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!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #483 - The Ann Arbor Connection

Ann Arbor author Julie Lawson Timmer's debut novel Five Days Left * * is part of the Penguin First Flights program. If you missed her live chat on Sept. 10th, click on this link for an archived edition.

Wife, mother, and top-notch Texas lawyer, Mara Nichols is losing her battle with a rapidly-progressing case of Huntington's disease. She has set a date to end her life to cut short a decline she believes will destroy her family. Now she has five days left in which to prepare herself, tidy her affairs, and say goodbye to her loved ones. While in Royal Oak (MI) middle-school teacher Scott Coffman dreads having to part with his foster son, eight-year-old Curtis. In five days, he will have to relinquish Curtis back to his junkie mother when she is release from prison. Mara and Scoot meet anonymously in an online therapy forum, and through their daily posts, Timmer deftly compares their shared dilemmas of when and how to let go.

"Absorbing, deeply affecting, and ultimately uplifting, it heralds the arrival of an author to watch." Perfect for fans of thoughtful, issue-driven fiction of Carol Rifka Brunt; Jacquelyn Mitchard; and Jodi Picoult.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street * by Susan Jane Gilman (UM, MFA in Creative Writing, and author of several well-received nonfiction titles) is "an ambitious and lavish immigrant rags-to-riches-to-rags first novel rife with humor and moxie."

At 75, American businesswoman Lillian Dunkle (think Leona Helmsley) is facing federal tax evasion charges, and no one is shedding any tears. This abrasive and ruthless entrepreneur started life as Malka Treynovsky, the youngest of 4 daughters in a poor Russian Jewish immigrant family. Soon after their arrival in New York, she was quickly abandoned and taken in by a kindly Italian ices peddler, and renamed Lillian Maria Dinello. Through grit, wits, and some luck, she, along with her husband Albert Dunkle, built the successful Dunkle's Famous Ice Cream empire.

"Gilman's numerous strengths are showcased, such as character-driven narrative, a ready sense of wit, and a rich historical canvas, in this case based on the unlikely subject of the 20th-century American ice cream industry. "

Readalikes: Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies; My Notorious Life by Kate Manning; and The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani.

* * = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

In New York City, in the spring of 1911, something happened which appalled and enraged the average citizen and began to turn the tide in the struggle for worker’s rights. This was the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 146 young women and men, locked into their workplace so they could not take breaks, perished. Most jumped to their deaths from the ninth floor to avoid dying in the flames.

Coney Island, freak shows and The Dreamland Amusement Park, were places where average Brooklyn citizens found their entertainment and escape at the tumultuous turn of the 20th century. It was a macabre and painful existence for the “wonders” who provided that entertainment, sadly deformed and exotic people and animals, who were on display to provide thrills and chills to the insatiable public.

New York native, and prolific author, Alice Hoffman, has written a wonder of a book about her home town in 1911, framed by two monumental and tragic fires and exploring the life of a young woman who was raised to perform in the Museum of Extraordinary Things, a typical “freak” show of the period, as a mermaid. She is exploited cruelly by the owner, her own father, but she finds special friends who give her the opportunity to learn about the world beyond her tank.

Part mystery, part love story, part documentary, and completely magical, Hoffman manages to create a fictional context to explore the history of photography, the labor movement, Coney Island, Orthodox Jewish life in the tenements, the exploitation of factory workers and the first wild animals made to perform for the public in amusement parks. Threading through the grim tale of the underbelly of turn-of-the-century, untamed New York and Brooklyn, its gangsters, criminals, corrupt police, and immoral factory owners, is a deep, enduring story of unlikely friendships and of love, between parent and child, and between young lovers trying to find their true selves, seeking to break free from the confinement and cruelty in which they find themselves enmeshed.

Hoffman has become an ardent and gifted storyteller, and with this subject matter, so close to her own history (both her grandfathers were immigrant factory workers turned labor radicals), she shines. Don’t miss The Museum of Extraordinary Things. (The one she wrote before this was amazing too: The Dovekeepers.)

Unique New Adult Historical Fiction: The Miniaturist

Jessie Burton’s brand new The Miniaturist is a fascinating and unusual tale set in Amsterdam in the late 17th century. The story opens with the arrival in the city of Nella Oortman , who is prepared to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. She feels unwelcome in her new home; despite its beauty, Johannes is distant and she knows no one else in the city. Nella is fascinated, however, by the wedding gift that Johannes gives her: a miniature replica of their home that Nella may furnish as she chooses. When Nella hires a renowned miniaturist to construct and paint the furnishings of her tiny house, the small creations shockingly begin to mimic the pieces that they are based on in real life in amazing and unsettling ways.

