Fabulous Fiction Firsts #462 "There is no terror so consistent, so elusive to describe, as that which haunts a spy in a strange country" ~ John le Carré

One of the hottest titles this summer - I am Pilgrim * * * by Terry Hayes, a debut espionage thriller, and "a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest."

A young boy watches as his father is publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square.

In Damascus, a notorious Syrian biotech expert is found eyeless in a junkyard.

When a young woman is murdered in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero, lying face down in a pool of acid, teeth missing and fingerprints gone, NYPD homicide detective Ben Bradley calls in his long time friend, a retired, reclusive CIA operative to join the investigation. Code named Pilgrim, he immediately recognizes these techniques as ones pulled directly from his book, a cult classic of forensic science, written under a pen name. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting, pitting Pilgrim against an adversary known only as the Saracen who has devoted his life in service to jihad. His ultimate weapon - a synthesized fast-acting form of the smallpox virus that cannot be stopped. His target - the continental US.

The inevitable encounter between Pilgrim and the Saracen will come in Turkey, around the murder of a wealthy American, in a thrilling, twisting, beautifully orchestrated finale.

"Two psychos enter, and one psycho leaves. Good entertainment for readers with a penchant for mayhem, piles of bodies and a lethal biochemical agent or two."

Debut novelist Terry Hayes began his career as a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald, and a foreign correspondent in the US during Watergate. He is also a screenwriter and producer.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #460

Being released the latter part of June is Everything I Never Told You * *, the deeply-affecting debut novel by Celeste Ng, a UM grad (MFA, Helen Zell Writers' Program) and recipient of the Pushcart Prize and Hopwood Award. I expect a fair amount of buzz, not just locally. (Check out Vogue's Summer's Buzziest Beach Reads).

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." - every parent's worst nightmare. All her family knows is that the 15 year-old is missing from her home. The local police treats it as a runaway while her mother refuses to accept anything other than stranger abduction of her middle and favorite child - a motivated and exceptional student, pretty, popular and well-behaved. The rest of the family is less certain and in turn, as they each reflects on the Lydia that they know and love (including Lydia herself), a fractured image emerges, casting shadows, laying bare secrets each is desperate to keep.

The narrative flashed back to 1957 in Cambridge when a premed Radcliffe freshman Marilyn Walker met James Lee, a first-generation Chinese-American who was her graduate teaching instructor. They married over her mother's objection, trading in her dreams of becoming a doctor for the anonymity of a faculty wife at a small college in nowhere Ohio where James was able to find a teaching position. Their background (his - immigrant laborers and scholarship student), (hers- single mother from the South), aspirations (his - to belong) (hers - to stand-out), and dashed dreams became means by which their children were defined and measured, but never truly understood.

"As the police try to decipher the mystery of Lydia's death, her family realize that they didn't know her at all. Lydia is remarkably imagined, her unhappy teenage life crafted without an ounce of cliché. Ng's prose is precise and sensitive, her characters richly drawn." Highly recommended as a YA crossover and book group choice.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Celeste Ng will be in Ann Arbor, July 18, 2014 @ Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington. Don't miss this chance to meet her. I am hoping she might touch on her take on ethnic fiction, and why she does not want to be the next Amy Tan.

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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #458

Julia Dahl, a reporter for CBS News and the New York Post specializing in crime and criminal justice impresses with her debut Invisible City *. A solid good read for fans of Gillian Flynn, Cara Hoffman and Laura Lippman. (Check out the New York Times Sunday Book Review).

Twenty-something Rebekah Roberts thinks herself lucky to be hired on as a stringer for the New York Tribune, a daily tabloid. On a brutal winter's evening, she is sent to cover a story at a Brooklyn scrap yard where the body of a woman, head shaved and naked is found. Before the identity of the victim could be established, the body is carried off and quickly buried without an autopsy. She is shocked by the NYPD's lackadaisical handling of the case and its reluctance to cross the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community, even at the risk of letting a killer get away with murder.

There is also a personal reason for Rebekah to keep pursuing the story. She is drawn to this cloistered world of the Hasidic community, hoping to find out more about her mother who abandoned her as an infant to return to her Hasidic roots. Then she crosses path with a rogue detective who knows her mother, arranges for Rebekah to interview persons close to the victim, and presses her to get at the truth. "As Rebekah wades deeper into her mother's world, she finds both brutal truths and a society that eschews outsiders."

