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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #660

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 2:51pm

Reviewers are calling The Last Mrs. Parrish * * * by Liv Constantine (pen name of sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine) a "devilishly ingenious debut thriller." (Publishers Weekly)

Amber Patterson deserves more, definitely more than her impoverished upbringing, her dead-end jobs and the constant worry about money. She set her sights on Daphne and Jackson Parrish, a wealthy “golden couple” from Connecticut who is living the privileged life she wants.

Meticulously clever and ruthlessly manipulative, Amber moves to Bishops Harbor, and plots to insinuate herself into Daphne's life, and through her, to Jackson, the handsome, powerful real estate mogul. Before long, Amber is traveling to Europe with the Parrish family; and when she finds out Daphne’s failure to give Jackson a male heir is the main source of tension in the marriage, she knows what she needs to do to become the next Mrs. Parrish, that is as long as the skeleton in her closet does not lay waste to all that scheming.

Halfway through, the narrative is picked up by Daphne, and the readers will get a surprisingly different take on the story. Well, let's just say some women get everything and some women get everything they deserve.

"With a plot equally as twisty, spellbinding, and addictive as Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train, this is sure to be a hit with suspense fans."(Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #649

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 10:41pm

With the melancholic lyrics of one of Japan's top singles Blue Light Yokohama * * threading through the narrative, debut novelist Nicolás Obregón introduces Inspector Iwata in an atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful series opener. The story was inspired in part, by an actual unsolved crime in 2000.

Kosuke Iwata, newly reinstated to the Homicide Division of the Tokyo Police was immediately assigned to a multiple murder case when the lead detective committed suicide. His new partner, the sharp-tongued, brash dynamo Noriko Sakai was less than enthusiastic - weary of the gossips surround Iwata's troubled past, suspicious of his American background (UCLA), and frustrated with superiors who clearly want them to fail.

On February 14, four members of the Kaneshiro family were brutally butchered in their home. While the Tokyo brass were ready to pin the murders on a crippled thug, Iwata and Sakai puzzled over the ritualistic details at the crime scene - missing body part, a distinctive incense smell, and symbol of a black sun scrolled on the ceiling. Almost immediately, the "Black Sun Killer" claimed another victim - the widow of a prominent judge.

Fighting his personal demons and insomnia, Iwata relentlessly follows up on every lead, explores every angle, trying to connect these murders while finding others as far away as Hong Kong, and instinctively knowing that the killer is not done.

"Obregón (a LA-based travel writer who fell in love with Japan while on assignment for a magazine) maintains a high level of suspense throughout his superior fiction debut, an intricately constructed whodunit that doesn’t sacrifice depth of characterization for plot." (Publishers Weekly)

Fans of police procedurals set in contemporary Japan might also enjoy Malice (the first in the Kyochiro Kaga mystery series) and Under the Midnight Sun (a Detective Sasagaki novel), both by Edgar-nominated Keigo Higashino.

The tormented Iwata brings to mind Insomnia (2002), an American psychological thriller that is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian noir classic.

* * = 2 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #647

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 9:57pm

Denver's Tattered Cover Bookstore alum and winner of the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize, Matthew Sullivan has been named Goodreads Debut Author of the Month, and Midnight At the Bright Ideas Bookstore, an Indie Next Pick. What's not to love - a suicide in a bookstore, a 20 year-old triple-murder cold case, and a survivor who turns to clues hidden in books to solve the mystery.

A favorite among the BookFrogs, the lost and lonely regulars who spend their days (and evenings) among the shelves, Lydia Smith was devastate when she discovered young Joey Molina had hanged himself in the Bright Ideas Bookstore’s upper room. Bewildered, she found a photo of herself at her 10th birthday party in his pocket, and he had left her his meager worldly possessions. Among the detritus of a solitary life lived on the fringe, Lydia found an odd collection of books inexplicably defaced, hinting at messages for her to decipher.

As Lydia tracks down the clues Joey left for her in his books, she discovers his connection to her estranged father; to the nightmarish crime that left her traumatized. With the murderer whom the press called "The Hammerman" still at large, she must face the secrets she has long buried, and with the help of Raj Patel, a childhood friend, untangle the mystery that unwittingly, connects them all.

