Fiction Galore from Baldacci, Barnes, Corbett, Humphreys, Hunter, & Shalvis | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 24, 2015

starred review starBaldacci, David. Memory Man. Grand Central. Apr. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9781455559824. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455586387. F
memoryman042415For a man who has total recall to forget a serial killer he disrespected could be deadly. In Baldacci’s (The Escape) latest thriller, former police detective Amos Decker is a man halfheartedly climbing out of an emotional abyss. It is a year after he found his wife and daughter murdered in their home, and the horrific night is still vividly seared into his mind. Time will never lessen the grief, because a blow to Decker’s head two decades ago gave him a perfect memory. It is both a blessing and a curse. Now a man has come forward confessing to the murders. Did he do it? Meanwhile, a shooting at the local high school leaves several teachers and students dead. What at first appear to be two separate cases quickly converge into one as the killer leaves taunting messages for Decker. Will he find the murderer before the body count gets even higher?
Verdict Baldacci weaves a suspenseful story right up to the climactic face-off between these complex and compelling characters. Highly recommended for all thriller fans who love elusive, taunting criminals and the slightly bent but always determined detectives who pursue them. [See Prepub Alert, 10/20/14.]—Susan Moritz, Silver Spring, MD

Barnes, Sophie. Lady Sarah’s Sinful Desires. Avon. (Secrets at Thorncliff Manor, Bk. 1). Apr. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780062358851. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062358882. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Thorncliff Manor is a summer retreat for many families, allowing them the opportunity to enjoy a large estate and briefly escape the hectic pace of city life. Sarah knows her freedom is about to be taken away and offered up in the most lucrative match for her family. Because of unforgivable mistakes she made in her past, she accepts her fate without complaint. Christopher is tired of his family’s constant attempts to marry him off. He knows his duty as the eldest son but would like to retain his bachelorhood a while longer. When Sarah and Christopher meet, things change. Sarah begins dreaming of a future she cannot possibly have, and Christopher starts dreaming of a future he never thought he wanted. While Christopher fights his fears of settling down, Sarah fights her sorrow in knowing her past will destroy any chance at happiness. Barnes’s (The Danger in Tempting an Earl) narrative hooks readers from the first chapter.
Verdict A great read for romance readers who love a historical setting.—Jessica Strefling, Pepperdine Law Lib., Malibu, CA

Corbett, David. The Mercy of the Night. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Apr. 2015. 452p. ISBN 9781477849446. pap. $14.95. F
Jacqi Garza, a Hispanic girl from the wrong side of the tracks, has issues. When she was eight years old, Jacqi became the second victim of a child predator. She escaped; the other girl did not. Thrust into the spotlight, Jacqi was able to identify her captor but was never able to shake the feeling that the wrong girl survived. Now 18, Jacqi has been convicted of assault and sentenced to live in a group home. Attorney–turned–private investigator Phelan Tierney is asked to track Jacqi down after she disappears from the halfway house. Phelan soon learns that Jacqi may have information regarding the murder of a prominent union official, and, as it turns out, he’s not the only one trying to find her.
Verdict With an ending reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film, multiple perspectives, a complicated plotline, and too much backstory, Corbett’s fifth novel (after Do They Know I’m Running?) is a difficult read. Give this one to patrons looking for character-driven stories that focus on relationships and internal demons, while steering the typical mystery reader toward more traditional fare.—Vicki Briner, Westminster, CO

Humphreys, Helen. The Evening Chorus. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780544348691. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544352971. F
eveningchorus042415The three main characters in Humphrey’s (The Lost Garden; The Frozen Thames) latest represent a spectrum of the World War II experience. British pilot James Hunter, shot down on his first flight assignment, spends the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. The kommandant follows the Geneva Convention, but prisoners are strictly watched and subjected to random acts of cruelty. James survives by cataloging a family of birds. Back in England, Rose, who married James following a short courtship, lives in a rural cottage near Ashdown Forest. Her relaxed life includes a small garden, a dog for company, and the evening blackout patrols until Enid, James’s sister, moves in after her London apartment is bombed. It is not an easy partnership as each woman keeps secrets from the other. How these characters survive the upheavals, betrayals, and violence of the war years and their damaged aftermath are at the center of the story.
Verdict Readers interested in exploring the human costs of war off the battlefield, especially those who admire Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong and Josh Ritter’s Bright’s Passage, will find this a good choice.—Cheryl Bryan, Orleans, MA

