Fiction from Banville, Donati, Evison, Heaberlin, Neville, Radish, & Wiggs | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 21, 2015

Banville, John. The Blue Guitar. Knopf. Sept. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780385354264. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385354271. F
“They would all see what I saw, but not as I did, with my eyes, from my particular angle, in my own way that is as feeble and imperceptive as everyone else’s but that is mine.” So says Oliver Orme, the famous painter, now stilled, at the center of a new work from Man Booker Prize winner Banville that aims to capture the specificity of our experience—and, particularly, the artist’s transformative vision. Unappealingly short, stout, and nearly 50, with a moody and self-indulgent streak, Oliver is a poor, strutting hero in his own story and a thief besides—he snatches small things perhaps for the same reason he paints: to manage the world. Except now he readily acknowledges “the man-killing crevasse” between what’s there and how it’s seen in his mind, the real picture he wants to paint and now can’t. But he’s still thieving, this time taking friend Marcus’s wife, Polly, which leads to much groaning and “puny catastrophe” even as we get an outline of Oliver’s life from weaselly childhood to the death of his daughter, a tragedy he doesn’t seem able to touch.
Verdict What the reader gets: Banville’s always gorgeous writing (though sometimes a bit arch), a fascinating sense of how creative sorts do and don’t work (more of that would have been welcome), and the account of the sort of banal affair we’ve seen before. [See Prepub Alert, 3/16/15.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Donati, Sara. The Gilded Hour. Berkley. Sept. 2015. 752p. ISBN 9780425271810. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698140677. F
Popular historical novelist Donati (Into the Wilderness; Dawn on a Distant Shore) turns to 1883 New York City to tell the story of female surgeons Anna and Sophie Savard, descendants of her previous books’ characters. The two women repeatedly battle ignorance while pursuing their medical work. They face particular difficulties in light of Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock’s passionate crusade against all forms of birth control. Matters are further complicated by a possible killer targeting desperate pregnant women, a search for two missing orphans, and Anna’s blossoming romance with dashing detective Jack Mezzanotte.
Verdict The many fans of Donati’s “Wilderness” saga will likely want to follow the Bonner family’s ongoing story here. While Donati’s protagonists are so relentlessly progressive in their views that they feel anachronistic at times, the author has clearly done her research, and the story lines involving Comstock and women’s limited options in the era are particularly compelling. Romance fans should be pleased by the prominence of the romantic theme, though that prominence sometimes contributes to recurring pacing issues. Despite the novel’s length, much is left unresolved by the end, making a sequel seem likely.—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

Evison, Jonathan. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Algonquin. Sept. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781616202613. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616205362. F
Evison’s (All About Lulu; The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving) newest novel is a romp back and forth through the life of Harriet Chance. Recently widowed, 79-year-old Harriet seems to have accepted that her deceased husband will be popping up to talk to her whenever he likes. Despite this condition, she sets off on an Alaska cruise, during which she’s forced to confront a sudden and uncomfortable truth: her life has been lived under completely false pretenses. Evison takes the reader straight back to Harriet’s birth, popping in and out of the past with an amusing flourish to explain to Harriet how things came to be this way, while the present Harriet tries to find her footing through the sudden arrival of her estranged daughter, who has more revelations of her own.
Verdict Evison writes a quick-paced family drama, with enough lighthearted enthusiasm to soften the serious blows he delivers to our poor heroine and his readers. This title will be particularly appealing to fans of quirky, dysfunctional families and authors Maria Semple and Jami Attenberg. [See Prepub Alert, 4/6/15; a LibraryReads September pick.]—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH

starred review starHeaberlin, Julia. Black-Eyed Susans. Ballantine. Aug. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780804177993. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780804178006. F
At 16, Tessa Cartwright was found barely alive in a field of black-eyed Susans among the remains of multiple female victims, one recently dead and the others only bones. As an adult, Tessa is still haunted by the voices of the other “Susans,” and she lives in fear for her own teenage daughter’s safety. Now, as the execution of the man convicted of the crimes draws near, Tessa discovers an ominous patch of black-eyed Susans planted outside her home in the dead of winter and must grapple with her “monster” possibly still being on the loose. Both the secrets she has been keeping purposefully and the traumatic memories trapped in her mind weigh heavily as Tessa is finally compelled to seek the truth. Fascinating details about identifying remains through bone and DNA analysis are woven through equally compelling present-day narration and flashbacks to Tessa’s therapy sessions and trial testimony. The pieces can’t come fast enough as the story builds to a shocking and satisfying conclusion.
Verdict Deliciously twisty and eerie, Heaberlin’s (Lie Still; Playing Dead) third psychological suspense novel is intricately layered and instantly compelling. [An August LibraryReads Pick.—Ed.]—Emily Byers, Salem P.L., OR

starred review starNeville, Stuart. Those We Left Behind. Soho Crime. Sept. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781616956363. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616956370. MYS
thoseweleftbehind082115DCI Serena Flanagan is back at work on the Belfast police force after battling breast cancer. Earlier in her career, Flanagan worked the case of the schoolboy Devine brothers, who were arrested for viciously beating their foster father to death. The younger, Ciaran, confessed, but Flanagan was convinced it was actually the older brother, Thomas, who was guilty. Eight years later, the brothers are released and together again, making Ciaran’s parole officer Paula Cunningham uneasy. Both women recognize the danger present and attempt to prevent what seem to be the inevitable consequences of the brothers’ reunion.
Verdict Through a sympathetic portrayal of his characters’ motivations and feelings, award-winning Northern Irish crime writer Neville (The Ghosts of Belfast; Ratlines) has the gift of making us care about the fate of each of his creations, whether they are convicted killers, cops, or innocent bystanders. Another winner, this is fast-paced and intriguing to the very end. [Previewed in Kristi Chadwick’s mystery spotlight feature “Not Your Usual Suspects,” LJ 4/15/15.]—Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg

Pereira, Paula Massadas (text & illus.). How I Learned English: The Story of a Brave Mexican Girl. Paula Massadas Pereira. 2015. 28p. ISBN 9781511629133. pap. $10. F
Pereira’s (librarian, Cerritos Coll.) fictional tale, which is based on her real-life experiences of coming to this country, starts with a young woman’s childhood on a Mexican farm and chronicles her arrival in Dallas to work in a store, her move to a different job to learn English and meet Americans, and her graduation from college with an English degree. The inspiring tale, which is accompanied by colorful painted images with simple captions, is told in plain prose that will resonate with adults in similar situations and is perfect for use in ESOL classes. The book closes with reading comprehension questions and a vocabulary list.
Verdict A great choice for professionals who teach English-language classes at the library.—Henrietta Verma, Library Journal

Radish, Kris. The Year of Necessary Lies. SparkPress. Aug. 2015. 338p. ISBN 9781940716510. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781940716503. F
Radish’s tenth novel begins with a teenager’s discovery of recordings made 15 years earlier by her Great Grandma, who is now 93 years old. Julia, born into a poor Boston family, transports readers back to the early 1900s as she reveals how she fell in love with and married wealthy Charles Briton, heir to a millinery company. Julia’s “year” begins in 1904 as she mourns her third miscarriage, and the plume trade, which involves the slaughter of birds, is exploding to meet the demand for hats adorned with exotic feathers. At her mother-in-law’s invitation, Julia attends teas held to convince socialites to shun feathered hats. (These teas lead to the founding of the Audubon Society.) Radish’s extensive research of the industry is evident as Julia’s life is taken over by her crusade against plume hunting.
Verdict Radish’s portrayal of Julia is fanciful at times. Julia travels alone on a cargo ship to help eliminate Florida’s extensive plume trade and while on horseback manages to shoot a rattlesnake poised to strike her friend. However, as in her previous best-selling novels (A Grand Day To Get Lost), Radish weaves an engaging story of inspiring women who discover the importance of being true to one’s ideals.—Lorraine Ravis, Monmouth Schs., ME

Wiggs, Susan. Starlight on Willow Lake. MIRA: Harlequin. (Lakeshore Chronicles, Bk. 11). Sept. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780778317951. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460389829. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
For Faith McCallum and her two young daughters, the health-care attendant position on Willow Lake with the Bellamy family is their last hope before ending up homeless and on welfare. However, the job isn’t going to be an easy one. Matriarch Alice Bellamy is a difficult patient to say the least. In order to put a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, Faith will have to stay on her toes. Mason Bellamy, Alice’s oldest son, wants to be anywhere but Willow Lake. He recognizes immediately that Faith has what it takes to manage his mother and her needs, which will allow him to escape upstate New York and head back to his life in the big city. When Faith encourages Mason to return for an extended visit to the lake to help lift Alice from a deep depression, Mason begins to wonder if city life is really for him. As Mason gets to know Faith and her girls, he also renews his relationship with his mother, bringing to the surface family secrets that drove them apart.
Verdict Wiggs (Snowfall at Willow Lake) pulls readers in with her lake setting and the powerful emotions that drive these wonderfully developed characters as they move through the story. For those who love family drama and intergenerational stories, don’t miss this latest from Wiggs; it will make you laugh and cry.—Lisa M. Jordan, Johnson Cty. Lib., Overland Park, KS