Fabulous Fiction Firsts #586

Ways to Disappear * by poet/translator Idra Novey is what the NPR book reviewer called "a fast-paced, beguilingly playful, noirish literary mystery," about the disappearance of a famous Brazilian novelist and the young translator who turns her life upside down to follow her author's trail.

Celebrated author Beatriz Yagoda has vanished, last been climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase and cigar in hand. As soon as the news reach her translator in Pittsburgh, Emma Neufeld puts her life in on hold and hops a flight to Rio de Janeiro, leaving behind a seriously exasperated boyfriend.

Upon arrival, Emma is met by an angry loan shark who threatens violence if Beatriz does not repay the half a million dollars owed from online gambling. Joining Emma's search is Beatriz's two grown children - the practical, business-like Raquel and the exceedingly handsome Marcus. But before long, they realize they are way over their heads. Meanwhile, Roberto Rocha, Beatriz's publisher finds himself equally entangled, and he might be the only one who could save the day.

"Novey’s characters are hilariously impulsive, terribly misguided, hopelessly lost, relentlessly determined, and immediately sympathetic. An incisive meditation on the relationship between literature and life, a reflection on the cumulative result of everyday decisions, and a dazzling, truly memorable work of humor and heart."

For readers who enjoyed The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson; Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore by Robin Sloan; and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #585 "You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

The Nest * *, a "warm, funny and acutely perceptive" debut by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney is about the four Plumb siblings, and the fate of their joint trust fund - “The Nest,” that has shaped their lives, and the choices they make.

Jack, Beatrice and Melody Plumb meet on an unseasonably cold October afternoon in New York City to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly out of rehab. Back in August at a family wedding, an inebriated and stoned Leo crashed his car on a country road, and his passenger, a 19 year-old waitress was badly hurt. To make his troubles go away, Leo pillages The Nest, just as it is about to be distributed on Melody's (the baby of the family) 40th birthday. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have been counting on the money (thanks to the bull market) to solve a number of self-inflicted problems, financial and otherwise.

Melody is about to lose her painstakingly restored house in the suburb and worries about college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker and is truly desperate for cash. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. They are all relying on Leo to somehow restore the fund. "The rest of the book is a wise, affectionate study of how expectations play out in our lives—not just financial ones..."

"Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love."

For readers who enjoyed The View From Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman; The Vacationers by Emma Straub ; and The Red House by Mark Haddon. Readers familiar with Wes Anderson's films would likely draw comparison to The Royal Tenenbaums.

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #584

A much anticipated debut - The Girl in the Red Coat * * * by Kate Hamer was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and was a Dagger Award finalist. (Watch Kate speak on YouTube about the nomination with other finalists such as Kate Atkinson; Michael Robotham; and Robert Galbraith).

On a fog-shrouded day in Norfolk, 8 year-old Carmel Wakeford, who has a tendency to wander, is separated from her mother Beth at a storytelling festival. When a man tells her that he is her estranged grandfather, and her mother has been taken to a near-by hospital, she takes his hand in relief.

Through the years, in alternating chapters, the story unfolds as Beth struggles to hold on to hope and Carmel fights to remember her true identity while being held captive by a ragtag bunch of self-described miracle workers.

"Hamer's spectacular debut skillfully chronicles the nightmare of child abduction. Telling the story in two remarkable voices, with Beth's chapters unfurling in past tense and Carmel's in present tense, the author weaves a page-turning narrative. The trajectories of the novel's two leads—through despair, hope, and redemption—are believable and nuanced, resulting in a morally complex, haunting read."

Read-alikes: The 2007 Costa First Novel Award-winner What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn; The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; and The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #583

Winner of the 2011 prestigious Campiello Prize Not All Bastards Are From Vienna * marks the English debut of Venetian poet/children's author Andrea Molesini, and is inspired by his great-aunt’s wartime journals.

Reminiscent of Atonement (in its examination of class conflict and coming-of-age against a war-torn backdrop), Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Birdsong, the narrative unfolds in the autumn of 1917 in Refrontolo—a small community north of Venice, ravished by the bitter fighting between the Germans/Austrians and the Italians.

