Fiction from Davis, Gregory, Lange, Olsen, and Solwitz, plus Two Debuts | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 7, 2017

Davis, Fiona. The Address. Dutton. Aug. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781524741990. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781524742003. F
Recruited by architect Theo Camden to manage the newly constructed Dakota apartments, Sara Smythe arrives in New York City from London in 1884. As she works to please the Dakota’s rich clientele, Sara becomes entangled with the Camdens professionally and personally. After she becomes pregnant, a mental breakdown lands her in notorious Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. A century later, Bailey Camden, an interior designer, finds the only job open after leaving rehab is overseeing the renovation of her Cousin Melissa’s Dakota apartment. Melissa and her twin brother are “true” descendants of Theo, while Bailey’s ancestor was a Camden family ward. As Bailey struggles to save vestiges of the Dakota’s past, she discovers documents and artifacts that call into question accepted narratives of family history, including Sara’s murder of Theo. While the Sara-Theo and Bailey-Melissa relationships are well developed in these parallel stories, some minor characters and subplots receive cursory treatment. However, descriptions of life in the asylum and living conditions of the poor are wrenching. The final chapters from both eras include swirls of revelations with a surprising villain and unexpected family connections.
Verdict Readers who enjoyed Davis’s debut novel, The Dollhouse, about another New York City residential landmark will relish this one.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

starred review starGregory, Philippa. The Last Tudor. Touchstone. Aug. 2017. 528p. ISBN 9781476758763. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476758787. F
Lady Jane Grey (1536–54), a legitimate Tudor heir, reigned over England for only nine days following the death of her second cousin, the Protestant Edward VI in 1553. Fearful that Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s daughter by Katharine of Aragon, would return England to the Catholic faith if she became queen, Edward VI and the Duke of Northumberland engineered Lady Jane’s reign to ensure England remained Protestant. The plan failed; Lady Jane Grey was beheaded in 1554. Mary ruled England until her death in 1558, and Elizabeth, her half-sister, ascended the throne. Written in the first person, Gregory’s (Three Sisters, Three Queens) captivating latest entry in her Plantagenet and Tudor series considers Lady Jane’s brief reign and then explores the lives of her sisters, Katherine and Mary, also Tudor heirs, as Elizabeth I’s insidious insecurity and arbitrary rage intertwine with their lives. Elizabeth imprisons both after each marries in secret without the monarch’s permission.
Verdict An ideal companion to Leanda de Lisle’s The Sisters Who Would Be Queen, Gregory’s first-person perspective on late Tudor England’s turbulent history will delight existing and future fans.—Penelope J.M. Klein, Fayetteville, NY

Hughes, Katherine Nouri. The Mapmaker’s Daughter. Delphinium. Aug. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781883285708. pap. $18. F
[DEBUT] Set in the 16th century, this remarkable and dense debut historical novel introduces Queen Mother Nurbanu (1525–83), who was part of the “sultunate of women” who for over a century exerted political influence in the Ottoman Empire. Born Cecelia Baffo Veniero in Venice, she is captured by Captain Barbarossa and taken to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul. Because of her father’s name and position in Venice, she is educated and groomed for a higher purpose. Suleiman marries her to his son Selim, who eventually becomes sultan himself. Nurbanu, in her position of power, must make many difficult choices that not only transform her life but also change the lives of others. The story envelops many layers of history, including the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the city state of Venice as well as how the Ottomans treated the small Jewish population within their borders.
Verdict Hughes has richly imagined the life of a remarkable historical figure, little known in the West, and the world in which she lived. Fans of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor-era novels (see above) and readers who enjoy in-depth historical detail and court intrigue will be riveted.—Kristen Stewart, Pearland Lib., Brazoria Cty. Lib. Syst., TX