As the miniaturist works to complete the replica of the Brandts’ home, Nella learns more and more about her husband and about the secretive world of their household. It seems as though the miniaturist can foresee the future, but as the book progresses, Nella begins to wonder if the unusual man is really there to help or… or to ruin her.

“Enchanting, beautifully written, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth,” reads the book jacket. The dramatic backdrop of pious 1680s Denmark only adds to the mystery and intrigue that Burton has created for readers in this book. The UK Observer calls The Miniaturist a “fabulously gripping read” and accurately recommends it to fans of Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch. This fast-paced read is perfect to put as number one on your autumn reading list.

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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #473

The Miniaturist * by Jessie Burton is the sole debut among LibraryReads Picks for August 2014! And for good reasons.

After a hasty wedding on a brisk autumn day in 1686, 18 yr.-old Nella Oortman arrives at wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt's splendid home on the Herengracht Canal as his new wife. While the much older Brandt is kind but distractedly distant and consumed with the running of his business, his sharp-tongued sister Marin is less than welcoming. Nella is charmed, however, with the extraordinary wedding gift Brandt presents her - a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways.

"In a debut that evokes Old Master interiors and landscapes, British actress Burton (Oxford) depicts a flourishing society built on water and trade, where women struggle to be part of the world. Her empathetic heroine, Nella, endures loneliness and confusion until a sequence of domestic shocks forces her to grow up very quickly."

"Enchanting, beautifully written, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth."

For readers who enjoyed Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland; Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; and The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #471 - "Knowledge is gained through wisdom, my friend. Use the sword wisely.” ~ Brian Jacques

With swashbuckling action that brings to mind Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers, Sebastien De Castell launches a dynamic new fantasy series with Traitor's Blade *, where a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

The Greatcoats were once the king's elite magistrates, 144 men and women whose mission was to travel the land and uphold the King's Law. But the powerful Dukes overthrew the king and the Greatcoats were scattered and disgraced. Now Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti are reduced to working as bodyguards and mercenaries, jeered by the citizenry as "trattari" - tatter-cloaks, and branded as traitors. Implicated in a carefully orchestrated series of murders (including that of their employer); and the life of a young orphaned girl is at stake, they must search for a way to reunite the Greatcoats, and to restore order to Tristia, with nothing more than the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands.

"This debut is a triumph of character, with every protagonist a fascination, especially Falcio, a tormented and ridiculously honorable man. Humor abounds, mostly in the sparkling dialog among our Three Musketeers-esque band of brothers..." Look for Greatcoat's Lament and Tyrant's Throne, Book 2 and 3 of The Greatcoats series already in the works.

In the meantime, you might enjoy these readalikes:

Gentlemen of the Road * * * (a personal favorite) by Micheal Chabon. In the Caucasus Mountains in 950 A.D., two adventurers wander the region, plying their trade as swords for hire, until they become involved in a bloody coup in the medieval Jewish empire of the Khazars as bodyguards for a fugitive prince. A swashbuckling adventure yarn, along the lines of The Arabian Nights.

Captain Alatriste * by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the first installment of a historical series where wounded 17th c. Spanish soldier Alatriste works as a swordsman-for-hire in Madrid.

* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #466

"A suspenseful, gloriously atmospheric first novel, and a feast of gothic storytelling that is impossible to resist.” ~ Kate Atkinson.

"Ambitious, elegant, atmospheric, and often deeply poignant, The Quick is a seamless blend of Victorian London and rich imagination. This is a book to savor.” ~ Tana French.

"A sly and glittering addition to the literature of the macabre . . ." ~ Hilary Mantel.

The Quick * by Lauren Owen has been named Top 10 Literary Fiction Books of the Season by Publishers Weekly. An early draft of the novel won the Curtis Brown Prize for the best fiction dissertation. Fans of Anne Rice; Elizabeth Kostova; and Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) would not want to miss this.

1892: New Oxford grad. James Norbury finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat in London. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling Yorkshire home determined to find him. After navigating alone in sinister, labyrinthine London, Charlotte discovers that her brother's disappearance can be traced to a secret organization of gentlemen - the terrifying and powerful inner circle of The Aegolius Club that include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England.

