Fabulous Fiction Firsts #287

British television writer/producer/director Simon Toyne's Sanctus * * * opens with a heart-pounding scene high above Ruin, a city in Turkey, in which a monk climbs to the top of a mountain called the Citadel and jumps off, carrying with him an ancient secret that could shatter the foundations of the Christian Church.

American newspaper reporter Liv Adamsen learns that her phone number, carved into a small leather strap, has been found inside the monk's stomach. All signs point to the possibility that this might be her brother who went missing years ago. Trying to unravel the mystery of his death might prove too dangerous for Liv. But nothing and no one could hold her back.

This well-researched, high-concept thriller of grand conspiracies is the first in a projected trilogy. Strong female character and non-stop action make this a must-read of the fall publishing season. Foreign rights sold in 27 countries, 100,000-copy first printing.

* * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #286

Back in June, Nancy Pearl raved about Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding *. She read a preview copy and was doing some heavy-duty hand-selling. This week, NPR gave it a glowing review.

Henry Skrimshander, the star pitcher of Westish College's Harpooners is on the brink of greatness, destined for big league stardom, rising above his small-town roots. However, an errand pitch goes disastrously off course, making havoc with the lives of 5 individuals.

Henry's confidence is deserting him, his bright future is in jeopardy. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate, is caught up in a dangerous affair. The college president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, is home licking her wounds from a failed marriage, looking for a fresh start. Mike Schwartz, Henry's best friend and team captain, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own.

"Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others."

"Harbach paints a humorous and resonant portrait of a small college community while effectively portraying the Wisconsin landscape and a lake that provides an almost mystical source of solace and renewal."

A big-hearted and defiantly old-fashioned coming-of-age story in the tradition of Chaim Potok's The Chosen, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Scott Lasser's Battle Creek.

Harbach, a native of Wisconsin (Harvard and University of Virgina) is the cofounder of literary journal n + 1. This is his debut novel.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #285 (August's Nordic Crime Fiction)

This week Denmark's best-selling crime writer Jussi Adler-Olsen makes his U.S. debut with this first novel in the Glass Key Award-winning Department Q series, The Keeper of Lost Causes * * * (translated by Lisa Hartford), called "superlative" and "twisty" by reviewers.

After a near-fatal shooting that left him volatile and guilt-ridden, brilliant Homicide Detective Carl Morck is assigned to run Department Q, a new section of the Copenhagen Police dedicated to resolving the most notorious unsolved crimes.

Between napping and genial banter with his assistant Assad, Morck is surprised to find that one particular case snags his attention - the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a beautiful and popular politician who vanished 5 years ago during a ferry crossing and assumed dead.

Only the reader is privy to the fact that Merete is alive, imprisoned and subjected to the most horrendous treatment. "Adler-Olsen deftly advances both stories simultaneously" in this absorbing psychological thriller.

Comparisons to Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Jo Nesbo are inevitable but this newcomer holds his own, and with strong prose and a sense of humor.

* * * = Starred reviews

Also noteworthy is Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie * *, smoothly weaving history, legend, and police procedural in the first of a crime series set in Iceland.

Boston PD Detective Magnus Jonson is on loan to the Icelandic Police Force in Reykjavik, and walks right into the murder investigation of Professor Agnar Harldsson. It is a homecoming of sorts for Magnus while keeping him out of the assassins' reach until he could testify on police corruption.

Amid the wild and desolate landscape, rumors swirl of an ancient manuscript connected to an Icelandic saga, and a precious ring of terrible power. Magnus's unorthodox investigative techniques prove problematic with his Icelandic hosts while his father's unsolved murder two decades ago inadvertently comes into play, adding to the complex storyline and the intrigue.

"Ridpath does a fine job of immersing us in Icelandic culture, and Magnus,... is a thoroughly fascinating character. Exotic and compelling, a first-class mystery. " Arnaldur Indriđason is in good company.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #284

Once in awhile, a book comes along and moves you so unexpectedly that you keep thinking about it long after you'd turned the last page. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut The Language of Flowers * (being released today) is as memorable as anything I have read of late.

