Fiction Reviews | June 15, 2005

By LJ Staff

ADDONIZIO, KIM. Little Beauties. S. & S. Aug. 2005. c.256p. ISBN 0-7432-7182-3. $23. F

Diana McBride works in a baby store called Teddy’s World. She doesn’t like babies, her husband has just left her, and she’s an obsessive-compulsive washer. Into Teddy’s World walks Jamie, a pregnant and depressed 17-year-old who has promised her New Age mother that she will give up her baby for adoption. Also present (but not visible) is Stella,Jamie’s unborn child, whose views on Jamie are all-loving Amber Jewelry, Tea Sets, Sleeping Bags, Wholesale Tea Sets but realistic. When Jamie gives birth to Stella in the back of a stranger’s Mercedes, everything changes – for everyone. Jamie decides to keep her baby, the stranger decides not to commit suicide, Stella decides that it was a bad idea to be born, and Diana decides to take in Jamie and Stella, provided they follow her many rules of cleanliness. In her fiction debut, noted poet Addonizio (Tell Me was a National Book Award finalist) makes an impressive transition to prose, revealing a wonderful imagination as she describes the struggles of each character with both a touching reality and an edgy sense of humor. This is a funny story, but it’s about more than comedic characters and bizarre twists of fate – it’s about being born and reborn, dying and almost dying and wanting to die, and learning how to live life in between. Recommended for popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/05.] – Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA

BADDIEL, DAVID. The Secret Purposes. Morrow. Jul. 2005. c.416p. ISBN 0-06-076582-8. $24.95. F

In this historical novel, Baddiel focuses on the internment of German Jews living in England during World War II, drawing on the experiences of his grandfather. The early Nazi atrocities against the Jews in Königsberg, Germany, are depicted through the eyes of an elder rabbi, Isidor Fabian. Against Isidor’s wishes, his son, Isaac, marries a Christian and escapes to Cambridge as the persecution of the Jews in Germany intensifies. Then, in 1940, the British government ships Isaac and all other German residents of England to the Isle of Man, where they are isolated from their families. When June Murray, a translator for the Ministry of Information, visits this internment camp to investigate reports of the mass murders of Jews in Germany. Isaac has a brief romance with June; he also becomes embroiled in a series of events that include a foiled attempt to kill a confirmed Nazi official and a rescue from a transport sunk by a U-boat. Boasting memorable characters, this intriguing novel highlights the prejudice against Jews in the 1940s, which parallels today’s attitude toward the Islamic ethnicity in both England and America. Recommended for all collections. – David A. Beronä, Univ. of New Hampshire Lib., Durham

BEZOS, MACKENZIE. The Testing of Luther Albright. Fourth Estate: HarperCollins. Aug. 2005. c.256p. ISBN 0-06-075141-X. $23.95. F

A civil engineer by trade and an obsessive by nature, Luther Albright has constructed a life in which all things can be measured, tested, and evaluated. However, within Luther’s family, what is being tested is his own patience, his mettle, and, oddly, the strength of his love. In a pattern set by Luther’s parents, the relationship between Luther and his son, Elliot, centers on a power struggle: the endless push/pull of the emotive vs. the dispassionate. Elliot tests his father to provoke a reaction. Sound familiar? The angst of this first novel may well strike a resounding chord with anyone who has been the parent of an adolescent, i.e., anyone whose feet have been held to the fire to see how long it takes for him or her to flinch. Luther defines the emotional landscape in terms of his own failure, but his eventually letting go of his tight rein of control may not be such a failure after all. Within the emotional minutiae, Bezos drops in some breathtakingly truthful observations. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/05.] – Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty., OH

BOND, LARRY. Dangerous Ground. Forge: Tor. 2005. c.368p. ISBN 0-7653-0788-X. $25.95. F

Bond (The Enemy Within) sets his exciting new technothriller on the USSMemphis, an aging nuclear submarine on its final assignment before demolition – a secret mission under the polar ice cap to find the source of Russian radioactive pollution. The captain is an overbearing micromanager, and the crew is borderline dysfunctional as a result. Add to the mix a young officer nobody wants and two female scientists who totally disrupt shipboard life, and you have a recipe for implosion. Still more dire matters surface when the Russians learn of the expedition, and a tense undersea chase ensues. Bond, a former naval intelligence officer, has solid knowledge of submarines and the people who operate them. Although somewhat predictable, Dangerous Ground is a hugely entertaining adventure and provides marvelous insight into life on-board a nuclear submarine. Recommended for most popular fiction collections. – Robert Conroy, Warren, MI

BRODEUR, ADRIENNE. Man Camp. Random. Jul. 2005. c.224p. ISBN 1-4000-6214-4. $21.95. F

Lucy falls out of love with her boyfriend, Adam, after a Valentine’s Day fiasco reveals his shortcomings, while Martha is not able to get beyond the first date in any of her relationships. These situations lead the best friends to concoct a business plan that involves dating fellow New Yorkers and critiquing their dating style; soon, the enterprise evolves into a more intense program that the girls privately dub ‘Man Camp.’ Lucy’s college pal Cooper, a gentleman farmer from West Virginia, comes on board to coach Man Camp’s clientele on how to be real men, instructing them how to change a tire and shoot a gun in the process. But the students end up teaching the teacher when he almost loses the farm. In another plot twist, Cooper and Martha find themselves falling in love, only to butt heads with his Southern belle of a mother, who isn’t too keen on her son taking up with a Yankee. Fast-paced and fun, this debut by Zoetrope: All-Story founding editor Brodeur is sure to please fans of chick-lit light. Recommended for larger fiction collections. – Stacy Alesi, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., Boca Raton, FL

