Fiction Reviews, November 1, 2011

 Fiction Reviews, November 1, 2011

Ausubel, Ramona. No One Is Here except All of Us. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9781594487941. $26.95. F
In 1939 in an obscure Jewish village in Romania, a woman washes up on the shore of the river, the only survivor of a brutal attack that destroyed her family. The villagers take her in, but her story brings the reality of war to them. What if they could create a new world, one without death and destruction? Through stories, they begin speaking their new world into existence. Young Lena is… most affected by this creation; casting aside preconceived rules, her childless aunt and uncle decide that she should be their daughter because her parents have three children. Further transformations take place when the banker decides his son should marry Lena and start a family. As Lena questions her identity, the village continues to live in committed isolation until enemy soldiers arrive. During the hardships suffered by the survivors, the power of story keeps them and their families alive even if only in memory. VERDICT Debut novelist Ausubel has written a riveting, otherworldly story about an all-too-real war and the transformative power of community. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]‚ Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA

Baker, Tiffany. The Gilly Salt Sisters. Grand Central. Mar. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780446194235. $24.99. F
The residents of the small Cape Cod town Prospect have odd ways, not least of which is the annual December Eve (November 30) bonfire. The community gathers to watch one of the Gilly women, owners of Salt Creek Farm, throw their salt on the flames. Blue means a good year to come, red means love, and black means bad news. The salt has other magical properties as well, like creating or withholding success for businesses that stock it. Feared as possible witches rather than loved, the Gillys are respected by everyone but the wealthy Turners, who own most of Prospect. Producing the salt is backbreaking work, but Jo Gilly seems made for the job; she not only works the salt, she knows it inside and out. Her sister, Claire, is the opposite, eager to leave the farm. VERDICT Fans of Baker’s acclaimed The Little Giant of Aberdeen County won’t be disappointed with this quirky, complex, and original tale. It is also sure to enchant readers who enjoy Alice Hoffman and other authors of magical realism. [See Prepub Alert, 9/26/11.]‚ Nancy Fontaine, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, NH

Barry, Kevin. City of Bohane. Graywolf. Mar. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781555976088. $25. F
Set in an urban Irish dystopia of the future, this is the story of Logan Hartnett, leader of the Fancy Boys gang, who controls crime in Smoketown, a sleazy quarter of the gritty City of Bohane. A love triangle frames the story, as rival Gant Broderick returns to reclaim his old girlfriend Macu, but the real action in this book is violent‚ neighbor hood turf wars, contract killings, and cycles of score settling. The city’s fate seems to hang on the whims of these fairly stock main characters; other citizens hang on their words, gossip about their intentions, and act as a cartoonish chorus to this gangster opera. Barry (There Are Little Kingdoms) creates a retro world of quasi-Victorian fashion where blades are prized but guns, cars, and cell phones do not exist. VERDICT On display, even more than the strutting characters’ fashion sense, is the author’s virtuosic writing: he has created a unique vernacular of Irish speech patterns mixed with Caribbean terms, delivered in a breathless, conversational style. This hybrid will be of interest both to fantasy and to literary fiction readers.‚ John R. Cecil, Texas State Lib. & Archives Commission, Austin

Bourne, Joanna. The Black Hawk. Berkley Sensation: Penguin Group (USA). Nov. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780425244531. pap. $7.99. F
Attacked and badly wounded by an assassin’s blade, former French spy Justine De Cabrillac (Owl) struggles through the rain to the home of the only man she can depend on to save her, English agent Adrian Hawkhurst, her longtime adversary‚ and unforgettable lover. But Justine is not the only one in danger; the killer is out to bring down Hawk as well. And it will take all of their finely honed skills and wary, hard-won trust to unearth‚ and destroy‚ the elusive, brutal villain. Vivid, illuminating flashbacks fill in the missing years of our protagonists’ bond, developing the passionate, deeply conflicted relationship between Justine and Hawk with unparalleled insight and craft. VERDICT Beautifully flawed, intensely human characters, a deadly puzzle, and a love that survives incredible odds combine to make this another emotionally riveting page-turner from Bourne (The Forbidden Rose), whose novels always deliver. Fans of historical romance will be all over this one.‚ Kristin Ramsdell, formerly with California State Univ. Lib., East Bay

