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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #725

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 9:17am by muffy

followers

Followers* * * *,  Megan Angelo’s “spectacular debut...masterfully explores the dark side of social media.” (Publishers Weekly). Told in the alternating voices of Orla Cadden in 2015--2016, and Marlow Clipp in 2051, Followers traces the paths they take through time towards each other. 

Instead of writing her novel, Orla is a reporter at Lady-ish, a celeb blog, churning out puff pieces to pay the rent on her Manhattan apartment. Her new roommate Florence (Floss) Natuzzi, a scheming, A-lister wannabe, persuades Orla that the way for them both to get ahead is for Orla to craft stories, any story (“forget about doing the right thing”) that would put Floss before the public eye, with Orla catching the afterglow.

2051. Constellation, California, is a closed community where government-appointed and corporation-sponsored celebrities like Marlow and her husband Ellis live 24/7 on camera, closely watched by their 11.6 million loyal followers, their every thought and action monitored by an implant called “The Device”. No longer enjoying her popularity and prescribed lifestyle, Marlow dreams of fleeing. When she learns that her whole family history is based on a lie, she summons the courage to run in search of the truth, leading her to that fateful day in 2016 when the world as we knew it, was forever changed. 

“Angelo masterfully intertwines the lives of Orla, Floss, and Marlow while reflecting a painfully accurate picture of our current fame-driven, tech-obsessed society and its possible destruction.... Angelo also weaves in a perspective on contemporary political decisions (The Wall, immigration/deportation) and the effect they could have on us all in the not-so-distant future. This is an intricate and brave story of friendship, ambition, and love and the lengths people will go to protect it all.“ (Booklist)

* * * * = 4 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #724

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 7:21pm by muffy

spitfire

Spitfire * by M. L. Huie launches the Livy Nash historical mystery series, perfect for fans of Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series and Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network.

London, 1946. 2 years after liberation, former British spy Olivia “Livy” Nash worked as a proofreader for a third- rate newspaper by day and devoted her evenings to the company of black-market Polish vodka. When she was sacked and about to be turned out by her landlord, she was approached by the infamous Ian Fleming, offering her the opportunity to return to Paris, posing as a journalist to track down a list of former Nazi spies and collaborators, who could be useful in fighting “the next war”.

But what really sent Livy back to the City of Light, was the chance to confront the traitor among their WWII Resistant unit, who delivered Livy, nicknamed “Spitfire”  and her lover/Commander Peter Scobee into the hands of the Gestapo, thus drawing her back into the dangerous world of spies and counterspies.

“Huie does an excellent job dramatizing events in the early days of the cold war. Vibrant characters, international intrigue, gritty action, and a wittily acerbic Ian Fleming, too—who could ask for more?” (Publishers Weekly)

“Nash is a welcome new protagonist who will be welcomed by fans of Kate Atkinson's Transcription (2018) and Simon Mawer's Tightrope (2015).” (Booklist)

 * = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #723

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 2:57pm by muffy

such_a_fun_age

January brings the highly anticipated debut Such a Fun Age* by Kiley Reid. (Check out the New York Times Review and the NPR interview with the author.)  It’s the latest HELLO SUNSHINE (Reese Witherspoon's Book Club) pick. Film rights sold to Lena Waithe.  

25 year-old Temple grad Emira Tucker knows she is good at her job - nannying for Philadelphia newcomer Alix Chamberlain and her 2 young daughters, never mind she is aimless, broke, and a disappointment to her ambitious parents. As a favor to her employer, Emira leaves a party early to babysit the Chamberlains’ toddler Briar. A late-night visit to the local high-end supermarket proves problematic when the store security, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping. A bystander captures the whole incident on video, and it goes viral. 

While Emira is humiliated, Alix resolves to make things right, unwittingly bringing into their midst Kelley, someone from Alix’s past, with “unintended--as well as willfully unseen--consequences.” (Publishers Weekly).