CLARK, MARY JANE. Dancing in the Dark. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-312-32315-8. $21.95. F

To her chagrin, KEY News correspondent Diane Mayfield is ordered to go to Ocean Grove, NJ, to investigate the abduction of a young woman who may have faked her own disappearance. With her husband in federal prison for misappropriation of corporate funds, Diane is her family’s sole breadwinner and so opts to scrap her Grand Canyon vacation, instead taking her children and sister with her on assignment to Ocean Grove. The town is still unsettled owing to the search for Leslie Patterson, whom most now believe was only crying wolf. But when another woman, Carly Neath, goes missing, everything changes. In this latest addition to her KEY News series, Clark (Mary Higgins Clark’s former daughter-in-law) demonstrates why she is such a popular author, telling a gripping story chock-full of edge-of-your-seat suspense. She juggles several plot lines with aplomb and uses just a few precise words to create complete portraits of each character. The tension is such that having begun the book, readers will not be able to put it down. For all fiction collections. – Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights – University Heights P.L.

CUTLER, JESSICA. The Washingtonienne. Hyperion. Jun. 2005. c.304p. ISBN 1-4013-0200-9. $23.95. F

An attractive young woman comes to Washington, DC, accepts an intern job on Capitol Hill, kisses many, and tells all on her weblog. Ultimately outed by a girlfriend, she loses her rent-paying men and her job but gains the notoriety of press coverage and a book deal. If the plot of this salacious first novel sounds familiar, it’s because it actually happened to Cutler, a former employee of Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) whose online diary entries caused a political scandal when they went public last year. Main character Jacqueline is cynically smart, narcissistic, and damaged and, therefore, more than a little scary; she cares for no one and lives by the dictum, ‘Screw others before they screw you.’ That a modern young woman might believe that the old trade of sexual services for material things is new and liberating will sadden more than shock more mature readers. Cutler makes a small attempt at character analysis with hints of addiction and depression, but these are thrown glibly aside in favor of unrepentant fun. With no real character or narrative development, the book is also a touch boring. In DC, this story is old news, but there’s no accounting for the wider public’s taste for sexual scandal. Gauge your readers’ interest and either buy the book or direct readers to the eponymous blog (http:// washingtoniennearchive. blogspot.com). – Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC

DELINSKY, BARBARA. Looking for Peyton Place. Scribner. Jul. 2005. c.368p. ISBN 0-7432-4644-6. $24.95. F

When a successful writer based in Washington, DC, returns home to New Hampshire’s Middle River following her mother’s death, many of the small community’s residents are nervous. They fear Annie Barnes is planning to write a thinly disguised novel about their town, just like they believe Grace Metalious did many years ago with her blockbuster Peyton Place. Actually,Annie visits for a month to investigate why her mother got sick and why one of her sisters is now ill. She also hopes to mend fences with her siblings, who feel she should have done more when their mother was sick. Best-selling author Delinsky (Flirting with Pete) offers a compelling read with several interesting angles: a small town with many secrets and a powerful family, risky romantic entanglements, frightening scientific/medical possibilities, and the Grace Metalious story. Public libraries should anticipate high summer demand. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/05; libraries may also want to stock up on extra copies of Peyton Place as Sandra Bullock is slated to produce and star in Grace, a biopic about the ill-fated author. – Ed.] – Samantha J. Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY

 

DIAMANT, ANITA. The Last Days of Dogtown. Scribner. Sept. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 0-7432-2573-2. $25. F

In her latest novel, Diamant (The Red Tent; Good Harbor) expertly weaves together seemingly disparate stories of a dying Massachusetts town into something greater than the sum of its parts. In the early 1800s, Dogtown is a village on Cape Ann populated by spinsters, free slaves, and prostitutes, all of whom are reviled by the surrounding communities. Beginning with the death of a town patriarch and ending when the last resident expires, Dogtown’s final days are filled with all the secrets a town can keep. Several characters stand out, including Tammy Younger, the town pariah, and Judy Rhines, whose affair with a free African is kept secret to heartbreaking effect. Diamant has a gift for storytelling and breathes life into this dying town and its eccentric inhabitants. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/05.] – Anastasia Diamond, Cleveland P.L.

DUDMAN, CLARE. 98 Reasons for Being. Viking. Jul. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-670-03424-X. $25.95. F

Set in 1852 Frankfurt and loosely based on notes from the files of physician Heinrich Hoffman, this novel deals with the fictitious case of a despondent and speechless young woman delivered by her mother to the local insane asylum for treatment. When the conventional psychiatric treatments of the day – ice packs, emetics, purgatives, and leeches – have no effect on her, reform-minded Hoffman turns to a talking cure. By opening up about himself, his family, and his other patients – whose problems range from anorexia to creeping paralysis to cross-dressing – he gradually succeeds in treating his silent patient. In a pre-Freudian time, when mental illness was little understood and women’s problems were attributed to irregularities in their nervous and reproductive systems, it seems nothing short of miraculous that doctors like Hoffman achieved medical breakthroughs and actually cured some of their patients. Dudman (One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead) has crafted a compelling tale that skillfully blends fact and fiction, giving her work the ring of verisimilitude. Recommended for public libraries. – Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont.

