Fabulous Fiction Firsts #507 -“In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?” ~ Gautama Buddha

Before I Go * by Colleen Oakley, given the premise, could have been a sentimental tearjerker but instead, yes, it is heart-wrenching of course, but surprisingly upbeat and life-affirming.

27 year old grad. student Daisy Richmond beat cancer once but on her third "Cancerversary", the cancer is back - Stage IV, aggressive and inoperable. She knows she won't be around for husband Jack's graduation from vet school - something they have worked, sacrificed and delayed their life-plans (kids and vacations) for. What terrifies Daisy most is not dying, but leaving brilliant, domestically-challenged, absent-minded Jack on his own. So instead of planning some "make-a-wish" grown-up getaway for her last days, she is going to find Jack a wife with the time she has left.

With the help of her best friend Kayleigh, Daisy systematically scouts out dog parks (must love dogs) coffee shops and online dating sites looking for the perfect match for Jack. But when it looks like she is way too successful in her quest, Daisy has a change of heart.

Debut novelist Oakley "expertly tugs at the heartstrings with well-rounded characters and a liberal dose of gallows humor."

For readers who enjoyed Hello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth (a FFF); P.S. I love you by Cecelia Ahern that has been adapted into film; Hannah's List by Debbie Macomber; and Promises to Keep by Jane Green - novels that deal with difficult issues of illnesses and grief, holding on and letting go of the ones we love.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #506

Wildalone * by Krassi Zourkova opens with an enchanting tale of a monk's erotic encounter with samodivias (or wildalones), and thus sets the scene for this "darkly imaginative debut novel full of myth, magic, romance, and mystery. "

Thea(dora) Slavin, a Bulgarian piano prodigy arrives on the Princeton campus and is immediately thrown into the maelstrom of freshman activities. Beyond the requisite college-life adjustments, she is juggling a demanding schedule of classes, practice and performance, as well as struggling to adapt to unfamiliar American ways.

Privately, Thea is harboring a secret ambition - to find out what happened to her sister Elza who died violently 15 years ago as a Princeton freshman and her body went missing mysterious before the family had a chance to claim it. Thea grew up in the family's oppressive silence concerning Elza's death and is determined to find out what happened.

Her first clue comes from an unlikely source - her Art History professor who leads and baits her to a Greek vase in the Museum, depicting the Dionysian Mysteries. Then there is her shadowy "stalker", a devilishly handsome and exceedingly enigmatic young man who fades in and out of her consciousness. Before long, she finds herself romantically entangled with not only Jake Estlin, but also with his older brother Rhys, gradually being drawn into a sensual mythic underworld as irresistible as it is dangerous - one that might yield the answers to Elza's fate, as well as the terrifying truth about her own family.

(Bulgarian native) "Zourkova (Princeton, Art History and Harvard Law) pulls off a balancing act that few debut authors manage: a clever, dark (paranormal) romance steeped in mystery, with a bittersweet thread of melancholy and keen sense of place."

"Mesmerizing and addictive,... a bewitching blend of Twilight, The Secret History, Jane Eyre, and A Discovery of Witches." The ending strongly hints at a sequel. Let's hope we won't have to wait long.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #501 - “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it." ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.

2 UK debuts. 2 young women rising out of bleak adolescence to realize the individuals they are meant to be.

British cultural critic Caitlin Moran follows up her 2012 New York Times bestselling memoir How To Be a Woman with a debut novel - How to Build a Girl * * that draws from her own experience, having joined the music weekly Melody Maker at an very young age before becoming a prize-winning columnist at the London Times.

14-year-old Johanna Morrigan, the product of a large dysfunctional council-flat welfare family in the West Midlands, decides to remake herself after an embarrassing appearance on national TV. Almost overnight, the freaky fat girl who is at once "endearing, ­hilarious, pathetic, and wise" becomes the feared music reviewer Dolly Wilde (named after Oscar's niece - "this amazing alcoholic lesbian who was dead scandalous"), drinking regularly, having lots of sex, and writing acidulous reviews of rock bands. But is that enough?

"Moran's coming-of-age debut novel is both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, a treat for young adults as well as those who remember the era (1990s) and its music."

