Fabulous Fiction First #161

The Chathrand Voyages Trilogy opens with The Red Wolf Conspiracy* and marks the debut of fantasy author Robert V.S. Redick.

The I.M.S. Chathrand, a floating city carrying a reluctant princess bride sets sail on a peacemaking mission. Among the passengers and crew is a young sailor bearing a family curse, a tribe of miniature warriors, a magic rat, assassins, treacherous mermaids and monstrous slavers, all desparate to unlock the mystery and conspiracy of the Red Wolf, a powerful ancient artifact.

This epic fantasy of maritime adventures, bloody diplomacy is vibrant, fresh and exciting. It won over this reluctant fantasy fan from the very first page. Trust me on this one.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #160

Etta, by first-time novelist and Emmy award-winning television reporter Gerald Kolpan is a richly imagined fictional account of the life and loves of Etta Place, the beautiful, adventurous and elusive companion to Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (a.k.a the The Sundance Kid).

Born Lorinda Jameson, the story traces her privileged upbringing as a Philadelphia debutante, the tragedy that rendered her destitute, a new identity as Etta Place, to working as a "Harvey girl" in the Wild West where she met up with Robert LeRoy Parker (a.k.a Butch Cassidy) and the Hole in the Wall Gang.

Incorporating diary entries, telegraph messages, and news clippings into the narrative, Etta is "a compelling love story, high adventure, and thrilling historical drama". The vivid setting and skilled storytelling make this tale both captiviting and entertaining.

Anyone who enjoyed Robert Redford/Paul Newman/Katharine Ross's memorable classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) wouldn't want to miss this.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #159

This delightful debut by Canadian author Elizabeth J. Duncan won the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant.

In The Cold Light of Mourning*, Penny Brannigan, a Canadian expat, has made the Village of Llanelen home for decades, having been seduced but the breathtaking view of this part of the Welsh countryside as a young backpacker. Now manicurist and owner of the Happy Hands Nail Care shop, she has become an integral fabric of the community. When a young bride goes missing after her nail appointment on her wedding day, Penny gets involved.

Her budding romance with the local police inspector, colorful village personalities, quiet domestic routines and the idyllic setting will engage readers longing for a new voice in contemporary cozies. Cold will please fans of fellow Canadian Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, and brings to mind Joan Hess's Maggody series as well as the Kate Austen novels by Jonnie Jacobs, and the Ruby Crane series, set in western Michigan by Jo Dereske.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #158

Can't believe I'm #112 on the request list for Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife*! The waiting is going to be unbearable.

Praised by critics as "fierce and sophisticated", this fiction debut (after a memoir) is set in 1907 Wisconsin. Catherine Land answered well-to-do businessman Ralph Truitt's newspaper ad for "a reliable wife". As she stepped off the train, it was obvious that Truitt has been deceived. Both these complex characters have plenty of traumatic baggage that is peeled away layer by layer as the two engage in a darkly dangerous game of check and checkmate.

Reliable "calls to mind the chilling tales of Poe and Stephen King, and at its core this is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. It melds a plot drenched in suspense with expertly realized characters and psychological realism." ~Bookpage

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #157

In Aussie Toni Jordan's Addition, there is no getting around the fact that Grace Lisa Vandenburg is neurotic - lovable but definitely neurotic! - counting the bristles on the toothbrush and the poppy seeds on her cake (daily) neurotic. Her obsession with counting renders her unemployable and very much a loner except for Nikola Tesla, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century inventor whose portrait sits on her bedside table and who rescues her in her dreams.

Seamus Joseph O'Reilly, an Irish transplant is intrigued by Grace who steals his banana at the check-out line. A shared table at Grace's morning coffee run soon blossoms into romance, and Grace begins to want a normal life with this passionate and darling man. The path to recovery as well as true love is never smooth - but on the way, Grace learns a few valuable lessons and we are treated to a "sweet, agreeable romantic comedy".

