Fabulous Fiction Firsts #74 - Iranian Gems

If you enjoyed Anita Amirrezvani’s dazzling debut novel The Blood of Flowers, don’t miss the much anticipated debut The Septembes of Shiraz* by Dalia Sofer, due out next month (holds are accepted now).

Anita Amirrezvani grew up in San Francisco with her mother while spending much time over the years with her father and his extended family in Tehren, including the summer of 1979, at the onset of the Iranian Revolution when she was about to turn 17. Blood of Flower, tells the story of a 17th century unnamed female narrator who, at 14 journeys to Isfahan to learn rug weaving, a trade dominated by men. As she blossoms into a brilliant designer, her prospect for personal happiness grows dim, in this “Dickensian tale of one woman’s struggle to live a life of her choosing”.

Dalia Sofer was born in Iran and fled with her family in 1982 at the age of 10. The Septembers of Shiraz recounts the struggles of the Amin family at the wake of the Iranian Revolution, when father Isaac, a Jewish rare-gem dealer is wrongly accused and imprisoned for being an Israeli spy. His wife Farnaz begins to question the loyalty of those around them. Young daughter Shirin takes immense risk to safeguard the rest of the family, while older son, alone in the United State deals with isolation and falls into the embrace of an unlikely family.

These two novels by first-time authors deal with the universal themes of identity, alienation and love while painting a vivid portrait of Iran, then and now. Great reads.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #73

Fans of novelist and memoirist Diana Abu-Jaber: The Language of Baklava (2005), Crescent (2003); and Arabian Jazz (1993), should not be surprised that critics are calling her first mystery The Origin* ...“poetic in tone and profound in its inquiry into the nature of memory and the self”, themes explored in her earlier works which centered mostly around the Arab-American communities close to her heart. (Author's website)

This time around, in The Origin, Lena Dawson, an emotional fragile fingerprint examiner for the Syracuse police is suffering from personal memory issues. Since her philandering husband’s departure, she lives for her work. When a rash of infant deaths afflict the area, she suspects that something (someone, more likely), other than crib death is at work. Added to the palpitating tension is her budding romance with a wounded detective, the nagging mystery of her own childhood, and a stalker dogging her every step.

A gripping contemporary thriller with a “flawed but appealing protagonist”. “Haunted, moving,” and highly recommended.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #72

I am sure if you are a reader of mysteries, you would have come across some very famous feline detectives. Occasionally, a dog or two have tried to get in on the act. Clever, I am sure, but they have always relied on their two-legged sidekicks.

Now Leonie Swann, in her debut mystery (translated from German) Three Bags Full* introduces fleecy ones who work alone!

In the bucolic Irish village of Glennkill, a flock of sheep has just come across the murdered body of its beloved shepherd George Glenn. Led by the very smart Miss Marple, they are determined to bring the killer to justice, not withstanding all the obstacles in their way (they can’t talk, their chief suspects is the BUTCHER!).

Already a bestseller in Europe, U.S critics are calling Three Bags Full a “quirky philosophical mystery”, “refreshingly original” and “magical”. Swann also “peppers the text with literary allusion that add humor and lighten the existential gloom of both people and sheep”.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #71

If you enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, (Did you like the movie too?) I would suggest The Last Summer (of you and me). It is teen author Ann Brashares's break into the adult market, and a summer read, perfect for the beach.

Paul (McCartney) named after Sir Paul by his wayward father, and sisters Riley and Alice have been pals since they were babies, growing up next door to each other summering on Fire Island. Tomboy older sister Riley and Paul have a strong connection that transcend the seasons, until the summer when Alice turns 21 and heading to law school.

That summer, she and Paul decide to act on their mutual attraction with unforeseen consequences. When a family tragedy strikes, it forever alters the course they have set for themselves. A coming-of-age story sure to please the Brashares fans.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #70

If you had missed the first Baby Shark in this gritty 1950s Texas noir crime series, (I did!) you can catch up with the new Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues*, by Robert Fate.

Baby Shark begins with young Kristin Van Dijk, a young pool player, ganged raped and forced to watch her father’s murder, and ends with Kristin finally getting her sweet revenge, Rambo style.

In this second in the series, Kristen is now a licensed PI in the Dallas area, and is hired to investigate the disappearance of a Texas oil heiress. She never counts on coming across a truckload of cash in the process, and that the runaway heiress is a witness to a double murder. Now, you think the bad guys are going to leave her along?

“Fate's witty dialog, colorful characters, and nonstop action make this pulp-style piece sparkle”. You can’t go wrong with this one. A hot summer read.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #69

In this About a Boy meets The Nanny Diaries, first-time novelist Holly Peterson hits the mark.

