Fiction from Hurwitz, Rosenfeld, and Ryan, plus Debuts and Mermaids | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 9, 2016

Annand, Betty. The Girl from Old Nichol. Amberjack. Jan. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780997237795. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780997237788. F
[DEBUT]Not many from Old Nichol survived into adulthood, but if they did, they did not leave. Despite the London slum’s sordid conditions and brutal existence, it offered a democracy in misery and a community in hardship. But when Gladys kills the landlord to escape rape, she has no choice but to flee on the first coach to Dover. The world outside Old Nichol, with its fresh countryside, forests, rigid class structure, and complicated social rules, is almost incomprehensible to the city girl. Still, with the help of a close friendship and hard work, she manages to progress from maid to barmaid to singer to upper-class wife, still loyal to her roots and the freedom and adventure they offered. Crammed with Dickensian historical detail, this first novel by nonagenarian Annand would have benefited from a longer, more nuanced development; abrupt character and plot transitions make it seem more like a synopsis of a novel than a novel itself.
Verdict A narrative rather than descriptive style would have made this story more compelling and engaging. Not recommended.—Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA

Hurwitz, Gregg. The Nowhere Man. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250067852. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466876521. F
nowhereman120916Former black ops agent Evan Smoak is determined to help the helpless, but he never expected to be included in that group. In the follow-up to Orphan X, Evan is staying off the grid; his only contacts are from people who need help from the Nowhere Man. But a seemingly simple operation has him knocked out; he awakens to find himself being held in a luxurious prison, his captor a twisted megalomaniac. Now Evan has just a few days to save himself against impossible odds—all while he’s being hunted by his former colleagues who are set upon taking him out of the game permanently.
Verdict Though the loner-on-a-quest story line isn’t new to thrillers, Hurwitz excels at writing smart characters and plots. His latest continues his track record. Fans of Jack Reacher will love Evan Smoak, a man who will do anything to aid the innocent (something he never was). [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/16.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Rosenfeld, Lucinda. Class. Little, Brown. Jan. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780316265416. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316265423. F
Karen Kipple is a privileged fortysomething who works for a nonprofit called Hungry Kids. Her husband, a former lawyer, is working on a start-up for fair housing, and her daughter, Ruby, happily attends the local public elementary school, Betts, which educates students of all races and socioeconomic situations. At a glance, Karen seems to be living a blessed life—educated at an Ivy League college, working on her passion to provide for the less fortunate, married to a partner who shares her values. But she begins to question everything when a young, troubled black child gets too close to her white daughter. When another privileged white student leaves the school, Karen feels her daughter needs to be moved as well. Her husband starts to distance himself from Karen, noting her hypocrisy and her racist feelings. Ruby is now attending a very upscale public elementary school that is almost 100 percent white, but she is unhappy there. Karen struggles to overcome her hypocrisy and decide what kind of person she is. The intent to place a mirror in front of Karen and others like her; living a granola life but keeping themselves at a remove from the people they essentially feel sorry for is the large theme of this satirical book. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to become interested. Karen is unlikable from the beginning and never really sheds that mien.
Verdict Though Rosenfeld’s (The Pretty One) latest picks up momentum when Ruby moves to her new school, it’s unlikely any reader would be willing to wade through the lengthy saga of this unpleasant woman to get to that point.—Brooke Bolton, Boonville-Warrick Cty. P.L., IN

Ryan, R.C. Luke. Forever: Grand Central. (Malloys of Montana, Bk. 2). Dec. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9781455591633. pap. $7.99; ebk ISBN 9781455591640. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Thrown from his horse and knocked senseless when a shot barely misses the wild mustang he’d been photographing, Luke Malloy is in no position to resist when Ingrid Marrow rescues him from the narrow cliff ledge where he landed and hauls him back to her ranch. Badly bruised and slightly concussed, Luke just wants to go home. However, when he learns that Ingrid is being threatened, keeping her and her family safe and finding the villain is now all that matters. An exceptional supporting cast—including crusty retainers, a savvy young girl, and welcoming family members—keep the complex plot on track and add depth to a captivating romance.
Verdict An independent pair struggle with growing passion and a bone-deep reluctance to change or to trust in this tender and witty story edged with violence and steeped in the down-to-earth flavor of the modern-day West. Another compelling diversion from Ryan (Matt), who also writes as Ruth Ryan Langan. She lives in the Detroit area.—Kristin Ramsdell, Libn. Emerita, California State Univ.–East Bay

NO FISH STORY
Claycomb, Ann. The Mermaid’s Daughter. Morrow. Mar. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780062560681. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062560698. F
[DEBUT] Claycomb’s debut brings Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid to life in a chilling tale about the true power of love, the magic of music, and the cruelty of fate. Kathleen, a successful soprano, has been plagued by debilitating pain in her feet and a frightening obsession with the sea since she was a little girl. Throughout her various psychotic breaks, her girlfriend Harry remains by her side and is determined to find answers to Kathleen’s mysterious ailments. When Harry’s research yields a disturbing trend of female suicides going back generation after generation, she joins Kathleen on a trip to Ireland to discover her roots and secrets that have been long since buried.
Verdict This novel is somewhat reminiscent of the movie Enchanted, in which fairy-tale characters exist in real life, but it focuses heavily on music to the point of losing focus. The in-depth discussions of singing styles may deter readers who aren’t musically inclined. The plot twist seems inevitable from the get-go, and the ending is slightly confusing.—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

Kamata, Suzanne. The Mermaids of Lake Michigan. Wyatt-MacKenzie. Feb. 2017. 180p. ISBN 9781942545590. pap. $13.95. F
mermaidsoflakemichigan120916Elise Faulkner is a loner. She spends her teenage years in her room daydreaming about mermaids, reading, and writing to pen pals. To get her out of the house, her mother forces her to have tea with new neighbor Chiara Hanover. Sophisticated Chiara is unlike anyone Elise has met, and the two girls quickly become inseparable. Under Chiara’s influence, Elise gains a new sense of style and a fresh outlook on life. At a local carnival, the two girls are led onto the Ferris wheel by Miguel, who captivates Elise and claims to have seen her in his future. Later, Elise meets Miguel again, and her life takes a series of twists that will forever change her fate.
Verdict Kamata’s (Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible) coming-of-age story mixes bits of magical realism with the trials of growing up in the 1970s suburban Midwest. Mermaids and Romany folklore add a bit of magic to a frequently stereotypical story. The novel’s melancholic tone and nondescript ending won’t appeal to every reader; however, this quick read may interest fans of Jodi Picoult or Kazuo Ishiguro.—Kristen Calvert Nelson, Marion Cty. P.L. Syst., Ocala, FL

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