Fabulous Fiction Firsts #524 "There are cities that get by on their good looks, offer climate and scenery, views of mountains or oceans, rockbound or with palm trees; and there are cities like Detroit that have to work for a living..." ~ Elmore Leonard

Called a "powerful, timely debut" The Turner House * * by Angela Flournoy is especially poignant for readers in Southeast Michigan.

Set in Detroit's East Side, it is the story of an American family spanning five decades, from the Second Great Migration in the 1940s to the present, weathering the series of boom-and-bust associated with the auto industry and the history of the city.

Francis and Viola Turner raised all thirteen of their children in the house on Yarrow Street. Now widowed and ailing, Viola is forced to head to the suburbs and move in with Cha-Cha (Charles), her eldest. The house, once a proud symbol of working-class respectability, now stands among abandoned lots and urban plight, and is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children must gather to decide its fate.

Narrating the family saga are Cha-Cha, who feels the full burden of being both father and brother to his 12 siblings; Troy, a former vet and a disillusioned policeman, wants to illegally short sell the house; and Lelah, the youngest daughter whose gambling addiction has cause her her job, her apartment, maybe even her family, finds it necessary to squat in the Yarrow Street house unbeknownst to her siblings.

"The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It's a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home."

"Flournoy's writing is precise and sharp..., the novel draws readers to the Turner family almost magnetically. A talent to watch."

The author, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former librarian, grew up on the west coast but spent time throughout her childhood at her grandparents' home on Detroit's East Side. She will be at the Chelsea District Library on Saturday, April 25th as part of the Midwest Literary Walk. Click here for details and other near-by opportunities to meet the author.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #523

Publicity-shy UK debut author (we really don't know much about him) Mason Cross sets his electrifying thriller (and the first in a projected series) The Killing Season * * in the heartland of the USA.

2 weeks before his scheduled execution, convicted mass-murderer Caleb Wardell (nicknamed 'The Chicago Sniper') escaped in an ambush, during a late-night transfer on a rural road. It appeared that someone knew exactly where and when, and Wardell was not even the target.

Within hours, the FBI calls in Carter Blake to assist in a task force to find Wardell before the ensuing public hysteria once the news of the escape leaks out. Blake, a man with a specialized talents in finding those who don't want to be found, teams up with Elaine Banner, the Bureau's rising star who is privately juggling life as a newly-single mother. Racing against the clock and Bureau politics, they must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random, just for the thrill of it, and always a step ahead of them.

"Cross keeps the pace breakneck, the suspense high, and the body count higher. Wardell is a terrific villain: intelligent, disciplined, resourceful, and utterly twisted. Banner is a single parent stretched between her daughter and her career. Blake is an enigma, but readers can trust that Cross will fill in his backstory in future novels."

For Jack Reacher and John Rain fans.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #522 "I think all families are creepy in a way." ~ Diane Arbus

"(W)holly absorbing and emotionally rich", contributing editor of Vanity Fair Lili Anolik (Princeton, MFA Boston University) sets her debut Dark Rooms * * in an exclusive New England prep school.

Edgar Allan Poe once observed that "the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic of the world." Nica Baker is beautiful - a 16 year old homecoming queen, popular, secretive and utterly wild. She has been murdered - a single gunshot wound, found not far from home. The police was quick to close the case when another classmate from Chandler Academy (a private feeder school to the Ivies) committed suicide, leaving a note as confession, apparently unrequited love gone wrong. But Grace, Nica's older sister was not convinced.

Deferring her enrollment to Williams, Grace takes a job on campus and obsessively goes about trying to identify the real killer. As she starts to penetrate the myriad lies and secrets in this insular community, the picture that emerges is far from pretty - especially condemnable are the adults they have come to respect and trust. "However, the story line just scratches the surface of this insightful, complex novel, which is all about angst: broken relationships, class and social issues, the human psyche. "

"Compulsively readable, (it) combines the verbal dexterity of Marisha Pessl's Special Topic in Calamity Physics and the haunting atmospherics and hairpin plot twists of Megan Abbott's Dare Me." Readers who enjoyed Reconstructing Amelia and The Starboard Sea might find much to like here too.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #521 "Grief is a curious thing, when it happens unexpectedly. It is a Band-aid being ripped away, taking the top layer off a family. And the underbelly of a household is never pretty, ours no exception." ~ Jodi Picoult

Staten Island native Eddie Joyce (Harvard, Georgetown Law) sets his debut Small Mercies in familiar territory.

Ten years after their youngest son Bobby, a firefighter perished during 9/11, the Amendolas, an Italian-Irish American family is trying to come to terms with their loss. Mother Gail, a recently retired-schoolteacher starts her day by checking on Bobby's room as if she might find him there. Father Michael, a former firefighter himself is watchful and devoted but suffers quietly from guilt and missed opportunities. Older brother Peter, ambitious and brash, escapes to Manhattan and is living the good life of a corporate attorney. Franky, the middle child forever the misfit, still cannot hold a job or his liquor. Tina, Bobby's widow, is finally ready to look towards the future.

