Fabulous Fiction Firsts #476 - "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." ~ Nelson Mandela

Long-time NPR feature reporter Martha Woodroof's debut novel Small Blessings * is one of August 2014 Indie Next Great Reads.

Tom Putnum, an English professor at a small Virginia college is resigned to a quiet hollow life, filling his days teaching Shakespeare and caring for the emotionally fragile Marjory, his wife who is a virtual shut-in. Then within a matter of days, Tom's life is upended. Twice.

Marjory is killed in a car accident and Tom learns that he has a son, product of a brief affair with a visiting poet a decade ago. Now the boy, Henry is on a train heading to live with Tom. When young Henry arrives, it's immediately clear that Tom can't possibly be his biological father, never mind his name is on the birth certificate. Even more inexplicable is the half a million dollars stashed in Henry's backpack.

Amid funeral plans, Tom and Agnes, his feisty mother-in-law, begin to make a home for Henry, with help from Rose Callahan, a charming young woman and a newcomer in town whom Tom and Marjory have befriended.

"A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined."

Four distinct voices narrate the story in Laura McBride's debut novel We Are Called to Rise * (the title taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson) - 8 year old Bashkim, the son of Muslim immigrants from Albania ill prepared for American life; 50-something Avis whose troubled marriage is compounded by her son's abusive behavior after three tours of duty in Iraq; Roberta, a seasoned court-appointed advocate for children; and Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes - injured and traumatized after losing his best friend in Afghanistan. In a single moment, these disparate lives intersect. Faced with seemingly insurmountable loss, each person must decide whether to give in to despair, or to find the courage and resilience to rise.

Set in a Las Vegas rarely experienced by tourists, it is a story about families - the ones we have and the ones we make. "It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to each other and reminds us that compassion and charity can rescue us, even in our darkest moment."

For those who enjoyed Blessings by Anna Quindlen; Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens; Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts; and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #475 - “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~ Rumi

It seems to the world that 27 year-old Holly Jefferson is finally getting back on her feet, running her bakery, Cake after losing her husband in a tragic accident almost 2 years ago, never mind that she has trouble sleeping and has no social life to speak of. The commission of a bizarre cake brings Holly into the path of Ciaran Argyll - charming, privilege, incredibly handsome, and totally out of her league. But she has to admit - sparks fly.

Since You've Been Gone British author Anouska Knight's debut, "offers up a poignant look at grief and how it can serve to inspire or cripple us in equal measure."

"The perfect summer read: warm, sexy and addictive. " ~ Jenny Colgan

In Kim Wright's The Unexpected Waltz,, Kelly, a 52-year-old wealthy widow accidentally stumbles into a dance studio where she impulsively signs up for introductory ballroom-dancing lessons, and quickly becomes drawn to the studio's colorful students and instructors. Meanwhile, her volunteer work brings her into contact with a young cancer patient who challenges Kelly to embrace her new experiences.

"(Wright) expertly guides us through a moving, layered, and lyrical exploration of transformation."

A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier. Approaching the one-year anniversary of Henry Munroe's death, his family is still struggling to adjust. His wife Jeannie mourns their failed marriage more than she does his death. Henry's buxom mistress Evie Cooper has taken up with his brother Larry - divorced, under-employed and unhappily living with his elderly parents. Meanwhile, Henry's teenage son, Chad, is adrift in his grief, turning to drink.

"Sensitive yet witty, Pelletier's wise examination of one of life's most tragic episodes brims with hopeful understanding."

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances by Ellen Cooney. This is the story of two women and a whole pack of dogs who, having lost their way in the world, find a place at the Sanctuary.

24 year-old Evie is clever, evasive, defiant and rebellious. Just out of rehab and utterly alone, she is determined to make a fresh start. So she lies her way to the mountaintop lodge which is home to a canine rescue and rehab center run by a handful of nuns. Never mind that Evie knows nothing about animals, she is a quick and keen learner. Drawn to the challenge, she finally finds the second chance she so desperately craves. In time, she also comes to know Mrs. Auberchon, the stern and defensive caretaker of the inn at the base of the mountain whose icy reserve masks painful secrets.

"Cooney has crafted an uncomplicated, feel-good, canine-filled tale of cross-generational friendship, healing, and solidarity."

No waiting for most of these readalikes:
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen; Return to the Beach House by Georgia Bockoven (a FFF); The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice; and The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #474 - "But mothers lie. It's in the job description.” ~ John Green

Two young women are witnesses to their mothers' murders. One of them might be a killer.

