Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, June 28, 2013

Week ending June 28, 2013

starred review starBarnes, Mark T. The Garden of Stones. 47North: Amazon. (Echoes of Empire, Bk. 1). 2013. 558p. ISBN 9781611098938. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611093810. FANTASY
In this opening volume of a debut epic fantasy series, Barnes places readers in the world of Shrïan, whose long and storied history lurks in the background and adds a weight and depth that lets us know this is just one of many stories to be told. In Indris, we have the kind of reluctant hero who drives so many fascinating fantasy tales. Indris’s story also starts in the middle as he saves his father-in-law from a siege. It is only as the greater tale unfolds that we learn how and why they arrived in that time and place and who their enemies are. Indris is a scholar-mage and a mercenary, but he was intended to be something much grander. He may yet be. In the meantime, emperors and would-be emperors use their families as pawns in the great game of empires, and one powerful man tries to cheat death and rebuild an empire through the use of forbidden magic. He must be stopped, but the price in blood and honor will be incredibly high.
Verdict Barnes drops his readers into a complex world that makes for an immersive experience for lovers of epic fantasy. The political machinations and constant familial betrayals are reminiscent of Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel” series. Although Indris is the main protagonist on the “good” side, the female characters on both sides are every bit as strong as the males, a refreshing change in epic fantasy. Highly recommended.—Marlene Harris, Seattle P.L.

Grant, Cecilia. A Woman Entangled. Bantam. Jul. 2013. c.336p. ISBN 9780345532565. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780345532572. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Tired of being considered unacceptable by the ton and by her father’s aristocratic family simply because her father fell in love with an actress—and had the audacity to marry her—charming, stunningly beautiful Kate Westerbrook is determined to redeem her family’s social position by avoiding love and marrying a title. From the day she turned 13, Kate has been focused on that goal, and she’s not about to let anything or anyone get in her way—not social snubs, not family disapproval, and especially not Nicholas Blackshear, her barrister father’s far-too-attractive but untitled and ineligible protégé. If only she weren’t drawn so inexplicably to that annoying man! But Nick has been secretly charged with keeping Kate safe as she navigates the treacherous, unfamiliar social scene—whether she likes it or not.
Verdict Class issues and one’s place in society are at the heart of this engaging, insightful Regency romance that features top-notch character development, wickedly sweet sensuality, and witty humor. It adds another chapter to the fascinating Blackshear family saga (A Gentleman Undone).—Kristin Ramsdell, Libn. Emerita, California State Univ., East Bay

Hiebert, Michael. Dream with Little Angels. Kensington. Jul. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780758285751. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758285768. F
Twelve years after the abduction and murder of 13-year-old Ruby Mae, the townspeople of Alvin, AL, remain scarred by the unsolved crime, much to the regret of Sheriff Leah Teal. But Leah’s 11-year-old son Abe’s sheltered life is shattered when two teenage girls vanish within days of each other—Mary Ann Daley, a friend of Abe’s rebellious older sister, and Tiffany Michelle Yates, who was last seen wearing a pink dress and licking an ice cream cone. As the last person to see Tiffany, Abe is drawn unwittingly into the investigation.
Verdict Readers who enjoy literary fiction depicting small-town life in the tradition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird may want to try Hiebert’s debut, but true suspense aficionados may find the plot meanders too slowly for their adrenaline taste. Fans of Deborah Crombie (The Sound of Broken Glass) or Carolyn Haines’s Sarah Booth Delaney series (Them Bones) might also appreciate.—Julia M. Reffner, Fairport, NY

starred review starLong, Julie Anne. It Happened One Midnight. Avon. (Pennyroyal Green, Bk. 8). Jul. 2013. c.384p. ISBN 9780062118073. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062118080. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Jonathan Redmond knows Thomasina de Ballesteros is trouble and not just because of the knife that gleams in her hand as she hovers in the shadows outside the Duke of Greyfolk’s window. Beautiful, intriguing, and as tempting—and complicated—as sin, Tommy has an agenda of her own, and the last thing Jonathan needs is to be drawn into her dangerous plans—or her arms. If only he could resist! A nobleman’s natural daughter in search of belonging and a youngest son hero who’s tired of being dismissed by his father find friendship, purpose, and love in this remarkable story that tackles serious social issues with a combination of sharp, witty dialog, delightful humor, and a much-talked-about deck of cards.
Verdict Poignant, funny, and heartbreakingly triumphant, this captivating romance from Long (A Notorious Countess Confesses) is exceptional in every way; not to be missed.—Kristin Ramsdell, Libn. Emerita, California State Univ., East Bay

Lott, Jessica. The Rest of Us. S. & S. Jul. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781451645873. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451645897. F
Terry, a thirtysomething, single New Yorker, stumbles across the obituary of her former college poetry professor—and ex-lover—and begins to reflect on their good times and finds herself missing Rhinehart all over again. A week later, when she bumps into the very much alive and married Rhinehart, her shock soon fades and old feelings rekindle. Embracing their second chance at happiness, Rhinehart and Terry discover their lives changing in many ways: Terry returns to the photography career she had abandoned years ago, Rhinehart attempts to uncover the secret of his Ukrainian past, and together they navigate the hills and valleys of their renewed friendship, while learning more about themselves in the process.
Verdict Covering topics similar to the themes found in the works of Binnie Kirshenbaum but to a milder degree, Lott, winner of Low Fidelity Press’s Novella Award for Osin, explores love, loss, friendship, and second chances in a heartbreaking yet inspiring debut novel. The story line is enjoyable but tends to get sidetracked by asides and descriptions that may leave the reader impatient to get back to the plot. Still, lovers of photography, art, and poetry will enjoy Lott’s effort as she goes into great detail on these aspects of her characters’ lives.—Katie Wernz, Kent State Univ., OH

starred review starMoyes, Jojo. The Girl You Left Behind. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Aug. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780670026616. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101638163. F
As World War I rages throughout Europe, the French village of St. Péronne is under German occupation. While their husbands fight on the front lines, Sophie Lefèvre and her sister run the small village hotel, where they must cater to the occupying German forces. The one comfort Sophie has is the portrait her Matisse-trained husband painted of her. When the painting catches the eye of the German Kommandant, Sophie attempts to use it as a bargaining chip for her husband’s life. Nearly 100 years later, the painting, now known as The Girl You Left Behind, belongs to widow Liv Halston and is the subject of a restitution suit between Halston and the Lefèvre family. To win her fight for the painting, a reminder of her own lost husband, Liv must discover Sophie’s true history and what it means to be “the girl you left behind.”
Verdict Splitting the narrative between Sophie’s perspective in 1915 and Liv’s in contemporary London, Moyes (Me Before You) has created a riveting depiction of a wartime occupation that has mostly faded from memory. Liv and Sophie are so real in their faults, passion, and bravery that the reader is swept along right to the end. This one is hard to put down! [See Prepub Alert, 4/1/13.]—Jennifer Beach, Cumberland Cty. P.L., VA

Willis, Connie. The Best of Connie Willis. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jul. 2013. 496p. ISBN 9780345540645. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780345540652. SF
Compared to 2012 SFWA Grand Master Willis’s full body of work (Blackout/All Clear; Passage; The Doomsday Book), these award-winning short stories tend toward the humorous or sweet, rather than the dark. Willis is at her best skewering scholarship to laugh-out-loud effect in “At the Rialto” and “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion; A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective.” Two other stories, “The Last of the Winnebagos” and “A Letter from the Clearys,” reveal dystopian futures through the perceptive study of a single character. “Even the Queen,” “All Seated on the Ground,” and “Inside Job” sacrifice plausibility for amusement value, while “Death on the Nile” and “The Winds of Marble Arch” are reminiscent of Passage, where metaphysics, sentiment, and the supernatural meet. “Fire Watch” is a perfect introduction to her time-travel novels but adds little for those who’ve read them.
Verdict These shorts were chosen for winning the Hugo and/or the Nebula Award, making the collection most meaningful for fans who know the honors involved, especially the bonus tracks, Willis’s Los Angeles Worldcon Guest of Honor and Grand Master speeches. For those who don’t care about genre inside baseball, 2007’s The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories provides a more comprehensive overview of Willis’s illustrious career.—Meredith Schwartz, 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"