Essential Amis, Macomber, plus a Roundup of Historical Fiction from Gregory, Hunt, McCullough, Smith, Vreeland | Fiction Reviews

redstarAmis, Martin. The Zone of Interest. Knopf. Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780385353496. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353502. F

zoneofinterest081814As he did so inventively in Time’s Arrow, Amis examines the horrors of the Holocaust from inside the hearts and minds of its perpetrators and their enablers. Taking place in the most notorious concentration camp, the book introduces a cast of characters that includes the officious Commandant, Paul Doll, an alcoholic tyrant thriving on petty vindictiveness; Golo Thomsen, the well-placed nephew of Martin Bormann, tasked with building a rubber production plant inside the camp; and the Jewish Szmul, a former teacher, victimized into collaborating with his tormentors. For these people, daily life consists of endless trains to unload, “welcome” addresses to deliver, and selections to be made. Life is also full of small annoyances (the ubiquitous smell from the crematoria) and major difficulties (the unimaginable scale of the task). Improbably, this is also a love story between Golo Thomsen and Hannah Doll, wife of the commandant. VERDICT A haunting indictment of the people who willingly bought the party line of racial purity and ethnic cleansing, this novel is as audacious as it is chilling. Essential reading.—Barbara Love, ­formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.

redstarMacomber, Debbie. Love Letters: A Rose Harbor Novel. Ballantine. Aug. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780553391138. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780553391145. F

Love LettersRomance and a little mystery abound in this third installment of Macomber’s series set at Cedar Cove’s Rose Harbor Inn. Innkeeper Jo Marie Rose is working through her grief over the loss of her husband—and working more closely with handyman Mark ­Taylor as well. She sets out to learn what she can about him and in the process discovers more about herself than she bargained. Meanwhile, her guests are struggling with questions of their own. At 23, Ellie Reynolds has defied her mother and arranged to meet Tom, whom she’s been corresponding with. Could he be her dream man? Maggie Porter and her husband, Roy, are on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, hoping they can resolve their differences and mend their broken marriage on a weekend getaway at the inn. Lives touched by missives written long ago tie each story together, but is a love letter enough to keep what they hold so dear from being torn apart? VERDICT Readers of Robyn Carr and Sherryl Woods will enjoy Macomber’s latest, which will have them flipping pages until the end and eagerly anticipating the next installment. [See Prepub Alert, 3/15/14.]—Jane Blue, Prince William Cty. Lib. Syst., VA

redstarThomas, Matthew. We Are Not Ourselves. S. & S. Sept. 2014. 640p. ISBN 9781476756660. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781476756684. F

wearenotourselves080114This epic and emotionally draining novel is centered on the life of Eileen Tumulty who lives in Queens, NY, in the mid-20th century. An only child of Irish parents, ­Eileen is smart and ambitious and looking for a better life for herself. She’s moving ahead in her career in nursing when she meets and marries Ed Leary, a PhD student in neuro­chemistry who decides he will teach at a community college despite more lucrative and prestigious offers. As years go by and the neighborhood changes, Eileen is desperate to move from their multiple-­family home to the suburbs, but the entrenched and increasingly eccentric Ed is adamant about staying put. The house they finally move to is beyond their means and needs work, and though Ed has the skills, it soon becomes apparent that the project is beyond him. A doctor’s visit reveals deeper trouble that presages Ed’s long, slow, painful decline. VERDICT The debut author has created a memorable character in Eileen, who is both intelligent and clueless, focusing on her ideals and fantasies and attempting vainly to make reality conform to her aspirations. The depiction of Ed’s illness is realistic, powerful, artistically delivered, and occasionally humorous, and readers will be drawn in. [See Prepub Alert, 3/3/14; see also ­Thomas’s address to librarians at an S. & S. Adult Librarian Preview, LJ 8/1, p. 90.]—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.

History’s Players in Fiction

Christie, Alix. Gutenberg’s Apprentice. Harper. Sept. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780062336019. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062336033. F

gutenbergsapprentice081814The year is 1450, and Peter ­Schoeffer, who has been working as a scribe in Paris, is recalled to the German city of Mainz by his foster father, Johann Fust. A successful merchant, Fust is burning with excitement over an encounter with a “most amazing man.” The man, known as Gutenberg, has invented a method of printing a book using a machine. Fust promises to fund Gutenberg’s workshop, but only if Schoeffer is accepted as an apprentice. At first, Schoeffer finds the idea of a mechanically printed book to be blasphemous but feels he must look out for Fust’s interests. Gutenberg and Schoeffer, needing more money and finding themselves in the middle of a power struggle between the merchants and the church, pursue the publication of a Bible. As the years-long process draws to a close, Gutenberg breaks rules and bullies his way to the production of a book that was thought by many to be a miracle. ­VERDICT Christie’s slow-paced debut is rich in historical detail. Although the writing can be overblown, the story of the birth of the printing press is fascinating. Readers who enjoy historical fiction such as Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures will enjoy this admirable outing. [See Prepub Alert, 3/31/14.]—Terry Lucas, Rogers Memorial Lib., Southampton, NY

