Fiction from Campion, Grimes, Koontz, Kunstler, & Much More | Xpress Reviews

Week ending June 27, 2014

starred review starBenjamin, Melanie & others. Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion. Berkley. Jul. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780425272022. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698141513. F
grandcentral062714A Jewish violinist uses New York’s Grand Central Terminal as his own Carnegie Hall to capture the heart of an emigrant dancer brought to the United States by Universal Pictures in “Going Home” by Alyson Richman. Jenna Blum’s “Lucky One” tells of a Berlin aristocrat and Terezin concentration camp survivor who loses his job as a kitchen boy because his numerical tattoo causes indigestion among the lunch set. A wife waiting at the station makes a startling decision as she awaits her spouse’s return from the European front in “I’ll Walk Alone” by Erika Robuck. A mistress to Nazi officers struggles with guilt and shame during a surprise meeting with a blind epileptic Jew who shows her a new hope for humanity in “The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy. These are just a few of the stories in this collection of post–World War II fiction centered on the iconic railway station.
Verdict Emotionally moving, evocative in their descriptions, each piece sticks with the reader, giving a pulse on the postwar world. This anthology will be gobbled up by armchair historians, women’s fiction fans, and those who enjoy a moving love story.—Julia M. Reffner, Fairport, NY

Campion, Emma. A Triple Knot. Broadway. Jul. 2014. 480p. ISBN 9780307589293. pap. $16; ISBN 9780307589309. F
When her father was executed for treason, it could have meant penury and exile for Joan of Kent and her family. Instead, they were taken into the household of King Edward III and his queen. It is in some ways an uncomfortable situation as the family are constantly reminded that they are still considered traitors. One person stands steadfast in his feelings for Joan, however—her cousin Ned, the future Edward IV. Joan is sent across the English Channel to the French court, where she falls in love with a soldier, Sir Thomas Holland, who protects her from a predatory noble. Joan and Sir Thomas wed secretly and consummate their marriage before Joan returns to England. The next decade is one of peril, sorrow, war, and pestilence; Joan is married by the king to another man and still pursued by Ned. Her faith is steadfast, however, and she and Thomas ultimately are reunited, until he is carried away by the ravages of war and disease. And who is there to comfort and guide Joan in her sorrow? Ned, of course. Will he finally get his way, as he wished so long ago, and make her his queen?
Verdict Campion (The King’s Mistress) has mixed a well-researched plot with vividly drawn characters in a story that will engross fans of English medieval history. Campion is the pseudonym for novelist Candace Robb.—Pamela O’Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY

Clarke, Breena. Angels Make Their Hope Here. Little, Brown. Jul. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780316254007. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316563994. F
After River, Cross My Heart, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, set in her hometown of Washington, DC, in the 1920s, Clarke returns to the 1860s, giving voice in her lyrical third novel to a group of proud and free African Americans. The inhabitants of Russell’s Knob—a tight-knit outpost community of mixed-race people in the New Jersey highlands known as amalgamators for their interracial mingling—are a law unto themselves, willing to go to any length to protect their own. Though individuals, and not the sweep of history, are the focus, this coming-of-age story of Dossie—spirited into Russell’s Knob via the Underground Railroad—illuminates the terrible reach that slavery laws had into the lives of free black people in American towns and cities of the time.
Verdict As Dossie grows from a scared girl to a strong woman, learning from the people around her and the trials she endures, readers will feel the pull of the fictional community of Russell’s Knob and have hope that Dossie will thrive there. Clarke’s fans will want this book, which is also a solid choice for reading groups.—Laurie Cavanaugh, Holmes P.L., Halifax, MA

Grimes, Martha. Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery. Scribner. Jun. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781476724027. $26; ISBN 9781476724072. MYS
It’s been four years since the last Richard Jury mystery (The Black Cat), but Grimes hasn’t lost her touch when it comes to this droll, literate series. This time it’s a cold case that draws Jury in: Tess Williamson, known for her vertigo, fell to her death on the garden steps of her estate 17 years ago. Her devastated widower has never agreed with the inquest that ruled it an accident, especially since a local child drowned in their pool five years before. During his investigation, Jury is roped into another death-by-falling, this one recent, which has peculiarities of its own that are impossible to ignore. As usual, Grimes’s strong visuals flesh out Jury’s world, from a skyscraper champagne bar to the local pub. The supporting characters are equally engrossing; when Jury leaves to follow up on a lead, you almost wish you could hang back to keep listening to their conversations.
Verdict Sly and well plotted, with more than a hint of Hitchcockian flair—another excellent addition to the series. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14.]—Liza Oldham, Beverly, MA

Hough, John, Jr. Little Bighorn. Arcade: Skyhorse. Jun. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781628724097. $24.95. F
This fictional account of the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn is front-loaded with a love story that begins on a train to the Dakota and Montana Territories. Heading west to take a position as an aide to Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, Allen Winslow finds his first assignment is to escort Addie Grace Lord, a 16-year-old orphan, to visit her brother, one of Custer’s regimental surgeons. The 18-year-old Allen falls fast for Addie, carrying out their romance at Fort Lincoln, where he lives with the Custers and she stays with her brother. The colonel plans to protect Allen, along with his own brother Boston and nephew Autie Reed, by holding them back from the action as he embarks on his campaign against the Sioux and the Cheyenne. But when the enemy outnumbers the soldiers on June 25, 1876, no one is safe. The battle plays out in graphic, brutal detail that is not for the squeamish.
Custer fans will enjoy the lively, well-researched storytelling by Hough, who won the W.Y. Boyd Award in 2010 for his Gettysburg novel, Seen the Glory. But for the coarse language, violence, and adult situations, this would be a great read for young adults.—Wendy W. Paige, Shelby Cty. P.L., Morristown, IN

James, Syrie. Jane Austen’s First Love. Berkley. Aug. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780425271353. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698139268. F
Jane Austen is 15, in 1791, and spending a month with her family in Kent at the home of Sir Brook Bridges, whose daughter Elizabeth is betrothed to Jane’s brother Edward. Jane is not yet out in society and bristles at the rules to which she is forced to adhere. Yet at this house party, she is allowed a bit of license: she dances at a ball, powders her hair, and falls in love. Mr. Edward Taylor is nearly 17 and nothing like anyone Jane has ever known. As a distant cousin to the Bridges family, he is in her sphere most of the visit, and though their stations are miles apart (he the heir to a nearby estate), the pair seem to have much in common. With romance in the air, Jane also takes it upon herself to rearrange several of the young couples in attendance, certain of her instincts toward matchmaking. Did someone say Emma?
Verdict Basing this charming bit of wishful thinking upon a scrap of information about Austen’s life and a name, James (The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen) creates a realistic tale that could have been written by the revered author herself. James’s latest will charm Austen fans (and fans of James, too) as well as Austen unfamiliars who might seek out the genuine article and forge a new reading relationship. Romance fans will root for Jane all the way.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Koontz, Dean. The City. Bantam. Jul. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780345545930. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780345545947. F
thecity062714In the turbulent late 1960s, young Jonah Kirk wants nothing more than to be a great piano man like his grandfather, but music is only part of his destiny. As Jonah’s world of significant people begins to expand, he learns some difficult lessons that help him mature into the man he will become—lessons involving life and death, good and evil, trust and betrayal. Are there supernatural forces at work? Maybe. Jonah sometimes thinks so. Items have juju, and aren’t they prophetic dreams he’s been given? Ominous foreshadowing pulls us from event to event. Jonah is nine through most of the story, but he narrates from the perspective of a middle-aged man, as though looking back with the wisdom of age. Although we don’t know what is going to happen until the end, throughout the story we know that it is something terrible. The narrator tells us this much, but he teases us along.
Verdict Koontz’s (“Odd Thomas” series) stand-alone is like dynamite, with a long slow fuse that smolders quietly until exploding brilliantly. His many fans will want this.—Elizabeth Masterson, Mecklenburg Cty. Jail Lib., Charlotte, NC

