Fiction from Abbott, Bell, Bokal, DeFino, De La Pava, Frank, Kietzman, Rader-Day, & Zeller | Xpress Reviews

Week ending June 8, 2018

Abbott, Megan. Give Me Your Hand. Little, Brown. Jul. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780316547185. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316547284. SUSPENSE
Soon after Kit Owens meets Diane Fleming in high school, the two are both bonding and competing, academically in chemistry class and athletically on the track. But then Diane proposes trading secrets, and what she tells Kit is so big it’s a burden. After graduating as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, Diane (from a well-to-do family) and Kit (daughter of a single mom) go the separate ways, only to meet a decade later, after Kit thought she’d put Diane and the past behind her. Now working for the renowned Dr. Lena Severin and eligible for one of the few slots on a prestigious research grant, Kit learns that Lena has recruited a rising star to the lab—Diane. Once more, Kit and the admittedly more brilliant Diane are in a contest, with the weight between them of Diane’s secret—and the possibility of Kit revealing it. As the story unfolds, plot twists build tension and the body count rises, as Abbott (You Will Know Me) skillfully strings out the tales of three ambitious women excelling in a man’s world.
Verdict From teenage girls huddling in a bedroom to a research lab as crime scene, this novel adds to the author’s reputation as a significant writer of suspense. [See Prepub Alert, 1/22/18.]—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

starred review starBell, David. Somebody’s Daughter. Berkley. Jul. 2018. 432p. ISBN 9780399584466. $26; pap. ISBN 9780399586057. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780399584473. THRILLER
On an ordinary Tuesday evening as Michael and Angela Frazier clear the dinner dishes, their doorbell rings. On their porch stands Erica, Michael’s ex-wife, whom he had not seen in ten years. Erica frantically explains that her nine-year-old daughter is missing and that she needs Michael’s help in finding her because he is the father. Michael is both skeptical and dumbfounded until he sees the child’s photo. The resemblance to his younger sister Robyn, who died in a freak childhood accident many years ago, tugs upon Michael’s heartstrings. He reluctantly agrees to accompany Erica on what becomes a whirlwind all-nighter, leaving Angela at home with plenty of questions.
Verdict Bell (Bring Her Home) escorts readers on a ride-along through 12 adrenalin-charged hours as his characters track multiple leads in the search for a missing child. Possible suspects and clues multiply rapidly as time slips away. Suspense enthusiasts will find themselves feverishly glued to this heart-poundingly addictive thriller until the final page.—Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

Bokal, Jennifer D. Her Rocky Mountain Defender. Harlequin Romantic Suspense. (Rocky Mountain Justice, Bk. 2). Apr. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9781335456373. $5.75; ebk. ISBN 9781488092992. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
This second book in the author’s “Rocky Mountain Justice” series (after Her Rocky Mountain Hero) begins in classic romantic suspense style with a plucky heroine who finds herself in the wrong place at the worst time, confronted first by an emotionally wounded undercover hero and then by a mob boss out to kill his way to the top. The kiss-of-distraction provides confusion for all, as both hero Roman DeMarco and heroine Madelyn Thompkins react in ways that feel all-too-real, while the villain is led to the wrong-but-right conclusion that the two are in cahoots to uncover all his secrets. While Roman really is after those secrets, Madelyn just wants to find her sister, addicted to the drugs being peddled out of the seamy bar where the case and the protagonists both come together and fall apart. Crazed mobsters and family betrayal on all sides add to the adrenaline rush of the danger and the romance.
Verdict For fans of escapist romantic suspense, this is a fun read, with likable protagonists, dastardly villains, and deadly peril.—Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, Duluth, GA

starred review starDeFino, Terri-Lynne. The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses). Morrow Paperbacks. Jun. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780062742674. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062742698. F
The premise and characters of DeFino’s (“Bitterly Suite” series) latest novel will draw in all those who quiver when spotting a bookish title. Literary figures who wowed the masses and whose books are included in college curricula are awaiting one last friend, the great Alfonse Carducci, to join their circle in the stately and quiet home dedicated to retired authors. Cecibel, a young female orderly with a damaged face, evokes an impulse to write again in the moribund Alfonse. As his renewed writing sparks Alfonse’s joy, a second writer is inspired to add a segment with equal pleasure. Soon other residents pick up their pens, and their happiness is restored as they reignite their talents.
Verdict A solid hit, perfect for book clubs and readers who love to read about writers, writing, and books; why we love them; and how they make life worth living.—Mary K. Bird-Guilliams, Chicago

starred review starDe La Pava, Sergio. Lost Empress. Pantheon. May 2018. 640p. ISBN 9781524747220. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524747237. F
Set mainly in Paterson, NJ, and on New York’s Rikers Island, this multifaceted tour de force from De La Pava (A Naked Singularity) waxes both hilarious and tragic in equal measure as it oscillates among several fascinating and interrelated characters. Football genius Nina Gill, witty scion of NFL aristocracy, the new owner of the Indoor Football League’s (IFL) Paterson Pork, is using the IFL to challenge the dominance of the NFL. She is joined by Dia Nouveau, her sidekick and also the former partner of Nuno DeAngeles, currently incarcerated at Rikers. Sharon Seaborg is a 911 operator, haunted by her experiences, whose handling of the call from a fatal accident provides a tragic counterpoint to the more comic aspect of Nina’s and Dia’s shenanigans. Sharon’s ex-husband, Hugh, a guard at Rikers, and a slew of other minor characters add leavening. Sprinkled throughout are supporting metatextual materials including a 911 transcript and a Rikers Island Inmate Rule Book, as well as relevant medical and legal documents.
Verdict De La Pava’s compelling narrative poses some deep questions, e.g, Can some murders be justifiable? And can the Paterson Pork prevail against the NFL? The result is a powerful statement about values; highly recommended.—Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA

Dovey, Ceridwen. In the Garden of the Fugitives. Farrar. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780374226640. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374713072. F
Dovey’s new novel (after Blood Kin and the story collection Only the Animals) takes the form of letters between 70-year-old Royce and Vita, his former protégée of sorts. The two met in Boston when Vita was applying for a fellowship for “extraordinary women” named after Kitty, an archaeologist with whom Royce was long obsessed. Royce initiates the epistolary relationship, wanting to explore memories of Kitty and Vita, whom he has also stalked over many years. Vita, a former filmmaker who now works at an olive farm in Australia, agrees to the correspondence despite her request 17 years prior that he never contact her again. While Royce recounts following Kitty to Pompeii, her studies there, and his desperate attempts to woo her, Vita remembers her childhood in South Africa, a former lover, and the therapy/hypnotism that she underwent as an adult to reconcile these years.
Verdict Royce’s pompous voice is difficult to read, and the connection between his life and Vita’s is tenuous. The ruminations on time, guilt, and culture that crop up in their stories may be of interest to archaeology enthusiasts or white South African expatriates. Overall, not recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 11/6/17.]—Kate Gray, Boston P.L.

Frank, Dorothea Benton. By Invitation Only. Morrow. May 2018. 400p. ISBN 9780062390820. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062390837. F
What do the Lowcountry of South Carolina and the glitz and glamour of upscale Chicago have in common? Not much, it would seem, as two worlds collide in Frank’s latest (after Same Beach, Next Year and All Summer Long). The engagement of Fred Stiftel, sole heir to a Southern California peach farm and son of single mom Diane, and Shelby Cambria, daughter of wealthy broker Alejandro and his affected wife, Susan, brings two drastically varied families together. With all of the social events that come with upper-class nuptials, the Stiftels and Cambrias have numerous opportunities to duke out their differences—of which there are many. As with most families, there are a few skeletons in the Cambrias’ closet and one of those skeletons just might destroy everything.
Verdict An engaging read despite the predictable plotline; readers will love getting a glimpse at life in the Lowcountry and the dichotomy of the one percent. This title is perfect for book clubs and casual beach days, as it hums along but has enough substance to encourage reflection. [See Prepub Alert, 11/27/17.]—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

