Fabulous Fiction Firsts #446 - "It is all connected"

The first stand-alone apart from her popular Dandy Gilver historical manor-house cozies, Catriona McPherson gives us "a dark, absorbing, contemporary" mystery in As She Left It *, "(w)ith an appealingly quirky cast of characters and a nicely paced narrative."

13 years after her escape from an alcoholic mother, Opal Jones returns to the Leeds neighborhood to find very little has changed. Kind Margaret Reid still keeps an eye on the happenings on Mote Street while 'Fishbo' Gordon, Opal's trumpet-playing music teacher and Mrs. Pickess, the wicked witch,"hadn't change one iota, not a jot." The unsolved disappearance of Margaret's little grandson, Craig 10 years ago (whom Opal used to babysit) is the only event that unsettles her homecoming.

"Soon the resourceful Opal undertakes three missions: finding the missing child; locating the family of her beloved Fishbo; and solving the puzzle of papers found in the posts of the secondhand bed she just bought. Undeterred even by a threatening note and a break-in, Opal finds that little is what it seems as her own painful and hidden memories come to light."

Joining the exemplary on Kirkus Reviews' 2013 Best Fiction Books, As She Left It will appeal to fans of Tana French, Laura Lippman, and Chevy Stevens.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #445 - Dead man scheming

You really ought to start with Dead Anyway * * * (2012), the first in the Arthur Cathcart series by Chris Knopf. The BOCD was perfect for a recent family road trip. Don't let that scary-looking cover fool you.

A hit man shows up at the Cathcarts' Stamford, Conn. home and shoot them both in the head after he forces Florencia, owner of an insurance-brokerage firm to sign a piece of paper. His wife is dead but Arthur Cathcart survives, barely. With the help of his physician sister, he is declared dead. A crackerjack market researcher skilled with electronics, Arthur is able to create a series of new identities to stay out of sight while he plots and schemes to track down the "who" and the "why".

"Knopf's tale is suspenseful from the get-go, with an intellectual, yet visceral, vigilantism coursing through the pages,... (he) never misses an angle and manages to weave a bit of humor into a storyline that could have been purely dark. "

"(R)eminiscent of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels with a dose of Grosse Pointe Blank", the Arthur Cathcart caper continues with Cries of the Lost * * (2013).

Readers who enjoy their mystery mixed with comedy would want to check out the author's "reflective, quietly loopy" Hamptons-based series featuring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski.

* * * = 3 starred reviews
* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #444

The World Noir imprint first came to my attention with this gritty and cinematic procedural - The Crocodile * by Maurizio De Giovanni, put out by Europa Editions.

Those of you with a soft-spot for the disgraced lone-wolf detectives would not want to miss this one.

A cold, methodical killer the newspapers are calling "The Crocodile", commits murders largely undisturbed around Naples' diverse neighborhoods. Like a crocodile he waits and watches until his prey is within range, and then he strikes. So far he targets only the very young, and the only clue found is a paper tissue left at each site with the murderer's tears on it.

Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, a recent transfer from Sicily who spends his days playing games on his computer, senses that this might be his chance for redemption while his colleagues dismiss the murders as Mafia shenanigan.

The beautiful Laura Piras, a young prosecutor, aware of his preternatural skills and his incredible powers of observation, charges him with finding the link between the victims. In the process, he also finds another potential victim: a 6-month-old infant.

"The Crocodile offers an elegant narrative and vividly rendered characters. It's genuinely seductive."

"In this crisply translated (by Antony Shugaar) novel, De Giovanni explores Lojacono's loneliness and vulnerability while simultaneously revealing his brilliance as a detective." Check out the Commissario Ricciardi series by this winning team of author and translator.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #443

The Hive*, debut of British Gill Hornby (sister to Nick and wife to Robert Harris) is inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes, a nonfiction book that Tina Fey used as the basis for her hit movie Mean Girls.

It is a new school year at the privileged St. Ambrose Church Primary School where (Queen) Bea Stuart reigns over the school-mom clique as Rachel Mason looks on from afar. Her former best friend and confidante, Rachel has been relegated to the hinterland when her husband dumps her.

"... (A) delectable comedy of manners about mothers who congregate during drop-off and pickup, hold fundraisers," over the course of a year at St. Ambrose as they navigate a new headmaster, financial disasters, power shifts, and personal drama.

"Alternately touching and satirical but consistently entertaining. "

"(A)n enjoyably acerbic social commentary on mean girls of all ages, lightened by touches of hen lit."

A worthy addition to the pantheon of Mean Girls in Literature, and Rachel's outsider plight will remind readers of the heroine in Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

* = starred review

Janet Dailey, romance novelist, has died

Janet Dailey, credited with revolutionizing formulaic romance novels in the late 1970s, died December 15th.

While traveling around the country with her husband in the 1970s, Ms. Dailey entertained herself reading the typical romance novel of the time -- European settings, submissive women, tame physicality. Determined to meet a challenge from her husband to do something about it, she published her first romance in 1974 that had caught the attention of Harlequin. In Ms. Dailey's world of love, the protagonists were American working women with a healthy libido. While many of her more than 100 novels were set out West, she did pen a 50-book series that covered each of the 50 states, a feat that earned her a nomination in the Guinness Book of World Records. Enemy in Camp, 1988, was her Michigan entry. It is now out of print.

Her career soared. Dailey love stories sold in the 100s of millions of copies; more than 20 of them made the New York Times Bestseller list.

