Fabulous Fiction Firsts #262

After the second ice age, America Pacifica is one of the last habitable places and it is the only home that 18 year-old Darcy ever known. The island is ruled by a mysterious dictator named Tyson where education, food and the basic means of survival are strictly rationed and controlled by the "chosen" few.

Darcy lives a hand-to-mouth existence with her mother Sarah, a pearl diver by trade, in a leaky apartment. When Sarah disappears, Darcy embarks on a quest to find her. Along the way, Darcy learns about her island home's history, the secrets her mother guarded fiercely, and the same secrets that now put Darcy in mortal danger.

In Anna North's richly imagined debut novel set in the near future, she chooses to downplay the "science" aspects in favor of a more naturalist and realistic narrative, from the perspective of a likable heroine who is plucky and resourceful as she is melancholic and vulnerable. "An entertaining, stylishly written doomsday novel."

Readers looking for a readalike to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games might find Darcy a new protagonist to root for.

Fans of post-apocalyptic dystopian, global-disaster survival story might also enjoy the Flood series by Stephen Baxter.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #257

In Paul Elwork's atmospheric debut The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead * 13 year-old twins Emily and Michael Stewart, privileged, precocious and orphaned from the Great War are allowed to roam aimlessly around their family's estate along the Delaware River until one day Emily discovers a special "gift" that they take to fool the neighborhood children as "spirit knockings".

Somehow this game of contacting the dead catches on with adults reeling from loss and grief, desperate to believe in life after death. In the meantime, Emily is trying to piece together her own family's history, reaching back to plantation life in Virginia, and discovering family secrets planted along the way.

Loosely based on true events from the early 20th century, this "subtle and moving portrayal of people in the grip of powerful emotions that overwhelm rational thinking will haunt readers long after they put the book down." "Family secrets, a love triangle, and a duplicitous magician add to the darkening atmosphere of a thought-provoking novel that blurs the boundaries between faith and trickery."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #256

Harvard grad Edward Conlon is a former detective with the New York City Police Department. His memoir Blue Blood (2004) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; a New York Times Notable Book; and has been adapted into a popular television series.

His highly anticipated debut novel Red on Red * * * * tells the story of two NYPD detectives, Meehan and Esposito and their fierce and unlikely friendship. One damaged and introspective, the other ambitious and unscrupulous, they nevertheless prove to be complimentary and a successful team working the rough Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, handling gritty crimes of suicides, rapes, gang wars, and the disappearance of a troubled Catholic schoolgirl who is a mystery in her own right.

A potent mix of strong story line, police jargon, crisp dialog, black humor, with complicated romances thrown in for good measure, makes this a captivating thrill ride. A readalike for Lou Manfredo's Rizzo's War (and its follow-up Rizzo's Fire), and gritty police/crime thrillers of Joseph Wambaugh, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane.

* * * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #254

There are FFFs that you are determined to hand-sell every chance you get, and then there are some you want to shout "You don't want to miss this!". Guilt by Association : a novel * * * is just such a debut (out mid April).

First, there is the author. A former L.A. Deputy District Attorney, the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder case, Marcia Clark is the author of Without a Doubt (1997) her memoir of the trial.

Next, there is the story. Los Angeles D.A. Rachel Knight is a tenacious, wise-cracking, and fiercely intelligent prosecutor. When her colleague, Jake Pahlmeyer is found shot to death in a sleazy motel along with a 17-year-old boy, she must take over his toughest case: the rape of the teenage daughter from a prominent family. Though having been warned-off by the top brass against delving into Jake's death, Rachel teams up with LAPD Detective Bailey Keller to pursue both cases, risking not only her career but also her life.

And then, there is the writing. "Marcia Clark combines intimate detail, riotous humor, and visceral action" in a real twisty, top-notched legal thriller.

For fans of Linda Fairstein and Meg Gardiner. Maximum girl power.

* * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #253

Some called it "rich and evocative"; some thought it "odd, dark and often creepy", but all the reviewers seemed to agree that Lori Roy's Bent Road * * ( * * * * ) is an exceptionally well-written debut, and a captivating, and suspenseful tale of a dysfunctional family and community.

Young Arthur Scott fled a small Kansas town, moved to Detroit and raised a family. Unnerved by the 1967 riots, he packs up his family and moves back home where the mysterious death of his older sister Eve still haunts him after 20 years.

While Arthur and the oldest daughter slip easily into rural life, others in the family struggle with loneliness and displacement, especially his only son, Daniel. Then a battered red truck is seen cruising ominously along on Bent Road and a young girl disappears without a trace.

Family secrets, small town dynamics, coerced silence, and ruined lives drive the plot towards its shattering revelation and conclusion, "reminding us that simplicity of landscape does not necessarily mean simplicity of life".

Lori Roy was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas where she worked for years as a tax accountant before turning her focus to writing. Her work has appeared in the Chattahoochee Review, and she is the recipient of the Ed Hirschberg Award for Excellence in Florida Writing.

