Fabulous Fiction Firsts #759, “Roommates are like a box of cheap fireworks, you never know what they will do next.” ~ Kilroy J. Oldster
Mon, 11/16/2020 - 8:37pm by muffy
Overeducated, underemployed Connecticut socialite Clara Wheaton takes an impulsive leap of faith moving cross-country to house-share with childhood crush Elliott Bloom, only to find herself unceremoniously deposited at Elliot’s doorstep as he speeds off to tour with his band. Disappointment becomes resentment when she finds Elliott has rented out his room for the summer. An internet search reveals that her new roommate is none other than heart-throb porn star Josh Darling.
Their easy rapport and budding friendship develops into a no-strings-attached relationship and a new business venture “somewhere between porn and sex-ed,” designed to teach women’s partners how to better please them in bed. “Danan makes this novel premise work with a charming, believable heroine; an offbeat hero with a heart of gold; and snappy, laugh-out-loud prose. Romance fans will especially appreciate that the steamy erotic scenes are used to further character development, rather than just for cheap thrills. This delectable rom-com is both red-hot and fiercely feminist.” (Publishers Weekly)
When Layla Patel returns home to San Francisco jobless, homeless and in shame after a video of her reaction to finding her photographer boyfriend in bed with 2 of his models went viral, her father offers her the office above the family restaurant to start her own business, nevermind that he neglects to tell her that Sam Mehta, the CEO of a redundancy business is the current tenant. As neither of them will vacate, they reluctantly agree to share the space.
Then Layla discovers that her father has posted her marriage résumé on a Indian dating website. To avoid making the same mistakes from her past relationships, Layla agrees to meet the 10 men on her father's list. Sam, with reasons of his own, offers to be her chaperon until one of them wins the bet : if Layla finds a husband among the blind dates, she will surrender the office to Sam, if she doesn't, then Sam must leave the office.
“It's a blast to witness Sam and Layla exchange flirtatious barbs as their snarky chemistry blossoms into something real over the course of Layla's hilariously disastrous dates. Rom-com fans should take note of this fresh, fun offering.” (Publishers Weekly)
Bonus Feature: Unconventional Roommates
Ben(son) and Mike live together in the slowly gentrifying Third Ward of Houston. Ben is black and works as a day-care teacher, while Mike, of Japanese descent, is a cook in a Mexican restaurant. After 4 years together, sex is sporadic and things are rocky between them. Then Mike’s mother Mitsuko arrives from Japan for a visit, but upon hearing that his estranged father is dying, Mike promptly takes off for Osaka, leaving his mother with Ben who speaks no Japanese.
As unconventional roommates, Mitsuko and Benson try to make the best of an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. In the meantime in Osaka, Mike tries to get to know his father Eiju who abandoned the family decades ago. As they share a tiny apartment and Mike helps manage Eiju’s neighborhood bar, he gains a new perspective on their shared history, and a renewed sense of self.
“Tender, funny, and heartbreaking, this tale of family, food (Mike cooks for their Venezuelan neighbors; Mitsuko makes Ben congee), and growing apart feels intimate and expansive at the same time.” (Publishers Weekly)
"A subtle and moving exploration of love, family, race, and the long, frustrating search for home.” (Kirkus Reviews)
* * * * = 4 starred reviews
* * = 2 starred reviews
* = Starred review
Fri, 10/30/2020 - 2:28pm by muffy
You Let Me In * * by Norwegian Camilla Bruce (who grew up in an old forest, next to an Iron Age burial mound) is a thrilling Gothic tale that combines the sinister domestic atmosphere of Shirley Jackson, the haunting mystery of Gillian Flynn, and the otherworldly romanticism of Holly Black. The Guardian reviewer called it (a) “smart, creepy fairy story.”
74-year-old bestselling romance novelist Cassandra Tipp has been missing for a year now. Though there is no evidence of foul play, the Police is convinced she is dead, and suspects her disappearance must be linked to the mysterious disembowelment of her husband, Tommy Tipps for which Cassandra was tried; and the subsequent murder-suicide of her father and brother. To claim her massive fortune, her surviving heirs (nephew and niece) must come to her home in the woods, locate her final manuscript, and find a password and present it to the executor of her estate.