As the family gathers together for Bobby Jr.'s birthday party, they must each find a way to accept a new man in Tina's life while reconciling their feelings for their lost loved one. "Presented through multiple points of view, Small Mercies explores the conflicts and deep attachments that exist within families. Heart-wrenching and profoundly relatable, Joyce's debut is a love letter to Staten Island and a deeply affecting portrait of an American family."

For other well-observed portraits of the American family, we suggest Alice McDermott's After This; Stewart O'Nan's Wish Your Were Here; Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins; and Richard Russo's Empire Falls.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #520

Plague Land * * by S.D. Sykes. Dispatched to a monastery at the age of seven, now at seventeen Oswald de Lacy assumes the title Lord of Somershill Manor when his father and two older brothers too, succumb to the Plague that has decimated the countryside. Left at home are his overbearing mother and his dangerous and unmarried sister Clemence.

In quick succession, local villagers Alison Starvecrow and her sister are found murdered, which the ambitious village priest blames on a band of demonic dog-headed man. It is now Oswald's responsibility to solve the crimes. But every step Oswald takes seems to lead him deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

"Sykes adds an intricate and intriguing debut (the first of a planned series) to the ever-widening pool of medieval-era mysteries. Thrilling plot twists and layered characters abound in this rich tale of murder and mystery in 14th-century Kent."

Readers might enjoy watching the Brother Cadfael series, based on mysteries by Ellis Peters; and Hugh De Singleton series by Melvin R. Starr.

Sadly, this brings to mind The Siege Winter, a stand-alone by the late Ariana Franklin (and completed upon her death by her daughter Samantha Norman), whose award-winning series based on the character of Adelia Aguilar, a medieval woman forensic pathologist will be fondly remembered by historical mystery fans.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #519 - “When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss

Man at the Helm * by Nina Stibbe (Love, Nina : a nanny writes home), an impressive first novel, has been compared to P. G. Wodehouse in its pacing; and Gerald Durrell's memoir My Family and Other Animals (1956), about an eccentric family's relocation to the Greek isle of Corfu, and a BBC Masterpiece Theater adaptation.

The narrator, 9-year old Lizzie Vogel has lived a charmed life. But when his homosexual affair is discovered, Lizzie's father packs them off to the tiny village of Flatstone, where life for the Vogels takes a drastic turn. The new neighbors are hostile and disapproving (of divorcees and fatherless children), and Lizzie's theatrical mother slips ever more into drinks, pills, and obsessive playwriting. Lizzie and her all-knowing older sister fear that the infamous Crescent Homes for Children is in their future, unless they could find a new husband for their mother, and a new "man at the helm" for the household. As one unsuitable suitor follows another, chaos ensues. Lizzie confronts the downright craziness of grown-up love and learns that sometimes a family needs to veer catastrophically off-course in order to find true happiness.

"An extraordinarily well-written, deeply satisfying read about an unusual, highly entertaining group of people." "Charming and bittersweet, with a very English flavor, this social comedy is distinguished by Stibbe's light touch and bright eye." Check out the New York Times Review.

Everlasting Lane * by Andrew Lovett is "(a) captivating, absorbing, and suspenseful evocation of the spells of childhood in a timeless coming-of-age tale."

After the death of his father, 9-year old Peter Lambert moves with his mother to the village of Amberley, and a cottage on Everlasting Lane. As the new kid, he is befriended only by the other two outcasts in his class - chubby Tommie and the neighborhood bossy Anna-Marie. Escaping the bullies, they find pleasure and solace in the countryside and soon meet up with local eccentrics who prefer solitude.

At home, Peter is disturbed by the growing awareness that his own aggrieved mother might be falling apart - first by changing her name, and then expressly forbidding him from entering a locked room in the attic.

Written in beautiful prose, "as charming and haunting as the movie Stand By Me... (w)ith nods to such children's classics as Alice in Wonderland, Lovett's first novel, inspired by events from his own childhood, contemplates the often very fine line between imagination and reality."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #518 - “Why aren’t midwives the heroines of society that they should be? Why do they have such a low profile? They ought to be lauded to the skies, by everyone.” ~ Jennifer Worth

I have been unashamedly hand-selling The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth in the past weeks and so far, great reports from everyone who've read it.

Former Australian (Melbourne) Event Planner Sally Hepworth sets her US debut in Providence/Conanicut Island (RI) where three generations of midwives called home. This is a lovely story about family, and at the heart of the matter - "biology was only part of it".

In the 7th month of her pregnancy, Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is still determined to keep the identity of the baby's father hidden from her family and co-workers. Though her mother Grace has a hard time accepting Neva's request for privacy, her grandmother Floss, a retired midwife herself, is handling the news with great understanding, having kept a bombshell-of-a-secret in the front pocket of her handbag for five decades.

