2013 Sizzling Summer Reads #1 - Something to go with the heat

In National Book Award finalist Ken Kalfus's intellectual comedy Equilateral *, at the turn of the 20th Century, an obsessed British astronomer undertakes an massive project to build the Equilateral, a triangle in the Egyptian desert to signal to the highly evolved beings alive on Mars. But as work progresses, the local workers, a violent outbreak of malaria complicate matters while he himself is ensnared in a triangle of another sort - between his secretary who does not suffer fools, and Binta, a houseservant he covets but can't communicate with.

"Equilateral is written with a subtle, sly humor, but it's also a model of reserve and historical accuracy; it's about many things, including Empire and colonization and exploration; it's about "the other" and who that other might be. We would like to talk to the stars, and yet we can barely talk to each other."

If you enjoyed Overseas, Beatriz Williams's debut, you would not want to miss A Hundred Summers. 1938, Seaview (RI) where the Manhattan Danes and the Brynes have summered for decades, saw a reunion between former best friends Lily Dane and Budgie Greenwald who is now married to Nick, Lily's former fiance, and the charming Graham Pendleton, a celebrated Yankees pitcher recuperating from an injury.

Under the scorching summer sun, fueled with enough gin and gossips, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick's marriage bubbled to the surface just as a cataclysmic hurricane barreled unseen up the Atlantic. Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which would change their worlds forever.

Winner of a Costa Novel Award, Maggie O'Farrell bring us a beguiling family drama set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976 in Instructions for a Heatwave.

When Gretta Riordan's husband of 40 year went out for the paper on a sultry July morning and never returned, her three grown children converged on the family home for the first time in years. They each harbored secrets they were desperate to hide, even from those who loved them best, until the crisis at hand brought them together with hard-won, life-changing truths.

"Sophisticated, intelligent, and impossible to put down".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #408

10 years in the making, Hawk Quest * by Robert Lyndon is an epic adventure set in the aftermath of the Norman conquest.

In 1072, the world is at war, hunger and disease are widespread. Sir Walter is held captive by Süleyman, the emir of Anatolia (now Turkey). The ransom: four pure-white gyrfalcons. In medieval England, the price of a gyrfalcon is roughly equivalent to half of the yearly income of a knight, and a monarch's expense to send a ship to Norway to buy a falcon could have bought 250 cows, or 1200 sheep, or paid for 50 peasant workers for a year.

Vallon, a Frankish soldier of fortune with reasons of his own, accepts the seemingly impossible task of capturing four gyrfalcons. The journey takes his motley crew from England to Iceland, Greenland (home of the gyrfalcons), and on to Russia and Anatolia, pitting them against Arctic seas, Viking warlords and other formidable challenges.

"...first-novelist Lyndon never loses control of his material, mixing fascinating descriptions of the inhospitable landscape with full-bodied portrayals of the principal characters (including a bit of romance), all the while ratcheting the tension and sense of danger to ever-higher levels".

"...utterly engrossing", teeming with historically accurate details of medieval warfare and falconry, from an author who is himself a lifelong falconer, a climber and traveler to exotic places. For fans of Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt, Robyn Young's Brethren, and Conn Iggulden's Conqueror Series.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #407

"Take a dollop of Alfred Hitchcock, a dollop of Patricia Highsmith, throw in some Great Gatsby flourishes, and the result is Suzanne Rinde's debut - The Other Typist, a pitch-black comedy about a police stenographer accused of murder in 1920s Manhattan.... A deliciously addictive, cinematically influenced page-turner, both comic and provocative." Now, who could resist that?

1924 Manhattan. Rose Baker, the recorder of confessions and transgressions of all sorts, is a typist in a Lower East Side precinct of the Police Department, and considers herself to be an astute judge of character. Raised by nun and seemingly destined for the solitary life of a boardinghouse, she comes under the spell of glamorous Odalie Lazare, the new girl in the typing pool who represents the epitome of the new era of relaxed mores and life on the fast lane. Soon Rose is drawn into the sparkling underworld of speakeasies, bootleggers, and elegant house parties.

It is at one such house parties that a young man turns up dead after approaching Odalie, and Rose no longer could ignore the mystery that is her friend.

"With hints toward The Great Gatsby, Rindell's novel aspires to re-create Prohibition-era New York City, both its opulence and its squalid underbelly. She captures it quite well, while at the same time spinning a delicate and suspenseful narrative about false friendship, obsession, and life for single women in New York during Prohibition."

A notable addition to the pantheon of unreliable narrators, joining the likes of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Equally sensational and tantalizing, and set in the same era is Ron Hansen's A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, based on a true story of the affair between Ruth Brown Snyder and undergarment salesman Judd Gray, whose plot to kill Ruth's husband triggers an explosive police investigation.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #405

Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls* * * * by Anton DiSclafani is a lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls-school rituals, set in the 1930s, and it does not disappoint (and easily one of the best books I've read this year).

