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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 #659

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 9:23pm

Seven Days of Us * * by Francesca Hornak, is a sharply observed and ultimately satisfying holiday story.

For the first time in years the entire Birch family will be spending Christmas together under one roof, no thanks to elder daughter, 32-year old Olivia, a disaster-relief physician who just spent 6 weeks in Liberia fighting an Ebola-like Haag epidemic. The family decides to ride out the one-week quarantine at Weyfield Hall, their dilapidated country estate.

Thrown together with little to occupy themselves, and cut off from the outside world (even their Wi-Fi is spotty at best), all their disagreements, resentments, and secrets, both old and new, come bubbling up.

Father Andrew, a restaurant critic secretly hates food, and longs for the glory days as a globe-trotting war correspondent. Mother Emma is trying to shield her family from the cancer diagnosis so they could enjoy their time together. Olivia's secret relationship with a fellow doctor could potentially be dire for the whole household. Younger, and unabashedly frivolous, Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding while secretly having second thoughts about her fiance George. None of them are prepared for the charming stranger who turns up at the door - Andrew's son from a one-night stand while on assignment in the Middle East.

"Hornak writes with a sense of irony and an eye on today's social issues... Fans of contemporary English stories such as those by Jane Green or Jenny Colgan will enjoy this novel about the shaky recovery of family bonds." (Library Journal)

* * = 2 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #658 “There’s no such thing as ruining your life. Life’s a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.” ~ Sophie Kinsella

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 11:25pm

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose is an unputdownable literary puzzler set in contemporary Philadelphia. Its title - an obvious homage to Marcel Duchamp's famous creations that rocked the art world a century ago.

After years of shoplifting and dealing drugs at her high school, 17 year-old Lee Cuddy finally got sent to juvie taking a fall for a friend in a drug bust. A lucky escape means living rough, until she finds refuge in the Crystal Castle - a derelict building where homeless kids squat, under the control of a mysterious figure known as the Station Master. Not one to follow rules, Lee wonders around the restricted area of the Castle, and quickly discovers why homeless kids are disappearing from the streets in suspicious numbers. She manages to steal a strange object from the Station Master that turns out to be a work of art (With Hidden Noise, 1916) by Marcel Duchamp, recently stolen from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one that holds special significance to members of a twisted reincarnation of the Société Anonyme.

With a young artist/hacker Tomi as ally, Lee tries to elude her pursuers who believe Duchamp left clues in his art that reveal the key to immortality, and that Lee holds the key to it all.

"The novel is complex on many intellectual levels, drawing heavily on theories of art history and physics, and the mystery is deep and satisfying in both its unpredictability and its culmination." (Kirkus Reviews)

"With dynamic characters and unforgettable scenes, including after-hours museum sex, mysterious pursuers, and wondrous evasions, Rose’s captivating, art-anchored pager-turner reads like a mashup of Home Alone and The Da Vinci Code." (Booklist)

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #657

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 8:38pm

Gone to Dust * is playwright and Emmy Award-winning television (Seinfeld, Ellen, The New Adventures of Old Christine) writer Matt Goldman's mystery debut.

18" of snow fell overnight. Minneapolis PI Nils “Shap” Shapiro was planning to take the day-off when former colleague Anders Ellegaard at the Edina Police Dept. called for assistance at a crime scene. Divorcee Maggie Somerville was found murdered in her bedroom, her body covered with the dust from hundreds of emptied vacuum cleaner bags, rendering all potential DNA evidence unusable.

After checking the alibis and possible motives of the usual suspects (hippy organic sheep-farmer ex-husband, billionaire ex-boyfriend), Shap focuses on a mysterious young woman with no past history; a cache of anonymous love letters to Maggie; and a shadowy figure known only as Slim. Out of nowhere, the FBI demands that they drop the case, forcing Shap and Ellegaard to take their investigation underground, where the case grows increasingly bizarre and twisted.

"(Goldman's) tough yet vulnerable PI, evocative Minneapolis setting, and clever plot, which features a distinctive crime scene and multiple red herrings, will engage and intrigue." (Library Journal)

"With his wry, observant eye and quick wit, plus a pressing need to follow the truth into dark, uncharted places, Shap is a more optimistic version of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer." (Publishers Weekly)

The second of the Nils Shapiro mystery Broken Ice will be released in 2018.

* = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #656, Women's Fiction Debuts

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 10:23pm

Something Like Happy is UK novelist Eva Wood's North American debut.

Annie Hebden could really use a break. Thirty-five, divorced, flat-sharing with a messy roommate who parties all night, feeling isolated at a boring desk job and now, she is dealing with her mother Maureen's early-onset dementia. Then, she meets Polly Leonard.

Witnessing Annie's meltdown with the bureaucratic hospital administrator over her mother's care, the bubbly, outlandishly-dressed Polly is determined to take Annie in hand, never mind she has precious little time left with terminal brain cancer. At first reluctant, Annie allows Polly to talk her into joining her mission - instead of counting the days, they will make the next 100 days count.

