Fabulous Fiction Firsts #436 - “Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.” ~Truman Capote

Just released to great anticipation is P.S. Duffy's debut The Cartographer of No Man's Land * *.

When his beloved brother-in-law Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus MacGrath, a ship's captain in hardscrabble Snag Harbor, Nova Scotia, puts aside his pacifist upbringing to join the war, in order to find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly to the front. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief.

"Duffy's astounding first novel depicts terrifyingly real battle scenes, rich in subtle details, displaying the intimacies shared among soldiers and the memories that haunt them."

" (T)he world of shipping and the uncertainty of the uncharted front line provide poignant metaphors for the characters' navigation of conflict, loss, and change, as well as their journey back to each other— and to themselves.".

A Baltimore native and a science writer for the Mayo Clinic, Duffy spent summers sailing in Nova Scotia.

Coming out shortly is Canadian journalist and novelist Brian W. Payton's The Wind is Not a River * *. The reader is treated to a little-known aspect of World War II, one that the U.S. government at the time, took great pains to keep from the public eye.

Desperate to understand the war that claimed the life of his younger brother Warren, journalist John Easley headed to the Territory of Alaska to investigate the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. In April 1943, he was shot down in a seaplane just off the remote and barren island of Attu. He and the only other survivor - a young Texan aviator named Karl Bitburg, battled the elements, starvation while trying to evade capture by the 2,000 Japaneses soldiers.

In the mean time, 3000 miles south in Seattle, John's wife Helen, resolved to search for her missing husband and to bring him home, signed on with the USO troupe to entertain the troops in Alaska as a dancer/performer.

"Payton has delivered a richly detailed, vividly resonant chronicle of war's effect on ordinary people's lives."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #435 - “Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.” ~Anaïs Nin

Already a runaway bestseller in the UK, a former nurse, marriage counselor & journalist Hilary Boyd's debut novel Thursdays in the Park will please readers this side of the pond.

Jeanie Lawson is about to turn 60. She owns a successful health food market in London, enjoys her nights outs with friends, and looks forward to her playdate with her beloved granddaughter Ellie every Thursday at the park, rain or shine. She could almost call life perfect if not for the pain and bewilderment caused by the decade-long abandonment of the marital bed by her husband George. Adding insult to injury, George is now pressuring Jeanie to retire and move to the country.

Then one day at the park, she meets Ray - an age-appropriate, kind-hearted, easygoing, and downright sexy grandfather. As her relationship with Ray blossoms and she begins to think that her life might hold in store a bold second act, she is not sure she has the courage to take charge of her life.

"A warm, tender novel about a woman finally finding a place of her own." " (A) mostly successful exploration of second chances and love at any age."

For fans who enjoyed Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand; Jeanne Ray's Julie and Romeo; and the poignant Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown where a 55 year-old shy, unassuming postmaster and confirmed bachelor receives the shock of a lifetime: he falls in love!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #434

Conceived as an homage to his favorite author P.G. Wodehouse, Sebastian Faulks' Jeeves and the Wedding Bells * * * is the first new novel in nearly forty years to bring a welcomed return of Bertie Wooster and his unflappable valet Jeeves.

For almost 60 years, P.G. Wodehouse documented the lives of the inimitable Jeeves and Wooster, and built himself a devoted following. In the new episode, Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgiana Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to “help” his old friend Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. Almost immediately, things go awry and the simple plan quickly becomes complicated. Thanks to Bertie, the situation could only get more hilarious and convoluted.

"(This) P. G. poseur gets the plot right, but what about the all-important patter, the Bertie-isms and the priceless Bertie-Jeeves dialogue duets? But Faulksie nails it again, evoking rather than imitating, but doing so in perfect pitch." It proves that the Wodehouse estate chose well in authorizing Faulk to pen the first new Jeeves and Wooster novel since 1974.

A good excuse to revisit the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of the original series, and to introduce a whole new generation to some of the finest British television comedies.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #433 - Booklist Top 10 of the Year

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
Trying to keep the death of their parents a secret, Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own until several residents in Glasgow's Hazelhurst housing estate suspect that something is not right.

Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood
Paul Graves and his family face the resentment of their small town community as it struggles to rebuild following a devastating tornado that left the Graves' home and business unscathed.

Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney
After inadvertently causing a fire in his neighborhood that kills a young wife and devastates the lives of others, Henry forces relationships with the people whose lives he has destroyed.

Golden boy by Abigail Tarttelin
Presenting themselves to the world as an effortlessly excellent family, successful criminal lawyer Karen, her Parliament candidate husband, and her intelligent athlete son, Max, find their world crumbling in the wake of a friend's betrayal and the secret about Max's intersexual identity.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
The residents at a facility for disabled young people in Chicago build trust and make friends in an effort to fight against their living conditions and mistreatment. Winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed
Explores the consequences of fame as experienced by the family members of an A-list Hollywood celebrity, including his grown children, who long for authenticity in a world where they are regarded as less-important extensions of their father.

Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano
Using the a deck of Loteria cards as her muse, 11-year-old Luz Castillo, a ward of the state who has retreated into silence, finds each shuffle sparking a random memory that, pieced together, brings into focus the joy and pain of her life and the events that led to her present situation.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Traces the story of Great Migration-era mother Hattie Shepherd, who in spite of poverty and a dysfunctional husband uses love and Southern remedies to raise nine children and prepare them for the realities of a harsh world.

The Panoptico by Jenni Fagan. See blog.

Snapper by Brian Kimberling. See blog.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #432 - “The ache for home lives in all of us..." ~ Maya Angelou, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

When The HomeSweetHome network (think HGTV) announces that Janine Brown of Davenport, Iowa, is the big winner of its Free House Sweepstakes, two women think themselves the new owner of a gorgeous, fully loaded dream home in Maine. Janine "Janey" Brown sees it as yet another of her Aunt Midge's harebrained scheme to get her out of her funk while across town, Janine "Nean" Brown sees it as an escape from the latest in her revolving door of crappy jobs and drunk boyfriends.

As both women head for Christmas Cove, Maine, to claim the prize they both rightfully think is theirs, their lives and personalities intersect. They discover that more than just a million-dollar dream home awaits them.

Kelly Harms's The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane an "enchanting and heartfelt debut, is a testament to the many, many ways love finds us, the power of a home-cooked meal, and just what it means to be lucky."

"Set in small-town Maine, this first novel is a story of rebuilding, recovery, and renewal. Harms has created two incredibly likable heroines, allowing the strengths of one woman to bolster the weaknesses of the other."

"A perfect recipe of clever, quirky, poignant and fun make this a delightful debut. "

Here are some readalikes:

Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins. Parker Welles, a single mother whose family has just lost everything, finds love in an unexpected place when she travels to Maine to sell her lone possession, a decrepit house in need of repair.

Eggshell Days by Rebecca Gregson. Escaping a terrible rail crash after missing the ill-fated train, three friends opt to move to a ramshackle Cornwall manor and uncover a dangerous and closely guarded secret that tests their friendships.

The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews. A sassy, sexy, sometimes poignant look at small town Southern life. Reluctantly accepting help to refurbish an inherited Georgia family home after losing her public relations job, Dempsey Jo Killebrew is overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, which is further hampered by a cantankerous squatter.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #431 - "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind..." ~ William Shakespeare

When the tough reviewers at Kirkus give a debut rom-com a starred review, you take notice. When every other major professional journal follows suit, you just have to dive in. And what a lark! Can't tell you how much I enjoyed Australian Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project * * * * which won the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

A Genetics prof. at a Melbourne university, Don Tillman, socially awkward and emotionally challenged (all signs point to Asperger's, but you did not hear it from me) is looking for the perfect wife. He places his faith in the scientific instrument, a 16-page questionnaire he designs to weed out the unsuitable choices - the smokers, vegetarians, and the tardys. Barmaid Rosie Jarman is all these things but she is also beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. While Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, he is more than willing to risk it all for a wildly impossible project of her own.

"Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, The Rosie Project will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges." One reviewer suggests that it will appeal to fans of the The Big Bang Theory, and fellow Aussie Toni Jordan's Addition (2009), with its math-obsessed, quirky heroine.

In Ramsey Hootman's engaging debut Courting Greta * Samuel, a shy and withdrawn former dot.com exec. is now teaching at Healdsburg High School. Between navigating ancient equipment, lesson plans, student culture and his physical handicap, he falls hard for the school's middle-aged tomboy gym teacher Greta Cassamajor (think Sue Sylvester), and discovers that change can come from unexpected places.

"In this poignant, witty debut, Ramsey Hootman upends traditional romance tropes to weave a charming tale of perseverance, trust, and slightly conditional love." For fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and Matthew Quirk's Silver Linings Playbook.

* * * * = 4 starred reviews
* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #430 - “War doesn't negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace." ~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Architect Charles Belfoure - "an up and coming Ken Follett." (Booklist) impresses with his debut - The Paris Architect *.

1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard took on a lucrative but dangerous commission to design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jew. It was to be so invisible that the most determined German officer wouldn't find; a challenge he could not resist to outwit the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city.

When one careless mistake resulted in tragedy, Lucien saw the plight of the Jews through new eyes, and the commission took on new meaning.

"Belfoure's portrayal of Vichy France is both disturbing and captivating, and his beautiful tale demonstrates that while human beings are capable of great atrocities, they have a capacity for tremendous acts of courage as well." "Heart, reluctant heroism, and art blend together in this spine-chilling page-turner."

Loosely based on British author Rhidian Brook's family history, The Aftermath is the emotionally riveting story of two families, one house, and love grown from hate.

Having been appointed Governor of Pinneberg, Bristish Army Col. Lewis Morgan was charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Hamburg devastated by Allied bombing. He was to station his family in a grand house on the River Elbe. Rather than forcing its owner to vacate, Lewis insisted that the two families would share the house.

