Fantastic Fiction Firsts #84

Emergency room physician Vincent Lam’s debut collection of linked stories - Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures* is the 2006 winner of The Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s premier literary prize for fiction. It revolves around four young multicultural Toronto medical students. (Think Grey’s Anatomy!)

Along with the requisite sex, death and sleep deprivation crucial to any hospital drama, it's action-packed and insightful. "The stories' quiet strength lies in Lam's portrayal of the flawed humans behind the surgical masks". ~Publishers Weekly

For a clear-eyed look at what it is like to be a doctor-in-training, try The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death, and Audrey Young's What Patients Taught Me: A Medical Student's Journey.

*= Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #83

Sarah Addison Allen’s enchanting debut Garden Spells* is a real charmer.
Claire Waverley, never very good with people, lives alone in the family’s Queen Anne mansion, tending the garden that yields the edible flowers used in her successful catering business. These are no ordinary flowers, especially the ones that grow around the curious apple tree that flowers in the winter.

When Sydney, her sister who ran away as a teenager returns home to Bascom, NC with a young daughter in tow, Claire’s world is turned upside down, especially when their new neighbor, art professor Tyler Hughes, pursues her single-mindedly.

Adding to the spot-on rendering of sibling rivalry, family feuds, small town dynamics, are the delightful story of first loves and second chances; quirky, lovable characters; culinary alchemy; and the magic of place dipped in charm.

Magic Realism fans would know Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic (1995), but have you read Jennifer Cruise's The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes (2007)? Just two more suggestions to keep you totally spellbound.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #82

The Chicago Way*, is a debut thriller by Michael Harvey, a Chicago-based attorney and the co-producer of the A&E award winning documentary Cold Case Files : The Most Infamous Cases (1998), which inspired the likes of CSI and Cold Case.

Michael Kelly, “the latest incarnation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe”, (Library Journal) is an ex-Chicago cop turned PI, “ with a taste for liquor, (and an) esoteric penchant for classical literature". When his former partner turned up dead after asking Michael for help on an 8 year-old rape case, and the local brass showed up at his door, Michael smelled cover-up, big time!
In this “… fast-paced thrill ride through Chicago's seedy underbelly” Harvey has created a tough, smart crime fighter (think Spenser and Sam Spade). What stand out in this first novel are not only Harvey's knowledge of forensics and his firm grip on criminal investigations, but also how Chicago is rendered in all its many moods and facets.

For another recent debut of note set in the Windy City, try Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #81

If you don’t read another mystery this summer, you must read The Tenderness of Wolves* by Stef Penney

The winner of the 2006 Costa Book of the Year (formerly known as the Whitbread Awards), this debut novel by a former filmmaker is set in Dove River, an isolated settlement in the Canadian tundra of 1876. Mrs. Ross, our primary narrator, stumbled onto the brutal murder of her neighbor Laurent Jammett, a reclusive fur trapper, the same night her teenaged son Francis, went missing, along with a mysterious ancient bone tablet of great value.

Penney seamlessly weaves multiple plotlines, (including the disappearance of two young girls 17 years ago) as the search parties trek northward on the trail of the killer, bracing brutal elements and the threat of predatory wolves, towards an explosive conclusion.

Tenderness is much more than a mystery - it is a psychological thriller, an adventure tale, a well-research period piece that captures the cultural and social history of the Canadian north, and most of all, a probing exploration of the unfathomable topography of the human heart.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #80

Well, I wasn’t going to read it. Another Chicklit. I thought, and a bit too cute, judging from the cover. But I was stuck in an airport and it was there. Soon I was turning pages, surprised to be hooked by this engaging debut about a wounded healer and her African elephants.

In Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer, horse-trainer Neelie Sterling is not a good listener. She knows that and she tries hard. But when her cheating husband, veterinarian Matt tells her his partner is having his baby, Neelie can’t deny that she is dense and blind as well.

As a last-ditch effort to save her marriage, she volunteers to join Matt's rescue mission to save injured elephants in Zimbabwe. The trip is dangerous, exhilarating and the nursing of the elephants back home is grueling and frustrating. However, Neelie soon learns that healing could be mutual and there is “still” life (pretty marvelous at that) worth living, especially when the charming millionaire who sponsored the rescue comes knocking.

