Fabulous Fiction Firsts #387

When Kirkus Reviews called a novel "an outstanding debut", you take notice.

Truth in Advertising* * * by John Kenney is "wickedly funny, honest, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving story about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family".

Christmas is just around the corner. Madison Avenue ad-man Finbar Dolan is forced to cancel a much anticipated vacation in order to write/produce a commercial for his diaper account in time for the Super Bowl. Closing in on 40 and having recently called off a wedding, he is a bit of a mess and doesn't quite know it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turns out...) things get worse. His long-estranged and once-abusive father is dying and reluctantly, Fin returns to his Boston root and comes face to face with a traumatized childhood he tries hard to forget.

"With wry wit, excellent pacing, and pitch-perfect, often hilarious dialog, New Yorker humorist and former advertising copywrite Kenney (website) has created something remarkable: a surprisingly funny novel about an adult American male finally becoming a man.

"(A) comic tour de force; for fans of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper" and those who enjoyed the Mad Men series.

* * *= starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #386

Just about this time each year, with the first hint of spring, I've found myself humming April in Paris, and thoughts tend to drift to the City of Light. Now debut novelist Hilary Reyl will take us there, through the painterly eyes of a young American artist, in Lessons in French.

1989, a time of social and political upheaval. Her fluent French got new Yale grad Kate hired by famous American photojournalist Lydia Schell as her assistant. Kate is thrilled with the chance to pursue her dreams as a painter, but also to return to France where, as a child she was sent to live with cousins while her father was dying.

Immediately she is dazzled by the Schell's fashionable Sixth Arrondissement home, frequented by their famous friends, and falls into the orbit of a band of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. Impressionable and wanting badly to fit in, Kate deliberately engages in a forbidden romance, becoming deeply enmeshed in the drama of this volatile household, and the ever-more questionable requests they make of her. In the meantime, Kate struggles with her own art.

"In compelling and sympathetic prose, Hilary Reyl perfectly captures this portrait of a precocious, ambitious young woman struggling to define herself in a vibrant world that spirals out of her control. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family".

French literature scholar (Ph.D. NYU) Reyl's first novel is rich and magnetic. Will appeal to readers who enjoy novels of Americans in Paris and other coming-of-age stories.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #385

Professional cellist Edward Kelsey Moore, whose short story "Grandma and the Elusive Fifth Crucifix" was selected as an audience favorite on NPR's Stories on Stage series just published his first novel. He lives in Chicago (website).

I sincerely hope you are not expecting The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat * being Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross, - the sensation from Detroit's Brewster-Douglass public housing project that helped put Motown Records on the map in the 1960s. But seriously, you won't be too disappointed once you've met Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean.

Dubbed "The Supremes" since their high school days, these Plainsview (IN) mavens have weathered life's storms together arm-in-arm. Dutiful, proud, and talented Clarice must struggle to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband's infidelities. Beautiful, fragile Barbara Jean must try to live with a youthful mistake that continues to haunt her. Fearless Odette engages in the most terrifying battle of her life while entertaining visitations from her (dead) pot-smoking mother and an inebriated Eleanor Roosevelt. For four decades, what sustain these strong, funny women through marriages, children, happiness, and disappointments, is their Sunday table at Earl's Diner, the first black-own business in this racially divided town, where they can count on good food, gossip, occasional tears, uproarious banter and each other.

"With wit and love, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together four intertwined love stories, three devoted allies, and two sprightly earthbound spirits in a big-hearted debut novel that embraces the lives of people you will never forget."

Poised to give Waiting to Exhale, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Steel Magnolias a run for their money. Readers might also enjoy works by Pearl Cleage, and April Sinclair, or other novels on women's friendship.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #384

26 yr.-old Claire is immediately drawn to Harry and Madelein Winslow during a summer visit to the Hamptons. The charmed couple is sophisticated, beautiful and talented (Harry is a National Book Award-winning author), and Maddy is sweet and old-moneyed. They in turn are drawn to Claire's youth, naivety and easy manners. Over the course of the summer, reverence transforms into dangerous desire.

The affair between Harry and Claire and the devastation unleashed on their circle of family and friends, especially on Maddy, is narrated by Walter, her childhood friend who also harbors his own secrets.

Charles Dubow in his first novel Indiscretion*, "proves himself to be an elegant writer... Glamorous settings, old money, and steamy sex all combine to make this one a totally addictive read". Rules of Civility meets Fatal Attraction .

"Dubow crafts an epic novel of friendship, betrayal and undying love".

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #383 - Not Your Grandmother's Harlequin

Kate Cross opens her Clockwork Agents series with Heart of Brass (2012), and quickly follows with Touch of Steel * (2013).

In Heart, set in 1898 London, Lady Arden Grey is an undercover agent for one of the most powerful organizations of this steam powered world - the Wardens of the Realm, a group with extraordinary abilities, dedicated to protecting England against evil.

Her husband and fellow agent Lucas Grey, Earl Huntley disappeared during a secret mission. Now, Arden is being stalked by an assassin working for their rival - The Company who is none other than Luke.

"Cross has imagined a fascinating world of science in Victorian England. Her characters are three-dimensional and sympathetic; the devices (including the first vibrator) add punch to an already rich love story. Inventive and extremely clever dialog and situations make this series debut an enthralling read".

In Touch, reeling from her brother's death, American spy Claire Brooks has vowed revenge on the member of The Company who she believes to be responsible: Stanton Howard. But when she chases the man to London, Claire is captured by the Wardens of the Realm and placed in the custody of the Earl of Wolfred, the dashing Alistair Payne.

Seeing the prospect of retribution slipping away, Claire convinces Alistair that she has defected and will help him take down The Company. As they travel via steam liner, Claire and Alistair must pretend to be engaged, neither could deny the growing attraction between them.

Kate Cross also writes as Kathryn Smith. Writing steampunk allows her to combine her love of fashion, history and science fiction.

For fans of The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (A Novel of the Iron Seas).

*= starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #382

~The sensation of the Frankfurt Book Fair
~150k initial print run, film rights to Warner Bros.
~ Endorsements by Lee Child and Robert Crais

Roger Hobbs's debut Ghostman * * , "a propulsive thriller... with more twists and turns than a 10-yard-long corkscrew", is a must read for adrenaline junkies.

Only 2 knew his name and only one is alive. Now he calls and Jack Delton had to answer. Five years ago, a mega heist in Kuala Lumpur went bad and Marcus now looks to even the score. Jack is the ghostman who specializes in disappearing, and it is up to him to make a botched armored-car robbery in Atlantic City disappear—. The trouble is the $1.2 million in freshly minted bills set to explode in 48 hours if not found. Hot on Jack's trail is a female FBI agent who may be more interested in Jack than the crime, and half of the criminal world is ready to pounce for a piece of the action.

"Straight out of the gate, Hobbs has mastered the essentials of a contemporary thriller: a noirlike tone, no-nonsense prose and a hero with just enough personality to ensure he doesn't come off as an amoral death machine ... A smart entry into the modern thriller pantheon, at once slick and gritty".

Roger Hobbs (website) graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 2011, where he majored in English. Ghostman was written during the summer between his junior and senior years.

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #381

Julia Strachey's slim novella Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (with a new preface by Frances Partridge) has recently been adopted into a feature film, starring no less than Elizabeth McGovern of Downton Abbey fame, for which the period drama has inevitably been compared.

With sharp eye and playful language, Strachey's slim novella, first published in 1932 depicts the upstairs-downstairs activities on Dolly Thatcham's wedding day as her oblivious mother bustles about getting her ready to marry the wrong man. Waylaid by the sulking admirer who lost his chance with her and her own sinking dread, the bride-to-be struggles to reach the altar.

A brilliant, bittersweet comedy which Virginia Woolf observed as being "an eccentric mixture of Katherine Mansfield and E.M. Forster".

Julia Strachey (1901-1979) was born in India to a Civil Servant. Educated in England, she later worked as a model/photographer and in publishing. Her two novels appeared in 1932 and 1951.

Readers might also enjoy other women novelists such as Elizabeth Bowen; Penelope Fitzgerald; and Alice Thomas Ellis, in particular, The Summer House: a trilogy.

Click here for the New York Times review and the official trailer of the movie.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #380

In Dana Bate's The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs *, 26 yr.-old Hannah Sugarman (Cornell, Economics) could hardly keep up as a research assistant in a DC think tank while secretly dreaming of opening up an underground supper club, a recent phenomenon in the foodie world.

