Fabulous Fiction Firsts #515 - “A mathematical formula for happiness: Reality divided by expectations. There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.” ~ Jodi Picoult

Bonita Avenue * * * by Peter Buwalda - the instant bestseller in its native Netherlands, a triple-award-winning debut optioned for a TV series, is "flat-out extraordinary." See the (New York Times review).

Three uniquely unreliable voices narrate this darkly humorous familial drama: the mentally precarious photographer Aaron Bever; his beautiful girlfriend, Joni; and her stepfather, eminent math genius (Fields Medal) and university rector Siem Sigerius. "They were a family of prevaricators - all of them had secrets and they all had something to hide".

Bonita Avenue, a street in Berkeley, California, where a younger Sigerius and his new family lived briefly while he pursued his mathematics career at the university, is remembered as a truly happy period before the family's troubles start. The reemergence of Wilbert,a convicted murderer and Siem's son from his first marriage, presents a threat to the family. Siem discovers the highly profitable web porn site created by Joni and Aaron, under particularly ignoble circumstances. "Guilt and fear rule the decisions the characters make, sending each further down the darkest of path."

"This tumultuous saga of a family breaking down...is "variously compelling, trashy and horrific."

In The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer, Rachela Karnokovitch, a much-admired rock star in mathematics, is rumored to have solved the million-dollar Navier-Stokes Millennium Prize problem just before her death, and secreted the solution somewhere. Uninvited, her quirky colleagues descend on Madison (WI), and on her grieving family in search of said solution. Her son Sasha, who wants nothing more than a family-only shivah, must referee the intruding geniuses.

"Interspersed with Rachela's recollections of growing up under Russian anti-Semitism, Rojstaczer, a PhD geophysicist, has created a complex and chaotic rainbow of characters that makes his first novel both comedic and compelling."

"An enjoyable debut... a multilayered story of family, genius, and loss."

* * * = 3 starred reviews

The Dark Side II: Highway of Horror With Bestselling Horror Authors Andrew Pyper & Nick Cutter

Tuesday March 3, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: 4th Floor Meeting Room

This event will be recorded

Get ready for a spine-tingling evening when bestselling horror genre authors Andrew Pyper and Nick Cutter visit the Downtown Library for one night of chilling readings and conversation, as part of their Dark Side II: Highway of Horror author tour. There will also be plenty of time for questions and answers — if you dare! A book signing will follow, and books will be for sale.

Andrew Pyper is the award-winning author of six internationally bestselling novels, including The Killing Circle, a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. Three of Pyper’s novels, including The Demonologist, are in active development for feature films. His new novel, The Damned, was released in February 2015 and has already been optioned as a feature film by Legendary Pictures.

Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for Scotiabank Giller prize-nominated author Craig Davidson. Davidson has published four books of literary fiction, including Rust and Bone (which was made into an Oscar-nominated feature film of the same name), and Cataract City. Under the name Nick Cutter, he published The Troop in 2014 and his newest book, The Deep, in January 2015.

This event is cosponsored by Nicola's Books.

The 2015 Reading List

While most of the country's households were glued to the Superbowl, and Chicago was slammed with a memorable snowstorm, the intrepid librarians at ALA Midwinter announced this past year's best of the best in genre fiction - the Reading List. The winner in each of the 8 categories are:

Adrenaline
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Detroit serves as the economically battered backdrop of this inventive, visceral suspense story about a series of bizarre murders that draws a group of memorable characters into a complex web of violence. Smart, stylish and addictive, this page-turner shows how the American Dream has failed many on a personal level.

Fantasy
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Following the sudden, suspicious deaths of his entire family, exiled half-goblin Maia becomes emperor, a role requiring diplomacy and adherence to strict protocols. Focusing on the intricacies of court life, this elegant novel unfolds at a pace that allows readers to savor the rich tapestry of character, setting and plot.