15 year-old Thea Atwell is sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, an exclusive equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The part that she played in the event that shattered her family and her privileged world is never clear though her guilt is palpable. Having been home schooled on the family's Florida citrus plantation, navigating the school's complex social order based on wealth, beauty and friendships is both exhilarating and challenging. Beautiful, observant, and a good rider, Thea soon finds a new sense of power which eventually proves her undoing.

The narrative weaves provocatively between home and school, past and present as the author gradually unfurls the shocking story behind Thea's expulsion from her family and the irreparable damages done. But it is too late for the reader to abandon Thea, for we are so engaged with this young woman who "wanted too much, wanted badly and inappropriately. And back then all that want was a dangerous thing".

"Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner - a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression, and the major debut of an important new writer."

"An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama".

Fearless and willful, Thea will bring to mind Briony Tallis in Atonement by Ian McEwan. An Emory grad (MFA Washington University in St. Louis where she now teaches), and a seasoned rider, Anton DiSclafani grew up in Northern Florida. Yonahlossee will appeal to fans of Curtis Sittenfeld and Lauren Groff.

* * * * = starred reviews

An Old-Fashioned Audiobook for Kids

Fans of audiobooks like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess or Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase may want to check out The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, narrated by Patricia Conelly.

Abandoned by her mother as a baby, Annika grows up as a “kitchen child” in the home of three eccentric professors, and even though she loves her guardians – the professors’ cook Ellie and housemaid Sigrid – she cannot help dreaming of her long-lost mother. When an elegant mother finally does arrive and sweeps her away to a crumbling German castle, Annika’s dream-come-true is plagued by homesickness for her warm Viennese kitchen and troubling hints that all is not right with her newfound family.

Ibbotson herself grew up in early 20th-century Vienna, and her descriptions of life in the city – the aging emperor, performances of the Lipizzaner stallions, rides on the giant ferris wheel – make the world of the story truly come to life. If you love stories of the vivid past, love old-fashioned tales of kind heroines and dastardly villains, then give this audiobook a listen.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #402

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope *, Rhonda Riley's debut novel is set at the end of WWII when Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds and rescues what appears to be a badly burned soldier buried in the heavy red-clay during a driving rainstorm. The stranger heals rather remarkably fast and morphs into an Evelyn lookalike whom she names Addie. The two fall in love. When a chance encounter with a grifter offers an opportunity to avoid small town scrutiny, Addie transforms into Adam. Together, they raise 5 daughters who shares in their father's supernatural gifts.

When tragedy strikes, Adam's extraordinary character is revealed and the family must flee. "Intensely moving and unforgettable, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope captures the beauty of the natural world, and explores the power of abiding love and otherness in all its guises. It illuminates the magic in ordinary life and makes us believe in the extraordinary."

"First-time novelist Riley's exquisite language draws the reader into this improbable, beautifully rendered, somewhat biblical love story with a wildly imaginative premise that is irresistible, tender, and provocative. " ~ —Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (Library Journal).

Highly recommended for fans of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Time Traveler's Wife, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

* = starred review

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.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #398

If you were bewitched by The Night Circus, mesmerized by A Discovery of Witches, and enthralled by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, then you would not want to miss Helene Wecker's debut The Golem and the Jinni, a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale drawn from Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature and mythology.

Chava, a golem is a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi as a commission for an unpleasant furniture maker wanting a wife. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago. A chance meeting on the streets of turn-of-the-century New York brings an unlikely friendship for these mythical creatures.

As Chava, unmoored and adrift her owner having died at sea, arrives in New York harbor, Ahmad is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Forming an unexpected friendship, Chava and Ahmed must learn how to survive undetected among the immigrant communities, cope with their individual challenges and desires, while preparing to battle a dangerous adversary.

"Wecker...writes skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon strangers in a strange land".

"Wecker deftly layers their story over those of the people they encounter, from the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom".

" (a) spellbinding blend of fantasy and historical fiction".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #396 - The Revolutionaries

Amy Brill, a PBS and MTV writer/producer and a former fellow of the Edward F. Albee Foundation, and the Millay Colony, has just published her first novel.

The Movement of Stars * is a love story set in 1845 Nantucket, between a female astronomer and the unusual man who understands her dreams. This richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity is inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), the first professional female astronomer in America who discovered C/1847 T1.

24 year-old Hannah Gardner Price spends her days as a junior librarian in the Nantucket Atheneum, and mindful of the restraints and discipline of the Quaker community in which she is raised. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah points a telescope at the heavens, hoping to spot a new comet to win the King of Denmark's prize, unheard of for a woman in mid-19th century.

And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. but when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah's standing in the community begins to unravel especially amidst the widespread abolitionist sentiments, thus challenges her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changes the course of her life.

"In spare yet luminous prose, Brill shows Hannah achieving emotional and spiritual growth to match her intellectual gifts... Probing yet accessible, beautifully written and richly characterized: fine work from a writer to watch:".

Readers interested in exploring emotional and professional journey of strong women would enjoy Susan Vreeland's Clara and Mr. Tiffany (2011); Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures (2010); while romantic historical fiction fans would find much to like in Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Day the Falls Stood Still (2009).

* = starred review

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