This superb debut marks Jordan (interview) as a writer to watch.Discussion questions are available for an upbeat book group choice.

For a novel on the topic of obsessive-compulsive disorder, try teen novelist Terry Spencer Hesser's Kissing Doorknobs. For another humorous take on the subject, try Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #156

David Cristofano's The Girl She Used to Be* is a "compulsively readable, skillfully constructed" first novel that you won't be able to put down.

After assuming 8 different identities since aged 6 through the Government's Witness Protection Program that ultimately could not safeguard her parents, Melody McCartney is no longer sure who she is and therefore is stunned when someone actually calls her by her real name!

Enter Jonathan Bovaro, son of the Mafia family that is at the root of her troubles. He is elusive, dangerous, and charming. Melody should run the other way but she cannot resist him, and stays.

Major nail-biting suspense with lots of plot twists, intense and itchy-sexy. Don't miss this one.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #155

Canadian journalist Elizabeth Kelly's Apologize, Apologize! is a novel about the triumphs and tragedies of the "fantstic Flanagans" of Martha's Vineyard - a super-rich, dysfunctional, "nutty/drunken/wacky/irresponsible" family.

The angst-ridden narrator Collie (named after his parents' favorite dog breed) recounts life in this zany household, his troubled relationship with brother Bingo, the guilt over a family tragedy and his hard-won redemption.

Critics are impressed with first-time novelist Kelly's display of "unrelenting quirkiness" that begs comparison with Daniel Wallace and John Irving.

Its whimsical tone also brings to mind Galt Niederhoffer's A Taxonomy of Barnacles, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #154

A Beautiful Place to Die* is an accomplished debut in a projected mystery series by Malla Nunn.

Award-winning filmmaker Nunn sets this atmospheric police procedural in her native South Africa. Det. Sgt. Emmanuel Cooper is called to investigate the murder of an Afrikaner police captain in Jacob's Rest, a small border town with Mozambique.

1952 saw the gathering force of apartheid. New government decrees further etched the color divide. Racial tension, already ingrained, festered with secrets and lies both sordid and honorable. Cooper, being an outsider and under the oppressive supervision of the farcical government agents, must tread lightly to get at the truth.

Mystery readers might remember fondly James McClure's early apartheid procedurals, mostly out-of-print. For another current series set in South Africa, try Salamander Cotton by Richard Kunzmann.

Fans of the PBS MYSTERY! program should also check out the cinematic 1999 miniseries Heat of the Sun, about a former Scotland Yarder transplanted to 1930s Nairobi, filmed entirely on location.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #153

Once in awhile a novel comes along and it is so lovely, it takes your breath away.

Patrick Somerville's The Cradle is a tiny little gem of a debut - spare, elegant, and so satisfying.

In the summer of 1997, newlyweds Marissa and Matt are expecting their first child. Marissa longs for the antique cradle she slept in - the one her mother Caroline took from the family home when she ran off. Matt is determined to track it down. His journey takes him across the Midwest and to the discovery that will forever change Marissa's life.

Matt's quest is interwoven with a second narrative that takes place 11 years later, in which poet and children's author Renee Owen is preparing to send her son off to fight in Iraq.

Radiating with wisdom and wonder, The Cradle is the story of one man's journey into the heart of marriage, parenthood, and what it means to be a family.

Patrick Somerville (biography) is a writer to watch.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #152

Eve: a novel of the first woman is a luminous and unique retelling of the oldest story in the world - that of Adam and Eve.

First-time novelist Elissa Elliott puts a powerful twist on the biblical narrative, boldly reimagining Eve’s journey, from the woman who once tasted the forbidden fruit of paradise to one watching her family unravel right before her eyes. "At once intimate and universal, timely and timeless, it explores the very essence of love, motherhood, faith, and humanity".

For readers of historical fiction depicting women in the Bible, and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant immediately comes to mind.

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