Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, August 2, 2013

Week ending August 2, 2013

starred review starBurrowes, Grace. One Upon a Tartan. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Aug. 2013. 381p. ISBN 9781402268694. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402268700. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
When young Fiona MacGregor falls from a tree at the feet of Tiberius Lamartine Flynn’s horse, the Englishman is most assured that this venture into cursed Scotland is a bad idea. Yet isn’t Fee the reason for the 60-mile journey he undertook from Northumbria? She is his late brother’s daughter, and their father, the Marquis of Quinworth, has made a devil’s bargain with Tye to bring his granddaughter to England. Fee’s mother and stepfather are on a belated wedding trip, so removing Fee should be easy. But Fee’s Aunt Hester is in charge, and she’s already wary of the rather large gentleman claiming avuncular rights. Fee finds in Tye a new uncle who will dote on her and teach her very long words. Tye finds both the young and the older female suddenly objects of his lamentably hard-won affection. Perhaps his plan won’t be so simple to execute after all.
Verdict This latest series title from Burrowes (The Bridegroom Wore Plaid) presents another delightful clash of cultures and personalities as Hester puts it all on the line to redeem her self-worth and Tye meets his match in this passionate and obstinate woman. Writing this lush and lively deserves to be savored. Highly recommended.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Cain, Chelsea. Let Me Go. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780312619817. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022387. F
The sixth installment of this series (after Kill You Twice) picks up mere months after serial killer Gretchen Lowell has escaped from a mental institution. Det. Archie Sheridan is actively trying to form some semblance of a normal life; he’s involved with the woman who lives next door, spends time with his rescued corgi, and he’s officially off the Beauty Killer case. But any hopes that he’s free of her clutches are quickly dashed when disturbing, graphic evidence surfaces indicating that Gretchen is most certainly not done with Archie. Archie and his unwaveringly loyal friend Susan are immediately forced into the middle of Gretchen’s horrifying game.
Verdict Fans of Cain’s series will be sucked in once again. Gretchen is at her worst while somehow also being her most, dare this reviewer say it, loving. Archie is still infuriatingly attached and conflicted, while the romantic tension between him and Susan is palpable. Cain has an incredible talent for draping clues between books that makes the reader wonder if she’s been plotting every single move since the first sentence of the series. Her writing is goose bump–inducing, slyly witty, and bloody sexy. One of the most satisfying thriller series today. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/13; library marketing.]—Madeline Solien, Deerfield P.L., IL

Choo, Yangsze. The Ghost Bride. Morrow. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780062227324. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062227386. F
Li Lan is from an upper-class but financially destitute Chinese family in Malaya (modern-day Malaysia). When the wealthy Lim family proposes that she enter into a spirit marriage with their recently deceased son, she reluctantly accepts, because it means she will never want for another earthly thing. But the union soon plunges Li into a dream world where nothing is as it seems and anything can happen. In order to make her way back to the land of the living, Li must uncover deeply buried secrets about her own family’s past and an ancient connection between her family and the Lims.
Verdict Choo’s first novel explores in a delicate and thought-provoking way the ancient custom of spirit marriages, which were thought to appease restless spirits. Reminiscent of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, this debut is sure to be a hit with supernatural and historical fiction fans alike. [See Prepub Alert, 2/18/13.]—Caitlin Bronner, MLIS, Pratt Inst., Brooklyn

Dixon, Dianne. The Book of Someday. Sourcebooks Landmark. Sept. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781402285721. $25.99. F
The lives of three women are woven together in Dixon’s unusual, suspenseful second novel (after The Language of Secrets). Deciphering just how their lives are connected is part of the attraction of this compelling page-turner. Olivia is a young novelist haunted by the nightmares of her youth; former dancer AnnaLee is an unsettled wife and new mother; Micah is a world-class photographer on the brink of a life-and-death decision. Each protagonist experiences a turning point that will dramatically alter her future. The primarily present-tense narration gives immediacy to the plot, but it is also a bit confusing as readers try to puzzle out and disentangle the many seemingly important facts of these characters’ lives. Some supporting characters such as Andrew, a literary agent, are well drawn, and others, such as Jack, AnnaLee’s disillusioned husband, are not so well defined.
Verdict Fans of Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader and Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells may enjoy the intrigue Dixon offers.—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA

Harris, R. Ira. Island of the White Rose. Bridge Works. Aug. 2013. 243p. ISBN 9780981617558. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780981617565. F
From an upper-class Havana family, Pedro Villanueva is a 34-year-old Cuban priest who struggles to fill his church while wrestling with his faith and trying to remain out of the political changes that are sweeping across the island. When he is asked by a parishioner to help his imprisoned son, Pedro witnesses the horrors of La Cabana prison. He decides to ask his affluent family to help. After a series of bribes and missteps, Pedro’s brother is killed and the priest joins the underground movement to support the antigovernment forces led by Fidel Castro fighting in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Two women in the underground Dolores Barre and Maria Guerra persuade him to use the family racing yacht, The White Rose, to smuggle weapons to the rebels. When the Batista government is overthrown, Pedro soon realizes that the new leadership is purging anyone it doesn’t trust. Knowing that his life will never be the same in Cuba, he uses The White Rose in one last, desperate act.
Verdict This debut novel is well-crafted historical fiction that vividly captures the excitement—and disillusionment—stirred by the Cuban revolution. Readers who enjoyed Patty Sheehy’s The Boy Who Said No will want to check out this adventure.—Ron Samul, New London, CT