“Reid illuminates difficult truths about race, society, and power with a fresh, light hand. We're all familiar with the phrases white privilege and race relations, but rarely has a book vivified these terms in such a lucid, absorbing, graceful, forceful, but unforced way.” (Library Journal)

* = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #722

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 9:00pm by muffy

just_watch_me

Jeffry P. Lindsay of the wildly successful Dexter fame introduces an antihero in a new series that opens with Just Watch Me. * 

In this brashly retro escapist caper“ (Kirkus Reviews), master thief Riley Wolfe has just stolen a 12-ton statue in broad daylight during its installation ceremony in Downtown Chicago, and dropped the sponsor, a big pharma CEO into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan from a combat helicopter. Next, he sets his sights on stealing the Iranian Crown Jewels, on loan to a small Manhattan private museum. Valued at billions, and protected by a state-of-the-art high tech security system, not to mention the legendary heavily-armed Revolutionary Guards, the true attraction for Riley is one simple fact:  they are absolutely unstealable. And Riley has never shied away from a challenge. 

As Riley’s intricate, audacious (and often ruthless) plan unfolds, he is pursued by a brilliant and relentless Chicago FBI agent Frank Delgado, setting in motion a nail-biting game of cat and mouse. 

For fans of the Ocean's Eleven ,and brings to mind Topkapi, the 1964 film based on Eric Ambler's novel The Light of Day.

* = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #721

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 7:49pm by muffy

girl_who_reads_on_the_metroThe Girl Who Reads on the Métro  (Overdrive eAudio) is French author Christine Féret-Fleury’s first book to be translated (by Ros Schwartz) into English. “With a cast of characters reminiscent of the French film Amélie, Féret-Fleury creates a world that is delightful and enchanting...Light and sweet as a bonbon, this little confection of a book is delicious." (Kirkus Reviews)

Juliette, a real-estate agent, leads a perfectly ordinary (and rather solitary) life in Paris. On her daily metro rides, she notices other riders and the books they are reading - the lady with the cookbook, the man in a green hat who reads about insects, and the romance reader who always tears up at page 247.

One morning Juliette decides to walk to her office, and find herself in an unfamiliar neighborhood. When she sees a young girl slips through a rusty gate wedged open with a book, she follows, thus walking into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman, his young daughter, Zaide, and Books Unlimited. Before she realizes what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, taking used books from Soliman’s “store”, and using her intuition, matches books with readers. Without a second thought, Juliette quits her job, dives headlong into a new life, and discovers that the life she may change the most could be her own.

 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #720, Small Gems in Celebration of Winter Solstice

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 5:55pm by muffy

“To consider yourself well versed in contemporary literature without reading short stories is to visit the Eiffel Tower and say you’ve seen Europe. Not only would monumental writers be missing from your literary tour, but entire angles and moves and structures of which the novel, in its bulk, is incapable.” ~ Rebecca Makkai, Music for Wartime, (2015)

4 debut collections introducing 4 remarkable new voices in short fiction.

show_them_a_good_time

Show Them a Good Time: Short Stories by Nicole Flattery (Trinity College, Dublin)  A blisteringly original and wickedly funny collection tells the stories of women slotted into restrictive roles: the celebrity’s girlfriend, the widower’s second wife, the lecherous professor’s student, the corporate employee. And yet, Flattery’s characters blithely demolish the boundaries of these limited and limiting social types with complexity and caustic intelligence.

"A seamless blend of reality and the surreal, Flattery's stories defy genre in an affecting yet unobtrusive manner. Readers should expect to be equal parts intrigued and unsettled." (Publishers Weekly)  For fans of  Mary Gaitskill, Miranda July, Joy Williams, and Ottessa Moshfegh.

 

beadworkers

This debut collection The Beadworkers: Stories by Beth Piatote (Piatote is Nez Perce, and a Native American Studies professor at UC Berkeley) is “told with humor, subtlety, and spareness that explore the inventive and unforgettable pattern of Native American life in the contemporary world...(with) unifying themes in the strength of kinship, the pulse of longing, and the language of return.”

