Fiction Reviews | March 15, 2014

redstarBloom, Amy. Lucky Us. Random. Aug. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781400067244. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812996005. F

luckyus033114For her latest, Bloom (Away) offers something unrepentantly quirky, a madcap romp complete with road trips, secret identities, aspiring Hollywood starlets, and a tarot card–reading fake psychic. Like many screwball comedies, it starts off during the Great Depression, but it reaches its emotional climax during World War II. Eva and Iris are half sisters who flee the Midwest for California only to find themselves on the road again, heading east with their father. Along the way, they pick up strays such as German American Gus, creating a family of misfits. Gus is eventually sent to an internment camp and later repatriated to Germany, leaving Eva to hold together the remains of her patchwork clan after big sister Iris flees to England. VERDICT At its core, this is a novel of resilience, with the war serving as both a life-changing event and no more than the background noise of an impoverished existence. Full of intriguing characters and lots of surprises, it’s not for those who have taken a stand against offbeat characters, but readers of literary fiction and 20th-century historicals, as well as fans of wacky humor, will find it an excellent choice. [See Prepub Alert, 2/10/14.]—­Pamela Mann, St. Mary’s Coll. Lib., MD

redstarCunningham, Michael. The Snow Queen. Farrar. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780374266325. $26. F

thesnowqueen033114In early 1900s Fátima, Portugal, three shepherd children were transfixed by a vision of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, visible only to them. Mary revealed three secrets: the reality of hell, how to save souls from the fiery furnace, and the future deaths of prominent individuals. Similarly, this new book by Cunningham explores the interconnected lives of Barrett, Tyler, and Beth, three individuals awaiting deliverance from their own personal dystopia, a dilapidated Bushwick, Brooklyn, apartment. Walking alone through Central Park, Barrett sees a vision in the sky. As he ruminates over his religious experience, his brother Tyler continues caring for Beth, his cancer-stricken wife-to-be, while concealing his battle with drug addiction. Though these characters are all searching for redemption (whether it’s through religion, rehab, or a cure), the secret of humanity is ultimately revealed to each through the others’ lives. VERDICT In concise yet descriptive language, Cunningham weaves the secret of transcendence through the mundane occurrences of everyday life. Those who enjoyed his Pulitzer Prize–­winning The Hours will be pleased to see similar themes emerging in his newest novel. [See Prepub Alert, 11/11/13.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

redstarMatthiessen, Peter. In Paradise. Riverhead. Apr. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781594633171. $27.95. F

inparadise033114Attending a multidenominational retreat at the site of the Auschwitz concentration and death camp in 1996, American scholar ­Clements Olin plans to research poet ­Tadeusz Borowski’s connection to the camp while also rediscovering his own ­Polish gentile roots. A large group composed of many nationalities, including German gentiles, has gathered to bear witness, make personal statements, and explore other avenues for attempting to come to grips with the horrifying reality behind the dreary and forbidding ruin they see. As spiritual leader, Ben Lama gently guides and occasionally soothes members when accusations fly as Olin becomes attracted physically and emotionally to a young nun participating in the event. Away from the group, he explores the surrounding area and gradually learns unsettling truths about his family. Facts and uncertainties about the camp and the nature of the genocide are woven into the story, and the role of the Catholic Church during the war is also examined. VERDICT Not a mere recounting but a persuasive meditation on Auschwitz’s history and mythology, this novel from three-time National Book Award winner Matthiessen uses scenes of confrontation, recollection, bitterness, and self-examination to trace aspects of culture that led to the Holocaust and that still reverberate today. [See Prepub Alert, 10/4/13.]—Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.

redstarMilchman, Jenny. Ruin Falls. Ballantine. Apr. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780345549075. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345549082. F

ruinfalls033114Liz Daniels has no idea that a vacation with her husband and two young children will be the beginning of a heart-wrenching nightmare. After an exhausting day of driving, the family opts to stay at a hotel overnight. Liz awakens the next morning to find her children missing, and she and her husband, Paul, enlist help from hotel security and the local police. Then Paul suddenly disappears into thin air, and Liz is stunned to discover that her spouse is the abductor of her children. When the authorities refuse to become involved, citing parental ­custody issues, Liz begins her own frantic and ­relentless search. Digging into Paul’s past and tracing his recent computer history, she first discovers hidden family secrets and then a connection to a cult-like underground society. The closer Liz gets to the truth and to finding her children, the more the danger intensifies. VERDICT Essential for psychological thriller fanatics, Milchman’s second novel trumps her acclaimed debut, Cover of Snow. Extreme, heart-pounding action follows this determined mother as she risks everything to save her children. [See Prepub Alert, 10/20/13.]—Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

Binchy, Maeve. Chestnut Street. Knopf. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780385351850. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351867. F

Delacourt, Grégoire. My Wish List. Penguin. Apr. 2014. 176p. tr. from French by Anthea Bell. ISBN 9780143124658. pap. $15. F