When yet another ill-fated dinner with the patrician Prescotts (her live-in boyfriend Adam's parents) goes hopelessly sour, she is unceremoniously dumped and evicted. With mounting pressure from her academically distinguished parents to jump start her lackluster career, and eager to move on, she seizes the chance to do what she loves, and lands at the doorstep of Blake Fischer, a bachelor landlord with a basement apartment for rent.

"Journalist and debut novelist Bate deftly conjures up a witty, resilient heroine, surrounds her with delightful friends and frenemies, and sends them all on a rollicking quest for love and delicious food".

Cheeky, smart, and up-beat (with an implausibly happy ending), it is like sunshine and birdsong on a frigid February day - sure to bring a spring in your step and smile to your face.

Readalikes: Cupid and Diana (finding Mr. Right in DC); The Lost Art of Mixing - a sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (where 8 lives mingle and intertwine at a cooking school); and Brian O'Reilly's Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food (young Philadelphia widow feeds the neighborhood loners and builds a village); Girl Cook by Hannah McCouch (delicious modern Cinderella story of love, sex, chefs, and the city).

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #379

If you loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers then you are likely to be pleased with Y: a novel by Marjorie Celona..

Here is the fabulous opener... "Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over. Why? . . . My life begins at the Y." As a new-born, Shannon was abandoned on the doorstep of the Vancouver Island YMCA, wrapped in a dirty gray sweatshirt, with a Swiss Army knife tucked between her feet. Abuse and neglect were routine in a series of foster homes that followed until Miranda, a no-nonsense single mother with a free-spirited daughter of her own, where Shannon found a sense of stability. However, the stubborn question of why her mother would abandon her was never far from her mind.

Interwoven with Shannon's story is that of her mother, Yula's. As past and present converge,Y tells an unforgettable story of identity, inheritance, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

"...(this) ravishingly beautiful novel offers a deeply affecting look at the choices we make and what it means to be a family". Enlivened by Shannon's self-deprecating humor, readers will embrace this " moving coming-of-age story full of fresh starts.. and of hope."

Debut novelist Majorie Celona (website) is a graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Colgate University, and was recently writer-in-residence at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, she now lives in Cincinnati.

Readalikes: Kaye Gibbon's Ellen Foster; White Oleander by Janet Fitch; and Night Road by Kristin Hannah.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #378

Bipolar disorder affects more than 2% of the population, among them some of the most successful and creative individuals - Buzz Aldrin, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robin Williams. It is a lifelong condition with no clinically proven cure, but the symptoms of which could be managed by a combination of education, medication, and psychotherapy. Some however, choose more extreme measures.

In Ashley Ream's Losing Clementine, no longer willing to live the bipolar life, renowned LA artist Clementine Pritchard plans to take her own life in 30 days (nothing messy, of course). She begins the countdown by disposing of her impressive pharmacy and worldly goods, the personal assistant and the shrink/lover. Between manically working on a series of new paintings and eating her way through her favorite ethnic take-outs, she meticulously sets her affairs in order. Foremost on her mind is finding a loving home for her cat and tracking down the father who abandoned the family years ago. As she comes face-to-face with the reasons why she can't go on, she unexpectedly finds a new connection to the world she desperately wants to leave.

"...(R)ich with detail, fully illustrating Clementine's world from her artwork to her love affair with food... the story is told with an unexpectedly fresh and humorous voice".

"This novel, spiked with dark humor is an entertaining and moody whirlwind".

Called a "tour-de-force first novel" Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See * by Juliann Garey takes us inside the restless mind, ravaged heart, and anguished soul of Greyson Todd, a successful Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and young daughter and for a decade travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to keep hidden for almost 20 years.

The novel intricately weaves together three timelines: the story of Greyson's travels (Rome, Israel, Santiago, Thailand, Uganda); the progressive unraveling of his own father seen through Greyson's eyes as a child; and the intimacies and estrangements of his marriage. The entire narrative unfolds in the time it takes him to undergo twelve 30-second electroshock treatments in a New York psychiatric ward.

"A brilliant inside look at mental illness".

"A compelling read".

For fans of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette * *, Toni Jordan's Addition, and Leaving Van Gogh, a novel by Carol Wallace.

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

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