Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, June 14, 2013

Week ending June 14, 2013

Gray, Juliana. How To Tame Your Duke. Berkley Sensation: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2013. ISBN 9780425265666. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101613009. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Three princesses from the German principality of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof are forced to flee to England following the murders of their father, the prince, and the husband of Luisa, the eldest sister and heir. They arrive at the London residence of their uncle the Duke of Olympia and a plan is hatched to keep the young women safe while discovering who is behind the assassinations. Disguised as a young man, Emilie is sent to the Yorkshire estate of the reclusive Duke of Ashland to serve as tutor to his 16-year-old son, Freddie. The duke was severely maimed and disfigured during the campaign in Afghanistan in the 1870s, and his wife left him. Now, once a month, the duke is entertained by a female in a room at the Ashland Spa Hotel. Emilie manages well as tutor Tobias Grimsby, yet at the hotel dressed as herself, Emilie is mistaken for the woman trysting with the duke and finds herself in a room, stripped to her chemise, with Ashland in a chair while she reads to him.
Verdict Emilie, “who, beneath her quiet and dutiful exterior, craved adventure,” finds more than adventure with a man who suffered greatly for his country and now thinks he knows a semblance of peace with a seductive young woman. Featuring astute writing and charm, this work from Gray (A Duke Never Yields) sets off a new series with some serious heat.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Lehr, Leslie. What a Mother Knows. Sourcebooks Landmark. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781402279560. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402279577. F
Coming home from the hospital after a lengthy recovery from a near-fatal car crash, Michelle realizes that the biggest challenge of her life awaits her. Her physical recovery is nearly complete, although she has lost the feeling in her right arm and her memory is somewhat lacking. Despite her husband’s efforts to keep her in the dark, she soon learns that her daughter is missing. Michelle is being sued by those who hold her responsible for the crash and the resulting death of a budding rock star, but she will not rest until she has found her daughter—no matter what the cost is to her own well-being.
Verdict Lehr’s well-written second novel (after Wife Goes On) is infused with the palpable urgency of a mother who has been separated from her child. This suspenseful mother/daughter tale will attract readers who enjoy the domestic dramas of Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Gillian Flynn.—Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

starred review starMcKenzie, Sophie. Close My Eyes. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781250033895. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250033918. F
Gen Loxley and her husband, Art, desperately want a child. It has been eight years since their daughter, Beth, was delivered stillborn, and although Gen still wants to be a mother, the endless rounds of IVF have taken their toll, not only on her body but also on her marriage. Adding to her stress is Art’s overbearing sister, Morgan, and the pressure to conform to the lifestyle of a driven and successful husband. When a woman comes to her door claiming that Beth is still alive, Gen doesn’t know what to think, but something inside of her says the woman is telling the truth. Soon, Gen is following a trail of deception that just might lead back to her own front door.
Verdict British YA and children’s author McKenzie (Girl, Missing; Sister, Missing) makes her U.S. debut with her first psychological thriller for adults. The story is told from Gen’s point of view, and as the tension mounts with palpable dread, at first, it’s not quite clear if Gen’s suspicions are real or the delusions of a woman still grieving for a lost child. The suspense throughout this creepy novel is exquisite, and the twists are true shockers. This one packs an emotional punch. [See Prepub Alert, 1/14/13; 150,000-copy first printing.]—Kristin Centorcelli, Denton, TX

Mujica, Barbara. I Am Venus. Overlook, dist. by Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781468306576. $26.95; ebk. ISBN ISBN 9781468307641. F
Spain, early 17th century. The Inquisition is at its peak, and the arrival of the Renaissance has flared tensions between the country’s Catholic and artistic communities. Here the story takes root, with favored court painter Diego Velázquez pursuing his greatest work yet: a female nude, a Venus—the ultimate artistic triumph, albeit an illegal one, for a man who seeks to perfect his talent and make his mark. But as a member of the politically turbulent court of King Philip IV, the artist finds that avoiding detection will be difficult—with animosity high and the rumor mill in overdrive, choosing a woman to play his Venus may be the very cause of his downfall.
Verdict Mujica’s third historical novel (after Sister Teresa and Frida) is a well-plotted read with engaging characters and rich detail. Fans of Tracy Chevalier and Elizabeth Kostova as well as art history buffs will enjoy Mujica’s interpretation.—Leigh Wright, Bridgewater, NJ

Prouty, Royce. Stoker’s Manuscript. Putnam. Jun. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780399158551. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101621165. F
Prouty’s debut novel takes readers on a frightening journey through modern-day Romania, where myths become reality when rare-book expert Joseph Barkeley uncovers the secrets of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Joseph is called upon to acquire Stoker’s original manuscript and bring it to Transylvania, where he is then kept captive by the buyer, Dalca Drakula, who wants him to decipher clues in the novel. As Joseph discovers, the family not only existed in reality but still remains a prevalent shadow in Transylvania.
Drawing on actual events that surrounded the 1897 publication of Stoker’s masterpiece, Prouty’s tale captivates with chilling and just enough blood-soaked scenes to intrigue but not overwhelm the reader. It is packed with historical references and asides, which add richness and depth even for readers who are not history buffs. The relationships among characters are believable, but the protagonists, especially Joseph, are flatly drawn and lack chemistry, making it hard for readers to get attached. While this title is not recommended for those with weak stomachs, fans of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian will enjoy this outing, which might even inspire them to reread Stoker’s novel.—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

starred review starSidorova, J.M. The Age of Ice. Scribner. Jul. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781451692716. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451692730. F
This captivating debut by a Moscow-born biology professor begins with a chilly curse. Twins born of exiled parents in 18th-century Russia discover they have special talents for withstanding cold. Separated by jealousy and rival military careers, the twins seek separate fortunes and families. The younger twin, Alexander, thrives in cold and travels across the decades through Russia, Siberia, France, and most of Europe. With an inexplicably long life, he stumbles into the Great Game in Asia, finds himself in bondage in Persia, and helps the British invade Afghanistan. Surviving into the 20th century, he plays his part in both world wars and starts a refrigeration business in Singapore. Alexander’s mystical success with ice and longevity only bring him more questions about his origin, his family, and his ability to love.
Verdict Sidorova’s sweeping scope is impressive. Romance, warfare, science, history, and exploration all take turns in this epic work that spans centuries and empires. Unlimited by genre boundaries, it is sure to delight awe all types of readers. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Catherine Lantz, Morton Coll. Lib., Cicero, IL

Thomas, Jody. Can’t Stop Believing: A Harmony Novel. Berkley: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2013. 297p. ISBN 9780425250679. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101623381. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Cord McDowell learned during six years in prison not to look people in the eye. Now he’s back home in Harmony, TX, and wide-eyed and staring at neighbor Nevada Britain as she makes him a proposition he perhaps should, but doesn’t want to, refuse: she’ll hand over to him a parcel of long-contested land, plus split with him the profits from his farm and her Boxed B Ranch, if he’ll marry her and run the Boxed B for eight months. Cord knows there’s a catch where the thrice-married wildcat Nevada is involved. But Nevada agrees to Cord’s one condition: that she sleeps with him in his bed every night. A bargain made with the devil has some dangerous as well as some interesting strings attached.
Verdict Thomas (Chance of a Lifetime) returns to her small Texas town to bring together a resolute young man whose youth was stolen from him and the spoiled rancher’s daughter who suffered a different kind of punishment living with an unloving father and a neglectful mother. The book features the kooky and resourceful Harmony folk and includes a secondary story of love found too late. Thomas is a sure bet; for all romance collections.—Bette-Lee Fox, 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"