Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, April 13, 2012

Week ending April 13, 2012

Johnson, Ags. The Sausage Maker’s Daughters. BiblioFile. 2012. c.408p. ISBN 9780984734108. $26.95. F
This debut novel starts out with a jolt‚ Kip, the youngest of four daughters, has been arrested for the murder of Stan, her brother-in-law, found dead in her bed. But the twist is that Kip not only does not remember that night but also that Stan was her lover. Set in the 1970s, with flashbacks to Kip’s unconventional childhood in the 1950s, this attempt at a generational saga falls short. While the reader gets to understand Kip, an intelligent, rabble-rouser and family scapegoat, Johnson never really fleshes out the other sisters, nor does she give a believable background to Kip’s family. Kip’s mother, stereotypically beautiful and saintly, died three years after giving birth to Kip. This leads to Sarah, the oldest daughter, fleeing to a convent, Sybel, the middle child, becoming a tyrannical controller, and Samantha succumbing to nervous tics while trying to be the peacemaker. Dad, rich owner of the Czermanski sausage factory, is portrayed as a clueless dunce. Unfortunately, Kip’s flashbacks really don’t reveal the causes for the family’s dysfunction. Mental illness is hinted at, as is marital infidelity.
There really isn’t one character here the reader can root for: even Kip, smart and wonderful in one scene, is depicted as rather dim and selfish in others. In many dysfunctional family stories, no matter how messed up the family is, there is usually love that binds them and makes them appealing to readers. The Czermanski family lacks this key trait, so that by the end of the trial, readers don’t care who the killer is. [The author serves on the Board of Directors of the Council of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.‚ Ed.] — Marianne Fitzgerald — Severna Park H.S., MD

Jones, Sherry. Four Sisters, All Queens. Gallery: S. & S. May 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9781451633245. pap. $15.99. F
Beatrice of Savoy, Countess of Provence (1205-65) was determined to raise her daughters to advance the House of Savoy, and how better to do so than to arrange marriages with that goal in mind? In this entertaining novel, Jones (The Jewel of Medina) tells the story of four sisters who became queens‚ Marguerite (France), Eleanor (England), Sanchia (Germany), and Beatrice (Sicily). All were married young, none had any say in their marriages, and their lives, told here in alternating chapters, were eventful. The author does a good job not only of conveying the very different personalities and circumstances of the sisters but also of showing how little power these queens often had over the things that mattered most to them. Family trees help to keep track of the large number of characters.
Fans of historical fiction about European royalty (e.g., Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl) should enjoy this well-written novel set during fascinating times. The relationship among the sisters is believable and often heartbreaking. — Elizabeth Mellett — Brookline P.L., MA

King, Stephen. The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel. Scribner. Apr. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781451658903. $27. FANTASY
King’s new Dark Tower novel, which takes place between volumes four and five of the series that ended in 2004, is a story within a story within a story. Roland, Susannah, Eddie, and Jake, accompanied by Oy the billy-bumbler, are overtaken in their journey to Calla Bryn Sturgis by the Starkblast, a storm of catastrophic proportion. As they wait out the storm in a deserted village, Roland entertains the others with the tale of one his first quests as a young gunslinger, to capture or kill a shape-shifting skin-man terrorizing the inhabitants of the remote town of Debaria. The story leads seamlessly into the retelling of a tale told to Roland by his mother, a fairy tale so dark as to put the Brothers Grimm to shame. Both stories are filled with enough action, suspense, and even poignancy to fill a much larger work of fiction.
In his foreword, which gives a brief series background that will allow even the uninitiated thoroughly to enjoy this book, King says that he was delighted to discover my old friends had a little more to say, and for that we all say thankya. Fans will be lining up for this one. [See Prepub Alert, 10/23/11.] — John Harvey — Irving P.L. TX

Läckberg, Camilla. The Stonecutter. Pegasus Crime. May 2012. c.496p. tr. from Swedish by Steven T. Murray. ISBN 9781605983301. $25.95. M
In this third series outing (after The Preacher), Det. Patrick Hedstrom and his girlfriend Ericka Falck, who live in Fjllbacka, Sweden, are now the new parents of a baby girl. Erica is upset when the young daughter of her friend Charlotte dies in an accidental drowning. However, it soon turns out that the child’s death was murder. Patrick is put in charge of the investigation, which eventually leads to some very unsettling truths about Charlotte’s family. In an alternate story line, which begins in 1923, a young woman from a well-to-do family is forced into marriage with the local stonecutter. As the story progresses, she strikes out at those closest to her in terrifying ways.
Readers of Läckberg’s two previous books will not be disappointed. The author keeps the interest high in both plots and ties the two together in a disturbing conclusion. A must-read for fans of Scandinavian mysteries by such authors as Håkan Nesser, Åke Edwardson, Kjell Eriksson, and Arnaldur Indridason. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12.] — Jean King — West Hempstead P.L., NY

Maxwell, Cathy. Lyon‘s Bride. Avon. (Chattan Curse, Bk. 1). May 2012. 372p. ISBN9780062070227. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
A widow long disowned by her ducal family, matchmaker Thea Martin doesn’t expect to find at Sir James Smiley’s office her childhood friend Neal Chattan, Lord Lyon, as a prospective client. Thea is stunned at Lyon’s request: his family has been cursed, so he must marry a woman he couldn’t possibly like. Upon returning home, Thea finds her two young sons alone and their meager savings stolen. Ignoring Lyon’s business is not an option. Thea’s friend Mirabel offers to host a house party of the most self-absorbed chits in London. But if Lyon considers any of them without benefit of love, can he truly be the young man Thea remembers from her youth? Lyon wants his own children and believes he can manage with a distant, unappealing wife. Ah, the best laid plans.
Verdict Despite a nearly four-hundred-year-old curse and disillusionment in her own marriage, Thea still knows that love should be at the core of such a union, and her old feelings for Neal make it difficult to imagine him marrying for less. With an ending that throws traditional romances off-kilter, Maxwell’s (The Seduction of Scandal) latest hinges on Neal’s siblings finding a resolution to the curse through the next two books. Very well done if unorthodox. — Bette-Lee Fox — Library Journal

Roberts, Nora. The Last Boyfriend. Berkley: Penguin Group (USA). (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, Bk. 2). May 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780425246030. pap. $16. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Friends from when five-year-old Avery MacTavish claimed Owen Montgomery as her first boyfriend (complete with first kiss and pink plastic engagement ring), the two now enjoy a casual, siblinglike relationship‚ until Inn BoonsBoro’s resident ghost, Lizzy, takes matters into her own hands and literally throws them together. But energetic, risk-taking restaurateur Avery and superorganized construction company manager Owen aren’t sure they want their lives turned upside down. Though the entire Montgomery clan knows the couple are oh-so-right for each other, it takes the independent, marriage-wary pair a while to figure out that sometimes a first relationship can also be the last.
Verdict Lively, funny, and rife with wonderfully complex family dynamics and characters you can’t help but love, this heartwarming story brings another couple together and the inn’s renovation closer to completion while revealing a bit more about the inn’s romantic, unquiet ghost. Note: Although each book in the trilogy stands on its own, because of the ongoing ghostly mystery, fans will want to read them in order, beginning with The Next Always; The Perfect Hope is due in November. Roberts (The Witness) lives in Keedysville, MD, a stone’s throw from the Civil War town of Boonsboro and the historic Inn BoonsBoro. — Kristin Ramsdell — Libn. Emerita — California State Univ., East Bay

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"