Fabulous Fiction Firsts #416 - War Bonds

In I'll be Seeing You *, January 1943, Glory Whitehall, a young expectant mother with a toddler pulls a name out of a pail in a 4-H meeting and impulsively writes to the "Garden Witch" - Rita Vincenzo, the sensible wife of a professor in Iowa with a love of gardening. Worlds apart Glory (New England Society) and Rita, (from immigrant families, constantly struggles to make ends meet), they share however, the powerful bond of being at the home front, watching, waiting and worrying about love ones fighting overseas.

Over the course of 2 years, their correspondence brings comfort and encouragement against the tides of loneliness and anxiety as they share their most intimate secrets, hopes and fears, indiscretions and transgression, and recipes. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other's unwavering support.

Authors Suzanne Hayes (Glory) and Loretta Nyhan (Rita) never met. They found each other on writers' blogs and collaborated seamlessly to give us a deeply moving novel filled with unforgettable characters and grace, a celebration of the strength of friendship.

Michigan native Jessica Brockmole's epistolary novel Letters from Skye * spans across two continents and two world wars to capture the love stories of two generations.

In the remote Isle of Skye, 24 yr.-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, is astonished to receive a fan letter from an American college student, David Graham. They find sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets easy and natural. Friendship blossoms into love as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers on the Western front.

Alternating with letters between Elspeth and David are ones between Margaret and Paul - the RAF pilot she is in love with, and those with her mother, who on the eves of World War II warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn't understand. (Ah! the savvy reader has an inkling!) Then, after a bomb rocks their home, Margaret's mother disappears. With a single letter found among the debris as clue, Margaret sets out to find her mother, and the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

"Sparkling with charm and full of captivating period detail, Letters from Skye is a testament to the power of love to overcome great adversity".

Jessica Brockmole spent several years living in Scotland. The idea for the novel came on a long drive from the Isle of Skye to Edinburgh.

Readalikes: Elizabeth Berg's Dream When You're Feeling Blue and Sarah Blake's The Postmistress, and Kristina McMorris' Letters from Home.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #415 - What Would You Do in a Do-Over?

In award-winning journalist Stephen Kiernan''s gripping and poignant literary thriller - The Curiosity * * deep in the Arctic circle, Dr. Kate Philo and her exploration team is searching for marine creatures embedded in icebergs that they can reanimate, and discovery the body of a man buried deep in the ice. With great care, Kate is able to successfully reanimate their discovery back in a Boston lab.

Alternating with Kate's narrative is that of Jeremiah Rice. As he begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was a Massachusetts judge and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906.

As "Subject One" of his Lazarus Project, greedy Erastus Carthage, who funded the expedition, sees it as a breakthrough in the lucrative field of cryogenics. While the clock is ticking, Jeremiah's new life is slipping away, and religious extremists are staging public protests, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.

"(S)mart, heady, and irresistible", Kiernan gets every element right in this breakneck, entertaining, and thought-provoking tale about time, mortality, the ethics of science, and the meaning of life. The film rights were instantly sold."

Readers interested in the fantastic multiple realities would enjoy the latest from Andrew Sean Greer - The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells * , a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the other lives she might have lived.

After a series of personal tragedies, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy for severe depression, only to finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present.

Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta is united with love ones and those who would eventually betray her.

"In this spellbinding novel,...each reality has its own losses, its own rewards; each extracts a different price. Which life will she choose as she wrestles with the unpredictability of love and the consequences of even her most carefully considered choices?"

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #414 - Spectacular Crimes, Foreign Climes

The Abomination * * is Book 1 of Jonathan Holt's Carnivia Trilogy, a propulsive tale of murder, corruption, and international intrigue set in 2 Venices, the modern physical world and its virtual counterpart.

Captain Kat Tapo must unravel a dark conspiracy linking the CIA and the Catholic Church when the Carabinieri fish a woman's body out of the icy water, dressed in the sacred robes of a Catholic priest - a desecration that is known as the Abomination. When another murder victim is discovered, a connection develops between Kat's case and an investigation being conducted by an American army lieutenant, Holly Boland, who is on the trail of classified documents that could reveal CIA involvement in inciting civil war in the Balkans. Throw in a computer wizard who has created a virtual Venice - Carnivia.com, which has become a repository for every sort of secret— - sexual, political, ­religious, —and you have a multistranded conspiracy thriller with plenty of pop.

