Week ending July 11, 2014
Dunn, Cassandra. The Art of Adapting. Touchstone. Jul. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781476761602. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476761619. F
After her husband moves out, Lana is forced to confront the demise of her marriage and its personal and financial effects as she struggles to care for her 14-year-old daughter, Abby; 16-year-old son, Byron; and now her adult brother, Matt, who has high-functioning Asperger’s. Narrated by each character in alternating chapters, the book reveals their personal struggles. Matt has just been released from the hospital after overmedicating himself to the point that his roommate couldn’t wake him up. Abby, who tries for perfection, is a straight A student who has received her first “C” and stops eating. Byron, who is artistically talented, is told by his father that his passion is impractical. Lana, distracted by her own changing circumstances, doesn’t notice that the brother she claims is “incapable of adapting” is able to find a way to help Abby and Byron.
Verdict The abundance of issues confronting these individuals at times feels excessive. While the ending borders on saccharine, debut author Dunn still manages to compel with her sympathetic characters.—Susan Santa, Syosset P.L., NY
Gabaldon, Diana. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Delacorte. 2014. 848p. ISBN 9780385344432. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780440246442. F
Time travel, kidnapping, war, suicide, murder, and a whole lot of lusty loving—it’s the long-awaited eighth installment (after An Echo in the Bone) of Gabaldon’s popular series. In June 1778, the American Revolution is reaching a fever pitch, but the conflict seems calm compared to the happenings in the Fraser household. Jamie Fraser, presumed dead, has returned to find his wife, Claire, married to Lord John Grey. William, Jamie’s illegitimate son, is enraged after uncovering the truth about his parentage, and Ian, Jamie’s nephew who was raised as a Mohawk Indian, now yearns to wed a Quaker. Meanwhile in the 20th century, Jem, the son of Claire and Jamie’s time-traveling daughter Brianna, has been abducted, and husband Roger suffers grave consequences when he journeys back through the stones to find him.
Verdict It’s another breakneck, rip-roaring, oh-so-addictive page-turner from Gabaldon, who skillfully juggles a colossal cast of characters (which includes George Washington and Benedict Arnold), nonstop adventure, a deluge of historical details, an enthralling love story, and a dollop of steamy sex scenes. Take a deep breath, jump aboard, and enjoy the ride—just in time for the August premiere of the Starz original series Outlander.—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY
Galbraith, Robert. The Silkworm. Mulholland: Little, Brown. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780316206877. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316206914. MYS
Private detective Cormoran Strike, quite busy after his last high-profile case (The Cuckoo’s Calling), is now investigating the disappearance of author Owen Quine. Quine’s wife thinks he’s off at a writer’s retreat, but, of course, matters aren’t that simple. Quine’s new manuscript has been leaked to key people in the London publishing world, and his thinly veiled caricatures of his colleagues’ most private weaknesses have made him very unpopular. Meanwhile, Cormoran’s capable assistant Robin is planning her wedding and wishing she could resolve the unspoken tension between her boss and her fiancé. Good luck with that.
Verdict This Cormoran Strike adventure delivers on all the promise of the first one. In her Galbraith persona, author J.K. Rowling has created memorable characters who develop and grow throughout the course of the novel. The mystery itself is clever, and the frequent darts aimed at the publishing world are entertaining. Fans of contemporary British mysteries will eat this up. [See Prepub Alert, 2/24/14.]—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.
Jordan, Allegra. The End of Innocence. Sourcebooks Landmark. Aug. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781492603832. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492603849. F
In 1914, as the war in Europe has begun to cause division among Harvard University’s students, Helen Brooks begins her studies at Harvard College, the university’s female educational annex. Helen falls first for British playboy Rhiley Spencer, then his German cousin Wils, a brooding poet. Helen and Wils grow close quickly, but he and Rhiley are soon called home to fight for their respective countries. Jordan’s debut novel is told in three parts: the three protagonists at Harvard; Rhiley and Wils in war; and then in 1932 as Harvard is building its Memorial Chapel as a tribute to students, including four Germans, who died in the conflict.
Verdict Reminiscent of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maise Dobbs books without the mystery, this novel explores the complications involved when war becomes personal. Jordan builds empathetic characters and an intriguing story, but by the third part, the story feels rushed and preachy. Originally published in 2012 by Gold Gable Press as Harvard 1914: A War Romance, this new edition has been edited for a 2014 release, coinciding with the centennial of the start of World War I.—Portia Kapraun, Monticello-Union Twp. P.L., IN
Levitt, Paul M. The Denouncer. Taylor. Aug. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781589799677. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781589799684. F
Levitt’s second novel about the Stalin era (after Stalin’s Barber) tells the story of Sasha, a student home visiting his family farm. Sasha is shocked to find his parents denounced as class enemies and threatened with arrest and rashly kills two policemen to protect them. Sending his parents into hiding, Sasha returns to school as if nothing has happened. The calculating local chief of police, who suspects Sasha’s guilt, assigns him the responsibility of meeting with the families of the murdered police. Sasha is then promoted to headmaster of a local school and instructed to report on the teachers and townspeople who are likely reporting on him. Denunciations escalate, and students, teachers, reformers, and revolutionaries get caught up in the violence, playing a deadly game they can’t hope to win.
Verdict Levitt’s focus on one man and a chain of events stemming from one denunciation testifies to the corruption of the whole Soviet system. The psychological terror and shifting alliances will impress thriller readers used to a clear sense of judgment and justice.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.