Fiction from Blauner, Chamberlin, Hamilton, Herron, London, Nakamura, Shaara, Swinson, More | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 28, 2017

Blauner, Peter. Proving Ground. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250117441. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250117472. F
provingground042817In the latest from Edgar Award winner (Slow Motion Riot) and TV producer (Blue Bloods) Blauner, an Iraq war veteran returns home to New York following the murder of his father, an activist attorney who was suing the FBI for the “enhanced interrogation” of his Muslim client. Nathaniel Dresden, armed with a law degree and barely suppressed postwar rage, turns to his father’s law partner Ben Grimaldi for a chance to work on the case. His efforts catch the attention of Brooklyn detective Lourdes Robles, in need of redemption after a public embarrassment that nearly ended her career, and her inscrutable partner Kevin Sullivan. As Natty’s personal investigation begins to expose secrets such as old flames and killed witnesses, all of Natty’s loyalties—to himself, to Ben, even to his father—will be challenged. Blauner writes with depth but with urgency, especially in the revelatory final chapters, and his characters are vividly drawn.
Verdict As complex and as gritty as a Richard Price book, Blauner’s first novel in more than ten years was worth the wait. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Chamberlin, Holly. Home for the Summer. Kensington. Jul. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781496701541. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496701558. F
Frieda Braithwaite’s life was just where she wanted it. She had a wonderful husband, Aaron; two great daughters, Bella and Ariel; and a job that she loved. A family vacation in Jamaica turns everything on its head when a car accident leaves only Frieda and Bella alive. Grief counseling and the support of friends and family have helped them through the year since losing Aaron and Ariel, but as the anniversary of their deaths closes in, Bella starts to backslide. Frieda’s mother, Ruby, suggests they spend the summer with her in Yorktide, ME. Frieda and Bella both bond with unexpected people there. Bella befriends a lonely, troubled girl named who is also dealing with loss; Frieda hits it off with old classmate Jack but feels guilty about loving again after the loss of her husband. Then Frieda’s estranged father, who left her family when she was 11, wants to be back in her life.
Verdict Chamberlin’s (Summer with My Sisters) latest is a difficult read. The characters are bogged down in sadness so much so that the plot drags, and the stilted dialog makes it difficult to relate. Not a beach read, but some avid women’s fiction readers may enjoy.—Brooke Bolton, Boonville-Warrick Cty. P.L., IN

Daily, Lisa. Single-Minded. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781250060440. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466865655. F
[DEBUT] Alex’s husband, Michael, came out of the closet 23 years after they met and several years into their marriage. Alex found out through a phone call from her best friend, along with a breaking national news story stating that her sportscaster spouse had an affair with a college basketball protégé. Armed with low self-esteem, heartache, and loss of her perfectly planned life, Alex sets out to change things—because falling in love, getting married, and having babies is at the top of her list, no matter the cost. Daily delivers a fun, perfect-for-the-beach read, with Alex’s tight-knit crew helping her cope. There’s Darcy, her no-holds barred political consultant best friend; Sam, her super-intense yoga instructor pal; and Zelda, her octogenarian pot brownie–making neighbor. Even her ex chimes in with advice.
Verdict TV love and relationships expert Daily’s first novel will have readers laughing out loud at the one-liners thrown around. If you can get past the repetitiveness in the beginning, the predictability, and a somewhat rushed ending, it’s a great read, complete with Lord Voldemort sex dreams, first (and last) date shenanigans, and more. Good for those looking for a fluffy, fun summer read.—Erin Holt, Williamson Cty. P.L., Franklin, TN

Hamilton, Steve. Exit Strategy. Putnam. May 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780399574382. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399574399. F
Nick Mason (introduced in The Second Life of Nick Mason) is a small-time criminal who tried to go straight until one last job landed him in prison and the clutches of crime lord Darius Cole. Still working for Cole, he’s been ordered to find and kill three men in the federal witness protection program who had put his boss behind bars. Nick must navigate danger from all sides as the police, the FBI, and a former employee of Cole’s all hunt for him. With the danger (both physical and emotional) ever present, he knows this life can’t continue this way, so he begins to craft his own exit strategy.
Verdict The action is nonstop in Hamilton’s latest, and the violence quotient has risen, but Nick remains an empathetic character for whom readers will gladly root. Aficionados of Gregg Hurwitz and Thomas Perry will quickly become fans. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/16.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Herron, Rachael. The Songbird Sisters. HGA Pub. (Songbirds of Darling Bay, Bk. 3). Apr. 2017. 327p. ISBN 9781940785363. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781940785356. F
Lana Darling left her sisters’ country music group to strike out on her own. Now a successful writer of country songs for other artists, Lana still struggles with feelings of inadequacy. A major trauma in her past makes it impossible for her to trust anyone. When a chance arises to sell her most personal song to country superstar Taft Hill, she jumps at the chance, even though it means a major rewrite with him. Things get pretty heated, and their one-night stand is…awkward! After the worst sex either of them has ever had, they part ways. Still, there’s just something about Lana that Taft can’t let go of, and he follows her when she goes home and back to her siblings.
Verdict This is Herron’s final title in her “Songbirds” trilogy (after The Darling Songbirds; The Songbird’s Call). After some ungainly phrasing in the beginning, the story settles ultimately into a very moving look at the harm that assault causes to individuals and their families. For fans of Herron (The Ones Who Matter Most), romance, and women’s fiction.—B. Allison Gray, Goleta Lib., CA

