Fiction Reviews, November 15, 2011

Addison, Corban. A Walk Across the Sun. SilverOak: Sterling. Jan. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781402792809. $24.95. F
This chilling, suspenseful, and powerful debut weaves fictional characters into the reality of contemporary slavery. The novel opens on the serene shores of Tamil Nadu, India, as a tsunami rips apart the coastal towns. Two survivors, orphaned sisters who have lost nearly everything, are thrown into the havoc and are immediately sold into the sex trade. The teenage girls are passed from one criminal to the next, experiencing horrors that span the globe. Meanwhile, an American lawyer caught up in a midlife crisis takes a sabbatical to India and helps prosecute human traffickers. His work becomes entwined with the plight of the two sisters, and he sets out to rescue them from the international trade. VERDICT The story is compelling, but the message is greater and will leave an impact on everyone who picks up the book. Readers will mourn the injustices depicted and celebrate the triumphs long after the last page is turned.‚ Andrea Brooks, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

Altenberg, Karin. Island of Wings. Penguin. Jan. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780143120667. pap. $15. F
When young Church of Scotland minister Neil MacKenzie arrives with his wife, Lizzie, on the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda in 1830, he intends to strengthen the residents’ Christian faith and modernize their way of life. The remote, treeless islands house thousands of seabirds that provide much of the local food and influence numerous customs. Determined to set an example of righteousness and haunted by guilt over a friend he let drown, Neil fears expressing love for anyone, even his wife and children. Although he can communicate with residents in their native Gaelic and Lizzie knows only English, she achieves greater empathy, particularly with the women after she loses three babies. Lizzie finds companionship with an English-speaking girl hired to help her and later is drawn dangerously close to a shipwrecked sailor she nurses back to health. VERDICT Based on documentary sources, this evocative debut novel enmeshes readers in a society that no longer exists, on rugged Scottish islands few tourists visit. Complex characters and historical events that impact the lives of the islanders provide much to ponder and discuss. A fine book club candidate.‚ Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

Ammaniti, Niccolò. Me and You. Black Cat: Grove. Feb. 2012. c.160p. tr. from Italian by Kylee Doust. ISBN 9780802170903. pap. $14. F
In this novel by best-selling Italian author Ammaniti (I’m Not Scared; As God Commands), Lorenzo, craving solitude, lies to his parents about going with classmates on a skiing vacation to Cortina and hides out in the basement of their Rome apartment building. This falsehood pleases his mother, who is overjoyed at the acceptance of her misfit 14-year-old son by popular kids. After a day or two of sleeping late, playing video games, and eating junk food, Lorenzo is stunned when his estranged half-sister, Olivia, whom he barely knows and who is ten years his senior, knocks on the door of his basement refuge, in need of a place to crash. When she becomes ill, Lorenzo does all he can to help her, even visiting his gravely ill grandmother in the hospital to find medicine. As their week together draws to a close, the two develop a strong bond. An afterword about what happens to Olivia makes a powerful climax to this well- written book. VERDICT Ammaniti is a fantastic writer, with the ability to deliver a lingering verbal punch in the gut. This suspenseful yet clever and elegant novel is a sure winner. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]‚ Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH

Bilyeau, Nancy. The Crown. Touchstone: S. & S. Jan. 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9781451626858. $24.99. F
Novitiate Joanna breaks her vows to leave her cloister and come to the aid of her cousin Margaret, convicted of treason against King Henry VII and sentenced to hang. Joanna is subsequently thrown into the Tower of London with her father and released with a secret mission‚ return to her priory and find a legendary, mystical relic for the bishop. If she succeeds, her father will be freed as well; until then, he will be tortured to ensure her compliance. Along the way, Joanna is assisted by a handsome constable and a somber monk, both with hidden agendas and secret passions. VERDICT Debut author Bilyeau promises a historical thriller with suspense, intrigue, and mystery‚ the delivery, however, is sometimes lacking. While the plot is compelling, the author drags out her story with multiple, concurrent subplots. This book will appeal to fans of Dan Brown and Philippa Gregory, if they can dedicate themselves to the 400-plus pages.‚ Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

