Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, June 29, 2012

Week ending June 29, 2012

den Hartog, Kristen. The Girl Giant. S. & S. Jun. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9781451656176. pap. $15. F
Growing up in a small Canadian town, Ruth Brennan knows she is different. She is much, much taller than her classmates. The routine object of bullies, Ruth maintains her positive outlook by looking beyond the petty meanness of other children, reveling in her talent as an artist, and always hoping that the girl next door is really her friend and not just using her and secretly ridiculing her. Ruth’s parents, Elspeth and James, both with secret tragedies from World War II, try in all ways possible to give her a normal childhood. And it is Ruth’s gentle voice (in achingly beautiful prose) that shares with the reader what’s it’s like to be so physically different from everyone else and yet so similar inside.
Like Hilary Mantel’s The Giant O’Brien and Ellen Bryson’s The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, den Hartog’s (Water Wings; The Perpetual Ending) lovingly fashioned narrative turns people often labeled as freaks into human beings with whom the reader can identify. Bullying is so regularly in the news that this novel should appeal to YA and adult readers wishing to understand how people can fight back by simply learning to live with who they are.‚ Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Foster, Sara. Beneath the Shadows. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780312643362. $24.99. F
Grace decides to return to the remote Yorkshire village where her husband, Adam, disappeared the previous year, determined to find answers. She can’t believe Adam would walk out on her and their infant daughter, Millie. Perhaps there are clues hidden in their quaint cottage, amid the boxes of stuff left from Adam’s grandparents. Or maybe the neighbors know something they aren’t saying. As Grace investigates, her friends and family worry about her mental health and physical well-being, especially as she becomes entangled in a local family’s domestic issues. Life in a small village turns out to be more complicated than she had expected.
Advertised as a gothic thriller, this series debut fails to create a creepy atmosphere or much of a suspenseful mystery. It is much better at showing a woman on the edge, as she stumbles her way to the truth. Readers appreciating a touch of gothic mystery to their suspense fiction may enjoy Grace’s story.‚ Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Gross, Andrew. 15 Seconds. Morrow. Jul. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780061655975. $25.99. F
Plastic surgeon Henry Steadman’s well-ordered life suddenly turns into a nightmare when the state trooper who stopped him for a speeding violation is killed by a drive-by shooter. Now a suspect and the target of a manhunt, Steadman finds that the old friend he’s contacted for help has just been shot to death. Then the man who put the whole setup in motion threatens the life of Steadman’s college student daughter. Protesting his innocence and desperate to rescue his child, Steadman reaches the police hotline, where his call is taken by community outreach director Carrie Holmes, who’s recently suffered her own losses but takes on his cause at some risk.
Characterizations aren’t the strong suit for Gross (Eyes Wide Open), a former James Patterson coauthor. But he excels at plotting, and a strong plot motivated by vengeance drives this thriller. With its rising body count and nonstop action that builds to a harrowing climax, this is an adrenaline-fueled ride, with special appeal for fans of Gross and Patterson. [See Prepub Alert, 1/16/12.]‚ Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

Hartley, A.J. & David Hewson. Macbeth. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. 2012. c.325p. ISBN 9781612183015. pap. $14.95. F
Immortalized in Shakespeare’s great tragedy, the story of Macbeth and his wife is retold in a modern English translation by Shakespeare scholar and novelist Hartley (Act of Will) and thriller writer Hewson (The Fallen Angel). Treachery, loyalty, romance, violence, political hugger-muggery, ambition, guilt, madness, and terrifying witches, all the elements are in place, set against the brutal backdrop of 11th-century Scotland. What more could a novel require? Even the fringe characters get a backstory.
Gripping from the first page, this engaging read also includes an appendix of the authors’ notes, discussions about the play, the real history of Macbeth, and references to Scottish locations mentioned in the text. A great romp, well paced and well rendered. Huzzah!‚ Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Healy, Sarah. Can I Get an Amen? NAL: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780451236777. pap. $15. F
Ellen Carlisle’s perfect life falls apart when her husband, Gary, announces he wants a divorce. Then, she loses her job. With no husband, no money, and no prospects, Ellen moves back into her parents’ New Jersey house where the devout Christianity of her mother, Patty, conflicts with Ellen’s ambiguous feelings toward religion. When Ellen was a child, her parents presented themselves as a perfect Christian family, which meant hiding her sister Kat’s teenage pregnancy and ignoring her brother Luke’s homosexuality. The weight of old and new family secrets implodes as Ellen’s bottled-up anger explodes. Ellen also meets Mark, a kind, charismatic stranger whose own secrets may be more than she can bear as she struggles to find her new place and faith in the world.
Divorce, infidelity, infertility, abortion, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and more are piled into this debut novel that is more humorous satire than religious fiction but with few surprises. Fans of traditional Christian fiction may object to Healy’s treatment of evangelical Christianity because the clichéd characterizations hit too close to home, even though the ending is positive. Recommended for fans of Matt Mikalatos’s Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christian.‚ Melanie C. Duncan, Shurling Lib., Macon, GA