London, Julia. Hard-Hearted Highlander. HQN: Harlequin. (Highland Grooms, Bk. 3). Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780373789993. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488023187. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
hardhearted042817Having fled to Norway to escape the Jacobites, Highlander Rabbie Mackenzie, second son to laird Arran (Wild Wicked Scot), returns to Balhaire to find his village ravaged and his intended assumed dead. Wishing for death himself, he agrees to marry Avaline Kent of Bothing, England, to appease her land-hungry father, Baron Kent, and protect what’s left of his family’s centuries-old property. Enter Bernadette Holly, Avaline’s impenetrable governess, who, like Rabbie, is living as a mere shadow of her former self, having been involved in a scandal that banished her from polite society and sent husband Albert to sea, never to return. Forced to interact because of the impending marriage, Bernadette and Rabbie initially clash but soon find they have more in common than not. If Bernadette can convince Avaline to cry off, then perhaps they can all go home and forget about their differences. Yet fate has something very different in store for these two who believe they have nothing to live for.
Verdict London’s enchanting third book (after Sinful Scottish Laird) featuring the Mackenzie men and the women who love them, faults and all, combines a moody, majestic Highlands setting and an appealing couple whose path to healing and renewed purpose is as rocky as the hillside, yet worth every step.—Annalisa Pešek, Library Journal

Nakamura, Fuminori. The Boy in the Earth. Soho Crime. Apr. 2017. 160p. tr. from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell. ISBN 9781616955946. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616955953. F
Working the night shift, a young taxi driver sets in motion a string of mournful contemplations that sends him spiraling back to memories of his life with terrible foster parents, orphanages, and abuse. In the hopes of pulling himself out of this cycle of violence and uncertainty, he clings to his girlfriend, who (also damaged) is the connective reason he wants to find his way through his grim past and questionable future. Told in an intimate first-person narrative, Nakamura’s (Evil and the Mask; The Gun) novel, translated for the first time into English, considers the long-term repercussions of abuse and a life on the fringe of society. The narrator’s nihilistic view of the world creates a chaos of suicidal thoughts, violence, and uncertainty that builds and holds the novel’s tension.
Verdict Winner of the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious literary award, this well-written sparse character study in psychological obsession will appeal to readers who like their fiction dark.—Ron Samul, New London, CT

Shaara, Jeff. The Frozen Hours. Ballantine. May 2017. 560p. ISBN 9780345549228. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780345549235. F
Shaara (A Blaze of Glory; The Rising Tide) extends the scope of his military historical novels by setting his latest during the darkest days of the Korean War. He focuses on the 17-day battle of the Chosin Reservoir, retelling it from various perspectives. In fall 1950, American-led United Nations forces press north, pushing the North Koreans out of the south. In Tokyo, Gen. Douglas MacArthur oversees the campaigns with the assistance of his aides. On the ground, Gen. O.P. Smith leads his marines while trying to obey the many and conflicting orders coming down to him. Pvt. Pete Riley, a World War II vet, is called back up for the emergency in Korea. Chinese general Sung-Shi-Lun is sent to Korea with his massive army after Chairman Mao becomes alarmed about the bombastic MacArthur’s possible intentions.
Verdict
Fans of Shaara’s novels and military history buffs will find much to enjoy here. The many characters are vividly drawn, and the strategies, tactics, and order of battle are clearly and accurately explicated.—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

starred review starSwinson, David. Crime Song. Mulholland: Little, Brown. (Frank Marr, Bk. 2). May 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780316264211. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316264204. F
crimesong042817Former narcotics detective Frank Marr retired early from the Washington, DC, police department when he failed to conceal his cocaine addiction from his supervisor. Desperate for ready cash to support his addiction, Marr takes on a case as a favor to his estranged Aunt Linda from Ohio. In shadowing his cousin Jeffrey, a college student, Frank discovers that Jeffrey is involved in a small-time drug operation. As Frank is about to teach his relative a lesson, his home is burglarized, his deceased mother’s vinyl collection is taken, and Jeffrey is discovered dead on his kitchen floor. In addition, Frank’s .38 revolver—the murder weapon—is missing. He trails the stolen goods through inner-city DC to untangle a complex network of a bad cop, desperate addicts, and a taxi driver who is tied to everyone involved.
Verdict Swinson delivers a superb second installment (after The Second Girl) in the “Frank Marr” series. Readers of Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, and George Pelecanos as well as fans of The Wire will appreciate the gritty depiction of the mean inner-city streets of our nation’s capital. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/16.]—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

Willett, Marcia. Indian Summer. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250121035. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250121042. F
Sir Mungo Kerslake, 1960s theater and film icon and perpetual bachelor, is spending the waning days of summer in the family compound in Devon. The estate, inherited by Mungo’s older brother Archie and Archie’s wife, Camilla, is in constant need of costly repairs. To assist with the upkeep, Archie lets out two cottages, one to a writer and the other to a young mother. Joining the cadre is Kit Chadwick, Mungo’s friend from his theater days, bringing a letter from a long-lost love. Ever present is the ghost of Izzy Trent, musical theater actress and tragic figure. Loved by all, Izzy, delicate and needy, never recovered from being ill-treated by fellow actor Ralph. Desired by both Izzy and Mungo, Ralph disappeared from their lives years ago after the three had a terrible row. To outsiders, the estate may seem a quiet, uneventful, and idyllic setting, the perfect place to find peace away from stifling London. Yet, for each character there are undercurrents and painful secrets that might cause the entire production to fall to pieces.
Verdict Willett (The Songbird) transports readers to bucolic Devon, where the heat and the story simmer but never boil. This well-written but tepid tale may please fans of Jill Mansell.—Susan Santa, Shelter Rock P.L., Albertson, NY

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