Bober, Robert. Wide Awake. New Pr., dist. by Perseus. Jan. 2012. c.208p. tr. from French by Carol Volk. ISBN 9781595587015. pap. $15.95. F
Nostalgia is good because it makes things present that no longer are. Thus declares a habitué of a bar in Paris’s Belleville neighborhood. Nostalgia is certainly the name of the game here. Bernard Appelbaum, the narrator of this slim work by Bober (co author, Ellis Island), seems in many respects like Proust, spending his time in remembrance of things past. He spends pages crossing and recrossing Paris neighborhoods, with special attention to the area toward the east around Belleville. He encounters Robert, a former acquaintance who has become a location scout for noted filmmaker François Truffaut. Thereafter, Bernard becomes somewhat obsessed with the Truffaut film Jules and Jim, and he uses that as a point of departure for further reflections on the past. The most poignant aspect of Bernard’s investigations involves his parents, originally from Poland, during and after the Holocaust. VERDICT The publisher’s promo has it right: Bober has penned a fictional memoir, one that only half-heartedly seems a novel. Save this only for lovers of Paris drenched in nostalgia.‚ Edward Cone, New York

Caplan, Thomas. The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen. Viking. Jan. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9780670023219. $26.95. F
After the American CEO of an international construction company pulls out of a Russian deal, he and his family are murdered. Philip Frost, who certifies decommissioned nuclear weapons and is a protégé of billionaire international deal broker Ian Santal, engineered the killings as part of a conspiracy to sell nuclear weapons to Middle Eastern buyers. Ty Hunter, a former military intelligence officer, has become Hollywood’s number-one star, and his social connections allow him to mingle with Santal and company on Santal’s immense yacht in the Mediterranean. Personally recruited as a spy by the U.S. President, Ty is the world’s only hope of preventing nuclear disaster. Like James Bond, Ty uses charm and secret government resources to succeed against all odds. VERDICT Caplan’s business and international background, reflected in three earlier novels (e.g., Grace and Favor), give authenticity to this fantastic tale of intrigue. Wordiness, brand name‚ dropping, and sometimes trite dialog mar a thriller that otherwise rivals Ian Fleming in page-turning action and film appeal. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11; Caplan is also a founder of the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction.‚ Ed.]‚ Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

Davies, J.D. The Mountain of Gold. Houghton Harcourt. Feb. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780547580999. $25. F
Great adventures often start with the rumor of a mythical destination. This adventure, the exciting sequel to Gentleman Captain, begins when a captured Barbary pirate speaks of just such a place, a mountain of gold. Rather than hang this enemy of England, King Charles II hands him back over to the man who apprehended him, Capt. Matthew Quinton. Quinton and the pirate devise an expedition to Africa and the treasure, which the king desires for his campaign against the Dutch. Before setting sail, Quinton tries passionately to dissuade his older brother from marrying (by an arrangement of the king) a mysterious French vixen who may have killed her previous husbands. Once out to sea, the captain’s mission takes on new complications that test his crew and England’s reputation as a maritime power. VERDICT Davies, a noted historian on the 17th-century British navy (Pepys’s Navy), captures the romance of high-seas adventure in the grand tradition of Patrick O’Brian while also vividly depicting the era’s politics, battles, and tactics that shape his seasoned sea captain.‚ Ron Samul, New London, CT

De Luca, Erri. The Day Before Happiness. Other. Nov. 2011. c.192p. tr. from Italian by Michael F. Moore. ISBN 9781590514818. $16.95. F
Under the loving eye of a wise and protective older man, the orphaned young hero of this novel by prominent Italian author De Luca (Three Horses; God’s Mountain) comes of age in Naples in the years following World War II. The boy models himself on lessons learned from his mentor’s somewhat enigmatic stories about his own life, especially those involving the resistance in the last phases of the war, and his moralistic tales about life in general. As the boy grows, so grows his fascination with sex and with a girl he fantasizes about for years. The man’s intuition and guidance support the youth at many potentially treacherous junctures, ultimately saving him from martyrdom. VERDICT This novel is tender, lyrical without apology, and intensely moving at times, although the eye is somewhat distracted by an awkward translation that snags the flow of the vibrant narration. This would best serve Italian history buffs and readers intrigued with boys’ coming-of-age stories.‚ Joyce J. Townsend, Pittsburg, CA

