Fabulous Fiction Firsts #178

Ann Arbor author Harry Dolan's sensational debut Bad Things Happen* has garnered rave reviews everywhere.

Patrick Anderson of the The Washington Post thought it "Witty, sophisticated, suspenseful and endless fun -- a novel to be savored by people who know and love good crime fiction, and the best first novel I've read this year."

Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times praised Dolan's gift of storytelling.

Publishers Weekly liked that "Dolan gets everything right in his debut. . . . Pitch-perfect prose and sophisticated characterizations drive the noirish plot, which offers plenty of unexpected twists."

Equally enthusiastic in endorsing this newcomer to crime fiction are Nelson DeMille, Karin Slaughter and James Patterson.

And where would Dolan set this mystery? Where else?

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #177

10 years ago, rumors of human sacrifice, ghosts and magic were just that - until journalist Paul Seaton came face to face with unspeakable evil at the abandoned Fischer House and barely escaped with his life. Still haunted by his loss, he is asked to return to prevent the house from claiming more unsuspecting souls.

Riveting and seductive, The House of Lost Souls* is a brooding and sinister tale of supernatural horror that unfolds gradually, building up suspense, and drawing the readers in. Atmospheric and cinematic, rich with historic details, a complex plot, engaging narrative devices, nonstop chills and gore, this U.S. debut from British F.G. Cottam terrifies and entertains. Likely first of a projected series. Don't miss it.

For fans of horror master Stephen King's Duma Key*; and newcomer Christopher Ransom's spanking new The Birthing House* (another FFF); and of course, a perennial classic - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #176

Utah Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Gerald Elias capitalizes on his musical background in his "witty and acerbic" debut Devil's Trill*. The title is borrowed from Giuseppe Tartini's famous Violin Sonata in G minor, known in musical circles as the Devil's Trill Sonata, for being extremely difficult and technically demanding.

The Grimsley Competition, held once every 13 years, open to child prodigies 13 and under, culminates at New York's Carnegie Hall with cash, concert appearances, and most coveted of all - for the winner the use of the world's only 3/4 sized Stradivarius, known simply as the Piccolino.

When this prized instrument is stolen, Daniel Jacobus, a former Grimsley contestant, now a blind, bitter recluse who cobbles together a livelihood by teaching, is accused of the theft. Suspicion mounts when the winner's teacher is murdered, who happens to be one of Daniel's old enemies.

This thoroughly engaging mystery, packed with violin and concert lore brings to mind the fabulous film The Red Violin . Fans of mystery with a musical theme should also consider The Rainaldi Quartet by Paul Adam; Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri; and Canone Inverso by Paolo Maurensig. And along the way, enjoy some cinematic armchair traveling...

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #175

In Zoë Klein's debut novel Drawing in the Dust*, 39 year-old American archeologist Page Brookstone is asked to risk her professional reputation and personal safety when a young Arab couple begs her to excavate beneath their home in Anatot, Israel, claiming that it is haunted by the spirits of two lovers.

When Page discovers the bones of the deeply troubled prophet Jeremiah entwined with that of a mysterious women name Anatiya, she must race against the clock to translate Antalya’s diary found nearby, before enraged religious and secular forces come into play.

Parallel the ancient love story is the contemporary one of Page and Mortichai - an engaged, half-Irish Orthodox Jew, that "raises a Jewish Da Vinci Code to an emotionally rich story of personal and historical discovery".

Zoe Klein, a rabbi, lives and works in Los Angeles. She has written for Harper's Bazaar and Glamour magazines, and appeared as a commentator on the History Channel program Digging for the Turth .

* = starred reviews

August Book to Film, Part 2 (A Fabulous Fiction First)

(Already in theaters - Sorry, I am allowed a vacation, right?) The Time Traveler's Wife is based on Audrey Niffenegger’s phenomenal debut novel. (My goodness, 223 holds!)

A literary sensation and perpetual bestseller since its publication in 2003, Time is a “soaring love story” of Clare (an artist) and Henry - a rather dashing librarian at the famous Newberry Library in Chicago, who is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. Periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, disappearing spontaneously for experiences alternately harrowing and amusing.

Segments of the novel is set in South Haven, Michigan - Niffenegger’s (interview) birthplace and Chicago, where she now lives.

August also brings us her much anticipated new novel in 6 years - Her Fearful Symmetry - a most captivating story about two sets of twins, a rather determined ghost, and some very interesting happenings around London's Highgate Cemetery, where the novel is largely set. You could expect nothing less than the fabulous storytelling that made The Time Traveler's Wife a must-read. Another all-nighter, seriously. I am sure I won't have to remind you to GET ON THAT WAITING LIST NOW.