What they read is Cassandra’s story - fantastical and disturbing, dominated by the Pepper-Man, a sinister fairy with spindly, leathery hands who initiated her into the underworld. “Readers will find themselves engrossed on a wild trip to a parallel, earthly dimension as Bruce reveals the secrets hidden by the Tipp family's dysfunction. Remarkably, Bruce takes the fairy trope and squeezes every ounce of tweeness out of it; she also introduces ancient elements, akin to Celtic myths, without romanticizing or sanitizing them. The characterizations are masterful but don't take a back seat to an enthralling story, a genre-blender that perplexes us with its whodunit elements and the ongoing mystery as to what is in Cass' mind and what's real. Neil Gaiman fans are a ready audience for this superb debut...“ (Booklist)
Readers might not want to miss the latest from Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Mexican Gothic, currently being adapted by Hulu into a series, (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) is a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror, set in 1950s Mexico.
After receiving a frantic plea from her newly-married cousin Catalina, glamorous debutante and college student Noemí Taboada travels from Mexico City to High Place, “(a) house...sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment", where she finds Catalina bedridden from a mysterious illness, her new husband, the handsome Englishman Virgil Doyle menacing and alluring at the same time. Then she meets the dying patriarch Howard Doyle, head of a prominent English mining family that built their now-dwindling fortune on the backs of Indigenous laborers. Soon, Noemi finds herself plagued by horrifying dreams and visions, a peculiar fungus that grows everywhere. Before long, Noemi fears for her own life as well as Catalina's.
"In a novel that owes a considerable debt to the nightmarish horror and ornate language of H.P. Lovecraft, the situations in which Noemí attempts to prevail get wilder and stranger with every chapter, as High Place starts exhibiting a mind of its own... Readers who find the usual country house mystery too tame and languid won't have that problem here.” (Publishers Weekly)
“An inspired mash-up of Jane Eyre, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Dracula, Rebecca and that 1958 classic sci-fi movie, The Blob …Inventive and smart, [Mexican Gothic is] injecting the Gothic formula with some fresh blood.” (NPR’s Fresh Air)
Haunted Houses: Classic Stories of Doors That Should Never be Opened - Classic haunted house ghost stories curated by world-renowned filmmaker and horror genre expert John Landis. This beautifully presented, highly collectible anthology features ghost stories that have enthralled, terrified and inspired readers decade after decade. Some are relatively well known; others are long-lost treasures, awaiting rediscovery.
* * = 2 starred reviews
Sat, 10/17/2020 - 5:34pm by muffy
Straight From the Horse's Mouth * by Moroccan author Meryem Alaoui (translated from the French by 2018 Albertine Prize-winner Emma Ramadan) introduces the “resourceful, foul-mouthed, and spirited Jmiaa Bent Larbi” (Publishers Weekly), a 34 year-old sex worker navigating life in a working class Casablanca neighborhood.
Stoic without being bitter, brutally honest without being sentimental, Jmiaa recounts her courtship with the devilishly handsome Hamid, their marriage against the wishes of her family, and how once Hamid moved them to Casablanca, he began to pimp her out to his friends to finance a constant stream of get-rich schemes. Now 15 year later, Jmiaa still works the same street and struggles to earn enough money to support a young daughter and Hamid who has since been smuggled into Spain. Life, however, is not without its pleasures - the quiet moments with her daughter, watching tv, drinking and gossiping with the other girls, and the occasional drive with a favorite client.
Unexpectedly, Jmiaa is introduced to Chadlia, a Dutch expat. filmmaker she calls “Horse Mouth” because of her toothy smile, who presents her with an exciting opportunity. Chadlia is making a film about the working women of Morocco, and eventually casts Jmiaa as the lead. Over the next three years, her life changes in ways she never could have imagined.
“Jmiaa's Casablanca is full of corrupt cops and exploitative men who take advantage of the prostitutes' vulnerability, but it is also full of friendship, laughter, and triumph….Alaoui's shimmering prose is funny and original; Jmiaa, noting Horse Mouth's Arabic is unusually fluent for an immigrant, says, "Normally it's like their tongue is in physical therapy: it needs crutches to get to the end of a phrase." Alaoui's tale is one to savor for its language and its verve.” (Publishers Weekly)
* = Starred review
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 2:57pm by muffy
Crooked Hallelujah * * (also available in downloadable eBook) by Paris Review's Plimpton Prize winner Kelli Jo Ford, has been named one of New York Times Editors' Choice. In a series of linked stories, it follows a family of Cherokee women, proud and stubborn, who sacrifice for those they love, amid larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture.
The narrative opens in 1974, in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma when 15 year-old Justine finds herself pregnant after being raped by a local boy. Abandoned by her father, she bristles under the watchful eyes of her mother, Lula and Granny, devout members of the Holiness Church where her uncle is the minister. Wanting to reconnect with her father, she moves to the Red River region of Texas, hoping to start a new, more stable life with daughter, Reney.