32 foster homes, 18 years of abuse, neglect and disappointment fail to prepare Victoria Jones for life on her own after being emancipated from the California foster-care system. Squatting in the local park is dangerous but it allows her to care for the personal garden she secretly (and illegally) cultivates. Flowers and their language she understands. People she avoids.

When a local florist discovers Victoria's gift with flowers, she offers her a job and soon her talent is in demand as word gets around that her bouquets have the ability to transform and affect change. All the while, Victoria guards her solitude - until a mysterious vendor at the flower market marks her with his own unique offerings, the meaning of which sends Victoria to the San Francisco Public Library, and forces her to come to terms with a secret that haunts her.

Readers wanting to learn more about the symbolic language of flowers would be pleased to find a glossary included at the back of the book. Or check out The Language Of Flowers : Symbols And Myths by Marina Heilmeyer and Kate Greenaway's definitive The Illuminated Language Of Flowers.

Readers might try She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb for another moving, character-driven, bittersweet, coming-of-age story of grief and self-acceptance. In Julie Orringer's debut collection How to Breathe Underwater: stories we meet young protagonists trapped in awkward, painful situations who discover surprising reserves and wisdom in themselves.

* = Starred review (and one on NPR)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #283

South Asia Bureau Chief of The New York Times Amy Waldman's The Submission * * * is "a dazzling, kaleidoscopic" debut novel that re-imagines the aftermath of 9/11, at once "piercing and resonant."

When the winner of a high-profiled competition to design a memorial for victims of a terrorist attack is revealed to be Mohammad "Mo" Khan, an American born Muslim architect, instantly everyone has an opinion and a need to debate the selection.

Claire Burwell, the self-possessed widow on the jury and Mo's fiercest defender finds herself pressured by outraged family members. Journalist Alyssa is desperate to capitalize on the controversy. Families of the victims struggle with grief and remembrance while weighing the moral quandaries of doing the right thing. No one was prepared that Mo's submission of a garden design meant "to provide a way for the families, the nation to mourn and to remember all that was lost ... and also to heal" would become the catalyst that divides a nation.

While there is no shortage of post 9/11 fiction, " Waldman fluidly blends her reporter's skill at rapid-fire storytelling with a novelist's gift for nuanced characterization. She dares readers to confront their own complicated prejudices steeped in faith, culture, and class. This is an insightful, courageous, heartbreaking work that should be read, discussed, then read again."

* * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #282 (Not all Arctic Crime Fiction is Nordic)

Award-winning British journalist M.J. McGrath's White Heat * is a "riveting Arctic mystery that marks the fiction debut of a wickedly talented writer." ~ The New York Times

Set in the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian High Arctic, as the lone female guide in a profession dominated by men, Edie Kiglatuk does not have it easy. Being only part Inuit does not endear her to the elders in the insular tradition-bound Ellesmore Island community either.

When one of the hunters is shot and killed on her watch, the incident is quickly covered up to protect the guide business from negative publicity. Two other suspicious deaths follow, with one of them hitting too close to home. With the help of Police Sergeant Derek Palliser, Edie is determined to find the connection in a search that would take her beyond her small village, and into the far reaches of the tundra.

"McGrath transports the reader to a land of almost incomprehensible cold and an unfamiliar but fascinating culture, taking on issues of climate change, energy exploration, local politics, and drug and alcohol abuse." Her heroine, flawed (recovering alcoholic with trouble staying on the wagon), isolated (ostracized as a troublemaker) is smart, by necessity tough and cunning, but is also warm, loyal and caring, with a keen sense of humor. I for one, am glad that White Heat is the first in a projected series.

A readalike for The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney which also captures the Canadian wilderness landscape in a suspenseful historical thriller.

