Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, December 13, 2013

Week ending December 13, 2013

Cantor, Rachel. A Highly Unlikely Scenario; or, A Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World. Melville House. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781612192642. pap. $14.95. F
Cantor’s debut novel melds whimsical sf with time traveling—philosophical, metaphysical, and political—in a literary equivalent of a mashup between Christopher Moore and Naguib Mahfouz. In an undetermined time and place, the world is run by the Leader (of unnamed sect), while rival fast-food chains compete for philosophical control of people’s hearts and minds. The Pythagorean Neetsa Pizza chain is the employer of our erstwhile hero, Leonard, whose primary occupation is to sit in his White Room, recite Pythagorean meditations, listen to customer complaints, and relieve their pain through compassion…and pizza coupons. Leonard soon becomes embroiled in a mystery involving calls from a 13th-century explorer named Marco, dead mystics, and his own deceased grandfather, imploring him to save the world. With the help of his nephew Felix, adept at practicing awesome karate kicks but not so adept at avoiding being thrown in compost heaps, Leonard steps foot outside his White Room into the world of warring neo-Maoists, Latter-day Baconians, and Heraclitans, in search of answers—and maybe a little love.
Verdict Cantor’s novel will be a great hit for fans of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. There’s a lot going on here, and all of it is amusing.—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar College Lib., VA

Cornwell, Bernard. The Pagan Lord. Harper. (Saxon Tales). Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780061969706. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062199348. F
Tenth-century Britain is a chessboard of minor monarchs and nobles, all scheming for advantage and riches. One of them, Uhtred Uhtredson, of Saxon parentage and Danish upbringing, is now past 50. The lord of a small estate, Uhtred finds his world falling apart when he kills an abbot by mistake, provoking a curse, and the leader of the Danes burns his house and kidnaps his consort. Also nagging at Uhtred is the hold on his ancestral city by his treacherous uncle. Grouchy, ribald, and ferocious, Uhtred crisscrosses England in search of the reasons behind his recent misfortune and to recover what was taken from him. This seventh entry in the “Saxon Tales” (after Death of Kings) would not be a Cornwell novel if it did not have more than a few great battle scenes, as well.
Verdict Cornwell, a master of historical fiction, has written another energetic and involving mix of history and storytelling that will please his many fans. You could even entice a reluctant male reader with a sweeping story like this. [See Prepub Alert, 7/29/13.]—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ

starred review starGray, Juliana. How To Master Your Marquis. Berkley Sensation. (Princess in Hiding Romance, Bk. 2). Jan. 2014. 292p. ISBN 9780425265673. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101613016. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
howtomasteryourmarquis121313Princess Stefanie, the youngest of the three daughters of the assassinated ruler of the German principality of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof, is masquerading as Stephen Thomas, the mustachioed law clerk to the esteemed London barrister Sir John Worthington. The sisters are each living disguised as a male while their uncle the Duke of Olympia tracks down the conspirators who killed their father. James Lambert, the Marquess of Hatherfield, has been tasked with looking after Mr. Thomas, but pretending that his well-groomed charge is not in truth an intriguing woman is difficult at best. James knows that maintaining Stefanie’s facade is all important to her safety and perhaps even to his own means of thwarting his father’s plans. But can it save James when he is charged with the brutal murder of his stepmother?
Verdict In this second series title from Gray (after How To Tame Your Duke), readers are aware that the marquis is fighting for his life even before the romance begins, which only serves to heighten the suspense as the couple’s passion and the legal machinations head for a tumultuous collision. This entrancing and searing love story is highly recommended.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Haws, Annette. The Accidental Marriage. Bonneville. Dec. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781462113743. pap. $16.99. F
Nina Rushforth lives up to her “impulsive” moniker. On a trip to Scotland to research the poet Robert Burns for her thesis, Nina meets the poetic-looking Elliot, who is fulfilling his Mormon missionary requirement. Marrying in haste, she repents at leisure, finding herself with little preparation for the practical side of marriage during the Nixon era when roles are rapidly changing. Both sets of in-laws are opposed to the marriage from the start. Elliot’s parents are more conservative in their faith and resent a daughter-in-law who can neither cook a roast nor run a proper load of laundry. Nina’s wealthy parents cut off her trust fund, and her forward-thinking lawyer father fears marriage to Elliot will squelch her dreams. When Nina takes a job as a teacher, she is caught in the maelstrom of the 1970s and the newly passed Title IX law. Can Nina find her happily ever after in a new world?
Verdict Although Haws (Waiting for the Light To Change) is adept at portraying a changing environment for gender roles, employment, and marriages, the conflict doesn’t always move the plot forward at a rapid pace. Those who enjoy a gentle romance and fans of the 1970s may find much to enjoy here.—Julia M. Reffner, Fairport, NY

