Fabulous Fiction Firsts #126

An UPI news release dated February 5, 1984 about a killer blizzard in North Dakota sets the stage for Chuck Klosterman's Downtown Owl*, but fails to prepare the readers for its emotional heft as they weather the storm's wrath with the three main characters - all residents of a sleepy little town named Owl. Mitch Hrlicka is a laid-back high school football player; Julia Rabia, a newcomer partial to booze and a buffalo farmer; and old Horace Jones, a widower full of regrets.

Klosterman, an idiosyncratic pop-culture commentator on rock music and sports, and author of several nonfiction titles, proves to have a superb ear for dialogue. His fiction debut is a satisfying character study and "strikes a perfect balance between the funny and the profound".~Publishers Weekly.

No doubt, Klosterman devotees would want to check out this "unpretentious, darkly comic story" but fans of the Coen Borthers, and especially Fargo, would likely find the comparison apt and inevitable.

Mr. Klosterman will be reading and signing at Downtown Borders on September 17, @ 7 p.m.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #125

In The Toss of a Lemon* - "a closeup of India’s history, culture, politics and landscape through the domestic lens of one family", Padma Viswanathan, with "compressed, poetic precision", gives us a generational saga, inspired in part, by her grandmother's stories.

Sivakami was married at 10 and widowed at 18. For the next 60 years, she wore widow's white, shaved her head and raised her 2 children in her dead husband's house and village (a defiant act). She almost never ventured outside her family compound and touched no one from dawn to dusk - not even her children.

Here is a link to the author discussing her book on YouTube and some excerpts of well-deserved praise for this major new talent.

For fans of Vikram Seth and Rohinton Mistry and readers of historical fiction and modern India.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #124

A Map of Home* by Ann Arbor author Randa Jarrar hits the bookstores today.

Critics are calling this fiction debut “sparkling”, “intimate, perceptive and very, very funny”. It’s the story of Nidali, an audacious Muslim girl (with a Greek-Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father) who grows up in Kuwait, Egypt and Texas.
As citizens of the world, this family weathered some harrowing experiences that were even funny and wacky at times, but it is Jarrar’s handling of adolescent angst - "stifling parental expectations, precarious friendships, sensuality and first love; and her exhilarating voice and flawless timing that make this a standout”.

You can find Randa Jarrar's profile in myspace. She will be at Shaman Drum on September 15th, at 7:30 p.m., one of only two Michigan stops on her fall book tour.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #123

This chilling and mesmerizing procedural/cozy debut from the creator of the UK cult award-winning television mystery series Silent Witness introduces Deputy Chief Inspector Mark Lapslie, who suffers from a rare neurological condition.

In Still Waters*, it appears that a clever and ruthless serial killer with keen knowledge of garden plants is targeting little old ladies. Money does not seem to be the motive. They were all poisoned, and what about those missing fingers on their right hands?

Nigel McCrery worked as a police officer before attending Cambridge University. Still Waters is the first in a projected series.

For fans of psychological thrillers of Minette Walters and Val McDermid, and the Inspector Morse and Miss Marple television series. AND a great readalike for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

* = Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #122

Set in St. Louis, MO., Assistant District Attorney Jack Hilliard appears to have it all: intelligence, good looks, a great job, and a solid marriage with his wife, Claire. While he subscribes to the ideal of TELL NO LIES*, when he finds himself simultaneously seduced by a dream job and a sexy colleague, his moral compass starts to falter and he soon learns that bad decisions have even worse consequences. . .

"Compton's debut is a taut, tense cautionary tale complete with courtroom drama and a surprise ending" ~Kirkus Reviews. For fans of legal thrillers and the likes of the 2 Johns - ( Grisham and Hart ).

St. Louis native Julie Compton earned degrees in law and English literature. She worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Wilmington, Delaware. This is her first novel.

* = Starred Reviews.

Spoiler Alert!!! - If you don't like a cliffhanger of an ending - skip this one.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #121

Wendy Lee's accomplished debut Happy Family* explores the immigrant experience and what it means to belong.

Hua Wu exchanges proverty in Fuzhou with loneliness and back-breaking restaurant work in New York City. Meeting Jane Templeton and her adopted Chinese daughter, Lily, seems a stroke of good fortune, especially when she was asked to nanny. But things are not quite what they seem...

Fans of Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land, and National Book Award winner Ha Jin's latest - A Free Life will find Wendy's debut a compelling read.

Wendy Lee is a graduate of Stanford University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program. She lives in New York City.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #120

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society*, a winning debut from the aunt-niece writing team of Mary Ann Shaffer & children's author Annie Barrows is at once "a warm, funny, tender, and thoroughly entertaining celebration of the power of the written word." ~ Library Journal

This novel is presented as an exchange of letters between Juliet Ashten, a Times columnist turned novelist, and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society during the waning days of WWII. Guernsey, a small fishing British island, was occupied by the Germans during the war. Amid privation, war atrocities, Juliet saw the possibility of her next book - an incredible story of a little pig, a missing prisoner of war, the intriguing man who found her name on the flyleaf of a book by Charles Lamb, and a community with secrets and a big heart.

"Reminiscent of 84 Charing Cross Road", readers might also seek out Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl for readalikes. Highly recommended, and a sure bet for book groups. (Also available as an audiobook download)

* = Starred Review

Muffy's note: Mary Ann Shaffer was born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. She died in February 2008, just before the publication of her book.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #119

In Finding Nouf*, young, privileged Nouf disappears just before her wedding. Her wealthy Saudi family first hires desert tracker Nayir al-Sharqi to find her and then to investigate her death discreetly.

Nayir, a conservative Palestinian Muslim finds it difficult to traverse the world of women, especially with Katya Hijazi - an intelligent, insightful female medical examiner, and his unexpected ally in the investigations.

Debut novelist Zoë Ferraris, who has lived in Saudi Arabia, "gets deep inside Nadir’s and Katya’s very different perspectives, giving a fascinating glimpse into the workings and assumptions of Saudi society." As a mystery, it's fairly well-turned, "but it's the characters and setting that sparkle". An utterly gripping read.

* = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #118

A bestseller in Europe, Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key* opens in Paris, July 1942. Thinking she would be home in a few hours, ten year-old Sarah locks her younger brother in their secret hiding place as the police round up Jews for Stadium Vlodrome d'Hiver, en route to Auschwitz.

Sixty years later, American journalist Julia Jarmond is in Paris to investigate the round-up and stumbles onto a trail of family secrets that link her to Sarah.

Book groups all over the world have posted their discussion questions at the Sarah's Key blog site to share. The film rights have been sold to French producer Stéphane Marsil.

Tatiana de Rosnay writes for French ELLE. Since 1992, she has published eight novels in French. Sarah's Key is the first written in English.

This "shocking, profoundly moving, and morally challenging story" is highly recommended for book groups that have enjoyed Suite Française. For information on this time period, try Vichy France and the Jews.

* = Starred Reviews

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

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