FOLEY, MICK. Scooter. Knopf. Aug. 2005. c.320p. ISBN 1-4000-4414-6. $23.95. F

In his second novel (after Tietam Brown), renowned WWF wrestler Foley presents a coming-of-age story about Scooter Reilly, named for Yankee MVP ball player turned announcer Phil Rizutto. Raised in New York City’s deteriorating Bronx and later on suburban Long Island in the 1960s and 1970s, Scooter grows up with a father and a grandfather who revere baseball and especially their beloved Yankees. For Scooter, however, it’s not baseball itself but its small moments of drama that seem to matter. Incidents both humorous and horrific occur in Scooter’s own life related to this sport, which change the lives of the people involved forever. Armed with the mantra an eye for an eye, Scooter is a strong-willed, resourceful underdog when facing adversity (and there is plenty here) or when reaching for a goal. In fact, most of the male characters are persevering and dedicated, while the women are either all good or all evil. Foley writes with a throbbing intensity as he maneuvers the story’s twists and turns, and his graphic depictions of physical brutality and suffering give the novel a strange, driven edge. Recommended for larger public libraries and elsewhere if baseball fans abound. – Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ

HALTER, MAREK. Zipporah, Wife of Moses. Crown. (Canaan Trilogy, Bk. 2). Jul. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 1-4000-5279-3. $23. F

Sarah, the first book in Halter’s ‘Canaan Trilogy,’ was enthralling, but this follow-up is even better. Mentioned by name only three times in the book of Exodus, Zipporah is given a rich heritage and a powerful voice here. The daughter of a Cushite (i.e., African) woman who died shortly after her birth, she is raised and loved dearly by Jethro, high priest and leader of the Midianites. But her dark skin sets her apart from the tribe and condemns her to a life of isolation and loneliness; it isn’t until Moses stumbles out of the desert fleeing the Egyptians and into Jethro’s camp that Zipporah’s destiny changes. Within a few short years, she becomes Moses’ wife and the mother of his children. Bolstered by her strength of character and firm belief in him, Moses finds the courage to return to Egypt and demand the release of his people from slavery. Halter’s Zipporah is a woman of passion, loyalty, and faith, and readers will cheer her on. Highly recommended, particularly for libraries whose patrons have asked for more books like Orson Scott Card’s ‘Women of Genesis’ series and Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05; ‘The Canaan Trilogy’ will conclude with Lilah, due for a 2006 release. – Ed.] – Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK

HARRISON, KATHRYN. Envy. Random. Jul. 2005. c.320p. ISBN 1-4000-6346-9. $24.95. F

Everyone in Harrison’s latest novel is having sex – marital sex, adulterous geriatric sex, sex that crosses that critical therapist/patient line. And then, because this is Harrison, there is the matter of incest. Will Moreland’s solid marriage to his yoga-calmed wife, Carole, is coming apart at the seams. A successful psychoanalyst, fortysomething Will has squarely faced the daily devastation of two profound losses – the accidental drowning of his young son, Luke, and the complete estrangement of his identical twin brother, Mitchell, on the eve of his and Carole’s wedding 15 years earlier. An unfortunate encounter with an old flame at Will’s 25th college reunion sends him on a journey to reexamine his sexual history, which is soon revealed to be shockingly linked to his present disastrous fall from grace. Harrison writes like a poet, spinning a tangled tale rich with familiar themes from her previous works, most notably the provocative The Kiss, her memoir of her consensual affair with her preacher father when she was 20. Compulsively readable and deeply disturbing, this work is strongly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.] – Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

HICKS, ROBERT. The Widow of the South. Warner. Aug. 2005. 409p. bibliog. ISBN 0-446-50012-7. $24.95. F

John McGavock, the husband of our eponymous heroine, isn’t even dead when she begins wearing black, but the mantle of mourning seems to fit Carrie McGavock. Having lost three young children, it is perhaps appropriate that she becomes the caretaker of over 1500 Confederate dead, all killed at the Battle of Franklin, TN,in 1864. Based on a true story, music publisher Hicks’s first novel brings the reader onto the battlefield and into the lives of its survivors, including Zachariah Cashwell, an Arkansas soldier whose presence at the makeshift hospital established in the McGavock home shakes Carrie out of her stupor: ‘I had discovered why I had been drawn to him,’ she says. ‘He is a living thing, not a dying one.’ And it is life, after all, that drives Hicks’s story. We know from the outset about Carrie’s cemetery, but her journey to that place is compellingly told. Highly recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.] – Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

KERLEY, JACK. The Death Collectors. Dutton. Jul. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-525-94877-5. $24.95. F

Perhaps Kerley’s 25 years in advertising explain his delight in the macabre, what he calls the shadowy side of human nature. In his debut thriller, The Hundredth Man, he introduced Detective Carson Ryder (small, white) and his partner Harry Nautilus (large, black), who make up a special unit of the Mobile, AL, police force focusing on weird or psychological cases. Here, they investigate a series of murders that seems tied to a dead serial killer whose Charles Manson – like influence may be continuing in his followers. Ryder immerses himself in the bizarre world of wealthy collectors of serial killer leavings, the ‘death collectors.’ As in the first book, here he gets help from his brother, himself in a psych ward for multiple killings. Kerley has a subtle touch for complex plotting and employs a shotgun’s force of action, a wildly exotic group of characters, and an unusual locale to great effect. As page-turners go, this is a beauty; readers will expect to see more of Ryder and Nautilus. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/05.] – Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

KING, LILY. The English Teacher. Atlantic Monthly. Sept. 2005. c.256p. ISBN 0-87113-897-2. $24. F