Delaney, Edward J. Broken Irish. Turtle Point, dist. by Consortium. 2011. c.400p. ISBN 9781933527505. pap. $18.50. F
Southie, where the accent is more Irish than Boston. From where you might be able to get away but never escape. Journalist and filmmaker Delaney (Warp & Weft) tells the story of a handful of people in South Boston at the end of the 20th century. Jimmy is driving drunk behind three laughing young men in a convertible whose driver is braking and starting, trying to dislodge the one perched on the back; when he witnesses the neck-snapping fall, Jimmy vows never to drink again. Colleen and her husband pledged to get out of Southie, but after his death in a foreign war, she’s still there with her adolescent son, Christopher, who has shut her out of his life. Father John started his priesthood in Southie, and now he is back, on the brink of a forced retirement. Jeanmarie, a Southie teenager, drops out of school and moves in with her boyfriend. These divergent stories come together in a compelling tale of desperation, lost opportunities, and revenge‚ all things Southie has come to represent. Each character is richly portrayed, and each stirs conflicting emotions in the reader. VERDICT A masterpiece; highly recommended for a wide audience.‚ Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib.

Duffy, Erin. Bond Girl. Morrow. Feb. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780062065896. $24.99. F
Fresh out of college, Alex lands a job on Wall Street training in bond sales. While it’s difficult to break into the boys’ club of a trading firm (she is given a folding metal chair inscribed Girlie instead of a desk, she’s the office gofer, and practical jokes abound), Alex makes the best of it and tries to work as hard as she can. She is often fixing her boss’s spreadsheets until midnight, in between Starbucks runs juggling dozens of cups and dodging a slimy client who threatens to make her quit if she won’t sleep with him. When Alex finally gets the chance to execute an actual trade, she loses the firm nearly $100,000 with one mistake. Despite this, she keeps her job and even finds time to date a cute coworker. When the financial crisis hits, it’s time for Alex to take stock and figure out if the stress is worth it. VERDICT Despite financial details that may make your head spin and a workplace that will make your stomach churn, Duffy’s fresh take on the single-in-the-city tale does a terrific job of reviving chick lit (not every girl works in publishing or PR, after all). [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/11; debut author Duffy has worked for over ten years on Wall Street.‚ Ed.]‚ Rebecca Vnuk, Forest Park, IL

Glynn, Alan. Bloodland. Picador. Jan. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780312621285. pap. $16. F
Unemployed journalist Jimmy Gilroy signs a contract to write the bio of a celebrity who died in a helicopter crash. Ex‚ head of state Larry Bolger struggles to write his memoirs. Dave Conway, a bankrupt developer, hopes for a loan to rescue a planned community. Clark Rundle, chairman of a major corporation and brother of U.S. Senator (and presidential candidate) John Rundle, arranges a mining deal with a colonel in the Congo. Billionaire Jimmy Vaughan lurks in the background. Don Ribcoff, CEO of Gideon Global, a protection service, has several bodies to hide. Oh, and what about Gianni Bonacci, a UN official who also died in the copter crash? Stay tuned; all will be revealed in a too pat, presuicide confession. VERDICT Given the spare description of scene in this international thriller, readers unfamiliar with the term taoiseach (Irish for prime minister), The Strand, or City magazine may not realize until 140 pages in that Dublin is one of the settings. As for the plot, readers often know far more than the journalist, a risky technique that in some cases dampens and in others heightens the suspense. Still, Glynn (Winterland) successfully depicts a wide range of characters, and the themes of corporate greed and political conspiracy will resonate with some.‚ Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

