Fiction Reviews | December 15, 2005

By LJ Staff

Ahern, Cecelia. If You Could See Me Now. Hyperion. Jan. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 1-4013-0187-8. $22.95. F

Must you be able to see something for it to exist? This is the question that faces Ahern’s (Rosie Dunne) heroine, uptight interior decorator Elizabeth Egan. Looking after her six-year-old nephew, Luke, has honed her skills as both a caretaker and a control freak, but her ordered life takes an unexpected turn with the appearance of Luke’s new friend, Ivan, who happens to be invisible. Does Ivan really exist? Maybe, maybe not; but his effect on Elizabeth is real enough. She loosens up, learns how to have fun, and reconciles her troubled past. Amber Jewelry, Tea Sets, Sleeping Bags, Wholesale Tea Sets While Ahern’s Irish fans are probably accustomed to magical creatures like fairies, leprechauns, and invisible friends, American readers may have trouble suspending disbelief long enough to find Ivan a convincing hero. Despite the choppy writing and distracting viewpoints, the story line is original and charming in a bizarre, chick-lit-meets-Harry-Potter kind of way. This novel by the daughter of Ireland’s prime minister is recommended for large popular fiction collections. [The film rights to Ahern’s PS I Love You (2004) were bought by Warner Bros. – Ed.]Anika Fajardo, Coll. of St. Catherine Lib., St. Paul, MN

Barfoot, Joan. Luck. Carroll & Graf. Mar. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 0-7867-1646-0. pap. $14.95. F

The title of this novel, the tenth by Canadian author Barfoot (Critical Injuries), refers to the chance twists that lead us toward our fates. When Philip Lawrence fails to wake up one morning, his death sets in motion events that lead to inspiration, romance, and reformation. Over three days, his widow, Nora, a sculptor, begins to accept this loss and even to deal with it through her controversial art. Two other women in the household – Sophie, a personal assistant who’d been having an affair with Philip, and Beth, a beautiful but remote model for Nora’s sacrilegious artwork – must also deal with what his passing means for their own futures. The plot tension derives from learning exactly what sort of art Nora created that caused such community outrage and unraveling the troubled pasts of Sophie, who witnessed horrors as a foreign aid worker, and Beth, whose beauty masks a chilling interior. The pace is slow at first but picks up as Beth’s demons are exposed; the spare prose is lovely. But though the portraits of the three women are compelling and detailed, those of the men, including Philip, are less fully realized. Recommended.Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC

Beauman, Sally. The Sisters Mortland. Warner. Jan. 2006. c.433p. ISBN 0-446-57819-3. $24.95. F

In this latest from journalist and critic Beauman (Destiny), the summer of 1967 has unimaginable and horrific consequences for the Mortland family. We are introduced to the Mortlands by the youngest sister, 13-year-old Maisie, who is having her portrait painted by an artist named Lucas in preparation for his work on all three sisters. Middle sister Finn seems to be having an affair with Lucas, or perhaps she’s really involved with her friend Daniel. Certainly, Daniel, with his passionate, gypsylike nature, would like that to be the case. Sophisticated eldest sister Julia has one foot out the door of their Suffolk country estate as she plans her career in London. Twenty years later, everything has changed drastically – all because of that mysterious summer. Beauman structures her novel as a succession of viewpoints that shift in time, gradually revealing the troubling series of events at its heart. Her memorable, highly individual characters are drawn with a clear, dispassionate gaze. Like Lucas’s painting of the three sisters, this novel’s rich layers blend into a powerful whole. Recommended for medium to large public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Laurel M. Bliss, PrincetonUniv. Lib., NJ

Benson, Kate. Two Harbors. Harvest: Harcourt. 2005. 312p. ISBN 0-15-603124-8. pap. $14. F

Benson’s first novel is a remarkable coming-of-age story enhanced by strong dialog and poetic verse. Her cinematic descriptions move the action along as though a camera were logging each scene. Twentysomething Casey Maywood lives in the small, isolated Minnesotan town that gives the novel its title. Her mother, Lila, known for her astonishingly good looks, leaves Two Harbors to seek movie stardom in Hollywood, and Casey endures this loss in her own way, recklessly pursuing short-term relationships and one-night stands. Then she falls in love with Dex, a handsome young man she meets while working at the local movie theater. Before Casey is able to come to terms with her feelings, he is killed in a plane crash. The story moves west to Los Angeles when Casey decides to attend Dex’s funeral and locate her mother. Casey’s determination to find answers does not yield a stereotypical Hollywood ending, but it’s unfortunate that the conclusion fails to resolve all the issues that the complex plot creates. Recommended for large fiction collections.Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene

Berg, Elizabeth. We Are All Welcome Here. Random. Apr. 2006. c.208p. ISBN 1-4000-6161-X. $22.95. F

Thirteen-year-old Diana Dunn, wonderfully spirited and bursting to grow up, was born in an iron lung. Her fiercely determined mother, Paige, had contracted polio during her ninth month of pregnancy and was left paralyzed from the neck down. Abandoned by her husband, Paige (along with Peacie, Paige’s daytime caregiver) raises Diana with loving pragmatism and a heavy burden of demands. Diana’s participation in the care of her mother is crucial in keeping the fragile, not-quite-legal structure of the household under the radar of the well-meaning social worker in charge of Paige’s case. Narrated by Diana, Berg’s (Open House) latest novel of ordinary women made extraordinary by a steely nobility covers a lot of territory – the story is set in Tupelo, MS, during the explosive summer of 1964 – and her signature gifts for depicting strong women and writing pointed dialog are as acute as ever. The surprise twist at the end, a what-the-heck, let’s-wrap-this-up scenario, may leave even the most devoted fans suspending a great deal of disbelief. But this is still an Elizabeth Berg novel, so make room on your shelf.Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor District Lib., MI

Bradford, Barbara Taylor. Just Rewards. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.480p. ISBN 0-312-30706-3. $24.95. F

The final episode of the Harte family saga (which began with A Woman of Substance) focuses on the travails of four of Emma Harte’s great-granddaughters. Newlywed Linnet wants to modernize and lead the family business. Divorcée Tessa also wants to be at the helm of the empire, but she has some personal issues to confront first. Evan prepares to marry and give birth but is put in danger after an unexpected confrontation. India also plans a wedding but has to adapt when her fiancé’s young daughter comes to live with them. Throw in some disgruntled people hellbent on wreaking havoc, and you have quite a soap opera! And thank goodness for the juicy storylines because this book suffers from astonishingly wooden dialog that bloats the otherwise readable text. Is this really the end? As always, Bradford kindly prefaces the book with genealogical information on the "Three Clans" (the Hartes, O’Neills, and Kallinskis), and summaries of past important events are woven throughout as necessary. But the number of characters to keep track of is staggering, and newbies may find it difficult to appreciate new developments while trying to make sense of old ones. Still, public libraries should stock up. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Samantha Gust, NiagaraUniv. Lib., NY

Browne, Hester. The Little Lady Agency. Pocket Bks: S. & S. Mar. 2006. c.384p. ISBN 1-4165-1492-9. ISBN 978-1-4165-1492-3. $23. F

In her debut, London-based freelance writer and journalist Browne tells the clever tale of Melissa Romney-Jones, who’s able to organize everything but herself. Out of work for the third time in 18 months, Melissa decides to open an agency and hire out her organizational skills to bachelors who don’t have a "little lady" to take care of their shopping, social calendars, and other domestic chores. Because her father is a member of Parliament and constantly in the tabloids for one scandal or another, she keeps her operation under wraps by donning a blond wig and using the name Honey Blennerhesket when acting for the agency. Suprisingly, she finds that Honey is a much more assertive and quick-thinking version of herself. However, Melissa can’t call on Honey to save her from her horrible family, which includes her haranguing father, loopy mother, and selfish sisters. Things begin to unravel when Honey is asked to her youngest sister’s wedding by one of her clients and Melissa is unable to put her foot down. A sometimes confusing but constantly entertaining story; recommended for public libraries. [In Browne’s follow-up to this book, Honey’s adventures will continue in New York City. – Ed.]Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnepeg

Cartwright, Justin. The Promise of Happiness. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.304p. ISBN 0-312-34880-0. $23.95. F

