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New Authors to Us -and to You? February 21, 2012

Posted by stacey in First Novel, Genre Book Discussion.
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First novels were happily discussed at our last meeting –and I’m pretty sure we’d all like to see more from the authors we found! The only guidelines we used were to look for a book published by a debut author, or an established author debuting in a new genre, from the last twelve months. Doesn’t that sound like super easy criteria to use? Ha! It becomes a bit of a challenge when you really think about how you could pick just about anything, but it seems this group was up to the task! Check out the great mix in the list of what everyone read:

Janet: The Sisters by Nancy Jensen tells the story of Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel. These sisters must continue to live with their abusive stepfather after the death of their mother. Unbeknownst to Bertie and her boyfriend, Wallace, Mabel begins a sexual relationship with her stepfather in order to protect her sister Bertie. When Mabel sees the way her stepfather is beginning to look at Bertie, she quickly develops a plan to set them free. Unfortunately the two sisters are separated by a tragic misunderstanding of that day that will reverberate through the next three generations of their family.

Ann: Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson is a smashing debut psychological thriller. Every morning when Christine wakes up she has forgotten her past. She wakes up believing she is in her twenties when instead she is near 50. Recently a doctor is helping her to remember, and she is keeping a journal. Now there are things that don’t make sense to her and things she’s remembering that scare her. Ben, her husband tells her he loves her, but really- can she trust him?

Carol: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is a debut novel of historical fiction. Tess, a maid in France in 1912, truly longs to design dresses, not wash and mend them. Perhaps it is her destiny that the most magnificent ship in history, the Titanic, sits in the harbor in Cherbourg. Seeing the boat as the perfect way to escape, she goes to the docks and there, she charms her way into a last minute job as lady’s maid to of all-people Lady Duff-Gordon, a famous designer whose maid has taken ill. Tess’s dreams have come true, she thinks. But as we all know, the ship sinks. Tess survives, as do the Duff-Gordons. But now that they in New York, the Duff-Gordon’s come under scrutiny for their less-than-full life boat they commandeered to escape. The newspaper reporters are circling wanting to a villain, but will Tess jeopardize her newfound chance at success by telling what she knows? This atmospheric page-turner is a perfect blend of historical fiction, investigative journalism, and a bit of romance and should not to be missed.

Rosemary: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is a debut novel which leaves the reader hoping that Brown will write many more novels. All three Andreas sisters return home to Barnwell, Ohio one hot, muggy summer to “help” their mother recover from cancer. Each sister is appalled to find the other two sisters at home. Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, each named for a Shakespeare heroine, had hoped for some quiet time at home to turn their unhappy lives around. But just as the “weird sisters,” the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, they manage to bring all kinds of trouble home with them. Happily, it all gets sorted out by the dawn of the New Year.

Megan: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley introduces readers to the secret world of the Checquy, a government agency charged with protecting the world from supernatural threats. Myfawny (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas is a high-ranking official in the agency who has recently had her memories erased. The only remnants of her previous life are her superpower and a series of letters written by the previous Myfawny, which she must use to find the traitor. The Rook is highly imaginative, full of suspicious characters, bizarre super-humans, and horrific villains. A healthy dose of wit and humor add to the charm of this exceptional debut.

Emma: A Pinch of Love by Alicia Bessett is the story of Rose-Ellen (Zell) the year after her husband dies. Nick was a photographer on a post-Katrina relief trip when he dies suddenly. Zell decides to enter a Polly Pinch baking contest planning to donate the $20,000 grand prize to hurricane survivors in her husband’s memory if she wins. Zell hasn’t used her oven since her husband died and starts a fire the first time she turns it on. Zell finally meets her neighbors including 9-year-old Ingrid who offers to help with baking. Ingrid is a devoted fan of Polly Pinch and is convinced Polly is her mother after finding a box of old pictures. As semifinalists Zell and Ingrid are invited to appear on the Polly Punch show. Ingrid has a severe allergic reaction after sampling another contestant’s dessert and is rushed to the hospital. In the end the two do not win the competition but issues are faced for Zell, Ingrid, and her dad. Hopefully a sequel is in the making to tie up loose ends.

Steve: Purgatory Chasm, by Steve Ulfelder, is a mystery that centers around Conway Sax and his promise to another Alcoholics Anonymous member to help him get his vintage Mercedes back from a questionable mechanic. Shortly after making this promise, his fellow AA pal shows up dead, apparently by suicide. Thus begins a fast paced story with plenty of twists and turns. A good effort for his first novel, and guys will appreciate the references to cars, racing and home building. One drawback, I didn’t have a strong attachment to the characters, but a good mystery nonetheless.

Dori: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar, is a coming of age novel narrated by Hayat Shah, a Pakistani-American growing up in 1980s Wisconsin. Hayat’s typical immigrant American life of baseball, bicycles and after school snacks of parathas is thrown into a tailspin when his mother’s childhood friend Mina and her young son arrive to live with the Shahs. Mina, intelligent and beautiful, has escaped an abusive arranged marriage in Pakistan. As she begin to teach Hayat about the Quran, he becomes enamored with her and her intense spirituality, but his passion will lead him to make a devastating decision. This first novel is a fascinating look at the intersection between faith and fervor in America.

Stacey: 420 Characters by artist Lou Beach is a series of short stories first published as status updates on a popular social networking site. The author was inspired by the generally lackluster status updates of others to try something new, something original, and keeping to the 420 character limit imposed at the time made for an interesting challenge. These stories have been gathered, along with the author’s original artwork, into a book. Not all the stories had the same appeal for me, but there are some real gems inside these covers and any reader should be able to appreciate how much Mr. Beach was able to communicate with so few words.

Next genre to find extra attention in our spotlight: Graphic Novels! Again, simple guidelines for selecting a title –if you’d like to play along: you’ll be looking for a book in which the story is told primarily through the artwork, not the text. There you go! Happy graphic novel hunting everyone!

— Stacey

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