Historical Fiction
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Banished from the court of Versailles, spirited Charlotte-Rose de la Force meets a nun who weaves together the strands that form the Rapunzel fairy tale, revealing its surprising origins. A captivating marriage of history and folklore featuring characters true to their time periods, yet timeless in their dreams and desires.

Horror
The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
Beneath the streets of 1970s New York, Joey meets the merry children, a gang of ancient child vampires, and discovers that immortality isn't all fun and games. Gritty, clever and gonzo, this fresh take on the vampire mythos gets darker and creepier as the pages turn.

Mystery
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
This classic English mystery follows Amory and her estranged husband, Milo, whose paths cross at a seaside resort, where suspicious deaths implicate Amory’s former fiance, Gil. A vivid mystery that sparkles with personality as Amory and Milo puzzle out the truth behind the murders and negotiate their own complicated relationship.

Romance
Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Comic misunderstandings ensue when playboy Bollywood director Samir travels to America to secure an annulment for his brother, married at age four to Mili in a traditional arranged Indian wedding ceremony. Appealing protagonists, a diverse supporting cast and a colorful multicultural backdrop lend this charming story unexpected emotional depth.

Science Fiction
The Martian by Andy Weir
Stranded on Mars, wisecracking botanist Mark Watney proves that an astronaut has to be smart, resourceful and, perhaps, a little crazy to survive. Strong characterization, well-researched but accessible technical detail, and a deft blend of suspense and humor will please science enthusiasts and fans of survival stories on any planet.

Women's Fiction
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Patricia Cowan, an elderly woman suffering from dementia, remembers two different lives, two different careers, two different families and two different worlds. A striking novel of how tragedy turns to joy and heartbreak turns to love with a narrative twist that hooks the reader and never lets go.

Check out the shortlists and readalikes, in the complete list.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #510 - She waited for the train to pass. Then she said, "I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom..." ~ Haruki Murakami

Just adding my 2¢ to the well-deserved buzz on The Girl on the Train * * * by Paula Hawkins, a debut psychological thriller that will make you take a harder look at people you think you know.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning to London. As it flashes past suburban homes and stops at a signal, she watches the goings-on in the enviable lives of a prosperous young couple, just a few doors down from where she used to live. And then she saw something shocking. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in the unfolding nightmare. Film rights optioned to DreamWorks.

It's funny that this morning's New York Times interview with the author should mention that "Hawkins joins the ranks of a new generation of female suspense novelists — writers like Megan Abbott, Tana French, Harriet Lane and Gillian Flynn — who are redefining contemporary crime fiction with character-driven narratives that defy genre conventions. Their novels dig into social issues, feature complex women who aren’t purely victims or vixens, and create suspense with subtle psychological developments and shifts in relationships...", as I was just about to blog Harriet Lane's latest - Her * *.

When Nina Bremner recognizes Emma Nash on a London street, it sends a shockwave through her well-ordered life. She craftily engineers an incident with a lost wallet to strike up a conversation and a friendship with the unsuspecting Emma, who is overwhelmed with motherhood with a toddler and late pregnancy. Desperate for adult company, Emma is swept away by Nina's generosity and compassion. What draws Nina to Emma is murkier.

"With chilling precision, Lane narrates the re-entwining of these two women's lives through domestic details. Afternoon teas, disastrous shopping trips, cluttered homes and even well-populated playgrounds begin to seep with danger. And the net inexorably tightens. A domestic thriller of the first order."

Flying somewhat under the media radar is yet another British psychological thriller - A Pleasure and a Calling * * by Phil Hogan, his first major US release.

William Heming is your well-mannered neighborhood real-estate agent in a small English town. But unbeknownst to his clients, Heming keeps the keys to every property he has ever listed, and snoops on all the occupants at will, and often brazenly makes himself at home. This secret "pleasure" turns sinister when a rude dog walker offends Heming, who takes it upon himself to serve justice, thus setting off a dramatic and deadly chain of events.

