Fabulous Fiction Firsts #413 - Girls Rule

Actress Dagmara Dominczyk recently shared in a New York Times interview that "Those who know me know I love to write. Those who know me a little bit know I’m an actress. Those who don’t know me know I’m married to Patrick Wilson.”

In her debut novel The Lullaby of Polish Girls * the narrative follows the friendship of three women from their youthful days in Poland at the height of the Solidarity movement, to their complicated, not-quite-successful adult lives.

Anna and her parents lived among the Brooklyn immigrant community as political refugees. At twelve, she is sent back to Kielce to visit her grandmother, and over subsequent summers, develops intense friendships with two local girls - the ”brash and beautiful Justyna and desperately awkward Kamila. Told in alternate voices, it captures the joys and insecurities of coming-of-age, and the more heartbreaking struggles of hardship, marriage, and identity in womanhood.

Partly set in the Polish enclave of Wyandotte, Michigan, the film rights to this cinematic story has been sold. Let's hope they will film on location. Recommended for fans of Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook, and other modern novels of the expatriate experience in America. For a charming tale of growing up in a Polish American household, try Suzanne Strempek Shea's Hoopi Shoopi Donna.

Anne-Marie Casey, a former script editor and producer of prime-time British television drama delights readers on both sides of the Atlantic with her debut novel No One Could Have Guessed the Weather. (Released as An Englishwoman in New York across the pond).

Forced to give up her posh life and move to a tiny Manhattan apartment when her husband loses his job, Lucy unexpectedly falls in love with her new home and forges close friendships with three women who are also struggling with the disparities between the ambitions of their youth and middle age.

Inspired by her time living in Manhattan, "it's spot-on observant, laugh-out-loud funny, yet laced with kindness through and through."

"(S)ubversively charming". "Each chapter feels like a well-composed short story, and the collected whole is fresh and bright with characters that defy expectations. Clever and witty: the best kind of summer book."

A readalike for Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters, and the latest by Elizabeth Berg - Tapestry of Fortunes.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #412

Big Girl Panties * by Stephanie Evanovich is one of the most anticipated debut this summer. Being released this coming week, it won't surprise me to see it hit every bestseller list and as many sand chairs.

In this contemporary take on My Fair Lady meets The Biggest Loser, recently widowed Holly Brennan, 32, is seriously afraid of flying. Logan Montgomery is seriously hoping she won't sit down on the seat next to him on a flight from Toronto where he has just finished a personal training session with one of his superstar athlete clients.

Well, you guessed it. Holly is mortified having to wedge her sweaty obese self into the coach seat next to this gorgeous Adonis while Logan is surprised to find he is actually charmed by Holly's sharp wit after the initial chagrin. In a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, Logan offers to get her back in shape. Before either of them can stop it, the easy intimacy of their training sessions leads to even more steamy workouts away from the gym. But can a man whose whole life depends on looks commit himself to a woman who doesn't fit his ideal? A "chubby- cherub" who will never see a single-digit dress size? Or would the "ugly duckling" have a few wise tricks up her fluffy boa (wink wink) for the "swan"?

A rollicking, sensuous, feel-good romantic comedy that takes on the issues of body image, eating disorder, self-acceptance and actualization.

"Quality writing, memorable characters, hot sex scenes, and an emotionally satisfying story add up to a marvelous gem".

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #411

Estranged from her bohemian Brooklyn family and fired for an impropriety at work, Claudia Silver is officially in over her head. When her younger half-sister lands on her doorstep urgently in need of help, twenty-something Claudia desperately wants to offer the rescue that she herself has longed for.

Set in 1990s' New York City, Claudia Silver to the Rescue * " is the fierce yet tender chronicle of the many humiliations and occasional triumphs of a young woman determined to wrest her identity from the spectacular wreckage of her mistake. Uncomfortably hilarious, quintessentially human, Claudia is an unforgettable heroine who shoots for the stars and hits the ceiling."

This debut by television screenwriter Kathy Ebel (Cold Case; Law & Order), is a "smart and savvy chick lit with plenty of snark".

"Ebel exploits her experience as a screenwriter and poet in this lively debut novel. Claudia's dry wit and discerning eye turn what could be a rather mopey coming-of-age tale into a hilarious roller coaster of a ride. Quirks and vexations for each supporting character enrich every scene. Claudia sees quite clearly the price of her own actions, and her goal is survival. Well, with a little fun along the way. Family may be unstable and downright unbalanced, but in this witty, assured, surprising novel, family still has to accept you--mistakes and all."

