Fiction Previews, Feb. 2013, Pt. 3: Top Commercial Fiction: Berwin, Picoult, and Philip’s Firebrand: As Good as the Hunger Games?

Berwin, Margot. Scent of Darkness. Pantheon. Feb. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780307907523. $25; eISBN 9780307907530. Downloadable: Random Audio. POP FICTION
Berwin’s best-selling debut, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, was edgy, sort-of magic realism that sometimes went over the edge but was really loved by the people who loved it—it was translated into 19 languages and optioned for film by Julia Roberts. Her new novel looks to have the same darkly alluring qualities. It’s not altogether lucky for 18-year-old Evangeline when her grandmother creates a perfume for her that makes her irresistible to everyone, men and women alike, strangers and even cats in the street. When she meets Michael, who seems oblivious, she hopes that he’s the one person who can love her for herself alone and not her golden scent.

Brackston, Paula. The Winter Witch. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781250001313. $24.99.  HISTORICAL/PARANORMAL
Shortlisted for the Crème de la Crime Search for new writers, Brackston went on to debut with The Witch’s Daughter, which got mixed reviews but sold an impressive 40,000 copies. She’s back in the coven again with this second work, set in a small Welsh town and starring the silent Morgana, a young witch who has yet to master her magic. Her mother seeks to protect her from innuendo by marrying her off to a widower in a distant town, but though Morgana comes to love her husband and new home, someone there is out to get her. Now she really needs that magic. Lots of promotion; check out for the right crowd.

Brennan, Marie. A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent. Tor. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780765331960. $25.99. FANTASY
Lovely Isabella, Lady Trent, happens to be the world’s leading dragon naturalist. Here she explains how she risked all, wandering from Scirland to remote Eriga, to satisfy her curiosity about the fire-breathing beasties. The publisher is plumping for this first in a new series from the author of the “Onyx Court” series, so pay attention for your fantasy fans.

Britz-Cunningham, Scott. Code White. Forge: Tor. Feb. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780765331922. $24.99. THRILLER
With live television cameras recording the event, cutting-edge neurosurgeon Ali O’Day is about to implant a mini-computer into the brain of a blind boy, allowing him to see. But someone clearly wants her to fail: a bomb threat has just been relayed to the hospital. Lots of excitement about this debut thriller, and Britz-Cunningham, a staff radiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, should know his medical stuff.

Chiaverini, Jennifer. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. Dutton. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780525953616. $26.95. HISTORICAL
In antebellum Washington, DC, freedwoman Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley made gowns for Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. Then she became the personal modiste (and confidante) of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Later in life, Keckley published a memoir that upended her relationship with Mrs. Lincoln, and her story is not well known today. Chiaverini departs from her popular Elm Creek Quilt series to tell Keckley’ story herself. (One tie-in, though; Keckley saved scraps from the gowns she made at the White House to create the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt.) With an eight-city tour and a reading group guide.

Collins, Jackie. The Power Trip. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9780312567477. $27.99.  CD: Macmillan. POP FICTION
Billionaire Russian oligarch Aleksandr Kasianenko sets sail on the Bianca, named for his supermodel squeeze, with five powerhouse couples in tow: an ambitious U.S. senator and his disappointed wife, a hot movie star and his ex-waitress girlfriend, a newsworthy black UK footballer and his interior designer wife, a Latin singing star and his naughty older English boyfriend, and a rogue journalist and his roguish Asian female friend. Alas, Russian mobster Sergei Zukov has it in for Kasianenko. Surely you can imagine where this is going. There’s a one-day laydown on February 5 (Collins’s fans endure) and lots of promotion, including giveaways on cruises.

Gray, Shelley Shepard. Daybreak (The Days of Redemption Series, Bk. 1). Avon Inspire. Feb. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780062204400. pap. $12.99; eISBN 9780062204417. INSPIRATIONAL FICTION
Hugely best-selling author Gray launches a new series starring the devoted Keim family, headed by Aaron and Lovinia Keim. Son Peter manages the farm with his own full-grown son, Roman; one of Peter’s daughters works at a Mennonite retirement home and is being assiduously courted by a patient’s son, Ed, of whom she disapproves. Alas, a nasty secret comes out—Viola finds a photograph of her grandmother dressed as an Englisher—and soon she must decide whether to marry Ed or tend to her family, shattered by this scandal. A hefty 100,000-copy first printing to please Gray’s gentle readers.

