Fabulous Fiction Firsts #450 - For All Ages

Here is something extraordinarily fun and quirky and I hope, unexpectedly moving as well.

"If Roald Dahl had rewritten The Picture of Dorian Gray to include a gang of 24 bandits and a giant balloon, the result might have been Gianni Rodari's wonderfully improbable novel that, for all its humor, is loosely based upon the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Italian politician Aldo Moro" and that! would be Lamberto Lamberto Lamberto.

When we first meet 93-year-old millionaire Baron Lamberto, he has been diagnosed with 24 life-threatening ailments, one for each of the 24 banks he owns. But when he takes the advice of an Egyptian mystic and hires servants to chant his name over and over again, he seems to not only get better, but younger, to the chagrin of his ne'er-do-well nephew who is impatient to inherit.

When a terrorist group lays siege to his island villa, his team of bank managers has to be bussed in to help with the ransom negotiations, and a media spectacle breaks out . . .

Gianni Rodari (October 23, 1920 -April 14, 1980) was an Italian writer and journalist, most famous for his books for children. The recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1970, Rodari is a household name in Italy among educators and parents, not to mention children. Influenced by French surrealism and linguistics, Rodari advocated poetry and language play as a way to recover the rhythm and sound of oral tradition and nursery rhymes. One of Italy's most beloved fables, Lamberto is only now translated into English. Much of the charm lies with Maggioni's ink drawings in this edition.

2104 Notable Books - The Fiction List

Here are the winning titles for the 2014 Notable Books List — The American Library Association's annual literary award that identifies 25 outstanding, very readable, and at times very important fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books for the adult reader. Again, we are pleased to see a number of first novelists getting the recognition.

Fiction Winners

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The nuances and challenges of race, emigration and cultural identification are explored through the lives of two Nigerian lovers.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. What would happen if death were just a new beginning?

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat. A bittersweet fable of modern Haiti told in luminous prose.

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey. The fragmented and unsettling perspective of a man grappling with mental illness. (A FFF - blog)

Enon by Paul Harding. A father struggles with the accidental death of his 15 year-old daughter. Grief on paper.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. Around the world with a charmingly unreliable narrator in this coming-of-age tale. (A FFF - blog)

The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. If they sat next to us in a restaurant, we would do well to simply study our forks.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. An affirmation of life amidst the chaos of war-torn Chechnya. (A FFF - blog)

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. A taut psychological drama of slow-burning anger.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Tokyo meets Sunnyvale and British Columbia through a purple gel pen, a tsunami and a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a side of quantum physics.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. A terrorist bomb blows apart a 13-year-old boy’s world.

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 #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 #448 - "The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time" ~Abraham Lincoln

Author and New York Times critic Stacey D'Erasmo called Greg Baxter's debut novel The Apartment * "one of the best novels I have read in a long time, ...(f)ollowing the lead of James Joyce (Ulysses) Don DeLillo (Cosmopolis) and others, the novel takes place over the course of a single day."

On a snowy day in late December, an unnamed American leaves his shabby hotel in an old European city to meet a woman who has agreed to help him find an apartment. As the day unfolds, they meet some of her friends, attend a party, and by dribs and drabs, we learn that the forty-something American served in Iraq, became a highly paid military contractor, a past he hopes to forget, while at the brink of an uncertain future as a couple.

"Baxter's clear-eyed first novel provides an unflinching portrait of the ways that guilt shapes us, and demonstrates an ultimately redemptive faith in the alchemies and uncertainties of friendship and love."

"A very smart novel that recognizes the limits of intelligence and the distortions of memory."

This thoughtful, quietly penetrating book is for those seeking more than a quick read.

For other novels that take place in the span of a day, try Saturday by Ian McEwan, Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, and not to forget Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

* = starred review

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 #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 #444

The World Noir imprint first came to my attention with this gritty and cinematic procedural - The Crocodile * by Maurizio De Giovanni, put out by Europa Editions.

Those of you with a soft-spot for the disgraced lone-wolf detectives would not want to miss this one.

A cold, methodical killer the newspapers are calling "The Crocodile", commits murders largely undisturbed around Naples' diverse neighborhoods. Like a crocodile he waits and watches until his prey is within range, and then he strikes. So far he targets only the very young, and the only clue found is a paper tissue left at each site with the murderer's tears on it.

Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, a recent transfer from Sicily who spends his days playing games on his computer, senses that this might be his chance for redemption while his colleagues dismiss the murders as Mafia shenanigan.

The beautiful Laura Piras, a young prosecutor, aware of his preternatural skills and his incredible powers of observation, charges him with finding the link between the victims. In the process, he also finds another potential victim: a 6-month-old infant.

"The Crocodile offers an elegant narrative and vividly rendered characters. It's genuinely seductive."

"In this crisply translated (by Antony Shugaar) novel, De Giovanni explores Lojacono's loneliness and vulnerability while simultaneously revealing his brilliance as a detective." Check out the Commissario Ricciardi series by this winning team of author and translator.

* = starred review

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

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