(Audio) Fabulous Fiction First #135

Spending too much time on the road? Busy with chores? Couldn’t find your reading glasses? Those are just more reasons to get to some of these fabulous fiction firsts. They are on audio! Smart and savvy publishers are releasing the audio format simultaneously with the print edition. Here are two of my current favorites.

I was mesmerized from the first track by professional actor Lincoln Hoppe’s poetic delivery of The Gargoyle*, by first time novelist Andrew Davidson . This “intense tale of unconventional romance” between a severely-burned hedonistic porn star plotting suicide and a beautiful sculptress in the psych ward who remembered their tragic love affair 700 years ago at a German monastery. “There's pure magic here, a classic redemption story… Davidson's Gargoyle is a rare gem: completely engrossing, wholly unforgettable, and utterly transcendent.”

Fans of Victorian domestic drama (think Upstairs Downstairs) and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series would find much to like in Gerri Brightwell’s FFF The Dark Lantern - “a suspenseful novel of mistaken identities, intriguing women, and dangerous deceptions."

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #134

It is not everyday that a debut fiction is picked as a finalist of the National Book Awards.

Rachel Kushner's FFF Telex from Cuba* impressed a panel of distinguished judges as "a profound and lush evocation of 1950s’ Cuba".

"Though the chief observers are two keen-eyed American children, Kushner masterfully portrays the complex and varied forces of revolution through the perspectives of dictators, workers, the Havana underworld, the revolutionaries in the hills, and the Americans in denial that their colonial paradise is doomed."

Learn more about this fabulous newcomer to the literary fiction scene from a recent interview.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #133

When the corpse of a teenager turns up in an area known as the borderlands between the North and South of Ireland, Inspector Benedict Devlin heads up an investigation whose only clues are a gold ring placed on the girl's finger and an old photograph.

“McGilloway's debut Borderlands* is marked by tangled, derivative plotting, exceptionally mature prose and a hero as charismatically volcanic in his own way as Louisiana's Dave Robicheaux”. ~Kirkus Reviews

“With a mood and investigative style reminiscent of Hakan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren series…, this is an excellent new procedural series, especially notable for its realistic and sensitive portrayal of life in modern Ireland.” ~Booklist

For fans of Tana French, another noteworthy newcomer to the genre.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #132

Her first novel to be translated into English, Chilean author/journalist Elizabeth Subercaseaux's A Week in October* is "intense and engrossing". Hard to believe since it delves deeply into the troubled psyche of a woman dying of cancer.

Clara Griffin begins a fictionalized journal that her husband will secretly read and agonize over - it is an intimate roman à clef about her coming death, her troubled marriage, her husband's longstanding secret affair, and her own erotic adventures. Whether this is her way of instilling desire, exacting vengeance or simply finding happiness, Clara's notebook digs into the slippery, treacherous nature of love, deception, truth, guilt and loyalty.

This "slim, elegant novel deftly blends nuance and suspense", and introduces literary fiction readers to a noteworthy author to watch.

* = *Starred Review*

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #131

If you liked Company of Liars (see FFF #130 blog), then you would like Jeri Westerson's FFF Veil of Lies : A Medieval Noir*.

Stripped of his rank and honor for plotting against Richard II, disgraced knight Crispin Guest uses his wits to eke out a living in fourteenth-century London, taking on an investigation on behalf of a reclusive merchant that draws him into the middle of a complex conspiracy involving dark secrets, international plots, a missing religious relic, and murder.

Looking for similar reads? Check out the Matthew Shardlake historical mystery series by C. J. Sansom; the Dame Frevisse series by Margaret Frazer; and the Matthew Bartholomew series by Susanna Gregory.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #130

In 1348 England, as the plague ravages England, nine desperate strangers attempt to outrun the Black Death, revealing their individual stories as they travel away from the devastation, but one among them is hiding a far more sinister secret.