"Hope and heartbreak abound in this debut collection set among Native Americans in the northwest . . . Piatote balances the emotional complexities of her characters' lives with the political complexity of their relationship with an America all too eager to look away. A poignant and challenging look at the way the past and present collide."  (Kirkus Review)

 

here_until_august Young Australian author Josephine Rowe's debut collection Here Until August: Stories  is full of heartbreak, travel, and seduction. They follow the fates of characters who, by choice or by force, are traveling beyond the boundaries of their known worlds. These are people who move with the seasons. We meet them negotiating reluctant or cowardly departures, navigating uncertain returns, or biding the disquieting calm that so often precedes moments of decisive action.  

From the Catskills to New South Wales, from the remote and abandoned island outposts of Newfoundland to the sprawl of a North American metropolis, these transformative stories show how the places where we choose to live our lives can just as easily turn us inward as outward.

 

happy_like_thisThe characters in Happy Like This by Ashley Wurzbacher,  are smart girls and professional women—social scientists, linguists, speech therapists, plant physiologists, dancers—who search for happiness in roles and relationships that are often unscripted or unconventional. In the midst of their ambivalence about marriage, monogamy, and motherhood and their struggles to accept and love their bodies, they look to other women for solidarity, stability, and validation. Sometimes they find it; sometimes they don’t. 

Winner of The John Simmons Short Fiction Award, "Wurzbacher dives into the lives of women in this brilliant collection, examining the ways they live and relate to each other while harboring their own secrets and feelings. Her lyrical prose and unflinchingly confrontational voice are powerful and captivating." (Booklist)

 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #719, a British Rom-Com

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 8:00pm by muffy

get_a_life_chloe_brown

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 by Kirkus Reviews, Get a Life, Chloe Brown * * *  launches the first in the Brown Sister series by self-published author Talia Hibbert, and marks her first release by a mainstream publisher. 

“(A) socially inept control freak" by her own account, Chloe Brown is forced to re-examine her life after a near-death experience.  Chronically-ill (Fibromyalgia), and practically home-bound, her whole social circle consists of her siblings and family. Then she comes up with seven directives to help her "Get a Life". At the top of the list - move out of her family's palatial home into her own apartment, where she immediately runs afoul with the snarky building superintendent, Redford "Red" Morgan who sees her as yet another privileged, spoiled brat. Buff, tattooed, with an easy smile that quickly charmed her sisters and all the other residents, Chloe is determined not to like him, that is until they strike a bargain. 

“This interracial romance with a disabled heroine is an #OwnVoices treat that will satisfy readers who love a cinnamon-roll hero and love scenes that scorch the dang pages. “ (Booklist) 

“...(t)his is an incredibly funny, romantic, and uplifting book. Red is as charming, sexy, and vulnerable as can be, but Chloe steals the show with her sarcasm, wit, and eccentric coping mechanisms.” (Kirkus Reviews) . For fans of  Sally Thorne, Jasmine Guillory, and Helen Hoang. For another steamy, interracial romance, try Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher, one with a surprising UM/Ann Arbor connection.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #718

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 7:49pm by muffy

on_swift_horsesBefore you dive into On Swift Horses * by Shannon Pufahl (Stanford, Stegner Fellow), you might be interested in listening to  NPR's Scott Simon talks with the author about her debut novel - inspired by her grandmother’s story. 

In 1956, newly-wed Muriel and Lee left her Kansas hometown for San Diego, hoping for a better life and a little bungalow all of their own. Lee’s brother Julius, was supposed to join them but disappeared without a word.  Eavesdropping on her customers at the Heyday Lounge frequented by retired jockeys and bookies, Muriel began slipping off to the racetrack and trying her luck with the horses. Wildly successful, she secretly used her winning to allow Lee to fulfill his dream of a house in the suburbs. 

When Julius, a habitual gambler finally showed up, with a mustang in tow, Muriel was secretly pleased while Lee was guarded, until Julius’s secretive and reckless past caught up with him, bringing discord into their lives, and forcing Muriel to look deep into her heart.