(Audio) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #174

Reminiscent of Mary McCarthy's The Group (1963), Joanna Smith Rakoff's debut novel A Fortunate Age* chronicles the lives of a group of New York twentysomethings Oberlin grads. whose ambitions and friendships threaten to unravel as they chase their dreams, shed their youth, and build their lives during the heady and turbulent dot-com era and sobering post-9/11 landscape.

Narrated by Christina Moore, Fortunate is “a wonderful, funny, and spot-on portrait of a new generation”.

For fan of The Big Chill (1998), who might also enjoy Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives (about grads. from that certain university in Ann Arbor, Michigan); Alice Adams’ Superior Women (Radcliffe); and Martha Moody’s Best Friends (Oberlin).

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #173

Debut novelist Naseem Rakha is an award-winning journalist whose stories have been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered.

"The murder of a child dredges up the most painful emotions. There is no justice in it, no justification, and no way to find solace. Remorse and vengeance become inseparable from the souls of the people left behind. Yet, somehow there are inspirational stories of those who have come to forgiveness....I found this baffling situation as a reporter covering an execution for public radio and then later in interviews with the parents of murder victims". (From author's website).

The Crying Tree is that story, told through the lives of two main characters: Irene Stanley, the mother of slain 15-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley, and Tab Mason, the stoic and determined superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary who is preparing to execute the boy’s murderer.

Powerful and touching, it’s "a story of love and redemption, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the transformative power of forgiveness". For novels on grief and forgiveness, we also recommend Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger and Looking for Normal by teen novelist Betty Monthei.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #172

Bich Minh Nguyen's memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner was named one of the 2008 Michigan Notable Books and the Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007. It received the 2008 Kiriyama Prize and the PEN/Jerard Award. It has been selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as the current The Great Michigan Read.

In Nguyen's fiction debut Short Girls, narrators (in alternate chapters) Van and Linny Leong, estranged sisters who have chosen divergent paths since their latch-key days, returned home to celebrate their father’s U.S. citizenship and his reality TV debut to demo the Leong Arm - an invention for short people.

With keen insight, humor and compassion, the author examines what it means to be short – from stature, identity, expectations, ambition, to the distance between us. Beautifully written and expertly told, this is ultimately a universal tale about sisterhood; the cultural and family history that binds us; and the rights to set the standard by which we are measured.

Readers of women's fiction on the theme of sibling relationships might also enjoy The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele, or Julia Alvarez's wonderful portrayal of the immigrant experience in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. For pure entertainment value - there is nothing more delightful than Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes.

* = Starred Reviews.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #171

What promises to be a rather formulaic chick lit., mildly entertaining summer escapist read turned out to be a compulsive page-turner - twisty, sexy and magical.

In debut novelist Margot Berwin's Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, recently divorced Lila Nova impulsively purchased a bird of paradise from the hunky plant guy at a Manhattan green market to spruce up her depressingly lifeless apartment. Soon she was hooked - on David, as well as the lore and lure of tropical plants.

A chance discovery of a rare plant at an odd Laundromat and its enigmatic proprietor Armand took Lila deep into the Yucatan jungle, in search of extreme adventure and the nine mythical plants of desire. Little did Lila know what await her amidst unspeakable beauty and magic, would be treachery and heartbreak, but ultimately, also self-knowledge and redemption.

Hothouse Flower is fresh, fun, and wonderfully captivating - everything you would want for a lazy summer’s eve.

For fans of Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells and Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate . Plant enthusiasts and eco travelers would do well to also check out Susan Orlean’s award-winning The Orchid Thief.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #170

In Romance novelist Linda Castillo's chilling mystery debut Sworn to Silence*, Kate Burkholder is a "gun-toting, cursing, female chief of police" at Painters Mill, (Ohio) an idyllic Amish community that prides itself in distancing from the complication of modern life, that is, until a serial killer resurfaces to terrorize the town. The current victims all sport the killer's signature - Roman numerals ritualistically carved into their abdomens.

Kate has good reason to worry - well above her duty to protect and defend - as she is a surviving victim of torture and rape 16 years ago. What transpired estranged her from her family and her faith, and left her totally isolated with a secret she is desperate to keep.

"Deeply flawed characters in a distinctive setting make this a crackling good series opener, recommended for fans of T. Jefferson Parker and Robert Ellis, whose books take place in very un-Amish settings but who generate the same kind of chills and suspense.”

* = Starred reviews

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