Knight, Francis. Fade to Black. Orbit: Hachette. Feb. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780316217682. pap. $14.99. Downloadable: Hachette. FANTASY
Poor Rojan: his bounty has tried to kill him three times, his girlfriends have found out about one another and delivered swift retribution, and his niece has been kidnapped. The good news: he’s traced her to the Pit and has magic at his disposal. The bad news: he’s not the only one using magic, and in Rojan’s world, producing magic means causing oneself pain. What’s more, the stakes end up higher than a single life. Big in-house excitement for this fantasy debut from English author Knight, and the sequel follows in September.

Locke, Kate. The Queen Is Dead (The Immortal Empire). Orbit: Hachette. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780316196130. $16.99.  Downloadable: Hachette. FANTASY
Locke, who as Kady Cross writes the popular YA “Steampunk Chronicles,” crossed over into adult territory this summer with God Save the Queen, set in a contemporary England still ruled by Queen Victoria—who happens to be a vampire. In this second book in the series, our heroine, Xandra, recently crowned Goblin Queen, hunts for her missing brother while fending off suspicions of murder, an overeager werewolf boyfriend, and the unpleasant scrutiny of the queen herself. Locke, whom I was fortunate to introduce at an ALTAFF panel at ALA, is as sparkly and tough as her writing; this series is grand fun for urban fantasy fans.     

Martin, George R.R. Tuf Voyaging. Bantam. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780345537997. $28; eISBN 9780345538642. FANTASY
Published in 1986, this book is being brought back into print for reasons I need not belabor but will anyway; Martin’s stock has soared, particularly with the booming success of A Game of Thrones—Locus Award–winning novel and inspiration for the HBO series you cannot have missed, even if you don’t own a television. Then there are the card games, the board games, the social networking games….Sweetly enough, Tuf stars Haviland Tuf, an honest space-trader who wants to save the world and likes cats. Most fans will want.

Meyers, Randy Susan. The Comfort of Lies. Atria: S. & S. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781451673012. $25. POP FICTION
Tia fell in love with married Nathan, who vanishes when she becomes pregnant. The baby is adopted by Caroline, who’s been egged on by her husband and doesn’t think she’s got what it takes to be a mother. Five years later, Nathan’s wife, Juliette, receives a picture of the daughter she never knew her husband had, though she did know about the affair. “Oh! what a tangled web we weave/ When first we practice to deceive!” Walter Scott said it first, but Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters) gives us the pop fiction spin.

Philip, Gillian. Firebrand. Tor. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780765333223. $24.99. FANTASY
“Once a year, a new novelist really blows me away. Last year it was Suzanne Collins with The Hunger Games….This year it’s Gillian Philip’s Firebrand.” So said Amanda Craig in the London Sunday Times, and now your attention is riveted, right? Scotland-based Philip is published as YA in the UK, but her publisher here decided that Firebrand was better suited to the adult market (though interested YAs should surely check it out). In this “Rebel Angels” series opener, set in the 16th century, the Sithe dwell behind the Veil, safe from worldly horrors like the raging religious wars. Alas, their queen intends to destroy this sanctuary, so half-feral brothers Seth and Conal, sons of a Sithe nobleman who have been exiled to the mortal world, intend to return home and save the Veil. Don’t miss.

Picoult, Jodi. The Storyteller. Emily Bestler Bks: Atria. Feb. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9781439102763. $28; eISBN 9781439102763. POP FICTION
Everyone loves retired teacher and Little League coach Josef Weber, including Sage Singer, who befriends him after they start talking at the bakery where she works. So obviously she’s horrified when he asks her to kill him. Then he tells her why he deserves to die, and she’s inclined to agree. Not a bloody-minded tale, coming from Picoult, but one of responsibility and forgiveness. Buy multiples.

Richler, Nancy. The Imposter Bride. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013.  384p. ISBN 9781250010063. $24.99. HISTORICAL
When Lily Azerov arrives in Montreal after World War II to marry Sol Kramer, he sees her at the train station and turns her down flat. Sol’s brother, Nathan, charitably marries her instead, then comes to love her deeply. But Lily isn’t who she claims to be, and eventually she disappears, leaving her husband and infant daughter only a diary and an uncut diamond. Author of Your Mouth Is Lovely, winner of the 2003 Canadian Jewish Book Award, Richler should attract attention from those who like historical and Jewish fiction.  

Weber, Carl. The Man in 3B. Grand Central. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781455505265. $24.99. CD: Hachette Audio. lrg. prnt. POP FICTION
New York Times and No. 1 Essence best-selling novelist, as well as 2005’s Blackboard Publisher of the Year (he founded Urban Books), Weber joins a new publisher with a juicy tale about the mysterious man in 3B. After the deeply reticent Daryl Graham moves into a Jamaica, Queens, apartment building, the neighbors want to know all about him—which is bad for them when he turns up dead.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.