Fabulous Fiction Firsts #475 - “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~ Rumi

It seems to the world that 27 year-old Holly Jefferson is finally getting back on her feet, running her bakery, Cake after losing her husband in a tragic accident almost 2 years ago, never mind that she has trouble sleeping and has no social life to speak of. The commission of a bizarre cake brings Holly into the path of Ciaran Argyll - charming, privilege, incredibly handsome, and totally out of her league. But she has to admit - sparks fly.

Since You've Been Gone British author Anouska Knight's debut, "offers up a poignant look at grief and how it can serve to inspire or cripple us in equal measure."

"The perfect summer read: warm, sexy and addictive. " ~ Jenny Colgan

In Kim Wright's The Unexpected Waltz,, Kelly, a 52-year-old wealthy widow accidentally stumbles into a dance studio where she impulsively signs up for introductory ballroom-dancing lessons, and quickly becomes drawn to the studio's colorful students and instructors. Meanwhile, her volunteer work brings her into contact with a young cancer patient who challenges Kelly to embrace her new experiences.

"(Wright) expertly guides us through a moving, layered, and lyrical exploration of transformation."

A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier. Approaching the one-year anniversary of Henry Munroe's death, his family is still struggling to adjust. His wife Jeannie mourns their failed marriage more than she does his death. Henry's buxom mistress Evie Cooper has taken up with his brother Larry - divorced, under-employed and unhappily living with his elderly parents. Meanwhile, Henry's teenage son, Chad, is adrift in his grief, turning to drink.

"Sensitive yet witty, Pelletier's wise examination of one of life's most tragic episodes brims with hopeful understanding."

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances by Ellen Cooney. This is the story of two women and a whole pack of dogs who, having lost their way in the world, find a place at the Sanctuary.

24 year-old Evie is clever, evasive, defiant and rebellious. Just out of rehab and utterly alone, she is determined to make a fresh start. So she lies her way to the mountaintop lodge which is home to a canine rescue and rehab center run by a handful of nuns. Never mind that Evie knows nothing about animals, she is a quick and keen learner. Drawn to the challenge, she finally finds the second chance she so desperately craves. In time, she also comes to know Mrs. Auberchon, the stern and defensive caretaker of the inn at the base of the mountain whose icy reserve masks painful secrets.

"Cooney has crafted an uncomplicated, feel-good, canine-filled tale of cross-generational friendship, healing, and solidarity."

No waiting for most of these readalikes:
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen; Return to the Beach House by Georgia Bockoven (a FFF); The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice; and The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler.

Girls In Charge - Sizzling Summer Reads #2 (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #465)

Cure for the Common Breakup * by Beth Kendrick.
Suddenly-single flight attendant Summer Benson sees a new beginning in Black Dog Bay, a tiny seaside town in Delaware, known as the best place in America to bounce back from heartbreak. The locals are friendly. Even the oldest, richest, and meanest resident, likes her enough to give her a job. Well, all except for Dutch Jansen, the rugged, stoic mayor,

"Kendrick's impeccable sense of comic timing and flair for creating unforgettable characters make this effervescent novel a smart bet for romance readers everywhere while the novel's deft integration of the topics of family, friendship, and community ensure it can easily attract a broader readership, as well."

The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser, (a Fabulous Fiction Firsts) is "an irreverent story of family, love, friendship, and lobsters, in the tradition of J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine ".

Two 24 year-old transplants ("from-aways") become unlikely allies on a small-town newspaper. NYC reporter Leah leaps at the chance to marry down-to-earth Henry Lynch and moves into his family home in Menamon, a small fishing community in Maine, only to find she does not know a thing about Henry. Quinn Winters, wisecracking and tough, comes to town in search of a father who abandons her as a infant. When the two stumble onto a earth-shattering scandal that would affect the future of the community, these drinking buddies find themselves collaborators and trusted friends.

"Hauser's style is expressive, clever and compelling, and she offers readers a thoughtful and engaging debut. "

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee
Broke and divorced, Portia Cuthcart leaves Texas for New York City and takes up residence at the dilapidated brownstone she and her two sisters inherited. Devastated by the loss of The Glass Kitchen, her grandmother's restaurant, she resolves never to cook again, that is, until she meets 12 year-old Ariel and her widowed father Gabriel Kane.