Readalikes:
How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler; Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster; and The Smart One by Jennifer Close

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #410

Out of Range * by the creator, writer, and producer of the award-winning hit TV series Without a Trace Hank Steinberg is an action-packed, international espionage thriller that brings to mind Rules of Deception (2008) by Christopher Reich, and last year's sensation The Expats,

Photojournalist Charlie Davis traded dangerous assignments in the world's most volatile areas for a sedentary job at the LA Times and suburban comfort. Six year after a near-fatal attack that almost killed his activist wife Julie and their unborn child, he is certain that he had made the right decision.

Then on a trip to Disneyland with their 2 young children, Julie vanishes. As Charlie soon discovers, this isn't a random abduction. The further he goes to find her, the more it becomes clear that Julie isn't quite the person she seems to be, harboring dark secrets that have come back to terrorize them all.

"Hank Steinberg has crafted a scintillating tale of betrayal and revenge, mystery and marriage, a complex puzzle full of twisting misdirection that will enthrall until its final, electrifying pages". Recommend this to fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Unger.

"Good backstory, original characterization, and a cinematic prose style add up to an exciting read".

* = starred review

(Celebrity) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #409

Lauren Graham (BA, Barnard and MFA, SMU) is better known for her roles on the hit TV series The Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. Her debut novel Someday, Someday, Maybe is a witty, charming, and hilariously relatable chronicle about a struggling young actress trying to get ahead and keep it together in New York City.

Franny Banks is coming up against the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway. Other than some bit parts and commercials, waiting tables at a comedy club is all she has to show for. With a dwindling bank account and pressure from her father to move home, everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she'll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. That is if she won't be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is "a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It's about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job".

In Montaro Caine, Sidney Poitier's debut, a baby is born with a coin in her hand. An orphan crafts a mysterious wooden object. Montaro Caine, the CEO of Fitzer Corporation finds himself under extraordinary pressure at work and at home. And on a remote hilltop on a Caribbean island, a medicine man seems to understand the meaning of all these events and to hold the key to the future.

When a man and woman appear at his office with a coin of unknown provenance, composed of a metal unknown on Earth. Montaro immediately recognizes it as the companion of a coin he analyzed as a graduate student working in a lab at MIT. Drawing attention from scientists, collectors, financiers, and thieves while Montaro himself hopes that the discovery of the coin will save his company.

"Sidney Poitier (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) takes us on a wild and unexpected adventure from New York to Europe to the Caribbean and beyond, and offers a heartfelt message about the potential each of us has within ourselves, and about being open to the possibility that there are mysteries in the universe. An enthralling journey into the magic of existence, Montaro Caine is a radiant debut from an American legend".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #408

10 years in the making, Hawk Quest * by Robert Lyndon is an epic adventure set in the aftermath of the Norman conquest.

In 1072, the world is at war, hunger and disease are widespread. Sir Walter is held captive by Süleyman, the emir of Anatolia (now Turkey). The ransom: four pure-white gyrfalcons. In medieval England, the price of a gyrfalcon is roughly equivalent to half of the yearly income of a knight, and a monarch's expense to send a ship to Norway to buy a falcon could have bought 250 cows, or 1200 sheep, or paid for 50 peasant workers for a year.

Vallon, a Frankish soldier of fortune with reasons of his own, accepts the seemingly impossible task of capturing four gyrfalcons. The journey takes his motley crew from England to Iceland, Greenland (home of the gyrfalcons), and on to Russia and Anatolia, pitting them against Arctic seas, Viking warlords and other formidable challenges.

"...first-novelist Lyndon never loses control of his material, mixing fascinating descriptions of the inhospitable landscape with full-bodied portrayals of the principal characters (including a bit of romance), all the while ratcheting the tension and sense of danger to ever-higher levels".

"...utterly engrossing", teeming with historically accurate details of medieval warfare and falconry, from an author who is himself a lifelong falconer, a climber and traveler to exotic places. For fans of Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt, Robyn Young's Brethren, and Conn Iggulden's Conqueror Series.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #407

"Take a dollop of Alfred Hitchcock, a dollop of Patricia Highsmith, throw in some Great Gatsby flourishes, and the result is Suzanne Rinde's debut - The Other Typist, a pitch-black comedy about a police stenographer accused of murder in 1920s Manhattan.... A deliciously addictive, cinematically influenced page-turner, both comic and provocative." Now, who could resist that?

1924 Manhattan. Rose Baker, the recorder of confessions and transgressions of all sorts, is a typist in a Lower East Side precinct of the Police Department, and considers herself to be an astute judge of character. Raised by nun and seemingly destined for the solitary life of a boardinghouse, she comes under the spell of glamorous Odalie Lazare, the new girl in the typing pool who represents the epitome of the new era of relaxed mores and life on the fast lane. Soon Rose is drawn into the sparkling underworld of speakeasies, bootleggers, and elegant house parties.

It is at one such house parties that a young man turns up dead after approaching Odalie, and Rose no longer could ignore the mystery that is her friend.