Gottlieb, Eli. The Face Thief. Morrow. Jan. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9780061735059. $24.99. F
Gottlieb’s (The Boy Who Went Away; Now You See Him) third novel piques our interest with a woman tumbling down steps, with visions of her past whirring through her mind. Did Margot fall, or was she pushed? She lives, and yet as she mends, we get glimpses of her disturbing memories. Meanwhile, a newly married man drawn into a fraud and a teacher of face reading tell in alternating chapters of Margot’s cunning and seductive influence over them. Gottlieb paints a rather bare-bones portrait of Margot, with her tendency to fall back on Daddy and her money issues as the basis for her destructive behavior. The male characters are more developed, to give the reader a glimpse into their lives and their motives and insecurities, thus showing how Margot was able to manipulate them so effectively. A third male character is a hapless detective who tries to see the good in Margot because he is blinded by her beauty. VERDICT A lot more fluff than thrill ride. Still, undiscriminating mystery and thriller readers will enjoy its fast pace and compelling story.‚ Marianne Fitzgerald, Severna Park H.S., Annapolis, MD

Hall, James W. Dead Last. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2011. c.304p. ISBN 9780312607326. $25.99. F
Hall’s series hero, Thorn (Silencer), is mourning the loss of his new wife when he’s forced to confront a bizarre mixture of fantasy and reality. A cable television series has a story arc about a serial killer using newspaper obituaries to select victims, and a fan is re-creating the crimes. Someone close to Thorn is the first victim. Is the killing meant to be a ratings stunt or something more sinister? A clever premise and intriguing protagonists make this thriller stand above the fray. With too many secondary characters to follow, however, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of the plot. VERDICT Longtime series fans will enjoy this entry, but newcomers might have issues with understanding who is who at times. Overall, this is another solid effort from Hall. [Library marketing.]‚ Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

Huddle, David. Nothing Can Make Me Do This. Tupelo. 2011. c.312p. ISBN 9781936797127. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781936797110. $16.95. F
Huddle (The Story of a Million Years) again shows his talent for portraying the conflicts, entanglements, and disconnections that familial relationships comprise. In this novel, family patriarch Horace Houseman, a retired professor and dean, gets caught with a hidden stash of pornographic videos given to him by his longtime best friend. When confronted, Horace denies having viewed them and claims he was so disgusted that he couldn’t bear to touch them, even to throw them out. This is all true, but his family doesn’t believe him because they‚ his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter‚ have harbored their own secret episodes of impropriety and shame that have shaped their lives. Never mind that most of these events‚ a geeky prom date, a sexual encounter before marriage‚ are relatively harmless, at worst a little quirky. Huddle weaves a complex family history as the characters mature over time. You just wish they could all get together, own up to their peccadilloes, and have a good laugh. VERDICT Readers of both literary and popular relationship fiction will find much to enjoy.‚ Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA

Keifetz, Mandy. Flea Circus: A Brief Bestiary of Grief. New Issues: Western Michigan Univ. Jan. 2012. c.202p. ISBN 9781936970049. $26. F
Tim Acree was a fascination‚ with an endearing turn of phrase and irrepressible smile and as the proud Professor of Fleas. Why, then, did he throw his life away‚ jumping into the airshaft between the cluttered tangle of apartments he called home? That is what is driving Izzy, the girlfriend he left behind, slowly mad. There has to be an answer somewhere amid the tangle of memories and fleas, and she is scrabbling after it with everything she has. This winner of the AWP Award Series in the Novel is an entrancing, alphabetical look at how suicide affects the survivors, and it works to make sense of all of the whys and hows that those left behind inevitably fumble through in the wake of sudden death. Izzy’s enthralling voice pulls the reader through each heartbreak and revelation. VERDICT The experience of Keifetz’s second novel (after Corrido) is less like reading a book than having a frighteningly intimate conversation over coffee. A must for fans of literary fiction.‚ April Steenburgh, George F. Johnson Memorial Lib., Endwell, NY