Against the backdrop of oil bust of the 1980s, a grown-up Reney finds herself unmoored from her family in Indian Country. After several miscarriages, supporting a physically abusive husband, holding down a job at the local Dairy Queen, life is bleak. “Later, Ford gives Reney opportunities to pursue a healthy relationship, an education, and a stronger understanding of the legacy of her family and heritage. Ford's storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A tender and ambitious praise-song of a novel about a family's fight for survival, love, and home.“ (Kirkus Reviews)
Winter Counts * (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is set on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where the American judicial system and the Tribal Council often fail to mete out justice. In those instances, one would look to Virgil Wounded Horse, an enforcer-for-hire to deliver punishment.
A reformed alcoholic, Virgil is now guardian to his 14-year-old nephew, Nathan after a car accident killed his sister three years ago. When Nathan is caught with enough prescription pills in his school locker and faces 30 years in prison, Virgil’s vigilantism suddenly becomes personal.
With the help of Marie Short Bear, his ex-girlfriend & the councilman's daughter, they must find out how heroin makes its way into the reservation and prove Nathan's innocence. Their investigations lead them to Denver and a drug cartel.
“The novel twists delicately around various personal conflicts while artfully addressing issues related to the politics of the reservation. Weiden combines funny, complex, and unforgettable characters with strong, poetic prose (“This was the winter of my sorrow, one I had tried to elude but which had come for me with a terrible cruelty”). This is crime fiction at its best. “ (Publishers Weekly)
“Weiden's series-launch sheds much-needed light on the legal and societal barriers facing Native Americans while also delivering a suspenseful thriller that builds to a bloody climax. A worthy addition to the burgeoning canon of indigenous literature.” (Library Journal)
* * = 2 Starred reviews
* = Starred review
Sun, 10/04/2020 - 5:07pm by muffy
The Thursday Murder Club members - septuagenarians Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron, residents of Cooper’s Chase, a luxury retirement center in Kent, meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss cold case files of retired Detective Superintendent Penny, a former member who is now in a coma. When the shady builder Tony Curran is bludgeoned to death in his home after a witnessed argument with owner Ian Ventham, the Club members jump in to investigate, sweeping along a newly-transplanted police constable Donna De Freitas who dreams of pursuing serial killers. Things become decidedly complicated when their chief suspect Ventham is murder in plain sight, and a skeleton is discovered on top of an old grave.
“What follows is a fascinating primer in detection as British TV personality Osman allows the members to use their diverse skills to solve a series of interconnected crimes. A top-class cozy infused with dry wit and charming characters who draw you in and leave you wanting more, please.” (Kirkus Reviews)
Cracow (Kraków in English), 1893. 38 year-old Zofia Turbotyńsk, a busy socialite, wife to a university professor, is itching for more, finding household management, novel reading, and charity work insufficient outlets for her prodigious energy. She frequents Helcel House, a retirement home for single women, run by the nuns. On a visit, Zofia gets involved in the search for Mrs. Mohr, a judge's widow who has been missing for 2 days. Under Zofia’s directive, they find the missing woman dead in an attic room. Though the police rules it death by natural causes (Mrs. Mohr is old and fragile), Zofia fears otherwise, and begins covertly to question the staff and residents. When another woman is found murder in her her own bed, Zofia is sure the two are connected, and foul play is afoot.
WIthout missing a beat, between attending theater galas, hosting dinners, and advancing her husband’s standing at the university, Zofia investigates, often at odds with the authorities.
"The preface offers helpful context on place and period, while the translation showcases the novel's deliciously ironic voice. Fans who like colorful locales and tongue-in-cheek mysteries will eagerly await Zofia's next outing.” (Publishers Weekly)
Reissued for the first time in over eighty years, The Great Hotel Murder by Vincent Starrett (1886--1974) with a delightful introduction from Lyndsay Faye, was first published in 1934 as Recipe for Murder, and adapted into a film in 1935. This twisty whodunit stars an eccentric amateur sleuth and theatre critic Riley Blackwood.
When Dr. Trample, an old family friend failed to show for their breakfast meeting and could not be reached, Miss Blaine Oliver alerted the manager of Chicago's Hotel Granada. In Trample’s room, they found the body of Jordan Chambers from an apparent morphine overdose. A New York Banker who registered under a different name, somehow managed to convince Trample, a total stranger to trade rooms over drinks at the bar. The Granada's owner brings in his friend Blackwood to investigate. But when another detective working the case is thrown from a yacht deck during a party, the investigation makes a splash among Chicago society. And then several of the possible suspects skip town, leaving Blackwood struggling to determine their guilt or innocence—and their whereabouts.
