Titanic Inspired Fabulous Fiction Firsts #324

April 15, 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the RMS TITANIC on her maiden voyage. Locally, check out Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Henry Ford Museum, running through September 30, 2012, as well as other related programs.

The media is feeding the renewed interest with high-profiled and pricy (£10 million) projects like Julian Fellowes' (creator of Downton Abbey) four-part miniseries called simply - Titanic that will premiere Saturday, April 14 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on ABC. Like Downton, the focus is on the divide between the classes.

Not to be outdone, publishers have timed their release of 3 first novels inspired by this historic event.

The Dressmaker by DC political reporter Kate Alcott is a "vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young seamstress who survived the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy."

A highly-anticipated debut, The Lifeboat * by Princeton grad. (Architecture) Charlotte Rogan, (with glowing endorsement by Emma Donoghue, J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, Tim O'Brien and Valerie Martin) sets the scene in 1914 when a young and newly-minted heiress is on trial for her actions during the three weeks she spent on an overcrowded and under-provisioned lifeboat after an explosion at sea. A provocative, complex psychological drama that examines instinct and morality. Read the New York Times review and author interview.

"Time travel, airships, the Titanic, Roswell ...David Kowalski builds a decidedly original creature that blends military science fiction, conspiracy theory, alternate history, and even a dash of romance..." in his debut The Company of the Dead *, which promptly won 2 SciFi Awards when it was published in Australia in 2004.

In April 2012, Joseph Kennedy--nephew of John F. Kennedy, and a major in the Confederate army, is one of six people who can restore history to its rightful order -- even though it would mean his death, and the deaths of everyone he loves.

"Imaginative, monolithic, action-packed", "(a) magnificent alternate history, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest maritime disasters."

David Kowalski is an obstetrician and gynecologist living in Sydney, Australia.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #322

The Professionals * *, they are not. But it did not stop Pender, Sawyer, Mouse and Marie, 4 recent college graduates with little career prospect, from taking up a life of crime. For 2 years, they have been lucky. Quick, efficient, well-planned, low-ransom kidnapping has worked like a charm as they zigzagged the country. With "retirement" within grasp, they picked the wrong victim.

Now, they got the attention of the true professionals - veteran investigator Kirk Stevens, FBI agent Carla Windermere, and an organized-crime outfit looking for payback.

The "finger-burning page-turner, filled with twists, surprises, and memorably complex characters" is a debut novel for Canadian author Owen Laukkanen who will be at Nicola's Books, this evening to read and sign this first of a projected series.

An alumnus of the University of British Columbia's Creative Writing BFA program, Laukkanen spent three years in the world of professional poker, traveling to high-stakes tournaments across the globe as a writer for PokerListings.com. A commercial fisherman when he's not writing, Laukkanen divides his time between Vancouver and Prince Edward Island, Canada. (More Info.)

* * = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #321

A.J. Kazinski, is a pseudonym for Danish director/screenwriter Anders RØnnow Klarlund and novelist Jacob Weinreich. Their first collaboration The Last Good Man * (translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally) was an instant bestseller when published in Denmark.

According to Jewish scripture: there are thirty-six righteous people on earth, without them, humanity would perish. Across the globe, from Beijing to Mumbai, from Chicago to Moscow, there is a rash of horrendous deaths that look, to a beleaguered Italian cop named Tommaso, like murders. The telltale sign being the strange markings on their backs. By his count, there have been 34. Only 2 are left.

In Copenhagen, veteran detective and hostage negotiator Niels Bentzon also begins to piece together the puzzle of these far-flung deaths. With the help of brilliant astrophysicis Hannah Lund, they parse out that the last 2 deaths will occur in Venice and Copenhagen where President Obama is to attend a world climate conference, and a terrorist is on a deadly mission.

With cleverly inter-weaving plotlines, this gripping, cinematic, and character-driven, top-notched thriller will appeal to fans of Jo Nesbo, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Peter Hoeg.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #320

Ann Arborites are no strangers to Sanjay Gupta. This home-grown (raised in Novi, MI) celebrity, received his undergraduate and MD degrees as well as his neurological surgery residency at UM. In his copious spare time, he sang with the Men’s Glee Club. He is the author of 2 non-fiction titles, Chasing Life (2007), and Cheating Death (2009). Currently, he is the CNN's chief medical correspondent.