When Vida Avery, an English teacher at a Maine prep school, marries a local widower after a brief courtship, the narrow world she has maintained for herself and her teenage son, Peter, begins to fall apart. Peter is actually excited about becoming part of a real family, but his stepsiblings, still reeling from their mother’s death from brain cancer, are less than welcoming. Meanwhile, Vida is slipping into alcoholism as the new intimacy of her marriage and Peter’s burgeoning adolescence force her to confront a secret past. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles provides clues but not the trajectory of King’s surprisingly intricate second novel (after The Pleasing Hour), as the two families ultimately come together in an unexpected and affirming resolution. The author expertly weaves together diverse themes: literary allusions and the exhilaration and manipulations of teaching, along with a sympathetic view of teenage insecurities and the tensions of taking on the role of stepmother. All this is delivered in poetic yet streamlined prose. Highly recommended. – Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA

KOSTOVA, ELIZABETH. The Historian. Little, Brown. Jun. 2005. c.647p. ISBN 0-316-01177-0. $25.95. F

Did Bram Stoker base his character Count Dracula on the historical Vlad Dracul, the cruel 15th-century prince of Wallachia? Some believe this despite scanty evidence, but in Kostova’s first novel there is no doubt. In the early 20th century, Paul, a young graduate student, learns from his advisor, Professor Rossi, that Prince Dracula is still alive as one of the undead. When the professor disappears one terrifying night, Paul goes in search of his mentor, whom he knows to be in Dracula’s clutches. His search takes him to secret archives and libraries of ancient monasteries throughout Eastern Europe; he is joined by his daughter, his wife, and friends, all historians and scholars themselves. (There’s even an evil, undead librarian!) The writing is excellent, and the pace is brisk, although it sags a bit in the middle. There is plenty of suspense so that readers will want to find out what happens next. Ten years in the writing, this debut is recommended for readers who enjoy arcane literary puzzles à la Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Ian Caldwell’s The Rule of Four. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/05.] – Patricia Altner, Information Seekers, Columbia, MD

MCCARTHY, CORMAC. No Country for Old Men. Knopf. Jul. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-375-40677-8. $26. F

McCarthy has reached the pinnacle of literary success, with critical recognition, best-seller status, and cult-author cachet. It is a difficult position to maintain, and it doesn’t help that his idiosyncratic prose style, which tries to wrest poetry from hardscrabble lives, has become increasingly mannered. In his latest novel, McCarthy stumbles headlong into self-parody. Llewelyn Moss is a humble welder who hunts not for sport but to put food on the table. Tracking a wounded antelope one morning, Moss finds an abandoned truck filled with bullet-ridden corpses, sealed packages of ‘Mexican brown,’ and $2 million in cash. He leaves the dope behind but takes the money, changing in that moment from hunter to prey. Moss is tailed by Anton Chigurh, an updated version of the satanic Judge Holden from Blood Meridian (1985). Straight-arrow Sheriff Bell, the old man of the title, tries his best to save young Moss, but Chigurh is unstoppable. McCarthy lays out his rancorous worldview with all the nuance and subtlety of conservative talk radio. It is hard to believe that this is the same person who wrote Suttree (1979). A made-for-television melodrama filled with guns and muscle cars, this will nonetheless be in demand; for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/05.] – Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles

MATHEWS, HARRY. My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973. Dalkey Archive. 2005. 203p. ISBN 1-56478-392-8. pap. $13.95. F

The author – and main character – of this work is the only American member of the experimental French writers’ group Oulipo, and, as such, has sometimes been suspected by his Parisian friends of being a CIA agent. The story concerns what happened during 1973 when Mathews decided to stop denying the rumors and play spy for real. Setting up a travel agency as a front, he soon became involved with fringe groups on both sides of the political spectrum, with his game ultimately having real and potentially deadly consequences. Mathews, the author of several experimental novels, has concocted a traditional narrative on the one hand yet experimental on the other. Occupying a place between novel and memoir, it blends the real and imagined, continually challenging the reader to decide what’s true and what’s fiction. One thing is clear, though: this is far more entertaining than the average piece of metafiction. While this is a small-press book, its unusual premise is already creating a buzz. Recommended for most public libraries. – Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA

MEHRAN, MARSHA. Pomegranate Soup. Random. Aug. 2005. c.240p. ISBN 1-4000-6241-1. $24.95. F

Recalling James Joyce’s Dubliners, this first novel by Mehran (who was born in Iran but now lives in Ireland) centers on the inhabitants of a small Irish town. When three Iranian sisters move into the former bake shop and open a Middle Eastern café, turmoil erupts. The quirky and wonderfully fleshed-out characters who make up the populace of Ballinacroagh align with either the sisters and their exotic delicacies or the town bully, Thomas McGuire, who attempts to put them out of business. From the young and lovely Layla to resident gossip Dervla Quigley, these characters come to life; they’re as uniquely simple or as deeply complex as the dishes that eldest sister Marjan concocts – recipes included! Personal demons and questioned loyalties play out like a movie on the page (think Joanne Harris’s Chocolat), making the reader feel like an eyewitness to all the events. A satisfying summer read or book club pick; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/05.] – Leann Restaino, Jameson Health Syst. Lib., New Castle, PA

MERULLO, ROLAND. A Little Love Story. Shaye Areheart: Harmony. Aug. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 1-4000-4867-2. $23. F

Right from the start, it’s clear that Merullo’s latest novel (after In Revere, in Those Days) is about loss and grief, with lighthearted moments: ‘My year of mourning was over, and I decided to mark the anniversary by treating myself to a doughnut.’ This bittersweet love story rises above its overwrought two-hankie potential with compassion for its characters. Jake Entwhistle, a 30-year-old carpenter, risks reentering the dating scene by asking out the woman who smashed his truck outside the doughnut shop. Janet Rossi is 27, beautiful, smart – an aide to the governor – and dying of cystic fibrosis. Despite their individual baggage and Jake’s goofy nervousness, they feel an immediate connection. The novel chronicles the next three months, as Janet’s health declines and every wet, choking breath is an exercise in courage. While it’s improbable that Jake would suffer two tragedies like this, it’s not distracting, and the overall impression is one of great love and intimacy. Recommended for most public libraries. – Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA

MINA, DENISE. Field of Blood. Little, Brown. Jul. 2005. c.368p. ISBN 0-316-73593-0. $24.95. F

A bonny wean is brutally murdered in gritty Glasgow (a city where a bloke can earn himself a beating for flourishing an umbrella), and the guilty parties seem all too obvious – two children barely older than the victim. Paddy Meehan is working as a lowly gofer at the city newspaper and trying desperately to placate her multiple demons: her Catholic heritage, her ambition, her family’s grinding poverty, and her weight. When she discovers that one of the alleged murderers is her fiancé’s cousin, she starts her own investigation, using the name of a real reporter at the paper. When that reporter turns up dead, it’s an open question if Paddy has bitten off more than even she can chew. The first volume in a promised, and promising, new series from Mina (Deception), this should earn her even more fans and cement her position as Glasgow’s retort to other Scottish luminaries like Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. A thoroughly engaging read; suitable for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.] – Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO

RAVEL, EDEET. A Wall of Light. HarperCollins. Aug. 2005. c.272p. ISBN 0-06-076146-6. $23.95. F

In this third book in a trilogy that includes Ten Thousand Lovers and Look for Me, also set in Tel Aviv and featuring a woman separated from the man she loves, we meet three generations of the Vronsky family. Noah, who begins a diary when he is ten and ends after his army service, writes with humor about his sexual identity, political ambivalence, and family relationships. His grandmother, Anna, writes letters in the late 1950s to a lover in Russia, detailing the experiences of postwar immigrants in her newfound Israel and her efforts to become an actress. Anna’s daughter, narrator Sonya, is a deaf professor of mathematics at Tel Aviv University who falls hopelessly in love with a Palestinian taxi driver and follows him to the heart of Jerusalem. Like its predecessors, this concluding volume focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the toll it takes on human lives and especially on relationships. Here, however, the three narrators weave the story together most effectively, showing that while war is a destructive force, love is powerful as well. Ravel writes poignantly about survival and hope in the midst of tragedy. Recommended for all libraries. – Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD

REICHS, KATHY. Cross Bones. Scribner. Jun. 2005. c.368p. ISBN 0-7432-3348-4. $25. F

Tempe Brenner gets mixed up in historical and international intrigue in Reich’s latest book featuring the forensic anthropologist (see also Monday Mourning). Tempe, stationed in Quebec, is assigned to participate in an autopsy on a Hasidic Jew who was found shot to death in a warehouse closet. At the autopsy, a stranger hands her a photo of an ancient skeleton as an explanation for the victim’s death. An investigation suggests that the skeleton may be the remains of an individual who died at Massada, a mountain near Jerusalem where a famous battle between the Zealots and the Romans took place in 73 C.E.Tempe and Detective Andrew Ryan travel to Israel to question the main suspect in the murder investigation, and while there, Tempe meets with a colleague who may have stumbled across the Jesus family tomb. What do ‘Massada Max’ and the bodies in the family tomb have in common?Will Tempe’s discovery shake the foundations of the three major world religions? Reichs devotes too much time at the novel’s beginning to technical details, but those who wait out the first few chapters will be pleased by the engrossing story that follows. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/05.] – Nanci Milone Hill, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA

RUBIO, GWYN HYMAN. The Woodsman’s Daughter. Viking. Aug. 2005. c.416p. ISBN 0-670-03321-9. $24.95. F

Monroe Miller is in his element on his turpentine plantation, where his workmen treat him with respect. But at home, his wife and two daughters consider him a coarse, common drunkard who tracks mud into their house. The opening section of Rubio’s multigenerational Southern Gothic is absorbing and atmospheric. Unfortunately, the final two-thirds are uneven, as Monroe’s daughter, Dalia, takes center stage. Attempting to escape her family tragedy, Dalia sets off to make her own way and avoid the mistakes of her forbears. Unfortunately, Rubio (Icy Sparks), who generally has a talent for characterization and manages to make Monroe sympathetic despite his grave flaws, fails to do so with Dalia: she’s genuinely unlikable. The plotting could also be defter, as Rubio tries to do both too much and too little. Perhaps instead of tripping across the decades, she could have focused more on selected scenes and subplots. Given those flaws, the conclusion should not pack an emotional wallop – but it does even in spite of its own melodrama. For larger collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/05.] – Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

SÁENZ, BENJAMIN ALIRE. In Perfect Light. Rayo: HarperCollins. Jul. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-06-077920-9. $24.95. F

Sáenz (creative writing, Univ. of Texas, El Paso; The House of Forgetting) here weaves together two narratives. The first focuses on widowed psychologist Grace Delgado, who has just discovered that she has cancer and has difficulty telling her estranged son, Mister, and his wife, who are about to adopt a blind boy. The second concerns orphaned hothead Andrés Segovia, incarcerated for murdering a man who molested him as a child. Eventually, Grace and Andrés meet as doctor and patient, respectively, and their dialog gives background to the middle of the novel. Despite the ensuing drama, the novel ends on a note of renewal and reconciliation. The narrative is fragmented but not disruptive, with the author carefully following each thread of the complex weave, and the painful situations and true-to-life dialog have visceral impact. Though the characters are Hispanic and the setting is El Paso, this story is universal. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. – Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH

SALVAYRE, LYDIE. The Lecture. Dalkey Archive. Jun. 2005. 131p. tr. from French by Linda Coverdale. ISBN 1-56478-351-0. pap. $12.50. F