Howe, Melodie Johnson. City of Mirrors: A Diana Poole Thriller. Pegasus Crime. Aug. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781605984681. $25.95. MYS
Diana Poole, actress and daughter of recently deceased superstar Nora Poole, agrees to help starlet Jenny Parson rehearse for the next day’s film shooting. Trouble is, Jenny has been murdered and Diana is the one who finds her body. It gets worse when the victim’s maniacal father appears poised to kill anyone who might have had a hand in his daughter’s demise. Leo Heath—a security guy who’s more of a fixer—looks to be Diana’s only trustworthy ally in a story chockablock full of family secrets, sexual peccadilloes, and good old blackmail. Children of famous actors don’t really stand a chance, and Diana Poole battles those demons daily. As the death count mounts, that survivor mentality will serve her well as she fights real criminals hot on her trail.
Verdict Confirming our worst suspicions about Hollywood royalty, Howe’s spirited thriller runs pell-mell with a protagonist who thinks on her feet. Perfect for movie buffs, this book pairs well with Cheryl Crane’s series. Howe was an Edgar finalist for her debut, The Mother Shadow, and as a former actress, she brings street cred to her latest title.—Teresa L. Jacobsen, Fairfield, CA

Mattei, Peter. The Deep Whatsis. Other Pr. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781590516386. pap. $15.95. F
Eric Nye is a thirtysomething in the high-rolling world of corporate advertising. His preferences include drinking, snorting coke, indiscriminately bedding women, and making an awkward and cruel game out of firing his subordinates. Nye makes too much money to worry or care about anything, thinking nothing of leaving a $100 bill as payment for a $6 coffee. The security of his selfish and solitary existence is threatened when a young intern at his company begins stalking him by breaking into his emails, following him to parties, and eventually wrongfully accusing him to human resources of abuse. Nye knows it is perverse and dangerous, but he cannot help continuing his dalliance with this broken girl who is a threat to not only his job but his sanity.
Verdict This trippy debut novel about personal consequences, or the lack thereof, by a playwright/filmmaker is a provocative read. Eric’s self-absorbed, drug-fueled musings will remind readers of other classic corporate antiheroes in the tradition of Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) and Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho). Fans of edgy fiction won’t regret picking up this one.—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

Rector, John. Out of the Black. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Sept. 2013. 260p. ISBN 9781477805046. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781477855041. F
Matt Caine is an unemployed widower who makes some bad decisions in this dark caper novel from Rector (Already Gone; The Grove), a rising star in the thriller genre. A sketchy friend convinces Matt there’s easy money (to pay off the loan sharks he borrowed from for his daughter’s medical bills) in kidnapping a rich man’s wife. Unfortunately, the rich man is a dangerous mobster, and things rapidly spin out of control. Soon Matt finds himself depending on friends from a past he thought he’d left behind and considering acts of violence more suited to the marine he once was than the single father he is now. Oh, and his late wife’s parents think they’ll do a better job of raising his daughter than he will so they are contemplating suing for custody.
Verdict Written in a spare, laconic style reminiscent of Elmore Leonard or Robert B. Parker, this fast-moving, bleak thriller driven by the economic realities of modern America will appeal to fans of suspense fiction from the grittier side of the mean streets.—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

Simses, Mary. The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café. Little, Brown. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780316225854. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316225847. F
Ellen and her grandmother were extremely close, so when Ruth makes a deathbed request that Ellen deliver one last letter, Ellen doesn’t hesitate. Maybe she should have. The letter is meant for Ruth’s first love, Chet Cummings, in the small Maine town of Beacon and shares her regrets over what might have been if she hadn’t met and married another man. In the attempt to deliver the letter, Ellen discovers a side of her Gran, and of herself as well, she never suspected. Readers looking for something easy and light to pass a weekend on the beach will enjoy this debut novel. The characters are quickly recognizable for the qualities they are meant to represent, and they inhabit a quaint small town that is predictably chock-full of hidden depths and interesting quirks.
Verdict Conflicts both complicated and simple are easily resolved, and the ending presents a pleasant message of consciously choosing to live life without regrets. [See Prepub Alert, 1/25/13.]—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

Stone, Sara Jane. Command Performance. Harlequin Blaze. (Uniformly Hot!). Oct. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780373797745. pap. $5.50; ebk. ISBN 9781460319789. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Fresh from a broken engagement and spurred into action by her best friend, reserved sociology professor Margaret Barlow abandons her comfort zone and shares one incredible night with Special Forces army ranger Hunter Cross, a man she picks up at a car show and knows she will never see again. And then he shows up as her liaison to the Special Forces team she is interviewing for a book that is sure to guarantee her tenure. Maggie knows that nothing but her strict sense of purpose and carefully honed control can keep her on track and out of his arms. But Hunter has been charged by his superior (with the hint of a promotion) to keep Maggie from learning the truth about the team’s mission. As Maggie searches for answers and Hunter struggles to keep her off balance, the tension between them becomes much more than sexual. Trust, responsibility, and control are key themes in this lively, steamy tale that adds some interesting backstory and family addiction issues to the mix but, as expected, keeps the action keenly centered on the two main characters.
Verdict A pair of career-focused, relationship-wary protagonists have their worlds upended when their one-night stand has unexpected results. This sexy, explicit Blaze title lives up to its incendiary series name and is a red-hot debut for the Brooklyn-based Stone.—Kristin Ramsdell, Emerita, California State Univ. Lib., East Bay

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"