As Neva's due date approaches, her decision to raise her child as a single parent turns complicated when her best friend, Patrick Johnson, a McDreamy pediatrician offers to be the baby's father while two other likely candidates (Neva is never quite sure) actually have claims on the title. When a difficult birth threatens Grace's license, and Floss suffers a heart attack, secrets are revealed; and the family rallies to usher in Neva's baby, born during a horrific winter storm.

"This intelligent, well-plotted debut will draw readers in from the very first word and keep them engaged until the end." Readers interested in further exploring the topic of midwifery would delight in Midwives by Christopher Bohjalian; the Hope River series by Patricia Harman; and let's not forget Call the Midwife, a BBC series adaptation of Jennifer Worth's memoir.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #517 - "Excuse me, but I absolutely cannot understand how after eating my fill here I could go past a bakery and steal a roll.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

One of The Huffington Post's most anticipated debut of 2015, Hausfrau* * a novel by award-winning poet Jill Alexander Essbaum (faculty, University of California, Riverside) is an exquisite tale of an expatriate American wife living in Switzerland and her sexual and psychic unraveling, "(written) with an elegance, precision, and surehandedness that recalls Marguerite Duras's The Lover and Anita Brookner's (Booker Prize) Hotel du Lac." ~ Janet Fitch

38 year-old Anna Benz, "is a good wife, mostly." Mother of three, married to a Swiss banker, they live in a picture-perfect suburb of Zurich. But Anna is falling apart inside. At the suggestion of her analyst Doktor Messerli, Anna enrolls in German language classes "to become more connected to the world", but continues to slip into a string of extramarital affairs that eventually exact a price far more than she could ever imagine.

Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz's story reveals how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves, and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves. "Isolated and tormented, Anna shares more than her name with that classic adulteress, Anna Karenina."

Literary fiction readers might want to further explore the subject with Adultery by Paulo Coelho; A Week in October by Elizabeth Subercaseaux; and I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #516

My Sunshine Away * * by M(ilton) O('Neal) Walsh unfolds in 1989, in the Woodland Hills subdivision, a leafy middle-class Baton Rouge neighborhood, when the unthinkable happened. 15 year-old Lindy Simpson, free spirit, track star, and belle of the block was raped, right there on Old Man Casemore's lawn, and no arrests were made.

Narrating before and after this pivotal summer is one of the 4 suspects - a 14 year-old boy who worships Lindy from his bedroom window across the street. Driven by a misguided desire to solve the crime, he eventually uncovers the truth but at a cost that virtually destroys everyone else in the process.

Baton Rouge native "Walsh (MFA, University of Mississippi and is currently the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans), brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love."

"At times funny, at times spine-tinglingly suspenseful, and at times just flat-out wise, this novel is also a meditation on memory, how it can destroy or damn us but redeem us as well" ~ Tom Franklin.

"... Not just southern, but American in its vivid Baton Rouge colors and scents, treetops and grasses, My Sunshine Away is the story of how the events of our youth profoundly affects us as adults,... A mystery you cannot wait to solve." ~ Kathryn Stockett

Southern fiction fans might also enjoy Stephen Wetta's debut novel If Jack's in Love * and What Dies in Summer by Tom Wright, another FFF.

* * = 2 starred review
* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #515 - “A mathematical formula for happiness: Reality divided by expectations. There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.” ~ Jodi Picoult

Bonita Avenue * * * by Peter Buwalda - the instant bestseller in its native Netherlands, a triple-award-winning debut optioned for a TV series, is "flat-out extraordinary." See the (New York Times review).

Three uniquely unreliable voices narrate this darkly humorous familial drama: the mentally precarious photographer Aaron Bever; his beautiful girlfriend, Joni; and her stepfather, eminent math genius (Fields Medal) and university rector Siem Sigerius. "They were a family of prevaricators - all of them had secrets and they all had something to hide".

Bonita Avenue, a street in Berkeley, California, where a younger Sigerius and his new family lived briefly while he pursued his mathematics career at the university, is remembered as a truly happy period before the family's troubles start. The reemergence of Wilbert,a convicted murderer and Siem's son from his first marriage, presents a threat to the family. Siem discovers the highly profitable web porn site created by Joni and Aaron, under particularly ignoble circumstances. "Guilt and fear rule the decisions the characters make, sending each further down the darkest of path."

"This tumultuous saga of a family breaking down...is "variously compelling, trashy and horrific."

In The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer, Rachela Karnokovitch, a much-admired rock star in mathematics, is rumored to have solved the million-dollar Navier-Stokes Millennium Prize problem just before her death, and secreted the solution somewhere. Uninvited, her quirky colleagues descend on Madison (WI), and on her grieving family in search of said solution. Her son Sasha, who wants nothing more than a family-only shivah, must referee the intruding geniuses.

"Interspersed with Rachela's recollections of growing up under Russian anti-Semitism, Rojstaczer, a PhD geophysicist, has created a complex and chaotic rainbow of characters that makes his first novel both comedic and compelling."

"An enjoyable debut... a multilayered story of family, genius, and loss."

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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