Fabulous Fiction Firsts #411

Estranged from her bohemian Brooklyn family and fired for an impropriety at work, Claudia Silver is officially in over her head. When her younger half-sister lands on her doorstep urgently in need of help, twenty-something Claudia desperately wants to offer the rescue that she herself has longed for.

Set in 1990s' New York City, Claudia Silver to the Rescue * " is the fierce yet tender chronicle of the many humiliations and occasional triumphs of a young woman determined to wrest her identity from the spectacular wreckage of her mistake. Uncomfortably hilarious, quintessentially human, Claudia is an unforgettable heroine who shoots for the stars and hits the ceiling."

This debut by television screenwriter Kathy Ebel (Cold Case; Law & Order), is a "smart and savvy chick lit with plenty of snark".

"Ebel exploits her experience as a screenwriter and poet in this lively debut novel. Claudia's dry wit and discerning eye turn what could be a rather mopey coming-of-age tale into a hilarious roller coaster of a ride. Quirks and vexations for each supporting character enrich every scene. Claudia sees quite clearly the price of her own actions, and her goal is survival. Well, with a little fun along the way. Family may be unstable and downright unbalanced, but in this witty, assured, surprising novel, family still has to accept you--mistakes and all."

Readalikes:
How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler; Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster; and The Smart One by Jennifer Close

* = starred review

(Celebrity) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #409

Lauren Graham (BA, Barnard and MFA, SMU) is better known for her roles on the hit TV series The Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. Her debut novel Someday, Someday, Maybe is a witty, charming, and hilariously relatable chronicle about a struggling young actress trying to get ahead and keep it together in New York City.

Franny Banks is coming up against the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway. Other than some bit parts and commercials, waiting tables at a comedy club is all she has to show for. With a dwindling bank account and pressure from her father to move home, everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she'll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. That is if she won't be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is "a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It's about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job".

In Montaro Caine, Sidney Poitier's debut, a baby is born with a coin in her hand. An orphan crafts a mysterious wooden object. Montaro Caine, the CEO of Fitzer Corporation finds himself under extraordinary pressure at work and at home. And on a remote hilltop on a Caribbean island, a medicine man seems to understand the meaning of all these events and to hold the key to the future.

When a man and woman appear at his office with a coin of unknown provenance, composed of a metal unknown on Earth. Montaro immediately recognizes it as the companion of a coin he analyzed as a graduate student working in a lab at MIT. Drawing attention from scientists, collectors, financiers, and thieves while Montaro himself hopes that the discovery of the coin will save his company.

"Sidney Poitier (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) takes us on a wild and unexpected adventure from New York to Europe to the Caribbean and beyond, and offers a heartfelt message about the potential each of us has within ourselves, and about being open to the possibility that there are mysteries in the universe. An enthralling journey into the magic of existence, Montaro Caine is a radiant debut from an American legend".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #405

Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls* * * * by Anton DiSclafani is a lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls-school rituals, set in the 1930s, and it does not disappoint (and easily one of the best books I've read this year).

15 year-old Thea Atwell is sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, an exclusive equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The part that she played in the event that shattered her family and her privileged world is never clear though her guilt is palpable. Having been home schooled on the family's Florida citrus plantation, navigating the school's complex social order based on wealth, beauty and friendships is both exhilarating and challenging. Beautiful, observant, and a good rider, Thea soon finds a new sense of power which eventually proves her undoing.

The narrative weaves provocatively between home and school, past and present as the author gradually unfurls the shocking story behind Thea's expulsion from her family and the irreparable damages done. But it is too late for the reader to abandon Thea, for we are so engaged with this young woman who "wanted too much, wanted badly and inappropriately. And back then all that want was a dangerous thing".

"Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner - a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression, and the major debut of an important new writer."

"An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama".

Fearless and willful, Thea will bring to mind Briony Tallis in Atonement by Ian McEwan. An Emory grad (MFA Washington University in St. Louis where she now teaches), and a seasoned rider, Anton DiSclafani grew up in Northern Florida. Yonahlossee will appeal to fans of Curtis Sittenfeld and Lauren Groff.

* * * * = starred reviews

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.

Living Life with the Gift of Do-Overs

What if there were second chances? Or third chances? How many tries would it take for you to get your life right? Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories, weaves a tale of life and death in Life After Life that pulls the reader into the story of a woman who possesses an extraordinary gift: multiple chances at a single life.

It’s a snowy night in England in 1910. Ursula Todd is born. Ursula Todd dies before drawing her first breath. On the same snowy night in 1910 England, Ursula Todd is born again, and this time lives to tell the tale. Her life will follow this cycle of reincarnation throughout her childhood, adolescence and adulthood, taking her through countless catastrophic deaths, wars, family tragedies, and world-altering events. Each one of her deaths brings about a new lease on life, and a chance for Ursula to avoid the paths that lead to her untimely demises.

Atkinson weaves a lovely tale of life, death, rebirth and strength. It's a tale that takes readers on a journey with Ursula, a woman who experiences the turbulent times of the 20th century with wit, charm and compassion.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #388

In Aria Beth Sloss's Autobiography of Us, the ending is never in doubt, being spelled out right in the first sentence. And it draws you in, hook, line, and sinker - into a story of friendship, loss and love, between two women.

In the patrician neighborhood of Pasadena, California during the 1960s, Rebecca Madden and her beautiful, reckless friend Alex dream of lives beyond their mothers' narrow expectations. Since that day when Alex Carrington first walked into the classroom and picked quiet Rebecca as her friend, they have been everything to each other - that is until one sweltering evening the summer before their last year of college, when a single act of betrayal changed everything. Decades later, Rebecca's haunting meditation on the past reveals the truth about that night, the years that followed, and the friendship that shaped her.

