Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, October 19, 2012

Week ending October 19, 2012

Antoni, Piero degli. Block 11. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. c.240p. tr. from Italian by Erin Waggener. ISBN 9781250001023. $24.99. F
This tense story by an Italian lawyer and journalist is set over the course of one evening in Auschwitz, 1944. Nazi Germany’s fortunes are turning sour, and a successful escape from the concentration camp leads the camp commander to engineer a ruthless game: ten prisoners are selected to be executed, only to be spared at the last moment on one condition—they must choose one among them to die. If they don’t make that decision, all will be killed. The action moves between the deliberations among the prisoners—including a communist, a homosexual, an estranged husband and wife, and an SS soldier—and a game of chess between the camp commander and his young son. The novel works best when focused on the prisoners—their deliberations and backstories; it loses direction and energy when it shifts to the father-son dialog. A framing device featuring two of the prisoners now living as an aged couple in New York is also not a good fit.
Verdict A quick read that is graphic in spots, this book could appeal to readers who enjoy historical suspense novels about World War II and the Holocaust, but the novel’s promising setup, unfortunately, doesn’t carry through to a satisfying overall experience.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

Sumners, Shelle. Grace Grows. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781250003508. pap. $14.99. F
Grace Barnum thinks she has her life worked out. She lives in New York, and though she doesn’t love her job as a children’s textbook editor, she doesn’t hate it either. Her steady boyfriend Steven is about to propose, and she’s finally reached a kind of equilibrium with her parents. But Grace’s safe, comfortable world is upended when she meets Tyler Wilkie. Relaxed and easygoing, Tyler is everything that Grace is not. He’s also determined to win Grace. Grace is equally charmed and terrified by their growing bond; deep emotion is the last thing she wants in a relationship. Still, we don’t always get what we want, and Grace finds that letting go can be a good thing.
Verdict Sumners’s endearing and charming debut will appeal to chick lit and romance readers alike. Recommended for fans of Katie Fforde, Harriet Evans, and Eileen Rendahl.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Todd, Charles. The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale. Morrow. Nov. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780062236999. $16.99. F
Visiting a friend in Paris during July 1914, Lady Elspeth Douglas witnesses the French army mobilize against German invasion. Although she books passage home, Elspeth is drawn to help wounded soldiers in need and is discovered at the front lines by fellow Scotsman Peter Gilchrist. Elspeth feels an immediate connection with Peter but cannot acknowledge her feelings as she has just made a semiformal promise to another. Training and working as a nurse give Elspeth a sense of purpose and a reoccurring connection to Peter, but both men are in her thoughts. Will the war and her honor make the choice for her?
Verdict Waiting for PBS’s Downton Abbey to resume or pining for the pleasure of a new Todd mystery? This World War I story, with a pleasant nod to the Christmas season, will give longtime fans a reason to rejoice and will surely attract new fans lucky enough to receive a gift copy. Bess Crawford appears occasionally, but this stand-alone tale is truly about Elspeth, the two soldiers who’ve captured her heart in such different ways, and the struggle to find hope in the midst of war. Bringing history to life through these characters and their actions, this book will have a strong appeal for many readers.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

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"