Fabulous Fiction Firsts #448 - "The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time" ~Abraham Lincoln

Author and New York Times critic Stacey D'Erasmo called Greg Baxter's debut novel The Apartment * "one of the best novels I have read in a long time, ...(f)ollowing the lead of James Joyce (Ulysses) Don DeLillo (Cosmopolis) and others, the novel takes place over the course of a single day."

On a snowy day in late December, an unnamed American leaves his shabby hotel in an old European city to meet a woman who has agreed to help him find an apartment. As the day unfolds, they meet some of her friends, attend a party, and by dribs and drabs, we learn that the forty-something American served in Iraq, became a highly paid military contractor, a past he hopes to forget, while at the brink of an uncertain future as a couple.

"Baxter's clear-eyed first novel provides an unflinching portrait of the ways that guilt shapes us, and demonstrates an ultimately redemptive faith in the alchemies and uncertainties of friendship and love."

"A very smart novel that recognizes the limits of intelligence and the distortions of memory."

This thoughtful, quietly penetrating book is for those seeking more than a quick read.

For other novels that take place in the span of a day, try Saturday by Ian McEwan, Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, and not to forget Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #447 - "The humble knitter sits in the center between heaven and earth" ~ Susan Gordon Lydon, The Knitting Sutra

Ah, what a great time to snuggle deep into your easy chair and immerse yourself in The Wishing Thread, writer Lisa Van Allen's debut novel - a "Chick-lit cozy meets magical realism with inevitably warm and fuzzy results."

For centuries (really!) the Van Ripper women, owners of The Stitchery, have always been "touched by a vague darkness, a miasma of speculation". When the matriarch Mariah dies, she leaves her three nieces this Tarrytown yarn shop, a "derelict architectural hodgepodge", by design as much as by willful neglect.

Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community while working as a librarian's assistant. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has long rejected magic in favor of a normal upbringing for her children, only to be frustrated by her daughter's instinctive interest in knitting. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Like it or not, they all share the ability to knit by request, the most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, thus granting health, success, or even a blossoming romance, just for the asking. But no one more than the Van Rippers know that magic demands sacrifice.

Now the Stitchery is in danger as an unscrupulous developer plans to raze the town square and put up a shopping mall. The sisters are divided whether to stay or sell. Complicating matters is handsome handyman Vic Oliveira, who is making one of them question her allegiance to The Stitchery.

"In Allen's debut novel, knitting becomes a rich metaphor for the power of women, of the disenfranchised, of the desperate. Steeped in the spirit of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," this bewitching tale will delight fans of magical realism."

Lovely blurbs by Meg Waite Clayton and Lisa Verge Higgins. Fans of Sarah Addison Allen will be delighted.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #446 - "It is all connected"

The first stand-alone apart from her popular Dandy Gilver historical manor-house cozies, Catriona McPherson gives us "a dark, absorbing, contemporary" mystery in As She Left It *, "(w)ith an appealingly quirky cast of characters and a nicely paced narrative."

13 years after her escape from an alcoholic mother, Opal Jones returns to the Leeds neighborhood to find very little has changed. Kind Margaret Reid still keeps an eye on the happenings on Mote Street while 'Fishbo' Gordon, Opal's trumpet-playing music teacher and Mrs. Pickess, the wicked witch,"hadn't change one iota, not a jot." The unsolved disappearance of Margaret's little grandson, Craig 10 years ago (whom Opal used to babysit) is the only event that unsettles her homecoming.

"Soon the resourceful Opal undertakes three missions: finding the missing child; locating the family of her beloved Fishbo; and solving the puzzle of papers found in the posts of the secondhand bed she just bought. Undeterred even by a threatening note and a break-in, Opal finds that little is what it seems as her own painful and hidden memories come to light."

Joining the exemplary on Kirkus Reviews' 2013 Best Fiction Books, As She Left It will appeal to fans of Tana French, Laura Lippman, and Chevy Stevens.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #445 - Dead man scheming

You really ought to start with Dead Anyway * * * (2012), the first in the Arthur Cathcart series by Chris Knopf. The BOCD was perfect for a recent family road trip. Don't let that scary-looking cover fool you.

A hit man shows up at the Cathcarts' Stamford, Conn. home and shoot them both in the head after he forces Florencia, owner of an insurance-brokerage firm to sign a piece of paper. His wife is dead but Arthur Cathcart survives, barely. With the help of his physician sister, he is declared dead. A crackerjack market researcher skilled with electronics, Arthur is able to create a series of new identities to stay out of sight while he plots and schemes to track down the "who" and the "why".

"Knopf's tale is suspenseful from the get-go, with an intellectual, yet visceral, vigilantism coursing through the pages,... (he) never misses an angle and manages to weave a bit of humor into a storyline that could have been purely dark. "

"(R)eminiscent of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels with a dose of Grosse Pointe Blank", the Arthur Cathcart caper continues with Cries of the Lost * * (2013).

Readers who enjoy their mystery mixed with comedy would want to check out the author's "reflective, quietly loopy" Hamptons-based series featuring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski.

* * * = 3 starred reviews
* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #444

The World Noir imprint first came to my attention with this gritty and cinematic procedural - The Crocodile * by Maurizio De Giovanni, put out by Europa Editions.

Those of you with a soft-spot for the disgraced lone-wolf detectives would not want to miss this one.

A cold, methodical killer the newspapers are calling "The Crocodile", commits murders largely undisturbed around Naples' diverse neighborhoods. Like a crocodile he waits and watches until his prey is within range, and then he strikes. So far he targets only the very young, and the only clue found is a paper tissue left at each site with the murderer's tears on it.

Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, a recent transfer from Sicily who spends his days playing games on his computer, senses that this might be his chance for redemption while his colleagues dismiss the murders as Mafia shenanigan.

The beautiful Laura Piras, a young prosecutor, aware of his preternatural skills and his incredible powers of observation, charges him with finding the link between the victims. In the process, he also finds another potential victim: a 6-month-old infant.

"The Crocodile offers an elegant narrative and vividly rendered characters. It's genuinely seductive."

"In this crisply translated (by Antony Shugaar) novel, De Giovanni explores Lojacono's loneliness and vulnerability while simultaneously revealing his brilliance as a detective." Check out the Commissario Ricciardi series by this winning team of author and translator.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #443

The Hive*, debut of British Gill Hornby (sister to Nick and wife to Robert Harris) is inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes, a nonfiction book that Tina Fey used as the basis for her hit movie Mean Girls.

It is a new school year at the privileged St. Ambrose Church Primary School where (Queen) Bea Stuart reigns over the school-mom clique as Rachel Mason looks on from afar. Her former best friend and confidante, Rachel has been relegated to the hinterland when her husband dumps her.

"... (A) delectable comedy of manners about mothers who congregate during drop-off and pickup, hold fundraisers," over the course of a year at St. Ambrose as they navigate a new headmaster, financial disasters, power shifts, and personal drama.

"Alternately touching and satirical but consistently entertaining. "

"(A)n enjoyably acerbic social commentary on mean girls of all ages, lightened by touches of hen lit."

A worthy addition to the pantheon of Mean Girls in Literature, and Rachel's outsider plight will remind readers of the heroine in Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #442 - Follow the rules and everybody gets hurt . . .

Former Swedish police officer Anders de La Motte's U.S.debut Game: a thriller * * is the first of a crime-fiction trilogy in which siblings are drawn into a dangerous cellphone game with global ramifications.

On a hot July morning on a commuter train from Märsta, Sweden, to Stockholm, slacker Henrik "HP" Pettersson finds a unique cellphone programmed to invite him to play "the Game," with promises of money and internet stardom. The "game" escalates quickly from prank-like theft to increasingly dangerous vandalism and violence. When it threatens national security Rebecca Normén, a bodyguard with the Swedish Security Police (and maybe not so incidentally, HP's estranged sister) gets involved. A dark secret shared between siblings comes to light.

"Relentless pacing leads to a stunning finale as HP tries to be not just a player but a real hero." In hot pursuit is Buzz (no. 2 in the series), and the last installment Bubble to be released early next year.

For gamers and fans of game chillers.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #441

Winner of the American Booksellers Association "Indies Introduce Debut Authors" and Amazon Editors' Fall Pick", Australian Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest * * * is also one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, "(a)n enrapturing debut novel that toys with magical realism while delivering a fresh fable."

Widowed Ruth Field lives alone in an isolated beach house. Her days are measured by calls from her grown sons and predictable routines. Lately, she thinks she hears a tiger on the prowl around her property at night, bringing back memories of her childhood in Fiji. One day a stranger arrives claiming to be a care worker sent by the government, and Ruth let her in, but not without suspicions that this Frida is hiding secrets. As strange things begin to happen, Ruth's sense of reality becomes shaky.

"This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about aging, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn't be."

"A pleasurable novel, with turns of plot and phrase both startling and elegant."

A readalike for S.J. Watson's debut Before I Go to Sleep

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #440 - "There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted" ~ Henry David Thoreau

Ewart Hutton's debut Good People * * is one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Book of 2013, and shortlisted for the 2012 British Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger for best first novel.

In this "atmospheric, criminally smart" new police procedural, award-winning playwright (BBC Radio) introduces Detective Sergeant Glyn Capaldi. Disgraced and banished from Cardiff to the Welsh countryside, Capaldi (half-Welsh, half-Italian) investigates the disappearance of a van packed with young men after a night of rugby and hard drinking. Those who turn up could not explain why one of the men and the only woman in the group are missing.

In the face of opposition from the local constabulary and his superior, Capaldi delves deeper when one of the men is found hanged, and uncover a network of conflicts, betrayals, and depravity that resonates below the outwardly calm surface of rural respectability.

"(A) stunningly dark debut. The first-person narrative keeps it personal, making the detective's vulnerabilities that much more intense."

"...the plot twists are cunning, and Glyn Capaldi is the most appealing antihero this side of Ian Rankins' John Rebus."

Readers who enjoyed Peter May's The Blackhouse would not want to miss this one. (See previous FFF blog).

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #439

A recast of the First Wives Club meets An Ex to Grind, Saginaw debut novelist Robin Devereaux-Nelson's In Violet's Wake * is an unexpected delight.

This Fabri Literary Prize winner is a buddy road trip story. When Violet leaves her sixth husband Marshall VanDahmm high and dry, he is sure her second husband Costa is to blame. A heated brawl turns into an unlikely friendship and one by one, Marshall and Costa seek out Violet's other ex-husbands (minus #1, the sainted Winston), to help themselves understand what they loved about Violet and why she abandoned them all. When they learn Violet plans to track down Jake, her old high school love and “the one who got away,” the men set off on a road trip to find Jake to warn him.

"A charming anti-romance. Devereaux-Nelson's group of guys learns a touching lesson from the girls: Sometimes, all you need is to talk it over with friends."

Readers might also enjoy The Ninth Wife by Amy Stoll - when Bess Gray learned that the man she is about to marry has eight ex-wives, she sets out on a cross-country journey to meet them; and Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You - " a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind--whether we like it or not."

* = starred review

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