First Novelists Bollen, Ervin, Fishbane, Ireland, Knight, Stuhler & Others | Debut Fiction, April 1, 2015

Bollen, Christopher. Orient. Harper. May 2015. 624p. ISBN 9780062329950. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062329974. F

orient4815If you can’t afford the Hamptons then Orient, a historic town on the North Fork of Long Island, may be just the place for you. It’s quaint, seaside-adjacent, and a short drive to the city. But the influx of artists and Manhattan transplants has resulted in a culture clash with the longtime residents that just may have led to murder. Paul Benchley, a New York architect and longtime resident, rescued young Mills Chevern from a life on the streets and employed him to declutter his parents’ old home. Gossip abounds about Mills, and when a local handyman and a beloved local activist are found dead, followed by a tragic case of arson, Mills is the immediate suspect. With the help of Paul’s neighbor Beth, Mills sets out to solve the crimes and clear his name. But sleuthing in a small, close-knit community isn’t so easy. People are tight-lipped and justifiably scared with a murderer in their midst. They fear drops in property values as much as the threat to their own lives. Suddenly, a deadly encounter rocks the town and gives Mills and Beth much to confront. VERDICT After a slow start, this debut novel ramps up to a breathless, well-crafted thriller with a thoughtfully drawn setting and a believable cast of characters who work their way to a shocking ending.—Susan Clifford Braun, ­Bainbridge Island, WA

Ervin, Andrew. Burning Down George Orwell’s House. Soho. May 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781616954949. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616954956. F
In his latest advertising campaign, Ray Welter uses his burningdowngeorgeorwellshouse4815favorite Orwellian “newspeak” to make driving a gas-guzzling SUV appear to be a public service to America. That success, coupled with an impending divorce, makes Welter question his life and its meaning. Hoping to drop off the grid and remake himself, he sells everything he owns and retreats to Scotland’s Isle of Jura, where he rents the house George Orwell lived in when he wrote 1984. Unfortunately, the residents of Jura don’t actually take to strangers, despite their reputation for hospitality. As he unwinds this tale, debut novelist Ervin (Extraordinary Renditions) writes with skill and a penchant for the absurd. Welter is everyman, caught up in a life he can’t escape, searching for a way to come to terms with himself. The host of eccentric and sometimes sociopathic characters that surround him give this book the quality of a bad but very funny dream. VERDICT A black comedy that readers of general fiction and philosophers will enjoy.—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence

Fishbane, Joel. The Thunder of Giants. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781250050847. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851801. F

thunderofgiants4815Toronto native Fishbane, an accomplished playwright, short story author, and now novelist, offers a lighthearted, engaging work of historical fiction about Anna Swan, who was born in a log cabin in Canada in 1846 and grew to be 7’ 5” tall. Swan became known as “The Giantess of Nova Scotia” and was a featured celebrity at P.T. Barnum’s New York museum while also touring as part of Barnum’s “Human Marvels” traveling show. Fishbane renders this rather sensationalist story with gentle humor and warm humanity, handling Swan’s relationships with family members, the curious public, and romantic partners with considerable compassion and sympathy. Interwoven with the woman’s story is the complementary story of Andorra Kelsey, also very tall ­ (7’ 11”), who was brought to Hollywood in 1937 to star in a movie about Swan. This double narrative allows Fishbane to generate some intriguing comparisons and parallels in the lives of these extraordinary women, each having very different experiences with their families and loved ones. VERDICT A genial, appealing celebration of two strong, independent women; recommended for fans of historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 10/27/14.]—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester ­Community Coll., CT

starred review starHaldane, Seán. The Devil’s Making. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781250069405. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466878129. M
In this Ellis Award–winning debut, set in rugged Victoria, BC, circa 1869, a young Englishman investigates the brutal slaying of an American doctor with strange proclivities. Chad Hobbes, who studied law at Oxford and embraces the theories of ­Darwin, has joined the city’s burgeoning police force and is confronted with the murder of Dr. Richard McCrory, an alienist who dabbled in phrenology and mesmerism. His grisly death seems to be the result of a visit gone wrong with the nearby Tsimshian Indians—their medicine man, Wiladzap, is soon arrested. Hobbes’s investigation takes him from Victoria’s many prostitutes to its highest social echelons and, most intriguing for readers, into the wholly foreign culture of the Tsimshian people as Hobbes struggles to understand their language, customs, and traditions. The more he learns of McCrory and his unusual, at times even sexually explicit, practices with many of the town’s inhabitants, the more the young detective realizes the case doesn’t just involve a white man murdered by an Indian. ­VERDICT Haldane never shies away from period-specific language and attitudes, which make readers feel as though they are walking the dirty streets of Victoria by his side. Historical whodunit fans will relish this exciting trip to 19th-century frontier Canada.—Jordan Foster, Portland, OR