"Quirky characters and a keen sense of place distinguish this multigenerational tale of abandonment, desperation, and betrayal." (Publishers Weekly)

For fans of library/bookstore settings and puzzle mysteries, try also Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan; The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin; and The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #644

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 8:38pm

Michigan author Karen Dionne's hardcover debut The Marsh King's Daughter * transports her readers to the wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula where a woman must risk everything she has and use every skill she learned to hunt down the dangerous criminal who taught her everything she knew - her father.

When Helena Pelletier heard on the news that the notorious murderer/kidnapper known as "The Marsh King" has killed two guards and escaped from Marquette maximum security prison, she knew she could no longer outrun her past.

Born in a primitive cabin to a 14 year-old kidnapped victim, Helena grew up without modern conveniences or human contact except for her aloof mother and Jacob, who held them captive. Despite his brutal behavior, Helene loved him, loved their life together, governed only by the seasons - farming, fishing, tracking, and hunting. But it was also a 13 year-old Helena who facilitated their rescue and put Jacob behind bars.

Twenty years later, married with two young daughters and a thriving business, Helena faces the daunting task of explaining to her husband why their family is at risk; why the police considers her a person of interest; and even more incredulous, why she is the only one with survivalist skills to track her father in the wild.

"Echoing Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same title, Dionne's latest is a well-crafted, eerie, and unnerving psychological thriller." (Library Journal)

For fans of Still Missing by Chevy Stevens; Room by Emma Donoghue; and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller.

* = starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #632 "(D)espite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzlemaker has made before..." ~ Georges Perec

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 10:57pm


Author [a:Dolan-Leach, Caite|Caite Dolan-Leach's] clever title for her debut [b:1503784|Dead Letters *] references the obvious, but also its alternate [|definition].

Graduate student Ava Antipova made her way home to upstate New York when news of her estranged twin Zelda's death reached her in Paris. They have not spoken for 2 years after a bitter betrayal.

Arriving at [|Seneca Lake] where the family's failing vineyard Silenus, was located, Ava immediately stepped into caring for their ailing mother and estranged father who long ago, abandoned them for a sunnier vineyard, wealthier wife, and a younger family in California. Almost immediately, even before the Police suspected foul play, Ava began receiving cryptic emails and social media messages from Zelda.

Arranged in 26 chapters, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet and recounting the games the twins played as children, Zelda led Ava on a scavenger-hunt, delivering "a lock-room mystery with flavors of [|Perec]", which as it became increasingly obvious, was also a taunt for the Edgar Allan Poe scholar (subject of Ava's dissertation) and the [|OuLiPo] Movement - writers obsessed with mysteries and literary games.

"In this, her startling debut novel, Dolan-Leach nimbly entwines the clever mystery of [a:Christie, Agatha, 1890-1976.|Agatha Christie], the wit of [a:Parker, Dorothy, 1893-1967.|Dorothy Parker], and the inebriated Gothic of [a:O'Neill, Eugene, 1888-1953.|Eugene O’Neill.]" (Kirkus Reviews)

For readers who enjoyed [b:1379121|Sister] by [a:Lupton, Rosamund|Rosamund Lupton], and [b:1485709|The Widow] by [a:Barton, Fiona|Fiona Barton].

* = starred review

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TV Spotlight: The Night Of

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 2:29pm


[|The Night Of] is a critically acclaimed HBO miniseries that premiered last July. Friends recommended it at the time, but I let it skip by once I was fully immersed in watching [|Stranger Things]. The 8-part crime drama revolves around a young man, Naz, who heads off to a party in his father’s cab and ends up spending the evening with a young woman who he later finds stabbed to death in her bed. Naz wakes up and finds her and has no clue as to what happened the night of.

Once Naz is charged with her murder the series continues with detectives and lawyers trying to solve the case that Naz appears to be very guilty of committing. One of my favorite elements of the show was John Turturro’s performance as one of Naz’s lawyer. (Initially James Galdolfini was to fill the role, but after his death Robert DeNiro was set to replace him. Then due to scheduling conflicts DeNiro was replaced with Turturro.)

I highly recommend this show if you’re into crime dramas, mysteries, or detective shows. It is dark, gripping, suspenseful, and superbly written and acted.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #626, Debut Mysteries

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 8:58pm


If you are waiting for [b:1503108|The Girl Before *], [a:Delaney, J P.|J.P. Delaney's] cunning debut, you might give these a try.

