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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #403

One of the most anticipated book of 2013 is The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards * by Kristopher Jansma. It has been compared to Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning (2011) A Visit from the Goon Squad with its "elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are".

Can a leopard ever really change his spots? Can a person ever change? These are the timeless questions that Kristopher Jansma asks in this enchanting debut novel about three great friends--two men and one woman--their triumphs and failures in life and love and their globe-spanning adventures : from the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, these three remarkably engaging characters grow up and grow old, fall in and out of love, write novels and wed wealthy European aristocrats.

"(I)nventive and witty".

"(I)t will delight readers with its near perfect alchemy of emotional depth and warmth, formal playfulness, and sophisticated but always accessible exploration of what it means to grow up".

"A smart, searching debut about art and identity.".

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #402

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope *, Rhonda Riley's debut novel is set at the end of WWII when Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds and rescues what appears to be a badly burned soldier buried in the heavy red-clay during a driving rainstorm. The stranger heals rather remarkably fast and morphs into an Evelyn lookalike whom she names Addie. The two fall in love. When a chance encounter with a grifter offers an opportunity to avoid small town scrutiny, Addie transforms into Adam. Together, they raise 5 daughters who shares in their father's supernatural gifts.

When tragedy strikes, Adam's extraordinary character is revealed and the family must flee. "Intensely moving and unforgettable, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope captures the beauty of the natural world, and explores the power of abiding love and otherness in all its guises. It illuminates the magic in ordinary life and makes us believe in the extraordinary."

"First-time novelist Riley's exquisite language draws the reader into this improbable, beautifully rendered, somewhat biblical love story with a wildly imaginative premise that is irresistible, tender, and provocative. " ~ —Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (Library Journal).

Highly recommended for fans of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Time Traveler's Wife, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #401

Award-winning YA author and a National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti brings us her first adult novel with He's Gone *, an intensely gripping story about love, loss, marriage, and secrets that would appeal to readers of Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Anna Quindlen.

Sunday morning, Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat with a headache and a hangover to find her husband, Ian is not home. As the hours pass, irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic, as she realizes : He's gone.

As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations, Dani plumbs the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth - about herself, her husband, and their lives together.

"Readers will find themselves swept up by the crisis, made palpable by Caletti's believable characters and their raw emotions. As much a gripping emotional thriller as it is a book about love and relationships, Caletti's newest work will please old fans and garner new ones."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #400 -The Bumbling Ornithologist

No doubt some of you read the NPR review of debut novelist Brian Kimberling's Snapper * - hilarious, poignant, all-too-human recollections of an affable bird researcher in the Indiana backwater as he goes through a disastrous yet heartening love affair with the place and its people.

New grad Nathan Lochmueller (IU, Philosophy) stumbles onto an unlikely job tracking songbirds within one square mile of south central Indiana near Bloomington. "Told with precise and memorable prose in beautifully rendered, time-shifted vignettes, Snapper richly evokes the emotions of coming to adulthood". The poor pay is compensated by the woods that provide solace and the colorful, if occasionally scarifying, array of characters: He meets diner patrons who reply to kids' letters to Santa Claus, would-be mushroom-hunters, ersatz Klansmen and dimwitted bureaucrats who legislate on the environment without knowing the first thing about it".

Southern Indiana native, "Kimberling (a former birdwatcher himself) writes gracefully about absurdity, showing a rich feeling for the whole range of human tragicomedy. A delightful debut."

Will appeal to fans who enjoyed the quirky characters and colorful setting in Karen Russell's Swamplandia!.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #399

Originally published in Germany in 2001, The Russian Donation * * is the first book in the Dr. Hoffmann series by Christoph Spielberg (translated by Gerald Chapple), and the 2002 winner of Germany's Friedrich Glauser Prize for Best Debut Crime Novel.

When a former patient and hospital employee Misha Chenkov shows up dead at the ER, Dr. Felix Hoffmann, physician at a Berlin teaching hospital is surprised and perplexed. He becomes suspicious when his autopsy order goes unfulfilled, the body is cremated, and hospital records simply vanished. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Hoffmann stumbles into an intricate conspiracy that reaches from the bowels of the hospital to its highest offices and puts his life at risk.

Spielberg, a physician has created a reluctant sleuth who is strong, resourceful, and "unwilling to put up with any crap". Look for future cases to follow.

For fans of Robin Cook's medical thrillers who might also enjoy Helene Tursten's Night Rounds (2012) which features Detective Inspector Irene Huss of the Violent Crimes Unit in Goteborg, Sweden.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #398

If you were bewitched by The Night Circus, mesmerized by A Discovery of Witches, and enthralled by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, then you would not want to miss Helene Wecker's debut The Golem and the Jinni, a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale drawn from Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature and mythology.

Chava, a golem is a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi as a commission for an unpleasant furniture maker wanting a wife. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago. A chance meeting on the streets of turn-of-the-century New York brings an unlikely friendship for these mythical creatures.

As Chava, unmoored and adrift her owner having died at sea, arrives in New York harbor, Ahmad is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Forming an unexpected friendship, Chava and Ahmed must learn how to survive undetected among the immigrant communities, cope with their individual challenges and desires, while preparing to battle a dangerous adversary.

"Wecker...writes skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon strangers in a strange land".

"Wecker deftly layers their story over those of the people they encounter, from the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom".

" (a) spellbinding blend of fantasy and historical fiction".

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