Fabulous Fiction Firsts #420 - Sugar 'n spice and everything nice?

Well, I'll let you be the judge. But seriously, 2 phenomenal debuts from across the pond, with unforgettable young protagonists, not to be missed.

A published poet, and one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists Jenni Fagan knocked it out of the park with her dazzling The Panopticon * *, which has been named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and The Scotsman.

Anais Hendricks, 15 is headed for the Panopticon, the much dreaded last-resort for chronic young offenders after she is found covered with the blood of a police officer. Violent, "permanently whacked on...drug(s)", and the product of foster homes (23 before she turned 7), she is a survivor and a counter-culture outlaw. Though experience taught her to only rely on herself, she finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon, and soon forms strong bonds with the other troubled teens. Their struggle is with their keepers, especially when Anais is convinced she is part of a sinister experiment.

"Dark and disturbing but also exciting and moving thanks to a memorable heroine and vividly atmospheric prose."

"Anais's story is one of abandonment, loss, and redemption."

2013 Thriller Award nominee for Best Paperback Original Novel, Alex Marwood's (the pseudonym of a successful journalist) debut The Wicked Girls * * * is "(a) gritty, psychological thriller that asks the question: How well can you know anyone?"

On a fateful summer morning in 1986, 11 year-olds Jade Walker and Annabel (Bel) Oldacre meet for the first time. By the end of the day, they will both be charged with murder. Journalist Kirsty Lindsay, while following leads on a series of attacks on young female tourists in a seaside vacation town comes face to face with Amber Gordon, now a janitor for a carnival where the most recent crime is committed. This is their first meeting in 25 years after spending years in two separate British correctional facilities.

Kirsty and Amber, with new, vastly different lives, and unknowing families to protect, are desperate to keep their wicked secret hidden, and to uphold their probationary condition never to have contact with each other.

Marwood intersperses the contemporary serial-killer story line and hour-by-hour accounts of what happened the day the girls met 25 years ago. "This chilling debut is chock-full of surprises. If Tana French and Gillian Flynn stayed up all night telling stories at an abandoned amusement park, this is awfully close to what they might come up with."

"Gripping and fast-paced", it will appeal to fans of the Academy Award-nominated film Heavenly Creatures and the novels of Rosamund Lupton and Chevy Stevens."

"A suspenseful, buzz-worthy novel offering a sure-footed depiction of two women who lost their childhoods."

* * * = starred reviews
* * = starred reviews

Author Iain Pears and the Art History Mysteries

Iain Pears is a superlative, British author, whose fiction and mysteries are well worth your time. He has a doctorate in art history from Oxford, has lived in France, Italy and the U.S., and all of his books reveal his cosmopolitan, erudite background and his astounding grasp of history, art and language.

I started with his stand-alone novels, of which there are four, and was hooked from the first. One of these, The Portrait, which is a quirky, stream-of-consciousness, almost-plot-less, monologue about an artist’s relationship with a devastatingly severe critic is unusual and hard to read, but rewardingly saturated with Pears’ extensive knowledge of art and art history. The other three – An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Dream of Scipio and Stone’s Fall – are incomparable historical novels. Intricately plotted, steeped in the history of many different eras, with characters which walk off the page they are so real, at least one of them belongs on one of those “100 Best Novels of All Time” lists which Time and Entertainment Weekly have recently published. In fact, if I could do my own version of such a list, all three of these novels would appear on it.

Then, to my surprise and delight, I discovered that Pears’ first venture into fiction writing was a 7-book mystery series known as the Art History Mysteries. Set mostly in Italy, with sleuth Flavia di Stefano from the Art Fraud Squad and her unwitting partner-sleuth, art historian and dealer, Jonathan Argyll, these strike me as Pears-lite. Shorter and snappier than his other novels, with wry humor and regular romps around Europe, they all feature the theft and/or forgery of great art work and the subsequent murders which inevitably result from such shenanigans (as mystery readers know, murder happens). Though you could read them in any order, if you are compulsive like me, you should start with the first, The Raphael Affair.