Narrated by Muriel and Julius in turn, “...Pufahl's sharp, gritty details of 1950s San Diego and Las Vegas effectively draw the reader into her protagonists' struggles to bring meaning to their lives, however different their experiences.” (Library Journal)

Pufahl's prose is lush and slow with the romance of emotion and the postwar frontier. Her dialogue is sparse and pointed, every word deliberately spoken. On Swift Horses is a queer Western for an utterly contemporary audience.” (Booklist)

 * = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #717, “Women’s voices always rise two octaves when they talk to cleaning women or cats.” ~ Lucia Berlin

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 7:12pm by muffy

vacuum

In Vacuum in the Dark * *  by Jen Beagin, Mona is twenty-six and cleans houses for a living in Taos, New Mexico. Though this is a standalone second novel, you might want to start with Pretend I’m Dead, in order to get the full backstory.  Named “A Best Book of the Year” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and shortlisted for Kirkus Review’s First Novel Prize, the 2017 Whiting Award winner Jen Beagin (a former cleaning lady herself) sets her debut in Lowell, MA where the 24 year-old Mona, alone and emotionally adrift, is trying to move forward in life. 

While handing out clean needles to drug addicts, she met and fell for Mr. Disgusting, a charismatic artist turned drug addict who proceeded to break her heart in unimaginable ways. To start afresh, she moved to Taos. There, she shares an adobe house with a new-age couple “Yoko and Yoko”; and gets hopelessly tangled up with a client’s husband. As her business picks up, Mona finds it increasing hard to keep a professional distance from her clients (snooping in their belongings and taking photographs). Then there is the Hungarian artist couple with serious substance-abuse and boundary issues who asks Mona to pose for them;  and a single father who may be hiding a disturbing secret.

 

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Through it all, Mona is saved from her self-destructive tendencies by the voice of NPR's Terry Gross, a wise, imaginary best friend as she searches for meaning and belonging. 

Beagin is a wonderfully funny writer who also happens to tackle serious subjects, which few authors are able to pull off successfully…(She) never treats these subjects lightly, but she doesn't shy away from employing very dark humor; the result is a comic novel that's a joy to read but never frivolous or superficial.” (NPR)

For fans of Sunshine Cleaning.  Readers might also enjoy A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin. A 2015 finalist for the Kirkus Prize, these 43 stories “capture the lives of hard-living women from Denver to Peru to the Bay Area to the Texas borderlands.” 

* * = 2 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #716

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 6:33pm by muffy

Doll_factory

London potter Elizabeth Macneal’s (Oxford U.) The Doll Factory * *  won the 2018 Caledonia Novel Award, and is a New York Times Editor’s Choice. 

Against the backdrop of the construction of the Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition; and the contentious selection process of the Royal Academy exhibitions, Macneal creates a thrilling psychological thriller about art and obsession that the New York Times Book Review called “(a) lush, evocative Gothic.”

Iris Whittle toils long hours at a factory painting faces on porcelain dolls but secretly harbors the ambition to be an artist. When she is approached by Louis Frost, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to pose for his painting, she agrees, against the wishes of her family, especially her twin sister Rose, on the condition that Louis would teach her how to paint. As Iris grows into her artistic talent and mutual affection with Louis, she is unaware of the attention of Silas Reed, a curiosity collector and taxidermist, who schemes to make Iris his prized specimen.

The only person who is convinced that Iris is in danger is a young street urchin that Iris befriends,  but he might not be a match for the evil that lurks in the seamier side of Victorian London. 

For further reading on this 19th century art movement, try The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites by Elizabeth Prettejohn and Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists. You might also enjoy the television series Desperate Romantics that dramatizes the Brotherhood’s quest for artistic immortality which takes them into some of the lewdest, darkest, and funniest corners of 1851 London. 

For information on the Crystal Palace, a marvel of its time, try Crystal Palace : Joseph Paxton and Charles Fox;  and the catalogue of one of the first World's Fairs.

* *  = 2 starred reviews