Hope, Jessamyn. Safekeeping. Fig Tree. Jun. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9781941493069. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941493076. F

safekeeping4815In 1994 Kibbutz Sadot Hadar becomes a haven for several individuals trying to make better lives for themselves. Adam, an addiction-prone New Yorker, aims to deliver a gift to a woman his grandfather loved 50 years earlier on the kibbutz. Claudette, a thirtysomething refugee from a life in a French-Canadian orphanage, struggles to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder. Ulya, a Russian immigrant pretending to be Jewish, schemes to get to Manhattan. Farid, a Palestinian farm worker, wants to open a restaurant. Ofir, a gifted teenage musician, has lost his hearing in a terrorist bombing. And finally Ziva, the kibbutz’s octogenarian founder, endeavors to force the community to maintain the socialist idealism on which the settlement was originally founded. ­VERDICT As Hope deftly juggles the various stories and backstories of her protagonists and the 600-year-old history of the sapphire brooch that Adam wishes to deliver to his grandfather’s mysterious lost love, the debut novelist, a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, weaves an intricate tapestry of love and longing, failure and redemption. Not every character will be saved but readers will keep rooting for them.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Ireland, Ryan. Beyond the Horizon. Oneworld Pubs. Apr. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781780747743. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780745985. F

On the vast plains of the American West, an unnamed man lives with a pregnant woman who is not his wife. A strange visitor encourages the gullible man to go to a faraway fort to register the woman and her child with the census. The man travels through rugged terrain on this fool’s errand, only to be hunted and haunted throughout the novel by the stranger, who had killed the woman. The story of the two characters becomes a creation myth for the American West in which the stranger plays God, building and violently destroying civilizations. The pair move forward and backward in time in dreamlike snippets, encountering life on the plains before their births and catching glimpses of the future. VERDICT Ireland’s intensely and brutally violent debut novel sweeps through period and place while exploring the role memory plays in the establishment of creation myths. Recommended only for readers of literary fiction who can stomach a barbaric vision of the West. [Regional tour.]— Emily Hamstra, Univ. of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor

Jarvis, Stephen. Death and Mr. Pickwick. Farrar. Jun. 2015. 816p. ISBN 9780374139667. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374712648. F

deathandmrpickwick4815Hired to research, edit, and write the “true story” of the creation of Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, Scripty, as he becomes known, is tasked with combing through a massive collection of diaries, letters, drawings, and memorabilia. His research begins with Robert Seymour, a draftsman and artist who eventually became a successful magazine caricaturist and whose every pencil mark, brushstroke, and etching is closely examined here. Scripty’s investigations suggest that it was Seymour who developed the idea of the gullible and rotund Mr. Pickwick, a humorous fellow whose notebooks are filled with the tall tales told to him by frequenters of his club. Dickens is hired to provide the text accompanying Seymour’s drawings, a version of events hotly disputed by ­Dickens himself, who contended that the idea of Pickwick was always his own. ­VERDICT The mystery at the heart of this debut novel—who dreamed up Pickwick?—takes some 800 pages to resolve. It starts slowly but gains a steady pulse once Dickens arrives on scene and truly catches fire with the publication of The Pickwick Papers, the first modern-day publishing phenomenon. Patient readers will be duly rewarded with an intriguing and lively story. [See Prepub Alert, 12/15/14.].—Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.

redstarKnight, Renée. Disclaimer. Harper. May 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780062362254. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062362278. F

disclaimer4815What could be more unnerving than reading a novel and discovering that it explicitly recounts your personal story? The realization that someone is hell-bent on exposing a 20-year-old secret to your inner circle via a supposed work of fiction could certainly incite sheer panic. While the book’s disclaimer asserts no connection to anyone living or dead, Catherine Ravenscroft knows otherwise. The more she reads, the more deeply she finds the book tastelessly exposing a secret incident from her life. Despite her extreme aversion, Catherine cannot escape the lure of this novel, which threatens her sanity and perhaps her life. As the risk of exposure and personal danger escalates, Catherine embarks on a daring quest to locate the author before time runs out and the façade of her normal, happy life disintegrates. VERDICT This debut British psychological thriller engages the reader from page one; mystery aficionados will dash to finish it in one sitting. Deliciously captivating, brilliantly twisty, and enticingly addictive, it hits the trifecta for a strong thriller! [See Prepub Alert, 11/10/14.]—Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

starred review starManzini, Antonio. Black Run. Harper. Apr. 2015. 272p. tr. from Italian by Antony Shugaar. ISBN 9780062310040. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062310064. M

With his Clark’s desert boots and his Roman ways, Deputy Prefect of Police Rocco Schiavone is a fish out of water in the Alpine town of Aosta, where he has been transferred for disciplinary reasons. Contemptuous of his new home and its reserved citizens, the brusque detective comes alive when a mangled corpse is found on one of the pistes above the ski resort of ­Champuloc. Working to identify the body and find the killer, Rocco deals with incompetent underlings and petty superiors, grills meek postmasters and arrogant ski instructors, and beds the local women who find him alluring in spite of his crankiness. VERDICT The mystery here is almost beside the point; what keeps the reader glued to the story is Rocco. He’s fascinating in his contradictions—sarcastic yet haunted, undaunted in his pursuit of justice yet also slightly underhanded in his methods. Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicily-set “Inspector Montalbano” series will enjoy this debut mystery for its sly humor, vividly drawn characters, and amusing cultural clashes between rugged mountaineers and the more urbane southerner. [See ­“Editors’ Spring Picks,” LJ 2/15/15.—Ed.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal

redstarPerry, Michael. The Jesus Cow. Harper. May 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780062289919. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062289995. F

jesuscow4815Perry, a New York Times best-selling nonfiction author (Population: 485), radio host, songwriter, and self-proclaimed amateur pig farmer, makes his fiction debut with this expansive yet grounded novel. Harley Jackson is trying to hold onto the remaining 15 acres of his parents’ farm in Swivel, WI, as well as his meager eight head of beef cattle in the face of pressure from a local opportunistic developer. On Christmas Eve, Harley’s lone dairy cow gives birth to a calf with the unmistakable face of Jesus Christ imprinted on its side. Harley, recognizing immense amounts of trouble in store, does his best to cover the image, but his hapless attempts are no match for the calf destined to become known to the world as #JesusCow. Before long, the young bovine has an agent, a full-blown media circus camps outside Harley’s front door, and our hero has money and plenty of accompanying headaches. ­VERDICT A hilarious glimpse into small-town life and cowboy/farmer/“Scandihoovian” philosophy, combined with meditations on the meanings of faith, environmentalism, development, and romance. Highly recommended for fans of Christopher Moore. [Prepub Alert, 11/10/14.]—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA

Sierra, Jude. Hush. Interlude. May 2015. 278p. ISBN 9781941530276. pap. $15.99. EROTICA

Quirky college student Wren is one of the “gifted,” a blanket term for people who possess varying levels of telepathy. In Wren’s case, he can sense people’s thoughts and emotions, but his true power lies in manipulating them and in projecting his own desire onto others. Cam is a quiet boy who escaped farm life in ­Nebraska for city life in Chicago, although he finds it difficult to embrace the wild college lifestyle of parties and hookups. The two have an unspoken electricity that sparks in their stats class; though Wren can detect and compel attraction, he has to admit that this boy has a power over him as well. Yet ever since his heartbreak, Wren made a rule never to “play” with someone for too long. All his life, Cam has been zipped up and shut tight, but Wren has him spilling wide open. Once the two acknowledge their connection, will they be able to work past their insecurities and make it more than just a game? In her debut novel, Sierra explores Cam’s emotional confinement and burgeoning self-discovery with poetic delicacy, as she does with Wren’s guilt and complete fear of relinquishing himself to the vulnerability of a relationship. Through a great deal of character exposition, Sierra skillfully captures the frustration of navigating identity and interpersonal relationships for those to whom it doesn’t come easy. The subtle twist of fantasy enhances the narrative while also complicating the notion of consent, particularly for Wren. VERDICT This new adult novel plays on the tamer side of erotic, but it is a worthy read and a valuable addition to the genre.—Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal

Stuhler, Rachel. Absolutely True Lies. Touchstone. May 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781476763026. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476763040. F

One only needs to tune in to the evening news or check out the cover of a magazine to see yet another teen celebrity go from America’s sweetheart to a hot mess in no time flat. Stuhler’s debut tells one such story. Tapping in to her personal experience working in Hollywood as a screenwriter and ghostwriter, the author crafts a salacious world in which Holly Gracin, mid-20s and struggling to make a name for herself as a gossip writer, is hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of Daisy Mae Dixon, a teenage pop star who is nothing like the Goody Two–shoes she portrays in public. Despite the rampant corruption and evildoers in their Hollywood milieu, Holly soon finds out the truth behind Daisy’s manufactured persona and is thrown into a world of sex, drugs, and plenty of misery. When Holly flies to Italy for an on-location shoot, Daisy teeters on the edge of self-destruction and Holly must find the strength to stay true to herself. VERDICT An enticing glimpse into the celebrity lifestyle, this first novel is a solid beach read that will cause readers to feel sympathy for child stars. Stuhler’s personal experiences add an extra layer of intrigue that is sure to draw in readers.—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib., CA

Sykes, Lucy & Jo Piazza. The Knockoff. Doubleday. Apr. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780385539586. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385537445. F

theknockoff4815In a reverse The Devil Wears Prada, Imogen Tate, the editor in chief of the high fashion magazine Glossy, returns from a six-month leave to find that her former assistant, Eve Morton, is now in charge of digital content. In fact, Glossy is no longer going to be top of the fashion mag heap: it’s going to be a hybrid fashion blog/shopping site. The change quickly pits the new millennial hires against the more experienced magazine staffers. Imogen has tons of friends in high-fashion places and throws great parties, but she’s the kind of woman who hates her iPhone and avoids Twitter like the plague. She’s not prepared for the changes to Glossy, but she’s really not ready for backstabbing, social-climbing Eve. Debut coauthors Sykes (a fashion director) and Piazza (a journalist) create a truly wicked villain in Eve, a woman who sinks so low as to troll ­Imogen’s teenage daughter on the daughter’s YouTube channel. ­VERDICT Women in the middle of their careers will love living vicariously through the warm, sympathetic ­Imogen as she refreshes her skills, networks her heart out, and lets Eve know that it’s not all about her. [See Prepub Alert, 11/10/14.]—Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL


This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.