Fiction from Daly, Kuznetsov, and Rinaldi; Karon Returns to Mitford, NC | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 22, 2014

Daly, Paula. Keep Your Friends Close. Grove. Sept. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780802123206. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802192325. F
Natty Wainwright has everything she wanted out of life: a successful business, an adoring husband, and two beautiful daughters. She can’t help it if it takes from sun up to sun down to keep the inn running smoothly, make sure the girls are taken care of, and maintain her own house the way she likes it. But when her younger daughter, who is away at camp, falls ill, Natty must rush to her side and leave her careful life behind. Fortunately, her best friend Eve, who is visiting when Natty leaves, agrees to stay and take care of things. Really take care of things. When Natty returns, everything has changed, and her life as she knew it is over.
Verdict Daly (Just What Kind of Mother Are You?) has written another page-turner that’s sure to please suspense/thriller lovers. Although the abruptness of what happens to Natty seems a bit unrealistic, readers will want to keep reading to find out what’s next. The ending seems to indicate a sequel in the future. [This title was one of the “Books That Buzzed at the American Library Association Conference in Las Vegas,” Prepub Alert, 7/7/14.—Ed.]—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC

Karon, Jan. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford Novel. Putnam. Sept. 2014. 528p. ISBN 9780399167447. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698141407. F
The tenth volume in Karon’s “Mitford” series fills a long-awaited gap since 2005’s Light from Heaven. It has been five years since Father Tim retired from the pastorate of Mitford, NC, though even his retirement has been hectic. He is asked to fill the pulpit in the wake of a crisis yet finds his passion waning toward the position. Ministry is ever present in the Kavanaughs’ lives, however, and it’s not long before Father Tim finds himself counseling a pastor in crisis, helping a wayward fatherless boy, and guiding his own adopted son through relational struggles. In the wake of all the changes that have taken place since Tim’s last time in town, residents find themselves asking the question: Does Mitford still take care of its own?
Verdict With the homecoming of much-beloved characters and a few new additions, Karon’s latest provides a return to a setting readers have been clamoring to revisit. Longtime readers will not be disappointed by the author’s latest cozy redemption tale. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/14.]—Julia M. Reffner, Fairport, NY

starred review starKuznetsov, Sergey. Butterfly Skin. Titan. Sept. 2014. 368p. tr. from Russian by Andrew Bromfield. ISBN 9781783290246. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783290253. F
butterflyskin082214In this psychological thriller published for the first time in English, Kuznetsov wants to take readers deep inside his subject matter, which includes not only the mind of the serial killer driving the events but all of 21st-century Moscow. Ksenia, an ambitious editor of an online newspaper, decides to investigate a series of gruesome murders and finds herself obsessed with the psychopath terrorizing the Russian capital. Grisly details of the killer’s handiwork will push the limits of even seasoned thriller readers’ tastes, but the equally penetrating explorations of Russian feminism, fringe sexuality, and online expression justify the cult fame the novel has earned in Russia. The media-savvy author name checks many pop-culture serial killers, including Hannibal Lecter of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs and Mickey and Mallory of the film Natural Born Killers. Interestingly, Kuznetsov avoids discussion of Jack the Ripper, even though the most necessary companion title for this book has to be Alan Moore’s From Hell, down to the nauseating imagery. That said, there are poetic elements here—both actual poems by the murderer and repeated paragraph opening lines evocative of stanzas—that rival Peter Heller’s The Painter for fusing poetry and prose (not to mention the parallels of artists finding expression in murder).
Verdict Fans of serial killer thrillers and of Russian novels in translation will find a lot to love, if they have a strong stomach.—Nicole R. Steeves, Chicago P.L.

Rinaldi, Nicholas. The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb. Scribner. Aug. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781476727325. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476727349. F
Charlie Stratton first appears at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum when he is five years old. Dubbed Gen. Tom Thumb by the enterprising showman, Charlie draws enthusiastic crowds on extended European tours, where he entertained royalty. Yet, Charlie often questions how to reconcile his acting roles with his own identity and muses on how his small size influences his life. In 1861, when Charlie is 23, the American Civil War overshadows Barnum’s enterprise until he hires another dwarf, Lavinia Warren, whose romance with Tom diverts public attention from Union defeats. Charlie agrees to pass along messages for a Union spy network because of Lavinia’s concern for her soldier brother, Benjamin. Other adventures include facing danger during the New York draft riots and foiling Confederate sympathizers’ plans to kidnap Charlie for ransom. While Charlie narrates most of the novel, Lavinia voices several chapters, including her life as a showboat entertainer and her hopes for children.
Verdict Rinaldi’s (Bridge Fall Down; The Jukebox Queen of Malta; Between Two Rivers) fourth novel laces a literary interpretation of Tom Thumb’s life with historical figures and actual events such as President Lincoln’s wedding reception for the tiny couple. In addition, Charlie and Lavinia’s reflections on physical limitations and public persona versus private identity make this book a likely candidate for book club discussion; there are plenty of themes here to generate conversation.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato