Fabulous Fiction Firsts #113

Civil & Strange is a quietly engaging American debut for Irish poet Cláir Ní Aonghusa, nicely captured by the cover art.

Fans of vintage Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope would appreciate the lovingly detailed dynamics of village life and relationships.

Ellen Hughes, a Dublin schoolteacher escapes a crumbling marriage to live in Sligo, a small farming village where she spent childhood summers. She buys and renovates the family home and renews her friendship with an older woman Beatrice, and tentatively explores romance with a newcomer.

"The refreshing blasts of reality give the book emotional heft, and the credible romance that eventually develops is a break from the standard mold". Highly recommended.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #112

Malaysian Preeta Samarasan scores high marks with critics for her debut Evening is the Whole Day*.

This impressive novel is based on an earlier version that won the 2005-6 Avery and Jule Hopwood Awards while Preeta Samarasan (check out her website) was a graduate student at The University of Michigan.

On the outskirts of Ipoh (Malaysia), The Rajasekharans, a wealthy Indian family, suffers a series of personal and familial tragedies that begin with the death of the matriach, Paati, and the disgraceful dismissal of a young servant girl. Most affected by all of the uproar is 6 year-old Aasha, who is harboring a secret that could further devastate not only her family, but the entire community.

Samarasan "scores impressively with the creation of an intimate, gossipy omniscient narrative voice that's the perfect vehicle for her slowly unfloding, intricately layered story".

For fans of Kiran Desai and Arundhati Roy.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #111

The History of Lucy’s Love Life in Ten and a Half Chapters is fun, fluffy and fantastical.

29 year-old commitment-phobic Lucy is staring at the prospect of a perfect life with dishy and nice Anthony (with whom she had 400 plus one-night stands) and chucks it all, wondering if there’s something better on the horizon.

Sacked from her pointless job and bored, an errant time machine sends Lucy on a dating frenzy with bad boy Lord Byron, Leonardo da Vinci, Ovid and Casanova (a sweet guy, really). It’s a thrill ride but there’s also a lesson to be learned. The question is… Is Lucy ready for it?

This British chick lit./fantasy/romantic comedy is the first to be published in the United States by Deborah Wright, a graduate of Oxford University with three best-selling novels in the U.K.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #110

According to a New York Times article, it took a citywide fund-raising effort for The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to raise the $68 million needed to keep a Thomas Eakins masterpiece - The Gross Clinic in the city. "The painting is widely considered to be among the greatest convases in American art".

Though Eakins' fame is "almost entirely posthumous and he was little known and admired in his native city" during his life time, but in Lawrence Goldstone's debut The Anatomy of Deception, Eakins is front and center in this highly readable, intriguing and historically well-researched forensic thriller. Also depicted are the real-life characters such as William Osler (the Father of Modern Medicine), famed surgeon William Stewart Halsted and the vibrant social scene of Philadelphia 1889.

Historical mystery readers, especially those of Caleb Carr and Matthew Pearl will find much to like here.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #109

In Girls in Trucks we first meet Sarah Walters and her Camellia (Society) girls at the Charleston Cotillion School for future debutantes. Then come the Ivy League college days and the decade as single girls in the big city. We watch as they make consistent bad choices about men, drugs and alcohol, falling short of the Camellia Society ideal (no riding in shiny red trucks with boys), and in danger of totally missing out on a chance for happiness.

Told in the linked-short-story format, Katie Crouch’s “exceptional, stylish debut” is distinguished by its “gentle humor and sharp observation couched in straightforward prose with none of the preening preciosity so often seen in Southern fiction.”

Fresh, heartwarming and engaging, it reminds one of Melissa Bank’s The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing and The Last Girls by Lee Smith.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #108

It's not often that you come across a debut novel as sure-footed and well-crafted as Tom Rob Smith's Child 44*.

In the last winter of Stalin's reign, Leo Demidov, a national hero and a ranking officer of the Moscow MGB (State Security) is aware that his good fortune (nice apartment, beautiful wife, imported foods) is precarious at best – balancing on luck and political gamesmanship. When he refuses to denounce his wife on trumped up charges as a spy, he was demoted and exiled to a remote city and quickly becomes involved hunting down a serial killer preying on young children. What Leo sees as his redemption cast him as the enemy of the state and a fugitive on the run.

Bleak, brooding and chillingly affecting, with a “relentless” pace and a layered plot, this unexpected story of love and family, of hope and resilience is a hypnotic psychological thriller - surely not to be missed. Prepublication film rights already sold to Ridley Scott.

For fans of the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith and Emil Brod series by Olen Steinhauer.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #107

Playwright Theresa Rebeck has won an Edgar and a Peabody for her TV work and numerous awards for her plays and shows great promise as a novelist.

Her debut Three Girls and Their Brother* refers to teenagers Amelia, Polly and Daria Heller - "insanely beautiful" sisters of a well-connected Manhattan family, and their brother Philip. A lavish spread in the New Yorker makes the sisters overnight media sensations and instant celebrities. Exposure and fame brings on enormous opportunities, as well as the paparazzi, lechers and rivalry. When the grown-ups around them prove unreliable guardians, the siblings are forced to take responsibility for themselves.

Three Girls is “a wickedly enjoyable expose on modern celebrity”, “a timely and entertaining morality tale” --- much more than a fluffy chick lit.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #106

In this Olympic year, all eyes are on China. Coincidentally, we have a bumper crop of FFF by expat. Chinese writers, as well as a number of outstanding mysteries set in China.

The Eye of Jade, by Chinese exile Diane Wei Liang who fled her country after participating in the Tiananmen Square protests, is an impressive debut.

Set in the late 1990s' Beijing, P.I. Mei Wang was hired by a family friend to track down a jade seal from the Han Dynasty, supposedly destroyed by the Red Guards. Challenging family relationships, bureaucratic intricacies and an unconventional protagonist made for a fascinating read.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #105

Literature professor (Louisville, Kentucky) Will Lavender’s debut novel Obedience is one tautly strung thriller!

Students at Winchester University’s Logic and Reasoning 204 are greeted on the first day of class with one startling assignment – find a hypothetical missing girl name Polly before the end of term or she will be murdered.

As the clues set forth by the creepy prof. point more toward something real and sinister rather than a logic exercise, three of the students find disturbing personal connections with Polly. What looks like an academic exercise at first could turn deadly.

Obedience hooks you fast and hard. Ride it out and brace for the shock.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #104 (The Fourth Man)

"An absorbing study of sexual enthrallment, dogged policework and a harrowing twist or two" marks The Fourth Man, the American debut of Oslo police inspector Frank Frolich.

Soon after Frolich rescues Elisabeth in a robbery-homicide, he is drawn into a risky and sorted tangled web of "art theft, blackmail, torrid sex and double crosses". With his career and his life on the line, all the likely suspects turning up dead and Elisabeth missing, the identity of a possible 4th man becomes ever more crucial. Recommended for fans of Karin Fossum and Kjell Eriksson.

K.O Dahl is an award-winning author in his native Norway. Another new name to watch for nordic mystery fans.

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