Dermont, Amber. The Starboard Sea. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780312642808. $24.99. F
Dermont’s ambitious first novel takes place at a New England boarding school during the 1987 stock market crash. Jason Prosper is a senior still reeling from the suicide of his best friend and sailing partner. The new school to which he has transferred is rife with unchecked desires, and Jason’s romance with Aidan ends tragically. The emotional terrain‚ sexual ambiguity, paralyzing guilt, and bullying‚ is more like that of a young adult novel, which is not meant as a slight; the same could be said for Catcher in the Rye. The difficulty here is that the characters seem underdeveloped: the message about healing and forgiveness overrides a believable story. The book does have nice flourishes‚ the classmate lending our young hero Samuel Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water, for example, is especially nice‚ but such scenes come too infrequently to sustain the whole. VERDICT Readers already intrigued by prep school, sailing, or bildungs romans may be interested, but most should wait for Dermont’s next books. [See Prepub Alert, 9/26/11.]‚ Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., FL

Dunthorne, Joe. Wild Abandon. Random. Jan. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781400066841. $25. F
Dunthorne’s sophomore effort centers on a modern Welsh commune, now struggling for relevancy and membership. Eleven-year-old Albert Riley is an odd duck, highly verbal, lonely, and susceptible to theories about the end of the world. His 16-year-old sister, Kate, flees the dysfunction by running off with a local meathead, while their mother, Freya, retreats to a mud-walled yurt. Only Don, the misguided, egotistical father of the family and the original visionary for the community, feels compelled to give a last-ditch effort to save everything he believes in. This novel could be charming and silly, but Dunthorne infuses it with a wry, dark humor that builds to a nearly terrifying conclusion. Albert and Kate’s relationship, in particular, is complicated, realistic, and unsettling. VERDICT Dunthorne’s debut, Submarine, was released as a film produced by Ben Stiller and became a quirky crowd favorite at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival; this second novel is primed to do the same. Think Juno or Bottle Rocket, then read the book. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]‚ Christine Perkins, Bellingham P.L., WA

Fox, Kevin. Until the Next Time. Algonquin. Feb. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9781565129931. pap. $15.95. F
On Sean Corrigan’s 21st birthday, he receives the journal of his late uncle Michael, who Sean never knew existed. To avoid prosecution for a crime he did not commit, Michael had fled New York for Ireland in the 1970s and, drawn into the raging turmoil of Northern Ireland, was ultimately murdered. Urged on by his family and fascinated by Michael’s writing, Sean heads for Ireland on a rite of passage and is instantly caught up in the lives of people who knew his uncle and strangely seem to know him as well. The mystery of Michael’s murder casts a shadow everywhere. Deeply infused with the violence and political mayhem of 20th-century Ireland, the stories of Michael and Sean and the women they love, told in alternating chapters, illustrate the inextricable relationships among religion, mythology, and persecution. VERDICT Heavy with history, Celtic mysticism, violence, and a somewhat pedantic plot, this debut novel by the producer and writer for the TV series Lie to Me is nonetheless a satisfying read about a culture that still believes strongly in the cycles of lives and loves and the inevitable repetition of political and religious intolerance. Recommended for Irish fiction fans. [Eight-city tour.]‚ Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA

Fox, Lauren. Friends Like Us. Knopf. Feb. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9780307268112. $24.95. F
Fox’s latest novel (after Still Life with Husband) is an honest look into the friendships and relationships we develop in early adulthood and how circumstances and bad choices often alter them. Roommates Willa and Jane are such best friends that they seemingly intuit each other’s thoughts. How well they really know each other is challenged when Willa’s best friend from high school, Ben, comes back into the picture and falls in love with Jane. What starts as a happy trio of friends soon becomes weighted with jealousies and insecurities. Willa wishes she had her old Ben back and sometimes feels like the third wheel. Things become tenser with a proposal and an imminent wedding date. Fox explores how our happiness can be fleeting and how what we think we want and need may not be so important after all. VERDICT Fox’s realistic take on the growing pains of young adulthood grips the reader to the final page. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a friendship will embrace this thoughtful novel.‚ Anne M. Miskewitch, Chicago P.L.

