Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, October 11, 2013

Week ending October 11, 2013

Bonné, Mirko. The Ice-Cold Heaven. Overlook. Oct. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781590201404. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781468308426. F
In August 1914, 17-year-old Merce Blackboro stows aboard on the Endurance as explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton begins his ill-fated journey to be the first man to cross Antarctica on foot. Upon discovery, Merce is soon accepted by Shackleton and his crew and, as the youngest crew member, humanizes their struggle with the frozen sea that prevents the men of the Endurance from landing on the Antarctic continent. Negotiating life among the 28 men, Merce learns of their strengths, weaknesses, and secrets.
Verdict Making his U.S. debut, German author Bonné paints a realistic picture of one of history’s most famous explorations. Through this young protagonist’s eyes, readers experience the grueling physical and psychological hardships endured by Shackleton’s party, and we come to admire Shackleton’s leadership as he effects a dramatic rescue of his stranded crew after four years of surviving in the southernmost reaches of the planet. YA readers, adventure lovers, history buffs, and fans of polar fiction (e.g., Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things; Dan Simmons’s The Terror) will enjoy this fresh take on a dramatic but familiar story.—Sally Bickley, Del Mar Coll. Lib., Corpus Christi, TX

starred review starBrook, Rhidian. The Aftermath. Knopf. 2013. c.288p. ISBN 9780307958266. $25.95. F
If ever there was an apt title! The German city of Hamburg lies in ruins in 1946 in the aftermath of a bombing firestorm wrought three years earlier by the RAF. Col. Lewis Morgan, with the British occupying force in postwar Germany, is in charge of reconstruction of the city and the de-Nazification program. He has been billeted in a luxurious villa on the Elbe. His wife, Rachel, is shocked when she arrives from England with their teenage son, Edmund, to learn that her husband has allowed the owner of the villa, a widowed German architect, to cohabit there along with his teenage daughter. Rachel is inconsolable owing to a recent family tragedy—the death of their older son in a German bombing raid—and bitterly resents the presence of the German and his daughter in her new home. As time passes the increasingly strained relations between Germans and Brits take several utterly surprising turns.
Verdict Basing the novel on a true story from Brook’s (The Testimony of Taliesin Jones) family history, the author conveys with sensitivity and compassion the horrific plight of Germans immediately after World War II and the clashing and meshing of cultures as the British take over their occupation zone. Highest recommendation for anyone who enjoys a scathingly honest tale well told. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/13.]—Edward Cone, New York.

Hill, Susan. The Small Hand and Dolly. Vintage. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780345806659. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780345806666. HORROR
Hill’s (The Woman in Black; The Man in the Picture) latest work is a double treat, two spooky stories written in Hill’s characteristic classically inspired style. Previously published before as separate novellas, “The Small Hand” (2010) and “Dolly” (2012) are both gothic ghost stories complementary of each other. “The Small Hand” begins when rare book dealer Adam Snow finds himself lost on a desolate road in the English countryside. Mesmerized by a decrepit Edwardian house, Adam decides to stop to ask for directions. As he approaches the house, he feels a phantom child’s hand on his own. Compelled to learn more, Adam explores the estate and its gardens, only eventually to learn the tragic truth of his past. In “Dolly,” Edward Cayley returns to the isolated home of his deceased aunt. As a boy, Edward spent a summer here with cousin Leonora, a willful and unyielding child. When Leonora receives an inferior doll for her birthday, she reacts in hysterics, an event that stays with Edward into adulthood. All these years later, Edward meets with Leonora for the reading of the will at the house where the chilling consequences of Leonora’s tantrum that day are fully realized.
Verdict Atmospheric and foreboding, both stories provide quick yet satisfying scares. Highly recommended for horror fiction readers, especially fans of classical gothic literature (think Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House meets Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw).—Carolann Curry, Mercer Univ. Lib., Macon, GA

Hunter, Madeline. The Counterfeit Mistress. Jove: Berkley. (Fairbourne Quartet, Bk. 3). Oct. 2013. 312p. ISBN 9780515151381. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101625675. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Marielle Lyon has been a go-between for members of the French émigré community in London, helping them to sell their antiques to Emma, who despite being married to the Earl of Southwaite still anonymously runs her family’s auction house. But Gavin Norwood, Viscount Kendale, is convinced that Marielle is a French spy, passing coded documents to the coast to be transported back to her home country. Kendale isn’t a government operative, but he does have the means and the men to thwart any such plots and perhaps gain a measure of revenge from the debacle that was the Battle of Toulon. To Marielle, her work is personal, too, but having Handsome Stupid Man dogging her steps is irritating at best and dangerous to her plans at worst. The French beauty intrigues the saturnine Kendale, as each is haunted by the past and trying to set things to rights.
Verdict The third title in the series (The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne; The Conquest of Lady Cassandra) fills in one more piece in this exciting pre-Napoleonic puzzle with charm and emotional twists that will keep readers enraptured. Highly recommended.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