[b:1503115|Little Deaths * * *] by [a:Flint, Emma|Emma Flint] is inspired by a [|true crime case] which occurred in Queens, NY in 1965.

When single-mother Ruth Malone reports her young children missing from a locked room with an open window, suspicion immediately falls on her. A stylish cocktail waitress who works long hours and is separated from her husband, Ruth smokes, drinks, and parties, often with married men and keeps their love letters under her bed.

When the bodies of the children are found, the police investigation focuses solely on her. The lead detective, a strict Catholic who believes women belong in the home, leaps to the obvious conclusion. The only person who becomes convinced that Ruth may not be guilty of the crime is Pete Wonicke, a rookie tabloid reporter determined to make a name for himself.

"This accomplished debut novel will intrigue fans of both true crime and noir fiction. Flint, a technical writer in London, is a welcome addition to the world of literary crime fiction. Readers of [a:Abbott, Megan E., 1971-|Megan Abbott] may want to investigate." (Library Journal)

[b:1503054|The Dry *] (one of January's [|LibraryReads] picks, and winner of the 2015 [|Victorian Premier Literary Award] for an unpublished manuscript) is drawing debut novelist [a:Harper, Jane|Jane Harper] comparisons to [a:Lehane, Dennis.|Dennis Lehane].

It has been 20 years since he and his father were driven out under a cloud of suspicion, Melbourne-based Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown Kiewarra for the funeral of his childhood best friend Luke. Beyond trying to repay the debt he owed Luke, he questions the official narrative that Luke killed his young family and committed suicide on his farm - the desperate act of a man pushed to the brink by financial woes caused by the area's two-year drought.

With the help of recently arrived Sgt. Raco, Falk finds that small towns have big secrets and Luke's death might be connected to Ellie Deacon’s suspicious death by drowning 20 years ago.

"From the ominous opening paragraphs, all the more chilling for their matter-of-factness, Harper, a journalist who writes for Melbourne’s Herald Sun, spins a suspenseful tale of sound and fury as riveting as it is horrific." (Publishers Weekly). Film rights to [|Reese Witherspoon’s] production company.

Read-alike: [b:1287841|The Broken Shore] by [a:Temple, Peter, 1946-|Peter Temple] which also offers a portrait of small-town Australia.

* * * = 3 starred reviews
* = starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #625, Part 2

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 1:14pm


First, you need to know that as one trusted Library Journal reviewer puts it in no uncertain terms: "(t)his bleak, potent picture will scare the pants off readers".

According to debut novelist [a:Johnson, Lindsey Lee|Lindsey Lee Johnson] (herself a former tutor/teen mentor), [b:1503074|The Most Dangerous Place on Earth * *] is your local high school - where we send our precious ones as a matter of course.

Alternately narrating is a group of privileged [,_California|Mill Valley] juniors, linked by the parts they played in the suicide of a middle school classmate. Among them are the classic high school archetypes: the jock, the A-student, the bully, the stoner, the outcast - all in the throes of a time of tumult and confusion, amplified by the seduction and tyranny of social media.

Caught up in the daily drama of these teens is Molly Nicoll, a mid-year replacement teacher from scrubbier Fresno. First time away from home, and barely out of her teens, she too, is navigating faculty-lounge cliques; the vigor of teaching; demands of entitled and indulgent parents; and trying to connect with her students. Lonely and naive, she strikes up a relationship with a fellow teacher who turns out to be a predator.

"(Johnson) keeps the action brisk and deepens readers’ investment, culminating in a high school party that goes wrong. Readers may find themselves so swept up in this enthralling novel that they finish it in a single sitting." (Publishers Weekly)

Suggested for fans of [a:Ng, Celeste.|Celeste Ng's] [b:1446471|Everything I Never Told You] and [b:1420981|The Interestings] by [a:Wolitzer, Meg|Meg Wolitzer].

* * = 2 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #624 “I've always wanted to play a spy, because it is the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem.” ~ Benedict Cumberbatch

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 9:06pm


[b:1501378|Ascension], the first book in a new series by [a:Dowling, Gregory|Gregory Dowling] is set in 18th century Venice in the weeks leading up to the [|Feast of the Ascension].