Gilvarry, Alex. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant. Viking. Jan. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780670023196. $26.95. F
Written as a confession from his cell, this is the story of how Boy Hernandez, a recent graduate of design school in Manila, moves to New York to become the next big thing in fashion but ends up being dragged out of his loft by federal agents and sent to Guantánamo Bay. There he’s accused of terrorist connections and given a Koran, though he’s a lapsed Catholic. When Boy landed in New York, he was naive, ambitious, and spoiled, but he had vision and was willing to work hard. Unfortunately, he considered only his needs and wants, ignoring the ugly and unpleasant in his personal relationships and decidedly shady business arrangements. First novelist Gilvarry has political concerns and much to say, but his style and dark humor are subtle and witty. Experienced from Boy’s perspective, the events that unfold are equally disturbing and entertaining; Boy is far too fabulous to let indefinite detainment destroy him. VERDICT A smart, funny novel with political undertones that will also be particularly enjoyable for those with an interest in fashion. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]‚ Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA

Govier, Katherine. The Printmaker’s Daughter. HarperPerennial: HarperCollins. Nov. 2011. c.512p. ISBN 9780062000361. pap. $14.99. F
After 2003’s Creation, named a New York Times Notable Book, Canadian author Govier attempts to win over American audiences once again with this retitled work (published as Ghost Brush in Canada). The youngest daughter of then-struggling real-life Japanese artist Hokusai, Oei narrates the story of her life with her father, whom she affectionately calls old man, and her role as his apprentice and eventual caretaker. Set in the lush Edo period between 1800 and 1867, the novel nonchalantly describes Oei’s early encounters with courtesans; she even develops a close relationship with her father’s beloved Shino, only ten years her senior. In Oei, Govier offers readers a portrait of an independent-minded woman with no qualms about having affairs, smoking a pipe, and divorcing a husband after a decade of marriage because he expected her to cook. VERDICT Although not as gifted as Anchee Min in characterizing her female protagonist, Govier nonetheless gives readers an engrossing narrative worth their time. The accompanying afterword describing the author’s research is also noteworthy, as it melds fact with Govier’s fiction to let readers decide for themselves what Oei’s role might have been in her famous father’s work.‚ Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

Gregson, Jessica. The Angel Makers. Soho, dist. by Consortium. Dec. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9781569479797. $24. F
Gregson’s fictional treatment of the Angel Makers of Nagyrév, a group of Hungarian women who poisoned several dozen people between 1911 and 1929, begins with the orphan Sari Arany. At age 14, she is considered a witch by most people in her rural village because of her knowledge of herbs. When the men leave to fight in World War I, Sari finds a place among the women, newly liberated from their husbands’ oppressive domination, who have transformed village life and begun affairs with the Italian POWs housed nearby. When the men return from the front, Sari’s fiancé among them, the women find themselves forced back into tradition, in some cases violently. In a desperate attempt at freedom, Sari murders her fiancé with arsenic. When she agrees to help a friend in a similar situation, she unwittingly leads a whole village down a path of serial murder. VERDICT This beautifully written and engaging debut novel is as compelling as the true story that inspired Gregson. It is sure to appeal to a variety of readers, but especially to historical fiction fans.‚ Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH

Harrison, Rashad. Our Man in the Dark. Atria: S. & S. Nov. 2011. c.304p. ISBN 9781451625752. $25. F
Historical fiction is a genre that feels the constraint of realism, forcing the author to represent an alternate reality by developing the unheard thoughts of individual characters without straying too far from fact. In his debut novel, Harrison introduces us to the complex motivations behind John Estem, a civil rights worker with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) who turns FBI informant. Though not explicitly stated, the character is loosely based on Jim Harrison, the comptroller of the SCLC. As the plot unravels, Estem’s motivations for turning informant are revealed as an individual conflict within the larger struggle for civil rights. Culminating in the death of Martin Luther King Jr., this novel explores the volatility of social change and the frailties of the human condition when enacting it. Harrison successfully demonstrates that fiction can use the past to comment on issues of contemporary concern. VERDICT An entertaining work of historical fiction with a touch of the noir; readers who enjoyed Don DeLillo’s Libra will appreciate. [See Prepub Alert, 5/23/11.]‚ Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