Feldman, Ellen. The Unwitting. Spiegel & Grau. May 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780812993448. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780679645511. F

Fishman, Boris. A Replacement Life. Harper. Jun. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780062287878. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062287892. F

Juska, Elise. The Blessings. Grand Central. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781455574032. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781455574018. F

redstarKerr, Philip. Prayer. Putnam. May 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780399167652. $26.95. F

McKenzie, Catherine. Hidden. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780544264977. $24. F

Mai Jia. Decoded. Farrar. 2014. 320p. tr. from Chinese by Olivia Milburn & Christopher Payne. ISBN 9780374135805. $26. F

redstarMengestu, Dinaw. All Our Names. Knopf. Mar. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780385349987. $26.95. F

Mosley, Walter. Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore. Doubleday. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780385526180. $25.95. F

redstarNorman, Howard. Next Life Might Be Kinder. Houghton Harcourt. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780547712123. $26. F

Quirk, Matthew. The Directive. Little, Brown. May 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780316198646. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316198653. F

Radmann, Christopher. The Crack. Oneworld. Jun. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781780743998. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780744278. F

redstarRay, Kalyan. No Country. S. & S. Jun. 2014. 544p. ISBN 9781451635997. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781451636390. F

Raybourn, Deanna. City of Jasmine. Mira: Harlequin. Mar. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780778316213. pap. $14.95. F

St. James, Simone. Silence for the Dead. NAL. Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780451419484. pap. $14. F

Simpson, Mona. Casebook. Knopf. Apr. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780385351416. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351423. F

Thorpe, Rufi. The Girls from Corona del Mar. Knopf. Jul. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780385351966. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351973. F

Wroe, Simon. Chop Chop. Penguin Pr. Apr. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781594205798. $26.95. F

redstarWu Ming-Yi. The Man with the Compound Eyes. Pantheon. May 2014. 304p. tr. from

Chinese by Darryl Sterk. ISBN 9780307907967. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907974. F

redstarWyld, Evie. All the Birds, Singing. Pantheon. Apr. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780307907769. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907776. F

Wyler, Susan M. Solsbury Hill. Riverhead. Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781594632365. pap. $16. F

Zeh, Juli. Decompression. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780385537582. $25.95. F

Short Stories

McCracken, Elizabeth. Thunderstruck & Other Stories. Dial. Apr. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780385335775. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812995961. F

redstarPoissant, David James. The Heaven of Animals. S. & S. Mar. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781476754130. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781476729985. F

redstarWilder, April. This Is Not an Accident. Viking. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780670026043. $26.95. F

Last-Minute Mysteries

Eriksson, Kjell. Black Lies, Red Blood. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2014. 320p. tr. from Swedish by Ebba Seberberg. ISBN 9780312605049. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466840676. M

Robinson, Peter. Children of the Revolution: An Inspector Banks Novel. Morrow. Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780062240507. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062240552. M

Sibling Rivalry

Hogan, Mary. Two Sisters. Morrow. Mar. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062279934. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062279941. F

Muriel Sullivant has always been a disappointment to her family. The youngest of three children, she can’t compete with sister Pia, especially when it comes to their mother’s love. Pia is everything Muriel isn’t: thin, beautiful, married, religious. A 23-year-old casting assistant in New York, Muriel tries to avoid her family. She’s successful until Pia pops by and confesses an awful secret. She has cancer and forbids Muriel to tell their mother. Muriel’s a pro when it comes to keeping family secrets, but eventually their mother finds out the truth, turning Muriel’s already ugly relationship with her even uglier. Making her adult fiction debut, ­Hogan, the author of seven YA novels, shows such insight into how cancer affects not only the patient but the family as well that it’s not surprising to discover she has personal experience with the disease. Although the slow pacing in the novel’s first half is troublesome and the alternating points of view can be jarring, ultimately this is a hopeful novel with some genuinely surprising moments; even the rushed ending manages to satisfy. VERDICT Readers touched by cancer and book clubs that enjoy discussing family issues may find this title particularly appealing.—Amy Stenftenagel, Washington Cty. Lib. Syst., Forest Lake, MN

redstarWalsh, Therese. The Moon Sisters. Crown. Mar. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780307461605. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780307461629. F

moonsisters033114Walsh’s second novel (after The Last Will of Moira Leahy) is a story of sisters Jazz and Olivia, who take separate but winding paths toward moving on with their lives after their mother’s suicide. Jazz, older and angry, decides to plunge into a new job while Olivia, who can see sounds and taste words, runs away to the remote setting of her mother’s unfinished novel. Jazz follows, determined to drag her younger sister home, only to be met with more roadblocks as Olivia attaches herself to a train-hopper who insists he can’t be trusted. Tension between the siblings mounts on the way to their destination as each sister is hiding secrets about their mother. VERDICT Walsh has written a beautiful, lush novel fueled by a fairy-tale journey of grief, love, and will-o’-the-wisps. Fans of ­coming-of-age novels and magical realism will be drawn in and may never want to leave.—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH

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