Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, April 26, 2013

Week ending April 26, 2013

Coonts, Stephen. Pirate Alley. St. Martin’s. May 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780312372842. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250023315. F
Modern piracy has become a major scourge, particularly in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. When an ocean liner with a thousand people on board, many of them Americans, is seized by Somali pirates in a bloody assault, the United States must decide how to save the captives without appearing to cave in to the pirates’ demands. Of course there are political and diplomatic considerations restraining military efforts to rescue the crew and passengers. While Washington dithers, the pirates have no intention of honoring their part of any bargain. Instead, they plan to murder the captives after collecting a huge ransom. The job of organizing a rescue falls to Jake Grafton and his partner in arms Tommy Carmellini.
Verdict Coonts’s latest Grafton and Carmellini adventure (after The Disciple and The Traitor) is tense, timely, exciting, and totally enjoyable. Even though part of a series, the novel stands alone more than nicely. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/12.]—Robert Conroy, Warren, MI

Glynn, Alan. Graveland. Picador. May 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780312621292. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781429943338. F
Ellen Dorsey is an investigative journalist yearning for more excitement than that provided by her job at Parallax, a respected but struggling publication. She misses the days of chasing a story and gathering information while racing against the clock. When the news breaks that a hedge fund wunderkind has been shot point blank while jogging in Central Park, Ellen’s reportorial antennae start quivering. She feels there’s a story there, and her gut tells her it may not be a random killing. Meanwhile, Frank Bishop, an unemployed architect who’s been making ends meet in retail, hasn’t been able to reach his college coed daughter Lizzie for days, and he’s growing increasingly alarmed. Soon, other high-level bankers fall victim to shootings, and it becomes obvious there’s a connection. For Ellen, proving that connection may be harder than she thinks, and Frank’s missing daughter may be involved.
Verdict The underbelly of the New York financial scene is uncovered in all of its decidedly unglamorous “glory” in this timely thriller that’s a bit slow to start but eventually picks up momentum as Ellen gets closer to the why of the killings. The Edgar Award–nominated Glynn’s (Bloodland; Limitless) no-frills prose deftly captures the not-so-pretty side of New York’s financial elite while serving up a compelling mystery.—Kristin Centorcelli, Denton, TX

Grossman, Austin. You. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Apr. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780316198530. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316198554. F
If you had the chance to design the ultimate video game with no restrictions, what would you do? Russell and his friends have pondered this question for years, delighting in imagining the endless possibilities. Finally, it seems that Russell has a chance to do just that when he joins Black Arts Games. He has come to the gaming industry after abandoning law school (and the conventional path to a “safe” career) in favor of following his dream. Maybe even more important, he has a burning desire to find out what happened to his friend Simon, who also worked for Black Arts and who died mysteriously soon after a hugely successful game was launched.
Verdict Grossman (Soon I Will be Invincible) has written a highly genre-specific novel about the making of video games (the author is a game designer), and everything that could be said about video games from their inception until now (and into the future). Fans of Grossman’s best-selling debut and die-hard gaming fans will want this.—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ., Lib., Florence, SC

Jio, Sarah. The Last Camelia. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780452298392. pap. $15. F
In an effort to stave off poverty and men intent on doing her family harm, amateur botanist Flora Lewis in 1940 boards a ship leaving New York on its way to London. Her destination is the English countryside, where she is to take on the role of nanny to the family at Livingston Manor in order to conceal her real purpose: locating and stealing a rare, priceless camellia known as the Middlebury Pink. However, her growing fondness for the children in her charge and her blossoming romance with one of the manor’s inhabitants are only two of the distractions that Flora must contend with if she is to resist being sidetracked from her goal. In the present day, garden designer Addison Sinclair has been running from trouble for much of her life, and while she leaves New York under different circumstances, her destination is the same as Flora’s. She and her husband, Rex, sense—as did Flora—that there is a mystery at Livingston Manor waiting to be uncovered, but her secrets may catch up with her before she can solve the puzzle.
Verdict In her fourth novel (after Blackberry Winter), Jio tells the story of two women living in different times who are equally captivated by the mystery surrounding a manor in the English moors. Abrupt breaks and rough transitions aside, Jio’s decision to employ dual first-person narratives to reveal the dual plot is a sound one, though this reviewer would have been more interested to see contrasting narrative viewpoints between the two story lines. Particularly for Flora’s character, a third-person narrative might have been more effective in creating a sense of the climate during a time fraught with much worry.—Natasha Grant, New York

Messud, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 253p. ISBN 9780307596901. $25.95. F
The setup in this elegant winner of a novel seems so obvious; aren’t warning bells sounding for Nora Eldridge? A middle-aged Boston-area elementary school teacher and artist manqué who cuttingly describes herself as “the woman upstairs”—someone who can be depended on to be dependable—Nora is enthralled when sweet, smart, charming Reza Shadid enters her class. His Lebanese-born father has left a post in Paris to teach in America for a year, while his Italian-born mother, the appropriately named Sirena, is an artist of some renown. Together, this worldly, glamorous family seduces Nora, with Sirena especially culpable. She talks Nora into sharing a studio with her, and soon Nora is opening to all the possibilities life has to offer—possibilities she thought were dead and gone forever.
Verdict This quietly, tensely unfolding story is related in retrospect, so we know from the start that it has ended badly for Nora. The only question is how. Remarkably, Messud (The Emperor’s Children) lets us experience Nora’s betrayal as if it were our own, and what finally happens really is a punch in the stomach. Highly recommended.—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"