Hore, Rachel. A Place of Secrets. Holt. Feb. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9780805094497. pap. $15. F
At the country estate of Starbrough Hall, rare book appraiser Jude Glower busily evaluates a collection of materials assembled by 18th-century amateur astronomer Anthony Wickham. Catching Jude’s attention are the personal journals of Wickham’s adopted daughter, Esther, as they reveal her to have been a skilled scientist in her own right. At the same time Jude is distracted from her research by ongoing tensions with her older sister, Claire. It doesn’t help that her young niece seems to be suffering from the very same nightmare that Jude endured as a child and that Claire blames Jude. Throw in a mysterious diamond necklace, Gypsies, a decrepit observational tower known as the folly, and a handsome writer whom both sisters find attractive, and you have the recipe for an entertaining historical mystery with a dash of romance. VERDICT A best seller in Britain with over 100,000 copies sold, Hore’s U.S. debut will engage fans of Susanna Kearsley or Kate Morton.‚ Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Jagger, R.J. Lawyer Trap. Pegasus Crime. Nov. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9781605983059. $25. F
Newly minted attorney Aspen Wilde goes to work for the Denver law firm where she had interned the previous summer, but when she looks for the one nice lawyer she had befriended, Aspen learns that the woman has disappeared. The partners don’t seem very concerned, so Aspen decides to investigate, jeopardizing her job and possibly her life. Meanwhile, homicide detective Teffinger thinks he has a serial killer on his hands when a mass grave is found, which conveniently clears his first suspect, Davica Holland. Rich, gorgeous Davica has a major crush on the detective‚ and he’s not exactly fighting her off. Bad guy Draven has a chivalrous side, which comes out when he meets Gretchen, a hooker with a heart and a hard right hook. These three disparate story lines are told in these alternating voices and eventually become intertwined. VERDICT The pacing is relentless in this debut, a hard-boiled sexual slasher novel with a shocking ending, but the characters are more like caricatures. The supershort chapters will please those who enjoy a James Patterson‚ style page-turner. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]‚ Stacy Alesi, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., Boca Raton, FL

Jensen, Nancy. The Sisters. St. Martin’s. Nov. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780312542702. $24.99. F
All families have secrets, and those kept by the Fischer family are particularly shameful and life changing. In 1927, sisters Mabel and Bertie are separated for life when their stepfather commits suicide and Mabel runs off with Bertie’s boyfriend. Following each sister, this multigenerational novel introduces readers to two strong matriarchal families. While the women in each generation fight with their mothers to follow their individual dreams, one granddaughter, aptly named Grace, finally learns most of the family history and creates a necklace that reunites the two clans in a work of beauty. VERDICT Set against the dramatic backdrop of American history from the Great Depression into the 21st century, this beautiful but disturbing debut novel, inspired partly by the author’s own family history, will engage readers of well-written, thought-provoking women’s fiction.‚ Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Johnson, Adam. The Orphan Master’s Son. Random. Jan. 2012. c.464p. ISBN 9780812992793. $26. F
Imagine a society in which the official political story tells only of happiness and prosperity, yet personal experience reveals the opposite. Imagine the resulting internal dissonance and the ways in which people might reconcile such opposing forces. This is the experience offered by Johnson (Parasites Like Us) in his novel of modern-day North Korea. Following the path of the hero’s journey, young Pak Jun Do moves from an orphanage into a life of espionage, kidnapping, and torture, only to be given a new identity as the husband of the Dear Leader’s favorite actress. With references to the classic American film Casablanca, Johnson’s narrative portrays his hero as he makes his way through a minefield of corruption and violence, eventually giving his all so that his loved ones might have a better life. VERDICT Readers who enjoy a fast-paced political thriller will welcome this wild ride through the amazingly conflicted world that exists within the heavily guarded confines of North Korea. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/11.]‚ Susanne Wells, M.L.S., Indianapolis

Kondazian, Karen. The Whip. Hansen. Nov. 2011. c.302p. ISBN 9781601823021. pap. $15. F
Charley Parkhurst (1812‚ 79) was one of the finest stage coach drivers Wells Fargo had during the dangerous gold rush days. But there’s one thing Wells Fargo never knew about Charley: Charlotte was a woman. In her fiction debut, actress Kondazian (The Actor’s Encyclopedia of Casting Directors) dares to imagine the life such a dedicated disguise artist might have lived. Mistreated in an orphanage and sent to live in the stables, where she learned all there was to know about horses, fictional Charley grows up to be a servant in a boardinghouse. When she falls in love with an African American blacksmith, she is ostracized. And when her husband is lynched and her only daughter killed, Charley dresses as a man to apply for work with a stage coach company, aces the hands-on audition, and is sent west. She learns to swear, gamble, and smoke, and her life as a whip rewards her well. Yet underneath all the swagger and staunchness, Charley is a broken soul in many ways. VERDICT This quick-paced, wily tale is a fascinating blend of both fact and fiction that is sure to engage Western and historical fiction fans and readers who enjoyed Gerald Kolpan’s Etta.‚ Keddy Ann Outlaw, formerly with Harris Cty. P.L., Houston, TX

Livesey, Margot. The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. c.464p. ISBN 9780062064226. $25.99. F
Any novelist attempting to reconstruct a classic faces a monumental challenge, and basing a book on Jane Eyre is no exception. Livesey (The House on Fortune Street) rises to that challenge by creating an original tale set in mid-20th-century Scotland and Iceland that follows the life of Gemma Hardy, a determined orphan seeking answers to questions about her past. Like Jane, Gemma is both proud and principled, but there is a definite modern twist to her character. While romance plays a prominent role in this story, Livesey’s tale centers largely on Gemma’s internal journey and her physical trek. Within the classic framework, Livesey molds a thoroughly modern character who learns to expect the best of herself and to forgive the missteps of others. The author has a gift for creating atmosphere, most clearly demonstrated in her descriptions of the scenery during Gemma’s travels. VERDICT This original slant on a classic story line captures the reader’s interest and sustains it to the end. Fans of modern interpretations of the classics will particularly enjoy. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/11.]‚ Catherine Tingelstad, Pitt Community Coll., Greenville, NC

Morgan Jones, Chris. The Silent Oligarch. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781594203190. $25.95. F
Fans of thrillers, especially those set in present- day Russia, will welcome the supernova that has burst onto the spy and suspense scene. First published in Britain as An Agent of Deceit, this debut financial puzzler imagines a Kremlin minister with a boundless fortune in energy resources. His byzantine transactions are shielded and laundered by an amiable Dutch lawyer. The cozy relationships crater when investigators, chief among them a principled journalist, begin to gnaw on fresh leads to expose accounts vulnerable to taxmen and lawsuits. The lawyer and the journalist are drawn relentlessly into a death spiral choreographed by the author, himself a player in the corporate intelligence community. VERDICT With a mysterious, complex plot and terrific local color, this novel resonates to the pounding heartbeats of the boldly drawn main characters. John le Carré, Martin Cruz Smith, and Brent Ghelfi will be inching over in the book display so readers in search of erudite, elegant international intrigue can spot the newcomer. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]‚ Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

O’Nan, Stewart. The Odds. Viking. Jan. 2012. c.192p. ISBN 9780670023165. $25.95. F
Their 30-year marriage stressed to the breaking point by financial troubles and infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler take one last trip together, to Niagara Falls, the site of their honeymoon, to make a desperate gamble with their remaining money and perhaps save their marriage. In this spare and engaging novel, O’Nan (Snow Angels) deftly interweaves the perspectives and memories of husband and wife, drawing a believable portrait of a long marriage, with its private jokes and rituals intermingling with half-buried resentments and miscommunications. Some incidents, particularly Marion’s brief affair with a woman, could have been more fleshed out to give readers a better handle on the characters and what has kept them together. VERDICT Readers of contemporary literary fiction should enjoy the subtle dry humor and a story that gains momentum and pitches toward a satisfying, if somewhat ambiguous happy ending. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.] Christine DeZelar- Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

