Fiction, April 19, 2019 | Xpress Reviews

Gear creates an immersive world; a light beach read; for fans of sf or inventive short stories; flawlessly translated and exquisitely written; a perfect read for beach or poolside; Mallery’s latest novel is a breath of fresh air; part spy thriller, part sf adventure; this latest series entry does not disappoint

Week ending April 19, 2019

Cyr, Murielle. The Daughters Story. Baraka. May 2019. 300p. ISBN 9781771861823. pap. $24.95. F
[DEBUT] Cyr’s debut historical novel (after the YA novella Culloo) introduces American readers to a taste of Canadian history, chronicling several generations of an Irish/French Canadian family from World War I to October 1970. Cyr jumps backward and forward through chunks of time to trace the lineage of Nadine, an orphan who got pregnant at age 15 in 1950 and was forced to turn over her baby at a home for unwed mothers. Twenty years later, Lisette, the daughter she never met, is also pregnant, unmarried, and in need of Nadine’s help. Lisette’s partner Serge is close to the Quebec Liberation Front (or FLQ), a militant separatist group willing to use violence as a means to achieve sovereignty. With no job and no place to live, Lisette tracks down Nadine and slowly the secrets of their past trickle out.
VERDICT While the concept of this book is sound, its execution is not. The sequencing of chapters is overly complex and the foreshadowing is clunky. The characters are flat, and despite distinct names it’s difficult to tell them apart. Cyr also layers one too many revelations, which are obvious and unnecessary. This slice of modern Canadian history deserves a story, but this is not it.—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA

Gear, W. Michael. Pariah. DAW. (Donovan, Bk. 3). May 2019. 496p. ISBN 9780756413439. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780756413453. SF
The third in Gear’s “Donovan” series is set in 2155. Readers follow the arrival on the planet Donovan of the Vixen, a spaceship thought lost for 50 years. To the Vixen’s passengers, no time has passed since they departed from home, and they’re shocked to find that their planned comprehensive survey of the planet is now a moot point owing to decades of occupation. The arrival of the crew and the deadly corporate assassin Tamarland Benteen on a planet already riven by factions and the daily struggle against Donovan’s deadly flora and fauna lead to a chaotic final confrontation.
VERDICT Gear creates an immersive world and a story that reads like an Old West frontier adventure with an sf twist. Winding through the points of view of several major characters, Pariah will appeal to a wide variety of adult readers; prior knowledge of the series is not required to enjoy this tense and tangled tale of survival.—Lydia Fletcher, Univ. of Texas at Austin

Green, Jane. The Friends We Keep. Berkley. Jun. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780399583346. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399583353. F
This new novel by Green (The Sunshine Sisters; The Beach House) is about the lifelong friendship of three people who meet at university. Evvie is a former child star whose exotic beauty hides an obsession with physical perfection. She ends up in England after her Jamaican mother flees an abusive marriage in the United States. She meets Maggie, a vibrant outgoing girl from a well-off family, and the two become roommates. Topher is the handsome, dramatic young man the girls find lounging on a bed in the Habitat store. The story moves from the trio’s college years in the 1980s to the present, narrated in alternating chapters by the three characters. After college, they grow apart: Evvie becomes a supermodel and falls for a married man; Maggie works in PR in London and later marries her college crush; and Topher becomes a soap opera actor in the United States and searches for himself in the age of AIDS. They all experience success and failure, love and heartbreak. Although they reunite in the final section, this distance makes it difficult to invest in their friendship.
VERDICT Recommended for the author’s fans and those looking for a light beach read. [See Prepub Alert, 12/17/18.]—Catherine Coyne, Mansfield P.L., MA

Kaftan, Vylar. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. Tor. May 2019. 112p. ISBN 9781250221131. pap. $11.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250221148. SF
Telepathy is treated with fear and mistrust. Any known telepaths are apprehended, imprisoned, and fitted with T-locks to keep them from being a danger to society. Powerful telepath Bianca (Bee) del Rios was taken, and despite the efforts of her partner and allies to locate her, she has been lost to them for more than a decade. Meanwhile, she has been crawling through tunnels, searching for some way out of her prison, and trying to remember who she was. An imaginative and gripping story with vivid descriptions and many twists and turns (like the convoluted passageways of Bee’s mind) by Nebula Award–winning Kaftan (The Weight of Sunrise ).
VERDICT Recommended for fans of sf or inventive short stories such as Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti” trilogy, or the works of George Saunders.—Karin Thogersen, Huntley Area P.L., IL

