Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, December 14, 2012

Week ending December 14, 2012

Best European Fiction 2013. Dalkey Archive. 2012. 502p. ed. by Aleksandar Hemon. ISBN 9781564787927. pap. $16. F
One might expect the fourth edition of this series, an instant classic, to have a celebratory sameness. But while the selections remain diverse and high quality, this new volume has a different feel from its predecessors—somewhat more meditative and spookier and noticeably concerned with the totalitarian mind-set, governmental or otherwise. Whether that reflects the current state of European writing or editor Hemon’s preoccupation while reading, the result is still engrossing. Altogether 32 countries are represented, from Iceland to Macedonia; one story is translated from Basque, while another, translated from German, is by a Turkish writer. It’s especially charming to see Tomás Mac Síomóin’s eerie, is-the-doctor-mad “Music in the Bone,” a work from Ireland that’s been translated from Irish. Other standouts include Finish Tiina Raevaara’s “My Creator, My Creation,” a dark Coppelia-like tale about what we can and cannot control; Belgian Paul Edmund’s “Grand Froid,” a sinister, absurdist story about a play’s performance that makes us rethink art vs. reality; Georgian Lasha Bugadze’s “The Sins of the Wolf,” about a reader who stubbornly insists that an author’s characters are real; and Ukrainian Tania Malyarchuk’s zany “Me and My Sacred Cow.” Dividing the stories thematically (e.g., space, memory) might have been heavy-handed but actually seems to work.
Verdict Highly recommended for discriminating readers.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Ellis, Warren. Gun Machine. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Jan. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780316187404. $25.99. F
John Tallow is having a rough day. His partner is killed by a naked lunatic with a shotgun, and the investigation of the crime scene uncovers an unused apartment bristling with guns from all time periods. There is a pattern to the disturbing collection, however, that reaches back to a dead language of magic, incantations, and totems. The case of the hidden Manhattan steel stash is given exclusively to Tallow, who reluctantly takes it on only to discover the room’s contents are linked to hundreds of crimes.
Verdict Ellis, author of Crooked Little Vein, and winner of many comic book writing awards, has written a compact and inventive thriller mapping out murder in New York. It hooks the reader from page one and remains entertaining until the end. Fans of edgy thrillers will be impressed. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/12.]—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Ewan, Chris. Safe House. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781250012562. $25.99. M
On the secluded Isle of Man, Rob Hale and a beautiful woman he just met, Lena, set out on his motorcycle for a ride. The next thing he knows, he wakes up in the hospital with a concussion and is being questioned by a couple of detectives. He’s understandably concerned about the lovely Lena, whose arms were so recently wrapped around his waist, but he is told that no such person exists. When a London PI approaches him, offering her help, Rob accepts but is soon shocked to learn that the sleuth has a connection to his sister, Laura, who supposedly killed herself a few weeks prior to his accident. As events snowball beyond his control, Rob finds himself up to his ears in conspiracy, and he’ll need all the help he can get to stay alive.
Verdict The author of the “Good Thief’s Guide” series (The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam) has created an affable, everyman character with Rob Hale and placed him firmly in the middle of a cat-and-mouse game that is much larger than the quaint locale in which he lives. With a narrative that switches deftly from bad guys to good guys and has plenty of suspense, this novel is anything but safe and will appeal to thriller and suspense fans alike. [See Prepub Alert, 7/2/12.]—Kristin Centorcelli, Denton, TX

Özkan, Serdar. The Missing Rose. Tarcher: Penguin. Jan. 2013. 242p. tr. from Turkish by Angela Roome. ISBN 9780399162305. pap. $14.95. F
A month before her 24th birthday, Brazilian heiress Diana Oliveira lost her mother to a quick and devastating illness. With her father long dead, her mother had been her existence, guiding the chic and stunning Diana through the shallow world of material wealth where image took priority. A letter left to Diana by her mother reveals that Diana’s father is alive and that she has a twin sister, Mary. Her mother’s last wish is for Diana to find Mary. Diana’s journey takes her to Turkey to visit a mystical rose garden in the effort to find her sister and her own true self.
Verdict This debut misses the spiritual spark. It’s hard for the reader to develop any empathy with the two-dimensional characters. And instead of journeying with the characters on their spiritual quest, the author presents the same lecture multiple times, loosely disguised as fables and parables, and all told by the same character. A disappointingly mediocre effort for the timeless theme of “know thyself.”—Joy Gunn, Henderson Libs., NV

Santoro, Lara. The Boy. Little, Brown. Jan. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780316206235. $24.99. F
Just who is that woman caught in her third DUI with a child in the car? Should a woman like that get any more chances? In this second novel (after Mercy) by a former journalist, she is Anna, a 42-year-old former foreign correspondent, divorced and living in New Mexico with nine-year-old daughter Eva and erratic housekeeper Esperanza. She’s worked hard to create a new life for her daughter, reshaping their wounded relationship. Meeting the 20-year-old son of a neighbor, Anna is both attracted to and repelled by his pursuit of her. Her resistance to his questionable charms is too low, and she finds herself tumbling into his bed, even as she recites all the reasons why she should not. There is no good way out, and the affair leads to that DUI and the potential loss of her daughter.
Verdict Santoro’s lyric language balances the gritty reality of confused lives and fleshes out the question: How many chances should any of us get to get relationships right? This book would appeal to readers who enjoy women’s fiction with an edge.—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC

Schrank, Ben. Love Is a Canoe. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Jan. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780374192495. $26. M
The summer Peter Herman was 13, his parents went through a nasty divorce. They sent him to stay with his grandparents while they worked out the details. Spending most of his vacation fishing with his grandfather, Peter absorbed a lot of old-school, homespun advice on love and marriage. In Peter’s young adulthood, these memories formed what became a best-selling, slightly cheesy self-help book titled Marriage Is a Canoe. Five decades later, Peter’s own love, his longtime wife, dies. He has never written another book, so Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor, has an idea—why not hold a contest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Marriage Is a Canoe? She will find a young couple who could use a dose of homespun marital advice, and the prize will be a day spent with Pete. The tale of how Peter, Stella, and the winning couple all come together is emotional and inventive. Each character’s story is interspersed with chapters from the original self-help book. Yes, it’s covered in Velveeta, but there are gems of wisdom buried in that cheese.
Verdict Razerbill publisher Schrank’s third novel (after Consent and Miracle Man) is a charming book about love, marriage, and the complications of being kind to the ones we love. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/12; Schrank will be attending the ALA Midwinter 2013 Breakfast and BookTalk, January 28, 2013; register at ow.ly/g2IwM.—Ed.]—Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC

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"


  1. I’m reviewing some of BEF series stories. I would also remark “The Face”, from Dragan Radulovic, from Montenegro, and Kirill Kobrin (Russia), “Last Summer in Marienbad”, about Kafka. Bests from Brazil (and we lack some kind of BEF on our continent)