Pelevin, Victor. The Hall of the Singing Caryatids. New Directions, dist. by Norton. 2011. c.96p. tr. from Russian by Andrew Bromfield. ISBN 9780811219426. pap. $9.95. F
This quick read comes from modern Russian author Pelevin, whose playful sf romps (e.g., The Sacred Book of the Werewolf) echo a legacy of Soviet satire such as Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. One wonders whether Pelevin took his Kafka comparisons a bit too literally, this being his second novel that features insects as leading characters. The story’s protagonist, Lena, is chosen to be part of an elite troupe of young women who will serve as eye candy for oligarch billionaires. During each two-day shift, they are frozen motionless using technology inspired by the praying mantis. The women ignore the lofty explanation of their role in saving their nation’s reputation, escaping instead into a drug-induced serenity. The matter-of-fact sexual dialog between the women and club owners is juxtaposed with pseudophilosophical musings from the unattainable world of the mantis. VERDICT While some of the political humor may have been lost in translation, this strange novel has moments of bizarre ecstasy. Recommended for fans of magical realism looking for a challenge.‚ Kate Gray, New York

Rayner, Sarah. One Moment, One Morning. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9781250000194. pap. $14.99. F
One Monday morning a man dies suddenly on a commuter train from Brighton to London, and the lives of three passengers are changed forever. Traveling with the man are his wife, Karen; Lou, a stranger who observes his death; and Karen’s best friend, Anna, in another car. Anna and Lou are thrown together by chance as they share a taxi to try to make it to their jobs on time. The three women find their lives intertwining as they give one another the strength to make their way through grief and find the courage to deal honestly with personal issues they had been avoiding. VERDICT Rayner’s (The Other Half; Getting Even) well-written third novel, which sold over 200,000 copies in Britain, will draw in readers with its dramatic opening and keep them engaged in its fully fleshed-out characters as the story progresses. Fans of women’s fiction dealing with friendship and overcoming loss will appreciate discovering a new author.‚ Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

Rivas, Manuel. Books Burn Badly. Vintage: Random. 2011. c.548p. tr. from Galician by Jonathan Dunne. ISBN 9780099520337. pap. $14.95. F
Award-winning Galician author Rivas (Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Other Stories) illuminates the horrors and aftermath of the Spanish civil war via a 1936 book burning in Coru√±a’s Maria Pita Square by Franco’s Falangists that destroys the city’s intellectual life for a generation. His is a tapestry of fragmentary glimpses into the lives of the book burners‚ Olinda the laundress; Vicente Curtis, aka Hercules Whoreson; tango singer Luís Terranova; bagpipe-player Francisco Crecente, aka Polka, who is forced to rake up and bury the charred remains of the books; and a future judge who pokes around the flaming tomes trying to rescue one he knows is worth money. Even the despised Francisco Franco weighs in. Franco was a Galician himself, born into a naval family but too short to join the navy; Rivas notes how, once Franco attained power, his favorite outfit was the full-dress uniform of a naval officer. VERDICT Masterfully translated by Dunne, this book, with its various narrative voices and chronological fluctuation, is a challenge that rewards the reader’s perseverance with a remarkably satisfying resolution.‚ Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland

Roslund, Anders & Börge Hellström. Cell 8. SilverOak: Sterling. Jan. 2012. c.384p. tr. from Swedish by Kari Dickson. ISBN 9781402787157. $24.95. F
What happens when Scandinavian crime writers tire of scrutinizing Stockholm’s mean streets? In the case of writing team Roslund and Hellström, they tackle capital punishment in the United States. John Meyer Frey is on Ohio’s death row, convicted at age 17 of killing the daughter of a prominent politician. The frenzied thirst for vengeance felt by the victim’s father is thwarted when Frey dies of a heart condition. Several years later and thousands of miles away, Swedish police arrest lounge singer John Schwarz for a brutal assault during a party cruise. Something about Schwarz doesn’t seem right, and DI Ewert Grens soon uncovers why‚ the suspect’s fingerprints match those of the long-dead Frey. VERDICT This book offers fewer thrills and more polemic than the duo’s roller-coaster Three Seconds. Opening with a gripping sequence counting down a condemned man’s graphic final moments, the novel ends with a cunning twist. But the suspense stalls in between, as the authors couch familiar arguments against the death penalty amid a surprisingly mundane police investigation. Still, those who appreciate socially conscious crime fiction should be intrigued by this European take on a hot-button American topic.‚ Annabelle Mortensen, Skokie P.L., IL

