Fiction from Avit, Gregson, Hiaasen, London, Walker, plus Debuts and Mississippi Noir | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 29, 2016

Avit, Clélie. I’m Still Here (Je suis là). Grand Central. Aug. 2016. 304p. tr. from French by Lucy Foster. ISBN 9781455537624. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781455537617. F
Elsa has been in a coma for several months following a mountaineering accident. She has been able to hear the world around her for weeks but can’t make this known to the people with her. Her coma appears irreversible, so she has been moved out of the way and is now rarely visited by anyone save her sister and the nighttime cleaning staff. Elsa is hungry for interaction, so when Thibault stumbles into her room in an attempt to avoid his dysfunctional family’s most recent trip to the hospital, she’s overjoyed. Thibault, looking for escape, finds in Elsa a perfect outlet, and he begins to suspect that Elsa may be listening. When doctors suggest that it’s time to pull the plug on Elsa, Thibault will have to convince her dubious family that she is awake—if only she would wake up.
Verdict Some readers might find the love story itself incomprehensible, but on the whole it this is a harmless, cute tale about two people who find a connection across a seemingly impossible barrier. Older fans of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay may want to give this one a try.—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH

starred review starChabot, Jason. Below. Turner. (Broken Sky Chronicles, Bk. 1). Aug. 2016. 308p. ISBN 9781681626024. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9781681626017. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681626031. SF
below072916[DEBUT] In the distant future (or is it closer than it appears?), Earth has undergone a drastic geological transformation: in the sky, the islands of Above float over the clouds in a relentlessly bright, dry climate, and the realm of Below lies beneath on Earth’s surface, under permanent cloud cover, the sun unknown to its people. Above and Below only interact during the funeral rites for the dead of Above, who are cast into the abyss, falling to the ground where the scavengers of Below search the corpses for treasure. That changes when Elia, an imperial servant girl of Above, stumbles onto clues to her family’s mysterious past—and then literally stumbles over the island’s edge. She survives by landing in the ocean of Below, where she meets Hokk, an outcast stunned to see a living being from Above. They work together to return to their homes in this thrilling first entry in Chabot’s debut trilogy.
Verdict Teen, tween, and adult fans of futuristic YA adventure such as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games will devour this title, and parents whose children are reluctant readers will want to put this into their hands.—Nicole Steeves, Fox River Valley P.L. Dist., IL

Gregson, Julia. Monsoon Summer. Touchstone. Aug. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9781476725260. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476725307. F
In 1947, Kit Smallwood and her mother have escaped bombed-out London for the fresh country air at their friend Daisy’s estate. Kit served as a nurse during World War II and was only a few deliveries short of becoming a qualified midwife until tragedy drove her away. Now she has the opportunity to help Daisy in her efforts to aid a maternity home in India. At Daisy’s estate, Kit meets Anto, a young Indian doctor, and they fall in love against the wishes of Kit’s mother. After a whirlwind wedding, the couple arrives in a newly independent India where both their marriage and Kit’s dreams will be severely tested. Gregson’s (after East of the Sun) latest historical title examines the challenges faced by Indian midwives both from distrustful and superstitious women and angry men willing to resort to violence to stop them. However, the focus here is on Kit and her difficulties in adjusting to married life and dovetailing her own views with the reality of living in India.
Verdict Historical fiction fans will be fascinated by this multilayered story about a brave but naïve young woman and a country in the midst of political and cultural change.—Christina Thurairatnam, Holmes Cty. Dist. P.L., Millersburg, OH

Hatton, Lindsay. Monterey Bay. Penguin Pr. Jul. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781594206788. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698407503. F
[DEBUT] Hatton’s debut novel is complex, with a palpable air hanging over all that readers might find strange or even menacing and characters they will want to examine and understand, just as Ed Ricketts does with the sea creatures he collects from tide pools. When 15-year-old Margot Fiske’s father moves them to Monterey Bay, looking for his next business opportunity, he’s so busy that Margot is left alone. A talented artist, she begins drawing specimens for Ricketts in his makeshift lab, keeping company with Ricketts and his good friend John Steinbeck. Margot also begins an affair with Ricketts, and though it’s unclear what she is seeking from him, this is no romance. In fact, their relationship is slightly grotesque, as are the descriptions of the many smells, chemicals, creatures, and even people of the fabled Cannery Row. Margot’s father dreams of turning one of the large canneries into an aquarium, and as the novel shifts between the 1940s and 1998, his plans and Margot’s large part in them are revealed.
Verdict Though set on the shores of Monterey Bay, this is no beach read. The language and descriptions are compelling, and while the subject matter won’t be for everyone, the author has created an unforgettable debut. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/16.]—Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA

Hiaasen, Carl. Razor Girl. Knopf. Sept. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780385349741. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385349758. F
Ex-cop–turned–restaurant inspector Andrew Yancy is back in Hiaasen’s (Bad Monkey) latest “only in Southern Florida” adventure. This time Yancy unofficially investigates the disappearance of the patriarch of a Duck Dynasty–type reality show after a booking at a Key West sports bar goes terribly wrong. Hiaasen does not deviate from the style that has made him famous, and fans can enjoy the usual vivid phrasing and humorous set pieces that characterize his works (Yancy’s food inspection visits and a running gag about service comfort dogs both work particularly well). If there is any complaint to be made, it is that the main female character, the titular “Razor Girl,” is not particularly well developed despite appearing throughout most of the novel, but the other criminals, cops, Mafia enforcers, Hollywood agents, and Key West citizens are memorable in Hiaasen’s usual quirky way. While the ethical dilemmas of reality television have been more seriously explored elsewhere, it is doubtful they’ve been examined in such an amusing fashion.
Verdict Hiaasen and Dave Barry fans will not be disappointed. [See Prepub Alert, 3/26/16.]—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

London, Joan. The Golden Age. Europa. Aug. 2016. 208p. ISBN 9781609453329. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781609453268. F
goldenage072916Frank and Elsa, young teenage inmates of the Golden Age polio hospital, not only improve their mobility and the health problems associated with this dreaded disease but fall deeply in love. Frank and his parents are recent immigrants to Australia from war-torn Hungary and in the early 1950s lend an exotic, European air to their adopted city of Perth. After Frank is found in Elsa’s bed one night by the nursing staff, they are both expelled from the hospital. Frank’s parents are shocked and amazed at the nurses’ prudishness, while Elsa’s family wants Frank to stay away from her. Poetry becomes Frank’s salvation as it helps him cope with his disability and, more important, the hospital staff’s lack of faith in his and Elsa’s feelings for each other.
Verdict The multi-award-winning London graciously captures young love in a quiet and beautifully sculpted story that is easily devoured in one sitting. Her generous affection for humanity comes through, especially as we are instantly drawn into this cloistered world she creates at the ironically titled hospital. Highly recommended for adult and teen book discussion groups.—Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.

Mississippi Noir. Akashic. Aug. 2016. 288p. ed. by Tom Franklin. ISBN 9781617754722. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9781617752285 $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617754609. MYS
As editor Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) observes in his introduction, Mississippi is the perfect setting for the latest volume in Akashic’s long-running noir series. The pronounced social conditions that make the Magnolia State ripe for noirish exploration—political corruption, infant mortality, the highest poverty rate in the nation—recall a saying from Franklin’s Alabama upbringing: “Thank God for Mississippi; otherwise we’d be at the bottom of everything.” Divided thematically into four sections, these 16 stories share some common denominators: doomed love (“There was a girl in all of this,” says the narrator in Andrew Paul’s “Moonface”), often fatal decision-making, and revenge. As always, established authors (Megan Abbott, Ace Atkins) share space with promising newcomers (Jimmy Cajoleas, Dominiqua Dickey), but the collection struggles to break out of its tonal rut. The most memorable pieces take the definition of noir beyond the expected: William Boyle’s “Most Things Haven’t Worked Out” is reminiscent of the gothic fatalism in Flannery O’Connor’s stories, while Michael Kardos’s “Digits,” about a writing teacher whose students come to class with fewer and fewer fingers, veers into Shirley Jackson territory.
VERDICT Despite some standouts, this is not one of Akashic’s stronger efforts. Purchase only where this series is popular or of regional interest.—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Walker, Wendy. All Is Not Forgotten. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781250097910. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250097941. F
Humiliated at a party by a boy she likes, Jenny Kramer runs out into the woods, where she is then brutally raped by an attacker. The doctors offer Jenny’s parents the option to give Jenny a controversial new drug that will erase her memories of the experience. Believing that forgetting will make things easier for Jenny, her parents agree to the treatment. But Jenny is haunted by the emptiness the erasure of those memories has left in her. When she attempts suicide, she is sent to psychiatrist Dr. Alan Forrester. The choice to make Alan the narrator is, at first, a perplexing one. His clinical tone distances the reader from Jenny and the aftermath of her trauma. When the novel’s shocking twist occurs, the reasons for choosing Alan become clear. For some readers, this twist will feel cheap and dissatisfying.
Verdict While Walker’s (Social Lives) novel is advertised as a psychological thriller, it is more a slow-paced treatise on the nature of memory and trauma. Book groups will find much to discuss and debate. [A July LibraryReads pick.]—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

Wolff, Dana I. The Prisoner of Hell Gate. Picador. Jul. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781250089700. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781250089717. F
[DEBUT] A group of public health graduate students enjoying a boat ride on New York City’s East River come across the abandoned North Brother Island, which, as they know from their studies, decades ago housed an Irish immigrant cook nicknamed Typhoid Mary. Karalee Soper, a descendant of the man who had quarantined Mary Mallon on the island, feels drawn to the place, and her friends agree to explore the island’s hospital ruins. But ten strange occurrences start to unfold at their innocent trespass. Their boat capsizes, they meet a homeless woman—ironically named Mary—on the supposedly desolate property, and they hear screams and voices on the wind. They start feeling ill after spending time with Mary and begin to wonder if this is the same diseased person from the past, still alive, or is it a supernatural entity fueled by a desire for revenge on the Soper family?
Verdict This alternative history is poetically written with changes in perspective that let readers feel both the vengeful wrath of Mary and the extreme terror of the students. Debut author Wolff has written a horror tale that Stephen King readers will appreciate.—Natalie Browning, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond

Share
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*