Fabulous Fiction Firsts #92 (Small Gems #3)

A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories by Primo Levi - extraordinary writer, poet and a survivor of Auschwitz, is a collection of 17 (very short) stories, published originally in Italian between 1949 and 1986.

“ They reflect Levi's extraordinary range, revealing his abhorrence of bureaucracy, his passion for the most mysterious forces of astrophysics and other sciences, and his Shakespearean understanding of the nuances and peculiarities of human behavior."

This first English edition honors the 20th anniversary of his death in Turin, the city he called home.

Fabulous Fiction First #92

I have been saving this for a leisurely read and I was not disappointed.

Princeton professor Sophie Gee's lively, highly literate debut Scandal of the Season* provides the backstory to Alexander Pope’s famous poem "The Rape of the Lock".

1711, London. The anti-Catholic sentiments and secretive Jacobite plots to overthrow the Protestant queen makes for an uneasy social season. Pope’s growing literary reputation allows him entry into high society where he watches with interest the courtship and secret affair between beautiful Arabella Fermor and Robert, Lord Petre.

When Robert is forced to offer marriage to a wealthier heiress, Arabella’s disappointment and humiliation brings on the scandalous event that inspires the famous poem and launches Pope's career.

“Delightfully gossipy, psychologically insightful and historically fascinating”, this novel is "sprinkled with literary cameos, ...crackling verbal one-upmanship and crude double entendres...". For readers of Mary Balogh and regency romance.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #91 (Small Gems #2)

Mr. Thundermug is the "inventive and poignant story of a baboon who acquires the ability to eloquently speak human language".

As squatters in a condemned apartment building in a fictional city (think London), Mr. Thundermug and his family face eviction. His trouble escalates when he is arrested for, of all things - cruelty to animals! "The amusing and frustrating transactions between baboon and society attain urban-legend status".

This little fable-like tale is enchanced by moody, sepia-toned photographs throughout. A noteworthy debut for British Cornelius Medvei.

Fabulous Fiction First #90 (Small Gems #1)

As in years past, as the days get shorter and the to-do lists get longer, we look for books that are smaller, slimmer, and best if they fit into our coat pockets. This year - I am bringing you some marvelous imports.

Now I challange you to find anything shorter than Novels in Three Lines !

Félix Fénéon - the mysterious dandy/anarchist/critic, and the man who discovered George Seurat, penned thousands of these nouvelles (literally novellas or news) in 1906 for Le Matin, a Paris newspaper.

These 3-line news items speak volumes about murder, mayhem, and everyday life. They are varied - "often straightforward, at times cheekily irreverent", and the subject matter ranges from the mundane to the horrific. Here is a sample...

"Scheid, of Dunkirk, fired three times at his wife. Since he missed every shot, he decided to aim at his mother-in-law, and connected."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #89

Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale* is the first complete English translation of Nagai Kafu's 1918 portrait of geisha life, and is based on an unexpurgated version of the Japanese text published in the 1950s.

Originally serialized, Udekurabe (transleted as Rivalry) first appeared in a literary journal in August, 1916. The author, a respected novelist and university lecturer was married briefly to a celebrated dancer, the model for Komayo - the geisha central to the story.

Set in the entertainment district of Shimbashi, Tokyo, during Taisho-era Japan, it recounts the precarious fortunes of a talented and ambitious geisha, as she navigates among patrons rivaling for her favors and the envies of her peers. Modern readers will find it an authentic and beautifully realized portrait of a fascinating and significant Japanese subculture at a place in time.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #88

Interred With Their Bones*, a literary thriller by first time novelist Jennifer Lee Carrell was the big book at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair and was predicted to be most eagerly anticipated debut thriller of 2007.

At the heart of the richly imagined mystery that spans centuries and involves players from both the Old and the New World, is Shakespeare’s lost play Cardenio.

Kate Stanley, a Shakespeare scholar in London directing Hamlet at the Globe theatre is approached by her estranged mentor Roz Howard, bearing a mysterious gift and a cryptic message to “follow where it leads”. Where it leads is Roz’s murder and mounting body counts, a fascinating look at the history of English theatre, church politics, Renaissance literature and Shakespeare lore. More importantly for Kate, it is a race to find the lost play before the killer makes her the next victim.

The fast pace, intricate plot twists and plenty of red herrings will make this a pleasure for discriminating mystery fans. Shakespeare lovers will find a treasure trove of tantalizing trivia from a renowned Shakespeare expert. Well worth the hype.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #87

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Chinese author Xiaolu Guo’s first novel written in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is at once sexy, sad and funny .

Zhuang ("Z"), a 23-year-old Chinese woman from rural China is in London enrolled in English classes. Loneliness and her attraction to a much older man at an artsy film soon make them live-in lovers. His bisexuality bothers her less than his vegetarian diet. It becomes clear to the readers that her ever-improving English does not help her understanding of western culture and gets her in some dangerous situations.

“Guo's U.S. debut ...(is)a compelling and moving tale of first love. An often-charming exploration of learning, love and loss.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

Xiaolu Guo was born in 1973. After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy, she published a number of books in China. Since 2002, she has been dividing her time between London and Beijing. She has written and directed award-winning documentaries including The Concrete Revolution; her first feature film, How Is Your Fish Today?, was screened at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 International Women’s Film Festival.

Fabulous Fiction First #86

If you liked The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, or Andrew Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli, you would enjoy Camille DeAngelis' debut novel Mary Modern.

Though not strictly time travel, critics are calling it "imaginative, near-future, genre-bending" and "a literary mix of love story, s(cience)f(iction) and thriller".

The year is 2009. Frustrated geneticist Lucy Morrigan decides to clone her own grandmother when both academic tenure and pregnancy elude her. A blood-stained apron and her father's experimental equipment in the basement of the family home produces an indignant 22-year-old version of Lucy’s grandmother, Mary. While finding life in the 21st century challenging, Mary quickly adjusts, with the help of a little book called Everyday Life in the Twenty-First Century, penned by another mysterious time-traveler.

What Lucy does not anticipate is for her lived-in boyfriend, a classics professor to fall hopelessly for Mary. What is Lucy to do?

The plot-twists, competent characterization, and inventive storytelling will keep you turning pages. The religious-moral-ethical issues at the heart of the story would make this a good book group choice.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #85

Considered by people-in-the-know (Bill Ott @ Booklist) to be possibly “the thriller of the year” - HeartSick* by Chelsea Cain is a must read for fans of Thomas Harris and Ridley Pearson, and those who likes them "gritty, grim, and gory".~Publishers Weekly

Set in Portland, OR, this outstanding thriller pits Archie Sheridan, a police detective addicted to painkillers and pink-haired newspaper reporter Susan Ward, against a psychotic serial killer targeting high school girls. Added to the suspense is Archie’s ambiguous relationship with the imprisoned Gretchen Lowell, a sadistic serial killer who carved her trademark (a heart) on Archie two years ago. Archie now hopes Gretchen could help him catch the After School Strangler.

“Cain (Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody) never misses a beat here, turning the psychological screwdriver tighter for both Sheridan and Ward while drawing us deep into the nightmare that lives inside Gretchen Lowell's head”. Projected to be the first of a series, so don't let this one slip by.

* = Starred Reviews

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

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