Salvayre’s odd, short novel is made up entirely of the text of a lecture given by a nameless bore who expounds ad nauseam on the ’eminently French’ art of conversation – an art he fears is going to the dogs: ‘Mediocrity, ladies and gentlemen, is going international. The fear of offending prevails more and more over the taste for talking.’ Our logorrheic little man is a tiresome, pompous, self-proclaimed genius who talks at rather than with others. It is ironic, then, that he chooses conversation as his lecture topic (which, like the tango, is a two-party exercise). We, the audience, watch and listen as his digressions reveal his nastier side – including his horrible treatment of his dying wife, his pettiness, his failures, and his loneliness. Salvayre is a highly regarded, prize-winning writer, and Dalkey is clearly in her corner (this is the first of five of her books that the small, respected press is translating and releasing). While the conceit of a lecture is original and in this case occasionally amusing, the work is uneven and only partially satisfactory. Purchase for comprehensive collections of contemporary European fiction. Other libraries can skip. – Janet Evans, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Lib., Philadelphia

SHAPIRO, DANA ADAM. The Every Boy. Houghton. Jul. 2005. c.224p. ISBN 0-618-47800-0. $19.95. F

Fifteen-year-old Henry Every has died at the beginning of this first novel, but he has left behind a 2600-page, color-coded ledger diary. Readers shadow his father, Harlan, as he reconstructs his son’s life with the document. Harlan and ex-wife Hannah split up when Henry was about ten, she moving to the Netherlands to pursue her interest in ant farms, and he remaining home with Henry, giving up his dermatology practice to dive into a full-time obsession with nurturing jellyfish in large-scale home aquariums. Virtually unsupervised, Henry becomes involved with two girls, one a neighbor, the other Benna, a New Yorker who is missing a hand and whom Henry visits for extended periods. Henry and Benna kind of fall in love; in addition, they attend a meeting of people who have had some of their limbs amputated voluntarily and secretly follow Benna’s father and brother on a hunting trip in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The diary and the chapters built around it reconstruct the period leading up to Henry’s unfortunate demise, while other sections relate the parents’ eventual reconciliation after Henry’s death. With skillfully rendered portraits of quirky people who take themselves too seriously, the author erects a world of humorous eccentricity and personal obsession. Recommended for larger collections, this book may work well for older teens and adults in their twenties.[See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.] – Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.

SLOVO, GILLIAN. Ice Road. Norton. 2005. 560p. ISBN 0-393-32720-5. pap. $15.95. F

Memoirist and novelist Slovo’s (Red Dust) star is rising, and this novel will affirm her status as a keen observer of human nature and its agonizing contradictions. Leningraders in the era just after the revolution and during World War II, Irina and Natasha could not lead more different lives, even under the leveling pressures of the Soviet boot they shared. Irina goes as the cook on an ill-fated expedition to the Arctic, barely making it out alive; Natasha is the coddled daughter of a well-connected family eventually trapped in Stalinist paranoia. Their paths not only cross but also merge when extinction threatens them both. Slovo writes keenly of ideological ironies and their interplay and treats her characters with great sympathy. Libraries where Helen Dunmore’s The Siege and Vassily Aksyonov’s work attract patrons will want this fresh and intense exploration of the Russian paradoxes. [The author is the daughter of Joe Slovo, leader of the South African Communist party, and Ruth First, a journalist who was murdered in 1982. – Ed.] – Barbara Conaty, Library of Congress

SWARUP, VIKAS. Q & A. Scribner. Aug. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-7432-6747-8. $24. F

Swarup’s debut novel is not for the faint of heart. Set in contemporary India, it opens with the arrest of a poor orphan boy named Ram Mohammed Thomas who wins the ultimate prize on a quiz show called Who Will Win a Billion?, only to be arrested and tortured by police and unscrupulous television executives reluctant to cough up the rupees. This episode turns out to be the first in a string of appalling acts that unfold throughout the novel and ostensibly illustrate not only the disturbing conditions of India’s lower classes but also the terrible oppression that many women and children are forced to endure in that country. Combined with a picaresque first-person narrative, these themes turn Q & A into an uncommon modern-day saga. There are many moments, however, when Swarup’s prose reads as though something has been lost in translation. The formal dialog makes it difficult to conjure the authentic sights and sounds of Indian urban street life, and the excessive number of horrific acts in some ways desensitizes the reader to the characters’ plights. That said, the book is still a readable and inventive piece of social commentary that should strike a chord with admirers of somewhat melodramatic, Dickens-like fiction. Recommended for large contemporary fiction collections. – Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ

THOMSON, RUPERT. Divided Kingdom. Knopf. Jun. 2005. c.368p. maps. ISBN 1-4000-4218-6. $25.95. F

The most unsettling nightmares are those that feel as though they could really happen, and Thomson’s novels (e.g., Book of Revelation) have been a study in these kinds of psychological nightmares. In his latest, the government splits the United Kingdom and its populace into four quarters that correspond with four distinct personality types or humors – Yellow for the aggressive, Blue for the melancholics, Green for the apathetic phlegmatics, and Red for the sanguine. A small child when he is severed from his parents and relocated to the easygoing Red quarter, Thomas Perry grows up with little memory of life before the reassignment and is easily indoctrinated into the new regime and its dogmas. As an adult, however, Thomas has a job that takes him across the zone borders, and he begins to question his fractured country. With the haunting quality of David Bowie’s postapocalyptic Ziggy Stardust melodies, Thompson’s novel draws favorable comparisons with other dystopian classics like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984. His cautionary vision of the horrible controlling power of politics is an immensely riveting, highly recommended read for all public libraries. – Misha Stone, Seattle P.L.