McDermid, Val. Cross and Burn. Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780802122049. $25. F
McDermid’s last book, The Retribution, ended with partners profiler Tony Hill and detective Carol Jordan completely estranged, Tony having failed to predict when a serial killer bent on revenge against both partners would next strike. The new novel picks up several months later, with neither Tony nor Carol currently working for the police, and Tony completely ignorant as to Carol’s whereabouts. When Carol’s former right-hand detective becomes entrenched in a serial murder case—where the victims, all female, bear a striking resemblance to Carol—both Carol and Tony are confronted with their pasts and a terrifying possible future.
Verdict McDermid fans will undoubtedly line up to check out the eighth title in this gritty series. Devotees of the BBC series Wire in the Blood, also based on the characters, will provide a further built-in audience. Other potential readers might be dissuaded, however, by the book’s detailed, sadistic acts committed against the proverbial female victim; violent acts that are emphasized via McDermid’s writerly tendency to swap narrators each chapter, employing the voice of the victim in one chapter, the voice of the serial killer the next. [See Prepub Alert, 4/22/13.]—Jennifer Rogers, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond

Parks, Tim. Sex Is Forbidden. Arcade: Skyhorse. Oct. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781611459074. $24.95. F
Sit still. Observe the rule of silence. No sex, please, we’re Buddhists. Welcome to the Dasgupta Institute, the setting for the latest novel by the multifaceted Parks. It’s a pendant to his memoir Teach Us To Sit Still, in which he recounted his effort to ease physical ailments through spirituality. The participants at the institute are there for a ten-day course of spiritual exercises, presided over by a leader glimpsed only on-screen and who may or may not be still alive. Our narrator, Beth Marriot, though, is now in her ninth month as a server whose duties consist of meal preparation and janitorial functions (the novel was published in the UK in 2012 with the more appropriate title of The Server). Why is she here? Very gradually Beth’s backstory is revealed, as she becomes obsessed with a male resident who is keeping a diary (writing is one of the many outlawed activities at Dasgupta), and her melodramatic past is filled in. Beth’s quandary is deciding between the sheltered world of the institute and the lively, but dangerous, world outside the walls.
Verdict On the one hand, the depiction of the institute in its dystopian essence demonstrates Parks’s undoubted ability to craft a world. On the other, the revelations about the narrator’s past, when they do come, fall flat. Listen. That’s the sound of one hand clapping.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO

Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. Little, Brown. Oct. 2013. 784p. ISBN 9780316055437. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780316247679. F
This latest work from Tartt (Little Friend) is nothing like the small, exquisitely rendered painting of the title. Protagonist Theo Decker is just 13 years old when his mother is killed in an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which the two had been visiting (but when?). Before the explosion, Theo makes eye contact with an appealing girl his age; afterward, he lifts the goldfinch painting (but why?) and is given a ring by the older man accompanying the girl (but why?). The ring leads him to Hobart and Blackwell, an antiques shop where he meets both generous proprietor Hobie and Pippa, the girl from the museum, who remains the elusive love of Theo’s life. Meanwhile, Theo stays with the wealthy family of his sort-of friend Andy until his long-gone father reappears to plunder the mother’s apartment (but who paid the rent all that time?) and take poor Theo to Las Vegas. There, free of parental guidance, Theo befriends Russian bad-boy Boris and goes off track, eventually returning to New York, floundering through school, and setting up business with Hobie, whom he more or less betrays (but why?).
Verdict There might be an acute psychological portrait of grief and growth buried here, but there’s so much unconsidered detail that subject and background seem switched, as in a badly done painting. We should feel for Theo in his anguish, but instead he leaves an acrid taste in the mouth. Tartt is beloved, and readers are going to go after this book (but why?). [See Prepub Alert, 4/1/13.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Valtat, Jean-Christophe. Luminous Chaos. Melville House. (Mysteries of New Venice, Bk. 2). Oct. 2013. 528p. ISBN 9781612191416. $24.95. SF
In this sequel to Aurorarama, Brentford Orsini’s term as Regent-Doge of the city of New Venice has ended, and he, along with several other heroes from the city’s liberation, is assigned to a diplomatic mission to Paris. When the experimental craft they are traveling on malfunctions, Orsini and company don’t just arrive in Paris…they arrive in Paris in 1895, decades before most of them were even born. In this way, Valtat’s new book also acts as a prequel, with the characters meeting members of the mysterious secret society who originally designed and founded New Venice. With several protagonists getting their own involved subplots and a few sections of information dumping to fill in the readers who missed the first book in the series, the story takes a while to get going. This doesn’t feel like meandering, however, as the characters are well realized and the prose itself is clever enough to keep readers engaged as the plot falls into place.
Verdict Recommended for steampunk fans and readers who enjoy alternate European histories.—Peter Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

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"