Fiction, November 9, 2018 | Xpress Reviews

A tale as delightful as a piece of Lucille’s famous caramel cake; most likely only of appeal to a small audience of dystopian fans; this solidly written political and legal thriller is a must-buy; hand this to fans who like character-driven suspense; for readers who crave the offbeat surreality of Philip K. Dick and Steve Erickson; for readers looking for a realistic story of contemporary experience, with a happy ending; most fans of psychological domestic drama will enjoy; an engrossing psychological thriller

Week ending November 9, 2018

Berg, Elizabeth. Night of Miracles. Random. Nov. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9780525509509. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780525509516. F
Berg here continues with her characters from The Story of Arthur Truluv, and while this book can stand alone, it’s nice to see what has become of Lucille Howard, baker extraordinaire. While her friendship with Arthur brought her to young Maddy, now Maddy’s daughter, Nola, calls Lucille her grandma. Lucille’s group has expanded, adding new characters that form a tight circle of in the small town of Mason, MO. Iris is escaping a ruined marriage and starts to work for Lucille’s in-home baking lesson company to modernize it with a website and updated concepts. Iris’s neighbor Tiny, a big man who drives a taxi, is in love with Monica, a waitress at the local diner. Iris facilitates this connection as best she can. Lucille’s neighbors Jason and Abby are dealing with a severe health crisis, so Lucille watches their spunky son Lincoln to help out—a pairing that benefits them both. All these story lines weave together, the way that friends and neighbors breeze in and out of the diner.
VERDICT A tale as delightful as a piece of Lucille’s famous caramel cake—airy and sweet, made with love, and lingering tastes of friendship and community. [See Prepub Alert, 5/21/18.]—Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC

Dickson, Gary. An Improbable Pairing. Greenleaf. Jan. 2019. 240p. ISBN 9781626345799. pap. $16.95. F
[DEBUT] In 1963, American Scott Stoddard is traveling to study abroad in Switzerland when he meets Desirée, Countess de Rovere, a French divorcée. She is stunningly beautiful, sophisticated, eight years older than Scott, much richer, and Catholic. In his first novel, Dickson attempts to describe the old-style elegance of Europe that he feels no longer exists, and although the novel takes place in the Sixties and Scott has Beatles records, readers will feel as though this romance is set even further back in time. The focus is on the lives of the rich and aristocratic; every meal, outfit, and hotel room is described in great detail. Scott, handsome and wealthy (but not as wealthy as the countess is), is quickly swept into Desirée’s endless stream of parties and social events. They fall in love, and Scott’s studies are neglected, but when marriage is discussed, they encounter resistance from both families. The “improbability” of the pairing comes from the differences in age, religion, wealth, and status, but these two clearly deserve each other.
VERDICT Readers of Danielle Steel’s Magic may enjoy.—Elizabeth Safford, Boxford Town Lib., MA

Diehl, Mark D. The Book of Wanda. 2 vols. Fencetree. Nov. 2018. 424p. ISBN 9780692159439. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780692158227. SF
The ecology of our future world (population 17 billon) has been destroyed in this grim dystopian sequel to The Book of Eadie. Mankind now survives on synthetic substances in a society ruled by corporations. Company employees, the privileged elite, are conditioned to be completely obedient. The rest of the world survives outside in “Zones,” where every person fends for themselves in the fight for survival as rival gangs control access to everything, along the lines of Mad Max. The plot morphs from the classic lower versus upper class in book one, to sentient rats versus humanity in this volume. Corporations are beginning to lose control as rats have evolved telepathy, which they use to control humans, allowing them to turn the tables on their former masters.
VERDICT Diehl’s complex story introduces so many characters that it is challenging to follow. Many unexplained elements make the plot confusing and leave readers guessing. It most likely would only appeal to a small audience of dystopian fans who have read everything else.—Mark Hanson, Maranatha Baptist Univ. Lib., Watertown, WI

Finder, Joseph. Judgment. Dutton. Feb. 2019. 400p. ISBN 9781101985816. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101985823. THRILLER
Thriller veteran Finder (The Switch; Power Play; Guilty Minds) roots his newest stand-alone thriller firmly in the #MeToo movement. Juliana Brody, a Massachusetts judge, oversees a sexual discrimination lawsuit involving a new ride-sharing app Wheelz. However, a night of passion at an out-of-town conference provides compromising material that could ruin Juliana’s career and family, and she must balance the impartiality of her job while tracking down the shadowy figures moving against her—including foreign powers meddling in American business interests. Colorful supporting characters, including Juliana’s retired tart-tongued mentor with political juice and a rumpled investigator who helps connect the dots, are standouts. Finder is at his best when he explores the concept of political power and how it corrupts, from the corporate boardroom down to traffic stops and parent-teacher conferences.
VERDICT Even if the thrills seem a bit factory-made, this solidly written political and legal thriller is a must-buy. It’s sure to please fans who prefer thoughtful story lines at a nonbreakneck pace. [See Prepub Alert, 7/2/18.]—Gregg Winsor, Johnson Cty. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Forbes, Elena. A Bad, Bad Thing. Severn House. Dec. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780727888327. $28.99. MYS
London homicide detective Eve West has been suspended after she inadvertently exposed a clandestine police operation, causing a fellow officer’s death. Currently under investigation, she knows she was set up but has no proof. Then John Duran, whom she put away for murder years ago, claims he has evidence that will exonerate her. He will hand it over if she investigates the case of Sean Farrell, a fellow inmate who was found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Eve agrees but soon realizes that she has ties to the case. The murder victim worked for a horse racing family and Eve’s former lover Gavin Challis is married to the daughter of the patriarch.
VERDICT Forbes (Mark Tartaglia series) has introduced a new female protagonist in what appears to be the first in a series. The novel is slow to start but finds its footing once Eve is reunited with Gavin and more of her past is revealed. The characters are the standouts, whereas the plot feels tortured at times, especially the over-the-top ending. Hand this to fans who like character-driven suspense novels such as Nicci French’s Frieda Klein books.—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph, MI