In Making Marion : where's Robin Hood when you need him? * * by Beth Moran, Marion Miller leaves behind her job as a library assistant, a doctor-fiance and a childhood of neglect and abuse in Ballydown, a hamlet in Northern Ireland for Nottinghamshire, to uncover her father's secret past.

Searching for Sherwood Forest Visitor Center lands her at the Peace and Pigs campsite, an impromptu job offer, and a place to call home. Though hard work and the determination to overcoming her shyness earn her friendship and acceptance, the locals refuse to talk when shown the photograph of her father as a young man, dressed as Robin Hood. Only Reuben, heir to Hatherstone Hall is willing to come to her aid, motivated by a connection to his family history.

"Roaming pigs, food fights, and conspiring chickens add flavor to this delightful debut, which also touches on mother-daughter relationships, family secrets, and finding love, and yourself."

"One of the best inspirational novels of the season", it will appeal to fans of Jane Green, Marian Keyes, and Jill Mansell.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #493 - “I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.” ~ Francis Ford Coppola

Named 2008 Film Blogger of the Year by GQ (check out Self-Styled Siren), and freelance movie reviewer for the New York Post Farren Smith Nehme entertains and intrigues readers and film buffs alike with Missing Reels * - a "totally cinematic debut novel of young love, old movies, and an epic search for a long-lost silent film."

New York in the late 1980s. Ceinwen Reilly has just arrived from Yazoo City, Mississippi. Her min. wage job at a vintage store stretches barely to cover a shared shabby walkup on Avenue C; cigarettes; and her passion - classic movies. One day, Ceinwen, wearing one of her retro finds elicits a comment from their elderly neighbor Miriam. A glimpse of a photograph convinces Ceinwen of Miriam's starring role in the silent films.

When a charming British mathematician Matthew Hill breezes into Ceinwen's life, bringing wit, conversations, romance, and an introduction to Matthew's mentor who is a silent film history aficionado, Ceinwen (with Matthew trailing along) begins earnestly researching and tracking down the reels of Miriam's long-lost film masterpiece.

"The amateur gumshoes quickly find themselves immersed in a subculture of quirky film enthusiasts housing aging reels in basements, university archives, and private clubs across the city."

"A novel as winning and energetic as the grand Hollywood films that inspired it, Missing Reels is an irresistible, alchemical mix of Nora Ephron and David Nicholls that will charm and delight."

Feeling a little star-struck? You might enjoy:
The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr; Not Without You by Harriet Evans; The Actress by Amy Sohn; Fame by Tilly Bagshawe; and Sunnyside by Glen David Gold.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #484 -“Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us.” ~ Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis

In these 14 linked stories (one of which won a 2014 O. Henry Prize), 14 yr.old Rainey Royal lives with her famous jazz musician father in a once-elegant Brownstone in Greenwich Village after her mother ran away to an ashram. Surrounded by her father's groupies and hangers-on, predators disguised as her father's best friend, she is lonely and vulnerable. Thankfully, there is her best friend Tina. As she tries desperately to nurture her own artistic talent and build a substitute family, she rebels in unconventional, sometimes criminal ways.

"Landis' captivating first novel is a ringing tribute to friendship, autonomy, and artistic presence." She "offers a rich, sometimes challenging portrait of young women doing their best to grow in the absence of positive role models."

From National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree (see the video interviews) and Rona Jaffe Award-winner comes an urgent, intensely visceral debut novel about a young waitress whose downward spiral is narrated in electric prose - Love Me Back.

Merritt Tierce follows Marie, a single mother who gives in to brutally self-destructive tendencies with alcohol, drugs, self-cutting and one-night stands, looking for obliteration if not pleasure. The one thing that brings her life focus is her job as a waitress in an upscale Dallas steakhouse which she tackles with an easy smile and strong work ethic. "You keep your standards high and your work strong but these are necessary for success; you keep your dignity separate, somewhere else, attached to different things."

"(A) flawed thing of beauty, as terribly uncomfortable to read as it is often brilliant,...Tierce's first novel is unsentimental and unresolved but ultimately laced with an undercurrent of hope."

If you have never read indie author K.A. Tucker, praised for her "likeable characters, steamy liaisons, and surprising plot twists" (Kirkus Reviews), you might really enjoy Five Ways to Fall.

Purple-haired, sharp-tongued Reese MacKay knows all about making wrong choices; she's made plenty of them in her twenty-odd-years. So when her violent "redecorating" of her two-timing ex-husband's apartment lands her in jail, she decides to accept the only life-line thrown to her and moves to Miami to work for her stepfather, a renowned attorney.

Things are going well. Reese even finds she enjoys legal work and is good at it... until an embarrassing last-fling on a tequila-soaked weekend in Cancun walks into the office, and introduces himself as Ben Morris, the firm's new ace attorney. Now if Reese and Ben are truly smart, they would have stay clear of each other. But that won't make for a good story.

"A fun, flirty, super sexy love story that offers all of the best of opposites attracting".

New Teen Fiction!

Strange and Ever After is the third and final book of the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy, by Susan Dennard. This fun and unique series blends together lots of great elements: fantasy, romance, steampunk, historical fiction…and zombies! In this final installment, main character Eleanor Fitt travels to Egypt to track down and battle the evil necromancer who kidnapped her mother, brother, and friends. The conclusion of this pursuit causes unexpected consequences that will change Eleanor, and the world, forever. Haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy? Start with Something Strange and Deadly and follow with A Darkness Strange and Lovely, before finding out how it all ends in Strange and Ever After.

Touted as a combination of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, Cammie McGovern’s new book Say What You Will is a heartfelt and honest story. Amy, who was born with cerebral palsy, has struggled her whole life to move, communicate and even control her facial expressions. When she finally decides to hire student aides to assist her during her senior year of high school, Matthew, who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and crippling fears, is thrust into her life. Despite their physical, psychological and emotional differences, a friendship blossoms between the two. Readers will fly through this book eager to find out if the teens’ unique connection may grow into something more.

The Ring and the Crown, by prolific teen author Melissa de la Cruz, is set in an alternate 19th century world in which the Franco-British empire controls the only source of magic. Told from the perspective of five different characters related to the royal court, the story is a light and fun historical fantasy/romance. In order to protect the empire, Princess Marie-Victoria must enter into a loveless marriage with the heir to the Prussian throne. With the aid of her childhood friend Aelwyn, Marie conspires to escaper her fate… and potentially changes the fate of the entire world while she’s at it!

For older teen and adult fantasy fans: The Black Jewels Trilogy

Fantasy fans may be excited to learn about the Black Jewels Trilogy that was recently added to the AADL collection. Written in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Anne Bishop, this is one of only a few fantasy series that I have read that maintains a strong lead female character. The world that Bishop introduces readers to in the first installment of the series, Daughter of the Blood, is unlike any other, real or imagined. Comprised of various “realms” and controlled by female witch-queens, each creature in this world has a particular level of magical power based on the darkness and value of their “birthright jewel.”

As the series opens, the realms of this magical world have fallen into ruin due to rampant corruption and extreme distrust among their leaders. Everyone is poised, waiting for the all powerful witch-queen that has been prophesied to come and make everything right again. Daughter of the Blood introduces readers to this long-awaited heroine, Jaenelle, a girl who is a mere 8 years old at the beginning of the story. Three different, powerful men take it upon themselves to protect her from those who hope to ruin her until she comes of age, but her own powers make controlling her and keeping her safe nearly impossible.

Admittedly, the complexity of the fantasy world in this series makes the story a bit difficult to comprehend at first, but readers who battle through the first hundred pages of the trilogy will be glad they did. The trilogy packs in all the elements of a great fantasy tale: magic, love and hate, good and evil, epic battles, kings and queens, ancient castles… the works. After Daughter of the Blood, the story continues with Heir to the Shadows and concludes with Queen of the Darkness.

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

After reading Rainbow Rowell’s Printz Honor winning teen novel Eleanor & Park and falling in love with it, I was very excited about what was next from her. I then ate up the next teen novel Fangirl, even though it didn’t taste quite the same as Eleanor & Park. While waiting for another teen book by her I went back and grabbed her adult novel, Attachments – and it was a delightful read.

In Attachments it’s 1999 and Lincoln’s job as “internet security officer” is to monitor company email, reading and flagging any inappropriate work emails being sent. He gets caught up in reading email conversations between Beth and Jennifer. They talk about life as best girlfriends should, sharing many intimate details. He knows he should flag the emails and turn them in, but he can’t – he has to continue reading their saga. Lincoln falls for Beth through reading these emails, which are just hilarious. (I want to hang out with Beth and Jennifer and laugh at their quips.) But how will Lincoln ever be able to meet Beth in person and not mention that he’s been reading about her life and that he feels like he knows her?