"(A) beautifully complicated thriller... (a) brilliant blend of fascinating story lines, serious issues, impeccable research, gripping intrigue, and engaging characters, ... eminently satisfying from start to finish." Did someone mention Dan Brown?

The Square of Revenge * * is the English-language debut of Flemish crime writer Pieter Aspe (translated by Brian Doyle), set in the idyllic medieval city of Bruges.

When the wealthy and powerful Ludovic Degroof's jewelry store is broken into, nothing is stolen, but millions in jewels have been dissolved in aqua regia, an acid so strong it could melt gold. The only clue found is a scrap of paper on which a strange square has been drawn. Inspector Pieter Van In and the new DA Hannelore Martens find themselves unraveling a complex web of enigmatic Latin phrase, generations of sordid family secrets, a priceless collection of art.

"This best-selling European series...(with) its fair share of mayhem and intrigue but with little blood spilled, maintains a fast pace, a light touch, and a joy in the telling." For fans of the noir comedy In Bruges (2008), and Georges Simenon's Maigret series.

Professional translator of English-language fiction into Spanish, Antonio Hill's debut thriller The Summer of Dead Toys is already a bestseller in Spain.

A riveting crime thriller set during a sultry Barcelona summer, Inspector Hector Salgado, recently returned from a forced "holiday" is assigned to investigate the accidental death of a college student in one of the ritzier neighborhoods. As Salgado follows a trail that will lead him deep into the underbelly of Barcelona's high society, he comes face to face with dangerous criminals, long-buried secrets, and, of course, his own past.

"Gripping, sophisticated, and wickedly entertaining". "Reminiscent of Ian Rankin's Inspector John Rebus, or Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series as crime fiction fans explore the gritty side of another European city."

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #413 - Girls Rule

Actress Dagmara Dominczyk recently shared in a New York Times interview that "Those who know me know I love to write. Those who know me a little bit know I’m an actress. Those who don’t know me know I’m married to Patrick Wilson.”

In her debut novel The Lullaby of Polish Girls * the narrative follows the friendship of three women from their youthful days in Poland at the height of the Solidarity movement, to their complicated, not-quite-successful adult lives.

Anna and her parents lived among the Brooklyn immigrant community as political refugees. At twelve, she is sent back to Kielce to visit her grandmother, and over subsequent summers, develops intense friendships with two local girls - the ”brash and beautiful Justyna and desperately awkward Kamila. Told in alternate voices, it captures the joys and insecurities of coming-of-age, and the more heartbreaking struggles of hardship, marriage, and identity in womanhood.

Partly set in the Polish enclave of Wyandotte, Michigan, the film rights to this cinematic story has been sold. Let's hope they will film on location. Recommended for fans of Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook, and other modern novels of the expatriate experience in America. For a charming tale of growing up in a Polish American household, try Suzanne Strempek Shea's Hoopi Shoopi Donna.

Anne-Marie Casey, a former script editor and producer of prime-time British television drama delights readers on both sides of the Atlantic with her debut novel No One Could Have Guessed the Weather. (Released as An Englishwoman in New York across the pond).

Forced to give up her posh life and move to a tiny Manhattan apartment when her husband loses his job, Lucy unexpectedly falls in love with her new home and forges close friendships with three women who are also struggling with the disparities between the ambitions of their youth and middle age.

Inspired by her time living in Manhattan, "it's spot-on observant, laugh-out-loud funny, yet laced with kindness through and through."

"(S)ubversively charming". "Each chapter feels like a well-composed short story, and the collected whole is fresh and bright with characters that defy expectations. Clever and witty: the best kind of summer book."

A readalike for Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters, and the latest by Elizabeth Berg - Tapestry of Fortunes.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #412

Big Girl Panties * by Stephanie Evanovich is one of the most anticipated debut this summer. Being released this coming week, it won't surprise me to see it hit every bestseller list and as many sand chairs.

In this contemporary take on My Fair Lady meets The Biggest Loser, recently widowed Holly Brennan, 32, is seriously afraid of flying. Logan Montgomery is seriously hoping she won't sit down on the seat next to him on a flight from Toronto where he has just finished a personal training session with one of his superstar athlete clients.

Well, you guessed it. Holly is mortified having to wedge her sweaty obese self into the coach seat next to this gorgeous Adonis while Logan is surprised to find he is actually charmed by Holly's sharp wit after the initial chagrin. In a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, Logan offers to get her back in shape. Before either of them can stop it, the easy intimacy of their training sessions leads to even more steamy workouts away from the gym. But can a man whose whole life depends on looks commit himself to a woman who doesn't fit his ideal? A "chubby- cherub" who will never see a single-digit dress size? Or would the "ugly duckling" have a few wise tricks up her fluffy boa (wink wink) for the "swan"?