"(C)reepy . . . thrilling... This book will give you chills even on a hot day". **Spoiler Alert** Skip this one if you have issues with vampires.

Readalikes : "Owen's debut is an intriguing blend of historical, gothic, and supernatural fiction, this will appeal to devotees of the macabre and gothic set in the Victorian period, especially those who enjoy Charles Palliser's Rustication, and David Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #459 - Paris, far more than setting

Novelists' endless fascination with the city and we readers can't seem to get enough of it.

A Paris Apartment * - cramp, decrepit, shuttered for 70 years but it is Paris, and it is in the 9th arrondissement. Sotheby's European furniture specialist April Vogt is glad for the assignment, and for putting a little distance between her and a troubled marriage. Under the dust sheets, she finds a treasure trove of priceless furniture and works of art - one being a stunning portrait of Marthe de Florian, owner of the apartment and one of Belle Epoque's most renowned actresses/courtesans.

In Michelle Gable's debut, once April begins to read over letters and journals written by Marthe, suddenly it is no longer about the materiality and provenance of the objects, but more about an extraordinary life lived and the secrets buried in the apartment. In the process, April is force to take a deeper look into herself.

"Gable's debut is strongest when Paris is the focus...". "With its well-developed, memorable characters and the author's skillful transitioning between story lines, finding similarities in the lives of two women decades apart, this stunning and fascinating debut will capture the interest of a wide audience but particularly those interested in stories about women behind famous men..."

I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You * is a sardonic dig at Richard Haddon's predicament. In Courtney Maum's debut, as the novel opens in 2002, English artist Richard Haddon is on top of the world. His first solo show in a trendy gallery sold out. His beautiful French wife Anne, is a successful attorney with pedigree, and wealthy in-laws had bestowed on the young couple a palatial apartment at an enviable Paris address. Then Anne finds the letters from Richard's mistress, a brash and sexy American journalist who has since moved on. Well, sort of.

In an effort to win back Anne's respect and affection, Richard intends to create the next masterpiece, proposing a controversial installation that would be a sly critique on Iraq's role in the global conflict around the issues of Weapon of Mass Destruction.

"Equally funny and touching, the novel strikes deep, presenting a sincere exploration of love and monogamy. These characters are complex, and their story reflects their confusion and desire... (a)n impressive, smart novel". (This debut is one of Library Reads picks for June).

Now, most appropriate for the City of Love, Emma Mars' (a pseudonym) Hotelles * - "Rife with sexual tension and mystery" this first tale in a trilogy is about a young Paris escort; the Hotel des Charmes where each room is dedicated to one of French history's greatest seductresses; and a silver notebook.

"Funny, sensual, candid, and revealing". It has been compared to The Story of O by Pauline Réage, originally published in 1954 and quickly became the talk of the Paris salons and cafes. While the identity of the author remains shrouded for 40 years, the novel went on to win the prestigious Prix des Deux Magots in 1955, and is still one of the most "curious and mysterious novels of recent times".

While I have your attention...just one more. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 * *, an electrifying union of fact and fiction by Francine Prose, built around a famous photograph entitled Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932 by Brassai. Prose originally intends to write a biography of Violette Morris, a decorated athlete, race-car driver, and Nazi collaborator (she is the one NOT in a dress).

"In an intricately patterned, ever-morphing, lavishly well-informed plot..., it is Paris in the 1920s (that) shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves." "A dark and glorious tour de force".

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Audiobook for Kids: Rooftoppers

As a baby, Sophie is found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck and is taken in by the man who found her, eccentric Englishman Charles Maxim who uses books for plates and toast for bookmarks! Sophie and Charles live a quiet, happy life together until Sophie’s twelfth birthday, when the authorities decide that Charles is not a fit guardian. Rather than letting Sophie be taken to an orphanage, Sophie and Charles embark on a quest to find Sophie’s mother with the cello case as their only clue. The pair travels to Paris where Sophie meets the illusive rooftoppers who agree to help her with her search for her missing mother.

The audiobook of Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell has the feel of a classic with its gorgeous writing, gentle humor and determined young heroine, and narrator Nicola Barber gets the accents exactly right. The novel is also reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo with its adventures through the secret world of Paris.

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