Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, February 7, 2014

Week ending February 7, 2014

Cook, Jude. Byron Easy. Pegasus. 2014. 496p. ISBN 9781605984919. $25.95. F
Can you handle 500 pages of clever complaining? How about if the narrator is a British minor poet, likely drunk, and on a train back to his mother’s house with all his worldly possessions? He mostly wants to tell us how awful his wife, Mandy, was and is. Even if you have patience with young men complaining about women, the overexcited vocabulary here can get tiresome: There were bookshelves of erudite criticism, Expressionist prints on the walls, scripts cracked open on stolen university armchairs, racks of fine wine, the Telegraph crossword done as a flat on a Sunday morning, and (the really impressive thing) real Sumatran filter coffee.” The childhood remembrances are a bit easier. Cumulatively, however, there’s a tonal difference in the novel that makes it fall short of both the winning charm of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and the grotesque lovesickness of a Humbert Humbert.
Verdict If this debut novel were half the size, or twice as humane (or even crueler), then this reviewer could recommend it. Now, however, he’d move to the other side of the train to get away from the ranting.—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., Gainesville, FL

Everett, Lily. Shoreline Drive. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Sanctuary Island, Bk. 2). Feb. 2014. 303p. ISBN 9781250018397. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466808102. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
shorelinedrive020714Sanctuary Island, off the coast of Virginia, lives up to its name for most of the residents who call it home. Large-animal vet Ben Fairfax has been growling and cranky there since relocating from his FFV upbringing in Richmond. According to Ben, holding people at arm’s length while he treats their livestock will keep his life and his heart in one piece. So how did Meredith Preston make her way inside his armor and under his skin? Reformed bad girl Merry brought her own issues to the community when she and her older sister, Ella, showed up last year to reconnect with their long-estranged mother, Jo Hollister (Sanctuary Island). But Merry doesn’t have men on her radar. Her sole focus is her four-month-old son, Alex. Ben can’t get enough of the tiny boy, even as he continues to scowl at Alex’s mother. Will a marriage of convenience serve Ben’s purposes and bring the woman he can’t stop thinking of within his grasp?
Verdict This very sweet follow-up to Everett’s series opener keeps multiple romances moving forward as it throws animal and human roadblocks in their way. A charmer that deals with enough emotion to keep readers riveted to these island stories.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Hall, Emylia. The Swiss Affair. Mira: Harlequin. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780778314653. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460325353. F
Hadley Dunn’s life has been rather ordinary and unremarkable until she goes abroad to study in Lausanne, an alluring and elegant Swiss city. Not only does she embrace the excitement and possibilities that a new and foreign environment can offer, she also meets a beautiful and captivating friend named Kristina, a handsome but off-limits literature teacher, and a sophisticated but cautious older man. All of them help Hadley experience life in ways she never had before through first-time adventures and friendships, literature, and worldly culture. However, when an unfortunate accident happens, the lives of these friends are permanently changed. Hadley will learn to question what she thought she knew as well as the people she has grown to know and love. Has anything she’d been told by her friends, most especially by Kristina, been the truth, or has Hadley’s young heart been tricked and deceived?
Verdict Hall’s (The Book of Summers) enthralling and beautifully written novel mixes a captivating coming-of-age story with mystery, romance, and tragedy. Hadley’s journey of self-discovery will appeal to both the new adult demographic and more mature readers.—Anne M. Miskewitch, Chicago P.L.