Award-winning British author Cartwright (Leading the Cheers) again offers a wry exploration of human foibles and the dark comedy of relationships. The Judd family is in crisis: Charles Judd has been forced into an uneasy retirement living in Cornwall with his worried wife. Their "years together have produced a fine mist of resentment which neither of them can quite dispel." His younger children are confused and self-critical and his beloved eldest daughter is in prison. Charles often behaves horribly, but his quest for a moral universe has been imprinted on his children, who are thus saved from shallowness – though they still struggle with "the promise of happiness" their embittered father denigrates. Like Jonathan Franzen, with whom he has been compared, Cartwright writes pitch-perfect dialog, inhabits his female characters as fully as he does the male, and glares unflinchingly at contemporary life. He knowingly delineates the darkest traits of decent people; the vain, petty, and hateful things most people say only to themselves. His characters are nonetheless endearing and his intricate, nuanced portrayals of family relationships astoundingly good.Laurie Sullivan, Sage Group Internationl, Nashville

Clegg, Douglass. Mordred, Bastard Son. Alyson, dist. by Consortium. (Mordred Trilogy, Bk. 1). Jan. 2006. c.286p. ISBN 1-55583-899-5. ISBN 978-1-55583-899-7. $24.95. F

Best-selling horror novelist Clegg (Afterlife) reinvents Arthurian legend with this first book in a planned trilogy. When Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred is pursued by his father’s soldiers, a monk offers Mordred assistance if he will narrate the story of his life. Mordred obliges with a tale that turns the traditional Authurian heros into villains. Power-hungry Arthur is willing to kill anyone – even his own kin – to build an eternal kingdom that Merlin has foretold as his destiny. Arthur’s soldiers hunt Arthur’s pregnant half-sister, Morgan le Fay, who with Merlin’s help escapes into the Lake of Glass, the magical world where Mordred was born. Under the tutelage of Merlin and the Druids, Mordred learns to understand his supernatural powers while at the same time struggling with his physical attraction to other boys. His infatuation for his athletic friend Lukat is not reciprocated, but eventually Mordred and Lancelot share an immediate attraction that develops into love. A plodding plot and occasionally insipid dialog, combined with the sentimental portrayal of Mordred’s relationship with Lancelot, detract from both the magic and the adventure central to any Arthurian tale. Readers of Clegg’s horror novels may not follow the author into this new genre, and traditional fans of Arthurian legends may not be enchanted. Recommended only for comprehensive fiction collections.Joseph Eagan, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore

Cook, K.L. The Girl from Charnelle. Morrow. Apr. 2006. c.352p. ISBN 0-06-082965-6. $24.95. F

What is the value of a secret life? This question both intrigues and haunts Laura Tate, 16 years old and already baffled by the adults around her. It is 1960, a year and a half since her mother mysteriously boarded a bus and left their small town of Charnelle, TX, and Laura still doesn’t know why. It isn’t until she becomes involved with a married man that she understands the power of having a secret life. As she tries to negotiate her way through her conflicting feelings of guilt and desire, she realizes that adulthood is full of paradoxes with which she’s not yet ready to deal. Set against the backdrop of an emotional election and the start of a tumultuous decade, this atypical coming-of-age story from Cook (creative writing & literature, Prescott Coll.) considers more than a young girl’s erotic and emotional awakening; it’s the story of an entire generation growing up too quickly. The story may start quietly, but its deceptively simple premise builds to a tense situation that makes this debut impossible to put down until the dramatic and realistic conclusion. Highly recommended for all public libraries.Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ

Cooper, T. Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes. Dutton. Feb. 2006. c.416p. ISBN 0-525-94933-X. $24.95. F

Cooper follows her debut novel (Some of the Parts) with a smart story that makes a foray into 20th-century historical fiction and then lands firmly in present-day America. Centering on the losses and achievements of the Lipshitz family, Russian Jews who immigrated to America in the early 1900s, this novel is an exploration into how issues of identity can stem from a need for love and absolution in the face of personal unsolved mysteries. In the first and larger section of the book, which focuses on the various Lipshitz family members, Cooper exhibits insight into the motivations and yearnings of her characters – starting with Esther Lipshitz, who believes that the son who disappeared when the family disembarked at Ellis Island grew up to become famed American aviator Charles Lindbergh. In the second section, a character named T Cooper (the last living Lipshitz) tries to sort out a family legacy that includes the Lindbergh fantasy. Though this section is more emotionally forthright than the first, the identity issues arise with more startling ambiguity; it is disconcerting that at times the author seems to want to taunt the reader here. Fortunately, what feels like defiant posturing does not overshadow the book’s ultimate strengths. Recommended for larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ

Davenport, Kiana. House of Many Gods. Ballantine. Jan. 2006. c.352p. ISBN 0-345-48150-X. $24.95. F

Grief in "paradise" can be just as deep as grief in harsher climes, maybe even more so. This is but one of the truths illustrated by native islander Davenport (Song of Exile) in her third novel, in which she weds the suffering and angst of traditional Russian literature with the rich folklore of the Hawaiian Islands. Left by her beautiful, tortured mother to be raised by her extended family, little Ana must survive by her wits in a small village on the west coast of Oahu. All the while, she keeps a tight hold on her anger at this abandonment, using it as fuel to fight her way to a good education and to medical school. As with her earlier work, Davenport mines the depths of emotion and does not shy away from themes of madness and cruelty. Here she follows both Ana and her mother as they encounter love, illness, and redemption, all woven with the mysticism of island lore. Readers who enjoy a Doctor Zhivago – like saga will appreciate the broad scope of this novel. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/01/05.]Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty.

di Natale, Silvia. Kuraj. Bloomsbury, dist. by St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.433p. tr. from Italian by Carol O’Sullivan & Martin Thom. ISBN 1-5823-4220-2. pap. $15.95. F

In a story that moves from the steppes of central Asia to post – World War II Cologne, first-time novelist di Natale transforms the true-life experiences of her eight-year-old heroine, Naja, into a fascinating novel about immigration, dislocation, and, finally, self-acceptance. Just before the war, Naja is born to a tribe of Mongol nomads descended from Genghis Khan. Her father volunteers to fight with the Germans because his tribe has been oppressed by Stalin’s forced collectivization of indigenous peoples. He is captured and escapes with a German friend, who adopts Naja after her father’s death. Totally cut off from her language and customs, the little girl eventually adapts to her new home even though her physical features and beliefs mark her forever as an outsider. Di Natale intercuts the narrative with the myths and history of the nomads; vivid, albeit painful descriptions of the Battle of Stalingrad; and the experiences of German POWs in the Soviet Union. Recommended for larger public libraries.Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Friedmann, Patty. Side Effects: A New Orleans Love Story. Shoemaker & Hoard: Avalon, dist. by Publishers Group West. Jan. 2006. c.304p. ISBN 1-59376-096-5 [ISBN 978-1-59376-096-0.] $24. F

Readers interested in a slice of the "real" New Orleans, pre-Katrina, should read Friedmann’s latest homage (after Secondhand Smoke) to the inhabitants of her favorite city. There’s no mention of Mardi Gras, jazz, or the French Quarter. Poised between hardscrabble Pigeontown and Tulane University, the N.O. Drugstore brings together three unlikely allies, coworkers on long shifts dispensing the drug Xanax to a regular crew of unfortunates. Luciana Jambon, an overweight white pharmacist, is infatuated with Lennon Israel, a younger black pharmacy student. Vendetta Greene, the pharmacy tech, knows that Lennon is equally enamored of his zaftig boss and is amused watching her best friends blunder toward romance. As the narrative shifts, we glimpse Ciana’s pain as she deals with her racist and greedy brother and sister-in-law during their mother’s last days; meanwhile, Lennon must confront longstanding rumors that he’s gay. Vendetta’s gritty vernacular rings authentic as she scratches to send her daughter to private school while sharing a duplex with freeloading siblings. Friedmann’s New Orleans is not always pretty, but it is ultimately hopeful. For all fiction collections. [For an online LJ Talks To interview with Friedmann, see – Ed.]Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA

Gabbay, Tom. The Berlin Conspiracy. Morrow. Jan. 2006. c.288p. ISBN 0-06-078785-6. ISBN 978-0-06-078785-1. $24.95. F

Set in June 1963 during President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Berlin, Gabbay’s debut is a Cold War thriller with an assassination plot that mimics Lee Harvey Oswald’s successful attempt in Dallas. Jack Teller and his younger brother, Josef, were orphaned at an early age. While Josef stayed in Germany, Jack moved to America, where he later did contract work for the CIA. Now retired and living in Florida, Jack receives a call from his mentor, Sam Clay of covert operations, who gives him orders to take off for Berlin. It seems an East German colonel in the Ministry for State Security has information he will divulge only to Jack. Tough-guy Jack, whose story is narrated in noirish first person, doesn’t know whom to trust when the colonel tells him about an assassination plot concocted by men within the U.S. government using a Soviet-trained assassin as the fall guy. Complications ensue until Jack saves the world from nuclear war. A tired plot saved by a few interesting characters; recommended only for larger popular fiction collections.Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

Gibbons, Kaye. The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster. Harcourt. Jan. 2006. c.224p. ISBN 0-15-101204-0. $23. F

Twenty years after writing Ellen Foster, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Gibbons returns with a brilliant sequel. Ellen is now 15 and driven to succeed. She and her foster mother, Laura, scrape together enough money to send her to an academic enrichment weekend program at Johns Hopkins University, and she composes an ambitious letter to a professor at Harvard asking him to consider her for admission despite her youth. Yet as she writes poetry to finance her trip to Baltimore, Ellen still clings to her hometown and friends. Gibbons keeps Ellen’s voice true to the first novel while allowing her to have matured some since then. The stream-of-consciousness style requires slowing down one’s reading to a Southern pace, which makes the book a restful read and calls attention to Gibbons’s meticulous language. This book is not to be missed. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]Amy Ford, St. Mary’s Cty. Lib., Lexington Park, MD

Goodman, Carol. The Ghost Orchid. Ballantine. Feb. 2006. c.368p. ISBN 0-345-46213-0. $24.95. F

Goodman (The Lake of Dead Languages) returns with another literary mystery, this time introducing a supernatural element. Ellis Brooks is a young novelist who has been awarded a retreat to the Bosco estate, an artists’ sanctuary in upstate New York. A daughter of a psychic medium, she has spiritual abilities that are tapped by the ghosts of three young children who died on the estate under mysterious circumstances more than 100 years earlier. The story alternates between the perspectives of Ellis in the present and Corinth, the psychic hired in the 1880s to contact the children’s spirits. Fans of Goodman’s earlier books will enjoy her familiar Hudson Valley setting and metaphorical use of water (in this case, an elaborate system of garden fountains on the estate). However, some may be put off by the supernatural angle. Recommended for public libraries with a following for Goodman’s earlier books. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]Karen Fauls-Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, NY

Grace, Alexander M. Classified Waste. Vandamere. Jan. 2006. c.256p. ISBN 0-918339-63-4. $24.95. F

In this charming, quirky novel, Dale Feeney is a midlevel CIA operative just returned to the United States after a disastrous personal experience abroad. Relegated to the bowels of headquarters, he is given the job of deputy chief of the Special Activities Division, Office of Occult Operations, North. Essentially, he is all but abandoned by his new boss and left to deal with the three strange women who staff his office. Yet Dale’s life begins to take on a whole new shape and meaning when he realizes that, odd as his team is, he’s actually enjoying his work. What’s more, for the first time in his career he may be able to make a difference in dangerous world events. Though Grace’s (Holy War) exposition sometimes stops the story in its tracks, his knowledge of the CIA and of foreign service is always evident; the plot dealing with jihadists who’ve befuddled the U.S. intelligence community is timely and intriguing. These elements point to a straightforward contemporary political thriller, but the introduction of psychics and the extrasensory places this novel outside of that genre. Call it political intrigue with a paranormal twist. Recommended for larger public libraries.Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Griffin, W.E.B. The Hostage: A Presidential Agent Novel. Putnam. Jan. 2006. c.496p. ISBN 0-399-15314-4. $26.95. F

This is the latest in Griffin’s exciting new "Presidential Agent" series, and his many fans will be delighted that the cast from the first, By Order of the President, have all returned. An army major turned special presidential agent, Charley Castillo is rich, brash, well connected, and very good at what he does. Tons of money have gone missing in a UN oil-for-food scandal, an American diplomat has been murdered in Argentina, his wife has been kidnapped, and others have been killed in the hunt for the money. It’s up to Charley and his cohorts to solve the murders by finding the widow’s missing brother, who is knee-deep in the scandal. Many important people in a number of nations want to put a lid on the story and don’t care how much blood is spilled in the process. Griffin just keeps on getting better with a formula that, while predictable and sometimes implausible, is exciting and great fun. Recommended for most popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]Robert Conroy, Warren, MI

Grippando, James. Got the Look. HarperCollins. Jan. 2006. c.400p. ISBN 0-06-056458-X. [ISBN 978-0-06-056458-2]. $24.95. F

What is the price of a human life? That is the central question confronting Florida lawyer Jack Swyteck as he grapples with kidnapping and treachery. He’s just beginning to believe that new girlfriend Mia Salazar might be the one when he discovers she’s married. Jack dumps her and, while licking his wounds, finds out that she is the latest victim of a serial kidnapper. Or has her husband killed her and faked the entire incident? Jack must use all of his instincts to uncover the truth, even if he doesn’t like the answers. Fans of legal thrillers will devour this novel; first-time readers of former trial lawyer Grippando (Hear No Evil) and the Swyteck series will not feel left out. Jack is a wonderful character, and the main mystery is both puzzling and shocking. For all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/05.]Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

Hannah, Kristin. Magic Hour. Ballantine. Mar. 2006. c.388p. ISBN 0-345-46752-3. $23.95. F

Having lost face and confidence after a patient commits murder, child psychiatrist Julia Cates returns to her hometown of Rain Valley, WA, at the request of the chief of police – her sister, Ellie. A young girl has been found in a tree, growling like an animal, unable to communicate in any way. Who is she? Where did she come from? Is she a kidnap victim or a "wild child"? With the assistance of Ellie, hunky doctor Max Cerrasin, and a few odd townsfolk, Julia employs patience and her expertise to try to bring "Alice" back to the world. But news of the girl’s situation reaches the media, and now Julia’s past garners more attention than her skill. We also see how Ellie’s beauty-queen history has affected her romantic entanglements and discover the issues that Dr. Max keeps hidden but that speak to Julia’s heart. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love) has created a quirky little community where everyone knows everyone else’s business. She strews a few boulders in the paths of our cast of characters, but, ultimately, they all come to the realization that "love is all you need." Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/05.]Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Harris, Joanne. Gentlemen and Players. Morrow. Jan. 2006. c.432p. ISBN 0-06-055914-4. $24.95. F

A new year has just begun at St. Oswald’s, a revered boy’s grammar school in northern England. Computer science is being introduced, creating turmoil and insecurity among the well-established classicists of the faculty; suits, skirts, and emails are suddenly replacing venerated gowns and discreet memos. The progress is painful, but more worrisome is something far darker: a mysterious insider nurturing a bitter grudge is about to launch a plan to destroy the school and each of its faculty members in a series of cruel practical jokes and carefully leaked press releases. Told from the alternating viewpoints of the sinister mole and a veteran Latin master, this story of dark secrets, rampant paranoia, and academic arrogance are played like a chess game to a murderous climax. New York Times best-selling author Harris has drawn on her experience as a teacher at an English boy’s school to craft another brilliant novel. Her use of the dual narrative and the chess game analogy builds tension to a breathless pitch. This novel will rank alongside Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange as her best work. Intelligent, compelling, technically well crafted, and entertaining, it is highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA

Hawke, Richard. Speak of the Devil. Random. Jan. 2006. c.325p. ISBN 1-4000-6425-2. $21.95. F

On Thanksgiving Day, New York City private investigator Fritz Malone goes out for bagels, saves a woman’s life, and ends up in police custody. But the havoc doesn’t stop there. Malone, the bastard son of the former police commissioner, learns that someone has been sending threatening letters to the mayor warning of imminent disaster, and city officials believe the mayor’s girlfriend is the target. After a bomb explodes, a demand is issued for $1 million to be delivered to the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan. Malone follows one piece of evidence, which leads to another and eventually takes him to a drug dealer in Brooklyn. First-time novelist Hawke has created a suspenseful tale involving police corruption, domestic terrorism, and political machinations of epic proportions, though it’s a stretch to expect readers to believe that the New York Police Department, while under investigation for criminal activity, would allow a P.I. to muck about in one of its highest-priority cases. Read this for compelling characters and an intriguing, fast-paced plot and pick up the next book, too. Hawke has what it takes to write great thrillers. For most fiction collections.Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Hts. – Univ. Hts. P.L.