Hunter, Stephen. I, Ripper. S. & S. May 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781476764856. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476764870. F
Best-selling author Hunter (Sniper’s Honor) gives his best-known character, Bob Lee Swagger, a well-earned rest to concentrate on the most infamous serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper. Narrator Jeb, an Irish journalist who found fame covering the Ripper murders in London’s Whitechapel district in 1888, looks back on those bloody events 24 tears later and inserts pages from the Ripper’s own diary (found by Jeb) into his memoir. In reporting on the case, Jeb made friends with a famous professor, who became Holmes to Jeb’s Watson; the duo used deduction in an attempt to uncover the Ripper’s identity.
Verdict The conclusion is worth the wait, even though some readers will undoubtedly guess the plot twist in advance. Hunter’s stand-alone is as much an investigation of the morals of Victorian England as it is a murder mystery. Jack the Ripper continues to fascinate, and Hunter’s interpretation of the case will attract readers who can’t get enough of this legendary murderer. [See Prepub Alert, 11/24/14.]—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

Kilpatrick, Sally. The Happy Hour Choir. Kensington. Apr. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781617735684. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617735691. F
[DEBUT] Beulah Land’s sordid backstory includes a teenage pregnancy, which led to her leaving her mother and moving in with feisty middle-aged Ginger. She finds a job playing the piano in a honky-tonk bar, singing songs quite different from the spirituals she grew up hearing. But several years later, Ginger’s terminal illness forces Beulah to reevaluate her purpose in life. Ginger’s final wish for Beulah to use her music in a more redeeming manner as the church pianist has Beulah battling the new pastor. Luke Daniels just happens to be ruggedly handsome but is resistant to her feminine wiles.
Verdict From the bad girl reformed to the all-American pastor, the characters in this debut novel are clichéd, and there is little unexpected tension to the plotline. In addition, readers who enjoy inspirational novels may not appreciate the salty language and innuendo that pepper the pages. Readers looking for Southern fiction that tackles redemption issues might prefer works by Sue Monk Kidd, Beth Hoffman, or Adriana Trigiani.—Julia M. Reffner, Midlothian, VA

Marcus, Mary. Lavina. Story Plant. May 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781611882018. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611882025. F
A Louisiana town in the heat of summer and the civil rights era is home to Mary Jacob, a young girl born to white privilege but an outsider in that world. Despised by her family, she spends her days with Lavina, the family’s black maid. Lavina’s son, Billy Ray, is a gifted musician and at 15 begins to draw the success at local venues that will transform into stardom. Thirty years later, Mary Jacob’s father is dying, and she leaves her New York City life and returns to her childhood home. Billy Ray, now a legend, is playing the local club that gave him his start. Both are drawn to revisit the day Lavina was shot at a sit-in, when their lives changed forever.
Verdict Marcus (The New Me) has written a novel of weight and heart. Forthright in chronicling harrowing conditions of the era and Southern setting while not succumbing to stereotypes, she reveals the complexities of humanity and demonstrates a keen ear for the music of language in the individual voices of her characters. Lovers of The Help and civil rights–era literary fiction will enjoy this book.—Shannon Greene, Greenville Technical Coll. Lib., SC