Scott, Kim. That Deadman Dance. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Mar. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781608197057. $25. F
This is a novel from a different time in which relationships between colonists and indigenous people were friendly and each was curious about the other’s culture. Set in early 19th-century Western Australia, the novel is based roughly on historical accounts, some of which involve Scott’s own ancestors. It depicts contact among Aboriginal people, the Noongar, and British colonists and American whalers. The central character is a Noongar youth, Bobby Wabalanginy, who warmly embraces the settlers and their ways but ultimately has to choose between them and his own people as the coastal colony grows. The nuanced characterization and intriguing style of writing are pleasures. VERDICT Scott, who won both Australia’s Victorian Prize for Literature and his second Miles Franklin Literary Award for this work, deserves notice from a broader international audience. This well-written, insightful novel will be enjoyed by readers interested in Australian historical fiction, indigenous literature, and postcolonial fiction in general. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/11.]‚ Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ. Lib., Marshall, VA

Sendker, Jan-Philipp. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Other. Jan. 2012. c.336p. tr. from German by Kevin Wiliarty. ISBN 9781590514634. pap. $14.95. F
Four years before the start of the novel, Julia Win’s father, Tin Win, vanished. After receiving a copy of an old love letter written by him to a woman named Mi Mi, Julia travels to a remote village in Burma to find him. While at a teahouse in Burma, Julia meets U Ba, who claims to know what happened to her father. But the Tin Win of whom U Ba speaks is nothing like the father Julia remembers. She doubts at first that the story is true. But the more she listens and the more time she spends in Burma, the more she believes. Julia is moved by the tragic love story involving Tin Win, a blind boy in rural Burma, and Mi Mi, whose misshapen feet made it impossible for her to walk. VERDICT The heart of this sentimental novel is the romance between the teenagers Tin Win and Mi Mi in pre‚ World War II Burma. Recommended for readers who enjoy sweetly tragic romances.‚ Pamela Mann, St. Mary’s Coll. of Maryland

Sherman, Susan. The Little Russian. Counterpoint. Jan. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781582437729. $25. F
When in 1903 Berta Lorkis is unceremoniously sent back to her family’s village in Ukraine (Little Russia) after serving for years as the young companion to the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family in Moscow, she feels that her life is over. Then into her grocer father’s store walks Hershel Alshonsky, an ambitious, well-to-do wheat merchant. The two fall in love, have two children, and enjoy a successful life in Cherkast. But to Berta’s horror, she soon discovers that Hershel is a member of the Jewish Worker’s League and supplies guns to the shtetlach to help them defend themselves against pogroms. When a smuggling action goes horribly wrong, Hershel must flee. Berta refuses to leave, and soon she and her children face unimaginable hardship and danger as the drumbeat of war comes ever nearer, eventually forcing them into a perilous journey to find Hershel in America. VERDICT Sherman’s extraordinary debut novel plunges her readers into the bitter cold, deprivation, and upheaval of early 20th-century wartime Russia. Berta is a fascinating mix of petty vanity, devoted parenting, and breathtaking courage, fleshed out with cinematic detail that’s both irresistible and spectacularly illuminating. All fiction readers will enjoy.‚ Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Sickels, A. Carter. The Evening Hour. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Jan. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781608195978. pap. $15. F
In Dove Creek, WV, 27-year-old nursing home aide Cole Freeman cares for his elderly patients but helps himself to their valuables and prescription medications. His illicit earnings allow him to support the grandparents who raised him, a snake-handling pastor and a grandmother determined not to sell out to the mining company that looms above the hollows as it breaks down the mountains. The slew of junkie friends whom Cole supplies in the parking lot of the local bar and the visits he makes to those willing to sell their painkillers round out Cole’s existence. The return of his long-absent mother and a high school friend complicates Cole’s world even as he considers other options, like nursing school. Some heavy-handed foreshadowing clues us in to events to come that shake Cole’s world. VERDICT Isolated and economically depressed, the Appalachia portrayed here is not new, but Cole’s point of view is not one often encountered in contemporary fiction. First-time novelist Sickels paints Cole’s experience with an unflinching hand. Give this to fans of regional literature and authors or display along with works by the likes of Sharyn McCrumb, Dorothy Allison, Barbara Kingsolver, Carolyn Chute, and Rick Bragg.‚ Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.‚ Northeast Lib., TX

