Bergman, Goldhagen, Unger, with Historicals, Westerns, & Debuts Aplenty | Fiction Reviews, January 2015

redstarBergman, Megan Mayhew. Almost Famous Women. Scribner. Jan. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781476786568. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476786575. F

famouswomen010715Every so often a work of fiction engages the reader immediately and resonates long after the book is finished. Such a work is this marvelous collection of stories about remarkable people whose lives had been reduced to mere footnotes. At the top of her craft, the empathetic Bergman (Birds of a Lesser Paradise) embellishes select moments in their history. While the stories themselves are unequivocally fictitious, the characters are not. We meet a member of the first all-female integrated swing band and Allegra, Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter. We also meet a cigar-smoking speedboat racer who calls herself Joe; Dolly, Oscar Wilde’s disturbed niece; and Norma, the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name but a few. The author has infused her characters with passion and yearning; they are so lifelike we feel we know them. VERDICT Writing with brilliant cadence and economy, Bergman is an impressionist who uses her brilliant palette to illuminate facets of the lives of these brave and creative lesser-known strivers.—Joyce Townsend, Pittsburg, CA

redstarGoldhagen, Shari. In Some Other World, Maybe. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9781250047991. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466848290. F

insomeotherworld010715It’s 1992 and teenagers all over America are thronging to the theaters for the long-awaited movie version of Eons & Empires, the alternate world odyssey that’s the obsession of comic book geeks everywhere. In Florida, it’s Adam Zoellner’s opportunity to hook up with his longtime crush. In Cincinnati, Sharon Gallaher ditches school to watch the film, an innocuous act with devastating consequences. In Chicago, E&E’s premiere marks the first date of Phoebe Fisher and Oliver Ryan, whose romantic aspirations are foiled when Phoebe’s kid brother Chase tails them to the movie. Goldhagen’s (Family and Other Accidents) pitch-perfect narrative follows these characters over the next 20 years, across the globe and through a time punctuated by landmark events ranging from the 1996 crash of youngest-ever pilot Jessica Dubroff to the 9/11 attacks. VERDICT From New York to Macau, these braided histories are imparted via witty, engaging prose peppered with almost unbearable poignancy. Sure to resonate with fans of nonlinear storytelling in the vein of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Zadie Smith’s NW, this title deserves a place on every library shelf. ­Superb. [See Prepub Alert, 7/28/14.]—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY

redstarUnger, Lisa. Crazy Love You. Touchstone. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781451691207. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451691221. F

crazyloveyou010715Ian Paine is a successful graphic novelist, but as a child, his life was filled with heartbreak and turmoil. From his beloved mother’s descent into madness to the merciless bullying he endured at the hands of his classmates, life dealt Ian a difficult hand. But when a young girl named Priss arrived in town, she became his loyal defender and his close friend. Now an adult, Ian can’t turn his back on Priss, even though his friendship with her has taken a destructive turn, drawing him into a life of drinking and pill popping. When he falls in love with the kind and caring Megan, Ian resolves to free himself of his drug habit, but Priss makes it clear that she isn’t going to let go. VERDICT Unger’s skillful portrayal of complex and traumatized characters make her latest psychological thriller (after In the Blood) one that will keep readers engaged from start to finish. Fans of mystery and suspense, along with ­Unger aficionados, will enjoy this imaginative tale, which may be the author’s best work yet. [See Prepub Alert, 8/11/14.]—Linda Oliver, MLIS, Colorado Springs

The New Westerns

Jackman, Clifford. The Winter Family. Doubleday. Apr. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780385539487. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385539494. F

The son of a hard and violent preacher, Augustus Winter is a remorseless, scripture-quoting gun-for-hire. During the Civil War, a group of like-minded men coalesce around his oddly charismatic presence. Working at the outskirts of civil society, the Winter Family, as the gang is known, perpetrate violence for the highest bidder. Dark and unsentimental, the story moves quickly from the gang’s inception to a betrayal by one of their own and the bloody retribution that follows. VERDICT Told in sections from Georgia in 1864, through Chicago, Phoenix, Oklahoma, and finally to California in 1900, this noir Western is a violent rampage through the American West. Canadian author Jackman (Oklahoma 1891) is a deft hand when describing the world, both physical and social, that the gang moves through, although the dialog can be oddly stilted. Sympathetic characters come and go, but the focus is on Augustus as he moves through the shifting frontier landscape, shedding companions as he goes, adapting for survival with surprising ease. While it doesn’t break new ground, fans of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and James Carlos Blake’s In the Rogue Blood will appreciate this latest entry in the gritty Western genre. [Prepub Alert, 10/27/14.]—Sarah Cohn, Manhattan Coll. Lib., Bronx, NY

redstarRussell, Mary Doria. Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2015. 592p. ISBN 9780062198761. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062198785. F

