Benincasa, Boyd, Higgins, Holleman, & Double Murakami | Fiction Reviews, August 2015

redstarBoyd, William. Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay. Bloomsbury USA. Sept. 2015. 464p. ISBN 9781632863324. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781632863348. F

sweetcaress73015As recounted in this powerful new novel by the multiaward-winning Boyd (A Good Man in Africa), Amory Clay was born during England’s Edwardian era and spent her entire extraordinary life defying conventions. Introduced to the power of the camera by her photographer uncle, she quickly grew bored shooting high-society events. By the time she was in her 20s, a photo shoot in an after-hours German strip club caused an international scandal, got her arrested, and launched her career as a serious photographer. A few years later, she was badly beaten by the Blackshirts in the London street riots of 1936. Amory’s passion for her work and the men in her life who influenced her achievements brought her to the battlefields of World War II, where she met her husband. Settling down with him on his Scottish estate was the beginning of a whole new chapter, abounding with tragedies and challenges. ­VERDICT The authenticity of Boyd’s research, the mix of historical events and real-life figures such as Hannelore Hahn and Margaret Bourke-White with pure literary invention, as well as the captivating photos that illustrate this sweeping, glorious novel will confound readers into believing that this bold, brilliant woman photographer did have a place in history. Simply stunning.—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

redstarHiggins, Kristan. If You Only Knew. HQN: Harlequin. Sept. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780373784974. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460382233. F

ifyouonlyknew73015Jenny Tate’s life was perfect: she was a sought-after wedding dress designer with a cute doctor husband and a nice Manhattan apartment. However, when her husband decides he doesn’t have feelings for her anymore, Jenny moves back to her small hometown on the Hudson River to start life anew. She opens her own wedding dress boutique and rents a fabulous apartment that comes with a scruffy, handsome super named Leo. As Jenny watches her ex-husband, who never wanted kids, remarry and have a child with the perfect woman, she consoles herself by spending time with her triplet nieces and sister, ­Rachel. Meanwhile, Jenny’s relationship with Leo begins to move forward and Rachel’s perfect marriage begins to fall apart. Her husband has been sexting a partner in his law firm, and ­Rachel must decide whether the marriage can, and should, be saved for the sake of their children. ­VERDICT Higgins (Somebody To Love) is the queen of the summertime read with a little something more. Her witty characters who find, and sometimes lose, love will keep readers glued to her books for hours. This one is no exception. Witnessing Jenny grow closer to the troubled but charming Leo, while Rachel’s world falls spectacularly to pieces shows us just how much effort relationships require while being extremely entertaining.—Brooke Bolton, North Manchester P.L., IN

redstarMurakami, Haruki. Wind / Pinball. Knopf. Aug. 2015. 256p. tr. from Japanese by Ted Goossen. ISBN 9780385352123. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352130. F

murakami73015Before A Wild Sheep Chase made Murakami an international sensation, he wrote these “kitchen-table novels,” so named for where his composition efforts took place after he wrapped up managing his Tokyo jazz bar for the day. Both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are prequels to Sheep and comprise two-thirds of the “Trilogy of the Rat”; Dance Dance Dance, Sheep’s sequel, actually makes the series a tetralogy. This latest two-title edition is a new translation from Canadian professor Goossen, who most recently translated Murakami’s The Strange Library; Alfred Birnbaum, Murakami’s earliest English translator (including Sheep) published translations of these two works in the mid-1980s, but distribution outside Japan remained mysteriously limited. Read side by side, the translations are not markedly different: Goossen’s sentences seem slightly tighter, while Birnbaum’s tend toward the more lyrical. Wind introduces the ever-unnamed protagonist and his friend the Rat and covers 18 days during a university summer break; Pinball follows our young man in Tokyo, Rat’s growing alienation, and a wild chase to find the titular pinball (machine). Most fascinating is a new introduction in which Murakami shares the serendipitous (surreal) events that led to his novelist career, including a 1978 baseball game epiphany and a wounded bird. He divulges his uncommon style: he composes in English, then “transplants” his text into his native Japanese. The first line of his first novel proves to be a personal lifelong challenge: “There’s no such thing as a perfect piece of writing.” VERDICT Whether prompted by devotion, curiosity, or obsession, every Murakami fan will flock to this double feature. For newbies, this duo is an unparalleled opportunity to experience his progression from start to phenom: read in four-part order and witness the maturation of an iconic genius. [See Prepub Alert, 2/23/15.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

Ancient History Redux

Brooks, Geraldine. The Secret Chord. Viking. Oct. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780670025770. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698411487. F