Villa Spada, is home to 17 year-old Paolo, recently orphaned; his eccentric grandparents; headstrong aunt; and a loyal staff, including the enigmatic estate steward Renato, a recent arrival with murky references. Times are hard, food is short, and life is perilous, but it does not deter family members from joining the resistance effort, right under the noses of the occupying German troops. When an aristocratic Austrian major takes possession of the villa, the Spadas’ resistance activities become even more vulnerable to betrayal.

Combining a comedic touch and vivid characterizations, "this is a powerful tale of endurance, sacrifice, love, and war’s suffering and cruelty."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #582

Taking the title from a line in "Kath," a 1991 song by indie rock band Sebadoh - Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau, is a "highly original debut -- a wild romp of a love story across time and a soulful interweaving of science and music -- this is The Time Traveler's Wife meets Where'd You Go Bernadette."

Karl Bender, washed-up former guitarist for an indie rock band now owns and runs The Dictator's Club, a bar in Chicago's Buck Town. He finds a wormhole in his closet while searching for his boot, and with his best (and only) friend Wayne, develops a business selling access to people who want to travel back in time to hear their favorite bands. Then Wayne insists on traveling back to December 8, 1980, Manhattan in order to rewrite history, but Karl's slip on the keyboard sends him back to 980, 500 years before the first boatload of Dutch colonists landed on the Island of Mannahatta.

Desperate to get Wayne back to the present, Karl enlists the help of Lena Geduldig, a prickly, overweight astrophysicist at Northwestern. Their connection is immediate. While they work on getting Wayne back, they fall in love - with time travel, and each other. Unable to resist meddling with the past, Karl and Lena bounce around time, altering the course of their lives. Then out-of-the-blue Karl gets an email from his future self, sending him forward in time to try to save someone dear to them.

"Daviau is ferocious with her sad and flawed characters, whose pain propels the story through several iterations... A dark and funny love story that, like its main characters, is much sweeter than it appears on the surface."

The author (Smith,Helen Zell Writers' Program at UM), a former librarian and storyteller, now lives in Portland, Oregon. An earlier version of this novel won an Hopwood Award in 2012. You might want to check out the NPR book review also.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #581 “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Rumi

A bestseller in its native Spain, love in lowercase by Francesc Miralles (translated by Julie Wark) is a delightful romantic comedy in the tradition of The Rosie Project and The Solitude of Prime Numbers, where a series of surprising events lends a solitary bachelor a second chance at love.

New Year Eve. 37 year-old Samuel, a linguistics lecturer could hardly wait to turn in after observing the Twelve Grapes ritual alone in his Barcelona apartment. Accustomed to a routine of lesson-planning, housework, books, foreign films, classical jazz, and the thrill of an occasional trip to the supermarket, he would hardly believe that all that will change on New Year’s Day when a cat decides to take up residence in his home, and forces him to interact with the messy outside world.

The cat, which he named Mishima first sends him upstairs to meet Titus, a frail book editor who, in turn sends him on an errand where he crosses paths with Gabriela, his lost childhood love. Along the way Samuel learns the importance of what he terms "love in lowercase", a phenomenon in which “some small act of kindness sets off a chain of events that comes around again in the form of multiplied love” and inspires him to seek out Gabriela.

Listen to the Publishers Weekly's radio podcast as Francesc Miralles discusses his novel, also available in Spanish in our World Language Collection.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #580

"Absorbing, intriguing, insightful" raved a reviewer of The 6:41 to Paris * by Jean-Philippe Blondel; a brilliant psychological thriller though there's nary a crime in sight.

This European bestseller is narrated by Cecile Duffaut and Philippe Leduc, lovers who parted 27 years ago as they meet by chance on the 6:41 morning train bound for Paris. Cecile has just spent a dreary weekend dutifully visiting her parents. The only empty seat in the train compartment is claimed by none other than Philippe. Though they each recognize the other at once, neither acknowledges it.

