Fabulous Fiction Firsts #399

Originally published in Germany in 2001, The Russian Donation * * is the first book in the Dr. Hoffmann series by Christoph Spielberg (translated by Gerald Chapple), and the 2002 winner of Germany's Friedrich Glauser Prize for Best Debut Crime Novel.

When a former patient and hospital employee Misha Chenkov shows up dead at the ER, Dr. Felix Hoffmann, physician at a Berlin teaching hospital is surprised and perplexed. He becomes suspicious when his autopsy order goes unfulfilled, the body is cremated, and hospital records simply vanished. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Hoffmann stumbles into an intricate conspiracy that reaches from the bowels of the hospital to its highest offices and puts his life at risk.

Spielberg, a physician has created a reluctant sleuth who is strong, resourceful, and "unwilling to put up with any crap". Look for future cases to follow.

For fans of Robin Cook's medical thrillers who might also enjoy Helene Tursten's Night Rounds (2012) which features Detective Inspector Irene Huss of the Violent Crimes Unit in Goteborg, Sweden.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #395 - The Reconstructionists 2

Holly Goddard Jones's debut novel The Next Time You See Me * revisits the same terrain as in her Girl Trouble (2009), a collection of eight "beautifully written, achingly poignant, and occasionally heartbreaking stories" set in a small Kentucky town.

When middle-school teacher Susanna could not reach her hard-drinking, unpredictable older sister Ronnie, and the rotten take-out food cartons and other alarming signs in her apartment fail to convince the local police to treat it as a missing person's case, she has to turn to Tony, a failed athlete returning to his home town as a detective.

Socially awkward 13 year-old Emily, an easy target for 7th grade bullies, takes refuge in a stretch of deserted woods and stumbles onto a gruesome scene she decides to keep to herself.

Downtrodden Wyatt, is a factory worker tormented by a past he can't change and by a love he doesn't think he deserves. Connected in ways they cannot begin to imagine, their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves.

"Jones' well-crafted tale captures small-town nuances while exploring the individual psychologies of her characters and their struggles".

"In the vein of Gone Girl,...Jones' tightly written Southern thriller will be one of spring's sizzling titles. Jones brilliantly weaves together story lines from unexpected angles. Her writing is fluid and she keeps a pace that will have readers lacing on their running shoes. And what a suspenseful, emotional, addictive run it is! "

Enough said. A must-read this spring.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #394 - The Reconstructionists

One of the most common causes of accidental death in America (right behind motor vehicle crashes) is falls (almost 15,000/year). There is grief but sometimes searching for the why and the how are all the more consuming for those left behind.

In Kimberly McCreight's debut Reconstructing Amelia (earning a "Grade A" from Entertainment Weekly), suspended for cheating at Grace Hall, a prestigious private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Kate Baron's daughter Amelia has apparently leapt from the roof by the time Kate arrives to pick her up. Then Kate gets an anonymous text message saying, "Amelia didn't jump".

A single mother juggling a demanding legal career, Kate is rocked with guilt and refuses to reconcile the out-of-character accusations leveled at the over-achieving, well-behaved Amelia. She searches through Amelia's e-mails, texts, and Facebook updates, piecing together the last troubled days of her daughter's life.

"This stunning...page-turner brilliantly explores the secret world of teenagers, their clandestine first loves, hidden friendships, and the dangerous cruelty that can spill over into acts of terrible betrayal". A great YA crossover, and readalike for Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato.

This one, I liked a lot - Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke.

"People go traveling for two reasons: because they are searching for something, or they are running from something". Katie's world is shattered by the news that her headstrong and bohemian younger sister, Mia, has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Bali, apparently a suicide, while on an impromptu around-the-world trip. With only the entries in Mia's travel journal as her guide, Katie leaves her sheltered life in London to retrace the last few months of her sister's life, and to uncover the mystery surrounding her death.

"Weaving together the exotic settings and suspenseful twists, Swimming at Night is a fast-paced, accomplished, and gripping debut novel of secrets, loss, and forgiveness".

"A great read for fans of smart contemporary women's fiction as well as thriller and mystery readers". Comparisons are inevitable with Rosamund Lupton's Sister.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #393

Named Book of the Year 2011 by The Economist, The Afrika Reich * is "remarkable for the plot that is clever, imaginative ... wholly unexpected. In a crowded field, (it) stands out as a rich and unusual thriller, politically sophisticated and hard to forget ".

Debut novelist Guy Saville (blog) will hold you in suspense as he spins a tale of an alternate world where a victorious Nazi Germany sets its sight on Africa.

After the "Dunkirk Fiasco", a humiliated Britain under Prime Minister Lord Halifax, signed a non-agression pact with Hilter for peace in Europe and to bring her POWs home. 1952, Africa. The swastika flies from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. The SS enslaves the native populations and threatens the ailing British colonies. At the helm reigns the architect of Nazi Africa Germany - Walter Hochburg, the psychopathic governor-general of Kongo.

Burton Cole, a retired assassin is hired to eliminate Hochburg. He is motivated less so by the huge purse that would save his little farm, than by a personal score to settle. But when his mission turns to disaster, Cole realizes his small team of mercenaries has been betrayed, and they might not make it out alive.