An aging King David reflects upon the battles, loves, and the slaying of a giant that have brought him to his prophesied glory. He requests his longtime confidant, Natan, to visit the key players in his life and chronicle his unvarnished past. Having witnessed as a child his father’s death at David’s hand, Natan knows firsthand about the flawed king and wonders what good will come of recording the reminiscences of the people who have reason to hate David. VERDICT Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (People of the Book) has given us a portrait of a monarch who is despicable, heartless, and cruel and yet can inspire and reciprocate passionate love and fierce loyalty. The author’s use of archaic language, including the Hebrew spelling of names (Solomon is Shlomo; Bethlehem is Beit Lethem; etc.) slows down the narrative, but her writing is insightful and impeccably researched. [See Prepub Alert, 3/23/15.]—Susan Santa, Syosset P.L., NY

redstarHolleman, Emily. Cleopatra’s Shadows. Little, Brown. Oct. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780316382984. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316383004. F

cleopatrasshadow73015Although Cleopatra, daughter of King Ptolemy of Egypt, is easily one of the most famous women of the ancient world, the names of her two half-sisters have been almost lost to antiquity. Breathing new life into these historical personalities, first-time novelist Holleman has written a marvelous story of the two years when Berenice, the older sister, ruled Egypt while Cleopatra and her father were in Rome pleading for aid in taking back the Egyptian throne. The account of Berenice and her youngest sister Arsinoe are narrated in alternating chapters from their own points of view. While Berenice fights to maintain her hold on the throne as the first queen to rule Egypt alone in centuries, eight-year-old Arsinoe struggles to survive two bloody coups. Though both sisters are equally fascinating, Arsinoe is the one readers will identify with most as she deals with being abandoned by her beloved Cleopatra and surviving Berenice’s ascendancy to the ultimate (and very bloody) return of the king. VERDICT ­Holleman offers a fresh take on the Ptolemy dynasty and has delivered what promises to be just the first in a exciting series about Arsinoe, youngest sister of Cleopatra. [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/15.]— Jane Henriksen Baird, ­Anchorage P.L., AK

 

Wandering Womenfolk

redstarBenincasa, Sara. DC Trip. Adaptive Bks. Nov. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780996066631. $26.99. F

dctrip73015High school teachers Alicia Deats and Brian ­Kenner are chaperones for the sophomore class’s trip to Washington, DC. However, after an embarrassing sexual incident at the annual teacher mixer, they aren’t speaking to each other, nor are they looking forward to spending time together wrangling a bunch of teenagers. While Alicia believes in positive discipline and trusting the teens, Brian strictly abides by the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. Their differing approaches are noticed by the clique of Gertie, Sivan, and Rachel as they battle it out with ­Brooklynn, Peighton, and Kaylee, the mean girls who rule the sophomore class. The claws come out and bad behavior, involving drag shows, drunken nights at the Lincoln Memorial, and getting high (in the White House no less) ensues. Comedian ­Benincasa (Great; Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom) realistically captures the voice of today’s teenager, complete with foul language, sexual confusion, and everyday situations. She simultaneously crosses back into adult fiction in the development of Alicia and Brian’s relationship. This is a light yet deep novel that looks at the intricacies of both high school cliques and adult relationships. VERDICT A fantastic add to fiction collections, this would be a great YA crossover for older teens (profanity and sexual situations are dealt with very well).—Erin Holt, ­Williamson Cty. P.L., Franklin, TN

Carter, Mary. London from My Windows. Kensington. Aug. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781617737060. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617737077. F

A traumatic childhood event changed Ava’s worldview, and she eventually developed a hidden disability—agoraphobia. As a young woman living in Iowa and under the care of a therapist she is able to manage her disability most of the time. After her estranged Aunt ­Beverly dies, Ava learns she has been bequeathed her aunt’s flat in London. But there are conditions: Ava must live there for a year and visit a number of tourist attractions in order to become the owner. She is determined to go, so with the help of her therapist and pharmaceuticals she arrives in London. She soon finds she has a roommate with whom she is in competition for the flat and meets her aunt’s dishy lawyer, on whom she understandably develops a crush. Could Ava become a Londoner for life or will her aunt’s well-meaning stipulations prove too much? VERDICT The author’s comic flair lightens the mood without minimizing the seriousness of Ava’s disability, while the city of London comes alive with vivid descriptions of many landmarks. For fans of women’s fiction, the author’s previous novels (Meet Me in Barcelona; Accidentally Engaged), and anyone interested in fiction dealing with ­agoraphobia.—Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

Hughes, Anita. Rome in Love. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781250064134. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466869332. F