Though reading these mysteries cannot compare with actually going to Rome, Florence and Venice – walking spell-bound through their great buildings, museums and plazas; viewing the paintings, sculpture and fountains; sipping wine and eating in little bistros and cafés – it comes as close I am likely to get in the near future. Pears gets the ambience just right, presents you with painless art history lessons and a peek at the politics, economics and dangers of the art world, and creates seven whacking-good stories to boot.

J.K. Rowling's New Book

As many of you have probably heard, J.K. Rowling, famous for her Harry Potter series, recently released a book under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith called The Cuckoo's Calling.

Although the novel was released on June 1st, the official word of Rowling being the author didn't hit until little under a week ago. This has come as a surprise to many fans and readers across the world; in fact, CNN reported that "on Amazon.com, sales soared more than 507,000% after Rowling acknowledged being the author." However, Rowling wasn't even expecting the leak herself, explaining that she trusted her lawyers with the knowledge of her secret novel. After one of the lawyers told his wife's best friend, the news trickled onto Twitter... and from there, well... chaos ensued!

The AADL's copies of The Cuckoo's Calling are now on high demand, but you can still put your name on the list to read Rowling's mysterious novel about supermodel Lula Landry. Be prepared to fall into a world of "multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers" (dust jacket).

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

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.

Enjoy your stay at Pines

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke wakes up on a roadside with initially no recollection of how he got there, but knowing that he is badly injured. As he walks into the idyllic town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, some memories start to surface. He eventually recalls that he and his partner (wherever he is) were on their way to this town to locate two missing federal agents, but their car was struck by a semi. But does he have any proof of who he really is? of course not...Anyway to contact family or work? not a chance (although he tries!)...More mystery and suspense, not to mention a bit of horror and just plain weirdness, meld together into a book that is difficult to put down. If you like the writing stylings of Cormac McCarthy and the eerie storytelling of a Stephen King, then you will love Blake Crouch's Pines ! If you are interested to know more about the author check out his website, http://www.blakecrouch.com

He comments in the afterword that this story was inspired by his favorite TV show, Twin Peaks. And yes the story does take place in a beautiful small-town with odd folks in it and as he says, "...a pitch-black underbelly.", but his story goes somewhere altogether different...

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #404

Peggy Blair, a Canadian attorney-turn-novelist opens what we anticipate to be a superb series with The Beggar's Opera *, winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice award.

On Christmas morning Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit was called when fishermen found the body of a young boy last seen begging on the Malecon, and the sore subject of a heated argument between visiting Canadian policeman Mike Ellis and his estranged wife. With his wallet in the pocket of the dead boy, Ellis became the prime suspect. But Ramirez only have 72 hours to prove his case while dealing with a form of dementia, when the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved cases haunt his every step.

"The Beggar's Opera exposes the bureaucracy, corruption, and beauty of Hemingway's Havana".

The Caretaker * * by A.X. Ahmad opens Christmas week on Martha's Vineyard. With most of the summer folks gone, Ranjit Singh, a landscaper is lucky to get work as caretaker for Senator Neal's home, and saves him from crawling back to Boston to work as a grocery clerk. A broken furnace forces him to move his family into the Senator's house until 2 armed men break in, searching for something hidden among the Senator's antiqued doll collection. Forced to flee, Ranjit is pursued and hunted by unknown forces, and becomes drawn into the Senator's shadowy world. As the past and present collide, Ranjit must finally confront the hidden event that destroyed his Army career and forced him to leave India.

"Tightly plotted, action-packed, smart and surprisingly moving, The Caretaker takes us from the desperate world of migrant workers to the elite African-American community of Martha's Vineyard, and a secret high-altitude war between India and Pakistan".

"Beyond the masterfully crafted, high-adrenaline story, readers will be fascinated by Ranjit's strong Sikh faith, rarely seen in American fiction".

"Top-notch effort in the first of a promising trilogy".

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

Father Andrew Greeley, bestselling novelist and Catholic scholar, has died

Father Andrew Greeley, devoted and devout Chicago Catholic priest, author of forward-thinking (read: controversial) scholarly articles on the future and relevancy of the Catholic Church, and bestselling author of mysteries and stand-alone romances that were so steamy, they earned him the label,of a clerical Harold Robbins, has died.