A rollicking, sensuous, feel-good romantic comedy that takes on the issues of body image, eating disorder, self-acceptance and actualization.

"Quality writing, memorable characters, hot sex scenes, and an emotionally satisfying story add up to a marvelous gem".

* = starred review

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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #410

Out of Range * by the creator, writer, and producer of the award-winning hit TV series Without a Trace Hank Steinberg is an action-packed, international espionage thriller that brings to mind Rules of Deception (2008) by Christopher Reich, and last year's sensation The Expats,

Photojournalist Charlie Davis traded dangerous assignments in the world's most volatile areas for a sedentary job at the LA Times and suburban comfort. Six year after a near-fatal attack that almost killed his activist wife Julie and their unborn child, he is certain that he had made the right decision.

Then on a trip to Disneyland with their 2 young children, Julie vanishes. As Charlie soon discovers, this isn't a random abduction. The further he goes to find her, the more it becomes clear that Julie isn't quite the person she seems to be, harboring dark secrets that have come back to terrorize them all.

"Hank Steinberg has crafted a scintillating tale of betrayal and revenge, mystery and marriage, a complex puzzle full of twisting misdirection that will enthrall until its final, electrifying pages". Recommend this to fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Unger.

"Good backstory, original characterization, and a cinematic prose style add up to an exciting read".

* = 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 #408

10 years in the making, Hawk Quest * by Robert Lyndon is an epic adventure set in the aftermath of the Norman conquest.

In 1072, the world is at war, hunger and disease are widespread. Sir Walter is held captive by Süleyman, the emir of Anatolia (now Turkey). The ransom: four pure-white gyrfalcons. In medieval England, the price of a gyrfalcon is roughly equivalent to half of the yearly income of a knight, and a monarch's expense to send a ship to Norway to buy a falcon could have bought 250 cows, or 1200 sheep, or paid for 50 peasant workers for a year.

Vallon, a Frankish soldier of fortune with reasons of his own, accepts the seemingly impossible task of capturing four gyrfalcons. The journey takes his motley crew from England to Iceland, Greenland (home of the gyrfalcons), and on to Russia and Anatolia, pitting them against Arctic seas, Viking warlords and other formidable challenges.

"...first-novelist Lyndon never loses control of his material, mixing fascinating descriptions of the inhospitable landscape with full-bodied portrayals of the principal characters (including a bit of romance), all the while ratcheting the tension and sense of danger to ever-higher levels".

"...utterly engrossing", teeming with historically accurate details of medieval warfare and falconry, from an author who is himself a lifelong falconer, a climber and traveler to exotic places. For fans of Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt, Robyn Young's Brethren, and Conn Iggulden's Conqueror Series.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #407

"Take a dollop of Alfred Hitchcock, a dollop of Patricia Highsmith, throw in some Great Gatsby flourishes, and the result is Suzanne Rinde's debut - The Other Typist, a pitch-black comedy about a police stenographer accused of murder in 1920s Manhattan.... A deliciously addictive, cinematically influenced page-turner, both comic and provocative." Now, who could resist that?

1924 Manhattan. Rose Baker, the recorder of confessions and transgressions of all sorts, is a typist in a Lower East Side precinct of the Police Department, and considers herself to be an astute judge of character. Raised by nun and seemingly destined for the solitary life of a boardinghouse, she comes under the spell of glamorous Odalie Lazare, the new girl in the typing pool who represents the epitome of the new era of relaxed mores and life on the fast lane. Soon Rose is drawn into the sparkling underworld of speakeasies, bootleggers, and elegant house parties.

It is at one such house parties that a young man turns up dead after approaching Odalie, and Rose no longer could ignore the mystery that is her friend.

"With hints toward The Great Gatsby, Rindell's novel aspires to re-create Prohibition-era New York City, both its opulence and its squalid underbelly. She captures it quite well, while at the same time spinning a delicate and suspenseful narrative about false friendship, obsession, and life for single women in New York during Prohibition."

A notable addition to the pantheon of unreliable narrators, joining the likes of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Equally sensational and tantalizing, and set in the same era is Ron Hansen's A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, based on a true story of the affair between Ruth Brown Snyder and undergarment salesman Judd Gray, whose plot to kill Ruth's husband triggers an explosive police investigation.

* = starred review

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