"Hogan's Mr. Heming is a monumentally diabolical character, the fact that he narrates the story further ups both the stakes and the tension. Readers won't soon forget this first-rate, white-knuckle suspense novel."

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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #491 - “I've always wanted to play a spy, because it is the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem.” ~ Benedict Cumberbatch

Called "one of the best and most compulsively readable spy-fiction debuts in years", one-time China correspondent for the BBC, Adam Brookes' debut Night Heron * * relocates the traditional Cold War thriller to modern China.

The novel opens with an edge-of-your-seat escape from a remote high-security Chinese labor camp. Prisoner 5995 was once a promising engineer, imprisoned for impulsively attacking a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protests. Back in Beijing, he (code name Peanut) is desperate to renew the deal with UK intelligence in passing along technology secrets, and mistakes British journalist Philip Mangan for an undercover operative who reluctantly, is drafted into the world of espionage. Navigating not only between their two governments, but also round the opaque American intelligence agenda, Mangan and Peanut find themselves running for their lives.

"Fans of the international espionage genre will inhale this fast tale in a few suspenseful breaths. Brookes uses multiple narrators - the spy, the engineer, the journalist, the agent, the boss, whose conflicting alliances tell the real story."

The Madness of July by James Naughtie is an "explosive, brilliantly written spy novel".

Set over the course of 6 sweltering days in 1976, an American spy is found dead, stuffed into a cupboard in the House of Commons. In his pocket is Will Flemyng's phone number. A former MI6 operative who is now a rising star in the Foreign Office, and tapped for the U.S. ambassadorship, Will is forced to return to his old craft in order to safeguard some of the most sensitive secrets of his government. In the meantime, Will and his 2 brothers with hearts set on vacation in the Scottish Highlands, are confronted with interlocking mysteries that involves family secrets and a cold crime case. Clever readers will sense early on that these threads are part of a single web.

"Unlike thrillers that focus on spycraft, this debut novel from a British political affairs journalist (The Washington Post and The Guardian) digs into the psychology of secrets hidden in the crevices between diplomacy and espionage."

"For mood and atmosphere, Alan Furst's novels come to mind and for tension and pace, think of the British TV series MI-5."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #489 -“Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”~ Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game

In The Distance, a "dark, ultra-contemporary and relentlessly paced debut thriller by Helen Giltrow, a London socialite, desperate to put some distance from her criminal past must contend with the outrageous demand of a hit man.

Behind the closed door of her sleek, high-security London apartment, Charlotte Alton is Karla - who, with a few keystrokes and for the right price, could make anyone disappear. The only mistake she'd ever made in an otherwise perfect career is revealing her face to a man named Simon Johanssen, an ex-special forces sniper turned killer-for-hire. Now, after a long absence, Johanssen has resurfaced with a job, and he needs Karla's help. This time - to take out an inmate inside an experimental prison colony, against impossible odds.

"Written in stylish, sophisticated prose, The Distance is a tense and satisfying debut in which every character, both criminal and law-abiding, wears two faces, and everyone is playing a double game."

"The graphic violence and torture has this thriller bordering on horror, like the work of Chelsea Cain, so be forewarned that it is not for the squeamish."

Gangsterland * * * by Tod Goldberg. Like Karla, Sal Cupertine, legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, has only made one mistake in his line of work, but it is a big one - killing 3 undercover FBI agents in a botched sting operation. To stay alive, he agrees to "the family's" radical idea. After a few surgeries and some intensive studying, Rabbi David Cohen is born, spouting quotes from the Torah or the Old Testament, leading a growing congregation in Las Vegas, and overseeing the temple and the new cemetery - a convenience both as a money and body-laundering scheme for the Mob. Meanwhile, a rouge FBI agent is on his trail, seeking vengeance for the murder of his three fellow agents.

