Fabulous Fiction Firsts #441

Winner of the American Booksellers Association "Indies Introduce Debut Authors" and Amazon Editors' Fall Pick", Australian Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest * * * is also one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, "(a)n enrapturing debut novel that toys with magical realism while delivering a fresh fable."

Widowed Ruth Field lives alone in an isolated beach house. Her days are measured by calls from her grown sons and predictable routines. Lately, she thinks she hears a tiger on the prowl around her property at night, bringing back memories of her childhood in Fiji. One day a stranger arrives claiming to be a care worker sent by the government, and Ruth let her in, but not without suspicions that this Frida is hiding secrets. As strange things begin to happen, Ruth's sense of reality becomes shaky.

"This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about aging, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn't be."

"A pleasurable novel, with turns of plot and phrase both startling and elegant."

A readalike for S.J. Watson's debut Before I Go to Sleep

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #440 - "There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted" ~ Henry David Thoreau

Ewart Hutton's debut Good People * * is one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, and shortlisted for the 2012 British Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger for best first novel.

In this "atmospheric, criminally smart" new police procedural, award-winning playwright (BBC Radio) introduces Detective Sergeant Glyn Capaldi. Disgraced and banished from Cardiff to the Welsh countryside, Capaldi (half-Welsh, half-Italian) investigates the disappearance of a van packed with young men after a night of rugby and hard drinking. Those who turn up could not explain why one of the men and the only woman in the group are missing.

In the face of opposition from the local constabulary and his superior, Capaldi delves deeper when one of the men is found hanged, and uncover a network of conflicts, betrayals, and depravity that resonates below the outwardly calm surface of rural respectability.

"(A) stunningly dark debut. The first-person narrative keeps it personal, making the detective's vulnerabilities that much more intense."

"...the plot twists are cunning, and Glyn Capaldi is the most appealing antihero this side of Ian Rankins' John Rebus."

Readers who enjoyed Peter May's The Blackhouse would not want to miss this one. (See previous FFF blog).

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #438 - Contemporary Israeli Fiction

The #1 bestselling author in Israel Liad Shoham makes his American debut with Lineup * * (translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai) - a superbly plotted, uncompromising crime thriller, "a twisted tale of mistaken identity, organized crime, a disgraced detective looking for redemption, a tireless young reporter, and an innocent man with a not-so-innocent past."

A brutal rape in a quiet Tel Aviv neighborhood has the police baffled. There are no witnesses, suspects, or clues, until the victim's father steps in and finds overwhelming evidence pointing to Ziv Nevo, a small-time crook with no alibi. Veteran detective Eli Nahum, under pressure to wrap up this high-profile case, is willing to take short cuts in order to get a quick confession.

"Lineup focuses on these two men, detective and suspect, as they both end up betraying what they value most, fighting for their lives, and struggling to make amends for their mistakes in this gritty, fast-paced, complex novel of suspense."

"The vagaries and details of big-city life are well drawn, and events and characters appear and vividly form as the story gains momentum." For fans of the urban crime thrillers of Michael Connelly and Robert Crais.

Award-winning novelist Orly Castel-Bloom is considered a leading voice in contemporary Hebrew literature. A frequent lecturer in the US (Harvard, UCLA, NYU) and UK (Oxford, Cambridge), she teaches at Tel Aviv University. Her newest (and the first in English translation in our collection) Textile * * "captures the culture of modern-day Israel with provocative deadpan humor."

Mandy Gruber, proprietor of a successful pajama factory catering to the ultra-Orthodox Jews, is hamstrung by deathbed promises made to her mother, binding her to an unhappy marriage and an antiquated business. Alienated from her self-proclaimed genius husband Irad, her daughter Lirit, and Dael, a son who serves as a sniper in the Israel Defense Force, Mandy takes solace in the too-frequently scheduled cosmetic surgeries. But when the surgery goes awry, everyone closely and distantly related to Mandy will feel the repercussions.

"With understated flair and stoic wit, Castel-Bloom uses the Gruber family to explore the themes of globalization, materialism, superficiality, and longevity, anchoring her story in a neighborhood and attempting to connect all this beauty and luxury to some kind of posterity beyond grasp."

A welcomed addition to modern family sagas played out in a setting steeped in culture and history.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #437 - Ars longa, vita brevis (Art is long, life is short)

At the heart of Thomas Van Essen's debut - The Center of the World *, is perhaps the greatest painting by the renowned British painter J. M. W. Turner, and Henry Leiden, a middle-aged family man with a troubled marriage and a dead-end job, who finds his life transformed by the discovery of the painting in a secret compartment at his summer home in the Adirondacks.

Unlike the marine paintings Turner is known for, The Center of the World is a mesmerizing and erotic painting of Helen of Troy, so scandalous at the time that it was believed to have been burned by John Ruskin. Van Essen reimagines the 19th C. setting where Turner struggled to create this painting at the home of his patron Lord Egremont, and Elizabeth Spencer, Turner's muse and the model for his Helen.

"Filled with sex, beauty, and love (of all kinds), this richly textured novel explores the intersection between art and eroticism." "Van Essen writes gracefully and makes accessible the issue of art as transcendence...an appreciation for how art moves the human heart."

The Girl You Left Behind * by Jojo Moyes is about a 100 year-old painting that serves as catalyst in linking two loves stories, one set in occupied France during World War I, the other in contemporary London.

Liv Halston could not part with the painting her late husband David, a brilliant architect gave her as a wedding gift. Readers would be able to deduce that it is the same painting that Édouard, an artist who studied with Henri Matisse, painted of his wife Sophie Lefèvre, a village innkeeper before he headed off to war in 1916. The mystery is the odyssey of how this painting - The Girl I left Behind ended up in the hands of the Halstons, and who is the rightful owner - whether it is the Lefèvre heirs, the WWI occupying German kommandant who coerced a bargain with Sophie, or Liv who treasures it as the last link to the man she lost too soon?

"Moyes has created a riveting depiction of a wartime occupation that has mostly faded from memory. Liv and Sophie are so real in their faults, passion, and bravery that the reader is swept along right to the end. This one is hard to put down!"

Needing no introduction is Donna Tartt. In this her 3rd novel which took a good part of a decade to write The Goldfinch * * , the name is taken from a small, exquisitely rendered painting.

13 year-old Theo Decker miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend's family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

"The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America, and a drama of almost unbearable acuity and power. It is a story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the enormous power of art."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #436 - “Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.” ~Truman Capote

Just released to great anticipation is P.S. Duffy's debut The Cartographer of No Man's Land * *.

When his beloved brother-in-law Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus MacGrath, a ship's captain in hardscrabble Snag Harbor, Nova Scotia, puts aside his pacifist upbringing to join the war, in order to find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly to the front. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief.

"Duffy's astounding first novel depicts terrifyingly real battle scenes, rich in subtle details, displaying the intimacies shared among soldiers and the memories that haunt them."

" (T)he world of shipping and the uncertainty of the uncharted front line provide poignant metaphors for the characters' navigation of conflict, loss, and change, as well as their journey back to each other— and to themselves.".

A Baltimore native and a science writer for the Mayo Clinic, Duffy spent summers sailing in Nova Scotia.

Coming out shortly is Canadian journalist and novelist Brian W. Payton's The Wind is Not a River * *. The reader is treated to a little-known aspect of World War II, one that the U.S. government at the time, took great pains to keep from the public eye.

Desperate to understand the war that claimed the life of his younger brother Warren, journalist John Easley headed to the Territory of Alaska to investigate the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. In April 1943, he was shot down in a seaplane just off the remote and barren island of Attu. He and the only other survivor - a young Texan aviator named Karl Bitburg, battled the elements, starvation while trying to evade capture by the 2,000 Japaneses soldiers.

In the mean time, 3000 miles south in Seattle, John's wife Helen, resolved to search for her missing husband and to bring him home, signed on with the USO troupe to entertain the troops in Alaska as a dancer/performer.

"Payton has delivered a richly detailed, vividly resonant chronicle of war's effect on ordinary people's lives."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #430 - “War doesn't negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace." ~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Architect Charles Belfoure - "an up and coming Ken Follett." (Booklist) impresses with his debut - The Paris Architect *.

1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard took on a lucrative but dangerous commission to design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jew. It was to be so invisible that the most determined German officer wouldn't find; a challenge he could not resist to outwit the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city.

When one careless mistake resulted in tragedy, Lucien saw the plight of the Jews through new eyes, and the commission took on new meaning.

"Belfoure's portrayal of Vichy France is both disturbing and captivating, and his beautiful tale demonstrates that while human beings are capable of great atrocities, they have a capacity for tremendous acts of courage as well." "Heart, reluctant heroism, and art blend together in this spine-chilling page-turner."

Loosely based on British author Rhidian Brook's family history, The Aftermath is the emotionally riveting story of two families, one house, and love grown from hate.

Having been appointed Governor of Pinneberg, Bristish Army Col. Lewis Morgan was charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Hamburg devastated by Allied bombing. He was to station his family in a grand house on the River Elbe. Rather than forcing its owner to vacate, Lewis insisted that the two families would share the house.

In this charged atmosphere, exacerbated by domestic stress and war-related bitterness and grief, German architect Stefan Lubert and his teenage daughter, Freda, Lewis, his wife Rachel and their surviving son Edmund were forced to confront their true selves, navigating between desires, loyalties, and the transforming power of forgiveness.

For fans of Sadie Jones' Small Wars and other historical fiction that deals with the complexity of war. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies; and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer immediately came to mind.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #429 - "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once" ~ Stephen King

The Bookman's Tale : a novel of obsession by Charlie Lovett is set in Hay-on-Wy where the antiquarian bookseller/restorer Peter Byerly relocates after the death of his wife, Amanda. While casually browsing in a bookshop, a portrait of Amanda stumbles out of an 18th-century study of Shakespeare forgeries. Of course, it isn't really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture's origins. In the process, he learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

"(A) sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature's most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession: a romance."

"Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett (bio.) has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end.

"A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment." Shakespeare aficionados might further their excursion with Jennifer Lee Carrell and her Shakespearean scholar-turned-theater-director Kate Stanley thriller series.

I am totally captivated with Mark Pryor's The Bookseller : the first Hugo Marston novel (in BOCD). Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris is at loose ends. Contemplating a visit stateside to his estranged wife, he purchases a gift for her from his friend Max, an elderly bouquinistes. When Max is abducted in broad daylight, Martston looks on powerlessly to intervene. The police is uninterested, calling it a hoax but it piqued the interest of Claudia Roux, an attractive crime reporter.

With the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green, Marston launches an investigation. Pressure mounts as other booksellers are found floating in the Seine, they suspect that Max's disappearance is connected somehow to his activities as a Nazi hunter, and to the precious volume now in Marston's hands.

"Pryor's (true crime blogger, D.A.Confidential) steady and engrossing debut combines Sherlockian puzzle solving with Eric Ambler-like spy intrigue... the author winningly blends contemporary crime with historical topics. Pair with Cara Black's Aimée Leduc series for both locale and tone."

Reader might also enjoy the bookseller/amateur sleuth Victor Legris series set in belle-epoque Paris by Claude Izner, the pseudonym for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, both second-hand booksellers on the banks of the Seine and experts on 19th c. France.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #423 - Paris, any which way you can, but be very afraid

In Sarah Bruni's engaging debut The Night Gwen Stacy Died *, 17-year-old Sheila Gower has plans. She is moving to Paris. Misunderstood at home by her working-class family and a loner at school, she works at a small-town (Iowa) gas station where she conscientiously practices her conversational French aloud. She is attracted to the oddball cab-driver named Peter Parker, who stops in for cigarettes, and is intrigued when Peter begins to regard her as the fictional character's (Spider-Man) first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. One night, Peter shows up with a gun...

In this "unusual and inventive love story,.. two lost souls hold the key to each other's salvation". "(F)iercely smart and delectably unpredictable...A genuine page-turner." ~ Kathryn Davis.

"Rough with dark psychology, rich with introspection and emotion, this beautifully written book will appeal to fans of Spider-Man comics as well as coming-of-age fiction."

Winner of the prestigious 2013 Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award, Pierre Lemaître's Alex * * (the first in a trilogy and his first novel to be translated into English) which the judges praised as having "(a)n original and absorbing ability to leash incredulity..., is (a) police procedural, a thriller against time, a race between hunted and hunter, and a whydunnit, written from multiple points of view..."

30-year-old Alex Prévost spots a man who clearly has been following her. That night, Alex is grabbed on a Paris street and thrown into a white van. She is savagely beaten, suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse in a tiny wooden cage filled with rats (an updated version of torture favored at the time of Louis XVI).

Meanwhile, apart from a shaky eyewitness report of the abduction, Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven has nothing to go on: no suspect, no leads, and no family or friends anxious to find a missing loved one. He knows from bitter experience (in a heartbreaking backstory) the urgency of finding the missing woman but as he uncovers the details, Camille is forced to acknowledge that the person he seeks is no ordinary victim, thus setting the investigation off in an equally disturbing direction.

Expect plenty more twists and surprises that will keep you at the edge of your seat and the pages turning. And if you have a strong stomach and nerves of steel, may I also suggest Maegan Beaumont's Carved in Darkness* ? Another FFF, and first in a projected series, set in SF, that boasts "pulse-pounding terror, graphic violence and a loathsome killer". Be very very afraid...

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #421 - "I see your face in every flower, your eyes in stars above ..."