Manny (a nanny of the male persuasion) is the only thing that stands between busy Upper East Side TV producer Jamie Whitfield and a nervous breakdown. Between her high-powered and emotional distant lawyer husband, 9 year-old holy-terror of a son Dylan, and baby Gracie, she is in constant overdrive. She needs a nanny and better yet, a strong male presence in Dylan’s life.

The answer to her prayers arrives neatly packaged as Peter Bailey – a warm, sensitive, 29 year-old Internet entrepreneur waiting on funding. Things work out a lot better than she could have hoped for but she had not anticipated that “the help” will save her in more ways than one.

Smart, sexy, amusing and “a fabulous sharp skewering of the silly-rich in New York”, while it is not great literature, you will be entertained.

Fabulous Fiction First #68

Set in a contemporary Dublin suburb, the first of a projected series, In the Woods* by Tana French is an “engrossing if melancholy” police procedural.

Young Katy Devlin's battered body has been found in the woods where an archaeological dig is in progress, the same woods, where 20 years ago three children went missing. The criminal investigation named "Operation Vestal" is led by Detectives Cassie Maddox and Adam Ryan. Unbeknownst to everyone including the police (except for Cassie), Adam is the only survivor from the earlier case.

When chilling similarities between the Devlin murder and Ryan’s flashes of recollection surface during the investigation, and the relationship between the partners becomes more complicated, we are treated to a psychological thriller with a breathtaking climax and a satisfying conclusion.

Readers of Harlan Coben's latest The Woods would find the storyline uncannily similar. You think they talked?

* = Starred Reviews, "An outstanding debut" ~Booklist

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #67

Critics are calling Rebecca Stott’s academic thriller Ghostwalk* “hypnotic”, “intelligent”, and “stunning”, (where) “Isaac Newton joins Dracula and Leonardo da Vinci”. Curious? I was.

Elizabeth Vogelsang, a Cambridge University scholar at work on a potentially controversial biography of Isaac Newton is found drowned and clutching a prism in her hand (a clue?). Lydia Brooke, a successful screenwriter is asked by Cameron Brown, her former lover and Elizabeth’s son to ghostwrite the last chapter of Elizabeth’s manuscript.

Lydia soon finds that Elizabeth’s cottage might be haunted and she is drawn into solving two series of murders centuries apart, both connected to 17th Century alchemy and present-day animal rights.

This well-researched and intricately crafted debut novel by British historian Stott (bio.) is a clever whodunit that entertains and instructs - of such varied subjects as optics, neuroscience, and animal testing. More interesting trivia on 17th Century Cambridge could be found on her website.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #66

If you love adventures, steamy romance, political intrigues, religious passion, a bit of history painted in vivid colors, or simply a good story well told, you wouldn’t want to miss Tim Willock’s The Religion*.

First of a planned trilogy, it is set against the backdrop of the 1565 Great Siege of Malta. Roguish and disarmingly handsome Mattias Tannhauser, kidnapped by Muslim raiders as a child and trained as a holy warrior is now a soldier of fortune. What he does not bargain for is the charming Contessa Carla La Penautier to complicate his wild and boozy ways.
On the eve of the Turkish blockage of the island - the last strong hold of The Knight of St. John (a.k.a. The Religion), Carla agrees to marry Tannhauser (thus making him a Lord) if he would travel to Malta with her to rescue her son abandoned at birth. With the largest ever Ottoman armada on their tail and a vicious battle imminent, their quest is made even more overwhelming when the Pope’s brutal inquisitor with a secret agenda is working against them.

The story moves at a break-necked pace with non-stop action, without sacrificing good character development, historical details and a complex plot. Remarkable. Sure to become this summer’s blockbuster.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #65

Successful teen author Shannon Hale is breaking into the adult market with Austenland. Unabashedly chicklit, it is an engaging read you won’t want to put down.

Jane Hayes – pretty, clever, a 30something with a thriving career (graphic artist) and even better hair, has one embarrassing secret obsession. Despite a stream of promising boyfriends (numbered but not named), her heart belongs to Mr. Darcy (as in Jane Austen’s), in the form of Colin Firth.

When Great Aunt Carolyn leaves her a legacy of a three-week, all-expense-paid holiday to a Jane Austen fantasy camp, her bags are packed. At Pembrook Park, Jane swaps her 21st century persona for a 19th century sensibility, complete with wardrobe, country dances, walks in the park and a supply of gentlemen as romantic interest. But when Jane falls for the gardener, breaks the rules and is expelled, an unexpected “Mr. Darcy” (Colin Firth in a wet shirt) comes through with the goods.

The plot is fresh though the ending is predictable. The language is snappy and humorous. The characters are well observed. Although the heroine is not without fault – she is dreamy and vulnerable, she is also smart, resourceful, and endearingly hopeful. I hope we'll meet again.

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