Fiction Reviews, February 1, 2012

starred review star Hepinstall, Kathy. Blue Asylum. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780547712079. $24. F

Iris Dunleavy must be mad. Why else would she have accompanied slaves trying to escape from her husband’s Virginia plantation? When she arrives at the asylum on Florida’s Sanibel Island in 1864 after being declared insane by a doctor and a judge, she tries to convince her captors of her sanity. Although the patients generally receive humane treatment, Dr. Cowell, the super intendent, applies the water treatment to those like Iris who remain defiant. As Iris’s friendship with Ambrose Weller, a Confederate soldier who cannot cope with battlefield memories, deepens, Dr. Cowell’s own attraction to the rebellious Iris grows. Determined to escape with Ambrose, Iris enlists the help of Dr. Cowell’s 12-year-old son. Memories and revelations of events that led to the incarcerations of Iris and Ambrose slowly emerge and call into question what constitutes madness. VERDICT Hepinstall’s (The House of Gentle Men) fourth novel features excellent pacing and strong character development that animate not only the inmates at the Sanibel Asylum but the characters from the preasylum lives of Iris and Ambrose. A first-rate choice for fans of intelligent historical romances. [See Prepub Alert, 10/31/11.]‚ Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

starred review star Joinson, Suzanne. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Jun. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781608198115. $26. F

I may as well start with the bones, observes Eva, who in 1923 is traveling with sister Lizzie and officious Miss Millicent Frost to the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where they will serve as missionaries. Lizzie truly has a calling, but Eva is quite literally along for the ride; she’s got her bicycle and is planning to write a travelog. The bones, scalded, sun-bleached, like tiny flutes, lead them to a young woman in the throes of childbirth, whose subsequent death results in their house arrest by hostile Moslem locals considering charges of murder. Meanwhile, in contemporary London, the somewhat disaffected Frieda, raised by commune-dwelling parents, befriends a gentle Yemeni refugee she’s found sleeping on her doorstep and puzzles out why she has inherited the contents of a flat whose occupant she doesn’t know. Refreshingly, the two stories are equally absorbing (not always the case), and their connection comes as both surprising and obvious. VERDICT Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages, nicely reminding us that odd twists of fate sometimes aren’t that odd. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/19/11.]‚ Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

starred review star Kazinski, A.J. The Last Good Man. Scribner. Mar. 2012. c.480p. tr. from Danish by Tiina Nunnally. ISBN 9781451640755. $26.99. F

The Talmud claims that there are 36 righteous people on Earth that protect humanity‚ without them, the world will perish. In Denmark, Det. Niels Bentzon is tasked with finding good people and warning them that they may be targeted for murder. So far, there have been 34 victims around the world. Bentzon entrusts astrophysicist Hannah Lund, who sees patterns in everything, to help him unravel the mystery of the good people‚ who they are, what they have in common, why they are dying. They predict the final two murders‚ one in Venice, the other in Copenhagen‚ and attempt to stop them. VERDICT Drawing on the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, this fast-paced debut collaboration between director/screenwriter Anders Rønnow Klarlund and Danish author Jacob Weinreich is a spectacular thriller. Named 2011 Best First Novel by the Danish Academy of Crime Fiction, this well-crafted twist of Jewish mythology made modern will appeal to fans of Dan Brown or Jennifer Lee Carrell (Interred with Their Bones). [See Prepub Alert, 9/23/11.]‚ Michelle Martinez, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX

starred review star Kunzru, Hari. Gods Without Men. Knopf. Mar. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780307957115. $26.95. F

In 2008, Jaswinder (Jaz) Singh Matharu, MIT grad and the rebellious Baltimore-bred son of a Punjabi family, heads to the Southwest with Jewish American wife Lisa and autistic son Raj. Along with drug-hazed London rocker Nicky Capaldi, to whom Raj takes a shine, they find themselves stuck (and coming unstuck) at a motel in a beautifully barren area where, we learn in multiple date-marked chapters, Fray Garcés managed a mission (1778), Mormons murdered intruders (1871), the disaffected Schmidt seems to have seen a spaceship (1947), a community believing in extra terrestrials gathered (1958), a hippie commune emerged (1969), and, significantly, an ethnologist studying the disappearing Natives saw an Indian man walking with a ghostly white child (1920). Woven throughout is the tale of Coyote, who risks all to visit the Land of the Dead, and as time collapses and the multiple stories coalesce, Raj disappears. VERDICT At first somewhat slow as the various stories are laid out, this extraordinary novel by the estimable Kunzru (My Revolutions) gathers momentum, power, and a fierce clarity to deliver a rich panorama while detailing our mutual antagonisms and deepest spiritual needs (met, perhaps, with a vast emptiness, an absence). Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/11/11.]‚ Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

starred review star Moore, Christopher. Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art. Morrow. Apr. 2012. c.416p. illus. ISBN 9780061779749. $26.99. F