Khoury, Raymond. The Devil’s Elixir. Dutton. Dec. 2011. c.400p. ISBN 9780525952435. $26.95. F
The tenuous domestic tranquility enjoyed by FBI agent Sean Reilly (The Templar Salvation) and archaeologist-turned-author Tess Chaykin is jolted by a blast from Reilly’s past. Fleeing a gruesome home invasion, former DEA agent Michelle Martinez calls Reilly, her ex-boyfriend, to protect her and Alex, the son he didn’t know they shared. As Michelle’s case unfolds into more than a thwarted burglary, the body count rises, and Reilly is suddenly embroiled in a multiagency investigation. Drug kingpin El Brujo (The Sorcerer) pursues Alex, believing him the means of decoding the formula of the most powerful psychotropic drug ever synthesized. Weaponized or distributed, this drug in El Brujo’s hands would wreak global havoc. Khoury’s screenwriting experience is evident in the easily visualized action scenes, but unlike his previous novels, the prose here lacks elegant phrasing between the punches. VERDICT This time, Khoury’s soapbox topics include biker gangs, Mexican drug cartels, veterans’ affairs, and the criminalization of drug use, but his key interests in this thriller are ethnobotany, proprietary rights, and the ethics of bioprospecting. For thriller fans, this exciting if sometimes dry lecture is still worth auditing. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/11.]‚ Laura A.B. Cifelli, Ft. Myers‚ Lee Cty. P.L., FL

Levine, Sara. Treasure Island!!! Europa, dist. by Penguin. Jan. 2012. c.176p. ISBN 9781609450618. pap. $15. F
Boldness. Resolution. Independence. Horn blowing. These are the key qualities attributed to Jim Hawkins, protagonist of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, by the hapless, unnamed, 25-year-old female narrator of this debut novel by Levine. The underemployed slacker becomes ludicrously obsessed with Treasure Island, seeing in the novel a model of behavior that will permit her to throw off the shackles of her banal existence, starting with her part-time job in an animal-lending pet library. Her first act is to steal cash from her employer to purchase a parrot that will sit on her shoulder spouting appropriate words of encouragement, Treasure Island‚ style, but that soon becomes her nemesis when it requires care and proves difficult to train. Our empathy-impaired narrator confuses irresponsibility with bravery and selfishness with self- sufficiency, and this results in a hilarious sequence of minor catastrophes befalling her friends and family, a circle of comically inept enablers. VERDICT Though it is hard to conceive of, let alone root for, such a morally bankrupt and emotionally stunted character, this highly original, farcical novel will keep you entertained in spite of (or more accurately, because of) its toxic narrator. [See Prepub Alert, 9/12/11.]‚ Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY

Lott, Bret. Dead Low Tide. Random. Jan. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9781400063758. $26. F
This sequel to 1998’s The Hunt Club picks up the story of Huger Dillard and his blind father, Unc, in the present. When Unc and Huger discover a dead body during a midnight boating and golfing foray at the local country club, they wonder why U.S. Navy security and the Department of Homeland Security get involved in the case. Father and son soon find their answers as they become unwilling victims in a terrorist plot gone awry, in which terrorist and law enforcement often seem one and the same, and family secrets and Southern mores are intricately woven. VERDICT This literary thriller of the first order grippingly deals with current events while revealing the secrets, ambitions, loves, and fears of a family that readers grow to cherish. Fans of The Hunt Club will want to catch up with Unc and Huger. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]‚ Thomas L. Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

Miller, Madeline. The Song of Achilles. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780062060617. $25.99. F
The story of the Trojan War is well known thanks to Homer’s Iliad. Debut author Miller has chosen to retell this epic from the point of view of Patroclus, an exiled Greek prince who is taken in by Peleus, the father of Achilles. It isn’t long before the lonely boy is befriended by Achilles. Over the years their tentative friendship grows into a deep and passionate love that stands firm in the face of the disapproval of their elders, dire prophecies, and the wrath of the gods themselves. Miller skillfully weaves tender scenes of the boys’ relationship with breathtaking descriptions of battles and their bloody aftermath. VERDICT Miller’s degrees in Latin and Greek as well as her passion for the theater and the history of the ancient world have given her the tools to create a masterly vision of the drama, valor, and tragedy of the Trojan War. Readers who loved Mary Renault’s epic novels will be thrilled with Miller’s portrayal of ancient Greece. This reviewer can’t wait to see what she writes next. [See Prepub Alert, 9/19/11.]‚ Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