Elizabeth Little, author of 2 nonfiction books knocks it out of the park with Dear Daughter *, an "Agatha Christie meets Kim Kardashian... (a) sharp-edged, tart-tongued, escapist thriller", which Tana French praised as "The best debut mystery I've read in a long time"; and Kate Atkinson called "A really gutsy, clever, energetic read, often unexpected, always entertaining.... In the world of crime novels, Dear Daughter is a breath of fresh air."

After spending 10 years in prison for murdering her mother, former It Girl Janie Jenkins is out on a technicality. Her memory of the night in question is hazy, and there is no love lost between them, but she is determined to chase down the one lead she has on her mother's killer. As Janie makes her way (with a false identity) to an isolated South Dakota town, she discovers that even the sleepiest towns hide sinister secrets, and will stop at nothing to guard them.

On the run from a crime blogger convinced of her guilt, a suspicious police chief, maybe even a murderer, Janie must choose between the anonymity she craves and the truth she so desperately needs.

Set in the frozen tundra of rural Montana, Bone Dust White * is Karin Salvalaggio's literary mystery debut. The insistent pounding on her door brings Grace Adams to her bedroom window where she witnesses a man coming out of the woods, stabbing a woman and leaving her to die on Grace's doorstep. Before help arrives, Grace realizes the victim is her mother, Leanne who disappeared more than a decade before.

A heavily-pregnant Detective Macy Greeley is assigned to the case. She needs to track down the killer and find out what the murder has to do with Grace. But the town of Collier is just as hard-bitten now as it was 11 years ago when Macy worked a still-unsolved grisly sex-trafficking and multiple-homicide case. But no one is talking, least of all Grace, whom Macy believes knows a lot more than she's telling.

"The sharp twists, idiosyncratic characters, and vivid setting should appeal to fans of C. J. Box and Nevada Barr."

"This complicated, peel-away-layers debut procedural intoxicates from the opening page.... Recommend for fans of Archer Mayor, Gwen Florio, and Craig Johnson."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #473

The Miniaturist * by Jessie Burton is the sole debut among LibraryReads Picks for August 2014! And for good reasons.

After a hasty wedding on a brisk autumn day in 1686, 18 yr.-old Nella Oortman arrives at wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt's splendid home on the Herengracht Canal as his new wife. While the much older Brandt is kind but distractedly distant and consumed with the running of his business, his sharp-tongued sister Marin is less than welcoming. Nella is charmed, however, with the extraordinary wedding gift Brandt presents her - a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways.

"In a debut that evokes Old Master interiors and landscapes, British actress Burton (Oxford) depicts a flourishing society built on water and trade, where women struggle to be part of the world. Her empathetic heroine, Nella, endures loneliness and confusion until a sequence of domestic shocks forces her to grow up very quickly."

"Enchanting, beautifully written, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth."

For readers who enjoyed Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland; Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; and The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #472 - "For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love." ~ John Steinbeck

Three noteworthy debuts set against the vast Montana sky, a place "(o)f wide open spaces and lives narrowly, desperately lived at the bitter ends of dirt and gravel roads."

Billings (MT) attorney (Yale Law, Oxford-Rhodes Scholar), Carrie La Seur's debut is "a blend of romance, nostalgia and suspense." The Home Place has been "part of the family for generations, ...built by her great-grandfather and represents to Alma comfort and memories of simpler and happier times." Twelve years after walking away from an accident on an icy Montana road that killed her parents, and left her younger sister Vicki maimed, an unexpected call from the local police draws the successful lawyer Alma Terrebonne back home. Vicky is dead. Whether her death is accidental or not, the lying, party-loving and drug user of a single mother left behind a traumatized daughter. Alma not only comes face to face with cold-hard realities, family secrets, small-town ways, but also her unresolved feelings for Chance Murphy, the high school sweetheart she left behind.

"Walloping in suspense, drama, rage, and remorse, this debut is an accomplished literary novel of the new West."

The #1 pick Indie Next Great Reads for August - Painted Horses * * by Malcolm Brooks captures the grandeur of the American West and prosperity of mid-1950s America.

Catherine Lemay, a young archaeologist is tasked with rescuing any historical artifacts in a Montana canyon ahead of damming and destruction for a hydroelectric project that has divided the locals, including the Crow Indians and others with an interest in the future of the land. Meeting trickery and deception at every turn, she eventually enlisted the help of the Crow girl Miriam, and John H, an artist, a former mustanger who was living a fugitive life in the canyon. When they met, intrigue sparked respect, which eventually flared into passion.