epitaph010715In this follow-up to Doc, Russell is on a mission: she will leave no stone unturned, no seemingly tangential character undeveloped, no political maneuver unexamined in order to chip away at the pristine image of Wyatt Earp, Western Law Man. Unlike Earp’s Vendetta Ride, though, her motivation is not vindictive; instead, she uses what must have been a staggering amount of research for something nobler. She wants to reveal truth where it has been obfuscated for more than a century. Exposing consumption’s crippling of alleged sharpshooter Doc Holliday, the sterility and addiction suffered by the virtually unknown Earp wife (or rather, “wives”), and even the ineptitude of President Chester Arthur’s administration, Russell shows how the gunfight at the OK Corral is not the end of a hero’s tale but just 30 terrible seconds in a decades-long, nationwide struggle to evolve out of ignorance into enlightenment. VERDICT The multitude of points of view exemplifies the best of third-person omniscience, revealing innermost secrets, hopes, and fears. Readers of Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham are sure to enjoy this novel, and fans of Westerns ready to branch out beyond Louis L’Amour and Max Brand might see it as a breath of fresh air.—Nicole R. Steeves, Chicago P.L.

Medieval Historicals

Bracewell, Patricia. The Price of Blood. Viking. Feb. 2015. 426p. ISBN 9780525427278. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698164529. F

priceofblood010715Bracewell returns to 11th-century England with this second entry (after Shadow on the Crown) in her historical trilogy about Emma of Normandy. Queen and bride to King Æthelred and mother of the heir to the English throne, Emma struggles to unite a country ravaged by war and a royal family beset with mistrust and false alliances. Illness, unfortunate luck, and bad counsel lead the king to ignore his wife, his sons, and his councilors as he tries to buy peace with the raiding Danes. Emma reaches beyond the traditional roles for women by strategizing ways to lessen the impact of the king’s misjudgments. The queen must work behind the scenes to protect her children and save her people. ­VERDICT Battles, treacherous plots, and desperation are multiplied in this tense novel. The reader sympathizes with the fiery and compassionate Emma as she fights off both external enemies who approach England’s shores and ones who scheme from within. Historical fiction fans looking for a new noble heroine will embrace this excellent saga.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

redstarFranklin, Ariana & Samantha Norman. The Siege Winter. Morrow. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780062282569. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062282583. F

Norman ably fills the hole in historical fiction left by the death of her late mother, Franklin (“Mistress of the Art of Death” series), by bringing the author’s final manuscript to fruition with aplomb. During the Anarchy, the 12th-century civil war of succession between King Stephen and Empress Matilda over the English throne, a young girl falls victim to a roving horde of mercenaries led by a degenerate monk. Left for dead, she is rescued by a lone archer who teaches her to shoot and dresses her as a boy for protection. As they travel the countryside seeking justice, they find themselves at the heart of the war in which both their futures and that of the country are at stake. VERDICT The rigidity of status in feudal society rightly permeates every scene, but Norman and Franklin excel at showing how the war impacts everyone in this richly researched, female-driven historical mystery. [See Prepub Alert, 8/11/14.]—Liza Oldham, Beverly, MA

Read the Midwife

Harman, Patricia. The Reluctant Midwife. Morrow. Mar. 2015. 432p. ISBN 9780062358240. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062358257. F

When nurse Becky ­Meyers moves to Hope River, WV, during the height of the Great Depression, she has her former employer in tow. Dr. Isaac Blum is no longer fully functioning. In fact, he is catatonic, a condition apparently caused by the sudden death of his wife. Work is scarce. When Becky’s good friend, midwife Patience Murphy (whom readers met in the author’s 2012 title, The Midwife of Hope River), needs assistance, she often asks Becky to help her deliver babies, a medical task Becky finds terrifying. By taking a part-time job at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp, growing vegetables, and bargaining for firewood, Becky is able to support not only herself but Isaac, too. The doctor starts slowly to respond to the challenges of rural survival. Mining accidents, a rampant forest fire, and difficult pregnancies set a lively pace for all concerned. When Isaac begins secretly reading Becky’s diary, the novel’s layered complexity grows. ­VERDICT This title is sure to appeal to fans of American historical fiction or anyone else looking for a story with plenty of emotion, spunk, and community spirit.—Keddy Ann Outlaw, Houston

Hepworth, Sally. The Secrets of Midwives. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781250051899. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852631. F

secretsofmidwives010715Secrets new and old create drama for a family with three generations of midwives. Grace, a second-generation midwife, can’t stand secrets—perhaps because unbeknownst to her, one has been haunting her for her entire life. The woman guarding that information is her mother, Floss, also a midwife and now retired. And then there’s Grace’s daughter, Neva, who has secrets of her own. She is pregnant and although she’s getting past the point of being able to hide it, she’s determined not to disclose the father’s identity. The mystery surrounding Neva’s pregnancy prompts Floss to revisit the past and start to consider coming clean. Meanwhile, unforeseen circumstances cause Grace to try her hand at deception. In a family with a talent for concealment as well as midwifery, could it turn out that the truth is as welcome as a newborn? ­VERDICT Australian Hepworth’s debut is deftly told with some historical elements mixed in. This thoughtful intergenerational story will delight readers—especially those who enjoy works exploring the topic of midwifery as in Chris Bohjalian’s Midwives and the BBC series Call the Midwife. [See Prepub Alert, 8/18/14.]—Karen Core, ­Detroit P.L.