This devilishly complex whodunnit with a classical aristocratic setting, is sure to please Golden Age mystery fans.
* * * * = 4 starred reviews
* = Starred review
Fri, 09/25/2020 - 8:27am by muffy
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) opens in 1948, at Kyoto, Japan, when an 8 year-old Nori(ko) was abandoned by her mother at the doorstep of her grandparents’ imperial estate, with the parting words - “Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist.” For the next 2 years, Nori was confined to an attic room, subjected to persistent beatings by her grandmother, and daily chemical baths to lighten her skin - a shameful reminder of the illicit affair between her mother, a married Japanese aristocrat and an African-American GI. Her only contact with the outside world was the rhythmic drumming of rain on the roof from season to season.
That was, until the unexpected arrival of Akira, her 15 year-old half-brother, the legitimate heir to the Kamiza estate, and a violin prodigy. The siblings formed an unlikely but powerful bond, a bond that their formidable grandparents could not allow, thus setting the stage for profound and unexpected consequences, irrevocably changing the lives they were meant to lead.
“(Debut novelist) Lemmie has a gift both for painting pictures with lush descriptions and for eliciting horror with the matter-of-fact way in which she recounts abhorrent acts. Lemmie intimately draws the readers into every aspect of Noriko's complex story, leading us through the decades and across the continents this adventure spans, bringing us to anger, tears, and small pockets of joy. A truly ambitious and remarkable debut.” (Booklist)
A New York Times Editors Choice Selection and longlisted for the 2020 The National Book Foundation’s Award for Translated Literature, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 * (also available in downloadable eBook), Cho Nam-Joo’s semi-autobiographical debut novel, originally published in 2016 (and translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang), “is credited with launching Korea's own #MeToo moment. It effectively communicates the realities Korean women face, especially discrimination in the workplace, rampant sexual harassment, and the nearly impossible challenge of balancing motherhood with career aspirations.” (Library Journal)
The novel opens in August, 2015, when 33 year-old Kim Jiyoung, a new stay-at-home mother, at the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul, begins to exhibit strange symptoms that alarm her family. Often without warning, she speaks as if possessed by other women, alive and even dead, both known and unknown to her. Her worried husband Jung Daehyun sends her to a male psychiatrist, whose clinical reports form much of the novel.
“Through four chronological milestones childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and marriage Cho presents what happened in the prior 33 years that actuated Jiyoung's abnormal behavior; each period is marked by gross misogyny, from microaggressions to bullying to abuse to unrelenting dismissal. Cho's matter-of-fact delivery underscores the pervasive gender imbalance, while just containing the empathic rage.“ (Booklist)
* = Starred review
Fri, 09/18/2020 - 7:57am by muffy
Members Only * by Sameer Pandya (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) chronicles Raj Bhatt’s terrible, horrible, very bad week, triggered by one careless, unfortunate, regrettable remark made during a meeting at his members-only club.
Raj, a professor of Anthropology at a California university, married, and father of 2, is the only nonwhite member of a private tennis club. At a prospective new member interview, his effort to connect with an African American couple comes across as a racist joke. Immediately, those he considers his friends turn on him, nevermind for years, he has silently endured slights and snubs from the membership.
The next day, a group of right-wing students at the University organizes a protest against him over objections to his lectures on the history of American slavery (labeling him as a reverse racist), threatening the safety of his family, his livelihood, and his integrity. Growing up as a bicultural Indian American immigrant, Raj is often unsure of where he belongs, now he finds it increasingly difficult to navigate the complicated space between black and white America.
“This realistic, character-driven novel with multiple, exceptionally well developed, threads of suspense engages contemporary identity politics and what it means to belong - to a club, to a racial group, to a country, and to various cultures and subcultures.... Pandya's writing here is smooth, clear, funny, and often subtly beautiful. Members Only is the thoughtful page-turner we need right now.” (Booklist)
* = Starred review
Thu, 09/10/2020 - 3:24pm by muffy
Love After Love * * is award-winning short story writer Ingrid Persaud’s debut novel, which Entertainment Weekly called “a window into Caribbean literature and a wider lens on immigration, race, and sexuality. Mostly, though, it’s just a great story; funny, tender, and true.” Set mostly on the island of Trinidad, it traces the lives of a makeshift family over 2 decades.
After Betty Ramdin’s abusive alcoholic husband Sunil dies, she takes in Mr. Chetan, a math teacher at the school where she is an administrator as a lodger. Kind, polite and adept in the kitchen, Betty and her five-year old son Solo take to him immediately, and gradually they form an unconventional family, loving and supportive of each other.