A readalike for Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning; No Mercy by Lori Armstrong; and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.

* * = starred reviews. (Read the NPR review).

* * * * = 4-star review in an upcoming issue of People Magazine.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #251

Taylor Stevens' s "blazingly brilliant debut" The Informationist * * is perhaps the best thriller I've read in a long while, introducing at the same time a new action heroine, who is a worthy successor to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander.

Androgynous and beautiful, possessing an encyclopedic and logical mind, Vanessa Michael Munroe deals in information - very expensive information that corporations and the CIA are more than willing to pay for. Now a Texas oil billionaire has hired her to find his daughter who vanished in Africa four years ago. Born to missionary parents in lawless central Africa, Munroe took up with an infamous gunrunner when she was just fourteen. After almost a decade building a new life and lucrative career, Munroe finds herself back in the lands of her childhood, betrayed, cut off from civilization, and left for dead.

"Gripping, ingenious, and impeccably paced" . You don't get any better than this.

The author herself is as unusual as her protagonist. Born into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe, denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Taylor Stevens broke free of the cult in her late 20s. With no marketable skills and a family to support, she began writing in earnest after reading a Robert Ludlum. Here is an interview with Stevens in the latest Vogue Magazine. She is at work on the 3rd title in the series.

* * = starred reviews

March's Action-Packed Books to Film

Already in theaters is The Adjustment Bureau, adapted from the short story "The Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick, collected in The Early Work of Philip K. Dick. Vol. 1, The variable man & other stories. Matt Damon plays David Norris, a promising U.S. Senate candidate who falls for beautiful dancer at a chance meeting but fate and a mysterious group of men conspire to keep the two apart.

Alan Glynn's The Dark Fields is adapted into Limitless, a paranoia-fueled action thriller about an unsuccessful writer whose life is transformed by a top-secret "smart drug" that allows him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself. His enhanced abilities soon attract shadowy forces that threaten his new life in this darkly comic and provocative film. Starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro.

Charismatic bad boy Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Haller in the highly anticipated adaptation of Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer.

In the film, Michael "Mick" Haller is a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Continental Sedan. Having spent most of his career defending petty, gutter-variety criminals, Mick unexpectedly lands the case of a lifetime: defending a rich Beverly Hills playboy who is accused of attempted murder. However, what initially appears to be a straightforward case with a big money payoff swiftly develops into a deadly match between two masters of manipulation and a crisis of conscience for Haller.

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Hunger Games + Carolyn McCormick = Good Listening

If you're looking for an excuse to listen to the BOCD of The Hunger Games, consider this: The narrator is Carolyn McCormick who played Dr. Elizabeth Olivet on NBC's Law & Order. Not impressed? Well, McCormick also is the narrator on BOCDs of mysteries by James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell. Who can resist?

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #246

Keigo Higashino won Japan's Naoki Prize for Best Novel with The Devotion of Suspect X* * *, a stunning thriller about miscarried human devotion.

This is the first major English publication of Japan's best-loved and bestselling crime novelist, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander.

Young Yasuko is caught red-handed over the dead body of her abusive ex-husband, luckily by her neighbor, a middle-aged high school mathematics teacher named Shigami who quickly offers to help, not only to dispose of the body but to construct an elaborate alibi for her.

When Detective Kusanagi draws the case, he suspects Yasuko though he is unable to find any obvious holes in her alibi. So Kusanagi enlists the help of Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a brilliant physicist, who also happens to be a former classmates of Ishigami. What ensues is a high level battle of wits, as Ishigami tries to protect Yasuko by outmaneuvering and outthinking Yukawa, who faces his most clever and determined opponent yet.

Readers of atmospheric and psychological thriller should also like David Peace's WWII-era Tokyo Year Zero (2007), a darkly lyrical and original crime novel featuring Detective Minami of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Or noir mysteries by Natsuo Kirino, at the fringe of contemporary Tokyo society.

Readers interested in character-driven mysteries set in Asia should try James Church's Inspector O series, set in a politically-charged modern Korea.

* * * = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #239

Sara J. Henry's Learning to Swim : a novel (coming out this month) is the first in a projected mystery series.

Freelance writer Troy Chance rescues a child tossed off the back of a passing ferry onto frigid Lake Champlain. Gradually teasing out his story, made difficult by the fact that he only speaks French, Troy comes to understand that the boy, Paul had been kidnapped, held for months. When Troy tracks down Paul's father, successful businessman Philippe Dumond and returns Paul to Ottawa, she soon senses that Paul might still be in danger and in fact, is at the center of a bizarre and violent plot.

"A compelling plot, a pervading sense of foreboding, well-constructed characters..., Henry proves herself to be a smooth and compelling storyteller. And her lead is highly appealing: an athletic, fiercely independent young woman".

A readalike for crime-fiction authors Chevy Stevens, Norman Green and Gillian Flynn whose feisty female protagonists are also capable of making delightfully acerbic observations.

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