Fiction from Basham, Ellory, Gore, Grisham, Killoren, Manus, Raphael, Stasi, & Thomas | Xpress Reviews

Week ending September 15, 2017

Basham, Pepper. Charming the Troublemaker. Bling! Romance: Lighthouse. (Mitchell’s Crossroads, Bk. 2). Nov. 2017. 294p. ISBN 9781946016300. pap. $7.95; ebk. available. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Rainey Mitchell is doing just fine. She has a great job helping children in need, her family is around her, she is mother to a fabulous little girl, and is getting over the betrayal of her ex-husband. Dr. Alex Murdock is not doing so well, as he is forced to work at a rural university, his life is full of secrets surrounding his family, and he has to start over in a new town. Luckily, Rainey, the daughter of his landlord, is there to get him settled. Rainey just wants to stay away from the new professor, who has the same charm as her ex. Unfortunately, they seem to need each other. Rainey needs his grant-writing ability to save her program, and Alex is terrible at the lecturing at which Rainey excels. The two must work together to fulfill their goals, but will they be able to do it? Rainey’s insecurities and Alex’s obsession with protecting his family could be their undoing.
Verdict Romance readers will love Basham’s (A Twist of Faith) well-written love story filled with suspense, mystery, and a loving family.—Jessica M. Strefling, U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, Washington, DC

Ellory, R.J. A Dark and Broken Heart. Overlook. Aug. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781468311280. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781468315394. F
Det. Vincent Madigan is an effective cop with an excellent track record for closing cases for the NYPD. Unfortunately, he developed a chronic issue with drugs and alcohol when he worked the streets. In addition, Madigan has an outstanding debt to Sandia, an East Harlem drug lord. To erase his debt, Madigan devises a plan to rob Sanida to repay his outstanding loan with Sandia’s own money. However, Madigan’s plans go awry when he must murder the three men who helped him rob Sandia’s safe house and a girl in the safe house is killed in the crossfire. When an internal affairs officer is assigned to lead the case, Madigan must keep one step of his coworker. Madigan further complicates the situation when he attempts to save the mother of the dead child from the drug lord while risking his own future.
Verdict Ellroy (A Quiet Belief in Angels) delivers an excellent stand-alone noir novel. Readers of Jonathan Kellerman’s and Michael Connelly’s crime novels will appreciate the well-developed characters and the twists and turns that are encountered in this dark thriller.—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

starred review starGore, Ariel. We Were Witches. Amethyst Editions: Feminist. Sept. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781558614338. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781936932023. F
At 17, Ariel Gore returns from Europe a penniless single mother with a desire to become a writer. While the adults in her life cry shame on her single parenthood, on her bisexuality, on her existence as a female in the world, Ariel makes plans to escape her abusive mother and head to college. She enrolls in a for-profit college, takes on student loans, collects welfare, and begins to figure out how to move from a passive participant in her own life to an empowered woman of choices. Written in short essays, including meditations on what it means to be a woman, reimaginings of classic fairy tales, blunt descriptions of bureaucracy and abuse, and diary-like chapters, Gore’s work is by turns literary and poetic, violent and explicit. Gore (The End of Eve) redefines our expectations of a novel with this hybrid memoir. More than a collection of essays, it moves linearly through the author’s life from teenage motherhood, through college and food stamps, violence and hope, mental illness and magic, and into her burgeoning feminism.
Verdict With quotations from famous feminist writers and a compelling portrayal of a young woman’s struggles, Gore’s work honestly conveys the danger and damage of being a woman in America. [This is the third volume in the publisher’s Amethyst Editions imprint, which is dedicated to emerging queer writers who use genre-bending narratives and experimental writing styles.—Ed.]—Jennifer Beach, Longwood Univ. Lib., Farmville, VA

Grisham, John. The Rooster Bar. Knopf. Oct. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780385541176. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385541183. F
In Grisham’s (Camino Island) 32nd novel, three disillusioned and debt-ridden third-year law students attend a for-profit law school, perform menial tasks at sleazy law firms, and pull pints at the local pub. Admitting they’ve been duped and the school can’t prepare them adequately to pass the bar, Mark, Todd, and Zola brazenly drop out, evade their debt, and change their names. Functioning as licensed lawyers, they open an office, learn the lingo and modus operandi for hustling dried-out drunks and personal injury claims, counsel clients, and collect their fee. To punish the school’s deceitful tactics, the trio devise a sinister plot to expose the hedge-fund owner of eight exploitative for-profit law schools and numerous banks specializing in student loans. Since the unauthorized practice of law is a minor offense, their nonreportable and tax-free earnings ease their guilt for preying on folks needing legal help—until cases become too legally complex and debt collectors become unavoidable.
Verdict Grisham’s solid and smart narrative highlights the myriad issues regarding the underemployed workforce and the graduate school scam that many readers may have experienced. The author’s many fans will want this. [See Prepub Alert, 4/24/17.]—Jerry P. Miller. Cambridge, MA

Killoren, Kelly. The Second Course. Gallery: S. & S. Aug. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781501136153. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501136238. F
Killoren has written a follow-up to A Dangerous Age—or rather the second course—with the four best friends from her first book. The main character is Billy, the model–turned–foodie/chef/author who is struggling to find her place and her appetite. When she meets Ethan, a young and cute chef, he ignites her passion again in food and in living. Billy trades in her life in New York City for one in the Hudson Valley, being in the kitchen and savoring the country environment. Meanwhile, her three best friends—Lucy, Sarah, and Lotta—all have secrets brewing that may potentially end in tragedy. The author has given a genuinely interesting look into the world of culinary arts, and it’s quite different in rhythm from her first work. What is great about this title is the closeness that these women share; they are not just best friends but sisters and they look out for one another.
Verdict Highly recommended for readers of popular chick lit and also those who enjoy foodie literature such as Ruth Reichl’s Delicious!—Holly Skir, York Coll., CUNY

starred review starLand, Ali. Good Me Bad Me. Flatiron: Macmillan. Sept. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250087645. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250087652. F
[DEBUT] Former child and adolescent mental health nurse Land takes the reader on a terrific voyage into the teenage psyche. Fifteen-year-old Annie lives in England with her mother, who happens to be a serial killer. The novel opens with Annie informing the police about her mother’s brutal acts involving small children. Annie is then given a new name, Milly, and placed with a psychiatrist and his family in London until her mother’s trial. Phoebe, Annie’s new foster sister, is a mean girl who wants nothing more than to disrupt Annie’s new life at home and at the posh all-girls school they attend. Annie’s main concern, though, is that she might turn out to be just like her mother. She has delusions and hallucinations, hears her mother’s voice in her head, and hates to be touched. As Annie tries to maintain her own sanity, the trial of her mother looms, secrets are revealed, and, eventually, Annie must face her mother in court.
Verdict
Land has written an intense, insightful first novel; its believable characters caught up in realistic situations will make the reader think more deeply about teenage mental health. Fans of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why will enjoy this book immensely. [See Prepub Alert, 3/13/17.]—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

Manus, Peter. The Dorchester Five. Diversion. Aug. 2017. 322p. ISBN 9781635761658. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781626817142. F
A stoned teenager runs over an elderly woman and tries to drive away. An angry mob attacks the car, leaving the driver with permanent brain damage. Some of the mob, known as the Dorchester Five, are arrested and later acquitted. Several years later, the young man has died, and members of the Dorchester Five are dying in mysterious circumstances. Told in epistolary fashion from the perspectives of Nightingale, the mysterious woman who plots her victims’ elaborate demises, and Marina Papanikitas, the female detective assigned to the case, Manus’s (Fickle) book captures the greater Boston setting admirably and sketches strong portraits of minor characters and each victim. The author somewhat successfully creates a noir atmosphere with Nightingale’s descriptions of how she stalks and entraps her prey, but his depiction of more down-to-earth shenanigans such as a brief detour into a mother’s attempt at still collecting her dead son’s benefits are stronger. Hints of Marina’s psychic ability work less well, but her narrative as she probes the case is highly entertaining, equaling some of the best in recent procedurals. Satisfaction with this novel depends on one’s taste for works heavy on atmosphere, major twists, and the sympathetic perspective of a criminal’s point of view.
Verdict For fans of Boston noir and mysteries narrated from the criminal’s perspective.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

starred review starRaphael, Kate Jessica. Murder Under the Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery. She Writes. Sept. 2017. 359p. ISBN 9781631522741. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631522758. MYS
This second novel in Raphael’s intriguing new series begins with Rania Bakara, the sole woman on the Palestine police force, in prison. Arrested for information she uncovered in a previous case (Murder Under the Bridge), Rania is tested physically, mentally, and emotionally. Chloe, the American activist who was forced to leave the country for her role in the previous probe, risks imprisonment herself by returning from San Francisco to help free Rania. Released after a visit from the Israeli police, Rania decides to look into the murder of a young student, regardless of political pressure to leave it alone. Chloe had met the young student in an underground gay bar, shortly before his death, and joins Rania to protect local gay rights groups. Rania and Chloe track down clues and interview witnesses as they find their own beliefs and relationships challenged. The long list of characters, including mothers, daughters, activists, soldiers, drag queens, police officers, fathers, students and teachers, reveal a wide-ranging picture of life on the West Bank.
Verdict Raphael spins a satisfying detective story while exploring Palestinian society and culture. A great recommendation for anyone interested in international contemporary mysteries.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

Stasi, Linda. Book of Judas. Forge. Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780765378750. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466863361. F
Introduced in The Sixth Station, New York City journalist Alessandra Russo returns in another religious thriller of the Christendom-shattering, artifact-protecting variety. Stasi interlaces the kidnapping of Russo’s infant son with the real history of the Gospel of Judas, a manuscript discovered in an Egyptian cave in the 1970s and resurfacing years later in a Long Island bank vault. Although the artifact had largely disintegrated, rumors abounded that the most important pages from the Gospel had been stolen. The kidnapper believes Russo has access to these pages that assert Judas was Jesus’s confidant, not His betrayer, among other astonishing revelations, including the technique Jesus used for His resurrection. The formula for resurrection is indeed worth killing over, and Russo must keep these documents out of the wrong hands while racing against the clock to rescue her child. The first-person narrative includes sufficient backstory for new readers to jump in without feeling lost. However, reading these books in order yields a deeper experience.
Verdict Fascinating and clever, Stasi’s thriller is peppered with modern cultural references as well as accepted and alternative biblical history, taking the reader on an emotional journey nearly 2,000 years in the making.—Laura Cifelli, Fort Myers Regional Lib., FL

Thomas, Will. Old Scores: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250077967. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466890299. MYS
In 1890, the first Japanese diplomatic delegation arrives in London to open an embassy, and Cyrus Barker, a private enquiry agent connected with the Foreign Service, is asked to display his Japanese garden to the visiting legation. When the Japanese ambassador is murdered later that night, Barker becomes the prime suspect as he was spotted watching the ambassador’s office and holding a pistol. Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn move through the London underworld and between two cultures to solve the dangerous case.
Verdict The ninth (after Hell’s Bay) in the critically acclaimed historical series features an engaging dynamic duo, pithy historical detail, and grand cultural clashes. The emerging personal information about Barker tantalize and make for a grand escapade. This is bound to attract readers who enjoy such authors specializing in Victorian crime fiction as Alex Grecian, Claude Izner, and Philip Pullman.—Ann Chambers Theis, Henrico Cty. P.L., VA

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