Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, January 4, 2013

Week ending January 4, 2013

Aiyar, Pallavi. Chinese Whiskers. St. Martin’s. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9781250014481. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250014597. F
Two Chinese cats—one born on the streets, the other to an orderly middle-class life—find their lives intertwined when they are adopted by the same couple. Told from the felines’ point of view, the narrative alternates between the two cats. Through their eyes, we see the corruption and greed of small men and experience the fearful overreaction of humans to a virus carried by civet cats and the way it disrupts the animals’ lives. We watch the building of the great stadium for the Olympics and observe the way the migrant workers, poor though they may be, manage to maintain a modicum of self-respect. The reader may wonder how much of the story is based on Pallavi’s six years as a journalist in China (which he recounted in Smoke and Mirrors); the couple in the book are called Mr. and Mrs. A.
Verdict While the cats are more anthropomorphized than in many novels that treat them as main characters, they are still engaging without being cloying. And the author paints a vivid portrait of the daily routines in the hutong neighborhoods of old Beijing. Fans of animal stories, as well as readers with a curiosity about daily life in modern China, will enjoy this. [See Prepub Alert, 6/11/12.]—Pamela O’Sullivan, SUNY Coll. at Brockport Lib.

Davis, Aric. Rough Men. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Jan. 2013. 196p. ISBN 9781612186535. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611096361. F
When Will Daniels’s estranged and ne’er-do-well son is murdered by a fellow gang member during a bank robbery in Grand Rapids, MI, Will feels compelled to seek vengeance as well as answers. A bartender-turned-novelist, he and his older brother ran with a rough crowd in their youth. They turn to a hard man from that past for help and quickly find themselves enmeshed in violence and murderous danger from some very bad gangbangers. Feeling the police cannot help, Will and his brother take matters into their own not always competent hands.
Verdict Davis, a former body piercer in Grand Rapids, explores the barely restrained violence that lurks in many of us as he did in two earlier novels (Nickel Plated and From Ashes Rise). The rough style and R-rated language sometimes grate, but the action-packed plot hurdles along without pause. The protagonists are ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances who come to realize that achieving justice is neither easy nor clear. Readers who appreciate pulp fiction will find Davis an author to watch.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

starred review starMaltman, Thomas. Little Wolves. Soho, dist. by Random. Jan. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781616951900. $25. F
Seth Fallon is a troubled teen, reared by his father in a rural Minnesota community where secrets are impossible and forgiveness is slow in coming. The day that he sets out to gun down the sheriff, Seth stops first at the home of his high school English teacher, who sees him but doesn’t answer the door, before the young man proceeds on his mission, then dies, presumably by his own hand, in a nearby cornfield soon after. A father’s anguish at his son’s death and a teacher’s questions of faith and her own place in the events of the day form the crux of this dark and brooding novel, which probes the deaths of two men and the guilt of a community too ready to assign blame and punishment.
Verdict Maltman’s second novel (after the acclaimed The Night Birds) is a powerful mix of tragedy, myth, psychological thriller, and discovery told in a style so engaging that the reader might easily get caught up in the beauty of the words if the story itself were not so stunning. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/12.]—Thomas Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

Short, Sharon. My One Square Inch of Alaska. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780452298767. pap. $16. F
In the span of just two months, Donna Lane’s life is flipped over. It’s early September 1953, and she’s a high school senior in a small Ohio town struggling to hold her family together. Her father is still reeling from the loss of her mother years earlier, and her younger brother, Will, has odd fainting spells. But they carry on, Donna dreaming of being a fashion designer while Will is determined to get a deed to one inch of Alaska territory through a radio promotion. Starting with the rescue of a mistreated husky, the siblings are changed by encounters with a new art teacher and a healer named MayJune. Then a diagnosis of leukemia propels them to pursue Will’s piece of Alaska and to uncover their mother’s story.
Verdict A cast of colorful but believable characters bring freshness and vitality to this bittersweet coming-of-age story. Book clubs and readers of all ages, from teens to their grandmothers, will identify with the protagonists’ quest to be true to themselves.—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC

Smolens, John. Quarantine. Pegasus. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781605984186. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781453271414. F
Summer, 1796. A foreign ship is stopped in Newburyport Harbor, MA, by the harbormaster but not before a gruesome malady is let loose by a few escaping sailors. Giles Wiggins, a local who learned his medicine on the battlefield, tries to fight the spreading disease and the accompanying prejudice that arises among the townsfolk. He also has to deal with his squirrely half-brother and their conniving mother. Plus, there’s a long-lost love and a newfound love. People go crazy, one may have been murdered, and someone ought to hang.
Verdict Smolens’s (The Schoolmaster’s Daughter; The Anarchist) lastest novel offers an accurate portrait of a post-Colonial New England community, but his promising story line gets pulled under by the lack of a strong central figure. The weak hero gets overshadowed by some of the supporting actors. Readers who enjoy tales of early America and can overlook the mostly sketchily drawn characters should enjoy the mix of history, ravaging illness, and avarice.—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ

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"