Brooks' themes suggest Jim Harrison or Cormac McCarthy and will remind readers of the great Wallace Stegner.

PEN Literary Award winner Smith Henderson sets his debut Fourth of July Creek * * in the Montana of the late 1970s-early 1980s, and explores "the complexities of freedom, community, grace, suspicion and anarchy, brilliantly depicting our nation's disquieting and violent contradictions."

Tenmile, Montana, impoverish and miles from nowhere, just the place for dedicated social worker Pete Snow who finds solace in its remoteness and plenty of dysfunctional families in need of his services. But he never expects to be a person of interest to the FBI when he takes on the case of Benjamin Pearl, a nearly feral 11-year-old boy, whose father, Jeremiah is a profoundly disturbed, paranoid survivalist.

"First-novelist Henderson not only displays an uncanny sense of place, he clearly knows rural Montana and its impassable roads, its dank bars, its speed freaks and gas huffers; he also creates an incredibly rich cast of characters, from Pete's drunken, knuckle-headed friends to the hard-luck waitress who serves him coffee to the disturbed, love-sick survivalist. Dark, gritty, and oh so good."

These debuts will appeal to fans of Rick Bass, Ivan Doig, and Larry Watson "who writes with ruthless honesty about his characters' stunted dreams, unpredictable emotions and outbursts of senseless violence, showing once again that he understands not only the West but the untamed hearts that have roamed it. "

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #471 - "Knowledge is gained through wisdom, my friend. Use the sword wisely.” ~ Brian Jacques

With swashbuckling action that brings to mind Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers, Sebastien De Castell launches a dynamic new fantasy series with Traitor's Blade *, where a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

The Greatcoats were once the king's elite magistrates, 144 men and women whose mission was to travel the land and uphold the King's Law. But the powerful Dukes overthrew the king and the Greatcoats were scattered and disgraced. Now Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti are reduced to working as bodyguards and mercenaries, jeered by the citizenry as "trattari" - tatter-cloaks, and branded as traitors. Implicated in a carefully orchestrated series of murders (including that of their employer); and the life of a young orphaned girl is at stake, they must search for a way to reunite the Greatcoats, and to restore order to Tristia, with nothing more than the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands.

"This debut is a triumph of character, with every protagonist a fascination, especially Falcio, a tormented and ridiculously honorable man. Humor abounds, mostly in the sparkling dialog among our Three Musketeers-esque band of brothers..." Look for Greatcoat's Lament and Tyrant's Throne, Book 2 and 3 of The Greatcoats series already in the works.

In the meantime, you might enjoy these readalikes:

Gentlemen of the Road * * * (a personal favorite) by Micheal Chabon. In the Caucasus Mountains in 950 A.D., two adventurers wander the region, plying their trade as swords for hire, until they become involved in a bloody coup in the medieval Jewish empire of the Khazars as bodyguards for a fugitive prince. A swashbuckling adventure yarn, along the lines of The Arabian Nights.

Captain Alatriste * by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the first installment of a historical series where wounded 17th c. Spanish soldier Alatriste works as a swordsman-for-hire in Madrid.

* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #470 - All That Jazz

Spectacular debuts, heartbreaking stories and two unforgettable young heroines to cheer for.

Last Night at the Blue Angel * * * by Rebecca Rotert. 10 yr. old Sophia takes up her usual spot behind the curtain as she watches her mother Naomi Hill performs for the last time at Chicago's Blue Angel Jazz Club. After a decade at the past-its-prime night spot, Naomi is finally about to catch her big break after her photo appears on the cover of Look Magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, irresistible and dangerous for those around her, Naomi is fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive, and no one knows this better than Sophia, whose fear dictates that she keeps a watchful eye and a running list of practical objects that must be reinvented in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. The one constant in Sophia's life is Jim, the photographer who is hopelessly in love with the mercurial Naomi, and is about to make her famous.

Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s vibrant Chicago jazz scene, and told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, "Last Night at the Blue Angel is an unforgettable tale about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have."

"(A) highly ambitious and stylish literary debut." Singer and songwriter Rotert's musical background informs Naomi's passion for performance, but it is her heartbreaking portrait of Sophia that will stay with us.

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas * by Marie-Helene Bertino - an enchanting debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters.