"With hints toward The Great Gatsby, Rindell's novel aspires to re-create Prohibition-era New York City, both its opulence and its squalid underbelly. She captures it quite well, while at the same time spinning a delicate and suspenseful narrative about false friendship, obsession, and life for single women in New York during Prohibition."

A notable addition to the pantheon of unreliable narrators, joining the likes of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Equally sensational and tantalizing, and set in the same era is Ron Hansen's A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, based on a true story of the affair between Ruth Brown Snyder and undergarment salesman Judd Gray, whose plot to kill Ruth's husband triggers an explosive police investigation.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #406 - The Revisionist

Having spent 10 years in Muncy, Pennsylvania's death row for women, Noa P. Singleton is resigned to the approaching "X" day - her execution for the first-degree double-murder of Sarah Dixon and her unborn child. She will be the first to acknowledge her guilt which also explains why she slept through the trial and blew off any attempt for appeals on her behalf. What she does not expect is a visit from Marlene Dixon, the high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the heartbroken mother of Noa's victim. It appears that Marlene has a change to heart about the death penalty and offers to help Noa petition for clemency.

Elizabeth L. Silver's (JD, Temple University) debut The Execution of Noa P. Singleton * is a "darkly witty, acerbic jigsaw puzzle about legal versus moral culpability". Neither Noa nor Marlene would win any popularity contest. Noa is a smart (she turned down Princeton), complicated and manipulative underachiever, while Marlene is a dominating, judgmental bully with a personal agenda. Long before that fateful day, Noa and Marlene are already inextricably linked through their families and circumstances, and ultimately both play a hand in the tragic outcome.

"This devastating read stands less as a polemic against the death penalty than as a heartbreaking brief for the preciousness of life". Entertainment Weekly gave it an "A-".

Read-alike: Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Dinner by Herman Koch.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #405

Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls* * * * by Anton DiSclafani is a lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls-school rituals, set in the 1930s, and it does not disappoint (and easily one of the best books I've read this year).

15 year-old Thea Atwell is sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, an exclusive equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The part that she played in the event that shattered her family and her privileged world is never clear though her guilt is palpable. Having been home schooled on the family's Florida citrus plantation, navigating the school's complex social order based on wealth, beauty and friendships is both exhilarating and challenging. Beautiful, observant, and a good rider, Thea soon finds a new sense of power which eventually proves her undoing.

The narrative weaves provocatively between home and school, past and present as the author gradually unfurls the shocking story behind Thea's expulsion from her family and the irreparable damages done. But it is too late for the reader to abandon Thea, for we are so engaged with this young woman who "wanted too much, wanted badly and inappropriately. And back then all that want was a dangerous thing".

"Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner - a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression, and the major debut of an important new writer."

"An unusually accomplished and nuanced coming-of-age drama".

Fearless and willful, Thea will bring to mind Briony Tallis in Atonement by Ian McEwan. An Emory grad (MFA Washington University in St. Louis where she now teaches), and a seasoned rider, Anton DiSclafani grew up in Northern Florida. Yonahlossee will appeal to fans of Curtis Sittenfeld and Lauren Groff.

* * * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #404

Peggy Blair, a Canadian attorney-turn-novelist opens what we anticipate to be a superb series with The Beggar's Opera *, winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice award.

On Christmas morning Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit was called when fishermen found the body of a young boy last seen begging on the Malecon, and the sore subject of a heated argument between visiting Canadian policeman Mike Ellis and his estranged wife. With his wallet in the pocket of the dead boy, Ellis became the prime suspect. But Ramirez only have 72 hours to prove his case while dealing with a form of dementia, when the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved cases haunt his every step.

"The Beggar's Opera exposes the bureaucracy, corruption, and beauty of Hemingway's Havana".

The Caretaker * * by A.X. Ahmad opens Christmas week on Martha's Vineyard. With most of the summer folks gone, Ranjit Singh, a landscaper is lucky to get work as caretaker for Senator Neal's home, and saves him from crawling back to Boston to work as a grocery clerk. A broken furnace forces him to move his family into the Senator's house until 2 armed men break in, searching for something hidden among the Senator's antiqued doll collection. Forced to flee, Ranjit is pursued and hunted by unknown forces, and becomes drawn into the Senator's shadowy world. As the past and present collide, Ranjit must finally confront the hidden event that destroyed his Army career and forced him to leave India.

"Tightly plotted, action-packed, smart and surprisingly moving, The Caretaker takes us from the desperate world of migrant workers to the elite African-American community of Martha's Vineyard, and a secret high-altitude war between India and Pakistan".

"Beyond the masterfully crafted, high-adrenaline story, readers will be fascinated by Ranjit's strong Sikh faith, rarely seen in American fiction".

"Top-notch effort in the first of a promising trilogy".

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

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