His debut novel Monday Mornings (in audio) follows the lives of five surgeons at Chelsea (Michigan) General (fictitious), as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings.

Monday Mornings refers to the scheduled Morbidity and Mortality conference (known as M & M, considered the most secretive meeting in all of medicine) where surgeons answer for bad outcomes. The novel provides a unique look at the real method in which surgeons learn - through their mistakes as they strive for redemption.

"Hospitals are, after all, Gupta's turf. His insights into the craft of surgery combined with vivid storytelling make Monday Mornings a gripping and wonderful read right down to the wire." ~ Abraham Verghese

Shooting for Chelsea General, a TNT pilot based on Gupta's novel and starring Alfred Molina and Ving Rhames is already in progress.

A bit of Gupta trivia.... Gupta was named one of the Sexiest Men of 2003 by People magazine and in January 2011, he was named "One of the 10 Most Influential Celebrities" by Forbes magazine.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #319

The title, taken from a 1979 dissident journal published in St. Petersburg, Russian, Jennifer DuBois' debut A Partial History of Lost Causes * links two disparate characters, each searching for meaning against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Retired Soviet world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov has turned to politics, launching a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin, risking everything he holds dear, as well as his life.

30 yr.-old Cambridge (MA) English professor Irina Ellison is on an improbable quest of her own. Her future is defined by a cruel disease inherited from her father, among whose belonging she finds copy of a letter, seemingly unanswered, that her father wrote the young Aleksandr Bezetov. Leaving everything behind, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself.

Spanning two continents and the dramatic sweep of history, Partial History explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.

- "A braiding of historical, political, and personal, each strand illuminating the other. Wonderful characters, elusive glimpses of wisdom, and a gripping story that accelerates to just the right ending. An amazing achievement." ~ Arthur Phillips

- "Thrilling, thoughtful, strange, gorgeous, political... In prose both brainy and beautiful, she follow her characters as they struggle to save each other. This is a book to get lost in." ~ Elizabeth McCracken

Readalike for fellow Iowa Writers' Workshop and Wallace Stegner Fellowship alumnus Julie Orringer; and the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award winner Ann Patchett. Jennifer Dubois teaches at Stanford.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #318

Debut novelist Catherine Chung's Forgotten Country * * is praised by reviewers as "superb", "elegantly written, stunningly powerful, simply masterful", "darkly luminous"; endorsed and favorably compared to works by Amy Tan, Eugenia Kim, Lisa See, and Chang-Rae Lee. And I was not disappointed.

Janie (Jeehyun), bookish, dutify and the older of two girls from an immigrant Korean family must set aside her academic pursuits (University of Chicago) to returm home to Michigan to care for her father who has just been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. More pressing still is her parents' insistance that she finds her younger sister Hannah (Haejin), who disappeared over a year ago. Janie is resentful because of their prickly relationship and the rivalry, but also fearful because of her knowledge of the family's legacy that for three generations they have lost a daughter, circumstances often shrouded in mystery.

When her father decides to seek experimental treatment, the family returns to Korea, a homecoming that is both bittersweet and illuminating, making clear the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier. Like invisible threads, the fragile and implacable bonds of shared history could hold a family together even across the seemingly impassable chasm of different cultures and changing generations.

The jacket cover mentioned that the author lived in Michigan and the character Janie attended the University of Michigan. I was curious and contacted Catherine Chung (author website). Here is what she wrote:

"My family moved to Okemos, Michigan when I was eight years old, and I grew up and went to school there. My father was a professor at Michigan State--I don't have any official connection to Ann Arbor: I just had a lot of friends who went to school there and visited often!"

For further reading on the Asian immigrant experience, try Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and Bich Minh Nguyen's Short Girls (also set in Michigan and Ann Arbor).

* * =Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #317

Savvy, in-the-know readers are already queuing up for Chris Pavone's The Expats * *, coming out in March.

When her husband Dexter tells her they are relocating to Luxembourg for his new job as security consultant for an international bank, Kate is happy to hand in her notice, pack up her DC house, her young sons, and looks forward to living the expat life with weekends in Paris and skiing in the Alps. Once they are settled, things begin to unravel as Dexter's secrecy (not even the name of his employer), his frequent trips abroad (destinations unknown), and the suspiciously curious American couple who is determined to befriend them, trigger a trained response in Kate that uncovers layers of deceit and threatens to expose her own well-guarded secret.

In this "intricate, riveting and surprising" debut thriller, no one is who they seem to be, and no one is to be trusted, especially the guys in white hats. Twisty, suspenseful and downright tricky, with 50-million euros (not to mention lives and limbs) at stake, watch your steps!

"Standing on the shoulders of such giants as Robert Littell, Gayle Lynds, Eric Ambler, Helen MacInnes, and Daniel Silva, first-time novelist Pavone displays the best characteristics of the form and will earn a faithful and yearning readership."

* * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #316

Debut novelist Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild * will not fail to elicit strong emotions in the reader. You will feel pain, rage, sadness, fear, and despair but it is the small measures of joy, love, and indestructible sense of optimism that will bear you through. In the meantime, you will fall in love with our young narrator, the "girlchild" Rory Dawn - "Brash, sassy, vulnerable, wise, and terrified".

Calle de las Flores, a trailer park of dilapidated double-wides and single-wides at the outskirts of Reno is home to three generations of Hendrixes. Grandma Shirley Rose had 4 babies before she turned 21. Mama, a hard-luck bartender didn't fare much better. The men are mostly absent. The ones that drift in and out are likely predators. Rory Dawn had been told that she is sure to follow the road to whoredom, but she is determined to prove the county and her own family wrong.

From diary entries, social workers' reports, half-recalled memories, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother's letters, Rory crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world even as she searches for the way out of it. Her only compass - a well-used copy of the Girl Scouts Handbook that dispenses surreal advice like: The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When Lost.

"A heart-stopping and original debut". Beautifully written, you will find yourself lingering to admire the powerful language, keen insight and clever page-layouts. Not an easy book to read but one you are not likely to forget. Readalike to National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #315

From Detroit native Saladin Ahmed, a finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of this year's most anticipated debuts:Throne of the Crescent Moon * * *, "a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights".

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to jinns and ghouls, holy warriors and heretics, are in the grip of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. At the same time, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes fear in the hearts of the citizens of the great city of Dhamsawaat. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings.

Chief among them, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, an aged and weary ghoul (ghul) hunter drawn out of retirement by the murders. Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, that is until he crosses paths with the lion-shaped tribeswoman Zamia Badawi who lives to avenge her father's death.

As these warriors race against time to save the life of a vicious despot, they discover a far more sinister plot that would spell doom and threatens to turn Dhamsawaat and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

~ "Ahmed's debut masterfully paints a world both bright and terrible... Arab-influenced setting is full of vibrant description, characters, and religious expressions that will delight readers weary of pseudo-European epics."

~ "An arresting, sumptuous and thoroughly satisfying debut (of a projected trilogy)."

* * * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #314

The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen * has it all.

- Ty Hunter: A Hollywood leading man, a soldier and a spy "in the tradition of James Bond and Jason Bourne" - a wounded hero who is tough, smart and devilishly sexy.

- Ian Santel and Philip Frost: An enigmatic billionaire and his nefarious protege, two supremely sophisticated adversaries.

- Isabella Cavill: An alluring jewelry designer closely tied to these men.

- A global catastrophe hanging in the balance - in the form of three Soviet nuclear warheads.

And then, there is the non-stop action, intrigue, suspense, surprises, glamor and romance. Never mind that "wordiness, brand name-dropping, and sometimes trite dialog" could at times, test one's patience.

This worthy thriller also boasts something quite rare - an introduction by President Bill Clinton who just happened to be the author Thomas (Tommy) Caplan's lifelong friend since their freshman days at Georgetown, and whose "good lines and clever retorts" made it into Mr. Clinton's presidential inaugural addresses.

An obvious readalike to Ian Fleming. Readers familiar with Trevanian's Shibumi (1979) featuring the international assassin Nicholaï Hel and Barry Eisler's John Rain series might find Ty Hunter a new protagonist-to-watch in hopefully, a new series.

* = starred review

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