WALLER, ROBERT JAMES. High Plains Tango. Shaye Areheart: Harmony. Jun. 2005. c.304p. ISBN 0-307-20994-6. $24.95. F

Waller here extends The Bridges of Madison County franchise by focusing on the son of photographer Robert Kincaid, the original book’s protagonist. Master carpenter Carlisle McMillan is disgusted by the big-city developmental mind-set of forsaking quality for quantity to turn a quick buck; he becomes restless, traveling throughout America and settling at last in the small town of Salamander, SD, home to sacred Indian burial grounds and the striking and mysterious Susanna Benteen. Drawing on the caring craftsmanship instilled in him by his surrogate father, Cody Marx, McMillan transforms a ramshackle house into a home only to find himself fending off government plans to build a highway through his property. Waller’s tale leisurely meanders through the various lives that McMillan touches with the requisite pulling of the heartstrings. The abrasive attitudes of the townsfolk – along with the corruption of local politicians and businesspeople – serve as a counterpoint to the apparently faultless McMillan. Pat as it is, this novel will be in demand owing to the popularity of Waller’s previous Kincaid titles. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/05.] – Joy St. John, Henderson Dist. P.L., NV

WEST, MICHAEL LEE. Mad Girls in Love. HarperCollins. Jul. 2005. c.544p. ISBN 0-06-018406-X. $24.95. F

In this sequel to Crazy Ladies, it’s a few weeks later in 1972, and we’re back with Dorothy, Clancy Jane, Bitsy, Violet, and Jennifer. A dramatic opening episode separates Bitsy from her baby daughter, Jennifer, and the novel follows this Tennessee family as they laugh and cry, love and lose for 22 years. Although not without its moments, the story lacks the punch of its predecessor and seems to struggle for its desired audience. (Scattered strong language may also affect readership.) Why do we know so little of Bitsy’s ten years in London, and why does Violet just drift out of the novel? A shorter, tighter structure might have provided the focus this lacks. Unlike many Southern novels, there’s no strong sense of place, although West tries to convey a feel for the times. But even Dorothy’s unanswered letters to First Ladies can’t energize this. Purchase only where West’s several books enjoy a steady following. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.] – Rebecca Kelm, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

WILLIS, SARAH. The Sound of Us. Berkley: Penguin Putnam. Jun. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-425-20302-6. $23.95. F

One hot morning in July, the phone rings a little after 2 a.m., waking Alice Marlowe from a sound sleep and changing her life forever. At the other end is six-year-old Larissa, who has misdialed. Her wayward mother, meanwhile, is job hunting in another city and thinks that Aunt Teya is looking after her daughter, who has been left alone for over 19 hours. Instead of calling the police immediately, Alice goes to the apartment to see if she can help.When the police do arrive, all Alice knows is that she can’t walk away. A sign-language interpreter who has never married, Aliceleads a quiet life and has never considered becoming a foster mother, but something about Larissa strikes a chord. In addition, Alice is especially bereft after the loss of her twin brother in a car accident; could the phone call in the middle of the night really be fate?Willis (A Good Distance) has written a wonderfully moving book about a woman and a child who bond despite terrific odds. The characters are vivid and real, and readers will become engrossed in their lives. Recommended for public libraries. – Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH

SHORT STORIES

DURCAN, LIAM. A Short Journey by Car. Esplanade: Véhicule Pr. 2005. c.160p. ISBN 1-55065-189-7. pap. $12.95. F

Canadian neurologist Liam Durcan operates successfully on both the brain and the heart in his debut short story collection, with a spare and straightforward prose style as luminously clean as an operating room: ‘Silence. Cold jets in your face and then just relief. But the stink! Hell’s own chamberpot.’ Although the title story, about Stalin’s dentist, and ‘Lumière,’ an account of the screening of the first motion picture, are delightful brain candy, the stories set in contemporary Canada are more emotionally compelling. ‘The Gap,’ an account of a raucous demonstration, is told from the complex and surprisingly similar perspectives of a rioting demonstrator and a riotous policeman. Durcan’s characters’ occasional observations about their domineering neighbor to the south are chillingly revelatory: ‘America was perfect freedom and lethal injections; a distant border, endless strip malls offering hollow-point ammo and Kevlar vests; it was a promise that a person could change and a warning of what that change could be.’ Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. – Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico

HASAK-LOWY, TODD. The Task of This Translator. Harvest: Harcourt. Jun. 2005. c.272p. ISBN 0-15-603112-4. pap. $13. F

Hasak-Lowy’s debut collection places uneasy protagonists in a variety of difficult and often absurd situations and lets them muddle their way through them. The backdrops tend to be contemporary crises as varied as nuclear war threats, the aftermath of an Eastern European atrocity, and obesity in America. This allows the author to deliver ironic punches, some more successful than others, as personal neuroses meet global concerns. One of the liveliest stories is also the simplest, involving an unworldly academic whose attempt to make friends with a streetwise character nicknamed T-Dog has a Mork and Mindy sort of comic flare. Another imagines a company that hires out what are quite literally bodyguards – they prevent their obese customers from overeating. Other attempts at humor bog down in unwieldy prose, and there is a singular lack of descriptive detail that could have added depth and authenticity to these stories. Nonetheless, the author’s debut is full of adventurous ideas and some moments of genuine vivacity, pathos, and wit. Recommended for larger fiction collections. – Laurie Sullivan, Sage Group International, Nashville