Alvise Marango, having grown up in London, is back in Venice, the city of his birth, alone, barely making a living as a [|cicerone], if not for his command of the English language. Rescuing an unsuspecting Mr. Boscombe and his tutor Shackleford from some shady characters at the gondola landing, he is hired as guide as they continue their [|Grand Tour].

After a series of gruesome murders, with the latest being that of Shackleford, Mr. Boscombe is arrested, along with Marango as his accomplice. With a solid alibi and his intimate knowledge of Venetian history and politics, Marango impresses the authority enough to be recruited as a spy.

From the grandest palaces to its darkest alleys, he follows the trail of a missing book that might lead him to a secret society and its sinister plan to destroy the city on its most important and spectacular holiday. That is, if he manages to stay alive.

British author Gregory Dowling moved to Venice in 1981, where he teaches American Literature at [|Ca' Foscari University of Venice].

Readers partial to the setting and time period might also enjoy [a:Myers, Beverle Graves|Beverle Graves Myers'] [|Tito Amato series] (many of them available for download), featuring an opera singer who is also a spy; and [a:Goodwin, Jason, 1964-|Jason Goodwin's] [b:1325613|The Bellini Card] that takes [|Investigator Yashim] of the Edgar Award-winning series to Venice.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #619 Spotlight on UK Mystery Debuts

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 2:55am


Referencing the New Testament [|parable], [b:1497033|The Trouble with Goats and Sheep *] by [a:Cannon, Joanna|Joanna Cannon] is set during the [|scorching summer of 1976] when 10 year-olds Grace and Tilly take it upon themselves to look for their neighbor, friendly Mrs. Creasy who disappears without a trace.

As the girls go door to door in search of clues (and God), the neighborhood starts to give up its secrets. "In a masterfully constructed plot, Grace—who sniffs out the lies told by her adult neighbors—learns a lesson about loyalty and true friendship, as secrets born of shame are gradually revealed. This understated, somewhat quirky debut novel is remarkable for its structure, characterizations, pitch-perfect prose, touches of humor, and humanity. Cannon, a psychiatrist, is an author to watch." (Booklist) Will appeal to fans of the [|Flavia de Luce series] by [a:Bradley, C. Alan, 1938-|Alan C. Bradley].

[b:1497469|The House Between Tides] by [a:Maine, Sarah|Sarah Maine], is an atmospheric psychological mystery set on Muirlan Island in Scotland’s [|Outer Hebrides], where Londoner Hetty Deveraux hopes to turn Muirlan House, inherited from a distant relative, into a luxury inn. The shocking discovery of the century-old remains of a murder victim plunges her into an investigation of Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and his troubled marriage to Beatrice who vanished from the island in 1910.

"Maine skillfully balances a [a:Daphne du Maurier|Daphne du Maurier] atmosphere with a [a:Vine, Barbara, 1930-|Barbara Vine]–like psychological mystery as she guides the reader back and forth on these storylines... The setting emerges as the strongest personality in this compelling story, evoking passion in the characters as fierce as the storms which always lurk on the horizon." (Kirkus Reviews)

[b:1488039|I Let You Go * *] by [a:Mackintosh, Clare|Clare Mackintosh], "a twisty, psychological thriller with an astonishing intensity” ~ [|(U.K) Daily Mail] opens with the hit-and-run death of 5 year-old Jacob on a rainy afternoon in Bristol. Shortly afterward, Jacob's mother disappears.

Wrecked with guilt, sculptor Jenna Gray relocates to the isolated Welsh village of Penfach. Back in Bristol, Det. Insp. Ray Stevens and detective constable, Kate Evans are frustrated with the lack of results in their investigations but push on despite official orders. Their persistent efforts eventually pay off.

"Mackintosh, a former police detective and journalist, weaves a complex tale out of seemingly straightforward circumstances." (Publishers Weekly). "But her real skill is in the way she incorporates jaw-dropping, yet plausible, plot twists into the already complex story-line." (Kirkus Reviews). A new author to watch for fans of [a:French, Tana.|Tana French], [a:Hawkins, Paula.|Paula Hawkins], [a:Watson, S. J.|S.J. Watson] and [a:Harrison, A. S. A.|A.S.A. Harrison]. I particularly enjoyed the audio [b:1496737|format], beautifully read by [|Nicola Barber] and [|Steven Crossley].

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews