Fabulous Fiction Firsts #499

Having been a fan of Tony Parsons for many years now, I have been waiting with bated breath for The Murder Man * - his first try at crime fiction. And let me tell you, you won't be getting much sleep.

Meet DC Max Wolfe - recent widower (to cancer), single father (daughter Scout, 5), indulgent owner (Stan, holy terror of a puppy), insomniac, caffeine junkie, and a new transfer to London's Homicide and Serious Crime.

Someone has been violently killing members of London society. First, it was Hugo Buck, a pedigreed banker with an appetite for the hired help. Then there was the homeless junkie Adam Jones. Nicknamed "Bob the Butcher" by the press and social media, the killer is strong enough and smart enough to kill with a single knife stroke, and bold enough to kill in public. The victims first appeared to have absolutely nothing in common, except for a decade-old group photograph. Wolfe noticed that at each of the murder scene, someone had painted in blood "#KILLALLPIGS".

The hunt leads Wolfe to Potter's Field, an exclusive private school; a long-buried brutal murder; and right into the killer's path.

"Spectacular - tense but human, fast but authentic..." ~ Lee Child

"A relentless plot, evocative prose, and compelling (and wrenching) portraits of the characters, good and evil, conspire to make this a must-read. And I have two words for hero Max Wolfe: More. Soon." ~ Jeffery Deaver

Enough said.

If you are fascinated with the private (sorry, public school) culture, you might also enjoy The Secret History, Donna Tartt's debut novel (arguably her best, in my humble opinion); and A Murder of Quality, an early George Smiley novel by John Le Carre.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #498 - "Sometimes, one wants to have the illusion that one is making ones own life, out of ones own resources.” ~ Zadie Smith

Poet and short story writer Greer Macallister's debut novel The Magician's Lie * has been described as Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus.

1905. On a warm summer evening in Waterloo (IA), The Amazing Arden, "the most famed female illusionist in the world" vowed to do the impossible as she "weave (her trademark) web of beautiful illusions to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world". The only deviation from her routine - she would use an axe in her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage.

When Arden's husband was found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, young police officer Virgil Holt who was part of the audience happened upon the fleeing illusionist and took her into custody. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free... and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors as Arden recounted a life and a career "more moving and spectacular than any of her stage acts".

"(W)ell-paced, evocative, and adventurous... a top-notch novel."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #497 - “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

For those interested in the history of books and printing, you simply cannot pass up Gutenberg's Apprentice * * * by Alix Christie - "(a)n enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany - a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal, rich in atmosphere and historical detail, told through the lives of the three men who made it possible."

Caught at the center of the Gutenberg/Fust saga is Peter Schoeffer. At 25, an up-and-coming scribe at the Sorbonne, he is summoned home to Mainz by his father Johann Fust who adopted the orphaned Peter and spared no expense in his education. It turns out that Fust, a wealthy merchant and bookseller has met & financed the workshop of the "most amazing man", and to whom he intends to apprentice Peter.

Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary machine he calls a printing press. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in what the Catholic Church condemns as "the darkest art".

As his skill grows, so, too, does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: copies of the Holy Bible, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures: the generous Fust, and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery. "Despite obstacles posed by the Church, guilds, family, and friends, Fust, Gutenberg, and Schoeffer's tenuous collaboration culminates in the Gutenberg Bible."

"An inspiring tale of ambition, camaraderie, betrayal, and cultural transformation based on actual events and people, this wonderful novel fully inhabits its age." Readers who enjoyed The Justification of Johann Gutenberg by Blake Morrison might very well get the rest of the story here.

A note about the author... Native Californian Alix Christie dedicates this book to a long line of master printers, including the two master letterpress printers she apprenticed with. A published journalist who turned to fiction in the 1990s, she now lives in London.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #496

Classical violinist Louisa Treger (biography) depicts the life and loves of Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957), one of the most important writers of the 20th century in a fictional biography The Lodger, - "(a) compelling story of one woman tormented by unconventional desires."

The novel opens in 1906 with Dorothy Richardson being invited to spend a weekend in the country with her old school friend Amy Catherine (called Jane now) and her new husband Bertie (H.G.) Wells, a writer hovering on the brink of fame. The sumptuous meals and idyllic seaside setting stand in sharp contrast to Dorothy's attic room in a seedy Bloomsbury boarding house, and her £1/week wage as an assistant to a Harley Street dentist.

But what draws Dorothy most (though he first appears unremarkable) are Well's grey-blue eyes and "his intellect and impish nature". Despite her good intention not to betray her friend, Dorothy free-falls into an affair with Bertie.

When a new boarder arrives at the boarding house, the beautiful Veronica Leslie-Jones, Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. Amidst the personal dramas and wreckage of a militant suffragette march, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer.

"The early 1900s weren't exactly a friendly time for single women in London, and the book does a wonderful job of showing Dorothy's desire for independence as well as her fear of being alone... Treger's writing flows easily and the book is impeccably researched (including Richardson's twelve-volume autobiographical novel-sequence Pilgrimage), making this an enjoyable read."

"Dorothy Richardson may not be a household name, but Treger's novel does a fine job of showing just how compelling her life was in this novel full of passion, history and literature." For readers who enjoy Virginia Woolf (who btw, considered Richardson a literary rival) and Edith Wharton.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #495 - “It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think." ~ Patrick Rothfuss

The Question of the Missing Head: An Asperger's mystery by E.J. Coopperman (as Jeff Cohen when he writes nonfiction) introduces a new series featuring Samuel Hoenig, a man with Asperger's Syndrome - "an increasingly popular diagnosis given to people displaying a constellation of behaviors often associated with autism—inflexible thinking, reduced ability to read social cues, constricted range of interest." But Samuel's observational skills and heightened cognitive and linguistic functioning make him an ideal owner (and sole employee) of his New Jersey-based business called Questions Answered.

When Marshall Ackerman, chief administrator of the Garden State Cryonics Institute insists on him solving the mystery of a missing preserved head in their high-tech laboratory, Samuel, being a non-driver, conscripts his current client, a Miss Washburn to accompany him to the scene of the crime. Upon arrival, the urgency of finding the missing head is overshadowed when Dr. Rebecca Springer, one of the facility's scientists, is found murdered, in a locked room.

"In this well-crafted story, the Asperger's element, rather than becoming a distraction, provides a unique point of view on crime-solving, as well as offering a sensitive look at a too-often-misunderstood condition. "

"(A) delightful and clever mystery".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #494 - “Magic: it was what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.” ~ Lev Grossman

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg is "an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight (readers) of all ages."

19 year-old Ceony Twill, graduated (at the top of her class) from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Despite her dreams of being a smelter, she has been assigned as a "Folder," (paper magic) - the lowest in the hierarchy in the pantheon of magicians.

Things get off to a rocky start when she is greeted at the door by a paper skeleton, but under the tutelage of the amiable Emery Thane, Ceony learns to bring the most amazing paper creatures to life. That is until Emery's past comes back to haunt him. To save her teacher's life, Ceony must face an Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic and embark on an unbelievable adventure.

Just released is The Glass Magician, the sequel.

If you have been floundering for something magical to read since The Night Circus, your wait is over. Fans of Karen Russell and Lev Grossman might want to check these out too.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #493 - “I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.” ~ Francis Ford Coppola

Named 2008 Film Blogger of the Year by GQ (check out Self-Styled Siren), and freelance movie reviewer for the New York Post Farren Smith Nehme entertains and intrigues readers and film buffs alike with Missing Reels * - a "totally cinematic debut novel of young love, old movies, and an epic search for a long-lost silent film."

New York in the late 1980s. Ceinwen Reilly has just arrived from Yazoo City, Mississippi. Her min. wage job at a vintage store stretches barely to cover a shared shabby walkup on Avenue C; cigarettes; and her passion - classic movies. One day, Ceinwen, wearing one of her retro finds elicits a comment from their elderly neighbor Miriam. A glimpse of a photograph convinces Ceinwen of Miriam's starring role in the silent films.

When a charming British mathematician Matthew Hill breezes into Ceinwen's life, bringing wit, conversations, romance, and an introduction to Matthew's mentor who is a silent film history aficionado, Ceinwen (with Matthew trailing along) begins earnestly researching and tracking down the reels of Miriam's long-lost film masterpiece.

"The amateur gumshoes quickly find themselves immersed in a subculture of quirky film enthusiasts housing aging reels in basements, university archives, and private clubs across the city."

"A novel as winning and energetic as the grand Hollywood films that inspired it, Missing Reels is an irresistible, alchemical mix of Nora Ephron and David Nicholls that will charm and delight."

Feeling a little star-struck? You might enjoy:
The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr; Not Without You by Harriet Evans; The Actress by Amy Sohn; Fame by Tilly Bagshawe; and Sunnyside by Glen David Gold.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #492 - “I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong... I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

Miracle in a Dry Season * by Sarah Loudin Thomas is set in the small town of Wise, WV. (First in the Appalachian Blessings series)

Rumors and speculations swirl around single mother Perla Long and her 5 yr.old daughter Sadie when she comes to live with her uncle and aunt. Casewell Phillips, a church elder and a confirmed bachelor is charmed when he meets beautiful Perla, and before long, he is crafting doll furniture for Sadie. But like the townfolks, he is cautious of her past that hints of sordidness, and suspicious of her singular talent of producing literally an endless feast out of meager rations.

When a severe drought hits Wise, folks are torn between gratitude for Perla's gift, small-town gossip, and a minister bent on judgment. Perla and Casewell must look deep into their hearts and faith for guidance if they are to have a future.

"Thomas's fiction debut offers sympathetic, wholesome protagonists seeking to live faithful, prayerful lives and engaging supporting characters in subplots that explore the overarching themes of forgiveness, redemption, and the wideness of God's love."

Fans of Ann Tatlock, Karen Kingsbury, and Lisa Wingate now have a new author to watch.

* = starred review

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 #490

Librarian (Louisiana) Ashley Weaver's stylish and charming debut Murder at the Brightwell features "a spunky heroine, a tense romance and red herrings galore" that would bring to mind Agatha Christie who created some of the most endearing and enduring amateur sleuths.

1932 England. Young Amory Ames, on impulse, accepts an invitation from her former fiance Gil Trent to vacation at the Brightwell, a luxurious seaside resort catering to the society set. The express purpose is for Amory to intervene in the forthcoming marriage of Gil's sister Emmeline to Rupert Howe, a disreputable ladies' man. No one sees the sharp prick of the irony more then Amory whose floundering marriage to the notoriously charming playboy Milo is a constant source of sorrow.

But when Rupert is found murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime, Amory must set aside their marital ennui, and reluctantly enlists Milo's help in finding the killer and clearing Trent's name. Soon, the pair's sleuthing puts them at the scene of a second murder, and in harm's way.

"A pleasant debut novel, nicely evoking the 1930s with strong atmosphere and the beginnings of some intriguing characters."

Readers eagerly anticipating a follow-up might want to get cozy with Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man series (and the 1934 film adaptation that is now a classic); the Australian Miss Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood (adapted into an exquisitely-costumed period television series); and the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson, set in Scotland.

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