"Delightful page-turning awaits readers, even with Polly’s inevitable finale. Polly is a wonderful character with a positively infectious attitude—memorable and magnetic, with a healthy dose of gallows humor... Jojo Moyes meets Emily Giffin in this poignant, uplifting tale of the power of friendship and the importance of making the most of each day." (Publishers Weekly)

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by former scriptwriter Veronica Henry is set in the fictional village of Peasebrook, nestled in the Cotswolds.

Emilia Nightingale had no idea what she was in for when she promised her father Julius at his deathbed that she would keep Nightingale Books open. A beloved fixture of the community, Julius was no businessman and it appeared that Nightingale Books has been operating in the red for quite some time. Selling to the eager property developers might be Emilia's only option.

As she struggles with financial woes and tries to find new ways to revitalize the business, Emilia also sees how integral the bookshop is in facilitating relationships throughout the town. Six different love stories emerge - Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor uses the book shop as an escape and to meet her secret lover; shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section; a single-father is trying to connect with his son through reading; and Emilia finds herself attracted to the unavailable Marlowe as she takes her father's place in the town’s string quartet.

"A light romantic comedy well-suited for bibliophiles and Anglophiles alike... (that) explores deeper questions of personal choice and the different forms in which love manifests. " (Kirkus Reviews)

For fans of Katie Fforde; Marian Keyes; and Jill Mansell.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #655

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:02pm

One of Entertainment Weekly's 20 Must-Read Books of the Fall and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, The World of Tomorrow * * * * by Brendan Mathews will not disappoint.

Set against the backdrop of the World's Fair, conceived to lift the spirit of city (and the country) out of the gloom of the Depression and promised a peaceful, prosperous "World of Tomorrow," is a sweeping, intricate, and ambitious debut about family, honor, love and betrayal, over the course of one whirlwind week in 1939.

Posing as a Scottish laird, escaped Dublin convict Francis Dempsey and his shell-shocked brother, Michael, are bound for New York on the RMS Britannic, having stolen a small fortune from the IRA. Francis's title and aristocratic bearing impresses his fellow passengers enough that they eagerly welcome him into their rarefied circle once they've reached Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Tom Cronin, a retired assassin living a quiet family life in a farm upstate, is pressed into service one last time - to track the Dempsey brothers down. During the week that follows, the lives of these characters collide spectacularly with big-band jazz musicians, a talented but fragile heiress, a Jewish street photographer facing a return to Nazi-occupied Prague, a vengeful mob boss, and the ghosts of their own family's revolutionary past.

"From the smoky jazz joints of Harlem to the opulent Plaza Hotel, from the garrets of vagabonds and artists in the Bowery to the backroom warrens and shadowy warehouses of mobsters in Hell's Kitchen, Brendan Mathews brings the prewar metropolis to vivid, pulsing life." (Library Journal)

"With the wit of a ’30s screwball comedy and the depth of a thoroughly researched historical novel, this one grabs the reader from the beginning to its suspenseful climax." (Publishers' Weekly)

Fans of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; Rules of Civility by Amor Towles; and Netherland by Joseph O'Neill would not want to miss this.

* * * * = 4 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #654 “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ~ Lorrie Moore

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 10:28pm

Librarian Extraordinaire and NPR books commentator Nancy Pearl's debut novel George & Lizzie *, is a loving tribute to Ann Arbor and her Alma mater (UM, AMLS, 1967).

In this "astute, nimble, funny, and affecting love story" (Booklist) a stoned Lizzie sabotaged George's near-perfect game and a dream date at the Bowlarama when they met. Weeks later, they shared a tuna fish sandwich at Drake's on their first date. Almost against all odds, they married despite radically different upbringing and understandings of what love and marriage should be.

George, a second-generation dentist grew up in a warm and loving family while Lizzie - angry, defiant, and self-involved, is the only child of a pair of research-driven psychologists who viewed her more as an in-house experiment than a child to love. Over the course of their marriage, George remains sunny and generous while Lizzie is plagued by depression, self-doubt, and traumatized by the secrets she keeps - a youthful indiscretion called the "Great Game" that involved 23 members of her high school football team; and her continued search for Jack McConaghey, the-one-who-got-away. And it would take a painful turn of events for Lizzie to reach a moment of clarity - that she has choices to make.

"Through knotty predicaments both sorrowful and hilarious, Pearl dramatizes a complicated and deeply illuminating union of opposites and conducts profound inquiries into the self, family, empathy, and love. The result is a charming, edgy, and many-faceted novel of penetrating humor and resonant insight." (Booklist)

Nancy Pearl will be at Nicola's Books for a reading/signing at 7 pm on Wednesday, October 4th.

In Standard Deviation *, Graham Cavanaugh, after 12 years of marriage to Audra is wondering if he had made the right choice now that he is on speaking terms with Elspeth, his first wife. Life with Audra, as irrepressible as she is spontaneous and fun, is also exhausting - constant chatter, gossips, and prickly house-guests, as well as the challenges of caring for their special-needs son Matthew. It is a stark contrast to the orderly existence with the emotionally cool Elspeth.

A firm believer that through the sheer force of her personality, she can overcome the most socially challenging interactions, Audra befriends Elspeth, sharing family dinners and holidays, oblivious to Graham's late night visits.

A follow-up to her well-received short-story collection Single, Carefree, Mellow (2015), Heiny gives us a hilarious and rueful debut novel of love, marriage, infidelity, and origami. "Contemporary fiction fans fond of urban settings and humor in the vein of Nora Ephron or Nick Hornby should appreciate this tale of city life and marriage while those searching for characters on the Asperger's spectrum could find young Matthew, portrayed as high functioning but challenging, authentic and recognizable as he navigates various connections with his parents and others." (Library Journal)

* = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #653

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 6:43pm

Goodbye, Vitamin *, former Lucky Peach Executive Editor Rachel Khong's debut has been called a "family dramedy...that ruminates on love, loss, and memory." (Kirkus Reviews)

30 year-old San Francisco ultrasound tech Ruth Young heads home to LA for the holidays with a broken heart. Fiancé Joel, a doc that she had dropped out of college to follow across the country(twice), broke up with her just as they were about to move to a bigger, nicer apartment.

The tension at home is palpable. Howard, her father, a prominent history professor is losing his memory (as well as his teaching position), and is only erratically lucid. Her mother, Annie is lucidly erratic, having given up cooking altogether since aluminum from cooking utensils could cause memory loss. The household subsists on carry-out pizza and a smorgasbord of vitamins. Ruth's brother Linus is conspicuously absent, unable to overlook their father's drunkenness and history of infidelity. So Ruth quits her job and moves home.

Written in chronological vignettes over the next year, we watch as Ruth navigates the role of daughter, sister, caregiver and cheerleader as Howard's condition worsen. "Ruth’s new preoccupation with memory, in its most concrete form, gives her a different glimpse of her father and family, while they all cope with what they know is a one-way-only illness. In her tender, well-paced debut novel, which spans Ruth’s year at home, Khong writes heartbreaking family drama with charm, perfect prose, and deadpan humor." (Booklist)

Readers might also enjoy You Are Having a Good Time by Amie Barrodale, a collection of tales startlingly funny and original that make you reconsider the fragile compromises that underpin our daily lives; and Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian about a young woman's discovery of life’s continuously shifting, perplexing intimacies.

* = starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #652

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 3:28pm

Conversations with Friends * * * by Sally Rooney (Trinity College, Dublin) is drawn largely from conversations with the author's own friends.

Frances, a poet and aspiring writer performs at spoken-word poetry events around the college with her best friend and former lover Bobbi. At one of these events, Melissa, a well-known photojournalist proposes to do a piece on them. Invited to her Monkstown home, Bobbi falls under Melissa's spell while Frances is more impressed with the trappings of wealth and success, and instantly drawn to Melissa's gorgeous and standoffdish husband, Nick, an actor.

Mild flirtation and furtive conversations between the two turn into a clandestine affair, but it is Frances' literary ambition and secrets kept that ultimately attenuate the bonds among them all.

"With painful missteps and wise triumphs, Frances probes her beliefs in most everything—sexuality, relationships, politics, and her family—and learns to distinguish between what she’s told and what she thinks. Less a coming-of-age story and more a coming-of-now tale, Rooney’s first novel is a smart, sexy, realistic portrayal of a woman finding herself in and out of a well-depicted friendship." (Booklist)

"Readers who enjoyed Belinda McKeon's Tender and Caitriona Lally's Eggshells will enjoy this exceptional debut." (Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #651

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 4:15pm

Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, is one of the swankiest locales in the United States and yet, it is here, that this gem of a contemporary western The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo * by Ian Stansel is set.

Brothers Frank and Silas Van Loy, the best horse trainers in San Geronimo, former partners in the ranching business, have been feuding for years. Drunken brawls, nasty pranks, poisoning each other's livestock, they are not above shooting each other, often for nothing more than a Stetson hat.

The novel opens with Silas fleeing on horseback after killing his brother. Hot on his trail is Frank's wife Lena, to carry out her own brand of frontier justice. At her side is Rain, Lena and Frank's loyal stable assistant there to keep Lena company. As the three head into the wild and rugged Northern Californian coastal country, Stansel gradually builds on their back stories through flashbacks, foreshadowing a revelation and conclusion both shocking and inevitable.

Stansel has written a captivating novel, elegantly spare in language but big in purpose. It is a moving exploration of the complicated and fateful bonds of brotherhood. For fans of Kent Haruf, Larry McMurtry, Molly Gloss, and Smith Henderson.

* = Starred review