Martin, Madeline. Deception of a Highlander. Diversion. May 2015. 284p. ISBN 9781626816329. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781626816312. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
deceptionofahighlander042415[DEBUT] Mariel Brandon is on a top secret mission. She must find the whereabouts of Highlanders Blair and Dougal Hampton for her evil English master Aaron so as to keep her little brother safe from Aaron’s nefarious ways and win their freedom. In order to locate the men, Mariel must infiltrate the household of the attractive Scottish laird Kieran MacDonald. Mariel has been terribly mistreated by Aaron and is determined to do what she must to rescue her brother. Although she is immediately attracted to Kieran, Mariel tries to keep her eye on the prize. As their feelings for each other inexorably grow, she is appalled to discover just who Blair and Dougal are and why they are being hunted. She must make an impossible choice, knowing she will lose Kieran’s affection.
Verdict Readers will root for Mariel as she faces terrible decisions and admire her bravery under horrible circumstances. Kieran evinces sympathy as well, as he wrestles with feelings of betrayal and an innate hatred of the English. Secondary characters will likely be featured in future novels, and readers will await their stories with pleasurable anticipation.—B. Allison Gray, Goleta Lib., CA

Parry, Leslie. Church of Marvels. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780062367556. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062367570. F
[DEBUT] In Parry’s well-drawn vision of 19th-century New York City, anyone finding themselves on the wrong side of “us versus them” is made to feel as if their whole existence is fit only for a sideshow. A young orphan struggles to work his way out of the muck and back-alley boxing matches, a woman searches for her runaway contortionist sister, and Alphie, a secretive young bride, wakes up in an insane asylum. Home is a nebulous concept for these characters, but their drive to find and make it real will expose them to challenges they could never have imagined.
Verdict Parry’s debut novel infuses life into the seamy corners of the city, taking readers to riverside bars, opium dens, and the bedlam of Blackwell’s Island. Each narrative has its merits, but it is Alphie’s tale that will resonate with readers long after they finish the book. Her bewilderment at her imprisonment and treatment is heartrending, as is her fervent belief that her husband will come to her rescue. Historical fiction fans in search of unusual perspectives will find a lot here to enjoy. [See Prepub Alert, 11/10/14.]—Liza Oldham, Beverly, MA

Rue. My Favorite Second Chance. Sittin’ on a Goldmine. (Lake Effect Series, Bk. 2). 2015. 328p. ISBN 9780986062735. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9780986062728. F/LGBT
Sisters Gwenn and Rachel Hutchinson have been raised by their folksy, religious parents, Pastor Ed and Shirley, in Duluth, MN. Rachel is a baker, in a relationship with Ann, an up-and-coming rock star. Gwenn runs a successful small business and is in a new romance with Daniel, a megamillionaire artist. Rachel fights with the community and her parents to accept her lifestyle. Gwenn receives the shock of her life when her high school sweetheart and former fiancé, marine sergeant Steven Hays, is released from enemy captivity after six years and returns to find her. Rachel’s boss, who fires her because she is a lesbian, dies and leaves the local bakery to her, just as Shirley becomes ill.
Verdict Readers will be challenged by the abundance of plotlines and stilted dialog. While Rue (It’s Not My Favorite) is able to build empathy for Gwenn and Rachel, readers may wonder how many more themes and causes can be written into this one novel.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

Shalvis, Jill. Still the One. Berkley. (Animal Magnetism, Bk. 6). Apr. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780425270189. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101638460. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
stilltheone042415Still recovering from the fallout of a major car crash that could have rendered her wheelchair-bound, globe-trotting travel writer Darcy Stone is marking time as a receptionist at the Sunshine Wellness Center. She is also putting in hours at the local animal shelter and pursuing her passion to rescue “career change” service dogs and place them as therapy dogs, often with emotionally damaged vets. She isn’t happy when A.J. Colton, her sexy physical therapist and boss—and the man who once rejected her—drags her to a meeting with a potential grant sponsor as a recovery “poster child” and she has to spend hours alone with him. Darcy and A.J. strike a bargain she can’t refuse and the evening results in the assumption that they are a couple. Now, the fuse is lit for a situation just waiting to explode in delightful, spectacular glory. Although this story stands on its own, reappearing characters from earlier series titles are a bonus.
Verdict A rebellious, valiant heroine with major attitude and rejection issues and a tough, caring hero with problems of his own spar their way to love and understanding—finally. Another touching, animal-rich small-town romance that fans won’t be able to resist.—Kristin Ramsdell, librarian emerita, California State Univ., East Bay

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  1. Mary Marcus says:

    Thank you for the lovely review of my novel, Lavina! I’m thrilled. Mary Marcus