"British author Karen Maitland makes her U.S. debut with Company of Liars that tips its hat deeply to Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. "Executed with stunning skill and precision, her medieval world is full of the fantasy and mystery you'd expect from the genre — but it also parallels our own culture more than we might expect."

"Decidedly not your English teacher's Chaucer, but creepy, suspenseful, fun", with a "gasp-out-loud finale". English majors and historical mystery fans are not going to want to miss this one! And you would want to watch for FFF #131 !

Fiction Firsts #129

The Jewel of Medina (copies on order) will be released in early October in the United States ahead of schedule by Beaufort Books. This fictional account of the life of Aisha, a wife of the Prophet Muhammad was originally to be published in August by Random House but was dropped after University of Texas Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies Denise Spellberg warned the publisher the book would incite violence by Muslim extremists.

Born Aisha bint Abi Bakr in 7th century Saudi Arabia, Aisha would become one of the most revered women in the Muslim faith. "Extensively researched and elegantly crafted, The Jewel presents the beauty and harsh realities of life in an age long past, during a time of war, enlightenment, and upheaval".

Late last week, the north London home of the UK publisher of The Jewel - Gibson Square was firebombed in what is being treated as a terrorist attack. Read more about the Medina controversy.

Award-winning journalist Sherry Jones is currently the Montana and Idaho correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs and correspondent for Women's e-News. This is her first novel.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #128

The Black Tower* is a FFF of a different sort. This is not Louis Bayard's first novel. It is not even his first historical novel.

The mystery behind the identity and survival of a man-child who might be the lost son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fuels this rich, layered and energetic historical, and introduces to mystery readers Eugene Francois Vidocq, a colorful, resourceful and notorious criminal who became the world's first modern detective.

In real life, Vidocq, a fugitive from French justice before offering his services as a police spy and informer, was later named the first chief of the Sûreté. He was credited with:

a. being the first to introduce record keeping, criminalistics, and the science of ballistics into police work;
b. the first to make plaster-of-paris casts of foot/shoe impressions;
c. the first to patent indelible ink and unalterable bond paper;
d. founding the first modern detective agency and credit bureau.

Cleverly weaving historical details with conspiracies; webs of murders and intrigue with humor and heart; real-life as well as fictional characters; this intelligent and engaging thriller will keep you guessing after the last page is turned.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #127

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo* is the hot Swedish thriller (with 5.5 million copies sold across Europe) that features "one of the most original heroines to come along in years" - a young, prickly tattooed computer hacker, who teams up with an embattled and discredited journalist facing a jail term, to investigate the disappearance of an heiress 40 years ago. Talk about a cold case!!!

Debut novelist Steig Larsson who died of a heart attack in 2004, was an investigative journalist. Girl, (originally published as Män som hatar kvinnor = Men Who Hate Women) is the first of a 3-part series. Highly recommended. Readers might also like to check out another FFF Nordic mystery Redbreast by Jo Nesbo.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #126

An UPI news release dated February 5, 1984 about a killer blizzard in North Dakota sets the stage for Chuck Klosterman's Downtown Owl*, but fails to prepare the readers for its emotional heft as they weather the storm's wrath with the three main characters - all residents of a sleepy little town named Owl. Mitch Hrlicka is a laid-back high school football player; Julia Rabia, a newcomer partial to booze and a buffalo farmer; and old Horace Jones, a widower full of regrets.

Klosterman, an idiosyncratic pop-culture commentator on rock music and sports, and author of several nonfiction titles, proves to have a superb ear for dialogue. His fiction debut is a satisfying character study and "strikes a perfect balance between the funny and the profound".~Publishers Weekly.

No doubt, Klosterman devotees would want to check out this "unpretentious, darkly comic story" but fans of the Coen Borthers, and especially Fargo, would likely find the comparison apt and inevitable.

Mr. Klosterman will be reading and signing at Downtown Borders on September 17, @ 7 p.m.

* = Starred Review

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