"(W)ickedly dark and funny, Gangsterland (is) a morality tale set in a desert landscape as ruthless and barren as those who inhabit it."

"Sal's transformation and intermittent edification into Rabbi Cohen is brilliantly rendered, and Goldberg's careening plot, cast of memorably dubious characters, and mordant portrait of Las Vegas make this one of the year's best hard-boiled crime novels."

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #480

The Frozen Dead * * by Bernard Minier is the U.S. release of an international best-seller set in the French Pyrenees. Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a remote small town, reached only by cable car, where winters are harsh and the wind relentless. On a brisk snowy morning, workers arriving for seasonal service of the hydroelectric power station discover a horrific scene - a headless, flayed body of a horse is suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.

The charismatic, Latin-quoting Commandant Martin Servaz of nearby Toulouse is called on to investigate this priority case since the Thoroughbred belongs to non-other than Eric Lombard, CEO of a multinational company and member of a very influential family with strong political ties to the area.

Just a few miles away on that same day, Diane Berg a young psychiatrist from Geneva starts her first job at the Wargnier Institute, a high-security asylum for the criminally insane. Uneasy with the unorthodox methods used on the patients/prisoners and some alarming behavior among the staff, Dr. Berg teams up with Commandant Servaz when DNA from one of the most notorious inmates (think Hannibal Lecter) of the asylum is found on the horse carcass.

"Complex, fast-paced, and completely absorbing. "

"The pervasiveness of evil in this tense and disturbing novel makes for very compelling reading, with the suspense bordering on horror. It should appeal to those who enjoyed Pierre Lemaitre's Alex (2013) as well as the edgier Scandinavian thrillers."

* * = starred review

Secret Agent Training Center

Monday April 6, 2015: 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for grades K - 8

Find out what it takes to be a spy at Super Secret Spy School!

Learn techniques and strategies employed by the sneakiest of spies for carrying secrets, mastering disguises, and writing in code.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #474 - "But mothers lie. It's in the job description.” ~ John Green

Two young women are witnesses to their mothers' murders. One of them might be a killer.

Elizabeth Little, author of 2 nonfiction books knocks it out of the park with Dear Daughter *, an "Agatha Christie meets Kim Kardashian... (a) sharp-edged, tart-tongued, escapist thriller", which Tana French praised as "The best debut mystery I've read in a long time"; and Kate Atkinson called "A really gutsy, clever, energetic read, often unexpected, always entertaining.... In the world of crime novels, Dear Daughter is a breath of fresh air."

After spending 10 years in prison for murdering her mother, former It Girl Janie Jenkins is out on a technicality. Her memory of the night in question is hazy, and there is no love lost between them, but she is determined to chase down the one lead she has on her mother's killer. As Janie makes her way (with a false identity) to an isolated South Dakota town, she discovers that even the sleepiest towns hide sinister secrets, and will stop at nothing to guard them.

On the run from a crime blogger convinced of her guilt, a suspicious police chief, maybe even a murderer, Janie must choose between the anonymity she craves and the truth she so desperately needs.

Set in the frozen tundra of rural Montana, Bone Dust White * is Karin Salvalaggio's literary mystery debut. The insistent pounding on her door brings Grace Adams to her bedroom window where she witnesses a man coming out of the woods, stabbing a woman and leaving her to die on Grace's doorstep. Before help arrives, Grace realizes the victim is her mother, Leanne who disappeared more than a decade before.

A heavily-pregnant Detective Macy Greeley is assigned to the case. She needs to track down the killer and find out what the murder has to do with Grace. But the town of Collier is just as hard-bitten now as it was 11 years ago when Macy worked a still-unsolved grisly sex-trafficking and multiple-homicide case. But no one is talking, least of all Grace, whom Macy believes knows a lot more than she's telling.

"The sharp twists, idiosyncratic characters, and vivid setting should appeal to fans of C. J. Box and Nevada Barr."

"This complicated, peel-away-layers debut procedural intoxicates from the opening page.... Recommend for fans of Archer Mayor, Gwen Florio, and Craig Johnson."

* = starred review

Stranger Danger: Sizzling Summer Reads #3 (& Fabulous Fiction Firsts #469)

This bumper crop of debut psychological thrillers would keep you chilled throughout the summer. Alright, this is a long post, but every one of these deserve your attention.

The Good Girl * by Mary Kubica
Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett, the black-sheep daughter of a prominent Chicago judge is taken hostage after a one-night stand. The kidnapper Colin Thatcher, instead of delivering her to his employer for ransom, hides her in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota. Gabe Hoffman, Chicago PD assigned to the case work closely with Eve, Mia's mother, to whom he finds himself increasingly attracted to. When eventually recovered, Mia has little memory of what happened to her.

"Kubica's debut thriller builds suspense steadily and will have readers guessing what's really going on until the final pages." It brings to mind Chevy Steven's smashing debut Still Missing.

From the author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thrillers, One Kick * is the first in a nail-biting new series featuring 21 yr.-old Kick Lannigan, famously kidnapped when she was six, and rescued five years later. To add to her skill set (marksman, lock picker, escape artist and bomb maker) learned in captivity, Kick trained herself to be safe. When two children go missing in the Portland area, and an enigmatic and wealthy former weapons dealer approaches her with a proposition, Kick is set to be the crusader she has always imagined herself.

"A heart-stopping, entertaining thrill ride." Kick will remind readers of Lisbeth Salander as in The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Drawing on her own grandmother's experiences Elizabeth is Missing * by British Emma Healey, is a sophisticated psychological mystery. Maud Horsham will be the first to admit that her memory these days is shaky at best but she knows her best friend is missing and in serious danger. But no one will believe her - not her daughter and not the police. So Maud writes everything down, to help her remember clues about her missing friend, and she also writes down how she is treated. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

"Part mystery, part meditation on memory, part Dickensian revelation of how apparent charity may hurt its recipients, this is altogether brilliant." "Fans of Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind and S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep (both FFF) will find much to love here."

An international bestseller and winner of France's prestigious Prix du Quai des Orfèvres prize for best crime fiction, The 7th Woman : a Paris homicide novel by Frédérique Molay is the first of her novels to be translated into English (also available in French in our World Language Collection).

Nico Sirsky, head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division, known as "La Brigade Criminelle," or "La Crim", and his team of elite detectives race against the clock to solve the murders of a series of young women, all of whom opened their doors to the killer who announces his intention to kill seven women in as many days. To put added pressure on Sirsky, the killer begins to stalk those closest to him.

This series introduces to police procedural fans an endearingly tortured, hardheaded and romantic cop in the vein of Harry Bosch and John Rebus.

An Untamed State * * *, a debut by Roxane Gay is the harrowing tale of a Miami woman's ordeal of her kidnapping during a visit to her native Haiti. Beaten and sexually assaulted, she was held for 13 days while her father, a wealthy businessman, refused to pay the ransom.

"Gay's depiction of Mireille's emotional trauma after her release is particularly intense, precisely capturing her alienation from her own identity that followed the kidnapping and the self-destruction that spilled out of her sense of disconnection... Among the strongest achievements of this novel is that Mireille's story feels complete and whole while emphasizing its essential brokenness. A cutting and resonant debut."

Veteran journalist (the Washington Post) Neely Tucker dazzles with a fast-paced, newsroom investigative journalism in The Ways of the Dead * *, the first in a projected crime series that is based on the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders.

When the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C., judge is found dead, three local black kids are arrested for her murder, but reporter Sully Carter suspects there's more to the case. From the city's grittiest backstreets to the elegant halls of power, Sully pursues a string of cold cases, all the while fighting against pressure from government officials, police, suspicious locals, and his own bosses at the newspaper.

A "wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media."

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

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