Oh, does Rowell write some funny dialog! I really enjoyed the alternating format of reading Beth and Jennifer’s email exchanges laced with chapters about Lincoln’s life – living with his mother, playing Dungeons & Dragons, joining a gym, and reconnecting with a college buddy in order to force social interactions on his awkward self. It's a great summer read, even for those not into love stories.

Next up from Rowell is Landline, and she’s also collaborating on writing two graphic novels, according to her wonderfully designed website.

Girls In Charge - Sizzling Summer Reads #2 (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #465)

Cure for the Common Breakup * by Beth Kendrick.
Suddenly-single flight attendant Summer Benson sees a new beginning in Black Dog Bay, a tiny seaside town in Delaware, known as the best place in America to bounce back from heartbreak. The locals are friendly. Even the oldest, richest, and meanest resident, likes her enough to give her a job. Well, all except for Dutch Jansen, the rugged, stoic mayor,

"Kendrick's impeccable sense of comic timing and flair for creating unforgettable characters make this effervescent novel a smart bet for romance readers everywhere while the novel's deft integration of the topics of family, friendship, and community ensure it can easily attract a broader readership, as well."

The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser, (a Fabulous Fiction Firsts) is "an irreverent story of family, love, friendship, and lobsters, in the tradition of J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine ".

Two 24 year-old transplants ("from-aways") become unlikely allies on a small-town newspaper. NYC reporter Leah leaps at the chance to marry down-to-earth Henry Lynch and moves into his family home in Menamon, a small fishing community in Maine, only to find she does not know a thing about Henry. Quinn Winters, wisecracking and tough, comes to town in search of a father who abandons her as a infant. When the two stumble onto a earth-shattering scandal that would affect the future of the community, these drinking buddies find themselves collaborators and trusted friends.

"Hauser's style is expressive, clever and compelling, and she offers readers a thoughtful and engaging debut. "

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee
Broke and divorced, Portia Cuthcart leaves Texas for New York City and takes up residence at the dilapidated brownstone she and her two sisters inherited. Devastated by the loss of The Glass Kitchen, her grandmother's restaurant, she resolves never to cook again, that is, until she meets 12 year-old Ariel and her widowed father Gabriel Kane.

"(A) delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman... who discovers that a kitchen, like an island, can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family."

"Sweet and intense, with delightful magical accents, a delectable romance—and yummy recipes."

The Vacationers * * by Emma Straub is an irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family's two-week stay in Mallorca.

Franny and Jim Post are about to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia is leaving for college. Their son Bobby, a Miami real estate broker will be joining them, girlfriend in tow. As will Franny's best friend Charles, and his husband, Lawrence. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

"With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Readalikes for upcoming AADL speaker Daniel Jones' Modern Love column!

Daniel Jones, editor of the weekly New York Times column Modern Love, will be speaking at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library this Sunday at 3:00. The Modern Love column is adored by readers worldwide, and can be found online here. Jones has also written and edited several books, the latest of which is Love Illuminated: exploring life’s most mystifying subject (with the help of 50,000 strangers) and was published this year. Using thousands of the stories that he has been sent over the past decade, Jones extracts the ten aspects of love as he sees them from these tales of joy and woe, explaining these aspects in the book. At his talk on Sunday, Jones will discuss Love Illuminated and his column and will answer questions, and there will be the opportunity for attendees to purchase his books. You can read more about the event here.

If you are a fan of Jones’ column and his work, as I am, you may want to check out some of the essay and story collections on love that we have here at AADL as many of them read similarly to the column. I enjoyed This I Believe: on love, part of the popular “this I believe” series. There’s also Handbook for the Heart: original writings on love and Heart of the City: nine stories on love and serendipity on the streets of New York. If you enjoy poetry, the collection You Drive Me Crazy: love poems for real life is fun and applicable to all as is 77 Love Sonnets by Garrison Keillor.

You can also read more about Love Illuminated and the Modern Love column in this interview with Jones.

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