Fabulous Fiction Firsts #105

Black Ships* is debut novelist Jo Graham's captivating retelling of Virgil's The Aeneid from the perspective of Gull, a slave girl taken at the sacking of Troy.

At 17, Gull was chosen by the oracle Pythia as her successor for her prophetic visions, but she must decide if she would give up her exalted position and sail with exiled Trojan Prince Aeneas on the black ships, in order to guide him to his destiny.

Graham ably re-creates a vivid picture of the ancient world in this historically based fantasy. Her spare style complements the action-filled plot, and the “smoldering emotional resonance” fully engages the reader.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #104

L.A., gangs, turf war. Sound familiar? Well, Toby Barlow's debut Sharp Teeth* is anything but!

Written in free verse, this "highly addictive, enormously enjoyable, and unexpectedly moving", horror/thriller is about the fantastical world of werewolves. Caught in the middle of savage pack rivalry is Anthony, a kindhearted, down-and-out dogcatcher and the girl he loves who is in fact, a female werewolf.

This adrenaline-packed, fast-paced, darkly comic (card-playing dogs, crystal meth labs, surfing) debut by a Michigan author will surprise and entertain. Barlow is the Executive Creative Director of the giant ad agency JWT, whose clients include Ford, Shell and MTV. He lives in downtown Detroit.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #103

Tired of the bleak Feb. days? Looking for something light and engaging? You might want to try Gods Behaving Badly by first time novelist Marie Phillips.

The immortals of Mount Olympus have fallen, and not just on hard times. Apollo, Aphrodite, Artemis, Eros and Zeus are slumming in modern day London, working menial jobs as a dogwalker, a phone sex operator, a TV psychic; and falling for their cleaning woman, all the while worrying about their waning power and each other with their endless squabbling.

"Phillips imagines a hilarious world that explains all that is inexplicable in our own". "Fanciful, humorous and charming, this satire is as sweet as nectar" ~ Publishers Weekly.

Phillips is a graduate of Cambridge University currently working at the BBC and writes for the blog StrugglingAuthor.blogspot.com.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #102

"Shades of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and Kim Newman's Dracula-inflected Victoriana"(Kirkus)... now, if that does not intrigue you, let me tell you this is by far one of the best thrillers I have come across in quite awhile.

A guaranteed page-turner, British(Oxford)scholar Jonathan Barnes' hectic, layered, odd and oddly affecting literary extravaganza The Somnambulist* features the shadowy magician/private detective Edward Moon and his sidekick - the 8' tall, bald, mute somnambulist.

"Barnes is up to something very special here. He's created a new genre, really, a graphic novel written in longhand, and it combines the subtle horror of Patricia Highsmith, the goofy gore of Christopher Moore, and the cartoon action of the TV series Heroes. Read for the sheer fun of it"~ Jen Baker for Booklist. Trust us on this one.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #101

The Queen Gambet: A Leonardo da Vinci Mystery* by Diane Stuckart is the first of a projected series.

Set in 15th-century Milan, the Renaissance artist/inventor was pressed into service by the Duke of Milan to solve a murder during a spectacular chess match played with human pieces.

With high-stake political maneuvers across Europe and a priceless painting in the balance, da Vinci must investigate quietly behind the scene, with only the help of Dino, his young apprentice who has his own secrets to guard.

This new historical whodunit renders a lively portrait of court life in Renaissance Milan, as well as fleshes out the humanity and the genius of the renowned master.

*=Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts#100

"Emily Haxby is an up-and-coming attorney at a big firm in Manhattan. From the outside, she seems to have her life tied up flawlessly with a big red bow; however, the package is coming unraveled." so begins The Opposite of Love*.

Then comes the break-up with the perfect guy, an assignment from hell, and Grandpa Jack slipping away in an Alzheimer's haze. Can Emily pull it together — work, family, love life, and all? You'll be turning pages until you find out!

First-time novelist and Harvard Law alum Julie Buxbaum handles Emily's tale "with notable intelligence and grace" (Booklist). Just the buzz of her very generous 2-book deal could be a clue to this being a newcomer worth watching.

* = Starred Review.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #99

Go with Me* by Castle Freeman Jr. is an engaging “small masterpiece of black comedy and suspense”~Kirkus.

The plot is simple, really – but the execution (wink wink), is marvelous! In a small backwoods Vermont hamlet, young Lillian has nowhere to turn with the sheriff claiming that his hands are tied when it comes to her stalker – big bad bully Blackway, not even after he butchered her kitty cat. But Sheriff Wingate did point Lillian to Whizzer; a wheelchair-bound mill owner and his gang of beer-drinking loafers.

With beautiful characterization, measured pace, and wicked quiet humor, this loose rendering of a King Arthur tale will entertain and delight, even though the ending won't surprise. Still, more fun than you would expect from a fiction debut.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #98

Critics are calling Alan Drew's The Gardens of Water "nothing short of extraordinary".

Set in a small town outside Istanbul, it opens as Sinan Basioglu, a Kurdish shopkeeper and devout Muslim, is preparing for his nine-year-old son Ismail’s circumcision ceremony. Among the guests are their American neighbors whom Sinan begrudgingly invite at the last minute.
When disaster strikes and both families suffer indescribable losses, their lives intertwined and become interdependent. Each must find a way to look beyond their disparate cultural backgrounds and centuries-old misunderstanding to survive.

Garden is ”a remarkable work from a compelling new voice in fiction”, ~Bookreporters.com, and " A richly detailed, finely plotted demonstration of culture clash." ~Booklist.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #97

Oh, how I hate being late to the party! At the American Library Association Midwinter in Philly last week, the hot topic was nordic mystery and the most eagerly anticipated read was The Redbreast* (and I am still #13 on the waiting list!)

People-in-the-know are calling Norwegian Jo Nesbo's English debut "an epic new novel, brilliant in scope and design - a deep and fearless investigation of betrayal spanning two centures and three continents". It also introduces to North American readers Police Detective Harry Hole who finds himself sitting on top of an international conspiracy during a presidential visit to Oslo.

This winner of the Glass Key prize for the best Nordic crime novel, "fans of Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum will have a seriously difficult time putting down", writes Bruce Tierney of BookPage.

*= Starred Reviews (Jessica: Enjoyed yours in LJ)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts # 96 (Books to Fall In Love With)

The countdown to Valentine's Day is on! (Already?) The wonderful folks at Bookrerporter.com have some sweet and heart-themed treats for you. From January 25th through February 6th, readers will have the chance to win one of five Bookreporter.com Valentine's Day baskets. They are filled with one copy of each of the featured books - from heartwarming novels, philosophical commentary, musical analogies, to some titles that are just plain fun.

I am especially excited with Beginner's Greek by first time novelist (former editor at the Times) James Collins.

Peter Russell is a deeply romantic guy who believes the woman of his dreams is destined to sit next to him on an airplane. And there is Holly, a pretty, strawberry blonde woman who reads Thomas Mann for pleasure. A thousand complications ensue in this delicious novel of missed opportunities, second chances, and lost love. I won't spoil it for you. Enjoy the ride.

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