Nicely paced and sparkled with humor, a debut novel to wrap up the summer. The elephants will steal your heart and the romantic in you will cheer. For fans of Jennifer Weiner and Jenny Colgan.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #79

Consumption* by first time novelist Kevin Patterson, after his well-received The Water in Between: A Journey at Sea (2000), his travel memoir which critics raved as “A high-seas adventure story that combines the wry wit and deep reflection of A Walk in the Woods with the action and suspense of A Perfect Storm”, is a must-read for fans of psychological mystery.

Consumption recounts beautiful Victoria's reentry into Rankin Inlet after spending her teenage years in a TB sanitarium in Manitoba. In the intervening years this Canadian Inuit hamlet has seen great social and economic changes with the influx of southerners, bringing with them diseases, greed and psychic alienation. Victoria’s adjustment is made more difficult when she marries the ambitious diamond mine supervisor and becomes involved with a Yankee doctor.

Patterson (himself a physician) “seamlessly works murder, sex and intrigue into the mix and offers a terrific cast that makes arctic life, and the ties of kin, palpable, …and delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation”. For fans of Arnaldur Indriðason, Hakan Nesser, and Asa Larsson, and those who want their mystery served decidedly chilled.

*= Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #78

Looking for a fast-paced, adrenalin-fueled mystery/thriller? I recommend Lee Vance’s debut Restitution.

A graduate of the Harvard Business School and a retired partner of Goldman Sachs, Lee is no stranger to the rarified world of Wall Street’s rich and powerful, where we meet up with our protagonist Peter Tyler.

A high-power career, a beautiful wife and a dream home would not stop Peter from engaging in a one-night stand with a mystery colleague, and lands him squarely as the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. A cross between Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and The Fugitive, this compelling read with a twisty plot pits Peter against an embittered ex-cop, the Russian mob, nasties in unexpected corners as he races across the globe to find his wife’s killer and to clear his name. A hell-of-a-ride. Nicely done.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #77

I can't wait to read this mystery by French crime writer Pierre Magnan's Death in the Truffle Wood*, first published in 1978.

It all started with a pig.

Provence. November. Truffle time. Runaway truffle sow Roseline is attacked in the woods by an unknown assailant. When Superintendent Laviolette of the Marseille Police arrives to investigate 5 missing youths, her owner Alyre Morelon demands some assistance in identifying Roseline’s attacker.

Village politics, a dead body in a freezer and other grisly incidents are compensated by the generally humorous tone, sly wit and marvelous characterization. Beautifully translated (by Patricia Clancy), it brings to life the quirky French peasant culture so seldom depicted in the genre.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous(?) Fiction Firsts #76

If you need a quick dose of breezy chicklit. for the dog days of summer, give Katherine Center's debut novel The Bright Side of Disaster a try. I have it on good authority that it is quite engaging.

Jenny Harris never anticipated single motherhood but when her fiance ran out for cigarette the night she went into labor and never returned, she has her hands full. Things are not all bad though, apart from sleep deprivation, baby worries and the raging hormones... She found new friends in a mommy group and a handsome neighbor with a particular talent with cranky babies. It's too bad that her fiance has a change of heart.

wwjd?

Fantastic Fiction Firsts #75

Alright, I haven't read it yet but the critics are heaping high praise on David Blixt's debut novel The Master of Verona.

This first-time novelist+actor of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival has deep roots in the Ann Arbor Community (see the A2News interview), and will be at Borders Downtown on Wednesday, July 25th at 7 p.m. for a reading and signing.

Set in the Italian Renaissance and populated with such luminaries as Dante (Inferno) and the reimagined Montagues and Capulets, this historical is narrated by Pietro Alighieri, the 17 year-old son of Dante. Amidst the excitement of war between Padua and Verona and the drama of the Paduan court, Pietro witnesses his two best friends, Mariotto and Antonio being pushed to the edge of rekindling an ancient blood feud by their joint love of the same woman.

"Intricate plotting, well-staged scenes and colorful descriptions enhance head-spinning but lively entertainment" ~Kirkus.

"The precipitous ending, marked with dizzying revelations by the protagonists, do nothing to mar a novel of intricate plot, taut narrative, sharp period detail and beautifully realized characters." ~Publishers Weekly

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