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

South African Crime (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #479)

The Sunday Times Fiction winner Andrew Brown introduces tormented Detective Inspector Eberard Februarie, in Coldsleep Lullaby * *, an intelligent and compelling police procedural set in Stellenbosch, in the heart of South Africa's wine region. Just released in the U.S., this series opener involves the murder of a young woman in the underworld of an old university town fraught with prejudice and sexual hedonism.

Melanie Du Preez, daughter of a prominent law professor is found floating in a river. DI Eberard Februarie, recently reinstated after an emotional meltdown is called to investigate. Eberard discovers a scrapbook of lullabies that Melanie had collected over the years, which could hold a clue to unlock the case. In alternating chapters, the readers learn of the Dutch East India Company's colonization of the region in the 17th century that ultimately plays a role in the current murder. Two other victims will die in rapid succession before the volatile case is solved.

"With its lush, detailed descriptions, Brown's debut successfully captures both the beautiful landscapes and the violent textures of South Africa's racially charged history."

Cobra (an October release) by Deon Meyer - the "King of South African crime", again probes the social and racial complexities of post-apartheid South Africa. The bodies of three people are found at an exclusive guest house in the beautiful Franschhoek wine valley. Two of them were professional bodyguards, but the renowned mathematician David Adair they were protecting is nowhere to be found. Detective Benny Griessel of Cape Town's elite Hawks found spent shell cases at the crime scene bearing a chilling engraving: the flaring head of a spitting cobra, trademark of an international assassin team.

Meanwhile, a small-time pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi who steals to put his sister through med school, inadvertently winds up as the Cobra next target. With the help of his colleagues, Detective Benny Griessel rushes to untangle a case that only grows more complex. From Cape Town's famous waterfront to a deadly showdown on a suburban train, Cobra hurtles towards a shocking finale and someone may not make it out alive.

Needing no introduction is the latest in the award-winning series by Malla Nunn Present Darkness *. With Christmas approaching, Detective Sergeant of the Johannesburg major crimes squad, Emmanuel Cooper's much anticipated vacation plan evaporates when a white couple has been assaulted and left for dead in their bedroom. A witness identifies the attacker as Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala -- Cooper's best friend and a man to whom he owes his life.

Readers might also explore the David Bengu series by Michael Stanley; the Jacob Tshabalala series by Richard Kunzmann; and the Heat of the Sun mini television series.

* * = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

If you are looking for an Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz read alike with a fairy twist you should certainly give Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making a try.

The story begins with a 12 year old girl named September. September is an ordinary girl from Omaha, Nebraska who longs to play a special part in an adventure. After a character from Fairyland called The Green Wind steals her away one night, she finally gets her chance to experience some excitement. She meets many fantastical characters and makes some good friends along the way, including A-Through-L, a wyvern who believes his father to have been a library and therefore considers himself a "Wyverary."

The writing is superb and Valente does an excellent job of painting vivid pictures of fantastical scenes and situations with her words. If you enjoy The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making don't miss the sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There where September returns to Fairyland for a brand new adventure.

Sizzling Summer Reads #4 (& Fabulous Fiction Firsts #478 ) "Summer's lease hath all too short a date.” ~ William Shakespeare

The Last Kings of Sark * by Rosa Rankin-Gee (named one of Esquire magazine's 75 Brilliant Young Brits', and winner of the Shakespeare & Company's international Paris Literary Prize in 2011).

Sark, pop.400, a remote car-less Channel Island, reached only by an all-day ferry ride (or private plane) from Guernsey. Jude, a recent grad (St. Andrews and wrongly assumed to be a guy, as in Law, Hey, and the Obscure), is hired by Eddy, the patriarch of the Defoe family to tutor 16 year-old Pip for the summer before university. Thrown together by necessity, Jude and Sofi, the magnetic, mercurial family cook, quickly bond as roommates and coconspirators. Left on their own away from adult eyes, the three embark on a magical summer of exploring. Years later, as their lives take them to Paris, Normandy and London, memories of the summer they shared on Sark remain.

Debut novelist "Rankin-Gee's tactile, mellifluous prose is on full display here, as the tiniest details help fully immerse readers in the otherworldly island setting." "The fluid sexuality will be a welcome offering for readers of LGBT fiction. "

"Compelling, sensual, and lyrical..., a tale of complicated love, only children and missed opportunities."

Anne Rivers Siddons offers her fans another emotionally gripping, beach-themed read with The Girls of August.

Every August, four women gather for a week of relaxation at a beach house. This started when their husbands met at med school, and the rich Cornelia, married to the party-animal Teddy, invited them to her beach house. Cornelia didn't last, and the annual trip was suspended when Melinda (Mrs. Teddy #2) dies in a tragic accident, and the Girls of August slowly drift apart.

When "Baby," who is half the age of the other ladies becomes Mrs. Teddy #3, she attempts to reestablish the August ritual. As Rachel, Barbara and narrator Maddy gather at a remote beach house on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast, the women must come to terms with their differences and find a sense of unity in the midst of health issues, marital conflict, and infertility as they ride out a violent storm.