The once plain and socially-awkward Cecile is now a successful business owner, married with grown children, confident and stylishly dressed while the once handsome, charming and care-free Philippe is unrecognizable - "old, wrinkled, flabby, the kind of man that inspires pity." This gives Cecile no small satisfaction as she remembers Philippe's betrayal and her humiliation on a trip to London so painful that she cannot bear to return to the city. In the time it takes the 6:41 train to reach Paris, their thoughts compellingly trace the meandering paths between who they once were and who they are now.

"A fast, yet deep journey through the characters' experiences of anger, triumph, remorse, and forgiveness, Blondel's novel ... reminds us that even long-ago heartbreaks have the power to ignite our most powerful emotions."

"Funny, wise and conciliatory."

Read-alikes: The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne; Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith; and The London Train by Tessa Hadley

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #579 “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ~ Charles William Eliot

An international bestseller The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend * *, first novel by Katarina Bivald (translated from Swedish by Alice Menzies) is a sleepy charmer you would not be able to put down.

Broken Wheel, IA, pop. 637. Bookseller Sara Lindqvist travels from her native Sweden, against her parent's warning and her own inhibition, to visit Amy Harris, her longtime American pen pan, only to arrive on the day of Amy's funeral. Not having seen a tourist for years, the town folks are eager to get to know Sara. They insist that Sara stays in Amy's house, and refuse Sara's effort to pay for her groceries and meals. They even assign her a chauffeur.

Feeling entangled and with a need to repay all their kindnesses, Sara happens upon the idea of opening a bookstore in an abandoned storefront, using Amy's eclectic collection. Amazingly, it is an absolute success and before long, a tourist attraction, turning Broken Wheel into a hotbed of romance and progressive ideas. Now, can the town folks work more of their magic in getting Sara to stay? For good?

"This gentle, intelligent Midwestern tale will captivate fans of Antoine Laurain's The Red Notebook; Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop; and Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. An ideal book group selection, it reminds us why we are book lovers and why it's nice to read a few happy endings."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #578

The Longest Night * * by Andria Williams is inspired by a little-known historical fact - the nation’s only fatal nuclear accident, which occurred on January 3rd, 1961. Williams’ debut explores the lead-up to the tragedy through the eyes of a young army specialist and his wife.

Idaho Falls, 1959. Neither Paul Collier nor Nat(alie) fits in very well in their new home. Paul, the newest enlisted man at the experimental nuclear reactor, is dismayed at the problematic and dangerous condition of the reactor. When a clash with his buffoonish supervisor turns violent, he is deployed to Greenland for 6 months.

Left behind with two young children and pregnant with a third, Nat tries to make friends with the prim-and-proper army wives whose scintillating marital drama play out behind closed doors. But she finds her deepest friendship with a handsome young Mormon cowboy named Esrom, who proves to be both a help and a bright spot in her life, as well as a temptation and fuel for the rumor mill. Upon Paul's return, a nuclear event will force them to make decisions that will alter the course of their lives and others in the community.

"A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way." May we also suggest: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit; You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon; and Changing Light by Nora Gallagher.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #577

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington, the Indie Next List and the American Booksellers Association Indies Debut Pick of the Season, is a coming-of-age novel shot-through with ‘70s rock-n-roll.

Titled after a Neil Young song, it is set in Spencerville, Virginia, 1977, where 8-year-old Richard “Rocky” Askew worships his older brother, Paul, who allows him to tag along as he cruises around in his Chevy Nova, cigarette dangling from his lips, arm slung around the beautiful Leigh, daughter of Judge Bowman.

Unfortunate events pit the Askews against their wealthier neighbors, the Culvers and each other, triggering an unforgivable act of violence from Paul who disappears, but not before taking Leigh with him. Years later, as the Askews are struggling with declining health and financial ruin, Paul returns, looking for redemption and forgiveness. After a mysterious double murder brings terror and suspicion to their small town, Rocky and his family must reckon with the past and find a way to rebuild relationships - with each other, and with the town.

For readers who enjoyed My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh; A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash; and The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton.

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