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
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Alexandra, Belinda. White Gardenia. Gallery: S. & S. Feb. 2015. 496p. ISBN 9781476790312. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476790343. F

Anderson, James. The Never-Open Desert Diner. Caravel. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780912887104. $25. F DEBUT

Boyne, John. A History of Loneliness. Farrar. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780374171339. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374713027. F

Bruschini, Vito. The Prince. Atria. Mar. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9781451687194. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451687217. $13.99. F

Chapin, Andrea. The Tutor. Riverhead. Feb. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781594632549. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698145061. F

Clarkson, John. Among Thieves. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9781250047243. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466847606. F

Cohen, Tamar. War of the Wives. Mira: Harlequin. Feb. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780778317487. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460343210. F

Ellison, Jan. A Small Indiscretion. Random. Jan. 2015. 318p. ISBN 9780812995442. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812995459. F DEBUT

Ferriss, Lucy. A Sister To Honor. Berkley. Jan. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780425276402. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698169043. F

redstarFreeman, Anna. The Fair Fight. Riverhead. Apr. 2015. 480p. ISBN 9781594633294. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698167971. F DEBUT

Galassi, Jonathan. Muse. Knopf. Jun. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780385353342. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353359. F DEBUT

Gardam, Jane. The Hollow Land. Europa Editions. Jan. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9781609452469. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781609452568. F

Gortner, C.W. Mademoiselle Chanel. Morrow. Mar. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780062356406. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062356444. F

Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780312577223. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466850606. F

Harrison, Jim. The Big Seven: A Faux Mystery. Grove. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780802123336. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802192127. F

Hornby, Nick. Funny Girl. Riverhead. Feb. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781594205415. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698170490. F

redstarHoward, Ravi. Driving the King. Harper. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780060529611. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062199157. F

Israel, Steve. The Global War on Morris. S. & S. Jan. 2015. 290p. ISBN 9781476772233. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476772257. F DEBUT

redstarJames, Kelvin Christopher. People and Peppers: A Romance. Harvard Square. Mar. 2015. 215p. ISBN 9781941861981. pap. $22.95. F

redstarKanon, Joseph. Leaving Berlin. Atria. Mar. 2015. 371p. ISBN 9781476704647. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781476704661. F

Lester, Alison Jean. Lillian on Life. Putnam. Jan. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780399168895. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698152656. F DEBUT

Marche, Stephen. The Hunger of the Wolf. S. & S. Feb. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9781476730813. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476730837. F

redstarMason, Jamie. Monday’s Lie. Gallery: S. & S. Feb. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781476774459. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476774473. F

redstarMoran, Michelle. Rebel Queen. Touchstone. Mar. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781476716350. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476716374. F

Morrell, David. Inspector of the Dead. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Mar. 2015.352p. ISBN 9780316323932. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316323963. F

Nikolaidou, Sophia. The Scapegoat. Melville House. Feb. 2015. 256p. tr. from Greek by Karen Emmerich. ISBN 9781612193847. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612193854. F

redstarOksanen, Sofi. When the Doves Disappeared. Knopf. Feb. 2015. 304p. tr. from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. ISBN 9780385350174. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350181. F

redstarPacker, Ann. The Children’s Crusade. Scribner. Apr. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9781476710457. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476710471. F

Pimentel, Melissa. Love by the Book. Penguin. Feb. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780143127284. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698187542. F DEBUT 

Pyper, Andrew. The Damned. S. & S. Feb. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781476755113. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476755137. F

Souhami, Diana. Gwendolen. Holt. Mar. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781627793407. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781627793414. F DEBUT

Tedrowe, Emily Gray. Blue Stars. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781250052483. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466854581. F

redstarvan den Berg, Laura. Find Me. Farrar. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780374154714. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374710606. F DEBUT

Whiting, Frances. Walking on Trampolines. Galery: S. & S. Feb. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781476780016. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476780023. F DEBUT

Yanagihara, Hanya. A Little Life. Doubleday. Mar. 2015. 736p. ISBN 9780385539258. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385539265. F

redstarYoerg, Sonja. House Broken. NAL: Penguin. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780451472137. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698177925. F DEBUT

Short Stories

Rash, Ron. Something Rich and Strange. Ecco: HarperCollins. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780062349347. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062349361. F

Last-Minute Christian Fiction

Armstrong, Cathleen. At Home in Last Chance. Revell. (A Place To Call Home, Bk. 3). Jan. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780800722487. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441221193. CF

Bambola, Sylvia. The Salt Covenants. Heritage. Jan. 2015. 345p. ISBN 9780989970778. pap. $14.99. CF

redstarBrownley, Margaret. Petticoat Detective. Shiloh Run. (Undercover Ladies, Bk. 1). 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781628366266. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9781634090605. CF

redstarFarnsworth, Lauren Winder. Keeping Kate. Bonneville. Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781462115631. pap. $17.99. CF

Gentry, Lynne. Return to Exile. Howard. (Carthage Chronicles, Bk. 2). Jan. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9781476746364. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476746401. CF

McDonough, Vickie. Gabriel’s Atonement. Shiloh Run. (Land Rush Dreams, Bk. 1). Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781628369519. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9781634091541. CF

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