"(A) delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman... who discovers that a kitchen, like an island, can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family."

"Sweet and intense, with delightful magical accents, a delectable romance—and yummy recipes."

The Vacationers * * by Emma Straub is an irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family's two-week stay in Mallorca.

Franny and Jim Post are about to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia is leaving for college. Their son Bobby, a Miami real estate broker will be joining them, girlfriend in tow. As will Franny's best friend Charles, and his husband, Lawrence. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

"With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #454 - “those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers...” ~ Anna Quindlen

Leaving home for the first time armed with a prestigious scholarship (Art History) at Columbia, 23 yr.-old Brit Esme Garland is dazzled by Manhattan and smitten with the attention of Mitchell van Leuven, a gorgeous, wealthy, blue-blooded New Yorker with an appetite for all things erotic. He abruptly ends their short fling before Esme could tell him she is pregnant.

Determined to get through this on her own, Esme takes a job in a secondhand bookstore on Broadway, a gathering place for the eccentric, who watch over her through her pregnancy - from the laconic owner to the taciturn, guitar-playing night manager. Together they must struggle for the survival of the store in the challenging retail slum.

The Bookstore * by first time novelist Deborah Meyler is a "sharply observed and evocative tale of learning to face reality without giv­ing up on your dreams... sheer enchantment from start to finish."

"Above all, it's about the love of books. A deeply satisfying novel you will keep close to your heart, written in a style by turns witty and poetic."

Award-winning author Gabrielle Zevin gives us "(a) likable literary love story about selling books and finding love" in The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry * (More in a recent NPR interview).

A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books on Alice Island (think Martha's Vineyard) off the coast of MA, is going through a tough spot: he lost his wife in a car accident, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession--a rare edition of Poe poems--has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, until an unlocked door brings the most astonishing gift, and a young publisher's rep. offers him the chance to make his life over.

The Storied Life is about "a life of books, redemption, and second chances. Funny, tender, and moving.” It also tops the April LibraryReads list of the Top Ten Books that Librarians Across the Country Love.

Sarah Jio's Goodnight, June imagines the inspiration behind Goodnight Moon, a beloved classic among generations of young readers.

June Anderson, a successful NY financier is lonely and unhappy in her personal life. She is unexpectedly called home to Seattle, to settle her great-aunt Ruby's estate and to dispose of Bluebird Books - the children's bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store's papers, June stumbles upon letters between Ruby and the late Margaret Wise Brown, and that Brown not only visited the bookstore, but Ruby had in fact, inspired Goodnight Moon.

When June receives notice the shop is within days of foreclosure, she has a change of heart. In her rally to save the bookstore, June learns an important lesson about acceptance and forgiveness.

* = starred review

ALA's 2014 Reading List Winners - Librarians' Top Picks in Genre Fiction

Congratulations to this year's winners in 8 genre fiction categories, just announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. It is great to see among them some first novels. An added value of the Reading List (as opposed to the Notable Books) has always been the inclusion of the shortlists which enriches the readers exploration of the genres.

Adrenaline Winner:
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. This modern spy novel pits two covert operatives against each other in an intricate cat-and-mouse game. As Dominika and Nathaniel ply their tradecraft, they navigate the moral ambiguities of a post-Cold War world where no one is as they seem and betrayal is business as usual.

Short List
The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad, a FFF (blog)
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, a FFF (blog)
Lexicon by Max Barry
Lost by S.J. Bolton

Fantasy Winner
Vicious by V.E.Schwab. A friendly rivalry turns vicious when college friends Victor and Eli obtain super-human powers and use them for very different purposes. This dark paranormal fantasy, a riveting tale of vengeance and redemption, proves that extraordinary powers don’t necessarily make superheroes.

Short List
The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
American Elsewhere by Robert Bennett Jackson
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, a FFF (blog)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #447 - "The humble knitter sits in the center between heaven and earth" ~ Susan Gordon Lydon, The Knitting Sutra

Ah, what a great time to snuggle deep into your easy chair and immerse yourself in The Wishing Thread, writer Lisa Van Allen's debut novel - a "Chick-lit cozy meets magical realism with inevitably warm and fuzzy results."

For centuries (really!) the Van Ripper women, owners of The Stitchery, have always been "touched by a vague darkness, a miasma of speculation". When the matriarch Mariah dies, she leaves her three nieces this Tarrytown yarn shop, a "derelict architectural hodgepodge", by design as much as by willful neglect.

Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community while working as a librarian's assistant. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has long rejected magic in favor of a normal upbringing for her children, only to be frustrated by her daughter's instinctive interest in knitting. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Like it or not, they all share the ability to knit by request, the most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, thus granting health, success, or even a blossoming romance, just for the asking. But no one more than the Van Rippers know that magic demands sacrifice.

Now the Stitchery is in danger as an unscrupulous developer plans to raze the town square and put up a shopping mall. The sisters are divided whether to stay or sell. Complicating matters is handsome handyman Vic Oliveira, who is making one of them question her allegiance to The Stitchery.

"In Allen's debut novel, knitting becomes a rich metaphor for the power of women, of the disenfranchised, of the desperate. Steeped in the spirit of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," this bewitching tale will delight fans of magical realism."

Lovely blurbs by Meg Waite Clayton and Lisa Verge Higgins. Fans of Sarah Addison Allen will be delighted.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #443

The Hive*, debut of British Gill Hornby (sister to Nick and wife to Robert Harris) is inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes, a nonfiction book that Tina Fey used as the basis for her hit movie Mean Girls.

It is a new school year at the privileged St. Ambrose Church Primary School where (Queen) Bea Stuart reigns over the school-mom clique as Rachel Mason looks on from afar. Her former best friend and confidante, Rachel has been relegated to the hinterland when her husband dumps her.

"... (A) delectable comedy of manners about mothers who congregate during drop-off and pickup, hold fundraisers," over the course of a year at St. Ambrose as they navigate a new headmaster, financial disasters, power shifts, and personal drama.

"Alternately touching and satirical but consistently entertaining. "

"(A)n enjoyably acerbic social commentary on mean girls of all ages, lightened by touches of hen lit."

A worthy addition to the pantheon of Mean Girls in Literature, and Rachel's outsider plight will remind readers of the heroine in Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

* = starred review

Janet Dailey, romance novelist, has died

Janet Dailey, credited with revolutionizing formulaic romance novels in the late 1970s, died December 15th.

While traveling around the country with her husband in the 1970s, Ms. Dailey entertained herself reading the typical romance novel of the time -- European settings, submissive women, tame physicality. Determined to meet a challenge from her husband to do something about it, she published her first romance in 1974 that had caught the attention of Harlequin. In Ms. Dailey's world of love, the protagonists were American working women with a healthy libido. While many of her more than 100 novels were set out West, she did pen a 50-book series that covered each of the 50 states, a feat that earned her a nomination in the Guinness Book of World Records. Enemy in Camp, 1988, was her Michigan entry. It is now out of print.

Her career soared. Dailey love stories sold in the 100s of millions of copies; more than 20 of them made the New York Times Bestseller list.

Then in 1997, her reputation took a beating when Nora Roberts, another mega-successful romance writer, sued Ms. Dailey for plagiarism. Undeniable evidence was found in Dailey's novel, Notorious. among other titles. Citing family tragedies (two of her brothers died and her husband was diagnosed with cancer) and an undisclosed ailment, Dailey took a break to repair the damage after the case was settled out of court. Her publisher Harper Collins dropped Ms. Dailey. Once the dust settled, publishing house Kensington Publishing Corp. picked her up and she resumed writing once again.

Her last book, Merry Christmas, Cowboy (on order), came out in October and was #13 on the Publishers Weekly mass market bestseller list.

Ms. Dailey, who was 69, died of complications following heart surgery.

Doris Lessing, groundbreaking novelist, has died

Doris Lessing, whose 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, electrified young women with its forward-thinking themes, died yesterday in London.

Ms. Lessing was born in Iran in 1919 and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by a father grievously wounded in World War I and a cranky mother who chomped at the bit to escape her domestic responsibilities. Lessing attributed her mother's resentment as a key factor in shaping her own evolving discoveries of the untapped power of women at an early age. She dropped out of school at 14 and discovered writing.

Her first book, the 1950 release of The Grass Is Singing, was instantly controversial. Set in then-Rhodesia, it is the searing account of a bored white farmer's wife and her relationship with one of the farm's black slaves. Lessing's relentless examination of the endless layers of injustice that she saw everywhere was so ferocious that she was labeled a 'prohibited alien' by the governments of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in 1956 for her inflammatory opinions.

In 1962, Lessing became one of the unwilling literary leaders of the nascent feminist movement, a label eschewed by her because she said the early feminists' embrace of all things political made them angry name-callers. The Golden Notebook tackled head-on the full menu of women's issues that to this day drive many social issues conversations. Marriage vs. freedom, motherhood vs. career, intellect vs. coy submissiveness, black vs. white. She herself lived of what she wrote, abandoning two husbands and two out of her three children when she fled to England.

Ms. Lessing also wrote two very popular series. The Children of Violence, which begins with Martha Quest (1952) and concludes seventeen years later with entry number five, The Four-Gated City (1969). During the span of this series, a teenage Martha Quest leaves her life on an African farm and flees to England, endures the horrors of World War II, and forges a new, more independent, if fraught life, in post-war London.

The second series is a five-entry science fiction work, Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979-1983).

Ms. Lessing was recipient of many awards. One of her most notable distinctions was to be named the oldest Nobel laureate for literature, receiving that honor in 2007 when she was 88 years old. She claimed it ruined her life because the demands on her time that accompanied such an honor, made it impossible for her to write.

Her last book, Alfred and Emily (2008) was a study of her parents' life, filled with speculation about what their lives would have been like if World War I had not happened.

Ms. Lessing was 94.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #435 - “Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.” ~Anaïs Nin

Already a runaway bestseller in the UK, a former nurse, marriage counselor & journalist Hilary Boyd's debut novel Thursdays in the Park will please readers this side of the pond.

Jeanie Lawson is about to turn 60. She owns a successful health food market in London, enjoys her nights outs with friends, and looks forward to her playdate with her beloved granddaughter Ellie every Thursday at the park, rain or shine. She could almost call life perfect if not for the pain and bewilderment caused by the decade-long abandonment of the marital bed by her husband George. Adding insult to injury, George is now pressuring Jeanie to retire and move to the country.

Then one day at the park, she meets Ray - an age-appropriate, kind-hearted, easygoing, and downright sexy grandfather. As her relationship with Ray blossoms and she begins to think that her life might hold in store a bold second act, she is not sure she has the courage to take charge of her life.

"A warm, tender novel about a woman finally finding a place of her own." " (A) mostly successful exploration of second chances and love at any age."

For fans who enjoyed Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand; Jeanne Ray's Julie and Romeo; and the poignant Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown where a 55 year-old shy, unassuming postmaster and confirmed bachelor receives the shock of a lifetime: he falls in love!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #432 - “The ache for home lives in all of us..." ~ Maya Angelou, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

When The HomeSweetHome network (think HGTV) announces that Janine Brown of Davenport, Iowa, is the big winner of its Free House Sweepstakes, two women think themselves the new owner of a gorgeous, fully loaded dream home in Maine. Janine "Janey" Brown sees it as yet another of her Aunt Midge's harebrained scheme to get her out of her funk while across town, Janine "Nean" Brown sees it as an escape from the latest in her revolving door of crappy jobs and drunk boyfriends.

As both women head for Christmas Cove, Maine, to claim the prize they both rightfully think is theirs, their lives and personalities intersect. They discover that more than just a million-dollar dream home awaits them.

Kelly Harms's The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane an "enchanting and heartfelt debut, is a testament to the many, many ways love finds us, the power of a home-cooked meal, and just what it means to be lucky."

"Set in small-town Maine, this first novel is a story of rebuilding, recovery, and renewal. Harms has created two incredibly likable heroines, allowing the strengths of one woman to bolster the weaknesses of the other."

"A perfect recipe of clever, quirky, poignant and fun make this a delightful debut. "

Here are some readalikes:

Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins. Parker Welles, a single mother whose family has just lost everything, finds love in an unexpected place when she travels to Maine to sell her lone possession, a decrepit house in need of repair.

Eggshell Days by Rebecca Gregson. Escaping a terrible rail crash after missing the ill-fated train, three friends opt to move to a ramshackle Cornwall manor and uncover a dangerous and closely guarded secret that tests their friendships.

The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews. A sassy, sexy, sometimes poignant look at small town Southern life. Reluctantly accepting help to refurbish an inherited Georgia family home after losing her public relations job, Dempsey Jo Killebrew is overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, which is further hampered by a cantankerous squatter.

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