Not ready to bide the bare-foot season farewell? Try Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky; All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue; The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank; The Island by Elin Hilderbrand; and A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Enjoy these precious last days of summer.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #477 - Spotlight on Family Sagas

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing * by Mira Jacob opens with celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen sitting on his porch at his home in New Mexico talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a Seattle area wedding photographer. Knowing that she has been manipulated, Amina nevertheless, arranges for a visit home where she soon realizes that something may actually be wrong with her father. The trouble might be rooted in the family's visit to India some twenty years ago; the tension between her father and Ammachy, her grandmother and family matriarch; and the mystery behind the death of her older brother, the rebellious and brilliant Akhil.

"(L)ight and optimistic, unpretentious and refreshingly witty... Jacob has created characters with evident care and treats them with gentleness even as they fight viciously with each other. Her prose is sharp and true and deeply funny." "(A) winning, irreverent debut novel about a family wrestling with its future and its past."

Matthew Thomas's debut - We Are Not Ourselves * * is "a very moving book about the dangers of always wanting more."

Smart and ambitious Eileen Tumulty, dutiful daughter born to hard-drinking Irish working-class parents, looks for a better life for herself by training as a nurse. When she marries Ed Leary, a quiet neuroscientist, she is disappointed with his choice teaching at a community college despite more lucrative and prestigious offers. With their Jackson Heights (Queens) neighborhood in decline, Eileen is desperate to move out of the city (and up the social ladder), into a fixer-upper that they could ill afford. Then Ed is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

"Thomas works on a large canvas to create a memorable depiction of Eileen's vibrant spirit, the intimacy of her love for Ed, and the desperate stoicism she exhibits as reality narrows her dreams. Her life, observed over a span of six decades, comes close to a definitive portrait of American social dynamics in the 20th century. Thomas's emotional truthfulness combines with the novel's texture and scope to create an unforgettable narrative."

Thirty-five years (and 20-some titles) after her wildly successful generational saga set in Australia - The Thorn Birds (based on her family's history), Colleen McCullough returns to the genre with Bittersweet, an epic romance set in the decades after WWI, about two sets of Latimer twins, all trained as nurses but each with her own ambitions.

"McCullough's background in medicine is apparent as she seamlessly weaves in information about the history of nurse's training in Australia and the development of modern pathology. Bittersweet is both a fascinating exploration of the bonds between sisters and a fine historical novel."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Great Book for Teens: Since You’ve Been Gone

I’ve been a fan of Morgan Matson ever since reading her first book, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, but this summer, I completely fell in love with her latest book, Since You’ve Been Gone.

Shy Emily knows her sociable best friend Sloane will always be there to take charge in new situations, but when Emily returns home from a family trip, she discovers her best friend is gone. Sloane is not at home and won’t answer her calls or texts. Then Emily receives a mysterious letter from Sloane, a list of fifteen random things to do – like kiss a stranger and ride a horse – and hopes that completing this list will somehow reveal what happened to Sloane. More coming-of-age story than mystery, this book will resonate with any shy teen who has had to grow more outgoing after a big life change. It's a great read for anyone who enjoys smart realistic teen fiction with a touch of romance and is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #476 - "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." ~ Nelson Mandela

Long-time NPR feature reporter Martha Woodroof's debut novel Small Blessings * is one of August 2014 Indie Next Great Reads.

Tom Putnum, an English professor at a small Virginia college is resigned to a quiet hollow life, filling his days teaching Shakespeare and caring for the emotionally fragile Marjory, his wife who is a virtual shut-in. Then within a matter of days, Tom's life is upended. Twice.

Marjory is killed in a car accident and Tom learns that he has a son, product of a brief affair with a visiting poet a decade ago. Now the boy, Henry is on a train heading to live with Tom. When young Henry arrives, it's immediately clear that Tom can't possibly be his biological father, never mind his name is on the birth certificate. Even more inexplicable is the half a million dollars stashed in Henry's backpack.

Amid funeral plans, Tom and Agnes, his feisty mother-in-law, begin to make a home for Henry, with help from Rose Callahan, a charming young woman and a newcomer in town whom Tom and Marjory have befriended.

"A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined."

Four distinct voices narrate the story in Laura McBride's debut novel We Are Called to Rise * (the title taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson) - 8 year old Bashkim, the son of Muslim immigrants from Albania ill prepared for American life; 50-something Avis whose troubled marriage is compounded by her son's abusive behavior after three tours of duty in Iraq; Roberta, a seasoned court-appointed advocate for children; and Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes - injured and traumatized after losing his best friend in Afghanistan. In a single moment, these disparate lives intersect. Faced with seemingly insurmountable loss, each person must decide whether to give in to despair, or to find the courage and resilience to rise.

Set in a Las Vegas rarely experienced by tourists, it is a story about families - the ones we have and the ones we make. "It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to each other and reminds us that compassion and charity can rescue us, even in our darkest moment."

For those who enjoyed Blessings by Anna Quindlen; Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens; Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts; and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

* = starred review

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