Amelia Tate, an up-and-coming actress, has landed the plum role in a remake of Roman Holiday. Ducking out of a press event early and disguising herself as a hotel maid, ­Amelia meets Phillip, a journalist from whom she withholds her identity. In a narrative that draws heavily from both the film and the life story of its lead, Audrey ­Hepburn, Amelia is beset by heartbreak and then suddenly smitten, navigating all Rome has to offer with her new friend Sophie, who has secrets of her own, and a cache of unsent letters from ­Hepburn herself to guide her. Those familiar with Roman Holiday and Hepburn will delight in the retelling, especially with Hughes’s own imprint on it in the end, imbuing Amelia and Philip, and a few secondary characters, with the traits of the 1953 movie’s characters, although the few brief racier passages are incongruous. The minor story lines add texture and depth to a charming love story. VERDICT An enjoyable read for classic film and light romance fans.—Amy Brozio-Andrews, Albany P.L., NY

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

redstarBaker, David. Vintage. Touchstone. Sept. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781501112515. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781501112553. F DEBUT

redstarBartsch, Jeff. Two Across. Grand Central. Aug. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781455554621. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781455554607. F DEBUT

redstarBivald, Katarina. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Sourcebooks Landmark. Jan. 2016. 400p. tr. from Swedish by Alice Menzies. ISBN 9781492623441. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492623458. F DEBUT

Boykin, Kim. A Peach of a Pair. Berkley. Aug. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780425281994. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698198005. F

redstarCantor, Jillian. The Hours Count. Riverhead. Oct. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781594633188. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698162334. F

Childress, Ron. And West Is West. Algonquin. Oct. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781616205232. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616205393. F DEBUT

redstarClark, Clare. We That Are Left. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2015. 464p. ISBN 9780544129993. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544130166. F

Diffenbaugh, Vanessa. We Never Asked for Wings. Ballantine. Aug. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780553392319. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780553392326. F

Dobyns, Stephen. Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? Blue Rider: Penguin. Sept. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780399171451. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698166639. F

redstarFox, Candice. Eden. Kensington. (Archer & Bennett, Bk. 2). Sept. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781617734434. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617734441. F

Gerritsen, Tess. Playing with Fire. Ballantine. Oct. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9781101884348. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101884355. F

redstarGolding, Michael. A Poet of the Invisible World. Picador. Oct. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781250071286. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781250071309. F

redstarHallberg, Garth Risk. City on Fire. Knopf. Oct. 2015. 944p. ISBN 9780385353779. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385353786. F DEBUT

Halpern, Julie. Maternity Leave. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781250065025. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466871533. F

redstarHeacox, Kim. Jimmy Bluefeather.

Alaska Northwest. Sept. 2015. 264p. ISBN 9781941821688. $26.99. F

Hewitt, Kate. Rainy Day Sisters. NAL: Penguin. (Hartley-by-the-Sea, Bk. 1). Aug. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780451475589. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698195332. F

redstarKirk, David. Sword of Honor. Doubleday. Nov. 2015. 464p. ISBN 9780385536653. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385536660. F

redstarLee, J.M. The Investigation. Pegasus. Aug. 2015. 336p. tr. from Korean by Chi-Young Kim. ISBN 9781605988467. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605988474. F

Luiselli, Valeria. The Story of My Teeth. Coffee House. Sept. 2015. 184p.

ISBN 9781566894098. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781566894104. F

McCrea, Gavin. Mrs. Engels. Catapult. Oct. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781936787296. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781936787302. F DEBUT

Mallon, Thomas. Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years. Pantheon. Sept. 2015. 480p. ISBN 9780307907929 $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907936. F

redstarNadler, Ben. The Sea Beach Line. Fig Tree. Oct. 2015. 344p. ISBN 9781941493083. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941493090. F

Piazza, Tom. A Free State. HarperCollins. Sept. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9780062284129. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062284143. F

Rushdie, Salman. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. Random. Sept. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780812998917. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812998924. F

Shukla, Nikesh. Meatspace. Harper. Sept. 2015. 300p. ISBN 9780008137564. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780007565085. F

redstarSlaughter, Karin. Pretty Girls. Morrow. Sept. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780062429056. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062429063. F

Tuck, Lily. The Double Life of Liliane. Atlantic Monthly. Sept. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780802124029. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802190895. F

redstarWatkins, Claire Vaye. Gold Fame Citrus. Riverhead. Sept. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781594634239. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698195943. F DEBUT

Wilcken, Hugo. The Reflection. Melville House. Sept. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781612194493. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612194509. F

Short Stories

redstarThe Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Oct. 2015. 928p. ed. by Otto Penzler. ISBN 9781101870891. $40; ISBN 9781101872611. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781101872628. F

redstarCampbell, Bonnie Jo. Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. Norton. Oct. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780393248456. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393248463. F

Neuman, Andrés. The Things We Don’t Do. Open Letter. Sept. 2015. 190p. tr. from Spanish by Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia. ISBN 9781940953182. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9781940953199. F

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