Jungersen, Christian. You Disappear. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Jan. 2014. 352p. tr. from Danish by Misha Hoekstra. ISBN 9780385537254. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385537261. F
This psychological drama examines the relationship among Mia (a teacher), Frederik (her husband, a charismatic headmaster at a prestigious private school in Copenhagen, Denmark), and Niklas (their teenage son). While on vacation in Majorca, Frederik collapses. At the local hospital, Mia and Niklas learn Frederik has a brain tumor that has altered his personality radically. When the family returns home to Copenhagen, Danish authorities suspect Frederik of embezzling from his school. Mia hires a lawyer, Bernard, whom she meets at a support group for spouses with brain tumors. While working on Frederik’s defense, Mia and Bernard find their relationship deepening as Mia reevaluates her marriage and weighs the consequences her decisions will have on her son.
Verdict The author of the best-selling, award-winning novels Undergrowth and The Exception skillfully interweaves science and philosophy. This fast-paced, well-researched literary suspense novel keeps mature adult readers of Scandinavian fiction hooked until the final page. Hoekstra’s translation is superb. [See Prepub Alert, 7/29/13.]—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

starred review starLawson, M.A. Rosarito Beach: An Agent Kay Hamilton Novel. Blue Rider. Jan. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780399165733. $26.95. F
rosaritobeach121313Kay Hamilton is no ordinary DEA agent. She’s tough, smart, and beautiful and has proven that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a conviction. So when she gets the chance to take down a major drug trafficker, Tito Olivera, and thereby also his brother Caesar, the ring leader and billionaire Mexican drug czar, she doesn’t hesitate. However, Caesar has found Kay’s Achilles heel. This case will prove to be the most challenging of her career, if not her life, and Kay must fight for something far more personal in the end.
Verdict The author (aka Mike Lawson; The Inside Ring) has written a great start to a promising new series, with a gripping story line and a gutsy, likable heroine. Readers who enjoy fast-paced thrillers and detective novels with a female protagonist who’s fully developed, vulnerable, and intriguing will gobble this one up and ask for more. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC

Mosby, Steve. The Murder Code. Pegasus Crime. Dec. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781605984889. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781480448346. F
According to police detective Andy Hicks, people always commit murder for a reason, be it money, jealousy, anger, or madness that itself has a root cause. But then a serial killer in his unnamed British city begins randomly bludgeoning strangers—beating their faces beyond recognition with a hammer—and the normally self-assured Hicks is thrown when he can’t discern a pattern. The mystery deepens after a letter arrives that challenges Hicks to crack an alleged code underlying the mayhem. As the bodies accumulate and pressure mounts to find any suspect, Hicks confronts truths about his own shady past and the chaotic nature of evil.
Verdict Hicks is a somewhat distant protagonist, but that’s the only misstep in this deliciously eerie thriller that marks the U.S. debut of veteran UK crime novelist Mosby, a CWA Dagger Winner. American readers will likely wonder what took so long to bring him stateside—despite the disturbing subject matter, this is an ingeniously plotted and elegantly written page-turner that will hold iron-stomached fans of Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride in its thrall.—Annabelle Mortensen, Skokie P.L., IL

Riggs, Ransom. Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Children. Quirk. Jan. 2014. 400p. photos. ISBN 9781594746123. $17.99. FANTASY
In Riggs’s sequel to the best-selling Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the peculiar children have narrowly escaped the island and are on the run from evil hollowgasts who would destroy them. Poor Miss Peregrine is stuck in bird-form, and it’s up to the children to save her before her condition becomes permanent. Perhaps someone in 1940s London can help. As with the first book, the strange photographs add immeasurably to the story. One wonders if these mysterious photos inspired the plot, or the plot somehow inspired the images. Riggs has created a fresh and original world in these Peregrine novels, with likable, quirky characters and a very readable style.
Verdict This works best for a YA/juvenile audience, although adults may also enjoy the whimsy and the strong bonds among these amazing children.—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Rollins, James & Rebecca Cantrell. Innocent Blood. Morrow. (Order of the Sanguines). Dec. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780061991066. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062300188. F
Rollins and Cantrell follow up their best-selling The Blood Gospel with this intense and shocking thriller. Archaeologist Erin Granger thought her life could return to normal, but when she is attacked by a vicious animal, she is rescued by army sergeant Jordan Stone and Christian, a member of the secret Vatican order known as Sanguines. Drawing on the prophecy outlined in the Blood Gospel, a tome written by Jesus Christ, Erin, Jordan, and Fr. Rhun Korza will be forced to join together either to fulfill something foreseen centuries ago or witness the end of the world.
Verdict The authors have written a fast-paced and compelling adventure filled with history, espionage, love, revenge, and the power of forgiveness. Starting with the first book will provide a much deeper reading experience, but it’s not necessary to enjoy this nonstop action thriller. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/13; with a five-city tour.]—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

Wood, Adrianne. Stowaway Bride. Pocket Bks. 2013. 326p. ISBN 9781451698251. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451698275. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
In no rush to get married, Emily Highfill Grant is determined to be free of Boston Society and its rules and heads west in hopes of a different life. Along for the adventure is younger sister Annabelle, often mistaken for being the older of the two owing to her heightened sensual charm. Their grandfather is business tycoon Charles Bertrand Highfill and as a stowaway in his Pullman Palace car, Emily meets Lucien Delatour, a self-made businessman focused on completing the Great Mountain railroad that he believes Charles is trying to sabotage. Emily manages to keep her identity a secret until her family sends agents after her and Annabelle. To keep Emily from her pursuers, Lucien does the unthinkable and marries her on the spot. When it’s revealed the next day that Emily is a Highfill, Lucien is devastated; what started out as pretend has turned into real love. Standing her ground not to return to Boston, Emily travels with Lucien to his Bramble Creek ranch. With Lucien’s railroad under attack and both unwilling to compromise, the couple risk losing everything if they stay together.
Wood (Badlands Bride) offers a gratifying portrait of two people more alike than different and how what seems impossible isn’t, but it takes a series of unexpected trials before they realize what they need is to be together.—Annalisa Pesek, 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"