Aspiring jazz singer Madeleine Altimari is a jerk (Don't judge me until you've read the book) - smart-mouthed, lice-headed, quick-fisted and a loner by choice. On Christmas Eve Eve, this 9 year old has just been expelled from school and cruel circumstances have denied her one chance to perform at school Mass. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken, drug-addled father, Madeleine doesn't realize that she is about to have the most extraordinary day and night of her life. On the same day, Sarina Greene, Madeleine's 5th grade teacher is having anxiety picking up the pieces after her divorce, and nervously looking forward to a dinner party with her high school chums (and an old crush).

Across town at The Cat's Pajamas, unless he could raise $30,000 in a flash, owner Lorca is about to lose his jazz club, and breaks his promise to let his musically talented, teenage (i.e. underage) son play in the house band. "As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life's endless possibilities over the course of one magical night."

Pushcart Prize and Iowa Short Fiction Award winner "Bertino's characters are spot-on, and her special brand of humor brings each one to life in this fresh and charming tale."

* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Stranger Danger: Sizzling Summer Reads #3 (& Fabulous Fiction Firsts #469)

This bumper crop of debut psychological thrillers would keep you chilled throughout the summer. Alright, this is a long post, but every one of these deserve your attention.

The Good Girl * by Mary Kubica
Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett, the black-sheep daughter of a prominent Chicago judge is taken hostage after a one-night stand. The kidnapper Colin Thatcher, instead of delivering her to his employer for ransom, hides her in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota. Gabe Hoffman, Chicago PD assigned to the case work closely with Eve, Mia's mother, to whom he finds himself increasingly attracted to. When eventually recovered, Mia has little memory of what happened to her.

"Kubica's debut thriller builds suspense steadily and will have readers guessing what's really going on until the final pages." It brings to mind Chevy Steven's smashing debut Still Missing.

From the author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thrillers, One Kick * is the first in a nail-biting new series featuring 21 yr.-old Kick Lannigan, famously kidnapped when she was six, and rescued five years later. To add to her skill set (marksman, lock picker, escape artist and bomb maker) learned in captivity, Kick trained herself to be safe. When two children go missing in the Portland area, and an enigmatic and wealthy former weapons dealer approaches her with a proposition, Kick is set to be the crusader she has always imagined herself.

"A heart-stopping, entertaining thrill ride." Kick will remind readers of Lisbeth Salander as in The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Drawing on her own grandmother's experiences Elizabeth is Missing * by British Emma Healey, is a sophisticated psychological mystery. Maud Horsham will be the first to admit that her memory these days is shaky at best but she knows her best friend is missing and in serious danger. But no one will believe her - not her daughter and not the police. So Maud writes everything down, to help her remember clues about her missing friend, and she also writes down how she is treated. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

"Part mystery, part meditation on memory, part Dickensian revelation of how apparent charity may hurt its recipients, this is altogether brilliant." "Fans of Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind and S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep (both FFF) will find much to love here."

An international bestseller and winner of France's prestigious Prix du Quai des Orfèvres prize for best crime fiction, The 7th Woman : a Paris homicide novel by Frédérique Molay is the first of her novels to be translated into English (also available in French in our World Language Collection).

Nico Sirsky, head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division, known as "La Brigade Criminelle," or "La Crim", and his team of elite detectives race against the clock to solve the murders of a series of young women, all of whom opened their doors to the killer who announces his intention to kill seven women in as many days. To put added pressure on Sirsky, the killer begins to stalk those closest to him.

This series introduces to police procedural fans an endearingly tortured, hardheaded and romantic cop in the vein of Harry Bosch and John Rebus.

An Untamed State * * *, a debut by Roxane Gay is the harrowing tale of a Miami woman's ordeal of her kidnapping during a visit to her native Haiti. Beaten and sexually assaulted, she was held for 13 days while her father, a wealthy businessman, refused to pay the ransom.

"Gay's depiction of Mireille's emotional trauma after her release is particularly intense, precisely capturing her alienation from her own identity that followed the kidnapping and the self-destruction that spilled out of her sense of disconnection... Among the strongest achievements of this novel is that Mireille's story feels complete and whole while emphasizing its essential brokenness. A cutting and resonant debut."

Veteran journalist (the Washington Post) Neely Tucker dazzles with a fast-paced, newsroom investigative journalism in The Ways of the Dead * *, the first in a projected crime series that is based on the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders.