Gloss, Molly. Falling from Horses. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780544279292. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780544279896. F

To distract himself from a family tragedy, 19-year-old Bud works through his heartache by leaving Oregon to fulfill his Hollywood aspirations. Gloss fans might recognize his parents, Martha Lessen and Henry Frazer, from The Hearts of Horses (2007). In September 1938 Bud meets Lily Shaw on a bus to Tinseltown; she also has a dream: to become a movie scriptwriter. As Bud unfolds his tale about his lumps and bumps as a movie stuntman, he also offers glimpses of his 30-year friendship with Lily and his years growing up in Oregon. Evidence of the author’s research about silver screen cowboys and the working environment for both stunt riders and their mounts makes Bud a reliable narrator. VERDICT Not to be missed by fans of this writer and others who love Western-based historical fiction, Gloss’s fourth novel will also draw horse lovers although they might be repelled by the revelations about the brutal conditions of early movie making. A fourth-generation Oregonian, the author has accumulated a number of literary awards, including the Oregon Book Award and the PEN Center West Fiction Prize; “If All Seattle Read the Same Book” used Wild Life (2000) for its 2002 campaign. [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/14.]—Wendy W. Paige, Shelby Cty. P.L., Morristown, IN

redstarGregory, Philippa. The King’s Curse. Touchstone. Sept. 2014. 688p. ISBN 9781451626117. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451626162. F

thekingscurse081814Taking place after the Tudor victory at ­Bosworth in 1485, Gregory’s dramatic conclusion to the “Cousins’ War” (The White Queen; The White Princess) series is narrated by Margaret Pole, a member of the defeated Plantagenet family. To remain in safety, Margaret marries beneath her station to a knight in service to Henry VII. Her cousin Elizabeth finds a way to get Margaret a position in the household of the Spanish Infanta, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret happily serves until Katherine and Arthur, Henry’s heir, wed. When a fatal illness strikes ­Arthur, Katherine’s position in the royal hierarchy becomes uncertain. And when her own husband dies, Margaret is forced into seclusion. When Katherine eventually marries Henry VIII after his father’s death, she is able to bring Margaret back into her service. But fortune changes quickly yet again for the two friends, and they are challenged by a monarch who has turned against them. VERDICT By employing Margaret as her narrator, Gregory offers a fresh perspective on well-known British history. This gripping and detailed chronicle, with plenty of court intrigue and politics to spice up the action, will be sure to please any historical fiction fan. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/13/14.]—Kristen Stewart, Pearland Lib., Brazoria Cty. Lib. Syst., TX

redstarHunt, Laird. Neverhome. Little, Brown. Sept. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780316370134. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316370127. F

neverhome081814Hunt (Kind One; Ray of the Star) has written a particularly beautiful novel about Constance “Ash” Thompson, a woman who bravely sets out to fight, in place of her husband, in the Civil War. Having dealt with unbearable grief including the loss of her mother through suicide, Ash realizes her own strength as she courageously defends the Union with her male counterparts. Through her first-person perspective, we journey with this stoic, resilient, and hopeful protagonist who recognizes her own pain even as she is coping with the atrocities of battle. Hunt brings an especially bittersweet and lyrical tone to this forgotten part of Civil War history and gives voice to the several hundred women who did indeed make the momentous decision to fight. VERDICT Historical fiction fans will not be disappointed by this wonderful story of Ash’s struggles with her identity and of her personal ties to the war. An amazing book. [See Prepub Alert, 3/31/14.]—Mariel Pachucki, Maple Valley, WA

redstarMcCullough, Colleen. Bittersweet. S. & S. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781476778914. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476755458. F

bittersweet081814At the start of 1926, in a rural town in New South Wales, Australia, Rector Thomas Latimer’s four daughters are about to embark on their first independent adventure, nursing school. The two sets of twins, Edda and Grace, and Tufts and Kitty, don’t just have different mothers, their tastes and temperaments are complete opposites. What they do share is a true, abiding love for each other and for their father. Can these bonds last a lifetime or will individual hardships break this family apart? In her first romantic epic since The Thorn Birds, ­McCullough, does a remarkable job of creating distinct voices and personalities for each of the four girls, cleverly placing them in situations that offer opportunities to complement or contrast with impressions that are already made. Along the way, readers learn more about Australia, the social nuances unique to this time and place, the devastating impact of the Great Depression, and how nursing evolved from primarily manual labor into a science requiring specific knowledge and training. VERDICT Readers of historical family dramas will be excited to find a new, satisfying book to enjoy while longtime fans of The Thorn Birds will be over the moon, welcoming back a dear old friend. Take it to the beach, on the plane, or to the couch, this book will be the best traveling companion of the summer.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

