Fabulous Fiction Firsts #258

In Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman living with Asperger's syndrome, in the attic of her family's enormous and historic home must learn to care for herself with her parents' unexpected death. Now her yuppie sister, Amanda wants to sell the house. Grieving Ginny retreats into her obsession with cooking, and at the wake, a batch of her Nonna's ribollita conjures up not only rich aroma and old family secrets, but also a ghost or two.

McHenry's debut novel is a "sensitive and realistic portrait of someone living with Asperger's,... (and) a touching tale about loss and grief, love and acceptance".

The author is an amateur cook who grew up in Michigan and Iowa. She now lives in New York, blogging about food and cooking at the Simmer blog.

Fans of foodie/culinary-themed Women's Fiction are no doubt familiar with Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients, Melissa Senate's The Love Goddess' Cooking School, and the lovely (and ghostly/magical) confections of Sarah Addison Allen.

Also hot-off-the-press in this genre are: Friendship Bread by Darien Gee (Pub. April 2011) and (audio) The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted: A Novel by Bridget Asher (Pub. March 2011).

Fabulous Fiction Firsts # 255

Rebecca Rasmussen's masterfully written debut novel The Bird Sisters * is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Elderly spinster sisters, known around Spring Green, Wisconsin for their interest in "bird repair" look back on their lives spent in the same house, and especially the summer of 1947. Then, sweet Milly was known as a great beauty, and Twiss a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. It was the summer of the accident that ended their father's prospects as a golf pro; their mother's despair of her reduced circumstances; the local priest ran off to Mexico as a loss of faith; and Asa, the young man who played a part in their adolescence awakening . More importantly, it was the summer of Bett, their older cousin whose visit forever changed their lives.

"Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, ...this wistful but wise story is enchanting and timeless. A splendid choice for those searching for literary coming-of-age novels".

While novels about sisters abound, this is, nevertheless a welcomed addition.

* = starred review

(My) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #247

For someone who is eternally looking for the next Chick Lit. read, I have no idea how Jill Mansell gets by me. Mind you, not once, but 3 times. But I will be making up for lost time.

Charming and cheery, Staying at Daisy's (originally published in the UK, 2002) was just the thing to ward off the lingering winter chill and the incessant sleet and snow.

In this "screwball romantic comedy" set at a posh hotel in picturesque Bristol, Daisy MacLean handily juggles the hospitality business, misbehaving guests, an odd assortment of staff and the embarrassing excuse for an owner who happens to her father; but is leery and tentative with rich, successful (and very hot) former rugby player Dev Tyzack who might just be pursuing her romantically.

Daisy's personal history, small town secrets, serendipity and surprises enrich the plot, add to the humor, and heighten the suspense, making it a "clever, absorbing, and very enjoyable read".

For fans of British Katie Fforde; Madeleine Wickham; and Isabel Wolff who enjoy lighthearted, contemporary women's fiction.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #241

If you let a snarky remark like "Readable, upmarket, non-mold-breaking escapism" to keep you away from Eleanor Brown's,The Weird Sisters then it really is a shame.

I am thick in the middle of it and can't put it down but I can't wait until I'm done to blog it either. So here it is, the blurb from the publisher...

"The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they've been running from-one another, their small hometown, and themselves-might offer more than they ever expected."

So far, I have to agree with one of the reviewers, "There are no false steps in this debut novel: the humor, lyricism, and realism characterizing... will appeal to fans of good modern fiction as well as stories of family and of the Midwest." Oh, BTW, Weird is set in Buckeye territory but we won't hold that against it.

Listen to the NPR review and author interview. And don't be surprised with the buzz around this book big time in the weeks to come.

In the meantime while you are waiting for your copy, read Short Girls - homegrown and Maize-and-Blue all the way.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #235

4 years after her memoir Kabul Beauty School : an American woman goes behind the veil made a considerable buzz in the publishing world with this "remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom", Deborah Rodriguez is trying her hand at fiction with A Cup of Friendship.

Running a Kabul coffee shop that is patronized by ex-pats and locals, thirtysomething-American Sunny reaches out to a growing circle of new friends including a pregnant rape victim, a wealthy woman who would help others, a journalist with a painful secret and a den mother who is engaged in a complicated affair.

"Rodriguez has a deft hand for detail and the accelerated emotion of the expat existence in war-torn Afghanistan", and will certainly appeal to those with an interest in current events in the Middle East.

For an intimate look at the lives and struggles of women in the insular (to Westerners) Islamic world, readers might try Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh (also available as audiobook).

For cross-cultural tales and the experiences of Middle Eastern ex-pats in America (which mirror those depicted in Cup), I loved The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins and Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #234

If you did not read Lisa Genova's debut novel Still Alice, a moving and vivid depiction of an accomplished woman who slowly loses her thoughts and memories to Alzheimer's, only to discover that each day brings a new way of living and loving, then there is one more reason for you to pick up her new novel Left Neglected.