When the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C., judge is found dead, three local black kids are arrested for her murder, but reporter Sully Carter suspects there's more to the case. From the city's grittiest backstreets to the elegant halls of power, Sully pursues a string of cold cases, all the while fighting against pressure from government officials, police, suspicious locals, and his own bosses at the newspaper.

A "wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media."

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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #468 - " ...the rich cargo, Congealed in the dark arteries" ~ Mervyn Peake

Two debut novels set in rural northeastern Pennsylvania.

Dry Bones in the Valley * * * by Tom Bouman

After losing his wife, a bereaved Henry Farrell returns to Wild Thyme Township in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, looking to spend his mornings hunting and fishing and his evenings playing music. As the lone policeman in "a landscape wracked by fracking, poverty, meth, and a general mistrust of authority", it falls to him to investigate when the body of a young man is found in the woods owned by a reclusive old codger, and his deputy George Ellis shot dead in his car. All before Henry literally stumbles over an ancient grave that might hold the answer to the current crime spree.

First in a projected 4-book series, "Bouman's debut shows rural noir at its finest: a poetically written mystery about a man struggling with his inner demons and an area of great natural beauty few had heard of before the natural gas boom." For fans of Craig Johnson, Julia Keller, and Wiley Cash.

In The Hollow Ground by award-winning debut novelist Natalie Harnett, underground mine fires forces 11 year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents.

Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest. When Brigid makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.

Inspired by the 1960s infamous Centralia coal mine fires, and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. "Not since To Kill a Mockingbird has a young character been so heartbreakingly captivating."

"A powerful story of love and survival. "

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #467: "And, too ignorant to be scared, too young to be awed, ...” ~ Neil Gaiman, Stardust

Three fable-like tales of awesome, irrepressible young protagonists from far-flung corners of the world - they will make you laugh, move you to tears, and inspire you to “Do one thing every day that scares you.” (~ Eleanor Roosevelt)

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden * by Jonas Jonasson, a "funny and completely implausible farce about a woman, a bomb and a man's frustrated ambition to overthrow the King of Sweden."

14-year-old latrine cleaner Nombeko Mayeki is exceptionally good at her job but she has grander plans. Cunning and fearless, she blackmails a sleazy criminal into teaching her how to read and write, and gets herself out of apartheid-era Soweto as a housemaid to a nuclear engineer, an incompetent fool who intends to send the Israeli Mossad a 1,700-pound atomic bomb. After a series of mishaps, Nombeko is forced to cart the bomb around Sweden, trying to prevent an idiot anarchist from blowing up the king.

"In this wild romp, Jonasson tackles issues ranging from the pervasiveness of racism to the dangers of absolute power while telling a charming and hilarious story along the way. In the satiriical voice that has earned him legions of fans the world over, Jonasson gives us another rollicking tale of how even the smallest of decisions can have sweeping, even global consequences."

"Beautifully written, filled with detailed prose meant to be savored," The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla, is "a captivating reminder of the blurred line between myth and reality. "

Born in Sweetwater, West Virginia with a mop of flaming red hair and port-wine stains on every surface of her body, Garnet Ferrari's sharp tongue serves her well against bullies and aggressors but powerless against legions of pilgrims camping outside her hilltop home, convinced she is a healer and maker of miracles.

Now the Vatican has sent Father Archibald Gormley, an emissary to investigate. "With its irresistible and irreverent blend of Southern Gothic and Sicilian "malocchio," a lush, exuberant tale of a reluctant saint, her unforgettable family, and the myriad difficulties (some real, some imagined) we all face when it comes to loving and being loved."

"(C)lever, funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, all at once."

Chaplin & Company by Mave Fellowes - a FFF for this UK author who herself had lived along the London canals.

18 yr.-old Odeline Milk packs up her worldly goods and heads for London, to pursue her single-minded dream of becoming, of all things, a great mime. With the small inheritance left by her mother, she buys sight-unseen, Chaplin and Company, a longboat moored at the canal neighborhood of Little Venice.

There she stumbles upon a peculiar underbelly of the city, full of marginalized, eccentric figures with whom she begins to form unpredictable alliances. Little by little she finds herself an essential part of this community of outsiders, discovers the value of companionship and, more important, the depths of her own courage.

"An endearing and surprisingly steely debut that paints the bizarre and the ordinary with equal sincerity, Chaplin & Company is a novel that reveals beauty in the most unlikely of places."

* = starred review

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