Fabulous Fiction Firsts #130

In 1348 England, as the plague ravages England, nine desperate strangers attempt to outrun the Black Death, revealing their individual stories as they travel away from the devastation, but one among them is hiding a far more sinister secret.

"British author Karen Maitland makes her U.S. debut with Company of Liars that tips its hat deeply to Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. "Executed with stunning skill and precision, her medieval world is full of the fantasy and mystery you'd expect from the genre — but it also parallels our own culture more than we might expect."

"Decidedly not your English teacher's Chaucer, but creepy, suspenseful, fun", with a "gasp-out-loud finale". English majors and historical mystery fans are not going to want to miss this one! And you would want to watch for FFF #131 !

Fiction Firsts #129

The Jewel of Medina (copies on order) will be released in early October in the United States ahead of schedule by Beaufort Books. This fictional account of the life of Aisha, a wife of the Prophet Muhammad was originally to be published in August by Random House but was dropped after University of Texas Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies Denise Spellberg warned the publisher the book would incite violence by Muslim extremists.

Born Aisha bint Abi Bakr in 7th century Saudi Arabia, Aisha would become one of the most revered women in the Muslim faith. "Extensively researched and elegantly crafted, The Jewel presents the beauty and harsh realities of life in an age long past, during a time of war, enlightenment, and upheaval".

Late last week, the north London home of the UK publisher of The Jewel - Gibson Square was firebombed in what is being treated as a terrorist attack. Read more about the Medina controversy.

Award-winning journalist Sherry Jones is currently the Montana and Idaho correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs and correspondent for Women's e-News. This is her first novel.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #128

The Black Tower* is a FFF of a different sort. This is not Louis Bayard's first novel. It is not even his first historical novel.

The mystery behind the identity and survival of a man-child who might be the lost son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette fuels this rich, layered and energetic historical, and introduces to mystery readers Eugene Francois Vidocq, a colorful, resourceful and notorious criminal who became the world's first modern detective.

In real life, Vidocq, a fugitive from French justice before offering his services as a police spy and informer, was later named the first chief of the Sûreté. He was credited with:

a. being the first to introduce record keeping, criminalistics, and the science of ballistics into police work;
b. the first to make plaster-of-paris casts of foot/shoe impressions;
c. the first to patent indelible ink and unalterable bond paper;
d. founding the first modern detective agency and credit bureau.

Cleverly weaving historical details with conspiracies; webs of murders and intrigue with humor and heart; real-life as well as fictional characters; this intelligent and engaging thriller will keep you guessing after the last page is turned.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #127

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo* is the hot Swedish thriller (with 5.5 million copies sold across Europe) that features "one of the most original heroines to come along in years" - a young, prickly tattooed computer hacker, who teams up with an embattled and discredited journalist facing a jail term, to investigate the disappearance of an heiress 40 years ago. Talk about a cold case!!!

Debut novelist Steig Larsson who died of a heart attack in 2004, was an investigative journalist. Girl, (originally published as Män som hatar kvinnor = Men Who Hate Women) is the first of a 3-part series. Highly recommended. Readers might also like to check out another FFF Nordic mystery Redbreast by Jo Nesbo.

* = Starred Reviews

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

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