Hoyte, Kirsten Dinnall. Black Marks. Akashic. Feb. 2006. c.200p. ISBN 1-888451-84-X. pap. $13.95. F

Georgette Collins has been sent with her brothers to live in Jamaica with her maternal grandmother while her mother and father separate and settle their lives. Just as she begins to make friends and feel at home, her mother calls for the children’s return. Devastated when she was left by her mother, Georgette is equally crushed when called on to leave her grandmother, and the need to adjust to new circumstances becomes a constant in her life. She is both needy and defiant, as ready to please as she is to rebel, and her struggle to understand who she is is shadowed by alcohol dependency, isolation from her family, and unstable love relationships both gay and straight. Although Hoyte does not develop her other characters, she does hint at how Georgette’s brothers have handled a similar childhood, suggesting that no two individuals respond to the same circumstances in the same way. Hoyte’s narrative drifts in time, so that Georgette’s memories are pieced together like a puzzle. Although this can tangle the thread of the narrative, overall Hoyte tells a convincing story of a troubled young woman with a complex personality making peace with the myriad expectations with which she is confronted. Recommended for larger fiction collections in public and academic libraries.Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Lib., IA

Janko, James. Buffalo Boy and Geronimo. Curbstone, dist. by Consortium. Jan. 2006. c.264p. ISBN 1-931896-19-4. pap. $15. F

Set in Vietnam during the war, this simple tale achieves depth through its language and naturalistic detail. A young Vietnamese boy named Mong tends his buffalo, works in rice paddies, and dreams of consummating his love for a local girl. American soldiers come and go, and bombings are a daily reality to be endured. One American soldier, a Mexican American medic called Conchola, passes through Mong’s village with his platoon. When his close friend is killed by a trip wire bomb, Conchola begins a gradual descent into a primordial state of consciousness. He deserts his platoon and is eventually captured by Mong and his people, who are migrating to a safer area. They rope the captive Conchola to a tree alongside a dying woman, hoping that both will be sighted by a patrol helicopter and the woman’s life will be saved. The novel presents an engaging and tragic human drama and delves deeply into the impact of the war on animals and the biosphere. Janko, himself a former medic in the Vietnam War, convincingly captures both the cynical dialog of American soldiers and the timeless rhythms of Vietnamese peasant life. This book deserves to enter the canon of masterly, penetrating works about this still controversial era. Recommended for most collections.Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta

Johns, Rebecca. Icebergs. Bloomsbury, dist. by St. Martin’s. Apr. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 1-58234-498-1. $23.95. F

In this work, whose title is a metaphor for the sinking effect war has on everyday life, we read about lives being changed by calamitous events and wrong choices. The victims of such change include a veteran who dies as a result of radiation contracted in World War II; his wife, who suffers from loneliness and worry while he’s away; and their son, who chooses the Vietnam War over his childhood sweetheart and whose later marriage to another woman is ruined by the aftereffects of that war. Other victims are a mother who becomes neurotic after her husband’s death in World War II and her daughter, who displays similar symptoms when her boyfriend enters the Vietnam War. Debut novelist Johns is ambitious enough to tell a story that spans several generations, revitalizing the wartime genre. Her meticulous presentation of details will make readers feel they are actually witnessing the events, although sometimes the narrative is hurried to the extent that this is lost. This work has the appeal of a best seller and is recommended for public libraries.Victor Or, Vancouver & Surrey P.L., B.C.

Kaniuk, Yoram. The Last Jew. Grove. Feb. 2006. c.544p. tr. from Hebrew by Barbara Harshav. ISBN 0-8021-1811-9. $26. F

Internationally known Israeli author Kaniuk (A Plan for Peace) offers a brilliant tour de force in his latest book to be translated into English. The life of protagonist Ebenezer Schneerson epitomizes the rise and fall of the modern history of the Jewish people, whose presentation here alternates between the realistic and the fantastical. In odyssey fashion, Schneerson travels from Palestine to Europe in search of his past, leaving his young son behind. As World War II looms, he gets mired in the Holocaust and survives a concentration camp only by becoming court jester to the camp commander. A prodigious memory (he can recite the entire genealogy of the Jewish people and all of Yiddish poetry) makes him a salable oddity – after the war, a man he met at the camp parades him around Europe in freak shows. Schneerson’s adventures continue in America and Israel, where he is at last reunited with his son. A fascinating page-turner, epic in nature, this book explores Jewish identity in kaleidoscopic form. Recommended for all libraries.Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD

Kelby, N.M. Whale Season. Shaye Areheart: Harmony. Jan. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 0-307-33677-8. $23. F

There is a land referred to by its residents as "heaven’s waiting room" where the sunsets are as pink as a flamingo’s rear end (or Pepto-Bismol). Yes, it’s Florida, and Kelby (In the Company of Angels) proves there is indeed room for yet another Florida novel populated by zanies. The novel opens on Christmas day as Leon Pettit plays cards with a man claiming to be Jesus. At stake is an RV with all the trimmings that costs considerably more than a couple of doublewides. Leon wins, but he’s convinced that it’s the start of another bad day, since all the luck he’s had in his life so far could be crammed comfortably into the tight jeans of the girl he’s currently dating. And, sure enough, it turns out that Jesus is actually Dr. Ricardo Garcia, a Cuban/Polish doctor on a killing spree; or, as he likes to think of it, giving folks a leg up on salvation. Kelby manages to make the Florida shtick seem fresh and overlays it with a patina of spiritual yearning in a cross between the work of Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Moore. For all larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO

Lessing, Doris. The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog. HarperCollins. Jan. 2006. c.282p. ISBN 0-06-053012-X. $24.95. F

In this sequel to Lessing’s Mara and Dann, Dann is now a grown man instead of the four-year-old boy of royalty that readers met in the first saga. His initial exploits had him and older sister Mara looking for a place to exist on Earth after a major ice age has covered the planet. The continent where they reside is now known as Yerrup, and Dann has become a general commanding much respect and attention and has positioned himself as a leader in this futuristic world. Sadly, Mara has died in childbirth. As the world descends into chaos, Dann launches on a new adventure with a snow dog who instinctively pulls him back from the desolation and misery of his loss. Readers will be familiar with the many repeat characters appearing in this sequel, including Dann’s loyal subordinate, Griot, who is busy rallying the troops. The battalion ultimately goes on to uncover a hidden library that may possess the secrets and wisdoms of lost worlds and long-gone civilizations. Unfortunately, this work is not as fully fleshed out as its predecessor. While its construct is steeped in the oral storytelling tradition, the language is often repetitive. Fans of Lessing will read this title, but many reader may be confused by the meandering passages. For urban public libraries only.Christopher Korenowsky, New Albany Lib., Columbus Metropolitan Lib. Syst., OH

McFadden, Bernice L. Nowhere Is a Place. Dutton. Feb. 2006. c.304p. ISBN 0-525-94875-9. $24.95. F

Thirtysomething African American Sherry is on a constant mission to discover her identity; as she likes to put it, she has "a need to find herself." However, to her mother, Dumpling, Sherry’s plans to write a book about their ancestors is just another excuse for her middle child to start something that she will never finish. As mother and daughter journey from New Mexico to Georgia for a family reunion, they begin to come to grips with a secret from their past and to discover truths about themselves and their family. Although the novel intially focuses on Sherry, the voices of her ancesters are heard as the story progresses. From Lou, the Native American great-grandmother who was born free but was captured by a enemy tribe and sold into slavery, to Sherry, the woman who can’t figure out who she is and how she fits in today’s society, McFadden weaves together a terrific multigenerational family tale that, like Alex Hailey’s Roots, will inspire readers to research their family history. Writing in a mystical style similar to that of Gloria Naylor’s Bailey’s Café, McFadden (Sugar) is an imaginative storyteller who mesmerizes readers with her words. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [See interview with McFadden, LJ 11/1/05, p. 93. – Ed.]Leslie Hayden, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib.

Mda, Zakes. The Whale Caller. Farrar. Dec. 2005. c.256p. ISBN 0-374-28785-6. $23. F

South African – born Mda’s fifth novel (after The Madonna of Excelsior) is an unusual romance: a love triangle involving a man, a woman, and a whale. The titular protagonist leads a solitary life in Hermanus, South Africa, waiting for the incoming migration of whales, with whom he communicates via a kelp horn. He has an intense, almost sexual bond with a female named Sharisha. The town drunk, Saluni, takes a shine to the Whale Caller and insinuates herself into his life, nearly making him forget about Sharisha. Though this story takes place in the present,there’s a mythical, folk tale – like quality to the storytelling. Saluni, one of the most memorable characters ever encountered in fiction, nearly takes over the novel, much as she takes over the Whale Caller’s life. Funny, hypnotic, and heartbreaking, the novel works on many levels; it’s both a meditation on the nature of love and a depiction of the changing face of South Africa. Highly recommended.Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

Meek, James. The People’s Act of Love. Canongate, dist. by Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2006. c.400p. ISBN 1-84195-730-5. $24. F

Guardian journalist Meek (The Museum of Doubt) sets his fourth novel in the remote reaches of Siberia at the time of the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war. At the lonely outpost of Yazyk, a group of Czech soldiers stranded in Russia at the end of World War I amid a sect of castrates are caught up in the machinations of their renegade leader, the approach of Red troops, and the predations of a lurking cannibal. Anna Petrovna, a well-bred Russian photographer, eventually becomes involved or embroiled with one of the Czech officers, the cannibal, and the leader of the castrate sect. There are so many good things about this novel that one wants to praise it to the skies: exotic setting, well-drawn characters, historical accuracy, intriguing plot. Yet for all the excitement – from castration to cannibalism – the narrative thrust often goes slack, freighted with such devices as a letter (20 book pages long) and a 30-page "story" which the author expects to carry us along. Instead of becoming the page-turner it might have been, the novel instead has an almost documentary feel, with touches of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the ruminations of the main characters. Recommended for larger fiction collections and Russian studies collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Edward Cone, New York

Niederhoffer, Galt. A Taxonomy of Barnacles. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.384p. ISBN 0-312-33483-4 [ISBN 978-0-312-33483-3]. $24.95. F

This first novel by an independent film producer (The Baxter) is the story of the quirky Barnacle family – six sisters and their off-the-wall parents – who reside in a Manhattan apartment with a view of Central Park. Demanding and evolution-obsessed father Barry issues a challenge to daughters Bell, Bridget, Benita, Beryl, Belinda, and Beth Barnacle, ages 29 to ten: whoever can immortalize the Barnacle name will inherit his fortune. The sisters use various tactics of evolution to accomplish this goal. Will nature or nurture prevail? The other major characters involved in this Darwinian exercise are neighboring twins Billy and Blaine Finch. Each has long been in love with a Barnacle sister (Bell and Bridget, respectively), and now these relationships are undergoing a final test. The entire novel follows the concept of evolution to its end, just as Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer is infused with the concept of biology. Niederhoffer’s writing is very detailed and can get a bit bogged down, and with multiple sisters and a set of identical twins as the romantic leads, the whole jumble is confusing. However, the story is interesting and eccentric, and it’s quite en vogue with its Manhattan setting. Recommended for public libraries.Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC

Noble, Elizabeth. The Friendship Test. HarperCollins. Jan. 2006. c.448p. ISBN 0-06-077774-5. [ISBN 978-0-06-077774-6]. pap. $13.95. F

Twenty years ago, four girlfriends formed the Tenko Club, and after all this time the club is still intact – that is, until particular challenges set in motion one autumn pull at their bond in ways none of them could have fathomed as teenagers. Mother hen Tamsin rallies support for Freddie, whose husband is having an affair, while prickly Reagan, always feeling like an outsider, decides to take matters into her own hands when the object of her decades-long affection, their beloved Sarah’s widower, makes a play for Freddie. While not as strong as Noble’s debut, The Reading Group, this second novel is a worthy addition to the ranks of popular fiction. Noble lays bare the friends’ innermost insecurities and passions with care and compassion. The crises are disproportionately borne by Freddie and Reagan, and the characters sometimes feel too "boxed in": Reagan’s dysfunctional, Freddie’s beautiful, Tamsin’s maternal, and Sarah’s a saint. Nonetheless, this novel, already released in the United Kingdom as The Tenko Club, is an emotionally charged work sure to please most fans of women’s fiction. Suitable for all public libraries.Amy Brozio-Andrews, Albany P.L., NY

Noel, Katharine. Halfway House. Atlantic Monthly. Mar. 2006. c.368p. ISBN 0-87113-934-0. $23. F

When a psychotic breakdown sends 17-year-old Angie Voorster diving into a New Hampshire swimming pool and disrupts her younger brother Luke’s 100-meter freestyle race, the entire Voorster family is plunged along with her into years of medications, hospitalizations, and turmoil. Angie’s battle with mental illness amplifies her family’s growing isolation from one another as Luke first retreats from and then becomes so involved in his sister’s recovery that he jeopardizes his own collegiate future. Mom and Dad – women’s clinic administrator Jordana and Dutch-born cellist Pieter – unite to help their daughter but are tested by stress and infidelity. From the 1980s into the 1990s, Noel’s stunning debut novel moves us through painfully believable human relationships tested, repaired, and transformed by time and experience. Close attention is paid to supporting characters – lovers and friends – and the New England setting is apt for such brittle and golden themes. This is suburban angst in the tradition of John Cheever and Rick Moody, told with a rare and honest sympathy that rings true by an author to watch. Recommended for all library fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/05.]Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.-Northeast

Nokes, David. The Nightingale Papers. Hesperus, dist. by Trafalgar Square. 2005. 160p. ISBN 1-84391-703-3. $20. F

Two mysteries lie at the heart of Nokes’s (A Hypocrite Reversed) fiction debut, an academic romp set on a Welsh estate that once belonged to the 18th-century poet Madoc and is currently home to a strange group of nuns who call themselves "brethren." The estate now serves as the gathering place for a colloquium on Madoc’s work. The first puzzle concerns the whereabouts of R.F. McWhinnie, the featured speaker and recognized authority on the poet. Despite reported sightings of him in the nearby town, he is missing in action at the conference. The other mystery involves the true authorship of the poems. While on a clandestine tour of the estate, two of the conference delegates stumble on what appears to be an original manuscript; they, however, have cause to believe that it may have been written by Madoc’s sister. This lightweight entertainment is replete with academic intrigue and touches of romance, revenge, and murder. Purchase where academic novels are in demand.Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.

Nunez, Elizabeth. Prospero’s Daughter. Ballantine. Feb. 2006. c.336p. ISBN 0-345-45535-5. $24.95. F

American Book Award winner Nunez (Bruised Hibiscus) is in top form with this ambitious interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in the early 1960s. Here the mage/master figure is Peter Gardner, an eccentric physician forced to flee England with his infant daughter, Virginia, after his unorthodox research threatens him with scandal and disgrace. Virginia’s lonely upbringing on an isolated island near Trinidad makes her one playmate, Carlos, especially precious to her. When Virginia and the mixed-race boy grow up and fall in love, her father’s wrath threatens to destroy their fragile, and perhaps futile, vision of paradise. Along with characters who virtually demand attention, the novel’s intense imagery, powerful themes of race and class, and keen evocations of Caribbean land- and seascapes create a complex and emotional narrative with broad reader appeal. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/05.]Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA

Perry, Thomas. Nightlife. Mar. 2006. c.384p. 1-4000-6004-4. $24.95. F

The creator of comic thrillers such as Metzger’s Dog and the disappearing acts in the Jane Whitefield series returns with his 14th novel, a brutal though somewhat hollow tale of a serial killer. In contrast to most serial killers, Tanya Starling is a woman, and she has no signature MO except that most of her corpses are male. The victim of her mother’s emotional abuse and men’s abandonment, Tanya takes on and sheds identities and hair color willy-nilly as she moves from man to man, becoming stronger with each murder. Her nemesis is another relentless woman, Portland detective Catherine Hobbes, who tracks her to LA and back and nearly becomes a victim herself. The novel veers back and forth between Tanya and Catherine, with occasional side trips to Joe Pitt, a former police investigator, now private, who provides the romance in Catherine’s dull personal life. The characters never really come to life, however, and the plotline itself has a static quality despite the identity and venue changes. Disappointing. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/05.]Francine Fialkoff, Library Journal

Philoctète, René. MassacreRiver. New Directions, dist. by Norton. 2005. c.160p. tr. by Linda Coverdale. ISBN 0-8112-1585-7. $22.95. F

Dominican Pedro and Haitian Adele are a happy young married couple living in a town on the Dominican border. The time is 1937, and General Trujillo, racist dictator of the Dominican Republic, has just ordered the slaughter of tens of thousands of black Haitians. A follower of Mussolini and Nazism, the Caribbean leader aims to "whiten" future generations by having as many black Haitians beheaded as possible before importing more than 20,000 white males to "purify" the country. Pedro and Adele’s life changes abruptly, and Adele is tragically doomed when she finds herself face to face with a machete-wielding soldier. Once the ethnic cleansing is completed, the river between the two nations is renamed "The Massacre River," as its waters run red. Beautifully written by famous Haitian scholar and poet Philoctète (1932 – 1990) in the style of magic realism, Massacre makes the horror of this historical event feel very tangible. Detailed endnotes will help the reader with the culture and history of the time and place. Highly recommended for all libraries, particularly for readers/students interested in Caribbean history. [Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones covers the same topic. – Ed].Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

Robotham, Michael. Lost. Doubleday. Feb. 2006. c.304p. ISBN 0-385-50866-2. $24.95. F

In this fast-paced follow-up to his successful debut novel, Suspect, Australian writer Robotham takes his readers on a hair-raising journey through London’s underworld (literally, since the London sewer system figures prominently in the story) to track the further adventures of Det. Vincent Ruiz and psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. Lost begins with a bang when police find Ruiz in the Thames clinging to a buoy. He has suffered a traumatic memory loss and, with O’Loughlin’s help, tries to reconstruct an investigation he apparently had been conducting independently for the past three years involving the kidnapping and putative murder of a seven-year-old girl. A neighbor had been convicted and imprisoned for the crime, but then a new ransom demand surfaces, bringing with it the hope that the child might still be alive. The girl’s divorced parents, a Russian-émigré mob boss and the daughter of a British nobleman, each bring their own complications to the situation. Just when you think you have the story figured out, Robotham takes a turn, leaving you unsure of how things will be resolved until the very last page. A former journalist, Robotham has found his true calling. Recommended for all public libraries.Caroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR
Roby, Kimberla Lawson. Changing Faces. Morrow. Jan. 2006. c.278p. ISBN 0-06-078077-0. [ISBN 978-0-06-078077-7]. $23.95. F

Roby (Behind Closed Doors) dives into the lives of a trio of thirtysomething, educated, and successful African American friends who each has her own relationship challenges. Whitney, a customer services manager at a cell phone company, has self-image issues as a result of her weight and an often unsympathetic mother and sister. Successful attorney Taylor’s boyfriend seems perfect in every respect – except for his apathy toward commitment and marriage. Surgical nurse Charisse has an emotionally unavailable and abusive mother, which has led to her continued attempts to control and abuse her own husband and two children. Instead of focusing on the life of philandering preacher Curtis Black, as in Casting the First Stone, Too Much of a Good Thing, and The Best Kept Secret, Roby offers readers a refreshingly new page-turner filled with comedy, love, mental illness, and loads of drama. One hopes that in future novels, she will explore each character individually. Highly recommended for all public libraries and particularly for libraries with contemporary African American collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/05.]Lisa Jones, Tuscaloosa P.L., AL

Rosenblatt, Roger. Lapham Rising. Ecco: HarperCollins. Feb. 2006. c.256p. ISBN 0-06-083361-0. $23.95. F

Taking its cue from William Dean Howells’s The Rise of Silas Lapham, essayist Rosenblatt’s first novel is an acid satire that, like its namesake, concerns the building of a house. In this case, it’s a garishly overwrought beachfront mansion in the Hamptons, directly across from the more humble dwelling of curmudgeonly writer Harry March. March has withdrawn from the world to a small island with a talking evangelical dog named Hector and a full-size sculpture of his ex-wife. From there, he wages a one-man war against the self-obsessed Hamptons specifically and the excesses of modern America generally. His solitude being destroyed once and for all by Lapham and his ever-growing house, March plots a fiery, if somewhat anachronistic, revenge. While this book ably skewers the pretensions of a rarefied corner of America, it is Rosenblatt’s deeper critique of contemporary American life that really gives the novel its bite. Readers familiar with The Rise of Silas Lapham will also find much to appreciate. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/05.]Lawrence Rungren, MerrimackValley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA

St. Aubin de Teran, Lisa. Swallowing Stones. HarperCollins. Jan. 2006. c.528p. ISBN 0-06-078104-1. pap. $13.95. F

Venezuelan guerrilla revolutionary/scholar and advisor to Castro and Allende, among others, Oswaldo Barreto Miliani – known as Otto – is something of a legend in Latin America. St. Aubin de Teran, a lifelong friend of this fascinating man, has made an extraordinary novel of his life story, interweaving it with the political and social history of the second half of the 20th century. (His wife, a Kurdish leader, was jailed in Turkey for 19 years.) As a boy, Otto was frail, prone to bad poetry, and a member of a very right-wing family – an unlikely revolutionary, perhaps. But even as a child he fought unjust authority figures, from family members to schoolmasters. Otto’s strong voice is heard throughout, balancing his acts of courage and heroism with his sense of honesty, intellectual detachment, and self-doubt. The storytelling is so brilliant that one forgets one is reading a novel. Now living in Amsterdam, though she has lived in Venezuela, St. Aubin de Teran (The Palace) has been publishing novels, poetry, and memoirs since 1980. She is perhaps better known in England than she is here, and one hopes that with this novel she will reach a larger American audience. Highly recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries with Latin American studies collections.Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR

Shepherd, Paul. More Like Not Running Away. Sarabande, dist. by Consortium. Dec. 2005. c.248p. ISBN 1-932511-28-8. pap. $14.95. F

Debut novelist Shepherd (writer in residence, Florida State Univ.) has successfully managed to capture the true voice of his adolescent protagonist and narrator, Levi Revel, much as J.D. Salinger did with Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. Levi spends his free time on the roof of his family’s rural home preaching God’s word to an invisible congregation. In a lifelong quest to outrun his troubled past, his father, Everest, moves the family from town to town, never stopping to develop meaningful relationships. After yet another failed attempt to build a new home and a new life, Everest decides once again to run away, but this time Levi’s mother refuses to go along, and Levi is left trying to hold together a family that will inevitably be torn apart. This emotional novel is about the realization that sometimes, you can’t fix everything. Despite its brevity, Shepherd succeeds in writing a lifetime of emotion into each character, especially his young narrator. A noteworthy addition to the annals of contemporary literature; recommended for all academic and public libraries.Stephen Morrow, Amherst, MA

Smith, Anne Easter. A Rose for the Crown. Touchstone: S. & S. Mar. 2006. c.672p. ISBN 0-7432-7687-6. [ISBN 978-0-7432-7687-0]. pap. $16.95. F

A humble farmer’s daughter, Kate Bywood has no idea that her life’s path will become entwined with that of one of England’s most controversial kings. As she matures from a lovely child into a beautiful woman, Kate learns hard lessons about life and love; widowed and then remarried, she finds herself trapped in a sham of a marriage. But then she meets the young Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), and they begin a passionate love affair that produces three illegitimate children. In her first book, writer and musician Smith has produced a vibrant story full of careful historical detail and well-developed characters. More than just retelling historical events, Smith creates an empathetic and fascinating heroine in her own right. As Kate witnesses the monumental events that take place at the highest levels, the reader becomes engrossed in her story. Even more fleshed out than Robin Maxwell’s To the Tower Born: A Novel of the Lost Princes, this novel is highly recommended to all public libraries.Anna M. Nelson, Collier Cty. P.L., Naples, FL

