Fabulous Fiction Firsts #185 - Reading the World

reading the worldreading the world

Of the 33 first novels nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (see blog), some have already won major awards, some have been blogged, some became media darlings, some bewitched us, and some chilled and thrilled us.

Here are a few that would challenge us, move us and perhaps even grow us a little:

A Girl Made of Dust is written by a woman who experienced firsthand the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. It captures both a country and a childhood plagued by a conflict that even at its darkest and most threatening, carries the promise of healing and retribution.

The White King by György Dragomán (translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry). Eleven-year-old Djata's life in the totalitarian state is changed forever when two men lead his father away one day. However brutal, Djata's world is tempered by the hilarious absurdity of the situations, by his enduring faith in his father's return, and by moments of unexpected beauty, hope, and kindness. Startling and heartbreaking, recommended for fans of Mark Haddon, David Mitchell, and Marjane Satrapi.

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramaphone by Saša Stanišić ( translated from the German by Anthea Bell). Fleeing the violence and destruction of his native Bosnia with his family for safety in Germany, Aleksandar Krsmanoviæ remains haunted by the past and his memories of Asija, the mysterious girl he had tried to save and whose fate he is desperate to discover.

A first-time novelist at 76, Bernard du Boucheron caused a literary sensation in France with The Voyage of the Short Serpent, - a tale (translated from the French by Hester Velmans) of a bishop's attempted reclamation of a medieval Scandinavian colony in Iceland. The bishop sets off in the company of the captain and crew of the Short Serpent.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #184

Recently picked by Booklist as one of the ten top first novels of the year, Carolina De Robertis's debut novel The Invisible Mountain* is a "deeply intimate exploration of the search for love and authenticity, power and redemption, in the lives of three women, and a penetrating portrait of a small, tenacious nation, Uruguay, shaken in the gales of the twentieth century."

This gripping and lyrical story, at once expansive and lush with detail, begins with Pajarita, a healer with a mysterious second birth, her daughter Eva , a poet who suffered sexual assault as a child, and granddaughter Salome who as a revolutionary endures arrest, torture and imprisonment.

" De Robertis is a skilled storyteller in relating the stories of these stalwart women, but it is her use of language from the precision of poetry to the sensuality of sex that makes this literary debut so exceptional".

Readers of historical fiction from a strong female perspective would also find interesting The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allenda; and the 2004 National Book Award winner The News from Paraguay* by Lily Tuck.

* = Starred Reviews

October Books to Film, Part 2


The much anticipated Amelia, based on Journalist Susan Butler's exhaustively researched biography entitled East to the Dawn : The Life of Amelia Earhart, throws new light on many of the more controversial elements of the aviator's life and death. A star-studded biopic with Hilary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor (Oh, I am SO there!) Check out the The New York Times movie review.

The Damned United is based on British author David Peace's fictional account of Brain Clough's brief spell as manager of Leeds United Football Club in 1974. Clough, played brilliantly by Micheal Sheen, is portrayed as a deeply flawed hero.

David Peace was named one of the Best of Young British Novelists by Granta in their 2003 list. He is also the author of Toyko Year Zero, (FFF), a riveting mystery of a real-life serial-killer case in post-WWII Japan.

The Vampire’s Assistant is a fantasy-adventure about a 16 year-old who unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires. Pulled into a fantastic life of misunderstood sideshow freaks and grotesque creatures of the night, one teen will vanish from the safety of a boring existence and fulfill his destiny in a place drawn from nightmares.

This teen crowd-pleaser is adapted from Darren Shan's immensely popular series Cirque Du Freak. With Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe playing the leads, expect long lines at the box office.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #183

If you were moved by her memoir The Glass Castle*, you would find Jeannette Walls's debut novel Half Broke Horses* no less "authentic, irresistible, and triumphant".

While The Glass Castle is the tale of a child of a scholarly, alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother; her nomadic, hardscrabble upbringing, heartbreaking betrayals before finding the resources and will to leave home; Half Broke Horses is the story of Ms. Walls's grandmother - Lily Casey Smith.

This first-person fictional biography of a "horse-breaking, moonshine-selling, ranch-running, airplane-flying, pistol-packing, school-teaching, indomitable pioneer" begins with a young Lily, tough and wise beyond her years, saving her siblings during one of west Texas' flash floods.

Family photographs, archival materials and research lend an air of oral history to the narrative. Reflecting on the experiences of her grandmother and mother, Walls says, “It’s a bit of an anachronism, but there’s a lot to be said for the tough pioneer spirit and the untamed wilderness. I think it’s important that we don’t forget our roots. And our own half-brokeness."

For novels of other indomitable women, try The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss and The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas.

* = Starred reviews (See the New York Times review)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #182

From the creator of CSI television series Anthony E. Zuiker come this sensational debut Level 26 : Dark Origins.

This is no ordinary crime thriller. In fact, it is the first digi-novel. It combines the book format, film, and interactive digital technologies into an intense storytelling experience.

Level 26 refers to law enforcement personnel's category of evil - with 25 being the most sadistic of torture-murderers. Now Steve Dark, the ultimate crime-scene tactician is on the trail of the most brutal of killers - one that they have invented a new level for. Code named "Sqweegel", this clever, twisted serial killer has been taunting the police and eluding capture for decades. His choice of victims appears to be random. Nobody is safe.

Readers will be able to log onto www.level26.com (special code and clues scattered through the text) to access digital movies featuring the characters, crime-scene details and more. It is an experience like no other.

Go ahead, double-check doors and windows and sleep with the lights on. I did. I drew the line on taking sharp objects to bed though.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #181


In Chemistry for Beginners*, for Dr. Steven Fisher, the female orgasm is his life’s work. At the brink of the breakthrough of a miracle drug that could cure female sexual dysfunction (think Viagra), one of his test subjects – Annie G is wracking havoc with his data, his scientific mind and his carefully guarded heart.

This engaging and smart, romantic comedy (no longer an oxymoron, thanks to Anthony Strong - a pseudonym for Anthony Capella) is presented in the form of a scientific paper, complete with footnotes (totally believable and absolutely hilarious) and illustrations. The uniquely contemporary male perspective, memorable quotes, satirical jabs at academia, clinical research, and the drug business will surely entertain. The tentative and problematic courtship is tantalizing (think D.H. Lawrence's Lady C.), at times heartbreaking, and oh so itchy sexy.

Easily the best romance of the year, from a newcomer to the genre. Best quote: "Sex is biology, love is chemistry". And some of the best sex scenes since Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #180

If you liked Lauren Groff's fantastic debut The Monsters of Templeton* (blog) then you would delight in Nancy Mauro's New World Monkeys*.

At once " fun, funny and touching" and "weird, disturbing and intensely engaging", the novel centers on Lily and Duncan, unhappily married Manhattan yuppies, a dilapidated old house, a wild boar, small-town secrets, and a bit of nasty buried in the backyard.

"Debut novelist Mauro perfectly balances humor and soulfulness in this poisonously funny, torchlight eerie, psychologically astute tale of archaic instincts, deviance, and violence." Quirky? Yes. But it will appeal to those who favor happy endings and romantics who insist on believing that love really does conquer all.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #179

Swedish short-story writer Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of "humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care."

The Unit* is set at the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material, where men and women of a certain age without families or indispensable jobs are sent to participate in medical experiments and donate organs to more essential members of society.

50 year-old Dorrit Weger finds "The Unit" a pleasant, clean, lovely place, where friendship is easy and the experiment harmless. But soon, she begins to notice other campers faring less well. When her roommates are being ushered off one by one to their final donations, she panics. An unlikely development as a result of an expected alliance forces Dorrit to confront choice.

For Orwell and Huxley fans and those who enjoyed Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Kauzo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #178

Ann Arbor author Harry Dolan's sensational debut Bad Things Happen* has garnered rave reviews everywhere.

Patrick Anderson of the The Washington Post thought it "Witty, sophisticated, suspenseful and endless fun -- a novel to be savored by people who know and love good crime fiction, and the best first novel I've read this year."

Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times praised Dolan's gift of storytelling.

Publishers Weekly liked that "Dolan gets everything right in his debut. . . . Pitch-perfect prose and sophisticated characterizations drive the noirish plot, which offers plenty of unexpected twists."

Equally enthusiastic in endorsing this newcomer to crime fiction are Nelson DeMille, Karin Slaughter and James Patterson.

And where would Dolan set this mystery? Where else?

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #177

10 years ago, rumors of human sacrifice, ghosts and magic were just that - until journalist Paul Seaton came face to face with unspeakable evil at the abandoned Fischer House and barely escaped with his life. Still haunted by his loss, he is asked to return to prevent the house from claiming more unsuspecting souls.

Riveting and seductive, The House of Lost Souls* is a brooding and sinister tale of supernatural horror that unfolds gradually, building up suspense, and drawing the readers in. Atmospheric and cinematic, rich with historic details, a complex plot, engaging narrative devices, nonstop chills and gore, this U.S. debut from British F.G. Cottam terrifies and entertains. Likely first of a projected series. Don't miss it.

For fans of horror master Stephen King's Duma Key*; and newcomer Christopher Ransom's spanking new The Birthing House* (another FFF); and of course, a perennial classic - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

* = Starred reviews

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