Father Greeley was ahead of his time on a number of social issues that still make headlines today. He believed in the ordination of women. For decades he urged the Catholic Church to relax its stand on birth control and divorce. He never stopped pushing the Church to stop defending and hiding priests guilty of child sex abuse. He did, however, never waver in his support of the Church's opposition to abortion.

It was his bestselling novels and the popular Father Blackie Ryan mystery series (i.e., The Bishop in the West Wing (2002) and The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood (2005) that really put him at odds with the Catholic Church, so much so that Cardinal Bernardin (Chicago) rejected Father Greeley's million dollar pledge from his book royalties.

In 2008, Father Greeley published the last Blackie Ryan mystery -- The Archbishop in Andalusia. That same year his clothing got caught in a taxi's closed door. The resulting head injury ending his writing and speaking career.

Father Greeley, who was 85, died in Chicago at home.

Dan Brown's latest novel, Inferno

Last week, Dan Brown's new novel, Inferno was released and is in hot demand. In this 476 page blockbuster, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor whose specialty in symbology takes him to Italy to unravel the secrets of Dante's Inferno, races against time to save the world.

Dan Brown came to the public's attention in 2003 when his intriguing, provocative, controversial The Da Vinci Code broke all sorts of publishing records and is, to this day, one of the bestselling novels of all time. Ever since, he has had one #1 bestseller after another. Just two years after The Da Vinci Code was released, Brown was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most influential People in the World.

Are you on the wait list for Inferno? Never fear, we have a list of great titles that share Brown's powerful formula of mixing history, religion, and/or literature and cryptography to tell a compelling story. Try some of these to tide you over until your number comes up.

Umberto Eco's very first novel, published in English 30 years ago, is considered a classic. In The Name of the Rose, Brother William of Baskerville, a 14th century monk, is sent to Italy to investigate seven deeply disturbing murders. Three years later, Sean Connery starred in the award-winning film version.

In The Eight (1988), Katherine Neville, tells the story of Catherine Velis, a computer pro for one of the Big Eight accounting firms. Velis is fascinated by the relationship between chess and mathematics and sets out on a dangerous quest to gather the pieces of an antique chess set, scattered across the globe. If found, the complete set will reveal a world-changing secret, which began in 1790.

Jonathan Rabb, in his popular 2001 The Book of Q, moves back and forth between sixth century Asia Minor and 20th century Croatia. Father Ian Pearse is a researcher at the Vatican Library who cannot forget his passionate affair eight years earlier with Petra. When he comes across the translation of an ancient scroll that reveals a shocking code, he returns to Bosnia (and, oh yes, Petra) to save the world from the secrets buried in the scroll.

Scrolls and diaries that beg to be decoded to reveal earth-shattering religious secrets, are at the center of The 13th Apostle (2007), by Richard and Rachael Heller. This time, the sleuths are Sabbie Karaim, a biblical scholar and ex-Israeli commando and Gil Pearson, an American cybersleuth who discover there are those who are willing to kill for this possible link to one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

If you are too impatient for your hold for the print version of Inferno, why not try Paul Michael's dramatic narrative performance in the audiobook version?

2013 Edgars have been announced

Last night, the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2013 Edgars, the mystery genre's most prestigious awards.

Some of the winners are:

Best Novel -- Dennis Lehane for Live by Night. Joe Coughlin, younger brother of Danny Coughlin (The Given Day, 2008) and the son of a cop, becomes a crime boss in Florida in 1926 during the Prohibition.

Best First Novel -- Chris Pavone for The Expats. Kate Moore used to be a CIA spy until she met, fell in love with, and married Dexter. Parenthood turns her off to the dangers of espionage, but her professional radar is triggered when Dexter's job moves them to Luxembourg where new friends, fellow expats, Bill and Julia, do not seem to be what they claim to be.

Best Paperback Original -- Ben H. Winters for The Last Policeman. It takes a special detective to investigate a homicide masquerading as a suicide, when an asteroid is six months away from destroying Earth. But NH investigator, Nick Palace, is no ordinary cop.

Best Fact Crime -- Paul French for Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China -- In 1937 China, the teenage daughter of a retired British consul is brutally murdered and her father refuses to rest until he finds who committed this heinous crime. French brings to edge-of-seat life, the chain of evidence in this case.

For a complete list of all the winners, please check here.

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