Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, December 7, 2012

Week ending December 7, 2012

Cannell, Dorothy. Sea Glass Summer. Severn House. 2012. 280p. ISBN 9780727881830. $28.95; eISBN 9781780102931. F
Sarah Draycott has moved to the small Maine village of Sea Glass after a difficult divorce. She settles in easily, making friends and becoming involved in their lives, often in dramatic fashion. She meets Gwen, a widow with a middle-aged son suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, when Gwen’s son crashes his car into her front fence. Sarah later helps rescue nine-year-old orphan Oliver from a pair of bullies and is drawn into his new life with an aunt and uncle who seem to have an ulterior and perhaps sinister motive for taking Oliver into their home.
Verdict Cannell, author of the humorous Ellie Haskell mysteries (She Shoots To Conquer), opts for a change of pace with this charming and atmospheric tale. Combining elements of mystery, romance, and a ghost story, this thoroughly enjoyable and cozy tale will appeal to readers of Angela Thirkell and Robyn Carr.—Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., MA

Cornwell, Bernard. 1356. Harper: HarperCollins. Jan. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780061969676. $28.99; eISBN 9780062198976. F
Hooray! Thomas of Hookton, bastard son of a priest and hero of Cornwell’s Grail Quest series (The Archer’s Tale; Vagabond; Heretic) is back. Still fighting the French in the bloody Hundred Years War, Thomas and his vicious but principled band of mercenary archers search for the lost sword of Saint Peter, rumored to have the power to grant victory to any who wield it, before corrupt French church officials can get their hands on it.Offering the services of his men to anyone who might pay them, Thomas finds himself uneasily balanced among protecting his men, his abiding faith in God, and his desire to wreck vengeance upon those who would use their power to persecute his loved ones.
Verdict Thomas of Hookton is one of Cornwell’s most sympathetic and powerfully written characters. His sense of honor, innate dignity, and loyalty to those for whom he feels responsible are palpable and believable. This is a man anyone would want standing by his side in a tight spot. Finally, nobody, but nobody, writes medieval battle scenes better than Cornwell. He creates panoramas of visceral immediacy, both terrifying and glorious, while retaining a sense of humanity and mercy for those who know that grace and honor may exist in the midst of absolute carnage. [See Prepub Alert, 7/30/12.]—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

Grafton, Sue. Kinsey and Me: Stories. Marion Wood: Putnam. Jan. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780399163838. $27.95; eISBN 9781101614310. M/LIT
Kinsey Millhone, PI, captures vengeful murderers, exposes elaborate scams, and outsmarts the criminals in her usual witty, lovable way in nine stories written between 1986 and 1991 and first privately published in a limited edition of 300 copies. These tales are every bit as engaging to read as Grafton’s (U Is for Undertow) full-length novels. Grafton’s humor shines through in every story, particularly in “The Lying Game,” which was written for the 40th anniversary of the Land’s End catalog. The second section of this collection features the character of Kit Blue as the author herself, writing a fictionalized history of her own difficulties growing up as the child of alcoholic parents. Readers will also appreciate Grafton’s thoughts on writing short stories, contained in the foreword, as well as the introduction in which she explains how the character of Kinsey came to her mind as her “alter-ego.”
Verdict Along with regular followers of Grafton’s series, fans of mysteries and short stories will enjoy this collection.—Linda Oliver, MLIS, Colorado Springs

Hall, Donald. Christmas at Eagle Pond. Houghton Harcourt. 2012. 96p. ISBN 9780547581484. $14.95. F
In an afterword, notes former poet laureate Hall, “I have given myself the thing I most wanted, a boyhood Christmas at Eagle Pond Farm.” Hall summered with his grandparents during his childhood but never saw their New Hampshire farm decked for the holidays and covered with snow. So in this delightful tale, he imagines being sent to his grandparents for Christmas 1940 owing to his mother’s illness, his grandfather picking him up at the train station in a buggy. The text glows as young Donnie recounts the simple events that follow: helping with the winter chores, listening to his grandfather’s legendary recitations, seeing the excitement over a gift sent by his parents (bananas!), and going to the church his mother once attended. It’s charming (and lyrically written, as one would expect of a poet), but there’s a certain steeliness underneath Hall’s quiet telling as he reminds us that even as we long for the good old days, back then folks were also acknowledging wistfully that times had changed.
Verdict Lovely reading for the holidays.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Roby, Kimberla Lawson. The Perfect Marriage. Grand Central. Jan. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780446572507. $19.99; eISBN 9781455518395. F
Roby’s new novel (after The Reverend’s Wife) proves that appearances can deceive because still waters run deep. Derrek, a top administrator at a local hospital, and Denise, the head nurse of a local nursing home, appear to be the perfect couple. They have it all: high-paying jobs, a nice home in a posh Chicago suburb, and a beautiful daughter, MacKenzie. But they are both deeply wounded by a long history of family secrets, leading the couple to seek escape in cocaine, pills, and crack. When their addictions spiral out of control, Derrek and Denise face losing their only child.
Verdict Roby, a skilled storyteller, once again weaves together a compelling plot by placing ordinary, sympathetic characters in difficult situations. Roby’s many fans and readers who enjoy African American pop fiction will want this one. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/12.]—Lisa Jones, Birmingham P.L., AL

Sington, Philip. The Valley of Unknowing. Norton. Dec. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780393239331. $25.95. F
Owing to a single work, his inspiring social realist classic The Orphans of Neustadt, Bruno Krug has been named People’s Champion of Art and Culture in East Germany. Now he’s languishing—even as rising star Wolfgang Richter mocks him at Writers’ Union meetings. At a cultural event, Krug spots a young musician from the West named Theresa Aden and falls for her immediately, but she leaves with Richter. Meanwhile, Krug’s editor has given him a manuscript that’s not only very good but a continuation in spirit of Krug’s own work. Yes, it’s by Richter, and, yes, Richter dies mysteriously with the manuscript still in Krug’s possession, but what happens next is not Krug’s predictably passing off the work as his own. Nothing is as it seems as Krug becomes involved with Theresa, discovers the true nature of her relationship with Richter, and sets his eyes on the West—just as communism starts to teeter.
Verdict Sington, a journalist as well as novelist (The Einstein Girl), effectively details life under communism, but ultimately this is neither political study nor end–of–Cold War thriller (the pace is too stately) but a quiet meditation on betrayal and human misunderstanding.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

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"