Moore (Fool; You Suck) set out to write a book about the color blue. What he ended up with is a surprisingly complex novel full of love, death, art, and mystery. When baker‚ turned‚ aspiring artist Lucien Lessard, whose father was friends with some of the preeminent French artists of the late 19th century, receives a special tube of vibrant blue paint from the mysterious Juliette, his amateurish painting becomes masterly and his life becomes a mess. Obsessed with painting and loving Juliette, Lucien must discover the mystery of the blue paint, the origins of Juliette, and the identity of her near-constant companion, the frighteningly sinister Colorman who haunted other artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, and Cézanne. In the end, the true question for Lucien is, At what price art? VERDICT Don’t let Moore’s quirky characters and bawdy language fool you. His writing has depth, and his peculiar take on the impressionists will reel you in. One part art history (with images of masterpieces interspersed with the narrative), one part paranormal mystery, and one part love story, this is a worthy read. Considering the large marketing push and Moore’s rabid fan base, expect demand. [Nine-city tour; see Prepub Alert, 10/9/11.]‚ Jennifer Beach, Cumberland Cty. P.L., VA

starred review star Scottoline, Lisa. Come Home. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780312380823. $27.99. F

Pediatrician Jill Farrow lives an ordinary suburban life with her 13-year-old daughter, supportive fiancé, and well-fed golden retriever until a midnight visitor turns her idyllic life upside down. Jill’s ex-stepdaughter Abby arrives with the news that Jill’s ex-husband, William, is dead and she suspects foul play. Despite distaste for her ex and a three-year estrangement from her two stepdaughters, Jill begins investigating William’s death to help Abby obtain closure. Fueled by her strong maternal instincts, Abby’s quest for the truth propels her into a dangerous cat-and-mouse chase that risks her closest relationships and threatens her life. VERDICT Scottoline (Save Me; Look Again) deftly speeds readers through a dizzying labyrinth of intrigue with more hairpin turns and heart-pounding drops than a theme-park ride. This thrilling testament to a mother’s relentless love may well be Scottoline’s best novel to date. Her many fans and other mystery/thriller aficionados will want to read it. [300,000-copy first printing; national tour; see Prepub Alert, 10/31/11.]‚ Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

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The following titles are reviewed in the January print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.

Bazell, Josh. Wild Thing. Reagan Arthur: Little, Brown. Feb. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9780316032193. $25.99. F

Chung, Catherine. Forgotten Country. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781594488085. $26.95. F

D’Agostino, Kris. The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac. Algonquin. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781565129511. pap. $13.95. F

French, Nicci. Blue Monday. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780670023363. $26.95. F

Gage, Eleni N. Other Waters. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780312658519. $25.99. F

Julavits, Heidi. The Vanishers. Doubleday. Mar. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780385523813. $26.95. F

Kelly, Erin. The Dark Rose. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Feb. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780670023288. $26.95. F

Korkeakivi, Anne. An Unexpected Guest. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780316196772. $24.99. F

Lansdale, Joe R. Edge of Dark Water. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Mar. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780316188432. $25.99. F

McKenzie, Catherine. Spin. Morrow. Feb. 2012. c.432p. ISBN 9780062115355. pap. $14.99. F

Markovits, Anouk. I Am Forbidden. Hogarth. May 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780307984739. $25. F

Picoult, Jodi. Lone Wolf. Atria: S. & S. Feb. 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9781439102749. $28. F

Ream, Ashley. Losing Clementine. Morrow. Mar. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780062093639. pap. $14.99. F

Romano-Lax, Andromeda. The Detour. Soho, dist. by Consortium. Feb. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781616950491. $25. F

Steinhauer, Olen. An American Spy. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9780312622893. $25.99. F

Stone, Michel. The Iguana Tree. Hub City. Mar. 2012. c.228p. ISBN 9781891885884. $24.95. F

Tranter, Kirsten. A Common Loss. Washington Square: S. & S. Mar. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781439177228. pap. $15. F

Ward, Katie. Girl Reading. Scribner. Feb. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781451655902. $26. F

Short stories

Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer (text) & C.S.H. Jhabvala (illus.). A Lovesong for India. Counterpoint. Feb. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781582437927. $26. F


Harrison, Kim. A Perfect Blood. Voyager: HarperCollins. (Hallows, Bk. 10). Mar. 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9780061957895. $26.99. FANTASY

Kowal, Mary Robinette. Glamour in Glass. Tor. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780765325570. $24.99. FANTASY

Moloney, Susie. The Thirteen. Morrow. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780062117663. pap. $14.99. HORROR

Powers, Tim. Hide Me Among the Graves. Morrow. Mar. 2012. c.528p. ISBN 9780061231544. $25.99. FANTASY

Shinn, Sharon. The Shape of Desire. Ace: Berkley. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781937007171. $25.95. FANTASY