Fiction Reviews, March 1, 2012

starred review star Cash, Wiley. A Land More Kind Than Home. Morrow. Apr. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780062088147. $24.99. F

As lyrical, beautiful, and uncomplicated as the classic ballads of Appalachia, Cash’s first novel is a tragic story of misplaced faith and love gone wrong, set in the mountains of North Carolina. The River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following is a secretive place, with newspapers taped over the windows so you can’t see in, and the minister, Carson Chambliss, is often seen on a Sunday morning carrying cages made of wood and chicken-wire into the building. Still, the neighbors pay little attention until an autistic child becomes the victim of a special healing service, and the local sheriff launches an investigation. Told in three voices‚ of the sheriff; the child’s younger brother, Jess; and an elderly church member, Adelaide Lyle‚ the tragedy unfolds and compounds upon itself as the backgrounds of the major players are revealed and each reacts as conscience and faith demand. VERDICT In a style reminiscent of Tom Franklin and John Hart, Cash captures the reader’s imagination in the first chapter, with the minister and his snakes, and maintains the wonder of the tale through to the coda of faith and affirmation. Lovers of Southern fiction should not miss this one. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/11.]‚ Thomas Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

starred review star Laukkanen, Owen. The Professionals. Putnam. Mar. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780399157899. $25.95. F

Four friends, recent graduates from the University of Washington, are caught in a terrible job market. One of them jokes that they should go into kidnapping, and soon they develop a scheme to kidnap wealthy businessmen for relatively small ransoms ($60,000 to $100,000) so that the victims can be convinced not to report their kidnapping to the police. Their plan succeeds for two years until the friends kidnap the wrong man; his wife happens to be connected to the mob. Soon hot on their tails are not only the mob but also Minneapolis police investigator Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windermere. VERDICT This well-written debut crime novel features a chillingly postmodern amorality and well-developed protagonists on both sides of the law who will have readers rooting for them. Thriller fans will be chomping at the bit for the next Stevens and Windermere novel in the planned series.‚ Vicki L. Gregory, Univ. of South Florida Sch. of Information, Tampa

starred review star O’Melveny, Regina. The Book of Madness and Cures. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780316195836. $25.99. F

This debut novel from a prize-winning poet is an elegant portrait of a resolute woman who practices medicine in 16th-century Venice. After the disappearance of her physician father, who had trained her, Gabriella Mondini is no longer able to work openly in her beloved profession. So she sets out with two servants to find him, on a journey that takes her across Europe, from Scotland to the Netherlands to Switzerland and, finally, down to Morocco. Along the way, she meets other healers, who introduce her to strange diseases and ancient remedies that she adds to the encyclopedia started by her father. She also learns more about the human spirit and the complexities of life, death, and love. VERDICT Inspired by the disappearance of her own father, as well as the memories of her Italian artist mother, O’Melveny has written a compelling drama with a strong female lead. The writing is superb, particularly when the author describes the exotic locales and ancient superstitions Gabriella encounters on her travels. The book will especially attract readers who enjoy female-centered historical novels whose plots are not driven by romance. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/11.] ‚ Lucy Roehrig, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

starred review star Rucka, Greg. Alpha: A Jad Bell Novel. Mulholland: Little, Brown. May 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780316182287. $24.99. F

Rucka gets his new series featuring Ex‚ Delta Force Master Sergeant Jad Bell off to a smashing start with this pitch-perfect thriller. Bell, a former sniper team leader, has taken a security job at WilsonVille, a world-class theme park in California. Unbeknown to Jad, one of the park’s costumed characters, Pooch (aka Gabriel), also ex‚ U.S. Army, is a sleeper agent for an Uzbek thug serving a man with global terrorist connections. On the very day that Jad’s ex-wife and their deaf daughter plan to visit the park on a school field trip, Jad is warned about a dirty bomb hidden on the premises. VERDICT This lean, mean thriller with just the right amount of character development and unexpected complications will appeal to all who enjoy this genre but particularly to readers who like a strong hero along the lines of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Highly recommended.‚ Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

The following titles are reviewed in the March 1 print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.

Dorgan, Byron L. & David Hagberg. Blowout. Forge: Tor. Mar. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780765327376. $25.99. F

Frayn, Michael. Skios. Metropolitan: Holt. Jun. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9780805095494. $25. F

Greenwood, T. Grace. Kensington. Apr. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780758250926. pap. $15. F

Lane, Harriet. Alys, Always. Scribner. Jun. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781451673166. $24. F

Miller, Jennifer. The Year of the Gadfly. Houghton Harcourt. May 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780547548593. $24. F

Mossanen, Dora Levy. The Last Romanov. Sourcebooks Landmark. Apr. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781402265945. pap. $14.99. F

Neuman, Andrés. Traveler of the Century. Farrar. Mar. 2012. c.528p. tr. from Spanish by Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia. ISBN 9780374119393. $30. F

O’Connor, Varley. The Master’s Muse. Scribner. May 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9781451655384. $25. F

Pekkanen, Sarah. These Girls. Washington Square: S. & S. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781451612547. pap. $15. F

Poole, Sara. The Borgia Mistress. Griffin: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9780312609856. pap. $14.99. F

Pulkkinen, Riikka. True. Other. Mar. 2012. c.368p. tr. from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. ISBN 9781590515006. pap. $16.95. F

Radford, Ceri. A Surrey State of Affairs. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Apr. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780670023424. $25.95. F

Raymond, Jon. Rain Dragon. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. May 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9781608196791. pap. $16. F

Saramago, José. Manual of Painting and Calligraphy. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. May 2012. c.256p. tr. from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero. ISBN 9780547640228. pap. $13.95. F

Shulman, Alix Kates. Ménage. Other. May 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781590515204. pap. $14.95. F

Trigiani, Adriana. The Shoemaker’s Wife. Harper: HarperCollins. May 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9780061257094. $26.99. F

Short stories

Serber, Natalie. Shout Her Lovely Name. Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9780547634524. $24. F

Last-minute SF/FANTASY

Coates, Deborah. Wide Open. Tor. Mar. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780765328984. $24.99. FANTASY

Hunt, Stephen. Secrets of the Fire Sea. Tor. Mar. 2012. c.464p. ISBN 9780765327673. $27.99. FANTASY

John, Steven. Three A.M. Tor. Mar. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780765331168. $24.99. SF