Once again, bringing her expertise in neuroscience (Ph.D. Harvard) Genova introduces Sarah Nickerson who suffers from a little-known neurological syndrome called left neglect that leaves her unable to feel or see anything on her left side, due to injuries sustained in a car accident. As she struggles to recover physically, Sarah also learns to cope with aspects of her life "left neglected" owing to a high-powered job and her busy lifestyle, among them - her relationship with her mother, her young family, and her own happiness.

With a likable character committed to change and growth, a story of hope and strength, and sensitive treatment of a unique medical condition Left Neglected will appeal to Women's Fiction readers.

Readers interested in neuroscience should also try A Beautiful Mind : a biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., which depicts the "mystery of the human mind, triumph over incredible adversity, and the healing power of love". (See the film adaptation, starring Russell Crowe)

2011 Best in Genre Fiction - American Library Association Reading List Council Awards

ala reading listala reading list

The Reading List annually recognizes the best books in eight genres: adrenaline (including suspense, thriller and adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and women’s fiction. This year’s list includes novels that will please die-hard fans, as well as introduce new readers to the pleasures of genre fiction - and what pleases me most is to see many debut novels among the winners and on the shortlists.

Adrenaline
The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

Fantasy
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Historical Fiction
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Horror
The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Mystery
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Romance
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Science Fiction
The Dervish House by IIan McDonald

Women’s Fiction
Solomon’s Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #230

Published posthumously, Beverly Jensen's debut The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay * comes highly recommended by someone I trust and I was not disappointed.

In 1916, Idella and Avis Hillock live on the edge of a chilly bluff in New Brunswick, a hardscrabble world of potato farms and lobster traps, rough men, hard work, and baffling beauty. From "Gone," the heartbreaking story of their mother's medical crisis in childbirth, to the darkly comic "Wake," which follows the grown siblings' catastrophic efforts to escort their father, "Wild Bill" Hillock's body to his funeral, the stories of Idella and Avis offer a compelling and wry vision of two remarkable women. The vivid cast includes Idella's philandering husband Edward, her bewilderingly difficult mother-in-law- and Avis, whose serial romantic disasters never quell her irrepressible spirit. Jensen's work evokes a time gone by and reads like an instant American classic.

Beverly Jensen earned an MFA in drama from Southern Methodist University. After her death in 2003, her story "Wake" was published in the New England Review, included in The Best American Short Stories of 2007, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Sisters brings to mind Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan another moving tale of two sisters. It won the 2001 Governor General's Award and the The Scotiabank Giller Prize - two of the most prestigious Canadian literary awards.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #212

What makes a reader "perfect"?

The answer might lie somewhere in Perfect Reader*, the "sparkling, shrewd, and at times hilarious" debut by Maggie Pouncey.

Twentysomething Flora Dempsey is stunned to find herself named literary executor of her late father - a critic, an eminent scholar and college president in a small New England town. Beside the house, the family dog, Flora finds she has also inherited a manuscript of her father's erotic poems inspired by a girlfriend Flora didn't know he had, a girlfriend who wants to see them published!

In a year of grieving, Flora revisits her childhood memories of her parents' divorce, losing a best friend following a terrible accident while debating whether to publish her father's manuscript.

"Pouncey has skillfully created a portrait of small-town academia, where the relationships between reader and text are just as elusive and complex as the relationships between father and daughter, husband and wife, or between two lovers".

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #210: Fresh Asian-American Voices

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is an inspiring debut , drawn from personal experience about a young immigrant from Hong Kong, who is caught between the pressure to succeed in America, duty to her family, and her own personal desires.

An exceptional student and yet shy and proud, Kimberly Chang and her mother are tricked into back-breaking factory work and living in squalor. In simple, searing, richly detailed prose, Kwok captures the anguish of the struggle, the universal immigrant lament of not fitting in, misunderstanding and cultural disconnect that is wrenching and hilarious at times. Girl is a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love. A good book group choice with reading group guide. Don't miss the author's interesting bio..

Sonya Chung's exquisite debut Long for This World** is a multi-layered story of two brothers, distanced by time and differences. When American surgeon Han Hyun-ku unexpectedly arrives at his younger brother's home in a remote island in South Korean, he leaves behind a floundering marriage and a troubled son. His daughter, Jane, a renowned photojournalist searches for him and they are quickly absorbed into the Korean Han's household where surface tranquility masks dark and volatile undercurrents.

"Moving between landscapes and a variety of perspectives, Chung's ambitious debut explores the intricacies and aggravations of family, culture, and identity." With reading group guide as well.

Sonya Chung is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination, the Charles Johnson Fiction Award, and the Bronx Council on the Arts Writers’ Fellowship & Residency. In fall 2010, Sonya will join the full-time faculty of the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University.

Readalikes: Typical American by Gish Jen for the Asian-American immigrant experience; and The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak for the secrets families keep; and how one "can't go home again".

** = Starred reviews

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