Readers who appreciate a strong female protagonist in a non-traditional role (woman park ranger) would also like the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

* = Starred review

World Fantasy Award Nominees

And the nominees for the World Fantasy Awards include: 2 debut writers (both just happen to be women...) and 2 set in Africa

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes-my personal favorite from this South African writer

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin-she has written plenty of award winning short fiction,this is her first novel & part of the Inheritance Trilogy (the third book comes out in October)

Silent Land by Graham Joyce- genre mashup mostly of suspense fiction and a bit of fantasy thrown in; compared to writers Haruki Murakami and Ian McEwan

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay- not unlike the fantasy writer George R R Martin did with his Song of Ice and Fire series, Kay tries to do with one book set in a world not unlike 8th Century China; lots of kudos from reviewers

Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord- another first fiction retells a Senegalese folktale

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor-known for her young adult fiction, this book takes place in a postapocalyptic Saharan Africa where a young girl must use her magic to end the oppression of her people, the Okeke

Lifetime achievement awards go to Peter S. Beagle (of Last Unicorn fame) and Angélica Gorodischer.

The winner will be announced at the World Fantasy Convention held this year on October 30th in San Diego. So get your geek on!

August's Books to Film

The adaptation of actor-novelist-screenwriter David Nicholl's One Day hits local theaters this week.

It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself. This summer's best date night movie.

Needing no introduction is the much anticipated star-studded-summer-blockbuster : The Help, a Hollywood adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's debut novel.

In Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, there are lines that are not crossed. With the civil rights movement exploding all around them, three women start a movement of their own, forever changing a town and the way women--black and white, mothers and daughters--view one another.

All the hoopla aside, if you have thus far resisted reading this bestseller (or gush over it) and couldn't quite articulate why, read Martha Southgate's piece "The Truth about the Civil Rights Era: Martha Southgate on The Help " in the latest Entertainment Weekly.

The darling of this year's Traverse City Film Festival and the World Documentary Jury Award winner, Project Nim is based on Elizabeth Hess's Nim Chimpsky : the chimp who would be human.

Project Nim, the brainchild of a Columbia University psychologist, was designed to refute Noam Chomsky’s claim that language is an exclusively human trait. Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee chosen to realize this potentially groundbreaking experiment, was raised like a human child and taught American Sign Language while living with his “adoptive family” in their elegant Manhattan town house.Over the next two decades he was exiled from the people he loved, put in a cage, and moved from one facility to another, including, most ominously, a medical research lab. But wherever he went, Nim’s humanlike qualities and his ability to communicate with humans saved him. A creature of extraordinary charm and charisma, Nim ultimately triumphed over a dramatic series of reversals and obstacles. His story, both moving and entertaining, also raises the most profound questions of what it means to be human—and about what we owe to the animals who enrich our lives. Limited showing at the Michigan Theater, Friday, August 19. Don't miss it.

The Kitchen Daughter and the SIMMER Blog

Back in June, we were contacted by Jael McHenry, author of The Kitchen Daughter. She liked our blog and agreed to come visit. On Thursday, August 18th, Ms. McHenry will be at the Downtown Library at 7 pm. She will talk about her debut novel and sign copies (Don't worry if you don't have yours yet. Copies will be available for purchase).

Jael is also an enthusiastic amateur cook. Her food blog SIMMER is very popular with foodies. Bring questions about food, cooking and writing for an evening of great discussion and fun.

AND she is bringing us FOOD! We were sure that the TSA won't let her bring them on the plane but her mom is going to step in and BAKE! So come and taste one of the fabulous recipes in The Kitchen Daughter. Are we in for a treat!

BTW, if you don't already know... since our blog was published in April, The Kitchen Daughter was named "Pick of the Week" in the Boston Globe's Word on the Street, and in June Oprah picked it as one of this summer's "Tantalizing Beach Reads."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #281

Jennifer Close's debut novel Girls in White Dresses * is a perfect way to wrap up a lovely summer, like putting on your favorite frock just one more time.

"Wickedly hilarious and utterly recognizable, Girls in White Dresses tells the story of three women grappling with heartbreak and career change, family pressure and new love—all while suffering through an endless round of weddings and bridal showers." You get the picture.

Sunday after Sunday, Isabella, Mary, and Lauren in their pastel dresses, attend bridal shower after bridal shower, drink champagne, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes, all the while thinking when-it-would-be-their-turn.

"Close's novel in a series of linked stories, expresses the perfect blend of mid twenties angst, collegiate nostalgia, and plentiful laughter."

For fans of Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing and J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement (in audio)

* = Starred review

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