LJ Best Books 2016

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Fiction from Bittner, Brackston, Stewart, and Debuter Ware | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 17, 2015

Bittner, Rosanne. Do Not Forsake Me. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Outlaw Hearts, Bk. 2). Jul. 2015. 472p. ISBN 9781492612841. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492612858. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
In this long-awaited sequel to Outlaw Hearts, notorious outlaw–turned–U.S. marshal Jake Harkner and wife Miranda have settled in Guthrie, OK, with their children Lloyd and Evita, now grown and building families of their own. No longer a fugitive with a price on his head, Jake has found some peace yet continues to struggle to forgive himself for his past misdeeds and worries for the safety of his family, as many of his former associates wish him dead. Miranda, whose intrepid and loyal character will bind readers to her from the series start, is the only one who can keep Jake from falling back into his old life. Bittner wonderfully juxtaposes Miranda’s poise and inner strength with Jake’s hard, ruthless exterior to fuel a never-ending passion. Their unlikely romance catches the attention of earnest Chicago journalist Jeff Trubridge, who’s determined to write a book that reveals the real Jake Harkner, and his outsider role becomes essential when a band of killers plot a final attempt to destroy Jake and the family he can’t live without.
Verdict Against the backdrop of a raw Western landscape, this post–Civil War–era romance delights the senses. Through Jake, Bittner (Desperate Hearts) explores the complex issues of childhood abuse, self-forgiveness, the bonds of family, and love’s promise to be true no matter the price.—Annalisa Pesek, Library Journal

Brackston, Paula. Lamp Black, Wolf Grey. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781250069689. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466859869. F
When Laura Matthews and her husband, Dan, buy a cottage in a remote Welsh village, they hope the move away from the hustle and bustle of London will help them conceive the child they so desperately want. Laura, a painter, spends the weeks alone at the cottage, while Dan commutes from London on the weekends. Laura meets Rhys, a handsome neighbor with whom she feels a powerful connection, and Anwen, a mysterious woman who has a knack for appearing at just the right moments and doling out enigmatic advice to Laura. Meanwhile, in another time and place, Megan, governess to the children of Lord Geraint, falls in love with the magician Merlin. When Merlin refuses to use his gifts to help Geraint take land from his neighbor Lord Idris, it is Megan who is punished, setting forth events that affect Laura centuries later.
Verdict While the ending is a bit convoluted, dedicated readers of Brackston’s (The Silver Witch) works, as well as lovers of Wales and Welsh legend, will be able to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the latest from this magical storyteller. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]—Sutton Skowron, Highland Park P.L., IL

Stewart, Leah. The New Neighbor. Touchstone: S. & S. Jul. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781501103513. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501103537. F
newneighbor071715Living a solitary life in her Tennessee lakeside home with her mystery paperbacks to keep her company, 90-year-old Margaret contrives to meet her new neighbor, Jennifer, a massage therapist with a young son. Jennifer reminds her of an old friend, so Margaret starts sharing stories of her past as a nurse during World War II. Yet Jennifer won’t reveal her own secret history—until Margaret’s snooping and meddling bring it all crashing down on them. Most of the action in this slow-burning novel happens in the past, revealed in the stream-of-conscious point of view that alternates between these two lonely women, until a third character gets close focus near the end. Sad, closed-off Jennifer (the one you just can’t get to know) pales next to Margaret’s feistiness, but readers will want to keep going to learn her secret.
Verdict Readers who like an unhurried pace, an element of mystery, and plenty of symbolism will be satisfied as Stewart ( The Myth of You and Me) brings her tale to a surprising conclusion that reveals that Margaret holds the biggest secret of all.—Sonia Reppe, Stickney–Forest View P.L., IL

Ware, Ruth. In a Dark, Dark Wood. Scout: Gallery. Aug. 2015. 310p. ISBN 9781501112317. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501112324. F
[DEBUT] London crime writer Leonora (or Nora as she now calls herself) Shaw is puzzled when she receives an email inviting her to a weekend hen party in Northumberland to celebrate the engagement of Claire Cavendish, a childhood friend she hasn’t spoken to in ten years. Nora is hesitant. Why is Claire contacting her now? Still, Nora’s curiosity overcomes her doubts, and she heads north with her school friend Nina. It’s a decision Nora soon regrets when she wakes up 48 hours later in the hospital, badly injured but aware that something terrible happened at the party. Someone died, but who? And was Nora responsible? Why can’t she remember?
Verdict This middling debut psychological thriller mixes tropes popularized by such suspense novels as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl—the amnesiac protagonist, the unreliable narrator, the charming sociopath—with Agatha Christie touches—a small party of guests stuck in an isolated snowbound country house. Although the characters are a bit stock (Claire is the stereotypical mean girl) and the clumsy red herrings fail to distract the reader from identifying the culprit early on, Ware writes with verve and energy, building up the suspense and keeping the pages flying. An imperfect but entertaining poolside read. [Library marketing.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal

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