O’Connell, Carol. The Chalk Girl. Putnam. Jan. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780399157745. $25.95. F
It has been five years since O’Connell gave us a new novel in her Mallory series, but the action picks up only a few weeks after we last saw Mallory melting down in Find Me. Once again, a child is in jeopardy, one who may be a witness to a series of grisly crimes in New York’s Central Park. Coco is an unusual child, but she charms even the antisocial detective Mallory, though her partner, Riker, and friend Charles Butler doubt how deeply she can care for the little girl. But Mallory, who predates both Dexter Morgan and Lisbeth Salander as an unlikely crime-stopping sociopath, does care for Coco‚ in her own violently protective way. As Mallory and Riker unravel the mystery, older crimes are uncovered, along with the ways adults repeatedly fail the children around them. VERDICT O’Connell offers more than a suspenseful tale; she portrays a complex world of dark and light, corruption and love, in a New York City that retains its grittiness. Another must-read in a compelling and rich crime series. [See Prepub Alert, 7/11/11.]‚ Devon Thomas, DevIndexing, Chelsea, MI

Palmer, Daniel. Helpless. Kensington. Feb. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9780758246653. $25. F
Former Navy SEAL Tom Hawkins has moved back to New Hampshire to raise his teenage daughter after his ex-wife dies under mysterious circumstances. His spotless reputation as high school guidance counselor and girls’ soccer coach begins to unravel when he is accused of sleeping with one of his players. And Tom is forced to confront a decades-old secret that may endanger not only him but his daughter as well. Palmer’s sophomore effort, following Delirious, is every bit as gripping as the first, maybe more so. His background as an e-commerce pioneer is evident in his skillful incorporation of technology into an already enthralling plot. He is so successful that readers hardly realize they’re being educated about one of the dangers of a commonly used technology‚ in this case, sexting among teenagers. VERDICT Palmer scores again with a terrific thriller that has it all‚ murder, drugs, kidnapping, techno-mayhem, romance, manly ex‚ Navy SEAL exploits, and a burgeoning father-daughter relationship. This reviewer enjoyed it so much she is going to suggest her husband read it next‚ its wide appeal is another plus!‚ Julie Pierce, Fort Meyers‚ Lee Cty. P.L., FL

Parker, T. Jefferson. The Jaguar: A Charlie Hood Novel. Dutton. Jan. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780525952572. $26.95. F
Chronicling multiple, colorful drug smugglers on both sides of the law and the U.S.-Mexico border, Parker returns with Los Angeles County deputy Charlie Hood in the fifth title (after The Border Lords) in this six-volume series. Crooked, money-laundering deputy Bradley Jones suddenly finds that his wife, the captivating songwriter (and Hood’s former love interest) Erin McKenna, has been kidnapped by Benjamin Armenta, the kingpin of the powerful Gulf Cartel. In his Yucatán citadel, where he has banned the use of electronic devices, Armenta demands that McKenna compose evocative Mexican folk ballads romanticizing his daring drug dealings. Through song, gesture, and hidden memos, however, Jones, McKenna, and Hood circumvent Armenta’s efforts. VERDICT Although Parker is losing steam with this series, his fans will endure the complex plotline through one more Hood novel‚ although general readers may find it tedious. Let’s hope the author can devise an enticing plot to end his series with a bang. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/11.]‚ Jerry P. Miller, Cambridge, MA

Roche, Suzzy. Wayward Saints. Voice: Hyperion. Jan. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9781401341770. $24.99. F
Roche, one of three cofounding sisters of the folk-rock band The Roches, takes a brief detour from performing to write her debut novel. Musician Mary Saint flees her hometown of Swallow, NY, after an upbringing rife with torment and despair. When her bandmate/partner Garbagio dies in a tragic accident, Mary spirals into self-destruction and chosen obscurity in San Francisco until a request for a solo concert at Swallow’s high school means she must resurrect her voice. As her mother battles the past and tiptoes around her own future on one side of the country, Mary struggles to find peace on the other. Reuniting at home, they must discover how to fit in the pieces of their puzzle of reconciliation. VERDICT A great read for fans of The Roches; there are definite allusions to and pokes at the music industry here, from an insider’s perspective. Themes of insider/outsider, despair/inspiration, faith, abuse, and acceptance/rejection are all addressed‚ with finesse. A well-done first outing; Roche handles sticky topics with grace. [Roche is the latest singer-songwriter to write a novel; consider displaying her book with Josh Ritter’s Bright’s Passage, Wesley Stace’s (aka John Wesley Harding) Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, and Steve Earle’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.‚ Ed.]‚ Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA

Rowell, David. The Train of Small Mercies. Putnam. 2011. c.272p. ISBN 9780399157288. $25.95. F
Rowell’s debut novel presents alternating scenes from the lives of several people along the route of the train carrying Robert F. Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington, DC, in June 1968. Jamie is a Vietnam vet adjusting to his radically altered life as an amputee; Lionel is a black college student beginning a summer job as a porter on the train; Irish-born Maeve intended to seek a nanny position with the Kennedy family. They and other characters are all affected by the national tragedy. Lionel witnesses the assassination’s impact on the older railroad workers; after Martin Luther King’s assassination, many had viewed Kennedy as the black community’s last hope. Her plans upended, Maeve goes to Union Station to witness the funeral train’s arrival and is caught in a mob scene. Jamie, interviewed by a reporter who attended his high school, addresses his past and attempts to verbalize his feelings about his injury and his future. VERDICT Some of the stories in this multifaceted work are better than others, but overall the author succeeds admirably in involving the reader in his characters’ lives. He also fills in fascinating details about a critical event in American history. [See Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]‚ Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta

Smith, Tom Rob. Agent 6. Grand Central. Jan. 2012. c.480p. ISBN 9780446550765. $25.99. F
Fortified by formidable details of Soviet history, Smith’s closing volume of the Leo Demidov trilogy (Child 44; The Secret Speech) knits together iconic characters and elements as Leo for 30 years inexorably seeks justice. In a devastating tragedy in 1965, his wife is killed while on a Cold War public relations trip to Manhattan, but Leo is denied any chance to investigate. He is assigned as a police adviser in Afghanistan, where events make it possible for him to get to New York. Though weary, he works to find out the truth behind Raisa’s death. VERDICT Fans of Smith’s first two books will avidly seek out the final chapter, though this one stands on its own as well. The Afghan interlude is a searing echo of today’s headlines, while the buildup of suspense over several decades is the armchair equivalent of a jaw-jarringly extreme ride at an amusement park. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]‚ Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

Vyleta, Dan. The Quiet Twin. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Feb. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781608198085. pap. $16. F
Set in Vienna in the fall of 1939, just as World War II is getting under way, Vy leta’s (Pavel & I) novel focuses on residents of an apartment block where several unsolved murders have recently occurred. After Professor Speckstein’s dog is killed, Dr. Anton Beer is brought in to examine his high-strung niece, Zuzka. As they gaze out her bedroom window, Zuzka shows Dr. Beer his neighbors as he’s never seen them before. Besides Speckstein, the disgraced professor‚ turned‚ Nazi informant, there’s Anneliese, a nine-year-old girl who lives with her alcoholic father; Yuu, a Japanese musician; and, at the center of it all, Otto Frei, a mysterious mime who lives with his quadriplegic sister, Eva, the quiet twin of the title. It is Eva who will bring the fates of all of these characters together after Zuzka discovers her, ill and uncared for, in Frei’s apartment. VERDICT Working primarily through mood, atmospherics, and the general air of malevolence with which he surrounds the action, Vyleta memorably conjures up the darkness both of the times and of the Nazi mind.‚ Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA

Short stories

Swan, Gladys. The Tiger’s Eye: New & Selected Stories. Serving House. 2011. 370p. ISBN 9780982692189. pap. $19. F
This volume encompasses selections from four decades’ worth of short stories by fiction writer, poet, and essayist Swan (A Garden amid Fires; Carnival for the Gods). She is also a visual artist, and many of these stories unsurprisingly feature other artists, often stalled in their careers, such as the painter hired by a gallery owner in a resort town to produce 12 replicas of a bad still life (because it sells!). These stories also reflect upon the mysteries of artistic inspiration, the ways in which images precede ideas, and how unexpected juxtapositions of people, places, and events‚ an exiled Albanian houseguest, a Lorca poem, a trip to the bullfights‚ can open up the imagination. Swan is drawn to characters who are visionaries of a sort, who carry on conversations with a tiger in the zoo or are propelled on exotic journeys by means of a porch swing. These characters, cracked as they may be, awaken others to the possibility of art in their own lives. VERDICT Readers drawn to the short story as an art form will be happy to get to know Swan’s work through this generous collection.‚ Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA


Clark, Mary Jane. The Look of Love: A Piper Donovan Mystery. Morrow. Jan. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780061995569. $25.99. M
In this second installment of Clark’s series (after To Have and To Kill), aspiring actress, professional cake decorator, and amateur sleuth Piper flies to Los Angeles to decorate a cake for Jillian Abernathy, the rich, beautiful daughter of the founder of Elysium Spa. Piper’s agent has also managed to arrange an audition for her. The spa’s exquisite surroundings seem to harbor ugly secrets, however, and Piper is soon embroiled in murder, deceit, and a host of unsavory events. Short chapters with shifting points of view help the story’s pace while fragmenting the plot enough so that the reader can’t be certain who has the best motive for murder until close to the end. Touches of humor keep the mystery light, the baking subplot keeps it cozy, and there is enough going on with family and Piper’s newly developing relationship to keep it real. VERDICT Clark’s fans and readers who enjoy mysteries in the vein of Mary Higgins Clark may want to check this out. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/11.]‚ Pamela O’Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY

Harris, Tessa. The Anatomist’s Apprentice: A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery. Kensington. Jan. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780758266989. pap. $15. M
In 1780 London, American Dr. Thomas Silkstone is an up-and-coming star in anatomical dissection. When the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell asks for assistance investigating the suspicious death of her 19-year-old brother, the Earl of Crick, Thomas readily adds amateur sleuth to his growing list of accomplishments. With plenty of potential suspects, including the earl’s brother-in-law, but little physical evidence, can Thomas’s forensic skills decipher whether it was premeditated murder or unfortunate accident? It’s difficult for the reader to determine the true nature of these characters, as each revelation adds a layer of conflicting information, leaving no clear heroes or villains. The glossary of historical terminology will be helpful for readers who remember to check it. VERDICT The author’s attempt to include a bit of everything gives a less-focused feeling to the mystery, but smart misdirection and time-period-appropriate medical details make for a promising start to a new series. A strong choice for readers of Ariana Franklin and Caleb Carr or fans of Sherlock Holmes‚ style mysteries.‚ Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

Harvey, John. A Darker Shade of Blue. Pegasus Crime. Feb. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781605982847. $25. M
Multiple crime fiction award winner Harvey continues to poke away at the English body politic in this latest collection of stories previously published in various magazines and anthologies. The characters who inhabit these tales are briefly but indelibly captured by Harvey’s eye for telling detail; they are apt to feel trapped and helpless, unable to leave but equally unwilling to stay. Charlie Resnick and Frank Elder, familiar from Harvey’s earlier novels, do what they can, ably assisted here by Jack Kiley, sometime professional footballer and ex-policeman, now a struggling PI. Their cases cover a wide social range from an over-the-hill performer and those who toil in the manure fields of the tabloid press to newly arrived immigrants seeking the brass ring in London. VERDICT Anyone in search of explanations for recent English events, ranging from the phone-hacking scandal to the London riots, will find much to think about in these dark, masterly stories.‚ Bob Lunn, formerly with Kansas City P.L., MO

Mosley, Walter. All I Did Was Shoot My Man: A Leonid McGill Mystery. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781594488245. $26.95. M
In this fourth Leonid McGill mystery (after When the Thrill Is Gone), Mosley uses his exceptional storytelling skills to depict how his conflicted and compassionate PI sabotages himself as he battles to redeem himself and make amends to his family and coworkers. McGill is hired to investigate a strange case in which Zella Grisham admits to shooting her scheming husband after catching him in bed with another woman. Yet she’s fuzzy about the $80,000 found in her closet that was part of a $6 million heist. Out on the mean streets of Manhattan, McGill reacquaints himself with his estranged, alcoholic wife; his misguided, eldest son, who left college to live with a prostitute; and his youngest son, who chooses to work as McGill’s partner. VERDICT General readers and Mosley fans will appreciate his characteristically fine writing as well as the internal struggles Mosley inflicts on his protagonists. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]‚ Jerry P. Miller, Cambridge, MA