When Betty’s attempt to seduce Mr. Chetan fails, he comes out to her, trusting her with a secret that could mean jail or worse in Trinidad’s homophobic culture. Then by chance, Solo overhears Betty confiding in Mr. Chetan a secret so powerful that it drives him to leave Trinidad, vowing never to return. Living in New York with Sunil’s brother Hari and his family, he works menial jobs, available to the undocumented, lonely and an easy prey to grifters. Estranged from each other, Betty and Solo are buoyed by the continuing love and friendship of Mr. Chetan, until his own secret is uncovered with heartbreaking repercussions.
“Beautifully written, the novel is told in Trinidadian dialect ("You here bazodee over a man you ain't seen since he was in short pants"). The skilled treatment of the characters brings them to vivid life, as it does the richly realized Trinidadian setting. “ (Booklist)
Read-alike suggestion: The New York Times review of Love After Love by Gabriel Bump reminds me of Everywhere You Don't Belong, (2020) his debut novel, set in Chicago, which Tommy Orange called "(a) comically dark coming-of-age story, .... (a) meditation on belonging and not belonging, where or with whom, how love is a way home no matter where you are.”
* * = 2 starred reviews
Thu, 09/03/2020 - 2:12pm by muffy
After the death of their parents, sisters Ann and Poppy Gordon are preparing to sell the family’s beloved Wellfleet summer home, but the inheritance dispute with their estranged adopted brother Michael brings back long-buried memories; and secrets of that fateful summer 15 years ago that fractured their family, and forever changed the trajectories of their lives.
“A riveting family saga that fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Cristina Alger, and Marisa De Los Santos will devour. Clancy's debut novel is a delight. She flips between decades, immersing the reader in sun-soaked Wellfleet summers before traveling to the present day and back again. With nostalgia as thick as the scent of coconut-scented sunscreen, The Second Home explores the consequences of emotional decisions and the strength needed to set things right.” (Booklist)
East Coast Girls,* the first adult title by teen author Kerry Kletter, follows four women who return to Montauk where they spent childhood vacations. More than just best friends, Hannah, Maya, Blue, and Renee filled in the gaps for one another left by their inattentive, neglectful, or toxic families. But the summer of their high school graduation, a terrible trauma flung their lives in different directions and caused them each to deal with the fallout in their own less-than-optimal way.
Now twelve years later, as their idyllic summer cottage is about to be sold, Maya convinces the women to come together for one last chance of restoring their friendship.
“Alternating narrators divulge masterfully drawn characters who feel like family, causing feelings of both sympathy and frustration. Pitch-perfect pacing and language reveals all the right pieces at just the right moments and the idyllic Montauk setting is skillfully depicted. Kletter will be an author to watch for fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Emily Giffin.” (Booklist)
* = Starred review
Fri, 08/21/2020 - 7:32am by muffy
Luster * * by Raven Leilani (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) is one of Entertainment Weekly’s 20 late-summer must-reads; Vogue’s 7 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in August; and New York Times called it “perhaps the summer’s most touted debut.”
23 year-old Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties. An art school dropout with crushing student loans, she now works as an assistant at a children’s book publisher, hardly able to afford sharing a rat-infested apartment in Bushwick. She meets Eric Walker online, a married white digital archivist twice her age who professes to have an open marriage. When Edie crashes the couple’s anniversary party, she meets Rebecca, a VA medical examiner, and Akila, their adopted daughter.
When Edie is fired from her job, in part due to office-hours promiscuity, and is evicted from her apartment, Rebecca invites Edie to stay in their New Jersey home while Eric is away. As Edie earnestly tries to make herself useful with Akila who is having a tough time adjusting to the all-white community; and to find work (clown school?), “all the while, the dynamics among the four of them keep shifting, an unstable ballet of race, sex, and power.”
“Edie's ability to navigate the complicated relationships with the Walkers exhibits Leilani's mastery of nuance, and the narration is perceptive, funny, and emotionally charged. Edie's frank, self-possessed voice will keep a firm grip on readers all the way to the bitter end.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Edie’s defeated, I-can’t-even tone has become something of an institutional voice for millennial writers, especially women: Jia Tolentino, Patricia Lockwood, Catherine Lacey, and Ottessa Moshfegh have all merged humor with anger about the gender and economic inequities their generation faces.
Luster is distinguished by its focus on race, which raises the stakes for the story. The climax emphasizes that for all of her wit and flexibility, Edie is ultimately a Black woman in a white neighborhood. She’s treated as an assistant, then an interloper and finally an invader.” (USA Today, ★★★½ out of 4)
* * = 2 starred reviews