(S)ubversively charming". "Each chapter feels like a well-composed short story, and the collected whole is fresh and bright with characters that defy expectations. Clever and witty: the best kind of summer book."

A readalike for Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters, and the latest by Elizabeth Berg - Tapestry of Fortunes.

* = Starred review

2013 Sizzling Summer Reads #1 - Something to go with the heat

In National Book Award finalist Ken Kalfus's intellectual comedy Equilateral *, at the turn of the 20th Century, an obsessed British astronomer undertakes an massive project to build the Equilateral, a triangle in the Egyptian desert to signal to the highly evolved beings alive on Mars. But as work progresses, the local workers, a violent outbreak of malaria complicate matters while he himself is ensnared in a triangle of another sort - between his secretary who does not suffer fools, and Binta, a houseservant he covets but can't communicate with.

"Equilateral is written with a subtle, sly humor, but it's also a model of reserve and historical accuracy; it's about many things, including Empire and colonization and exploration; it's about "the other" and who that other might be. We would like to talk to the stars, and yet we can barely talk to each other."

If you enjoyed Overseas, Beatriz Williams's debut, you would not want to miss A Hundred Summers. 1938, Seaview (RI) where the Manhattan Danes and the Brynes have summered for decades, saw a reunion between former best friends Lily Dane and Budgie Greenwald who is now married to Nick, Lily's former fiance, and the charming Graham Pendleton, a celebrated Yankees pitcher recuperating from an injury.

Under the scorching summer sun, fueled with enough gin and gossips, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick's marriage bubbled to the surface just as a cataclysmic hurricane barreled unseen up the Atlantic. Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which would change their worlds forever.

Winner of a Costa Novel Award, Maggie O'Farrell bring us a beguiling family drama set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976 in Instructions for a Heatwave.

When Gretta Riordan's husband of 40 year went out for the paper on a sultry July morning and never returned, her three grown children converged on the family home for the first time in years. They each harbored secrets they were desperate to hide, even from those who loved them best, until the crisis at hand brought them together with hard-won, life-changing truths.

"Sophisticated, intelligent, and impossible to put down".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #412

Big Girl Panties * by Stephanie Evanovich is one of the most anticipated debut this summer. Being released this coming week, it won't surprise me to see it hit every bestseller list and as many sand chairs.

In this contemporary take on My Fair Lady meets The Biggest Loser, recently widowed Holly Brennan, 32, is seriously afraid of flying. Logan Montgomery is seriously hoping she won't sit down on the seat next to him on a flight from Toronto where he has just finished a personal training session with one of his superstar athlete clients.

Well, you guessed it. Holly is mortified having to wedge her sweaty obese self into the coach seat next to this gorgeous Adonis while Logan is surprised to find he is actually charmed by Holly's sharp wit after the initial chagrin. In a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, Logan offers to get her back in shape. Before either of them can stop it, the easy intimacy of their training sessions leads to even more steamy workouts away from the gym. But can a man whose whole life depends on looks commit himself to a woman who doesn't fit his ideal? A "chubby- cherub" who will never see a single-digit dress size? Or would the "ugly duckling" have a few wise tricks up her fluffy boa (wink wink) for the "swan"?

A rollicking, sensuous, feel-good romantic comedy that takes on the issues of body image, eating disorder, self-acceptance and actualization.

"Quality writing, memorable characters, hot sex scenes, and an emotionally satisfying story add up to a marvelous gem".

* = starred review

He is Legend

The world-renowned author and screenwriter, Richard Matheson died last week. He is remembered for having written numerous episodes for the legendary TV series, the Twilight Zone, but also for his science fiction novels , many of which were made into movies, such as I am Legend (made into 3 different movies: the Last Man on Earth; the Omega Man; and, most recently, I am Legend with Will Smith); the Shrinking Man (made into the 1957 classic movie, the Incredible Shrinking Man); Bid Time Return (made into the movie filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Somewhere in Time); and Steel (most recently made into the movie, Real Steel). He has a long list of screenwriting credits to his name including the classic Edgar Allan Poe movie adaptations directed by Roger Corman like the Pit and the Pendulum. For me the most memorable piece he ever wrote was an episode of the Twilight Zone called Nightmare at 20,000 Feet with William Shatner as the airplane passenger who sees a monster tearing apart the plane’s wings as they are in flight. This was also remade in Twilight Zone: the Movie. He was creative all his life, having been first published at eight years old and writing through his 80’s. He was 87 when he died.

Teen Stuff: Winger, by Andrew Smith

In one of my favorite books so far this year, author Andrew Smith introduces us to Ryan Dean West in Winger. Ryan Dean is a 14 year old junior at Pine Mountain boarding school, and he was put in the dormitory for troublemakers, which he isn’t really, but there was that one time, so he’s rooming with others who really do cause trouble. He and his fellow Opportunity Hall dorm-mates are on the rugby team, which is a challenge since he’s considered the runt.

Ryan Dean, self proclaimed “loser,” spends the year playing rugby, fending off his teammates and their antics, trying to survive his roommate Chas’s bullying, falling in love with his best friend Annie who two years his senior, and making friends with a fellow teammate who he learns is gay. The book is a sweet look at the teen boy-brain that is Ryan Dean. He shares his experiences with his friendships, school, rugby, girls, and growing up through his funny illustrations that are strewn throughout the novel.

Winger is a funny-turned-dark coming of age story that is laugh-out-lout funny, honest, raw, moving, and then utterly heartbreaking as tragedy strikes. This book would be a good match for fans of John Green’s style of humorous realistic young adult fiction with strong characters. (Grades 9 and up)

Wise and Witty Mo LoBeau, 11-Year-Old Mystery Solver

Middle grade readers who are looking for a good book for the summer, check out Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage. This was a Newbery Honor book for 2013 and it is an excellent mystery story for readers in about fourth through seventh grades. It's also available as a book on CD, so if you have a car trip planned, take this one on the road.

The story stars 11-year-old Mo LoBeau, a wise and witty “rising sixth grader” who lives in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. Mo was discovered as an infant washed ashore during a hurricane and has grown up with the Colonel, a restaurant owner with a mysterious past, and Miss Lana, hostess at the restaurant. When a murder occurs in her quiet town, Mo and her pals are on the case. While touching on a few serious issues such as family abuse and alcoholism, the novel is mostly light and highly entertaining. There are plenty of plot twists and turns to keep you reading. Mo has a wonderful quirky sense of humor, and when she talks about the people in her town, readers won’t be able to stop laughing. A sequel is planned.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #411

Estranged from her bohemian Brooklyn family and fired for an impropriety at work, Claudia Silver is officially in over her head. When her younger half-sister lands on her doorstep urgently in need of help, twenty-something Claudia desperately wants to offer the rescue that she herself has longed for.

Set in 1990s' New York City, Claudia Silver to the Rescue * " is the fierce yet tender chronicle of the many humiliations and occasional triumphs of a young woman determined to wrest her identity from the spectacular wreckage of her mistake. Uncomfortably hilarious, quintessentially human, Claudia is an unforgettable heroine who shoots for the stars and hits the ceiling."

This debut by television screenwriter Kathy Ebel (Cold Case; Law & Order), is a "smart and savvy chick lit with plenty of snark".

"Ebel exploits her experience as a screenwriter and poet in this lively debut novel. Claudia's dry wit and discerning eye turn what could be a rather mopey coming-of-age tale into a hilarious roller coaster of a ride. Quirks and vexations for each supporting character enrich every scene. Claudia sees quite clearly the price of her own actions, and her goal is survival. Well, with a little fun along the way. Family may be unstable and downright unbalanced, but in this witty, assured, surprising novel, family still has to accept you--mistakes and all."

Readalikes:
How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler; Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster; and The Smart One by Jennifer Close

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #410

Out of Range * by the creator, writer, and producer of the award-winning hit TV series Without a Trace Hank Steinberg is an action-packed, international espionage thriller that brings to mind Rules of Deception (2008) by Christopher Reich, and last year's sensation The Expats,

Photojournalist Charlie Davis traded dangerous assignments in the world's most volatile areas for a sedentary job at the LA Times and suburban comfort. Six year after a near-fatal attack that almost killed his activist wife Julie and their unborn child, he is certain that he had made the right decision.

Then on a trip to Disneyland with their 2 young children, Julie vanishes. As Charlie soon discovers, this isn't a random abduction. The further he goes to find her, the more it becomes clear that Julie isn't quite the person she seems to be, harboring dark secrets that have come back to terrorize them all.

"Hank Steinberg has crafted a scintillating tale of betrayal and revenge, mystery and marriage, a complex puzzle full of twisting misdirection that will enthrall until its final, electrifying pages". Recommend this to fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Unger.

"Good backstory, original characterization, and a cinematic prose style add up to an exciting read".

* = starred review

Amazon Bestsellers for Teens

Veronica Roth currently has all three titles from her Divergent series on Amazon's list of bestselling teen books. The first book, Divergent, is at #4 for Kindle and #14 in paperback. Insurgent for Kindle is #7. The third book in this hot series, Allegiant, is #18. Another book on the list that caught my eye is Looking for Alaska by superstar author John Green, currently #25 in paperback and #32 for Kindle. This book is on my summer reading list because I loved Green's The Fault in Our Stars. If you'd like to browse Amazon's full list of teen bestsellers, it's right here.

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