Lethem, Jonathan. The Feral Detective. Ecco: HarperCollins. Nov. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780062859068. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062859082. MYS
A woman searches for her missing friend in the Los Angeles desert in this meandering detective story, Lethem’s first since Motherless Brooklyn. Phoebe Siegler has quit her job at NPR in a fit of post-election pique when she agrees to fly out to California to look for her former boss’s daughter, Arabella, whom Phoebe suspects may have gone up the mountain once occupied by her idol Leonard Cohen. Phoebe enlists the help of shaggy-haired private eye Charles Heist, whose officemates include a pet opossum in his desk drawer and a tween girl who appears to live in his armoire. Their madcap caper leads them to a cast of people living defiantly off the grid and engaged in a civilizational battle between two warring factions, the Rabbits and the Bears. Lethem’s early genre-bending novels were hailed for their inventiveness, but it’s unclear what Lethem is going for here, whether it’s a comic send-up of detective fiction starring the outcasts of Southern California, or an anguished allegory for our deeply tribal political age.
VERDICT For readers who crave the offbeat surreality of Philip K. Dick and Steve Erickson. [See Prepub Alert, 5/14/18.]—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Levin, Donna. He Could Be the Next Bill Gates. Chickadee Prince. Oct. 2018. 479p. ISBN 9780999756935. pap. $15.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Levin brings us a story of modern-day romance when life isn’t simple. Anna Kagan is a single mom with a teenager who has autism, a potentially gifted kindergartner, an ambitious ex-husband, and a new boyfriend with his own son on the spectrum. Anna’s son Jack is finding his way through high school and experiencing his first crush. Meanwhile, Jack’s crush Ashleigh struggles to fit in at home and at school. As Anna works to create her own blended family, Jack is realizing how different he is and that his life may have limitations. Told alternatively from Anna’s first-person viewpoint and Jack’s third-person narrative, this is a story of how to find happiness when life isn’t perfect.
VERDICT Recommended for readers looking for a realistic story of contemporary experience, with a happy ending. [Previewed in Kathryn Howe’s “Love Changes Everything,” LJ 10/15/18.]—Sarah Sheehan, Manhattan Coll. Lib., Riverdale, NY

Rous, Emma. The Au Pair. Berkley. Jan. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780440000457. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780440000471. SUSPENSE
[DEBUT] Uncertain identities, long-held secrets, and the inheritance of a family estate are the focus of Rous’s debut. In the aftermath of her father’s death, when Seraphine uncovers a photo from the day of her birth, the same day her mother fell to her death, she takes steps to solve the mystery surrounding that day. Why is her mother holding only one child in the photo? Which twin is it, Seraphine or her brother Danny? She first step seeks out au pair Laura, who was living at the family’s estate at the time, but soon she is being warned away by anonymous threats. Every chapter alternates between Seraphine in the present and Laura 25 years prior, in the early 1990s. Although the first-person voices of Seraphine and Laura are practically identical, the writing is compelling, and the interesting twists make up for some weak motives in this leisurely paced mystery.
VERDICT Die-hard mystery fans might wish for a more definitive solution to the question of the deaths/murders, but the reveal of the birth mystery is clever and surprising. Most fans of psychological domestic drama will enjoy.—Sonia Reppe, Stickney–Forest View P.L., IL

Scott, E.G. The Woman Inside. Dutton. Jan. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781524744526. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781524744540. SUSPENSE
[DEBUT] Rebecca’s career as a highly paid pharmaceutical rep comes to an abrupt end when her drug abuse spirals out of control and leads to the loss of her job. The bright spot in her life is her picture-perfect marriage, but even that goes wrong when she discovers that her husband, Paul, has withdrawn nearly all of their million dollars in savings. She immediately assumes the worst and begins to consider that she may never really have known the man she’s been married to for so many years. The story is told from various narrative viewpoints, including that of Rebecca, Paul, and his lover Sheila. Each tells their account of the events from a completely different perspective, which provides the background for this engrossing psychological thriller.
VERDICT Parts of the story lapse into cliché, but, overall fans of mystery and psychological suspense will welcome this first novel by a publishing professional and a screenwriter writing under a pseudonym. [See Prepub Alert, 7/2/18.]—Linda Oliver, MLIS, Colorado Springs

LJ Reviews

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