Fiction from Beattie, Cameron, Connolly, de Bernières, Grafton, Kennedy, Reichs, and Debuts | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 31, 2015

Beattie, Ann. The State We’re In. Scribner. Aug. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9781501107818. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501107825. F
From PEN/Malamud Award winner Beattie (The New Yorker Stories), these connected stories about the residents in a Maine neighborhood are perceptive and witty. Beattie’s ear for dialog gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on actual conversations, as in “Silent Prayer,” in which a couple have a prickly conversation before the husband leaves on a business trip; or in “The Stroke,” in which an old married couple exchange humorous quips about their grown children before bed. Some tales are snapshots of a moment: a woman rescuing a baby bird; roommates witnessing a crazed lady screaming at a supposed satanic dog. Three of the longer pieces follow the same characters over one summer: teenage Jocelyn, who has bigger problems than writing annoying summer school essays; Jocelyn’s teacher, who effuses about magical realism; and Jocelyn’s kind uncle and high-maintenance aunt, who are at odds.
Verdict Whether the characters are elderly, like the poet who is visited by the IRS; middle-aged, like the couple who discover a cache of Elvis lamps; or young, such as the array of funny and willful teenagers who appear throughout, they are all captivating and amusing in their very ordinariness and recognizability. A wryly humorous collection by a short story master. [See Prepub Alert, 3/2/15.]—Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA

Brizzi, Fausto. 100 Days of Happiness. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Aug. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780525427377. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698169227. F
onehundred073115[DEBUT] When romantic, underachieving Lucio Battistini finds out that he has inoperable advanced liver cancer, he sets out to make the last 100 days of his life memorable for himself, his family, and his friends. He hopes to teach his children some valuable life lessons. He hopes to show his friends and family how much he loves them. Most of all, he hopes to win back the love of his wife, lost because of his relentless philandering. His journey helps him to make peace with himself and makes his last days really matter. First novelist Brizzi, a director, screenwriter, and film producer in his native Italy, creates a flawed but lovable man striving against fate. His funny and bittersweet narrative unfolds in 100 brief chapters that capture the best and the worst of the inescapable finality of existence. This book will appeal to readers of fiction and students of life.
Verdict Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence

Cameron, W. Bruce. The Dog Master: A Novel of the First Dog. Forge. Aug. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780765374639. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466842977. F
A team of archaeologists in France uncover an unusual grave cointaining the skeleton of a man lying next to that of a wolf. Even more remarkably the wolf is wearing what is obviously a collar. Thirty thousand years earlier, a young man alone in the wilderness stumbles into a cave containing an injured wolf mother and her three cubs. The man is deathly afraid but senses a connection and slowly begins to bond with the wolf and her brood. Meanwhile, various tribes are moving through the area on their yearly migrations. The Wolfen, who venerate wolves and emulate their social and hunting styles, are following a wolf pack that is following the herds of elk and reindeer. The Kindred have a more structured society, but both they and the Wolfen are wary of the larger and more dangerous Cohort tribe. Cameron expertly moves among the various groups, human and canine, as they struggle to survive during a time when the winters are getting longer and game scarcer. The individual story lines are woven together as the novel moves to its climax and the revelation of the identity of the first dog and its master.
Verdict Cameron’s latest canine-themed novel (after Ellie’s Story) will appeal to fans of Jean Auel’s classic The Clan of the Cave Bear as well as those of more contemporary dog and man tales. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

Connolly, John. A Song of Shadows. Emily Bestler: Atria. (Charlie Parker, Bk. 13). Sept. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9781501118289. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501118319. F
Charlie Parker is recuperating from injuries sustained in The Wolf in Winter and living as quietly as possible in the Maine town of Boreas, when he is befriended by a young neighbor, Amanda. Unbeknownst to Charlie, Amanda’s mother, Ruth, has also moved to Boreas to put her past behind her, and her association with Parker inadvertently endangers both women. As Parker recovers, he can’t help connecting the dots between some strange crimes taking place in and around town and Ruth, who hold secrets stemming back to a Nazi concentration camp. When he risks his life to protect Ruth and Amanda, help comes from a surprising quarter, leaving Parker fearful for his own daughters, both the living one and the one who died.
Verdict This supernatural thriller is as strange and disquieting as previous Parker novels, with some startling plot twists and the usual mix of monsters, both human and not. [See Prepub Alert, 3/2/15.]—Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg

de Bernières, Louis. The Dust That Falls from Dreams. Pantheon. Aug. 2015. 528p. ISBN 9781101946480. 512p. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101946497. F
“Every woman needs a man to torment,” Hamilton McCosh advises Christabel, one of his four daughters when she confesses that she might not marry. Meanwhile, Mrs. McCosh resembles a walking primer of English class distinctions, and youngest daughter Sophia regales the family with misnomers that might be intentional. In this gentle tale, set in England and dating from the Edwardian era to the aftermath of World War I, de Bernières takes a leave from the more exotic settings of his previous books (e.g., the Ottoman Empire in Birds Without Wings and Greece during World War II in Corelli’s Mandolin) to portray an upper-middle-class English family and their friends. With the outbreak of war, all four daughters engage in grueling war work, as a tragic love affair ends with a death and a friend of the family and suitor of the oldest daughter shoots down German planes over France. The story is interrupted by letters (especially humorous are those of Mrs. McCosh petitioning the king about various inconsequential matters) and ruminations, most of which might have been better worked into the narration.
Verdict The novel bears the author’s signature imprint of compassion for all his characters. The dialog is at times a bit slack, and some readers might find this otherwise charming tale less taut than de Bernières’s earlier works. Still, this is warmly recommended to admirers of the author and readers interested in historical family sagas. [See Prepub Alert, 3/9/15.]—Edward Cone, New York

Galm, Ruth. Into the Valley. Soho. Aug. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9781616955090. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781616955106. F
[DEBUT] Set in the 1960s, Galm’s debut novel follows a young woman who calls herself B. as she sets out on a road trip through California’s Central Valley, financed by forged checks. Thirty and unmarried, B. is dismayed by the counterculture emerging in San Francisco and elsewhere and suffers from an undefined ailment she calls carsickness. Counterintuitively, the only relief she gets is through driving around and finding banks at which to cash her phony checks. When she reluctantly picks up a hitchhiker, B. is unsure whether her traveling companion will be a help or a hindrance to finding what she’s looking for.
Verdict Despite hints (mental illness? repressed sexual confusion?), the underlying cause of B.’s “carsickness” and increasingly bizarre behavior is never fully explained, and since she has no definable goal, an off-putting attitude, and an inability to connect honestly with people, it’s hard to care about her and her quest. The result is something of an existential meditation, ripe with symbolism and open for interpretation.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

Grafton, Sue. X. Marion Wood: Putnam. Aug. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780399163845. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101614341. MYS
PI Kinsey Millhone’s life is going smoothly for once. She has money in the bank from an inheritance, and she has just collected an advance for the fairly simple job of locating a recently released prisoner. But the good times don’t last long, as Kinsey finds that her fee was paid with counterfeit money and her client isn’t who she claims to be. Further complicating her life is the discovery of a case file in a deceased colleague’s business records, which puts Kinsey on the trail of a possible serial killer.
Verdict In her 24th addition (after W Is for Wasted) to her alphabet series, Grafton has once again managed to bring something fresh to the table. Although Kinsey lacks much of her usual, lovable humor, the story remains an absorbing read that will please the author’s loyal following. [See Prepub Alert, 2/23/15.]—Linda Oliver, MLIS, Colorado Springs

starred review starHassib, Rajia. In the Language of Miracles. Viking. Aug. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780525428138. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698184343. F
languageofmiracle073115[DEBUT] This stellar debut tells the story of Nagla and Samir Al-Menshawy, Egyptian Americans who want nothing more than to be fully integrated into their new life in an affluent New Jersey suburb. Samir starts a successful medical practice, and Nagla takes care of their three children. The story begins several days before the one-year anniversary of their eldest son Hasaam’s murder of his girlfriend, Natalie Bradstreet, and his subsequent suicide. Before that tragic day, the Al-Menshawys and their neighbors the Bradstreets were the best of friends, but now everything has changed. Still grieving, Natalie’s parents organize a memorial service for their daughter and plant a tree where she died. The intense emotions that are stirred up raise questions: How long does the family have to atone for a tragedy committed by their mentally ill son? And will there ever be any acceptance or forgiveness?
Verdict Thoughtfully examining the role of religion and prayer, parents and grandparents, this rich novel offers complex characters, beautiful writing, and astute observations about the similarities and differences between the Egyptian and American outlooks on life. It would be difficult to find a better book for any discussion group; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/15/14.]—Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH

Jenoff, Pam. The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. MIRA: Harlequin. Aug. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780778317548. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460382325. F
Jenoff’s (The Kommandant’s Girl; The Winter Guest) latest historical novel opens in June 1941, when 16-year-old Adelia Monteforte is sent from her home in Trieste, Italy, to seek refuge with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia. Having practiced English with her mamma, Adelia is able to make friends with the large Connally clan, summer neighbors on the Atlantic City shore. Addie loves them all, but deeper feelings develop between herself and Charlie, the eldest Connally son. Faced first with religious differences and then Charlie’s enlistment after Pearl Harbor, their path looks anything but easy. Readers ready to engage their willing suspension of disbelief will enjoy the variety of references to notable historical events and Addie’s transformation within two years from a person escaping war in her homeland to someone who edits copy for the Washington Post, a young woman who can be granted immediate transfer and cross-Atlantic travel to the London office upon request. Relationships change as the characters gain new experiences, but most connections remain flat, including brief sex scenes toward the end.
Verdict The war era provides potential and appeal for book discussion groups as well as for readers looking for an entertaining melodrama to embrace.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

Kennedy, A.L. Doctor Who: The Drosten’s Curse. Broadway: Crown. (BBC Doctor Who). Jul. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780553419443. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780553419450. FANTASY
doctorwho073115Hotel receptionist Bryony is worried. She’s stuck in a dead-end job at the Fetch Brothers Golf Spa and Hotel, her boss keeps stealing her cookies, and now golfers are disappearing from one of the sand traps. Just as our heroine wonders if she’ll ever get her life together, a new guest appears: a remarkable guest, with the hair of a madman, rather too many teeth, and kind but slightly alarming eyes. The Doctor has arrived, and soon Bryony is off to save the world from a telepathic entity burrowed under the sleepy confines of Arbroath, Scotland. Kennedy, an award-winning writer of literary fiction (All the Rage; The Blue Book), has taken on the Who-verse and her depiction of the Fourth Doctor (as played by actor Tom Baker) is spot-on. By turns funny, charming, and scary, her novel also catches the humanism that underpins the series; she shows why people love the Doctor and all he stands for.
Verdict A joy for fans, but readers new to Doctor Who television or who only know the reboot will also find this a fun and easy entry into one this most enduring TV character.—Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI

Reichs, Kathy. Speaking in Bones. Bantam. Jul. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780345544049. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780345544056. F
Hazel “Lucky” Strike, an abrasive amateur sleuth who mines the Internet for unsolved missing persons cases, confronts forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan with a tape recording of a terrorized Cora Teague, who’s been missing for three years and whose bones sit in Brennan’s lab. Initially doubtful of Hazel’s veracity, Brennan heads into the mountains of North Carolina where unexplained ghost lights convey meaning for a satanic cult rumored to perform ritual sacrifice. Father G, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest and head of the Jesus Lord Holiness cult, has been leading nocturnal exorcisms for people suffering from multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia. As Brennan struggles to separate fact from hearsay as well as saints from sinners, she literally digs up the truth—particularly when the cult strikes “Lucky” dead.
Verdict As her many avid readers will appreciate, Reichs keeps the suspense taut as she weaves various story lines in her 18th series title into an exciting thriller. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/15; a July LibraryReads pick.]—Jerry P. Miller, Cambridge, MA

Reilly, Andee. Satisfaction. SparkPress: She Writes. Aug. 2015. 312p. ISBN 9781940716633. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781940716640. F
[DEBUT] Ginny Martin has never guided her own destiny; someone else has always held the reins, made the choices, and dictated which road she would take. Yet when she discovers her husband cheating, Ginny takes her life into her own hands. After purchasing tickets to every show of the upcoming Rolling Stones tour, she hits the road to follow the band across the country, teaming up with footloose Bree Cooper along the way. Together the women set off on a rock and roll road trip that evolves into a pilgrimage of self-discovery. Author Reilly, herself a Rolling Stones aficionado, has packed her debut novel with more Stones trivia than an “E! True Hollywood Story.” While the plethora of facts sometimes feels pedantic, Stones fans will enjoy this 300-page homage to Mick, Keith, and company. At times the characters don’t ring true (although Ginny is 22, she reads, oddly, like a rutbound 40-year-old, and Bree is difficult to like, particularly when ducking calls from the 15-year-old daughter she abandoned), but Reilly’s writing is evocative, especially when portraying the onstage shimmer and swagger of the Stones.
Verdict Fans of rockin’ reads will get some satisfaction here.—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY