Fabulous Fiction Firsts #449

Inspired by the true story of African-American WWII veteran Isaac Woodard, Deborah Johnson's The Secret of Magic * is a clear-eyed depiction of the post-war Deep South, and a young female attorney's attempt of the impossible - attaining justice for a black man.

Joe Howard Wilson called his father from a rest stop to let him know that he was within hours of being home. But he never arrived. Two weeks later, his body was found.

A newly minted attorney at the NAACP office in New York, Regina Robichard worked for a young Thurgood Marshall who sent her down to Revere, Mississippi, after receiving a letter asking that they look into the murder of a black war hero. The letter was signed by M(ary) P. Calhoun, a reclusive author whose novel The Secret of Magic about white and black children playing together in a magical forest, had captivated a young Regina.

"Johnson offers a completely engaging Southern gothic with unforgettable characters in this fictionalized account of a pivotal NAACP case from the 1940s".

"Passionate but never didactic, Johnson wisely allows the novel's politics to play second fiddle to the intimate, nuanced drama of the young black Yankee and middle-aged white Southerner in this provocative story about race in America that becomes a deeply felt metaphor for all human relationships."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #446 - "It is all connected"

The first stand-alone apart from her popular Dandy Gilver historical manor-house cozies, Catriona McPherson gives us "a dark, absorbing, contemporary" mystery in As She Left It *, "(w)ith an appealingly quirky cast of characters and a nicely paced narrative."

13 years after her escape from an alcoholic mother, Opal Jones returns to the Leeds neighborhood to find very little has changed. Kind Margaret Reid still keeps an eye on the happenings on Mote Street while 'Fishbo' Gordon, Opal's trumpet-playing music teacher and Mrs. Pickess, the wicked witch,"hadn't change one iota, not a jot." The unsolved disappearance of Margaret's little grandson, Craig 10 years ago (whom Opal used to babysit) is the only event that unsettles her homecoming.

"Soon the resourceful Opal undertakes three missions: finding the missing child; locating the family of her beloved Fishbo; and solving the puzzle of papers found in the posts of the secondhand bed she just bought. Undeterred even by a threatening note and a break-in, Opal finds that little is what it seems as her own painful and hidden memories come to light."

Joining the exemplary on Kirkus Reviews' 2013 Best Fiction Books, As She Left It will appeal to fans of Tana French, Laura Lippman, and Chevy Stevens.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #445 - Dead man scheming

You really ought to start with Dead Anyway * * * (2012), the first in the Arthur Cathcart series by Chris Knopf. The BOCD was perfect for a recent family road trip. Don't let that scary-looking cover fool you.

A hit man shows up at the Cathcarts' Stamford, Conn. home and shoot them both in the head after he forces Florencia, owner of an insurance-brokerage firm to sign a piece of paper. His wife is dead but Arthur Cathcart survives, barely. With the help of his physician sister, he is declared dead. A crackerjack market researcher skilled with electronics, Arthur is able to create a series of new identities to stay out of sight while he plots and schemes to track down the "who" and the "why".

"Knopf's tale is suspenseful from the get-go, with an intellectual, yet visceral, vigilantism coursing through the pages,... (he) never misses an angle and manages to weave a bit of humor into a storyline that could have been purely dark. "

"(R)eminiscent of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels with a dose of Grosse Pointe Blank", the Arthur Cathcart caper continues with Cries of the Lost * * (2013).

Readers who enjoy their mystery mixed with comedy would want to check out the author's "reflective, quietly loopy" Hamptons-based series featuring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski.

* * * = 3 starred reviews
* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #442 - Follow the rules and everybody gets hurt . . .

Former Swedish police officer Anders de La Motte's U.S.debut Game: a thriller * * is the first of a crime-fiction trilogy in which siblings are drawn into a dangerous cellphone game with global ramifications.

On a hot July morning on a commuter train from Märsta, Sweden, to Stockholm, slacker Henrik "HP" Pettersson finds a unique cellphone programmed to invite him to play "the Game," with promises of money and internet stardom. The "game" escalates quickly from prank-like theft to increasingly dangerous vandalism and violence. When it threatens national security Rebecca Normén, a bodyguard with the Swedish Security Police (and maybe not so incidentally, HP's estranged sister) gets involved. A dark secret shared between siblings comes to light.

"Relentless pacing leads to a stunning finale as HP tries to be not just a player but a real hero." In hot pursuit is Buzz (no. 2 in the series), and the last installment Bubble to be released early next year.

For gamers and fans of game chillers.

* * = 2 starred reviews

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

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