James, Peter. Dead If You Don’t. Pan Macmillan. May 2018. 400p. ISBN 9781509816354. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781509816385. MYS
DS Roy Grace is at the newly renovated Amex Stadium to watch his beloved football team, the Brighton and Hove Albion, play its first Premier League game. Ever vigilant, he eyes a suspicious character two rows ahead. The man suddenly exits, leaving behind an expensive camera, and Grace’s suspicion is heightened. When the stadium’s head of security receives a bomb threat, Grace must get involved. Simultaneously, Mungo Brown, the teenage son of high-flying financier Kipp Brown, gets separated from his father at the stadium and fails to show up at their box seats. When Kipp gets a ransom text on his phone, his worst fears come to fruition. However, Kipp’s façade of wealth and happiness may come crashing down when he realizes he can’t afford the payment. Grace hypothesizes that the abduction and bomb threat are related, and he pulls in a plethora of specialized police teams in his frantic search for Mungo, risking his life and breaking police protocol in the process. Leads point to the brutal Albanian mafia, and the body count rises.
Verdict This is a lackluster, repetitive, and unnecessarily violent addition to the Roy Grace British police procedural series (Need You Dead) that only hard-core fans will want.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

Kietzman, Susan. It Started in June. Kensington. Jun. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781496714220. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496714237. F
At 42, Grace Trumbull is a very successful vice president in a media relations company. Divorced after she declined to have a child, she is still dealing with the aftermath of her own traumatic childhood. Herself the product of a teenage pregnancy and raised in the home of her strict religious grandparents, she never felt capable of becoming a loving mother. At 18, she earned a college scholarship and left home, never to return. But after an impulsive tumble in the backseat of her car with a 30-year-old colleague, Grace finds herself pregnant. She decides that she wants to be a mother after all, perhaps to prove something to herself and her distant mother. She offers the father, Bradley Hanover, the choice as to whether he wants to be a part of her and their child’s life. Bradley is torn between his new relationship with Grace and his fears of being tied down. This wonderful, thought-provoking story features well-developed characters facing an uncertain future.
Verdict Kietzman (The Good Life; A Changing Marriage) is incredibly adept at bringing her characters to life and crafting a story that draws in readers.—Catherine Coyne, Mansfield P.L., MA

starred review starRader-Day, Lori. Under a Dark Sky. Morrow. Aug. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9780062846143. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9780062560308. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062560315. THRILLER
Eden Wallace is terrified of the dark. Since the death of her husband, Bix, she’s spent every night with the lights on, lonely and afraid. Then she finds a reservation for a stargazing park he’d made for them. Against her better judgment and fear of the night, Eden goes; maybe she can discover why he’d planned this trip and what it will take to move on without him. Her soul-searching intentions shatter when she meets a group of college friends staying in the same guesthouse. Eden wants to leave, but the group’s charming leader Malloy draws her into their drama. During her one night there, Eden is amazed she can finally sleep. That is, until a scream wakes her. One of the friends has been murdered in the kitchen, and the killer is someone at the guesthouse. The sheriff detains Eden and the group in town during the investigation, almost like hostages. Soon the friends turn against one another, spilling accusations and admissions, and Eden learns their startling secrets. Then one by one, the accidents happen. Who will survive the trip to the dark-sky park?
Verdict Fans of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None will be riveted by Rader-Day’s (The Day I Died) latest psychological thriller, which makes you question who you really know and trust and whether you should be afraid of the dark. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/18.]—K.L. Romo, Duncanville, TX

Zeller, Dov. Book of Hats. Tiny Golem. Jun. 2018. 461p. ISBN 9781893121584. pap. $13.95. F
In this sprawling but intimate novel, transmasculine Ida struggles to find acceptance, both personal and public, well before the gay rights movement. Resented by her mentally fragile mother and hated by her brother, she has a solid relationship with her hat-maker father, who passes on the family’s trade secrets, as well as considerable love and affection. But he, too, has serious problems, and Ida is left increasingly to fend for herself. She moves to New York City in the 1940s and manages to find friends and work. She also finds love, loses it, finds it again, experiences violence, gives birth, mourns various deaths, all while struggling with her identity and her inability to communicate fully with others. Zeller (The Right Thing To Do at the Time) has a facility for storytelling and a great ear for dialog, especially the speech rhythms of urban Jewish folks.
Verdict This book packs in a lot—the trans experience, Jewish identity, the effect of trauma, how craft can give a feeling of belonging—but ultimately it is a story about making a family out of the people who love and support us. For those looking for a satisfying and humanistic read.—Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI

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