HEMMINGS, KAUI HART. House of Thieves. Penguin Pr: Penguin Putnam. Jun. 2005. c.258p. ISBN 1-59420-048-3. $22.95. F

The nine stories in Hemmings’s debut collection are startlingly precise in their unsentimental representation of the ways that people torment and sustain one another. Everyone is exposed – family members, friends, neighbors – in this spectacular compilation that rips deep into the marrow of the everyday lives of upper-class Hawaiians. In ‘The Minor Wars,’ a father’s relationship with his precocious ten-year-old daughter titillates his comatose wife. As the girl grapples with the difference between physical and emotional pain, she vividly transitions from carefree kid to burdened adult. It’s heartbreaking stuff, though laced with humor. ‘Final Girl’ describes a single mother’s relationship with her adolescent son and her downward spiral upon finding a pornographic magazine in his bedroom. Other stories zero in on brother-sister incest, a drug-dealing father’s abandonment of his daughter, a confused teen’s relationship with her dad’s mistress, a son’s realization of his parents’ flaws, and the varied ways parents and children demonstrate their antipathy for one another. This emotionally brave anthology is hard-hitting, perceptive, beautifully crafted, and wonderfully entertaining. Highly recommended for all libraries. – Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY

MOHANRAJ, MARY ANNE. Bodies in Motion. HarperCollins. Jul. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 0-06-078118-1. $22.95. F

In her first book, Mohanraj, born in Sri Lanka but a longtime U.S. resident, presents a series of interconnected short stories covering four generations of two families throughout five decades. The collection begins with ‘Ocean Bright and Wide,’ set in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1939. When Thani goes to talk with the Irish nun who is supervising his daughters’ education, the nun tries to convince him to send his youngest, Shanthi, for further education, with Oxford as a goal, to show the world ‘what astonishing heights your people are capable of.’ As Thani interjects, it is as if Shanthi were ‘a trained monkey, a performing dog.’ That encounter sets the tone for the other tales of trying to maintain a cultural heritage, of running from it to mainstream European/America culture, and of moving back and forth between the two. Always, the stories are about sex and food – the dominant forces that identify a character with one culture or another. Some are brutal, while others are more touching. The book isn’t a continuous tale of these families but offers glimpses of different members often greatly separated in time and space. Mohanraj offers readers great insights into her characters and has left plenty of material to be mined in further works. Recommended, especially for South Asian academic collections. – Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib.

The Secret Society of Demolition Writers. Random. Jun. 2005. c.304p. ed. by Marc Parent. ISBN 1-4000-6264-0. $22.95. F

Writers of serious literature must often struggle with the expectations imposed on them by the reading public, the demands of the marketplace, and their own reputations. With this accomplished and intriguing collection, Parent (Turning Stones) set out to provide a moment of liberation. He invited a small group of well-known contemporary writers (including Aimee Bender, Benjamin Cheever, and Alice Sebold) to contribute anonymously to this book – to see what might happen if they could write fearlessly, as if they had ‘nothing to lose.’ We know the names of all the contributors but not who wrote what; the results are fascinating. As a group, these stories are beautifully realized, deeply satisfying in their variety, and powerful in their cumulative impact. They deal mostly with serious moments of human connection, disconnection, and hard-won personal clarity – and they do not shrink from confronting pain, loneliness, and confusion. Much more than a charming literary experiment, this is, indeed, literature at its most compelling and fearless. Enthusiastically recommended. – Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

ULITSKAYA, LUDMILA. Sonechka: A Novella and Stories. Schocken. 2005. 256p. tr. from Russian by Arch Tait. ISBN 0-8052-4195-7. $23. F

In her first short story collection, Russian Booker Prize winner Ulitskaya (The Funeral Party) covers the tumultuous terrain of relationships and love in 20th-century Russia. While some details in this engaging collection are time- and place-specific (e.g., communal apartments during the Soviet era), the characters’ motives and feelings rise to the universal. In the title story, Sonechka so loves her husband and their life together that she accepts what many would find unthinkable. In ‘The Queen of Spades,’ Anna considers her love for and fear of her controlling mother as she watches her ex-husband neatly manage the elderly woman. ‘Zurich’ explores the course of love and happiness in Lidia’s life when she leaves her homeland and marries a Swiss businessman. Many of the stories contain echoes of classical Russian literature, among them ‘Angel,’ in which a professor marries a woman in order to be physically close to his true love – her son. Recommended for academic and public collections. – Heather Wright, ASRC Aerospace Corp., Cincinnati

YOSHIMOTO, BANANA. Hardboiled & Hard Luck. Grove. Jul. 2005. c.160p. tr. from Japanese by Michael Emmerich. ISBN 0-8021-1799-6. $21. F

Originally published in her native Japan in 1999, this latest offering from Yoshimoto (Goodbye Tsugumi) is made up of two novellas, each narrated in the first person by the author’s trademark strong female protagonists. In the first, ‘Hardboiled,’ a young woman travels alone on foot on the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death, heading toward a town demarcated on her map. Upon reaching her destination, she checks into a cheap hotel, where she has encounters with the hotel’s resident ghost and visions of her deceased female lover, Chizuru, haunt her dreams. In ‘Hard Luck,’ the young narrator is forced to deal with the impending death of her recently engaged sister, Kuni, now lying in a hospital bed after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. As the story develops, the protagonist finds herself attracted to Sakai, the older brother of Kuni’s fiancé and her sister’s only visitor outside of their immediate family. Like Yoshimoto’s previous work, these stories, though simply told, contain complex overtones and are eerily thought-provoking. Followers of her writing will not be disappointed as they should find much to ponder here. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries. – Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

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