Fabulous Fiction Firsts #274

The hype for Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind * * * * is building to a fever pitch with its publication this week. It is the leading title for the publisher this season. We saw early review copies back in January and knew this was going to be BIG, and now all the reviews just confirmed that it is the "must read" of the season.

The narrator is Dr. Jennifer White, a widowed retired orthopedic surgeon with rapidly advancing dementia. She is the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend and neighbor Amanda O'Toole. As proud and forceful women, their relationship has been complex and rocky at times. The killer has surgically removed four of Amanda's fingers, and worse yet, Jennifer does not know whether she did it or not. As the investigation into the murder deepens and White’s relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify, a chilling question lingers: is White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

"A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss, Turn of Mind is a remarkable debut that examines the deception and frailty of memory and how it defines our very existence."

"An extraordinarily crafted debut novel... the author is able to do it so convincingly through the eyes and voice of the central character is an amazing achievement. Heartbreaking and stunning, this is both compelling and painful to read."

Good companion read to this year's bumper crop of FFFs dealing with neuroscience and the strange and wondrous workings of the human mind. See blogs on Left Neglected and Before I Go to Sleep. Turn of Mind also joins a growing list of titles dealing with Alzheimer's, and does it brilliantly.

Alice LaPlante was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. She teaches creative writing at both Stanford and San Francisco State University.

* * * * = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #271

A Cambridge grad (English Lit.), Rosamund Lupton won the Carlton Television's new writers' competition and was selected by the BBC for a place on their new writers' course before becoming a novelist. Her debut Sister: a novel * * * was originally published (2010) in the UK in paperback. Steadily building up steam and garnering great reviews (The New York Times, for example) along the way, it is likely to be one of the big "must reads" this summer. I read it in one night. Just couldn't put it down.

When Bee (Beatrice) Hemming receives a call in Manhattan from her mother that her sister Tess is missing, she is on the next plane out to London. The sisters are THAT close. When Tess is found dead (in an apparent suicide) Bee refuses to accept that. As Bee moves into Tess's art student studio/apartment, tracks down her friends and lovers, traces her movements leading up to her disappearance, a disturbing picture begins to emerge. All the tell-tale signs point to the murderer as someone Tess knows and trusts, someone that might see Bee now as a threat.

The narrative takes the form of a series of intimate letters from Bee to Tess as she recounts their family life, the fierce devotion between them, as well as being an effective device that would allow Bee to lay out in meticulous details, her fearless pursue of the murderer.

"A chilling, gripping, tragic, heartwarming, life-affirming enigma of a story" . "A skillfully wrought psychological thriller". You might be a bit late to the party already (Sorry about the waiting list), but don't miss this one.

Watch Rosamund Lupton discuss the inspiration behind the writing of the book on YouTube.

* * * = starred reviews.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #267

S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep : a novel * * * is definitely the buzz of the summer, the book everyone is waiting to get their hands on.

Young and single Christine Lucas awakes each morning appalled with the 47 year-old woman looking back at her in the mirror. A man named Ben reminds her each day he is her husband. Each night as she sleeps, her near-term memory is wiped clean. With the help of her memory coach Dr. Nash, Christine keeps a secret journal which contains key details from her past, details that don't quite match the story Ben has been telling her.

With a taut and well-constructed plot, the immediacy of the first-person narrative, and the pulse-pounding suspense, British debut novelist Watson gives us one of the season's very best psychological thriller. Rights sold to 34 countries. Film rights to Ridley Scott. Early blurbs by Dennis Lehane and Tess Gerritsen.

* * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #263

Touch *, Alexi Zentner's debut is set in Sawgamet, a north woods boomtown gone bust, where the cold of winter breaks the glass of the schoolhouse thermometer, and the dangers of working in the cuts are overshadowed by the mysteries and magic lurking in the woods. Stephen, a pastor, is at home on the eve of his mother's funeral, thirty years after the mythic summer his grandfather returned to the town in search of his beloved but long-dead wife. And like his grandfather, Stephen is forced to confront the losses of his past.

"Touch introduces you to a world where monsters and witches oppose singing dogs and golden caribou, where the living and the dead part and meet again in the crippling beauty of winter and the surreal haze of summer."

It brings to mind another powerful debut Three Day Road by fellow Canadian Joseph Boyden. It is a stunning tale of brutality, survival, and rebirth set in Northern Ontario where Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman journeyed to retrieve Xavier Bird, her only relation, who has returned from the trenches of Europe, gravely wounded and addicted to morphine.

Sharron Smith, a librarian who knows everything Canadian (mostly books and authors), also suggests Gil Adamson's The Outlander as a readalike for its setting (wilderness); the suspense (the deadly pursuit of a young woman accused of murder); the style (slow and lyrical unfolding of the storyline); and the elements of magical realism.

* = Starred review

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

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