Fabulous Fiction Firsts #117

In The Dirty Secrets Club*, the best clue San Francisco forensic psychiatrist, Jo Beckett finds at the 3rd high profile murder-suicides of the week is the word “dirty” scrolled on the thigh, in blood-red lipstick, of the latest victim – Callie Harding – the Assistant U.S. Attorney. Someone is picking off the members of the “Dirty Secrets Club”, A-list celebrities who trade secrets and thrills.

Meg Gardiner’s hardback U.S. debut boasts a taut, complex plot, break-neck pacing; a smart, tenacious and emotionally vulnerable protagonist with her own secrets to hide; and a realistic rendering of a city under siege.

Critics are comparing Gardiner to Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver and Tess Gerritsen. Gardiner practiced law in LA and taught at the University of California Santa Barbara. Her previous Evan Delaney (available only in paperback) novels are big hits in the UK where she now lives.

*=Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #116

Lauren Groff's "exuberant" debut The Monsters of Templeton* is a "fantastically fun read, a kind of wild pastiche that is part historical novel and part mystery, with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure".

Pregnant and troubled, archaeology student Wilhelmina (Willie) Upton slinks home to Templeton, N.Y., after a disastrous affair with her professor, on the very day a long-feared sea monster surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass, quite dead. When Vi, Willie's flower-child mother let slip that Willie's father is in fact a respected citizen in town rather than a nameless hippie from Vi's commune days, Willie dives headlong into untangling the roots of the town's greatest families and her father's identity.

Brilliantly incorporating accounts from generations of Templetonians — as well as characters borrowed from the works of James Fenimore Cooper, who named an upstate New York town Templeton in The Pioneers, Groff, a native of Cooperstown(on which Templeton is based), will delight readers with Willie's sharp wit, literary/historical references and lore.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #115

Michigan native Scott Sigler's previous novels are "free, serialized podcasts that generated a large online following and saw over 4 million downloads".

His print debut Infected* will thrill and chill SF and horror fans with a mysterious disease that is turning ordinary Americans across the country into raving, screaming, homicidal maniacs.

CIA operative Dew Phillips and Center for Disease Control epidemiologist Margaret Montoya race in vain to capture a live victim. Meanwhile Perry Dawsey - a hulking former University of Michigan football star awakens one morning to find several mysterious itchy welts growing on his body. Soon Perry finds himself acting and thinking strangely, hearing voices ... he is infected.

With numerous references to Michigan and the UM, this is definitely a fast-paced and captivating read. Try the podcast just for fun and stop scratching!

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #114

Set in west Dorset, British filmmaker Poppy Adams' "eerie, accomplished debut", The Sister, is "an engrossing psychodrama" of four generations of the Stone family as they gather for a reunion of sorts at their crumbling Victorian manor.

Murder, illicit sex, long-buried secrets and painful memories have estranged them for decades and this reunion will surely bring matters to an explosive conclusion.

Dark, chilling and gothic. Perfect to start your summer reading.

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

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