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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #377

The word is out about German author Nele Neuhaus' American debut Snow White Must Die * (translated by Steven T. Murray). This opener of a new contemporary police procedural series is already a huge international bestseller. (Available in the original German editions in our World Language Collections)

After serving a 10-year sentence for murdering two young girls (convicted solely on circumstantial evidence) , 30-year-old Tobias Sartorius returns home to Altenhain, a village near Frankfurt to find his parents divorced, and their lives in shambles. On a rainy November day police detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are summoned to a mysterious traffic accident: A woman has fallen from a pedestrian bridge onto on-coming traffic, and witnesses are definite that she was pushed. It soon becomes clear to the detectives that the two cases might be connected.

When another young girl disappears, the investigation turns into a race against time as the villagers are determined to take matters into their own hands. "Again and again, Neuhaus inserts the old Grimm's fairy tale refrain : "White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony" that describes Snow White, the role of one of the original missing girls in a high school play 10 years earlier, to underscore the grimmest of human emotions: white for icily plotted revenge, red for raging jealousy, black for homicidal madness.

"An atmospheric, character-driven and suspenseful mystery set in a small town that could be anywhere, dealing with issues of gossip, power, and keeping up appearances".

This emotional page turner, fueled by unexpected plot twists will please fans of Tana French, Laura Lippman, Kate Atkinson, and Chevy Stevens.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #376

Picked by the publisher to relaunch Mysterious Press is Michael Kardos's The Three-Day Affair * *. For Jeffrey, Nolan, Evan, and Will who met 13 years ago at Princeton as undergrads, what was supposed to be their annual gathering of golf, booze and guy-talk turned harrowing in a split second, when Jeff, the dot.com millionaire kidnapped the teenage cashier at a spur-of-the moment stop at a convenient store.

When Jeff yelled "Drive!", their lives would never be the same again. As Will narrates what happen in the next three days, their friendship and long-hidden animosities further complicate their nightmarish situation, making the final twist of an ending, a "vicious closing sting".

Award-winning short story writer Kardos' debut novel features "finely drawn characters, clever plotting, a fine surprise ending, and graceful and economical storytelling". He lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where he co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University and edits the literary journal Jabberwock Review.

"A wonderful piece of literary suspense craftsmanship" ( ~Michael Koryta), sure to please fans of Scott Smith's A Simple Plan (adopted into a feature film), and Deliverance (in video format) by James Dickey. Readers might also enjoy Owen Laukkanen's The Professionals (2012).

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #375

If the name Dick Wolf sounds familiar, it is likely you are a Law & Order fan and have seen the credits at the end of each episode for the show's Creator/Executive Producer. The Intercept * just released, is his debut novel, and the first in a projected series.

When 5 passengers and a flight attendant of a commercial jetliner thwarted a hijacking attempt over the Atlantic Ocean, New York Intelligence Division Police detective Jeremy Fisk (a rule-breaker with a sharp mind and flawless instincts) suspects that this might only be a diversion; that another potentially more devastating terrorist attack is imminent, and soon.

Krina Gersten, a 4th-generation NYPD and tough-as-nails has been assigned as Fisk's partner. Together they match wits with opponents who are smarter and more agile than any they have ever faced.

"Wolf's espionage and police-procedural hybrid combines the brainy suspense and unfiltered social commentary found in the best Law & Order episodes with perfectly calibrated action".

"A pulsating plotline. Clever characters. Dramatic dialog. Surprising twists. All make for an edge-of-your-seat read that will have thriller fans eagerly awaiting the next series installment", a good thing if you are an adrenaline-junkie.

For fans for Nelson DeMille, Vince Flynn, and Christopher Reich.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #374

Being released just in time to coincide with the much anticipated 3rd season of Downton Abbey, Elizabeth Wilhide's debut novel Ashenden is sure to find eager readers. It is a story about an English country house and the people who inhabit it - upstairs and downstairs, births and deaths, comings and goings, over the course of 240 years.

When siblings Charlie and Ros discover that they have inherited Ashenden Park, their aunt's much-loved house, they must decide if they should sell it. In an interwoven narrative spanning two and a half centuries, we meet the original architect who gave it shape, the families who called it home, the soldiers it billeted during the Great War, the housekeeping staff that ran it, to the young couple who lovingly restored it to shades of its former glory.

Wilhide, author (website) of more than 20 books on interior design, decoration, and architecture gives us "an evocative portrait of a house that becomes a character as compelling as the people who inhabit it."

More on the English country house and its inhabitants, try Secrets of the Manor House : inside British country homes in the early 1900's (2012), a PBS video.

For a closer look at the interiors, how about Henrietta Spencer-Churchill's gorgeously photographed Classic English Interiors? Or come along on the The English Country House : a grand tour by Gervase Jackson-Stops and James Pipkin.

For those of you who could not wait until Sunday, do you know you can watch the first 10 minutes of Season 3 right now?

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #373

A runaway bestseller in its native Germany since its publication in 2011, Alex Capus's Leon & Louise has just been longlisted for the German Book Prize. This story of enduring love that survives the tribulations of two world wars is inspired by the author's French paternal grandfather, a police chemist at the Quai des Orfèvres.

Leon Le Gall and Louise Janvier met as teenagers in the summer of 1918 in the village of Saint-Luc-sur-Marne. Their tentative romance was cut short when both were severely wounded by German artillery fire. When they met up in Paris a decade later, circumstances and their strong conviction about family and responsibility kept them apart. The Occupation of Paris during WWII sent Louise into the wilds of Africa and Leon under the watchful eye of the SS. Their love, however remain constant.

"On its surface, this is a story about enduring love. But it is also about the way that power can be abused, particularly in times of war, and the daily sacrifices people make to preserve what they hold most dear."

Capus was born to a French father and a Swiss mother. He spent his formative years in his grandfather's house in Normandy and may account for the lovely depiction of the locale (map) as the haven for Parisian holidaymakers at the turn of the 20th century. As a student of history and a former journalist, Capus was able to recreate, in great details and stoic realism the Nazi occupation of Paris and the hardships on its citizens.

A captivating read for a cold dreary day. Will appeal to fans of Tatiana de Rosnay. Readers might also like The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, and Anita Shreve's Resistance.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #372

The New York Times review by Francine Prose called Deborah Levy's 2012 Man Booker Prize finalist Swimming Home a "spare, disturbing and frequently funny novel... that suggest an improbable hybrid of Virginia Woolf, Edward St. Aubyn, Absolutely Fabulous (a BBC sitcom), and Patricia Highsmith? ... (one that) should be read with care".

Two British couples are to share a vacation home in the South of France - idyllic, right? When Joe Jacobs arrives with his family at the villa, he sees a beautiful girl emerging from the swimming pool, naked. She is Kitty Finch and she walks right into the heart of their holiday.

"Levy winds her characters up and watches them go, and they do as most humans do, which is to mess up in the face of desire. Her novel is utterly beautiful and lyrical throughout, even at the most tragic turns"

South African–born Londoner Deborah Levy (author website) writes fiction, plays, and poetry. Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast on the BBC.

In the meantime, if you are way down on the waiting list, don't despair. Try Lawrence Osborne's The Forgiven * * (2012) about other not-so-innocents abroad, sets in the Moroccan desert. Here is another Fabulous Fiction Firsts that has been selected by The Economist and Library Journal as one of the 10 Best Books of 2012.

You might also like Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins "Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising... a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams."

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #371

O.K. I will admit it. When my copy of City of Dark Magic arrived in the mail, I was more intrigued by the fact that they claimed to know nothing about the author Magnus Flyte. He appeared to have operated under several identities, and may have ties to one or more intelligence organizations, including the CIA, the Mossad, and a radical group of Antarctic separatists. They also claimed that the manuscript came manually typed on Marrakesh's Hotel La Mamounia stationary, and mailed to offices of Penguin Books in New York in January 2012.

But almost immediately, I was hooked, hooked by the story, the mystery, the fantasy, the alchemy, the romance, the music, and the old world charm that is Prague - home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it's whispered, hell portals.

When impoverish grad student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven's manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Upon arrival, she learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide, and the cryptic notes he left could be warnings.

What reviewers called "a rom-com paranormal suspense" could simply be one of the most entertaining novels of the year. Will appeal to fans of Deborah Harkness and Beatriz Williams.

It turns out Magnus Flyte is a pseudonym for the writing duo of Meg Howrey (see FFF blog) and Christina Lynch. Howrey was with the Joffrey Ballet and winner of the Ovation Award. Lynch is a television writer and former Milan correspondent for W magazine.

Small Gems - Short Story Collections

Shorter days, short on time, short attention span? We've got you covered. Take a look at these fabulous short-story collections on our New Book shelves.

Award-winning, Ann Arbor's homegrown Steven Gillis gives us The Law of Strings and Other Stories which fellow author Michael Griffith called "a revelation - strange, barbed and original" - an existential yelp examining individual choices and our all-too-human response to unexpected events. Will please fans of Aimee Bender and George Saunders (BTW, don't miss his brand new SS collection coming out in January - blew me away! and that MacArthur grant is so well-deserved).

The Lives of Things : short stories collects Nobel laureate José Saramago's early short stories, infused with satire and fantastical elements and showcasing his efforts to expose the tyranny of the Salazar regime in his native Portugal.

Karen Brown leads off her SS collection (a FFF) with the titular Little Sinners - stories that capture the domestic world in all its blighted promises, a world where women's roles in housekeeping, marriage, childbirth, and sex have been all too well defined, and where the characters fashion, recklessly and passionately, their own methods of escape. This winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction will appeal to fans of Lucia Perillo's fabulous Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain (also a FFF, see blog).

This Will be Difficult to Explain : and other stories by Scotiabank Giller Prize winning author Johanna Skibsrud, is 9 loosely connected stories with an unforgettable cast of characters. A young maid at a hotel in France encounters a man who asks to paint her portrait, only to find out later that he is someone other than who she thinks. A divorced father, fearing estrangement from his thirteen-year-old daughter, allows her to take the wheel of his car before he realizes that being a grave mistake.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #370

Based on the 80 year-old unsolved murder case of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister, City of Saints * * by debut novelist Andrew Hunt is the 2011 Tony Hillerman Prize winner.

On a cold February morning in 1930, Salt Lake City Sheriff Deputy Art Oveson is called to a gruesome crime scene where young Helen Pfalzgraf, wife of a prominent physician, lay battered and dead in an open field. As it is an election year, Art and his foul-mouthed partner Roscoe Lund are under great pressure to quickly solve this high-profile case.

Among the suspects are the victim's husband, her adoring step-daughter, and her many lovers. The investigations take Oveson and Lund into the underbelly of Salt Lake City, a place rife with blackmail and corruption, underneath a veneer of "upright Mormonism and congeniality".

This engrossing...procedural steadily builds up steam and explodes in all the right places".

"(T)his hard-edged whodunit with echoes of James Ellroy warrants a sequel."

Andrew Hunt is a professor of history in Waterloo, Ontario. He grew up in Salt Lake City.

* * = Starred reviews

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