Stachniak, Eva. The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great. Bantam. Jan. 2012. c.464p. ISBN 9780553808124. $26. F
This first novel in a planned twp-part saga, begins at the Russian court of Empress Elizabeth. Searching for a bride for her nephew, grandson of Peter the Great and designated heir to the throne, Elizabeth invites the Prussian Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbs to St. Petersburg. She also enlists Varvara, the novel’s narrator and a bookbinder’s daughter married to an esteemed member of the palace guard, to befriend and spy on the princess. Trading in secrets while trying to protect her new friend and advance her own position, Varvara follows the loves, disappointments, and successes of Princess Sophie, rebaptized as Catherine, through the last two decades of Elizabeth’s rule and the dramatic coup that leads to Catherine’s reign as empress. VERDICT Stachniak (Dancing with Kings) sets the scene extravagantly with details of sumptuous meals, elaborate wardrobes, and cunning palace politics. Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung dynasty and the familiar hallmarks of courtly intrigue. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]‚ Cathy Lantz, Morton Coll. Lib., Cicero, IL

Steele, Pamela. Greasewood Creek. Counterpoint. Nov. 2011. c.160p. ISBN 9781582437705. pap. $14.95. F
The expressive language of poetry is unmistakable in Steele’s lyrical debut novel about Avery and her boyfriend, Davis, whom she has known since childhood. Life is difficult and demanding on the eastern Oregon farm Davis inherited from his grandparents. Davis is not a demonstrative man, so Avery suffers in silence, haunted by the childhood death of her younger sister, who drowned while in her care. This pivotal event destroyed her family. Avery awaits the birth of her own child with Davis, which she hopes will chase away her ghosts. When she tragically loses the baby, nothing is the same between her and Davis. To help her forget, Lennie, the daughter of one of the ranch hands, takes her to a Native American ceremony where an elder tells the story of the tribe’s great loss of abundant salmon because of a human-made dam. Their sense of loss weighs heavily on Avery, giving her the strength to take a path of hope and healing. VERDICT This is a spare but powerful novel from award-winning poet Steele (Paper Bird). Intelligently written, the narrative offers insight into the depth of human loss and suffering.‚ Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Palisade, CO

Wolitzer, Hilma. An Available Man. Ballantine. Jan. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780345527547. $25. F
Edward Schuyler is now in his mid-sixties, but as a younger man he had his share of love’s highs and lows. His first love, the beautiful Laurel, left him stranded at the altar. Years later he met Bee and her two children. He fell madly in love, and his family was complete. But after 20 years, Bee got sick and died. Once the shock clears, Edward is stunned to realize what a catch he is. When his grown stepchildren place a personal ad for him in the New York Review of Books, the women respond in droves. Edward is forced into the dating world, and the results are heartbreaking, maddening, comical, and poignant. Love and sex for this older generation is a hot topic (no pun intended), and Wolitzer (Summer Reading; The Doctor’s Daughter) tells the tale well. She is surprisingly good at portraying a man’s perspective. Although her writing is not as crisp as in some of her previous novels, this is a breezier tale with a lighter edge. VERDICT This sweet story of a man’s diving back into the dating pool at an older age will especially appeal to readers in that demographic. [Library marketing; see Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]‚ Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC

Short stories

Lee, Krys. Drifting House. Viking. Feb. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9780670023257. $25.95. F
Lee, whose peregrinations originated and are currently paused in South Korea with formative stopovers in the United States and England, infuses the nine stories of her breathtaking debut with the consequences of dislocation‚ whether forced because of war or chosen by virtue of immigration. The continuing aftermath of Korean partition sends three starving North Korean siblings on a brutal journey to find their runaway mother in the title story, while a fractured North Korean family struggles to create a new American life in At the Edge of the World. In a brave, new postwar Korea, a lonely accountant diligently supports his wife and children living overseas in The Goose Father, while across the ocean, a Korean divorcée marries a stranger in order to search for her missing daughter in A Temporary Marriage. VERDICT Like Daniyal Mueenuddin, a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist for his debut collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Lee, too, enters the literary world fully formed. Readers in search of exquisite short fiction beyond their comfort zone‚ groupies of Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth) and Yoko Tawada (Where Europe Begins)‚ will thrill to discover Lee’s work. [See Prepub Alert, 8/29/11.]‚ Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC


HEADS UP The publication of Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money, reviewed in LJ 10/1/11, has been moved from November 2011 to April 2012 to coincide with the U.S. release of the Swedish film based on the book.

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