starred review starKlaussmann, Liza. Tigers in Red Weather. Little, Brown. Jul. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780316211338. $25.99. F
Nick and Helena are cousins who are close as sisters, having grown up summering together on Martha’s Vineyard. They are also opposites: one dark, one fair; one rich, one poor; one beguiling, one na√Øve. As the book opens at the end of World War II, the young women share an apartment in Cambridge, MA. Nick awaits the return of her husband, Hughes, while Helena, a war widow, is planning to marry again and move to California. The story takes place over 24 years, much of it at Tiger House, the stately family summer home Nick inherited. Divided into five sections, each narrated from the point of view of Nick, Helena, Hughes, Nick’s daughter Daisy, and Helena’s son Ed, the action pivots on a murder on the island, the details and aftereffects of which are not clear until each character has spoken.
A meditation on love, desire, and personal choices, this rich and compelling literary debut novel by a former New York Times journalist and the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville is sure to appeal to a variety of readers. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/12; this much-buzzed-about novel was also an editor’s pick at LJ‘s June 4 Day of Dialog program.‚ Ed.]‚ Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT

starred review starReid, Rob. Year Zero. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jul. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780345534415. $25. SF
Nick Carter believes his life’s most difficult challenges involve surviving as the lowest-rung lawyer at a copyright firm, winning the affections of the beautiful Manda, and sharing the name of a Backstreet Boy. That is until two aliens appear in his office one afternoon and claim that the world is about to be destroyed because of our music copyright laws. In a universe teeming with advanced life, it seems that the best music is produced on Earth. However, the strictest laws governing music piracy are also Earth’s, and the entire universe has been downloading and copying our music since the Welcome Back Kotter theme song first broadcast into space. Now Nick must find a diplomatic‚ and legal‚ solution before the aliens decide that destroying Earth is easier than paying the outrageous fines owed.
Fans of Douglas Adams will rave about this smart, funny satire. Debut novelist Reid, founder of Listen.com, has crafted a masterly plot that deftly skewers the American obsession with music, money, and power. Fast paced and original, this is highly recommended.‚ Jennifer Beach, Rice, VA

Thalasinos, Andrea. An Echo Through the Snow. Forge: Tor. Aug. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780765330369. $23.99. F
This debut novel begins with Tariem, a native Siberian, fleeing with his sled dogs from Soviet soldiers. In 1929, Stalin has begun a program of forced assimilation of the Chukchi people; reindeer herds and dog sled teams are slaughtered, and adults are sent to factory jobs and their children taken to state schools. The story then shifts to Wisconsin 63 years later. Rosalie McKenzie’s life is going nowhere: dead-end jobs and a loveless marriage. One night coming home from losing her latest employment, she takes a chance and rescues a maltreated husky that she names Smokey. With Smokey at her side, Rosalie is able to leave her abusive husband and find her vocation, working with sled dogs.
Alternating between the past and the present, Thalasinos’s work informs the reader on the techniques of dogsled racing and the ways of Siberian natives, but it is the human elements that drive her story. In addition to dog lovers, this book should appeal to readers who are interested in history’s darker corners and in tales of the human spirit dealing with love and loss.‚ Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

Toyne, Simon. The Key. Morrow. Jun. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780062038333. $25.99. F
A week has passed since a green-cassocked monk plummeting from a mountaintop in Toyne’s debut thriller Sanctus commenced a prophecy that throws the Vatican’s Number Two man into panic mode. This sequel finds the Citadel monastery in ruins and the survivors of the previous ordeal dropping from Vatican-ordered hits. Journalist Liv Adamsen realizes that her involvement in the tumult is far from over as she regains her memories of the prior week. How can she resume her mundane life when she senses she is somehow bound to the sacred? If Liv and co-protagonist Gabriel Mann can reach the wellspring of humanity before assassins find them, she and the Sacrament will be liberated, cataclysm prevented, and mankind saved.
Equal parts religious artifact thriller and tale of palace intrigue, this dramatic follow-up to Sanctus will reward fans of the first book. However, new readers will struggle to follow the convoluted plot.‚ Laura A.B. Cifelli, Ft. Myers‚ Lee Cty. P.L., FL

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"