In this charged atmosphere, exacerbated by domestic stress and war-related bitterness and grief, German architect Stefan Lubert and his teenage daughter, Freda, Lewis, his wife Rachel and their surviving son Edmund were forced to confront their true selves, navigating between desires, loyalties, and the transforming power of forgiveness.

For fans of Sadie Jones' Small Wars and other historical fiction that deals with the complexity of war. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies; and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer immediately came to mind.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #429 - "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once" ~ Stephen King

The Bookman's Tale : a novel of obsession by Charlie Lovett is set in Hay-on-Wy where the antiquarian bookseller/restorer Peter Byerly relocates after the death of his wife, Amanda. While casually browsing in a bookshop, a portrait of Amanda stumbles out of an 18th-century study of Shakespeare forgeries. Of course, it isn't really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture's origins. In the process, he learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

"(A) sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature's most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession: a romance."

"Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett (bio.) has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end.

"A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment." Shakespeare aficionados might further their excursion with Jennifer Lee Carrell and her Shakespearean scholar-turned-theater-director Kate Stanley thriller series.

I am totally captivated with Mark Pryor's The Bookseller : the first Hugo Marston novel (in BOCD). Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris is at loose ends. Contemplating a visit stateside to his estranged wife, he purchases a gift for her from his friend Max, an elderly bouquinistes. When Max is abducted in broad daylight, Martston looks on powerlessly to intervene. The police is uninterested, calling it a hoax but it piqued the interest of Claudia Roux, an attractive crime reporter.

With the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green, Marston launches an investigation. Pressure mounts as other booksellers are found floating in the Seine, they suspect that Max's disappearance is connected somehow to his activities as a Nazi hunter, and to the precious volume now in Marston's hands.

"Pryor's (true crime blogger, D.A.Confidential) steady and engrossing debut combines Sherlockian puzzle solving with Eric Ambler-like spy intrigue... the author winningly blends contemporary crime with historical topics. Pair with Cara Black's Aimée Leduc series for both locale and tone."

Reader might also enjoy the bookseller/amateur sleuth Victor Legris series set in belle-epoque Paris by Claude Izner, the pseudonym for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, both second-hand booksellers on the banks of the Seine and experts on 19th c. France.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #428 - "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage" ~ Anais Nin

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber is based on the real life story, (check out one of many incredible primary sources) of a 19th-century American woman who sought freedom and independence while disguised as a man.

In 1855, when no women traveled unescorted, hunted with a rifle, got paid for a back-breaking day's work, or dressed the way she wanted, Lucy Ann Lobdell hopped a train at daybreak in her brother's cast-offs, and started a new life as Joseph Lobdell, a music/dance instructor in Honesdale, Pa., far from her New York home, her disapproving family and a young daughter she had to leave behind.

As Joseph Lobdell, she finds not only a wealth of economic opportunity but also the chance to participate in intellectual and political discussions. However, the danger of being exposed meant quick escapes and sudden leave-taking, even from the woman she came to love.

"A well-crafted 'memoir' of an unforgettable person, with plenty of questions about freedom, love and responsibility."

"What makes this story stand out is the author's skill in imagining the life of a transgender woman in a time when women had virtually no power in the world and when different sexual orientations were considered grave mental illnesses. By serving as Lucy's voice —not to mention doing what was obviously a great deal of historical research, —the author becomes her advocate and encourages readers to do the same. A unique and important book. "

Reader might also be interested in Wild Life by Molly Gloss; and Women of the Frontier : 16 tales of trailblazing homesteaders, entrepreneurs, and rabble-rousers by Brandon Maire Miller for stories of strong and courageous women who seriously pushed boundaries.

An exciting parallel and just release yesterday is Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, "A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge - the story of Alma Whittaker, who bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #427 - "One man's magic is another man's engineering..." ~ Robert A. Heinlein

This fall's BIG book (563 pp.) is Emily Croy Barker's much anticipated The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. Marketed as a readalike for Lev Grossman's The Magicians series and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, "...this ambitious, densely packed debut" by journalist Barker tells of a young woman's ordeal after walking through a portal into an alternate world where to survive, she must learn real magic. A dark fairy tale with plenty of curb appeal for fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans.

Nora Fischer expects Adam to propose, instead he is off to marry someone else. Once a promising academic, her dissertation is hopelessly stalled and her advisor has lost interest. During a miserable weekend at a friend's wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she is transformed into a stunning beauty and living a fairy tale life, complete with glamor and promise of love. Then the elegant veneer shatters. Her only real ally and a reluctant one at that is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. Under his tutelage, Nora studies magic. To their surprise, Nora's academic training and resolve makes her an apt student. When an opportunity to slip back through the portal to her former life presents itself, Nora faces a tough decision.

"Barker weaves together classic fantasy and romantic elements (including shout-outs to Pride and Prejudice and hints of Wuthering Heights) to produce a well-rounded, smooth, and subtle tale."

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