"This novel is particularly notable for its combination of a skillfully wrought, increasingly suspenseful mystery populated by well-drawn characters and a deeply sympathetic understanding of a contemporary culture that remains insular for its own understandable reasons."

The explosive conclusion clearly anticipates a sequel. Can't wait.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #457 - Classics Reboot

Fans of her Tony Hill (adapted into TV series as Wire in the Blood) and Kate Brannigan crime series will rejoice in Val McDermid's latest - the first in a projected new series, and a homage to Jane Austen by taking on her most "gothic-toned story", recasting a contemporary Northanger Abbey at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In this 21st century novel, Cat(herine) Morland, though still the naive vicar's daughter in a quaint Dorset village, is a Facebook and other social media junkie as well as a slave to all devices digital like teenagers everywhere. A voracious fiction reader who is partial to the gothic, finding little adventure and romance in real life. When an invitation for a month-long stay in Edinburgh comes her way, Cat is delighted. But the whirlwind of outings, new friendship, and a budding love interest (the dreamy Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey), might just be more than Cat could handle.

"A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship."

When an unnamed narrator opens with "Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again", savvy readers will immediately recognize the direct reference to Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca in Alena by Rachel Pastan.

At the Venice Biennale, a newly minted art historian cannot believe her good fortune when offered a position as the curator of a cutting-edge museum on Cape Cod. The Nauk (Nauquasset), founded by the wealthy, enigmatic, somewhat brooding Bernard Augustin, is still weathering the turmoils from the mysterious disappearance of its previous curator - the charismatic and beautiful Alena. The recalcitrant staff, loyal to Alena, threatens to stifle the new curator's every effort to realize her own creative vision. The only likely ally (and love interest) is found in the hard-bitten local police chief Chris Passoa, who persists to investigate Alena's disappearance, even after two years.

"Stirring and provocative..." "Hitchcockian..." "Flush with erotic intrigues and insights into real, working artists, Pastan has written a smart, chilling thriller that leaves readers thoroughly spooked."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #456

The darling of the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair that inspired frenzied bidding, already a bestseller in Europe, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair * will soon be released in the US (translated from the French by Sam Taylor), and destined to be one of this year's hottest summer read. (Also available in the original in the World Language Collection).

Joël Dicker, the 28 year-old Geneva-based author sets this charming whodunit in an idyllic seaside village in New Hampshire, having spent his childhood summers in New England.

On August 30, 1975, Nola Kellergan 15, was reported by a neighbor fleeing through the Somerset (NH) woods never to be seen again. The narrative picks up in 2008, when Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist suffering from extreme writer's block, seeks advice from Harry Quebert, his good friend and mentor, and one of the country's most respected writers. Snooping around in Harry's home office in Somerset, Marcus comes across material links between Harry and the missing Nola. Just days after, a landscaper finds Nola's remains in Harry's yard.

As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues literary and tangible, teasing out sordid small-town secrets in an attempt to save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually maybe himself.

The winner of three French literary prizes, including the Grand Prix du Roman from the Académie Française, and was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a "fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller".

Film rights sold to Warner Bros. Variety reports that Ron Howard will direct.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #453 - "Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies" ~ Jane Austen

The Zodiac Deception * by award-winning reporter for the New York Times Gary Kriss is a fast-paced WWII espionage thriller. "Crisp prose and a well-structured storyline" also makes it entertaining.

June 1942, Princeton professor David Walker didn't exactly volunteer, but OSS chief Wild Bill Donovan convinced him posing as German astrologer Peter Kepler was the only option other than prison, considering his checkered past. Walker's mission: rely on his skills learned as a protégé of both Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, to use illusion, sleight of hand and deception to gain Heinrich Himmler's trust and persuade him to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

From Berlin to Paris to Cairo; from Hitler's Eagle Nest to Himmler's occult Wewelsburg Castle, Walker walked a tightrope of deceit, navigating impossible challenges. To further complicate the mission, he fell in love with a maker of Nazi propaganda films and must rescue her from Paris' labyrinth underground sewers.

"Gary Kriss's The Zodiac Deception is a memorable debut, an unforgettable thrill ride through the dark heart of World War II Germany." A sequel is in the works. Stay tuned.

David Downing, author of the John Russell espionage series set in WWII Berlin, begins a new series with Jack of Spies, set on the eve of the First World War.

It is 1913, Jack McColl, a globe-trotting Scottish car salesman with an uncanny ear for languages, travels from city to great city trying to sell his company's luxury car, the Maia, while collecting intelligence for His Majesty's Navy. As the world tumbles towards war, his spy duties intensify along with danger quotient.

Meanwhile, a sharp, vivacious American suffragette journalist has wiled her way deep into his affections whose family may be involved in a plot against the British, putting him in the impossible position to choose between love and country.

"(F)ull of rich historical and cultural details", both of these FFFs would appeal to fans of Alan Furst, Philip Kerr; and Kate Mosse's latest Citadel (2014), where a group of WWII French Resistance women fighters risk everything to protect astonishing secrets buried in a village nestled deep in the Pyrenees.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #451

Retirement is pretty fabulous and I highly recommend it. However, there are certainly aspects of my work that I truly missed, blogging about books is one of them. So, Muffy is back, and just in time to bring you this wonderful first novel, published to coincide with the celebration of Will's 450th birthday this month.

Dark Aemilia * * is based on the life and loves of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer - the first woman poet to be published (in English), whom historians have called a "proto-feminist", choosing to dedicate many of her poems to a host of distinguished women.

British novelist Sally O'Reilly begins her U.S. debut with a young Aemilia, one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites at court, and mistress to Henry Carey, first Lord Hunsdon, the Queen's lord chamberlain. Learned and intelligent, she captivates the brash, young playwright Will and their clandestine affair proves to be her undoing. As the estrangement between them grows with each misunderstanding and misfortune, their love persists - painfully and without hope.

"With elegant style, masterly wordplay, and an eye for historical detail, O'Reilly beautifully relates a passionate and tragic love story, worthy of two such well-known figures". She also casts Aemilia in the shadowy role of the "Dark Lady" - the object of Shakespeare's late sonnets, and further fuels the debate as to the authorship of his plays.

"O'Reilly brings her star-crossed lovers together and drives them apart through plot twists that are, for once, credible outgrowths of the characters' personalities and beliefs, finally giving them a tender, heartbreaking parting. First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging." For fans of Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant.

* * = 2 starred reviews

New TV shows on DVD @ AADL

The library is always acquiring additional TV shows, be they hot and new, or oldies but goodies. Here are some new mystery series from the UK on their way to AADL:

Broadchurch, Season 1
When the body of eleven-year-old Danny Latimer is found on the beach in Broadchurch on the Dorset coast, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller and her newly-appointed boss, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, are called to investigate. As suspicions mount and the mystery deepens, a national spotlight descends upon Broadchurch, threatening to pull the town, its residents and their secrets apart.

The Broker's Man, Series 1
Jimmy is an ex-cop turned insurance investigator whose cunning and insight are well-suited to the business of exposing con men and fraudsters. With his police training, he's able to take on any case, no matter how dangerous. Fresh off a divorce and a breakup with his colleague and mistress, Jimmy still hasn't learned when to shut his wandering eyes and turn off his rakish charm. As he struggles to rebuild his family, keeping them safe from the perils of his work proves to be his ultimate test.

Fore more TV shows, be sure to check out AADL’s lists for HOT TV shows, as well as NEW TV shows.

The Other Typist is a can't-put-it-down read!

The Other Typist, the first novel by Suzanne Rindell, is a gripping historical fiction psychological thriller. The book’s simple description does not prepare readers for the true suspense that lies between the pages! Set in New York City during the height of Prohibition, the story is narrated—somewhat unreliably—by the typist Rose, who works at a police precinct in the city. A self-described plain, old-fashioned girl, she is both horrified and entranced by the fashionable, wild new typist named Odalie who is hired at the precinct. The wily Odalie quickly befriends Rose, and as the lives of the two girls become more and more enmeshed, Rose’s fascination with Odalie turns into obsession.

Readers get the impression throughout the book that something is soon to go terribly wrong, but it is difficult to predict what this turning point in the story may be. The book progresses towards its shocking, but seemingly inevitable end at a brisk clip, while the author’s simple, yet fantastic descriptions of the clothes and atmosphere of 1920s New York set a stunning backdrop to the events of the novel. Initially expecting a quiet historical fiction story, I ended up finding that I could not put The Other Typist down. Fans of The Great Gatsby must give The Other Typist a try.

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