Fabulous Fiction Firsts #142

Janice Y.K. Lee's debut novel The Piano Teacher* opens in 1952, when naive and newly married (to a minor colonial administrator) Claire Pendleton is hired by the wealthy Chen family as a piano instructor. Seduced by the lavish lifestyle of Hong Kong's expatriate community, she begins an affair with the Chen's English chauffer, Will Truesdale who is deeply marked by a tragic past during the Japanese Occupation.

Shifting back and forth between Clair's story in 1952 and Will's war-torn Hong Kong 10 years prior, the narrative is a lush examination of East-West relations and a rich and intimate look at what happens to people under extraordinary circumstances.

Readers interested in this time period might also want to check out the intensely political, thrillingly erotic, Ailing Zhang's (Eileen Chang) Lust, Caution, a novel on which a hauntingly moving and seductive Ang Lee film is based.

Others interested in the expat. experience might enjoy Oswald Wynd's The Ginger Tree (1977).

* = Starred Reviews

Audio Fabulous Fiction First #141

BBC Audiobooks production of Catherine O'Flynn's "heartbreaking, hilarious, immensely rewarding" debut novel What Was Lost* is not to be missed.

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the story begins with 10 year-old Kate Meaney, amateur sleuth/loner, except for the unlikely Adrian, adult son of a local shopkeeper, and Teresa, a girl who sets new standards for naughtiness. Then, one day, Kate disappears.

20 years later, two employees of the Green Oak Shopping Center where Kate doggedly set up surveillance of her bank robber "suspect" begin seeing Kate's ghost on the security camera. All at once, the many lives that were affected by her disappearance converge and collide.

As clever and engaging as Kate Atkinson's Case Histories (2004), and the latest in the Jackson Brodie series, When Will There be Good News? (2008), guaranteeing you many hours of deligthful listening.

*= Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #140

P.J. Brooke is the pen name of the husband & wife writing team of Philip O'Brien and Jane Brooke. Both active in the Scottish government, they live part of the year in the old Moorish district, the Albayzin in Granada, where Blood Wedding* is set.

First in the Sub Inspector Max Romero series, the story begins with the death of lovely Leila, a Muslim postgraduate student, found near Max's own family estate, and the prime suspect's link to a shadowy terrorist group. The mystery surrounding the death of poet Federico Garcia Lorca during the Spanish Civil War adds depth and complexity to the plot.

Compelling characters, exotic and atmospheric setting, and the smooth weaving of historical and cultural details make this a strong addition to the Euro-crime genre.

Highly recommended as a readalike for Carlos Ruiz Zafón's (author's website) The Shadow of the Wind (2004), set in Barcelona, and the Inspector Alvarez series set in Mallorca.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #139

Debut novelist Tiffany Baker's The Little Giant of Aberdeen County* is a MUST!!! on your new year reading list. (I was lucky enough to score a publisher's preview copy).

With the feel of a "New England Gothic folklore", Little Giant is the story of Truly Plaice of rural Aberdeen (New York) - a giantess from birth, orphaned at 12 and sister to beautiful Serena Jane, and an unconventional heroine with a hugh heart to match her size. Haunting the margins of Truly's story is that of Tabitha Dyerson, a rumored witch whose secrets might hold great promise for Truly.

Little Giant has "all the earmarks of a hit — infectious and lovable narrator, a dash of magic, an impressive sweep and a heartrending but not treacly family drama." This brilliant debut is a great readalike for Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House : a romance (1996).

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #138

Noted historians and university professors of American History Jane Kamensky (Brandeis) and Jill Lepore (Harvard) met as graduate students at Yale and have been friends for 20 years. Blindspot: by a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise is their first novel.

Set in 1760s Boston, originally conceived by the two authors as "a playful spoof of two genres: the picaresque, with its rogue hero exposing the hypocrisy around him, and the sentimental epistolary narrative—in this instance, a series of letters from a young 'fallen' woman to a friend," it was meant as a gift to their mentor at Yale, John Demos.

The result (accomplished mostly through email) - is an astonishingly, wildly entertaining, clever, surprising, funny, sexy, historical romance with a strong sense of time and place.

* = Starred Reviews

(Audio) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #137

In Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances, convinced that his wife has disappeared and left behind a duplicate of herself who fools everyone else, Dr. Leo Liebenstein embarks on a quixotic journey to reclaim his lost love, an effort during which he is aided by a deluded psychiatric patient and an enigmatic meteorologist.

Critics liked this intriguing and sophisticated first novel for its startling premise and unique characters and Reader Malcolm Hillgartner's rich baritone is "perfect for the obsessed Liebenstein".

In the The Lace Reader*, Brunonia Barry's debut (first in a proposed trilogy) novel Psychic Towner Whitney reluctantly returns to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts when her 85 year-old great-aunt suddenly disappears, and joins local cop John Rafferty in his investigation into the mystery. (Read by the prolific Alyssa Bresnahan).

Barry "combines her focus on the history of this particular community, including its witchcraft trials, religious cults, and quotidian seaport life, with her study of a fractured family seeking truth to bring us a most unusual and bewitching novel. Highly recommended. ~Library Journal.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #136

A 2007 Hopwood Awards winner, Nami Mun's debut novel Miles from Nowhere* has garnered enthusiastic praise from many critics.

Set in the 1980s, it is the coming-of-age story of Joon, a Korean-American teenage runaway. Survival means homeless shelters, jail, hunger, drugs, prostitution, and terror on the mean streets of New York, - gritty and unflinching.

“There is nothing simplistic or sensationalized here as Mun, a writer of gravitas, portrays the dispossessed and the cast-out…”. However, it is her portrayal of Joon who remains “inviolable, kind and determined”, with “a fierce survival instincts, adaptability and radiance” that carries the reader towards a hopeful ending.

*= Starred Reviews. The editors of Booklist have picked Miles as one of the First Novel Stars on their annual list.

(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

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