Fabulous Fiction Firsts #165

Andrew Grant's debut Even* is an exciting addition to the adrenaline-fused suspense/thriller genre.

David Trevellyan, a Royal Navy secret agent stumbles across a murdered tramp in a dark alley as he leisurely strolls back to his Manhattan hotel. An anonymous tip convinces the NYPD that they got their man. With diplomatic tug-of-war across the Atlantic, organized crime, a sadistic villain out for revenge, and the FBI dogging his every step, David's only ally is the lovely Tanya, a former colleague who has her own secrets to hide.

Fans of the Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series would be pleased to meet up with this 21st century James Bond, a creation of Lee Child's baby brother (See them at a recent joint signing in San Diego). Even's resemblance to the Jack Reacher series is purely coincidental, you think?

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #164

At the heart of Enrique Joven's gripping debut (translated from the Spanish) The Book of God and Physics* is the Voynich Manuscript - a puzzling document that has fascinated generations of cryptologists both amateur and professional with its odd drawings and strange text, as yet undeciphered.

This 500 year-old oddity found its way to the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where a Jesuit physics teacher and two resourceful collaborators try to pierce the mystery, including the possible murder of a well-known scientist. The Church, on the other hand, seems to be going to great lengths to keep the book's meaning hidden.

"Joven's sophisticated perspective indeed opens insights into the current controversy pitting Darwinism against intelligent design. A book to delight lovers of well-crafted fiction and well-anchored fact." ~ Booklist

Debut author Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane deals with yet another archival puzzler connected to the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history - the Salem witch trials. Fan of Matthew Pearl would find themselves two new authors to watch.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #163

This "wickedly brilliant" cozy by Canadian journalist Alan Bradley won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crimewriter's Association.

Set in a quaint English village, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie* features one of the most engaging amateur sleuths since Harriet the Spy.

11 year-old Flavia de Luce, a walking encyclopedia of the practical use of poison, is thrilled to find a corpse in the cucumber patch of the family's crumbling manor. A missing piece of custard pie, a dead snipe bearing a priceless "gift" on the door step, a retired librarian with a menacing secret and a shell-shocked WWII soldier are among her suspects but the bumbling police arrest her father for the crime. It is all up to Flavia to save the day.

Pure delight. Sequel likely, and most eagerly anticipated.

* = starred reviews

(Audio) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #162

Sea of Poppies*, is the first volume of the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh, one of India's best known writers and was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.

At the heart of this vibrant 19th century saga is an immense ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its purpose to fight China's vicious Opium Wars. Among the crew and cast are a motley array of sailors, stowaways, Indians and Westerners inexplicably connected by family, loyalty, honor, survival, greed, and imperialism. The vast sweep of this historical adventure embraces the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the crowded backstreets of Canton (China). “But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself that makes Sea a masterpiece. “ ~Boston Globe

Admittedly a bit daunting for readers unfamiliar with the history, culture, languages of Indian sub-continent but narrator Phil Gigante’s nuanced performance brings the book to life.

* = Starred reviews

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

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