"Saville gets everything right - providing suspenseful action sequences, logical but enthralling plot twists, a fully thought-through imaginary world, and characters with depth."

"A skin-of-the-teeth escape at the end foreshadows a series." Book 2 (2014) and Book 3 are sure things. The waiting is the tough part.

Fans of alternative history would also enjoy In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (you would love this one if you are a jazz fan as well); The Plot Against America by Philip Roth; and Hitler's Peace by Philip Kerr.

* = starred review

A Cautionary Tale, Because Teens Need Advice, Too

It didn't sound like a novel I would like, but Panic by New York Times bestselling author Sharon Draper turned out to be gripping and powerful. Written for ages 14 and older, the novel centers on a close-knit dance troupe and bad decisions made by two young dancers -- with horrible, undeserved consequences.

When Diamond goes to the mall with a friend, she leaves, alone, with a stranger who promises to make her a film star. She is kidnapped and held captive
by the man, who makes porn. Meanwhile, the other dancer, Layla, clings crazily to her sexy boyfriend, Donovan, who abuses her physically and emotionally. The story seems alarmingly realistic; once begun, it is hard to put down. Four alternating narrators tell the tale, adding richness to character development and plot.

In an article on Shelf Awareness.com, Sharon Draper allows that her latest book is "a little edgier than anything I've written, but I think it could save a life. . . .We tell our six-year-olds not to talk to strangers, not to talk to a man with a nice dog. We don't tell our teens anything. They think they're smart enough and mature enough to tell the difference between a nice guy and a bad guy."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #392

Debut novelist Jenny Milchman is definitely one to watch, if Cover of Snow * * (print format) is anything to go by.

Set in remote and insulated Wedeskyull, NY,, in the Adirondacks, Nora Hamilton wakes to find her world totally shattered with the suicide of her rock-solid husband Brendan. Leaving no note and giving no indication of his intent, Nora is at a loss. She needs answers but all she encounters is a bewildering resistance from Brendan's best friend and colleague, fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies layers of secrets and heart-breaking tragedies, which a powerful conspiracy will stop at nothing to keep buried.

"This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage. Fans of Nancy Pickard, Margaret Maron, and C. J. Box will be delighted to find this new author." ~ Booklist

Listen-alike:

Sister by Rosamund Lupton.

No time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon.

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #390

Swedish TV screenwriter Alexander Söderberg's debut The Andalucian Friend ** is the first of a projected trilogy, an international suspense/thriller you won't want to miss.

Breaking her personal code never to date a patient, widowed nurse Sophie Brinkmann discovers that Hector Guzman, of quiet charm and easy smile, is in fact, the head of a powerful international crime organization. Regrettably, her previously uneventful and quiet life is but history, being drawn into Guzman's sinister world of drugs, arm dealing, turf wars, hit men and rogue cops. This single mother must summon everything within her to navigate this intricate web of moral ambiguity, deadly obsession, and craven gamesmanship.

Set largely in Stockholm, The Andalucian Friend is a powerhouse of a novel - ”turbo-charged, action-packed, highly sophisticated, and epic in scope". Little wonder that it was the smash hit of the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair. Film rights sold to Indian Paintbrush Productions.

A strong resemblance to one of my favorite FFF- The Expats (2012) by Chris Pavone, and reminds me also of The Boy in the Suitcase by Danish author Lene Kaaberbol.

* * = starred reviews (Initial print run: 100K)

Liar & Spy Audiobook: Give It a Listen

In Liar & Spy, Georges’ best friend has left him to join the popular kids, and now Georges is alone and bullied at school. When his family moves into a new apartment building, he finds a note advertising a spy club and soon finds himself joining to spy on mysterious neighbor Mr. X with his new best friend Safer. But not all is as it appears to be in this funny, tense, beautifully-layered novel.

After listening to it myself, I can say that translates into an excellent audiobook, especially during those edge-of-your-seat moments, which really did have me on the edge of my seat.

Liar & Spy is written by Rebecca Stead, whose previous novel, When You Reach Me, won the Newbery Medal in 2010.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #382

~The sensation of the Frankfurt Book Fair
~150k initial print run, film rights to Warner Bros.
~ Endorsements by Lee Child and Robert Crais

Roger Hobbs's debut Ghostman * * , "a propulsive thriller... with more twists and turns than a 10-yard-long corkscrew", is a must read for adrenaline junkies.

Only 2 knew his name and only one is alive. Now he calls and Jack Delton had to answer. Five years ago, a mega heist in Kuala Lumpur went bad and Marcus now looks to even the score. Jack is the ghostman who specializes in disappearing, and it is up to him to make a botched armored-car robbery in Atlantic City disappear—. The trouble is the $1.2 million in freshly minted bills set to explode in 48 hours if not found. Hot on Jack's trail is a female FBI agent who may be more interested in Jack than the crime, and half of the criminal world is ready to pounce for a piece of the action.

"Straight out of the gate, Hobbs has mastered the essentials of a contemporary thriller: a noirlike tone, no-nonsense prose and a hero with just enough personality to ensure he doesn't come off as an amoral death machine ... A smart entry into the modern thriller pantheon, at once slick and gritty".

Roger Hobbs (website) graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 2011, where he majored in English. Ghostman was written during the summer between his junior and senior years.

* * = starred reviews

The Listen List 2013

Established in 2010 by the CODES section of Reference and User Services Association (RUSA, a division of the American Library Association), The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration seeks to highlight outstanding audiobook titles that merit special attention by general adult listeners and the librarians who work with them. The Listen List Council selects these 2013 winners. They include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and plays.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Narrated by Daniel Weyman.
In a gravelly yet gleeful voice, Weyman narrates this swashbuckling genre-blend of spies, gangsters, and a doomsday machine. The lavish and imaginative story of Joe Spork, a clockmaker out of his depth as he attempts to save the world, is brilliantly realized through Weyman’s attention to inflection, characterization and pacing.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Narrated by Simon Vance.
In this grim and gripping tale, masterfully told, Vance brings Tudor England to life.
Beautifully accented and paced, his pitch-perfect narration deftly navigates the large and diverse cast and the intricate plot machinations to create a stunning glimpse into a dangerous time when Henry VIII ruled and Thomas Cromwell served as his “fixer.”

The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell. Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.
The discovery of a blood-covered little girl wandering in Central Park draws police detective Kathleen Mallory into an investigation involving long hidden secrets of New York’s elite. Rosenblat’s warmly expressive voice embodies each character effortlessly while adroitly managing the pace of Mallory’s gritty and harrowing tenth case.

The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell. Narrated by Nicholas Tecosky. (on order)
Welcome to the world of Shug Akins, a thirteen-year-old loner coming of age in the Ozarks. Tecosky skillfully demonstrates that the vernacular of this country noir novel is at its lyrical best when spoken aloud. In a youthful detached voice, he authentically captures the violence, poverty, and heartbreaking bleakness of Shug’s life.

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this lively ninth Pink Carnation romp, Eloise and Colin are beset by a film crew, while in the 19th century, agent Augustus Whittlesby, infamously bad poet, investigates rumors of Napoleon’s plotting and encounters love. Reading’s companionable, husky voice reveals all the humor in the rich banter and bad verse, as well as the passion.

Heft by Liz Moore. Narrated by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka. (on order)
This magnificent dual narration illuminates a poignant story of the isolation, family relationships, and new beginnings of two lost souls on a collision course. Szarabajka’s richly sonorous voice captures morbidly obese Arthur’s physical and emotional weight while Heyborne’s quietly expressive voice exposes the desperation of the teenaged Kel.

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz. Narrated by Derek Jacobi. (on order)
In a refined, resonant, and delightfully self-aware voice, Jacobi re-creates the world of Sherlock Holmes. His pacing is lovely – leisurely, inviting, and seductive – while his accents are grand and fit the characters perfectly. In this authorized addition to the canon, Holmes investigates a conspiracy linking criminals to the highest levels of government.

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith. Narrated by Ari Fliakos. (on order)
Fliakos’ unflinching depiction of Geiger, an expert in the art of “information retrieval” (aka torture), intensifies this absorbing and disturbing thriller. He sets the mood from the opening line, offering a tormented, affectless but surprisingly sympathetic hero. His skill in creating tone, character and pace enhances the haunting quality of Geiger’s world.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Narrated by Alan Cumming.
Cumming makes “The Scottish Play” an electric event, allowing modern audiences a chance to experience it with the same excitement, horror and wonder Shakespeare’s contemporary audiences surely felt. From stage directions delivered in furtive whispers to the cackle of the witches and the grim resolution of Lady Macbeth, Cumming astounds.

Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. Narrated by Dion Graham.
With his raspy, whispery voice Dion Graham inhabits musical genius Miles Davis in this tell-all autobiography that flows like a jazz riff. While setting the record straight about Davis’s career, lovers, addiction and racial issues, Graham channels Davis’s voice and cadence so completely that listeners will believe they’re hearing the master himself.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Narrated by Ari Fliakos. (on order)
Affectionate and playful, Ari Fliakos’ narration is addictive as he expertly voices full-bodied characters, savoring their eccentricities, in this imaginative work of “geek-lit.” His optimistic wonder and understanding of the subtext bring tension to even the minutiae of this grand quest by a motley crew of book lovers hoping to crack the code of immortality.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Narrated by David Timson. (on order)
Timson’s irrepressible performance of this rollicking romp through 1830s England in Dickens’s first novel invites listeners along as Pickwick and his crew ramble through the countryside. With broad satire and clever irony, Timson proves a delightful guide through slapdash adventures and a host of eccentric characters.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Narrated by Simon Prebble. (on order)
Prebble’s performance is like listening to a full cast production so great is his skill in crafting characters. Navigating memories of both “upstairs” and “downstairs,” dutiful butler Stevens revisits past pains and triumphs. Prebble creates a poignant reflection of a life given to service seen through the eyes of a man finally questioning his purpose.

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