Steber, Rick. Buy the Chief a Cadillac. Carroll & Graf. Jan. 2006. c.336p. ISBN 0-7867-1639-8 [ISBN 978-0-7867-1639-5]. pap. $14.95. F

This book, whose self-published edition has already won the 2005 Spur Award for Best Western Novel, isn’t so much a novel as a re-creation of the days surrounding the most momentous event in the history of the Pacific Northwest’s Klamath Indian tribe – the U.S. government’s purchase of the Klamath reservation and termination of its people’s tribal status in 1961. Steber’s (No End in Sight) short character portraits lend insight into the hopeless, alcohol-drenched lives of many Klamath adults, and his back stories shed light on the realities of reservation life. Key characters include the three Pitsua brothers, Chief, Pokey, and Creek; at the narrative’s focal point we see Chief almost kill one of his brothers in a drunken rage, then turn the gun on himself. Steber brutally depicts what white civilization has done to native American people while offering some hope in the character of Pokey, who simply refuses to sell out. Recommended for regional collections about the West and larger fiction collections.Ken St. Andre, Phoenix P.L.

Tea, Michelle. Rose of No Man’s Land. MacAdam/Cage. Feb. 2006. c.306p. ISBN 1-59692-160-9. $22. F

Set in Massachusetts, first-time novelist Tea’s coming-of-age story centers on 14-year-old Trisha Driscoll, a self-reliant girl who spends the bulk of her days daydreaming, reading, or listening to music alone in her room. When a young salesclerk at a trendy clothing store at the local mall attempts suicide and must stay out of work for a while to recuperate, Trisha, with encouragement from older sister Kristy, applies for and gets the job. Her first customer is Rose, another mall worker, who instantly demands Trisha’s attention and respect. After getting fired on her first day, Trisha finds the restaurant where Rose works, and the pair develop a quirky, touching friendship that turns sexual and exposes Trisha to smoking, drinking, drugs, and tattoos. On the road of their crazy adventures, Trisha eventually finds her own voice. Gritty, animated, original, and disturbing, this allegorical tale of friendship and belonging is hard to put down. Recommended for adult and/or mature young audiences.Lisa Nussbaum, formerly with Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA

Tussing, Justin. The Best People in the World. HarperCollins. Feb. 2006. c.352p. ISBN 0-06-081533-7. $24.95. F

A more appropriate title for Tussing’s unusual first novel might be "Some Very Aimless People from Paducah." The book opens promisingly as 17-year-old Thomas escapes his tedious teenage existence in Paducah, KY, by beginning a romance with his teacher, Alice, eight years his senior. Then a flood inundates the streets of Paducah and Thomas frightens his parents to a near panic by not reporting to the city’s safety shelter. Evidently enjoying this minor bit of rebellion, Thomas decides to rebel in a very major way by fleeing with Alice and his eccentric new middle-aged friend, Shiloh Tanager, to Vermont, where they live in poverty as squatters in an abandoned house. All of these events take place early in the book, with the rest of the novel containing little semblance of a plot and even less characterization. Aside from Shiloh’s suspicious past, not much is revealed about the characters and Tussing’s abrupt, unexplained transitions can be frustrating. Unfortunately, he seems more interested in plopping three people into a Thoreau-like existence and studying an atypical social dynamic, but he doesn’t properly construct their purpose for being there. Moderately recommended for general fiction collections.Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ

Umrigar, Thrity. The Space Between Us. Morrow. Jan. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 0-06-079155-1. $24.95. F

Journalist Umrigar (Bombay Time) evocatively describes daily life in two very different households in modern-day Bombay, where the traditions that separate the classes and the sexes still persist. The relationship between Sera Dubash, an upper-class Parsi housewife, and Bhima, her servant, is full of contradictions. They talk over cups of tea like girlfriends, but Bhima must squat on the floor using her own cup, while Sera sits on a chair. Bhima is loyal to Sera, but sometimes has to talk herself through minor humiliations and slights from her employer by reminding herself how generous this woman has always been to her. While money and class keep these two from fully bridging the gap between them, they remain closer than either of them can fully see, for as women, they suffer equally the abuse of men, the loss of love, and the joys and sorrows of motherhood. Umrigar beautifully and movingly wends her way through the complexities and subtleties of these unequal but caring relationships. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Joy Humphrey, PepperdineUniv. Law Lib., Malibu, CA

Vernon, Olympia. A Killing in This Town. Grove. Feb. 2006. c.256p. ISBN 0-8021-1813-5. $22. F

Told as an allegory, this novel by Vernon (Eden) presents a story of racism and hatred in a Mississippi town controlled by the Ku Klux Klan. In this town, a rite of passage for a 13-year-old boy involves summoning a black man from his house, tying him to a pulley, and dragging him behind a horse until dead. The tale is stripped to the bare essentials of fear and animalism, but the stylized prose obscures more than illuminates. Readers will struggle to figure out what is going on, let alone find the deeper significance, and will be rewarded for their efforts with recurring images of the mutilated corpse and klansmen reveling in the results of the subsequent autopsy. As with most allegories, the characters are more symbolic than fully realized, and the narrative’s eerie, supernatural quality clashes with its anatomical imagery. For Southern literary fiction collections only.Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA

White, Jenny. The Sultan’s Seal. Norton. Feb. 2006. c.384p. ISBN 0-393-06099-3. $24.95. F

The naked body of a young Englishwoman washes ashore in Istanbul and the pendant around her neck connects her to the royal household and possibly to the murder of an English governess years earlier. Then Janaan, a young Muslim woman resisting an arranged marriage, slowly reveals her connections to both dead women. Magistrate Kamil Pasha has no idea where the investigation will lead, and despite his attempts to rely on scientific analysis, he must operate within a web of political and personal intrigues. As subplots intertwine, trust disintegrates until neither the book’s characters nor its readers know who will betray whom. White brings extensive knowledge of Ottoman culture to her writing, but at times the amount of detail and number of characters overwhelm rather than clarify the plot. Although the mystery of the woman’s death ultimately is revealed, many loose ends suggest either a sequel or a lack of attention to detail. This book will probably appeal more to fans of historical fiction than mystery readers. Despite its limitations, it is worth considering for public library collections, particularly because it holds the promise of strong successors.Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato

White, Stephen. Kill Me. Dutton. Mar. 2006. c.352p. ISBN 0-525-94930-5. $25.95. F

White’s latest thriller is an outstanding page-turner that examines quality of life, what it means to be living or dying, and who should make that determination. Although series regular psychologist Alan Gregory (Missing Persons) appears, this book centers on Gregory’s patient, an anonymous wealthy white man with the lifestyle of a thrill seeker. After a skiing injury that has him questioning his mortality, he signs on with a shadowy insurance group he calls the "Death Angels," who promise to terminate him should his quality of life drop below a certain threshold. As his health status changes more quickly than our hero expects, he’s left not only to fight his medical condition but also the group that has promised to fulfill the contract. White takes a promising premise and fleshes it out with well-rounded characters, plenty of action, and far more insight than appears in most such works. While the ending is somewhat predictable, it doesn’t detract from a well-above-average thriller. One of White’s best, this is strongly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/05.]Craig Shufelt, Lane P.L., Oxford, OH.