Then in 1997, her reputation took a beating when Nora Roberts, another mega-successful romance writer, sued Ms. Dailey for plagiarism. Undeniable evidence was found in Dailey's novel, Notorious. among other titles. Citing family tragedies (two of her brothers died and her husband was diagnosed with cancer) and an undisclosed ailment, Dailey took a break to repair the damage after the case was settled out of court. Her publisher Harper Collins dropped Ms. Dailey. Once the dust settled, publishing house Kensington Publishing Corp. picked her up and she resumed writing once again.

Her last book, Merry Christmas, Cowboy (on order), came out in October and was #13 on the Publishers Weekly mass market bestseller list.

Ms. Dailey, who was 69, died of complications following heart surgery.

Discovery of a Short Story by Teenaged Zelda Fitzgerald

The New Yorker has just published a recently discovered story by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fiztgerald, famed author of The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night and several other novels and short stories. Zelda wrote this story when she was just a teenager and was still known as Zelda Sayre. She would meet F. Scott soon after the publication of the story in her high school’s literary journal. The story, called The Iceberg, is a piece about the fictional Cornelia, who enrolls in a typing class and abruptly marries a man she meets at the business college where the course takes place.
The New Yorker writes that the Fitzgerald estate was surprised and pleased to discover the story, having had no idea that Zelda was interested in writing before meeting F. Scott. You can read The Iceberg in full here, and read more about its discovery as well as other book news on The Two-Way from NPR.

Audiobook for Kids: Whispering to Witches

Whispering to Witches by Anna Dale is part fantasy, part mystery, and plenty of fun.

As the story begins, Joe is not happy about being sent to Canterbury to spend Christmas with his mother, but on the train ride there, something peculiar happens. Soon Joe finds himself teaming up with a young witch named Twiggy to investigate the mysterious incident, which seems to have something to do with a missing page from a famous magical book. Can they find the missing page before it falls into the wrong hands? And is there more to this mystery than meets the eye?

While I found this book has been frequently compared to the Harry Potter series – with its train rides, witches and magical candies – I actually found myself thinking of it more like a book by Diana Wynne Jones. Something about the voice and the tightly-plotted mystery, I suppose. Its narration, though, by John Curless did remind of Jim Dale's performance in the Harry Potter audiobooks. Fans of either who are looking for something to try this holiday season may wish to check it out.

The last installment of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's beloved "Alice" series is now available!

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the author of the long-running, much-loved “Alice” series, has written the series’ final installment, Now I’ll Tell You Everything, available now. This book chronicles Alice from the ages of 18 to 60. It has been long-awaited by many of her fans that have been with Alice since she was nervously starting 6th grade at a new school in The Agony of Alice, first published in 1985.

Since The Agony of Alice, Naylor has published 28 total Alice books, including three prequels to the series geared towards younger readers. Over the course of the series, Alice navigates many of the challenges of growing up. The books often make the list of the American Library Association’s most challenged books due to their frank discussion of families, friendships, religion, dating and sex.

The recent publication of Now I’ll Tell You Everything has left many readers nostalgic. After “growing up with Alice,” knowing that Alice’s adventures are over is a difficult realization for devoted fans. Throughout her writing of the series, Naylor received thousands of letters and emails from these fans expressing their love of the books, sharing their stories and making suggestions for future Alice books (some of which Naylor actually used!).

The Alice books can be enjoyed by all ages. The earlier novels are appropriate for elementary school children, and readers can age along with Alice over time. Older fans who remember Alice from their youth can reread some of the books and now finally find out what the rest of Alice's life has in store for her.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #441

Winner of the American Booksellers Association "Indies Introduce Debut Authors" and Amazon Editors' Fall Pick", Australian Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest * * * is also one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, "(a)n enrapturing debut novel that toys with magical realism while delivering a fresh fable."

Widowed Ruth Field lives alone in an isolated beach house. Her days are measured by calls from her grown sons and predictable routines. Lately, she thinks she hears a tiger on the prowl around her property at night, bringing back memories of her childhood in Fiji. One day a stranger arrives claiming to be a care worker sent by the government, and Ruth let her in, but not without suspicions that this Frida is hiding secrets. As strange things begin to happen, Ruth's sense of reality becomes shaky.

"This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about aging, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn't be."

"A pleasurable novel, with turns of plot and phrase both startling and elegant."

A readalike for S.J. Watson's debut Before I Go to Sleep

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #440 - "There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted" ~ Henry David Thoreau

Ewart Hutton's debut Good People * * is one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, and shortlisted for the 2012 British Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger for best first novel.

In this "atmospheric, criminally smart" new police procedural, award-winning playwright (BBC Radio) introduces Detective Sergeant Glyn Capaldi. Disgraced and banished from Cardiff to the Welsh countryside, Capaldi (half-Welsh, half-Italian) investigates the disappearance of a van packed with young men after a night of rugby and hard drinking. Those who turn up could not explain why one of the men and the only woman in the group are missing.

In the face of opposition from the local constabulary and his superior, Capaldi delves deeper when one of the men is found hanged, and uncover a network of conflicts, betrayals, and depravity that resonates below the outwardly calm surface of rural respectability.

"(A) stunningly dark debut. The first-person narrative keeps it personal, making the detective's vulnerabilities that much more intense."

"...the plot twists are cunning, and Glyn Capaldi is the most appealing antihero this side of Ian Rankins' John Rebus."

Readers who enjoyed Peter May's The Blackhouse would not want to miss this one. (See previous FFF blog).

* * = 2 starred reviews

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