Sarah Butler's Ten Things I've Learnt about Love * is the interwoven story of Alice and Daniel. It is a story about finding love in unexpected places, about rootlessness and homecoming, and the power of the ties that bind.

Alice, the youngest of three daughters, rushes from Mongolia to her father's London home just in time to say goodbye. Never close to any of her family, she is drawn to solitary travel and an unconventional career. Daniel is homeless, wandering the streets of London, making sculptures out of found objects. As his health is failing, he is kept alive by the knowledge that he has a daughter somewhere in the world from a long ago affair with a married woman.

The narrative alternates between Alice's and Daniel's perspectives as both struggle with self-forgiveness—. Unbeknownst to each other, they are both fond of creating "Top 10 Lists".

"Spare language and an atmosphere of foreboding will keep readers on tenterhooks. Whimsy and pathos, artfully melded."

Longlisted for the Orange Prize, Anna Stothard's (Oxford) "gritty but elegant U.S. debut" The Pink Hotel is also a New York Times Review Editors' Choice.

An unnamed seventeen-year-old girl pieces together the mystery of her mother Lily's life and death among the seedy bars and bedrooms half a world away from her father's London home. At the raucous and drug-fueled wake, held at a boutique hotel on Venice Beach (CA), she walks off with an old suitcase stuffed with Lily's clothes, letters, and photographs, as she begins an emotional scavenger hunt, trying to piece together the woman who abandoned her years ago, and finds unexpected love along the way.

"Told with high style and noirish flare, The Pink Hotel is a powerfully evocative debut novel about wish fulfillment, reckless impulse, and how we discover ourselves.

Award-winning British YA and children's author Sophie McKenzie makes her US debut with her first psychological thriller for adults Close My Eyes.

Geniver Loxley has never gotten over losing her daughter, a stillborn eight years ago while rounds of fertility treatment have failed. One day, a woman knocks on her door and claims that her daughter is alive, having been taken away as a healthy infant, and worse yet, her husband Art, successful and powerful, is in on the scheme. Reeling from the shocking news she turns to free-spirited Lorcan, an old colleague of Art's. As the two investigate, they discover some shocking secrets that put their lives in jeopardy.

However, nothing will prepare the reader for the chilling epilogue, a dark and twisted scenario that is the definite high point of the novel. So consider yourself warned.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #420 - Sugar 'n spice and everything nice?

Well, I'll let you be the judge. But seriously, 2 phenomenal debuts from across the pond, with unforgettable young protagonists, not to be missed.

A published poet, and one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists Jenni Fagan knocked it out of the park with her dazzling The Panopticon * *, which has been named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and The Scotsman.

Anais Hendricks, 15 is headed for the Panopticon, the much dreaded last-resort for chronic young offenders after she is found covered with the blood of a police officer. Violent, "permanently whacked on...drug(s)", and the product of foster homes (23 before she turned 7), she is a survivor and a counter-culture outlaw. Though experience taught her to only rely on herself, she finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon, and soon forms strong bonds with the other troubled teens. Their struggle is with their keepers, especially when Anais is convinced she is part of a sinister experiment.

"Dark and disturbing but also exciting and moving thanks to a memorable heroine and vividly atmospheric prose."

"Anais's story is one of abandonment, loss, and redemption."

2013 Thriller Award nominee for Best Paperback Original Novel, Alex Marwood's (the pseudonym of a successful journalist) debut The Wicked Girls * * * is "(a) gritty, psychological thriller that asks the question: How well can you know anyone?"

On a fateful summer morning in 1986, 11 year-olds Jade Walker and Annabel (Bel) Oldacre meet for the first time. By the end of the day, they will both be charged with murder. Journalist Kirsty Lindsay, while following leads on a series of attacks on young female tourists in a seaside vacation town comes face to face with Amber Gordon, now a janitor for a carnival where the most recent crime is committed. This is their first meeting in 25 years after spending years in two separate British correctional facilities.

Kirsty and Amber, with new, vastly different lives, and unknowing families to protect, are desperate to keep their wicked secret hidden, and to uphold their probationary condition never to have contact with each other.

Marwood intersperses the contemporary serial-killer story line and hour-by-hour accounts of what happened the day the girls met 25 years ago. "This chilling debut is chock-full of surprises. If Tana French and Gillian Flynn stayed up all night telling stories at an abandoned amusement park, this is awfully close to what they might come up with."

"Gripping and fast-paced", it will appeal to fans of the Academy Award-nominated film Heavenly Creatures and the novels of Rosamund Lupton and Chevy Stevens."

"A suspenseful, buzz-worthy novel offering a sure-footed depiction of two women who lost their childhoods."

* * * = starred reviews
* * = starred reviews

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