Winter, Michael. The Big Why. Bloomsbury, dist. by St. Martin’s. Jan. 2006. c.384p. LC 978-1-59691-025-6. ISBN 1-59691-025-9. $24.95. F

This fictional account of the life of American artist Rockwell Kent is set in Winter’s (This All Happened) home of Newfoundland, Canada. It is to this place that Kent travels in 1914 for a change from the New York City art scene to which he is accustomed. While his ever-patient wife and children wait behind with the intention of joining him later, Kent finds he can easily slip into a life of notoriety as he becomes involved with women he meets while so isolated and far from home. He is also drawn to the remote village of Brigus because of its famous resident, the Arctic explorer Robert Bartlett, who inspires Kent to continue his career in art. And it is in Brigus that Kent does some exploring (i.e., self-discovery) of his own. Perhaps too much detail is given to his introspection, putting the reader at arm’s length and making for a very slow-moving read. Recommended only for libraries where Winter’s previous titles are popular. [This novel has been shortlisted for Ontario’s Trillium Award. – Ed.]Leann Restaino, Girard, OH

Wright, Stephen. The Amalgamation Polka. Knopf. Feb. 2006. c.304p. ISBN 0-679-45117-X. $24.95. F

Liberty Fish embodies the national dilemma: he was raised by Northern abolitionists, but his mother’s family owns a slave plantation in South Carolina. Wright (Meditations in Green) provides a panoramic history of the Civil War era in a series of brilliant set pieces, narrating Fish’s story in a comically bombastic version of 19th-century vernacular that recalls Charles Portis’s True Grit (1968). As the novel unfolds, Fish travels along the Erie Canal, already in steep decline from railroad competition, and subsequently visits New York City, capital of hucksterism and prostitution. He enlists in the Union army, fighting in chaotic, senseless battles, and finally deserts Sherman’s command to visit his mother’s birthplace, now a makeshift laboratory for his grandfather’s horrific genetic experiments. Throughout, there are strong echoes of classic works of literature, including Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma, Melville’s The Confidence Man, and Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Unlike recent historical novels, such as Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain or E.L. Doctorow’s The March, his book offers a decidedly postmodern take on the Civil War entirely appropriate to the theme of a disjointed world. Highly recommended.Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles

Živkovic , Zoran. Hidden Camera. Dalkey Archive. 2005. 217p. tr. from Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic. ISBN 1-56478-412-6. pap. $13.95. F

An unnamed undertaker discovers an invitation to a movie at his doorstep. The only other person in the audience is a beautiful woman, and the movie depicts the protagonist on a park bench as the woman passes by. When the lights go up, the woman is gone, and another invitation awaits. The night becomes a series of vignettes, each ending with an enigmatic glimpse of the fleeting heroine. Živkovic (The Fourth Circle) tackles some interesting issues – what remains after death, whether we are living fully, what role does passion play in our lives – but the novel is undermined by its delivery. The narrator has little control over any event and is merely led from scene to scene. There is only one real conversation in the book; the majority of the work is internal monolog, which becomes tiresome as the plot trudges forward, dragging its nervous, self-conscious narrator with it. For academic collections only.Heather Wright, ASRC Aerospace Corp., Cincinnati

Short stories

Fuguet, Alberto.
Shorts. Rayo: HarperCollins. 2005. c.336p. tr. from Spanish by Ezra E. Fitz. ISBN 0-06-081714-3. pap. $12.95. F

Following up on the cinematic obsession evident in his 2003 novel, The Movies of My Life, Fuguet scripts eight movie "shorts" ranging in length from two-page stories to a 100-page novelette. In keeping with his own position against magic realism (called McOndo), these stories are a throwback to realism and have a touch of cinéma vérité added in. The debt to realism is no more honest and direct than in "Truth and Consequences," a road story in the Jack Kerouac vein. Each story has a distinct flavor, and some are particularly innovative, e.g., "Far West," in which Fuguet features an interview, and "Magic Hour" and "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven," in which he features a screenplay. After all, as one of Fuguet’s characters says: "It’s a short piece. You can experiment more with them." The displaced characters are well developed but eccentric, from the quirky pet owner in "Children" to the suffering existentialist of "Lost." This collection, with a variety of stories and styles, provides full-length entertainment. Recommended for public and academic collections.
Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib. & Information Ctr., Dublin, OH

Liebrecht, Savyon. A Good Place for the Night. Braziller: Persea. Dec. 2005. c.256p. tr. from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. ISBN 0-89255-320-0. pap. $14. F

Leading Israeli author Liebrecht (Apples from the Desert) has written a collection of extraordinary stories illuminating contemporary Israeli life. Depicting Israelis at home and in exile, the book considers issues of childhood, change, trauma, and infidelity. "America" features a daughter discovering the truth about her parents, "Kibbutz" is a harsh fairy tale of communal life, and in "Hiroshima" and "Jerusalem," the same female character explores the self, love, meaning, and death. "Tel Aviv" describes marriage and "Munich" the profound displacements and wars of Israeli life. The title story imagines a future world after a great catastrophe. Liebrecht shows great insight into contemporary Israeli thought and infuses these stories, in which knowledge is accompanied by suffering and love by death or disaster, with a profound sense of humanity. The human frame as depicted through his characters seems filled with an understanding too difficult for the body to hold, yet somehow a supreme wisdom is found. Liebrecht superbly depicts the passing of time as the stories move forward to difficult resolutions. Highly recommended for literature collections and absolutely essential for Jewish studies collections.Gene Shaw, NYPL

Meno, Joe. Bluebirds Used To Croon in the Choir. Northwestern Univ. 2005. c.189p. ISBN 0-8101-5167-7. $21.95. F

This new collection from music journalist, novelist, and playwright Meno is every bit as poignant, powerful, insightful, and imaginative as his gritty debut novel, Tender as Hellfire. In some stories, young blue-collar protagonists struggle to deal with dysfunctional families or traumatic experiences. Humor and heartbreak walk hand in hand in stories like "Happiness Will Be Yours," wherein two former child abductees reunite annually at a crumbling amusement park. Meno has a knack for imaginative comments and for exploring the vivid imaginations of his characters, as in the case of Bob, who paints eyeballs on plastic deer: "Clyde had been a notorious overpainter and would sometimes miss a deer or two, which left Bob in bed at night wondering about the fate of those poor animals, rooted to their post on some stranger’s front lawn, blind in their one good eye with fear, and easy prey for some larger, plastic animal." Be prepared to laugh and cry simultaneously. Recommended for all public and academic libraries; adults and mature teens.Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico

Stevenson, Jane. Good Women. Mariner: Houghton. Jan. 2006. c.256p. ISBN 0-618-46217-1. pap. $12. F

This ironically titled collection of novellas by British author Stevenson (Several Deceptions) contains stories about women who defy society’s expectation that they be "good women." In the first novella, "Light My Fire," seductive Freda lures prissy architect David away from his family, and their relationship is destructive both to the people around them and to the place where they live. Wenda’s development of an angel-centered, home-based business in the second novella, "Walking with Angels," also has tragic consequences. "Garden Guerrillas," the final novella and the cleverest of the three, tells the story of the widowed Alice, whose guerrilla gardening techniques will one day exact a toll on her greedy and rapacious daughter-in-law. Competently written, Good Women challenges the reader to consider the price women pay when they forsake their own needs to meet the will of others. Yet there is a darkness to the collection that at times detracts from its readability; the repulsiveness of the characters in the first two novellas leaves the reader with a certain distaste. The final novella, however, is a wonderful piece of fiction in which Alice’s redemption rewards the reader with a sense of satisfaction and rightness. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]Caroline M. Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont.

Upadhyay, Samrat. The Royal Ghosts. Mariner: Houghton. Feb. 2006. c.224p. ISBN 0-618-51749-9. pap. $12. F

In this new collection of nine stories, Upadhyay (Guru of Love) brings readers more tales of Nepalese life, again featuring characters caught up in distress stemming from issues of gender, caste, marital status, political affiliation, and/or their expression of sexuality. In the opening piece, "Refugee," women’s issues and rights are examined in the story of a war widow. "Wedding Hero," "Chintamani’s Women," and "Father/Daughter" explore male/female relationships and question the concept of individual rights and the quest for love in light of cultural mores and the restrictions upheld by the caste system. The title piece broaches homosexuality; through Upadhyay’s adept storytelling, readers also take a serious look at familial bonds. The richness of each piece is not limited to the themes mentioned here. Each story is multifaceted, and much can be gleaned in a single reading. All the same, readers may choose to reexamine these pieces so that they can appreciate fully the intricacies of Upadhyay’s writing. Those who enjoyed the author’s award-winning 2001 collection of short stories, Arresting God in Kathmandu, will likely devour this offering. Recommended for public and academic libraries.Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA