Fiction from Chadwick, Coll, Colucci, S. Evanovich, & Moriarty | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 4, 2014

Chadwick, Elizabeth. The Summer Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Sourcebooks Landmark. Jul. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9781402294068. pap. $15.99. F
Historical fiction novelist Chadwick (The Greatest Knight; A Place Beyond Courage) launches a new trilogy centered on Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alienor (Eleanor) is only 13 when her father dies on a religious pilgrimage, leaving behind a plan for her to marry the French heir to the throne and one day become queen of France. Initially pleased with the dashing young Louis, Alienor soon finds that his obsessive piety and dependence on ambitious advisers make it almost impossible for her to play the powerful role at court she had anticipated. Caught between her need to appease Louis and her own desires and passions, Alienor struggles to discern where her ultimate loyalties should lie.
Verdict Chadwick is extremely popular among readers of medieval historical fiction owing to her meticulous research and attention to detail. Fans of her previous novels should enjoy getting a closer look at Eleanor, who has appeared in several of her other books, while newcomers will find this to be a pleasurable introduction to Chadwick’s work.—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

Coll, Susan. The Stager. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Jul. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780374268817. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374710729. F
Ten-year-old Elsa Jorgenson has more than her share of worries: a lost pet rabbit named Dominique; a nanny with a mysterious bag of “tea”; her ex–tennis pro father’s health concerns; an absent, high-powered executive mother; a lack of Pop-Tarts; and an imminent move to London as soon as the family’s Washington, DC, area McMansion sells. To that end, Eve, a property stager, has been tasked with making the Jorgenson home salable, if only lonely and bored Elsa would leave her alone. Father Lars mourns his glamorous days on the international tennis circuit, while he ponders wife Bella’s fidelity (and Elsa’s paternity). We learn of Eve’s past connection to Bella just as the Jorgenson family begins to spiral out of control in this funny and biting suburban farce. And, through it all, the specter of lost Dominique hops through the perfectly manicured suburban hedges.
Verdict Fans of “suburban noir” should make room for five-time novelist Coll (Beach Week; Acceptance) alongside their Tom Perrotta and John Updike collections.—Jennifer Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast

starred review starColucci, A.J. Seeders. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250042897. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466840577. F
When well-known botanical scientist George Brookes burns years of research papers, attempts to perform a crude hara-kiri with a letter opener, and then throws himself off the cliff of an isolated Canadian island…well, someone is going to ask questions. What terrible discoveries had been unearthed in this insulated horticultural lab? When the bereaved heirs arrive to sort out the remaining possessions, they sense a chilling eeriness, like a haunting. Something is making its presence known. And it’s not happy.
Verdict Colucci, author of The Colony (about killer ants), has served up another science-based thriller that will make you wonder what your Caesar salad is thinking about you as you eat it. This fun, scary, and intriguing book will be gleefully embraced by anyone who enjoys “experiments gone terribly wrong” stories. Young adults and adults will find this yarn captivating as well as thought provoking.—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Evanovich, Stephanie. The Sweet Spot. Morrow. Jul. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780062234810. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062234834. F
Evanovich’s second novel follows up with the origin stories of characters from her 2013 debut, Big Girl Panties. Where Chase, the playboy professional baseball player, and Amanda, the restaurant owner, are happily married in Big Girl Panties, this sequel takes readers back to their first meeting, wherein Chase relentlessly pursues Amanda, talking her into a date after camping out at her restaurant. For Amanda, things seem too good to be true, until Chase unleashes his proclivity for light sadomasochism.
Verdict This novel starts out as a witty, if typical, romance staring a unique female heroine with whom readers might rush to identify. Chase as the alpha male is far less compelling, and the spanking is introduced suddenly and without warning. Fans of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey will enjoy the glossed-over erotica. Others might well be completely turned off.—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll., Pepper Pike, OH

Francis, J.P. The Major’s Daughter. Plume. Jul. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780452298699. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698157941. F
majorsdaughter070414In the spring of 1944, Collie finds herself assisting her father, Maj. John Brennan, with the running of a prisoner-of-war camp in Stark, NH. They are about to receive their first influx of German soldiers, who will be logging trees in the Great North Woods. In the midst of paperwork and translating, she meets August Wahrlich, a handsome and educated young German disillusioned by the war. With her mother long dead, Collie turns to her college friend Estelle for help dealing with her conflicted feelings, although Estelle’s romantic troubles mirror Collie’s—Estelle is drawn to an Indian man she could never marry. Throughout the summer and into the following winter, Collie and Estelle struggle with their consciences and the pressures society dictates.
Verdict Debut author Francis uses the subdued confines of rural New Hampshire to set a novel of quiet longing and heartbreaking choices. Through Collie and Estelle she explores what it means to follow one’s heart or do what is socially acceptable and the consequences of each choice. Beautifully written, this title will attract readers who like a love story mixed with their historical fiction.—Anna Nelson Karras, Collier Cty. P.L, Naples, FL

starred review starMoriarty, Liane. Big Little Lies. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. Jul. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780399167065. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698138636. F
Moriarty’s (The Husband’s Secret) latest begins with a death in the strangest of places—Pirriwee Public School’s annual trivia night. Months earlier, single mother Jane moves with her son, Ziggy, to a quaint beach town. Enrolling Ziggy in a new school, she has a lot to learn about being a kindergarten mom. Outspoken veteran school mom Madeline and Celeste, her beautiful, rich, yet distracted friend, help Jane navigate the social hierarchy of Pirriwee Public. But when Ziggy is accused of bullying, the parents begin to take sides—with Madeline heading the pro-Ziggy front. While Jane is the only parent outwardly judged for her lifestyle (a single mother who “doesn’t know” Ziggy’s father), other upstanding families quietly deal with infidelity, remarried exes, abuse, and damning secrets.
Verdict Once again Moriarty demonstrates an excellent talent for exposing the dark, seedy side of the otherwise “perfect” family unit while keeping the characters believable enough to be someone you might know. Considering the best-selling success of The Husband’s Secret, her tale of dangerous lies, runaway gossip, and badly behaved parents will attract a wide readership. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/14.]—Brooke Bolton, North Manchester P.L., IN