Fabulous Fiction Firsts #181

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In Chemistry for Beginners*, for Dr. Steven Fisher, the female orgasm is his life’s work. At the brink of the breakthrough of a miracle drug that could cure female sexual dysfunction (think Viagra), one of his test subjects – Annie G is wracking havoc with his data, his scientific mind and his carefully guarded heart.

This engaging and smart, romantic comedy (no longer an oxymoron, thanks to Anthony Strong - a pseudonym for Anthony Capella) is presented in the form of a scientific paper, complete with footnotes (totally believable and absolutely hilarious) and illustrations. The uniquely contemporary male perspective, memorable quotes, satirical jabs at academia, clinical research, and the drug business will surely entertain. The tentative and problematic courtship is tantalizing (think D.H. Lawrence's Lady C.), at times heartbreaking, and oh so itchy sexy.

Easily the best romance of the year, from a newcomer to the genre. Best quote: "Sex is biology, love is chemistry". And some of the best sex scenes since Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #180

If you liked Lauren Groff's fantastic debut The Monsters of Templeton* (blog) then you would delight in Nancy Mauro's New World Monkeys*.

At once " fun, funny and touching" and "weird, disturbing and intensely engaging", the novel centers on Lily and Duncan, unhappily married Manhattan yuppies, a dilapidated old house, a wild boar, small-town secrets, and a bit of nasty buried in the backyard.

"Debut novelist Mauro perfectly balances humor and soulfulness in this poisonously funny, torchlight eerie, psychologically astute tale of archaic instincts, deviance, and violence." Quirky? Yes. But it will appeal to those who favor happy endings and romantics who insist on believing that love really does conquer all.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #179

Swedish short-story writer Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of "humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care."

The Unit* is set at the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material, where men and women of a certain age without families or indispensable jobs are sent to participate in medical experiments and donate organs to more essential members of society.

50 year-old Dorrit Weger finds "The Unit" a pleasant, clean, lovely place, where friendship is easy and the experiment harmless. But soon, she begins to notice other campers faring less well. When her roommates are being ushered off one by one to their final donations, she panics. An unlikely development as a result of an expected alliance forces Dorrit to confront choice.

For Orwell and Huxley fans and those who enjoyed Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Kauzo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

* = starred review

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.

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