Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, July 5, 2013

Week ending July 5, 2013

Brown, Natalie. The Lovebird. Doubleday. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780385536752. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385536769. F
Lonely, misdirected college freshman Margie Fitzgerald has a tenuous relationship with her depressed father, who never recovered from the loss of his wife, who died delivering Margie. It’s no wonder that Margie is besotted with the first male to pay attention to her: Latin professor Simon Melinkoff. The intriguing Simon invites ultrasensitive Margie to participate in an animal rights meeting he leads. Developing camaraderie and finding a place for herself with the group’s equally misfit members, Margie appears to have discovered an identity. When Simon discontinues their relationship, this motley crew’s leadership falls to Margie. Finding herself heading a dangerous, destructive, illegal plan, she flees her Southern California home and escapes to the wilds of Montana. Adrift and bereft, Margie seems on the path to self-discovery.
Verdict While well written, this debut novel includes many cloying, overly sentimental passages reminiscent of a young adult romance. The caring, compassionate Margie, who often comments on her broken heart and her left ovary’s twinges, is not an entirely believable heroine; the author’s florid language distracts from the story. While the second half of the novel becomes more inviting, the plot still begs for focus.—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA

Galland, Nicole. Godiva. Morrow. Jul. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780062026880. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062250254. F
Lady Godiva has been an object of fascination for centuries thanks to her notorious naked ride on horseback through the streets of Coventry, England. Galland (The Fool’s Tale; I, Iago) offers one explanation of what might have motivated a highborn woman in the 11th century to perform such an act. Her Countess Godiva cheerfully flirts her way to whatever she wants until she finds herself in conflict with an unjust king, who demands that Godiva either surrender Coventry to him or ride naked through town as punishment. Further complicating matters are the problems of Godiva’s best friend, an abbess facing the consequences of having succumbed to sexual temptation.
Verdict Galland’s Godiva is shallow and dim-witted, and her famous ride feels like an afterthought in a narrative primarily devoted to her interference in the love life of her best friend. Many historical fiction fans may object to the historically implausible speech and actions of the protagonists, most apparent in their flippant attitudes toward the teachings of the Christian church. Clunky writing and inconsistent characterization unfortunately make this a largely missed opportunity to reimagine Lady Godiva’s ride meaningfully for a modern audience.—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

Huston, Charlie. Skinner. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Jul. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780316133722. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316202411. F
Huston’s (Sleepless; The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death) new stand-alone thriller is scary in its timeliness. Skinner is a hired gun whose sole job is to protect his “asset.” His maxim is “the only true way to secure an asset is to ensure that the cost of acquiring it is greater than its value,” and he is willing to die for it. His current assignment is Jae, a young robotocist who can see the patterns in anything and everything. She once worked for Kestrel, a private contracting firm, but left when she was betrayed. Now she’s been asked by her former handler, Terrence, to take on a new assignment from Kestrel. Along with the assignment comes Skinner. A man who will do anything—and already has—to get the job done.
Verdict To say much more about the plot would ruin it for readers. In order to enjoy the suspense, Huston’s careful layering of the story should be read without much foreknowledge. Suffice it to say, the recent revelations about data mining are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is going on in the world of spying. Add in missing nukes, hacking, drones, terrorists, and a host of other threats, and readers may come away from this novel a bit more paranoid: it’s all just too plausible. This is a must for fans of John le Carré and Olen Steinhauer.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Jeffries, Sabrina. What the Duke Desires. (Duke’s Men, Bk. 1). Pocket: S. & S. Jul. 2013. c.416p. ISBN 9781451693461. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451693515. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
There’s nothing like an enraged, overbearing nobleman pounding on the door at the crack of dawn to get the day off to a flying start. Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, storms in demanding to know the whereabouts of Lisette Bonnaud’s brother Tristan. The action skyrockets as Lisette, afraid that the duke’s arrogant ways will jeopardize Tristan’s career with the Sureté Nationale, refuses to help—unless the duke takes her with him to France. But Tristan is nowhere to be found, and as Lisette and Max work to unravel the mystery and evade at least one villain along the way, they can’t resist the chemistry that sizzles—or the deep affection that develops—between them, despite both knowing that their relationship is doomed.
Verdict An appealing, no-nonsense heroine who’s written off love because of her illegitimate birth and a driven, responsible hero haunted by a family history of insanity find answers and love amid a tangle of lies, treachery, and deception in this intricately plotted romantic adventure that will keep readers curious and riveted to the end. First of a promising new series, this engaging story cleverly sets the stage for the adventures to come. Jeffries (’Twas the Night After Christmas) lives in North Carolina.—Kristin Ramsdell, Libn. Emerita, California State Univ.–East Bay

starred review starLutz, Lisa. The Last Word: A Spellman Novel. S. & S. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781451686661. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451686685. F
A little more than three months ago, Isabel Spellman bought out her siblings to become the controlling shareholder of Spellman Investigations, and things have been going downhill for her ever since. Fewer cases, strong parental resistance, and too many missed clues are taking their toll on Izzy’s enthusiasm for her new role as a power-mad CEO. Reluctantly, Izzy finds herself reevaluating key decisions, resulting in perhaps unwanted but helpful, self-reflective moments. Can Izzy find her way forward, or is she about to stubbornly backslide into trouble? The Spellmans could be the poster family for strong but lovingly dysfunctional relationships; their eccentricities are also an essential element of what makes them so endearing as individuals. Lutz’s secondary characters are as charmingly quirky and provide opportunities for greater emotional depth in her protoganists’ relationships. Readers are also treated to a slew of fabulously inventive cases, investigated in grand Spellman tradition.
Verdict A mix of happy, sad, and funny elements, this sixth book in the series (after Trail of the Spellmans) delivers all these emotions, plus a mysterious ending fans will find extremely curious and strangely satisfying!—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

Mead, Richelle. Gameboard of the Gods. Dutton. (Age of X, Vol. 1). 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780525953685. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101624302. FANTASY
Mead, author of the best-selling YA “Vampire Academy” and “Bloodlines” paranormal series, makes her adult fiction debut with this first entry in a dystopian, mythological series. In a near-future world, half of the human population is wiped out by a virus. The Republic of United North America (RUNA) has emerged from the devastation, building a well-ordered, high-tech empire that tries to suppress religion and outlaws genetic experiments. Dr. Justin March is a brilliant servitor, a RUNA government employee paid to investigate religious organizations, but his findings on his last assignment got him exiled from the RUNA to lawless Panama City. Now his former bosses and Mae Koskinen, a beautiful and chemically enhanced government supersoldier, have come to retrieve him to help solve a string of serial murders with religious overtones. As Justin investigates, with Mae as his bodyguard, the involvement of supernatural forces increasingly seems likely. Now they just have to prove it.
Verdict Mead melds romance, mystery, urban fantasy, and action into a fascinating dystopian tale, featuring fully realized characters that will captivate her many current fans and attract new ones. [See Prepub Alert, 11/30/12.]—Melissa DeWild, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, MI

Millar, Louise. Accidents Happen. Emily Bestler: Atria. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781451656701. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451656725. F
After enduring two family tragedies—the deaths of her parents in a traffic accident and her husband’s murder—Kate Parker struggles with a decade-long debilitating anxiety disorder that compels her to worry obsessively and rely on statistical data to accomplish daily tasks. Feeling that she is cursed and unsafe in her own home, the paranoid Kate implements extraordinary safety measures. Are her fears justified or is it all in her head? With her disorder threatening the custody of her ten-year-old son, Kate throws caution to the wind when she meets the handsome Jago, a professor who offers her a possible cure through an experimental approach. What Kate discovers during the experiment could endanger her family far more than her anxiety disorder ever could.
Verdict If readers can tolerate a slow beginning, they will be rewarded with a suspenseful tale featuring surprising twists. Fans of Millar’s The Playdate or British psychological thrillers might consider adding it to their reading list.—Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

Pappano, Marilyn. A Hero To Come Home To. Forever: Grand Central. (Tallgrass, Bk. 1). 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781455520046. pap. $5.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455520053. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Carly Lowry is afraid of heights, but conquering her fears is part of what gets Carly out of bed. Otherwise, she’d still be mourning her husband, Jeff, killed in Afghanistan more than two years ago. A chance meeting with former paratrooper Dane Clark in a cave at Turner Falls leads to another at the gymnasium at Fort Murphy in Tallgrass, OK, where she teachers and yet another at the Three Amigos restaurant at the weekly get-together of the Tuesday Night Margarita Club, aka the Fort Murphy widows. Something about this woman attracts Dane like no other, but Carly speaks too much of her perfect husband and her perfect marriage for Dane to think she would be interested in a guy with only one leg. Yeah, the army knows how to build state-of-the-art prostheses; it just can’t seem to rebuild Dane’s self-esteem.
Verdict Pappano (coauthor, Christmas Confidential) opens her “Tallgrass” series with the sweet pairing of a woman who agonizes over leaving everything as it was before her husband died and a soldier who thinks if he ignores his artificial limb, his own leg will still exist. Authentic details of army life and battle experience will glue readers to the page. This poignant and engaging title is a good fit for all romance collections.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Thornton, Stephanie. The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora. NAL: Penguin Group (USA). Jul. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780451417787. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101607664. F
In this historical fiction debut set in 520 CE, Thornton offers both a fascinating interpretation of a powerful woman’s life and an enlightening portrayal of the great city known at various times as Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. Basing her tale in sound historical research, Thornton vividly re-creates the streets of Constantinople after Emperor Constantine established the city as the home of the Christian empire. The story follows the life of Theodora, a young beauty with a bright wit, charm, and a tendency to speak her mind who rises from destitution to become, first, a prostitute, then a celebrated actress, and, finally, the Roman empress. Theodora confronts sexual predators, scheming politicians, and dangerous family secrets and overcomes daunting circumstances, among them giving birth in a slime-filled alley at the age of 15. Her religious belief and emotional strength see her through the trying times in her marriage to Justinian and their rule of the Byzantine Empire. While the novel does not shy away from pain, it is most importantly a story of the strength of women. Theodora crosses paths with numerous strong women; they help her when she is destitute and challenge her at the height of her power.
Verdict While Empress Theodora’s story unfolds in what is today modern Turkey, one could borrow from the cowboy vernacular and say that Thornton’s well-conceived and engrossing tale exalts a historical figure of “true grit.” Fans of Stella Duffy’s The Purple Shroud and Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore may want to check out Thornton’s take.—Edith Lawraine Smith, San Francisco

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"