Heivoll, Gaute. Before I Burn. Graywolf. 2014. 336p. tr. from Norwegian by Don Bartlett. ISBN 9781555976613. $26. F
Here’s a true story, or at least a rendering thereof, of a 1970s arson case in southern Norway. It doesn’t involve just a single torching—building after building burn in a month. Heivoll’s novel, an international best seller, gives us a narrator who was just a child at the time of the fires, and he retells the story 30 years later: “It has pursued me for thirty years although I have never known exactly what happened or indeed what it was all about…. The story had been there like a shadow until the moment I decided to write it down.” The narrative opens dramatically with several stabbings, and the characters—friends and neighbors like Olav, Kunt, and Joanna—are odd but not without their charms. Heivoll’s fablelike tone is assured, and his sentences roll whittled in a Hemingway style.
Verdict Despite these assets to the story, most readers will either acquiesce or roll their eyes at the fever pitch and labored first-person voice. Given the current appetite for Scandinavian thrillers, though, this book should find an ample, willing audience.—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., Gainesville, FL

Maxwell, Cathy. The Bride Says Maybe. Avon. (Brides of Wishmore, Bk. 2). Feb. 2014. c.384p. ISBN 9780062219275. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062219282. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
In her second title in “The Brides of Wishmore” series, Maxwell continues the story of Lady Tara Davidson, introduced in The Bride Says No. As that book ends, Lady Tara had run away from marriage to a man she didn’t love and was heartbroken over the marriage of the love of her life to another. Now she’s back at the family home trying to live down the scandal of her failed nuptials and figure out what her next steps will be. According to her father, the Earl of Tay, her only choice is to marry Breccan Campbell. Breccan has bought up all of Tay’s debts, and unless Tara marries him, he will collect what is owed and send their family into penury. While Tara’s initial reaction is to run away, again, she ends up making a deal with Breccan. Once she has a child, she can return to London. In the meantime, though, she will live with him at Wolfstone and perhaps fall in love?
Verdict Maxwell (The Devil’s Heart) is aiming to show Tara’s emotional journey from a spoiled, somewhat immature young woman into an adult who has learned what love truly is. While she doesn’t fully succeed, she does write with a light enough touch to appeal to fans of Julia Quinn and Sabrina Jeffries.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

starred review starStorace, Patricia. The Book of Heaven. Pantheon. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780375408069; ebk. ISBN 9780307908698. $26. F
bookofheaven020714Set aside your previous understanding of the Old Testament and consider these questions: Could there be another heaven? Could Eve’s experience on Earth have been different from what has been recorded? Are there stories hidden within far-away constellations where the travails and strengths of women are celebrated? Poet and memoirist Storace (Dinner with Persephone) posits these ideas in her mystical, lyrical, fascinating new book. Helping to tell the story are four symbols—the Knife, the Cauldron, the Paradise Nebula, and the Lover’s Cluster, each a constellation of stars that illuminates tales of love, motherhood, betrayal, and persecution. Could these universal experiences, combined with the summoning up of an inner strength, lead to a personal knowledge of the Divine?
Verdict It is a fine author who can create stories that open one’s mind to alternative views of entrenched archetypes. In a lyrical, feministic, fictional version of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, this is a marvelous, thought-provoking book for readers who enjoy mythologies that reach down into one’s soul. Highly recommended.—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis P.L.

Wilson, Rohan. The Roving Party. Soho. Feb. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781616953119. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781616953126. F
In 1829, powerful Tasmanian bounty hunter John Batman assembles a party of nine men to decimate a local Aboriginal clan at the Governor’s behest. Batman’s motley band includes native trackers from the mainland, a miserable quartet of convicts, and Black Bill, an enigmatic Aboriginal man raised by whites since childhood. Black Bill’s single-minded vendetta against the clan’s leader, Manalargena, spurs the party in their pursuit through the brutal Tasmanian landscape, until they begin to realize that taking their quarry will require bitter sacrifices not everyone is prepared to make.
Verdict Drawing upon Australia’s gruesome history of “roving parties” created to capture Aborigines, debut novelist Wilson presents an emotionally harrowing, sometimes brutally violent exploration of cruelty and compassion in a desolate land. Wilson’s psychological insights are electric; the chilling ways in which each member of the roving party must grapple with his sense of humanity makes for particularly fascinating reading. Wilson’s novel, which won multiple Australian literary awards on its release, will appeal to readers who appreciate intricate plotting, rich character studies, and poetic depictions of nature.—Kelsy Peterson, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS