Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, March 2, 2012

Week ending March 2, 2012

starred review starAshe, Katharine. When a Scot Loves a Lady. Avon. (Falcon Club). Mar. 2012. 358p. ISBN 9780062031662. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Lady Katherine Savege had been doggedly gathering damaging information on Lambert Poole, the man who ruined her and tossed her aside. Her wish was to ruin him, socially and politically. But a gaze from the Earl of Blackwood at a masquerade ball three years ago redirect[ed] the course of her life, moving her away from her vengeful pursuit. How odd then to encounter Leam Blackwood and his companion Mr. Yale when she is stuck in a Shropshire inn with her young friend Emily Vale during a snowstorm. Could this be the same barbaric, bearded Scot who altered her destiny? Leam recognizes Kitty as well. But he is off to his home in Scotland after completing one last rendezvous for the Falcon Club, whose members seek out persons of interest for the Crown. Now isn’t the time for a beautiful woman with eyes like thunderclouds.
Verdict This latest from Ashe (In the Arms of a Marquess) presents a lushly intense romance between a man plagued by guilt and a woman subjugated by a blackguard’s condemnation. Throw in a mystery, a twisty, complex denouement, and radiant prose, and readers will be saddened to reach the final page. Jubilation; it’s the first in a series.‚ Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

starred review starBaggott, Julianna. Pure. Grand Central. 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9781455503063. $25.99. F
Baggott has written fiction, poetry, and children’s books, but nothing she has done can prepare readers for the power and sheer inventiveness that burns straight through this first volume in a dystopian trilogy. The Detonations have left an inhospitable landscape and a group of survivors fused with whatever they were near at the time‚ animals, friends, children, a fan, the very dust of the earth. At age 16, all survivors must turn themselves in to become either soldiers or live targets for those in charge of this dark and frightening world. Just 16 and fleeing her fate, doll-fisted Pressia encounters Partridge, one of the Pures who were (suspiciously) safe inside the Dome when the Detonations hit. Pressia and her rebellious, bird-backed friend Bradwell help Partridge as he looks for his mother, who he has just learned might still be alive. What they find is a whole lot more surprising.
Verdict Not just for fans of fantasy, dystopian fiction, or coming-of-age tales; highly recommended for anyone who wants an absorbing read. [See Prepub Alert, 9/11/11.]‚ Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

starred review starHarris, Jane. Gillespie and I. Perennial: HarperCollins. 2012. c.528p. ISBN 9780062103208. pap. $14.99. F
UK author Harris’s second novel after her Orange Prize‚ nominated The Observations places her alongside Michel Faber, D.J. Taylor, and Sarah Waters as a gifted 21st-century conjuror of new 19th-century novels incorporating our own era’s sensibilities while deeply honoring the milieu of the characters she creates. The first-person narrator here is an Englishwoman, Harriet Baxter, who, in her old age in 1933 London, writes her memoir of a friendship begun in 1887 with Scottish painter Ned Gillespie. Harriet writes of leaving London at about age 30, after the death of her aunt, for a sojourn in Glasgow when that city was hosting the International Exhibition of 1888, with its many bazaars, pavilions, and galleries. There she encounters Gillespie’s family and the painter himself. But why is Harriet taking the trouble to relate all of this to us? Therein lies the unsettling power of this novel, which you will be hard-pressed to put down.
Verdict This is historical fiction for readers not satisfied with simple fluff and predictable formulas. A rewarding, gripping, and disconcerting novel, most highly recommended.‚ Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

starred review starKerr, Philip. Prague Fatale: A Bernie Gunther Novel. Marian Wood: Putnam. Apr. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9780399159022. $26.95. F
After several previous Bernie Gunther novels set in the postwar era (including the Edgar Award‚ nominated Field Gray), Kerr has returned the anti-Nazi German police detective to the early days of World War II. Reinhard Heydrich, SS head and ruler of occupied Czechoslovakia, fears for his life and orders Gunther to Prague to help protect him at a weekend gathering of high-ranking Party members. For Gunther, it is a marriage made in hell as his contempt for the Reich percolates just below the surface.
Kerr has written close to a dozen novels featuring Gunther and has yet to write a bad one. His latest is a grim, gripping, and almost overwhelmingly dark and brooding tale of life in the decaying Reich as Nazi Germany lurches toward its ultimate destruction. Although part of a series, Prague Fatale stands alone quite well. Recommended for those who like both superb writing and the genre. [See Prepub Alert, 10/9/11.]‚ Robert Conroy, Warren, MI