starred review starLange, Richard. The Smack. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Jul. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780316327626. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316327596. F
Professional con man Rowan Petty is at the end of the line: down to his last five grand in Reno, NV, calling rubes on Thanksgiving about a real estate scam for ten percent of the take. Not even a rendezvous with his favorite hooker Tinafey (“Like that white lady on TV, but all one word”) goes right. Then a blast from the past meets Petty with a rumor of a score that could mean early retirement, something about $2 million smuggled out of Afghanistan currently being stored in a wounded vet’s Los Angeles apartment. Petty knows he might be getting played, but the lure—of the money, of the hunt, of spending quality time with Tinafey—is too tempting to ignore. Plus he’ll get to see his estranged daughter Sam, whose medical condition quickly gives him a far more urgent reason to find the money.
Verdict Like his protagonist, Dashiell Hammett Award winner Lange (Angel Baby) knows how to reel in his audience with a seductive story and plenty of misdirection. There’s nothing criminal, however, about this rollicking, diamond-cut thriller shot through with elegance and heart.—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Olsen, Ella Joy. Where the Sweet Bird Sings. Kensington. Sept. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781496705648. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496705655. F
Olsen’s (Root, Petal, Thorn) protagonist Emma loses her beloved grandpa just a year after she and her husband, Noah, lost their baby boy to a rare genetic disease. Her grief and fear prevent her from considering having another child, and she’s not even sure if she should continue being married. Should she set Noah free so he can move on and have a biological child with someone else? Cleaning out her grandpa’s house is supposed to provide some distance and distraction, but secrets tucked away in a roll-top desk that’s no longer off limits catapult her into a searing quest to learn her family’s true history while she contemplates her future. Once the fog lifts from the first several pages unnecessarily weighed down by overdone descriptions, readers will discover a flawed heroine so stubborn and blinded by grief that she makes some serious throw-the-book-across-the-room decisions. Luckily, the myriad family mysteries she tries to solve are compelling enough to cut her some slack. Toss in some soap opera moments with Noah and Emma’s brother and mother, and you have an absorbing novel about a family’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Verdict For fans of women’s fiction about couples, families, genealogy, and genetics.—Samantha Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY

Ostby, Anne. Pieces of Happiness. Doubleday. Aug. 2017. 320p. tr. from Norwegian by Marie Ostby. ISBN 9780385542807. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385542814. F
[DEBUT] Ostby’s debut novel is rich with imagery, female connections and friendships, self-reflection, and second chances. Kat, recently widowed, invites her former four best friends from high school, who are all now in their 60s, to live with her in Fiji on a cocoa farm. What may seem odd and even a bit unrealistic turns out to be just what Sina, Maya, Ingrid, and Lisbeth need. Each woman has struggled with the realities of what her life has turned out to be at this stage—whether it’s financial woes, keeping up appearances, or deeper-rooted issues. Being together under the care of Kat’s housekeeper Ateca is the nurturing and caring environment necessary to evaluate things and take steps forward to have the authentic and honest lives they want—and, most important, to be happy in those lives.
Verdict A fantastical novel that, though wonderfully crafted for the characters, may prove hard for a reader to embrace. Great for indulging “the suspension of disbelief” with a unique setting, plot, and characters.—Anne M. Miskewitch, Harold Washington Lib. Ctr., Chicago P.L.

starred review starSolwitz, Sharon. Once, in Lourdes. Spiegel & Grau. Jun. 2017. 302p. ISBN 9780812989236. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812989243. F
In the summer of 1968, in Lourdes, MI, as wars are raging at home and abroad, teenagers Catherine “Kay” Campion, Vera DeVito, Christopher Joseph “CJ” Walker, and St. John “Saint” Scully spend time together in the local park, aka the Haight, Midwest. One day, Vera challenges everyone to share their darkest secret. Confessions flow, from Kay’s shame of overeating to CJ’s hateful actions toward his father to Saint’s humiliation at the hands of bullying neighbors. But Vera’s revelation of taking LSD for the first time with her younger brother, Garth—though omitting the unspeakable act that followed—is ultimately what spurs the foursome to pledge their lives to one another. In two weeks’ time, they will join hands and leap from a nearby bluff, friends “4EVER.” As the days count down and unforeseen events alter the group dynamics, the clarity of their decision begins to fade, culminating in a heart-shattering and profound denouement.
Verdict Fourteen years after her well-received first novel, Bloody Mary, multi-award winner Solwitz (Blood and Milk: Stories) returns with a tour de force examining the bonds of friendship and the adolescent state of mind. Expect to be taken to the brink more than once. Highly recommended.—Annalisa Pešek, Library Journal

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

*