Smith, Wilbur. Desert God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt. Morrow. Oct. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780062276452. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062276513. F

Octogenarian Smith (River God) is still going strong and so is the eunuch Taita, one of his major recurring characters. The cunning Taita, an adviser to the pharaoh, is warlike and athletic, unlike his more stereotypical brethren. He sees danger for ancient Egypt from an alliance between the Minoans and the Hyksos, warlike nations that have cut off Egypt from the Mediterranean. Taita must break up the alliance and see to it that both of Egypt’s enemies are defeated. ­VERDICT What’s the recipe for commercial fiction success? Start with solid history along with plenty of action, sex, and brutal violence. Mix some mythical creatures, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves with a dollop of true love, and the result is an entertaining adventure. Smith’s fans in general and fans of Taita from the Egyptian series will be pleased.—Robert Conroy, Warren, MI

Vreeland, Susan. Lisette’s List. Random. Aug. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781400068173. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812996852. F

Vreeland (The Girl in Hyacinth Blue; Clara and Mr. Tiffany) once again explores the impact of art on the individual. When Lisette and André Roux move in 1937 from Paris to a Provençal village to care for André’s grandfather Pascal, the sophisticated Parisienne soon is redefining her identity in a rural southern France that’s not yet the vacation paradise of today but home to several decades’ worth of French artists. Through mentoring by Pascal (as a pigment salesman and frame maker, he had befriended artists Camille Pisarro and Paul Cézanne, who paid him in paintings), Lisette learns to look beyond Paris’s showy artifice and appreciate art’s ability to free minds and to document the depths of love words can fail to capture. When World War II breaks out, other artists, Marc Chagall and Samuel Beckett in exile from occupied Paris, are also logically intertwined into the story. VERDICT Fans of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring will find similar historical fiction pleasures here, as will those of Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure. Reading groups are bound to enjoy discussing how art helps Lisette find herself and see new things, showcasing how art and life not only imitate but create each other. [See Prepub Alert, 2/10/14.]—Nicole R. Steeves, Chicago P.L.


















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Archer, Ursula. Five. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2014. tr. from German by Jamie Lee Searle. 336p. ISBN 9781250037411. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250037428. F

redstarBezmozgis, David. The Betrayers. Little, Brown. Sept. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780316284332. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316284363. F

Bolaño, Roberto. A Little Lumpen Novelita. New Directions. Sept. 2014. 128p. tr. from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. ISBN 9780811223362. $19.95. F

Boykin, Kim. Palmetto Moon: A Lowcountry Novel. Berkley. Aug. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780425272107. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698141636. F

Carroll, Jonathan. Bathing the Lion. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781250048264. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466848917. F

Cobb, Sonya. The Objects of Her Affection. Sourcebooks Landmark. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781402294242. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402294259. F

redstarFesperman, Dan. Unmanned. Knopf. Aug. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780385351256. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351263. F

Guo Xiaolu. I Am China. Nan A Talese: Doubleday. Sept. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780385538718. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538725. F

Kepnes, Caroline. You. Emily Bestler: Atria. Sept. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781476785592. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476785615. F

Landis, Dylan. Rainey Royal. Soho. Sept. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781616954529. $25; ebk. ISBN 978161695453. F

Morrow, Bradford. The Forgers. Mysterious: Grove Atlantic. Nov. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780802123213. $26.50; ebk. ISBN 9780802191922. F

Morton, Brian. Florence Gordon. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780544309869. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780544309289. F

redstarParker, T. Jefferson. Full Measure. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781250052001. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852990. F

Picoult, Jodi. Leaving Time. Ballantine. Oct. 2014. 407p. ISBN 9780345544926. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780345544933. F

redstarRice, Anne. Prince Lestat. Knopf. (Vampire Chronicles). Oct. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780307962522. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307962539. F

redstarRobinson, Marilynne. Lila. Farrar. Oct. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780374187613. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374709082. F

Scott, Joanna. De Potter’s Grand Tour. Farrar. Sept. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780374162337. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374710460. F

Shafer, David. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Aug. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780316252638. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316252645. F

Simpson, Alice. Ballroom. Harper. Sept. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780062323033. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062323064. F

redstarSteinke, René. Friendswood. Riverhead. Aug. 2014. 350p. ISBN 9781594632518. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698144798. F

Taylor, Debbie. Herring Girl. Oneworld. Sept. 2014. 480p. ISBN 9781780745381. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780744933. F

Tierce, Merritt. Love Me Back. Doubleday. Sept. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780385538077. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538077. F

Short Stories

Antrim, Donald. The Emerald Light in the Air. Farrar. Sept. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9780374280932. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780374712402. F

redstarPrison Noir. Akashic. Sept. 2014. 260p. ed. by Joyce Carol Oates. ISBN 9781617752384. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781617752391. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617753312. F

redstarA Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction. Open Letter. Sept. 2014. 717p. ed. by Valerie Miles. ISBN 9781934824917. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781940953083. F

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