Leon, Donna. Beastly Things: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery. Atlantic Monthly. Apr. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780802120236. $25. M
Leon’s 21st Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery (after Drawing Conclusions) begins with the discovery of a corpse in one of Venice’s canals. The victim had been stabbed and suffered from a disfiguring disease, and Brunetti feels that he has seen this man before. As the investigation progresses, Brunetti is forced to follow leads in the unfamiliar territory of the Italian mainland, for that is where the dead man, eventually identified as a veterinarian, lived and worked. Brunetti must navigate among powerful families and corporate interests to unravel the dark motives behind this murder.
Verdict Followers of the series and lovers of Venice will appreciate Leon’s fascinating details of life in this unique city; she also includes some pointed asides about the current European financial crisis and its origins. This is a strong series entry, but newcomers should probably start earlier in the series to familiarize themselves with recurring characters.‚ Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

starred review starMills, Mark. House of the Hunted. Random. Apr. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781400068197. $26. F
It’s 1936, and Tom Nash, a former British intelligence operative, lives quietly on the French Riviera, trying to forget his haunted past and the love of his life, whom he lost in a failed rescue attempt from a Russian prison. But when an Italian hit man tries to murder Tom in his sleep, he is forced to return to life as a spy to survive. The local police are now curious about the disappearance of a young Italian tourist and seem very interested in Tom, so he must carefully draw out the person who ordered the hit. Tom is once again the professional, searching for clues and suspects among his expat community. As the hunt reaches its shocking conclusion, Tom confronts his past and nearly loses the one devoted constant in his life.
Verdict A worthy successor to the likes of John Creasey, the award-winning Mills (Amagansett; Savage Garden; The Information Officer) has once again written a highly satisfying mystery/thriller set against a backdrop of pre-war Europe. Lots of intrigue and great scenery. The characters are very real and the romance warmly satisfying. Highly recommended.‚ Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA

Rich, Roberta. The Midwife of Venice. Gallery: S. & S. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781451657470. pap. $15. F
In 16th-century Venice, it is illegal for Jewish midwives to treat Christians, but when a count begs Hannah Levi to attend his dying wife (they say you have a way of coaxing stubborn babies out of their mothers’ bellies), she is torn. If the baby dies, Hannah and her community will be blamed. If the delivery is successful, Hannah will earn the 200 ducats she needs to ransom her husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea by the Knights of Malta and sold into slavery. Hannah’s decision entangles her in a family dispute that endangers the count’s newborn son and threatens to expose her secret‚ the birthing spoons that are the key to her success as a midwife. Meanwhile on Malta, Isaac tries to buy his way to freedom by penning love letters for his illiterate owner.
Verdict A best seller in Canada, this debut novel is an entertainingly suspenseful and sometimes moving melodrama of steadfast love against all odds. In a series of cliff-hanging chapters, Hannah transforms from a timid little ghetto mouse into a resourceful young woman as she seeks to save her husband and an innocent child. While some aspects of Hannah’s and Isaac’s predicaments are too neatly resolved and the other characters are broadly drawn, Rich’s fascinating historical details and her warm empathy for her protagonists will capture historical fiction fans and readers who enjoyed Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.‚ Wilda Williams, Library Journal

Shields, Kieran. The Truth of All Things. Crown. Mar. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9780307720276. $25. M
Set in 1892 Portland, ME, this debut novel introduces newly appointed Deputy Marshall Archie Lean, who is charged with investigating a prostitute’s bizarre murder. Baffled by the crime scene, he calls in the assistance of ex-Pinkerton investigator Perceval Grey and historian Helen Prescott. The trio soon realize that they are dealing with a killer who is obsessed with the Salem witch trials of 1692. Combining their various talents, they begin to piece together the puzzle in an effort to prevent another woman from becoming the next victim. Their fast-paced quest leads us from temperance societies to lunatic asylums to the darkest corners of Portland, culminating in a surprising conclusion.
Verdict Shields, who grew up in Portland, draws on his background and historical research to create a vivid portrait of turn-of-the-century Maine. His detailed information about the witch trials also adds to the gothic atmosphere. The novel’s ending suggests that we will meet these characters in further adventures. A good choice for fans of such historical mystery authors as Victoria Thompson and Caleb Carr.‚ Jean King, West Hempstead P.L., NY

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"