Kunstler, James Howard. A History of the Future: A World Made by Hand Novel. Atlantic Monthly. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780802122520. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802192479. F
This third novel in Kunstler’s dystopian series (World Made by Hand; The Witch of Hebron) depicts life in an America post-computers, post-electricity, even post–national unity. Bombings, economic collapse, disease, and scarcity have demoralized some but invigorated others, who struggle to create a new society devoid of the comforts of our day. The story Kunstler narrates is old-fashioned in style and tone but surprisingly effective. The bulk of it takes place around the upstate New York town of Union Grove. Some of its inhabitants have given up, descending into drunkenness and hating anyone better off than they. Others, including new mayor Robert Earle, try to forge new lives, different from their old ones but satisfying nonetheless. Shorn of a public safety net, varied forms of community emerge, including a 5,000-acre semifeudal plantation. The novel bogs down in a clumsily inserted subnarrative about Earle’s son, sent to the breakaway republic of Foxfire (Kentucky and south) as an undercover agent of what’s left of the United States to assassinate its racist despot.
Verdict An uneven novel, but the best parts are good and it will be popular. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, though less dark.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA

Netzer, Lydia. How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781250047021. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466847798. F
Netzer’s sophomore effort is a love story like no other. Irene, a brilliant astrophysicist, believes in science, not love. George is convinced everything on the planet, from the stars to the living beings, has a twin soul. He just hasn’t found his yet. These two individual forces spiral toward each other and come crashing together in a world-comes-to-a-standstill moment that appears to be destiny but might actually be part of a great master plan. As George and Irene balance the fine line of fate, old secrets are exposed, and true love is put to the test. Netzer’s poetic storytelling results in a surreal yet believable tale of two lives intertwined more than they could have realized. As in the author’s first novel (Shine, Shine, Shine), the imaginative characters are full of eccentricities, adding a touch of humor to a story that’s also tinged with remorse and regret.
Verdict Recommended for all literary fiction fans. This would also make a great book club selection for anyone who has ever pondered soul mates and the role individuals play in controlling destiny.—Andrea Brooks, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

Ulysse, Katia D. Drifting. Akashic. Jul. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781617752407. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617752797. F
Having published in numerous literary journals, including Caribbean Writers, Meridian, and Haiti Noir, children’s author Ulysse makes her adult fiction debut with a series of interlinked stories that center on a young girl from Haiti named Flora. Flora’s father leaves for America several years before she follows with her mother and sisters. But America is not what Flora expected. Vocal about his disdain for his newly arrived family, Flora’s father is constantly threatening to send them back to Haiti so he can have a better life with the American woman whom he has married. In other episodes, Flora is taken advantage of by a trusted schoolteacher, and we see other young women making the same arduous journey as our protagonist. Ulysse’s language (both in English and Creole) is accessible yet peppered with poeticism: “I spin around so fast that the girls’ faces become one big blur as the sun melts a rainbow in the sky and everything turns black and I fall down on the bed with the roach on the patch of ceiling directly above my head.”
Verdict Like the recent Akashic anthology Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, this novel in short stories will appeal to readers of literary and Caribbean fiction.—Ashanti White, Yelm, WA

starred review starYork, Robin. Harder. Bantam. (Caroline & West, Bk. 2). Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780804177030. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780804177047. NEW ADULT ROMANCE
harder062714Harder picks up where Deeper emotionally ends. Caroline and West are half a continent apart, and neither one is able to get over the intense relationship they shared. But West is back in his depressed hometown of Silt, OR, and believes that he has to stay in the dead-end borough to protect his little sister, Frankie. He’s sure that Caroline is too good for him and much too good for Silt. But she’s still his first call in a crisis and the only one he trusts to take care of Frankie. And no matter how much he hurts her, Caroline can’t help but believe that West is everything she wants, providing he can get his head out of his self-sacrificing butt.
Verdict New adult stories are all about people in the first flush of adulthood grasping the reins of their own lives. In Harder, Caroline and West are facing genuine challenges: the aftermath of Caroline’s issues experienced in Deeper; West’s neglectful mother and dysfunctional family; becoming surrogate parents to Frankie, even when they aren’t quite together; and all while picking up the threads of a romance that is nearly broken. Watching Caroline and West reach for the future, and for each other, is one terrific story.—Marlene Harris, Seattle P.L.