Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, March 23, 2012

Week ending March 23, 2012

Adams, Alex. White Horse. Emily Bestler: Atria: S. & S. Apr. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781451642995. $19.99. F
Zoe’s life is at a comfortable standstill when she finds an unexplained and inexplicably terrifying jar in her living room. Instead of opening it or calling the police, Zoe seeks out a therapist to explore her fear. But as the people around her begin to sicken and die, and as the illness and mutations spread further into the city, Zoe wonders if she has been burdened with a Pandora’s box. As the world descends into chaos with most of the population dead or mutated into unimaginable monsters, Zoe discovers she’s pregnant and leaves her city in pursuit of Nick, her therapist and lover who has fled to Greece. As Zoe journeys through Europe on foot, the novel devolves from a complex exploration of humanity into a strange cat-and-mouse tale of murder and pursuit. But the ending is satisfying, if mystifying.
Verdict
Adams’s debut novel, the first in a trilogy, adds another dimension to the growing field of dystopian fiction. The first-person, present-tense narrative adds immediacy and builds on the story’s natural tension. Though the book loses focus as the journey drags on, postapocalyptic literature is hot these days, and this newest entry will appeal to its many readers. [See Prepub Alert, 10/31/11.]‚ Jennifer Beach, Cumberland Cty. P.L., VA

Edugyan, Esi. Half-Blood Blues. Picador. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781250012708. pap. $15. F
Edugyan (The Second Life of Samuel Tyne) has crafted a fictional account of a German American jazz band‚ the Hot-Time Swingers‚ that the Nazis banned from performing because of its degenerate music. The story flashes forward and backward between 1939 and 1992, when one of its members, the half-black Hieronymus Falk, though absent, is being honored in Berlin by a documentary. Two former black band members, Chip and Sid, attend the ceremonies, at which time we learn of a dark secret involving Falk’s imprisonment in Mauthausen concentration camp. The novel follows band members as they escape from Hitler’s Germany to France but then must face the Wehrmacht as it invades Paris. The great Louis Armstrong makes a convincing cameo appearance.
Verdict A Man Booker finalist, Edugyan’s tour de force effectively captures the speech patterns of band members and thereby gets into the minds of her characters to relate their story with convincing realism. Her descriptions of Nazi harassment and the invading German army are truly terrifying. The only drawback, and it may be a big one, is that the entire book is written in nonstandard English, which can make for hard reading. Still, literate readers with an interest in the era and particularly the jazz scene will especially enjoy this finely wrought work.‚ Edward Cone, New York

Kamm, Kurt. Code Blood. MCM: Monkey C Media. 2012. c.233p. ISBN 9780979855139. pap. $14.95. F
Kamm’s first two novels (One Foot in the Black; Red Flag Warning) focused on firefighters. His newest one features Colt Lewis, a Los Angeles County fire paramedic working through his probationary training. One Sunday afternoon, his unit answers a single vehicle accident call on the Pacific Coast Highway. A pickup truck has plowed into a light pole, which collapsed and severed the foot of a young woman who then dies on the way to the hospital. Strange thing: her foot is missing. Over the next week, Colt’s obsession with finding the appendage leads him to computer hacker Markus and A Li, a graduate student from China. Markus works in the same lab building as A Li and is a blood and body parts fetishist. When he learns A Li has a rare blood type, he sees a way to solve his debt problem.
Verdict
Kamm’s vividly drawn characters and interesting plot lines tying them together will appeal to medical thriller fans. However, readers who are bothered by the graphic subject matter should be warned.‚ A.J. Wright, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham

Mallery, Susan. Barefoot Season: A Blackberry Island Novel. Mira: Harlequin. Apr. 2012. 360p. ISBN 9780778313380. pap. $14.95. F
The close childhood bond of Michelle Sanderson and Carly Williams suffered shocking blows that sent Michelle running to join the army, leaving Carly behind. After two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and her mother’s death, Michelle returns to her newly inherited bed-and-breakfast on Blackberry Island in the Pacific Northwest to find a host of changes and a mountain of debt. Struggling from PTSD and a recent gunshot wound, Michelle must also deal with her feelings of guilt and distrust about Carly, a single mom who has been managing the B&B. While sunny Carly has every right to distrust the dour Michelle, they must work together to bring the inn out of financial ruin.
Verdict With this debut volume in her new series, best-selling author Mallery (Already Home) skillfully reveals insights into each woman’s life to create a poignant tale of forgiveness, friendship renewed, and family. For Mallery and Debbie Macomber fans.‚ Joy Gunn, Henderson Libs., NV

Peretti, Frank. Illusion. Howard: S. & S. Mar. 2012. c.512p. ISBN 9781439192672. $26.99. CF
Dane Collins has just lost Mandy, his wife and a partner in their magic act for 40 years, in a terrible car accident. When he leaves the hospital, his doctor tells him to contact her immediately if he sees anyone who reminds him of Mandy, not because he might be crazy but because he might be in danger. When Dane meets a 19-year-old who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mandy, he must decide whether to keep his distance or forge a friendship with her. Peretti’s (The Oath) latest spiritual thriller gets muddled in the last third as the characters begin to discover what has happened and more sf elements are introduced. However, for a 500-page book, the pacing remains consistent and should keep readers’ attention as they try to piece together the complex puzzle that Peretti has laid out.
Verdict
Having been described by Peretti on his blog as part love story and part sci-fi, this title should appeal to readers of both genders, particularly fans of Peretti’s other works who have no problem tackling such a big novel.‚ Amber Woodard, Cumberland Univ. Lib., Lebanon, TN

Santora, Nick. Fifteen Digits. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780316176316. $24.99. F
Television writer Santora (The Sopranos; Law & Order, Prison Break; Breakout Kings) combines characters from central casting with financial and street crime in his sophomore outing (after Slip & Fall). Rich Mauro was orphaned as a child, but now he has been offered a chance at a better life from his guardian angel, lawyer Max Seymour. Rich is starting out in the firm’s document department, but he may make partner one day and be able to give his girlfriend Elyse the life that she deserves. His boss is not too bright, while Rich’s coworkers, an African American ex-petty criminal and a Puerto Rican former gang leader, are now trying to do right by their families. Spoiled rich kid lawyer Jason Spade is able to play on these five working-class men’s insecurities to convince them to use information from documents they handle to make millions through insider trading. Unfortunately, Spade is actually working for a vicious criminal who will stop at nothing to get his money.
Verdict Despite the novel’s intriguing premise, Santora’s characters lack depth, and all the thrills occur late in the story. Still, fans of his work on The Sopranos may be interested. [See Prepub Alert, 10/23/11.]‚ Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

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Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 45th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"