Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, July 12, 2013

Week ending July 12, 2013

starred review starCameron, Kenneth. Winter at Death’s Hotel. Sourcebooks Landmark. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781402280825. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402280832. F
Sherlock Holmes, make way: Louisa Conan Doyle is on the case! The superstar sleuth of this gripping new historical thriller by the author of the “Denton Mysteries” (The Frightened Man; The Bohemian Girl) is not the legendary detective but his creator’s devoted wife. In January 1896, on the eve of Arthur Conan Doyle’s first American book tour, the author and his wife are comfortably ensconced in a luxurious Manhattan hotel. With Arthur busily plotting the tour, Louisa is forced to confine her New York adventures to the lobby. Just when it seems that gooseberry jam will be Louisa’s most thrilling discovery, her eye lights upon a garish murder headline and she recognizes the victim as a former guest of the hotel. Louisa is desperate to help solve the case, and she gets her wish when an ankle injury requires her to remain in New York. Soon the seemingly mild-mannered housewife is locked in a terrifying game of cat and mouse with a killer of women.
Verdict Part historical fiction, part psychological thriller, Cameron’s work is all page-turner. However, it is Louisa—both archetypal Victorian woman and unique personality—who is the real driving force, and this reviewer hopes we have not seen the last of her! Likely to appeal to fans of historical fiction and psychological thrillers, this book might find a particular niche among Doyle devotees and readers of Sarah Waters, Elizabeth Peters, and Matthew Pearl.—Liv Hanson, Chicago

Casey, Anne-Marie. No One Could Have Guessed the Weather. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780399160219. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101621073. F
Debut author Casey offers a series of interwoven vignettes that examine a group of women living in New York City and coming to terms with disparate issues. Julia is the writer who has left her family, taking time at the lovingly named Wellness Center to explore her conflicted emotions about motherhood. She juggles fragile family territory with protecting valuable space for herself while she contends with the judgment of others. Christy is a textbook trophy wife, barely years older than her husband’s daughter. Lost among her husband’s other prized possessions, she battles to regain her sense of self and assert herself. Lucy is a transplant from England, reeling from a recent blow to her socioeconomic status after her husband’s job loss in the financial crisis. The women’s personal stories and friendships intersect to paint this picture of imperfect adulthood, growing pains, and the loveliness of acceptance.
Verdict A coming–of–middle age story, this first novel is warmly appealing. While it takes a bit to get into the vignette groove, the “I see what you did there” payoff is sweet.—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA

starred review starDahl, Arne. Bad Blood: A Crime Novel. Pantheon. (Intercrime, Bk. 2). Aug. 2013. 352p. tr. from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. ISBN 9780375425363. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908537. F
A serial killer has just eluded the FBI at Newark Airport and is on his way to Stockholm. The National Criminal Police, a recently formed group of Swedish crime investigators, have been asked for their assistance in capturing the fugitive before he can leave the Swedish airport and continue his crime spree of torture and murder on an international level. So begins the second installment of the “Intercrime” series (after Misterioso) by Dahl (the pen name of Swedish author and critic Jan Arnald). What follows is a fast-paced pursuit of a particularly vicious and experienced torturer, one who may have military training and government backing. The detectives, a disparate group from all over Sweden, each with his or her own unique abilities, must determine who the killer is and why he came to Sweden.
Verdict It’s easy to understand why Dahl received a special prize for “vitalization and development of the crime genre through his Intercrime series” from the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers. His delightful, realistic characters and surprising humor alleviate the intensity as the detectives race to catch the clever, elusive killer. Highly recommended for all crime fiction and thriller fans.—Deb West, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

Gordon, David. Mystery Girl. New Harvest: Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780544028586. $25. F
This antic novel from Edgar Award finalist Gordon, whose 2010 debut, The Serialist, earned him the 2011 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, revolves around Sam Kornberg, a failed experimental novelist and unemployed used bookstore clerk. When his wife, Lala, leaves him, Sam signs on as assistant to detective (and lunatic) Solar Lonsky. His first job is to follow the mysterious Ramona Doon around L.A., but he is not very good at it, and fortunately she knows he is there. Things get complicated when he falls for Ramona, who seems to commit suicide and then seems to reappear, with a murderous gang after her. Gordon includes characters from every genre (underground and dark Coen Brothers films figure in the plot) and allows chaos and wit to unravel the plot.
Verdict Both funny and frantic, complex and crazy, Gordon’s work will appeal to readers of thrillers, cult film stories, and absurdist fiction.—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence

Grey, Amelia. The Rogue Steals a Bride. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Rogues’ Dynasty, Bk. 6). Jul. 2013. 338p. ISBN 9781402239779. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402285134. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Having met by chance on a London street when her reticule is stolen, neither Sophia Hart nor Matson Brentwood realizes their mutual connection to Sir Randolph Gibson. Sophia is Sir Randolph’s ward following her father’s death. She and her twin aunts, Mae and June, are staying at Sir Randolph’s home for Sophia’s first Season. On her father’s deathbed, Sophia had promised to marry a title—and she intends to do just that. Despite Matson’s and his twin brother’s upbringing and success as shipbuilders in Baltimore, it seems they are really Sir Randolph’s sons. Yet Sophia and Matson find themselves seeking each other out and sharing intimate moments. It’s all quite mad—with her vow and his hatred of her guardian, a future for them together seems impossible. Still, she can’t avoid her feelings for the very last man she should consider as a mate.
Verdict Grey (A Gentleman Never Tells) brings her “Rogues’ Dynasty” sextet to an close with this touching tale of love conquering misplaced honor. The twin brothers are devilishly charming, while Sophia is a bright young woman who knows what she must do to ensure her future. Recommended for most romance fans.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Lehmann, Stephanie. Astor Place Vintage. Touchstone: S. & S. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781451682052. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781451682069. F
During a routine buying appointment at a private apartment, Amanda, the owner of a New York City vintage shop, finds a long-forgotten journal written in 1907 and sewn tightly into a muff. When she started the diary, Olive Wescott was a young woman who had just moved to New York City and was determined to have a career in retail. Back in 2007, Amanda soon finds out the future of her vintage store is more uncertain than she realized. The journal that she can’t stop reading and the connection it provides to a voice from the past could hold the key to her salvation. Even more remarkably, as past and present intertwine, Amanda may be able to help Olive.
Verdict Incorporating historical photographs and details, Lehmann’s (The Art of Undressing; You Could Do Better) well-written fifth novel vividly captures the atmosphere of early 20th-century Manhattan and seamlessly weaves the past with the present. Readers who like their women’s fiction to combine elements of history and fashion (e.g., Isabel Wolff’s A Vintage Affair and Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker) will delight in this appealing novel.—Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

starred review starMankell, Henning. A Treacherous Paradise. Knopf. Jul. 2013. 384p. tr. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson. ISBN 9780307961228. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307961235. F
Mankell, who as author or the Kurt Wallander mysteries leads his contemporaries in the bountiful territory of Scandinavian noir, here leaps far into magical realism. Hanna begins life in icy poverty in turn-of-the-20thcentury rural Sweden. When her mother insists that she head into the world, Hannah becomes a cook on a ship headed for Australia; she marries an officer, is widowed, jumps ship in Africa, becomes deadly ill at a “hotel,” recovers, marries the “hotel’s” owner, and is soon widowed again. This time, though, she is left immensely wealthy, and her greatest asset, the “hotel,” is actually a flourishing brothel. Soon, Hanna becomes Ana and copes with identity quests (personal, geographic, racial) in a colonial Africa where racism is a given—except that Ana deviates, showing compassionate concern for the black prostitutes, a black woman who murders her white “husband,” and an odd “best friend” named Carlos (read the book to find out). Though not initially a page-turner, the book soon becomes one, and vivid descriptions of both lush living and abject poverty abound. The ending? Magical.
Verdict For lovers of historical fiction with a twist and of Mankell’s oeuvre, although this is more Barry Unsworth (or Joseph Conrad) than Jo Nesbø. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/13.]—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY

starred review starRobinson, Maggie. In the Arms of the Heiress. Berkley Sensation: Penguin Group (USA). (Ladies Unlaced). Jul. 2013. 316p. ISBN 9780425265819. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101613849. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Louisa Stratton needs a husband—and fast. She is returning home to Rosemont after a yearlong sojourn across Europe with her maid, having written to her taciturn Aunt Grace that she had met and married Mr. Maximillian Norwich in Paris. Who can live up to the perfection of the nonexistent Max? Louisa is forced to hire Capt. Charles Cooper to impersonate her incomparable spouse through the 1903 Christmas season. Charles can use the very generous fee now that he has fallen on hard times and an overabundance of gin after a tour in Africa during the Boer War. Saddled with guilt, nightmares, and the loss of sight in one eye, Charles takes the voluble Miss Stratton at her word that she just needs his public face to put off her less than supportive family before she can flee once more. Then life at Rosemont goes from odd to downright dangerous—and decidedly seductive.
Verdict Robinson’s (Captain Durant’s Countess) “poor little rich girl” who never felt cared about as a child and even less so as an adult finds acceptance and love with a former soldier more damaged than she is. These characters are delightful and dotty and acerbic in the best possible way. This reviewer was in thrall from page one. Highly recommended for all romance readers.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Shah, Saira. The Mouse-Proof Kitchen. Emily Bestler: Atria. Jul. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781476705644. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476705682. F
Hard-working, London-based restaurant chef Anna has two life goals—to become a mother and to move to Provence in southeastern France to teach in her mentor’s cooking school. Motherhood arrives, but Anna’s daughter is born with profound physical and mental handicaps. After Provence proves to be too expensive for their modest budget, Anna and her partner, Tobias, are persuaded to purchase a crumbling estate in the less popular Languedoc region. A never-ending series of medical crises puts an enormous strain on a relationship already troubled by house problems. Every attempt to mouseproof the kitchen so that Anna can open her own cooking school fails miserably, as the mice turn out to be king-sized rats.
Verdict London-based journalist Shah debuts with a highly entertaining novel whose bucolic setting and eccentric neighbors hint at Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. But while Mayle’s problems were humorously scalable, Anna’s prove nearly insurmountable. Be careful what you wish for. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.

Stroud, Carsten. The Homecoming. Knopf. (Niceville). Jul. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780307700964. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780385349635. F
Picking up where he left off in Niceville, the first volume in the “Niceville” trilogy, Stroud brings readers closer to the source of the darkness seeking to subsume his otherwise average Southern town. Here, detective Nick Kavanaugh and his wife, Kate, discover stranger things about Rainey Teague, the boy they took in after he vanished from the street and was found inside a long-unopened tomb. The unsolved robbery of the First Third Bank in nearby Gracie, which spurred much of the action in Niceville, grows more deadly with the arrival of a Mafia hit man. Meanwhile, the discovery of a car belonging to a school attendance officer at the bottom of the Tulip River just off Patton’s Hard provides a window into an even older mystery.
Verdict Combining elements of literary suspense and action thriller novels, this sequel answers many of the questions left unresolved at the end of Niceville, with enough unsolved to leave the reader looking forward to the next installment of this ominously action-packed saga. [See Prepub Alert, 1/25/13.]—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA

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"