"Autobiography of Us is an achingly beautiful portrait of a decades-long bond. A rare and powerful glimpse into the lives of two women caught between repression and revolution, it casts new light on the sacrifices, struggles, victories and defeats of a generation".

Aria Beth Sloss is a graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Iowa Arts Foundation. This is her debut novel.

Readers might also enjoy the forthcoming by Meg Wolitzer - The Interestings (2013), "a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #386

Just about this time each year, with the first hint of spring, I've found myself humming April in Paris, and thoughts tend to drift to the City of Light. Now debut novelist Hilary Reyl will take us there, through the painterly eyes of a young American artist, in Lessons in French.

1989, a time of social and political upheaval. Her fluent French got new Yale grad Kate hired by famous American photojournalist Lydia Schell as her assistant. Kate is thrilled with the chance to pursue her dreams as a painter, but also to return to France where, as a child she was sent to live with cousins while her father was dying.

Immediately she is dazzled by the Schell's fashionable Sixth Arrondissement home, frequented by their famous friends, and falls into the orbit of a band of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. Impressionable and wanting badly to fit in, Kate deliberately engages in a forbidden romance, becoming deeply enmeshed in the drama of this volatile household, and the ever-more questionable requests they make of her. In the meantime, Kate struggles with her own art.

"In compelling and sympathetic prose, Hilary Reyl perfectly captures this portrait of a precocious, ambitious young woman struggling to define herself in a vibrant world that spirals out of her control. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family".

French literature scholar (Ph.D. NYU) Reyl's first novel is rich and magnetic. Will appeal to readers who enjoy novels of Americans in Paris and other coming-of-age stories.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #385

Professional cellist Edward Kelsey Moore, whose short story "Grandma and the Elusive Fifth Crucifix" was selected as an audience favorite on NPR's Stories on Stage series just published his first novel. He lives in Chicago (website).

I sincerely hope you are not expecting The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat * being Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross, - the sensation from Detroit's Brewster-Douglass public housing project that helped put Motown Records on the map in the 1960s. But seriously, you won't be too disappointed once you've met Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean.

Dubbed "The Supremes" since their high school days, these Plainsview (IN) mavens have weathered life's storms together arm-in-arm. Dutiful, proud, and talented Clarice must struggle to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband's infidelities. Beautiful, fragile Barbara Jean must try to live with a youthful mistake that continues to haunt her. Fearless Odette engages in the most terrifying battle of her life while entertaining visitations from her (dead) pot-smoking mother and an inebriated Eleanor Roosevelt. For four decades, what sustain these strong, funny women through marriages, children, happiness, and disappointments, is their Sunday table at Earl's Diner, the first black-own business in this racially divided town, where they can count on good food, gossip, occasional tears, uproarious banter and each other.

"With wit and love, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together four intertwined love stories, three devoted allies, and two sprightly earthbound spirits in a big-hearted debut novel that embraces the lives of people you will never forget."

Poised to give Waiting to Exhale, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Steel Magnolias a run for their money. Readers might also enjoy works by Pearl Cleage, and April Sinclair, or other novels on women's friendship.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #380

In Dana Bate's The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs *, 26 yr.-old Hannah Sugarman (Cornell, Economics) could hardly keep up as a research assistant in a DC think tank while secretly dreaming of opening up an underground supper club, a recent phenomenon in the foodie world.

When yet another ill-fated dinner with the patrician Prescotts (her live-in boyfriend Adam's parents) goes hopelessly sour, she is unceremoniously dumped and evicted. With mounting pressure from her academically distinguished parents to jump start her lackluster career, and eager to move on, she seizes the chance to do what she loves, and lands at the doorstep of Blake Fischer, a bachelor landlord with a basement apartment for rent.

"Journalist and debut novelist Bate deftly conjures up a witty, resilient heroine, surrounds her with delightful friends and frenemies, and sends them all on a rollicking quest for love and delicious food".

Cheeky, smart, and up-beat (with an implausibly happy ending), it is like sunshine and birdsong on a frigid February day - sure to bring a spring in your step and smile to your face.

Readalikes: Cupid and Diana (finding Mr. Right in DC); The Lost Art of Mixing - a sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (where 8 lives mingle and intertwine at a cooking school); and Brian O'Reilly's Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food (young Philadelphia widow feeds the neighborhood loners and builds a village); Girl Cook by Hannah McCouch (delicious modern Cinderella story of love, sex, chefs, and the city).

* = Starred review

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy!

It was 200 years ago this month that Jane Austen published her second, and perhaps most beloved, novel: "Pride & Prejudice." The official publication date was January 28, 1813.

Austen wrote it between October 1796 and August 1797, but publishers at first declined to look at it. After she went back and revised her manuscript, originally titled "First Impressions," nearly fifteen years later between 1811 and 1812, it was finally accepted for publication. Although she never married, Jane Austen loved her books like they were her family and was so excited when "Pride & Prejudice" arrived, she wrote to her sister Cassandra, "I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London."

The first edition sold out quickly and has been popular the world over ever since. It has been translated into dozens of languages and adapted for both television and the big screen. It's been given modern twists in Hollywood movies and Bollywood, too. It even has its own popular web series and been adapted into graphic novels and zombie apocalypse stories.

And of course, there are the books. From the original to all the adaptations and continuations, it's clear something about that story of misunderstandings and seemingly impossible happy endings still has a grip on us. It's easy to wonder what Miss Austen would have thought of the stages her "child" has gone through and how the world still holds such love for its characters even now, 200 years later.

Looking for more ways to celebrate Jane Austen? The library has a large collection of her other books or other movie adaptations of her work!

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