redstarKhalifa, Khaled. Death Is Hard Work. Farrar. Feb. 2019. 192p. tr. from Arabic by Leri Price. ISBN 9780374135737. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780374717643. F
Bolbol, his sister Fatima, and brother Hussein endeavor to carry out their father’s dying wish to be buried in the family plot in Anabiya, Syria. The two-hour drive from Damascus becomes an odyssey lasting three days owing to the numerous checkpoints to pass through, bribes to be paid, and documents to be searched again and again in this arduous journey. While the Syrian civil war rages on, roads are bombed, freeways are closed, and packs of dogs scavenge for dead bodies. The three siblings encounter these obstacles and more, including Bolbol’s imprisonment. Musing on the past and present, Bolbol reflects on his relationships with his father, former wife, unrequited love, and life in general. He realizes that any tenuous family feeling and hope for the future has disintegrated like the remains of the corpse they are transporting.
VERDICT Flawlessly translated and exquisitely written, this novel from the winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Prize is a genuine tour de force as well as a thoughtful and provocative examination of what it means to be alive. Khalifa is a notable author, having written numerous screenplays and four other novels. [See Prepub Alert, 8/20/18.]—Lisa Rohrbaugh, formerly with Leetonia Community P.L., OH

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future: #1 Bestselling Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Stories of the Year. Vol. 35. Galaxy. (Writers of the Future). Apr. 2019. 450p. ed. by David Farland. ISBN 9781619866041. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781619866010. SF
This 35th volume of “Writers of the Future” gathers 24 (mostly newer) award-winning authors and illustrators in one volume. It also gathers essays by some of the greats of sf, including Mike Resnick and Rob Prior, on the art of writing and illustrating. The art is gorgeously rendered in full color and excels in both being uniformly appropriate and enhancing to the stories. As homage to H.P. Lovecraft, “The Damned Voyage” by John Haas, with its creeping dread and slow descent into madness, is the standout here. It’s not easy to drop readers into a completely new world and have them believe it. Most of the stories, including Wulf Moon’s “Super Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler” and Elise Stephens’s “Untrained Luck,” accomplish that difficult task quite handily. However, in anthologies, there is almost always a story or two that don’t quite manage the trick, which is the case with this collection.
VERDICT Although this volume of a revered series is somewhat uneven, readers who like sf and short stories should thoroughly enjoy it.—Charli Osborne, Southfield P.L., MI

redstarLauren, Christina. The Unhoneymooners. Gallery. May 2019. 416p. ISBN 9781501128035. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501128042. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Olive Torres has always had a fair amount of bad luck, so when her twin sister’s entire wedding party suddenly run for the bathrooms, Olive figures she’s next. But fate sends Olive a curveball, specifically in the guise of her hot and hunky archenemy Ethan Thomas, who is the only other member of the wedding party not puking and therefore the de facto groom to her de facto bride on the nonrefundable luxury honeymoon. Is Olive’s luck about to change, or will this fake honeymoon be just like the rest of her life—a total bust? Being thrown together as husband and wife for massages, dinners, and trips creates instant chemistry, and Olive can’t keep her thoughts away from her new (pseudo)husband. With classic themes of luck, fate, and opposites attracting, this light romance is fun. Olive is the best kind of heroine—smart, determined, and quick—and Ethan is the perfect bad (not-so-bad) boy to sweep her off her feet.
VERDICT Sassy and appealing, writing duo Lauren’s ( My Favorite Half-Night Stand) latest endeavor is sure to please. A perfect read for beach or poolside, this is one hot summer story not to miss!—Judy Taylor Garner, Strayer Univ., Glen Allen, VA

redstarMallery, Susan. The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. HQN: Harlequin. Jun. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9781335659972. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488096877. F
Twin sisters Sunshine and Margot Baxter have decided to swear off men, forever. Who needs men when they have each other, great jobs, and fulfilling lives, right? Sunshine is determined that her past will not rule her future. She is back in school, loves her current nanny position, and it doesn’t hurt that Connor’s dad, Declan, is hot and single, although she’s not interested. Margot’s new contract with famous actress Bianca is just the kind of challenge Margot likes. She never bargained for Bianca’s good-looking son, Alec, and a mysterious renovated monastery full of hidden treasure. Sunshine’s and Margot’s new adventures just might be their undoing as they find themselves falling in love. But love is always complicated, and old habits die hard. Can the sisters change the future and let go of the past? Are they destined to be spinster sisters, or have they finally found true love?
VERDICT Mallery’s latest novel (after California Girls) is a breath of fresh air for romantics, a sweet reminder that falling in love is never how you plan it and always a pleasant surprise. [See Prepub Alert, 12/17/18.]—Jane Blue, Davie Cty. P.L., NC

Pinkerton, Brian. The Gemini Experiment. Flame Tree. (Fiction Without Frontiers). May 2019. 240p. ISBN 9781787582293. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781787582279. $14.95. SF
Tom Nolan is dying. Before he loses his motor functions and becomes bedridden, he is offered the opportunity to continue his life. A secret lab of doctors and scientists can create a replica of Tom and transfer his consciousness to the replica, killing his physical body in the process—and Tom agrees. A death row inmate undergoes the procedure as a test subject in the replica of Tom’s body. Before his consciousness can be destroyed, the inmate takes control of “new” Tom and escapes from the lab. He embarks upon a cross-country crime spree that eventually leads to his capture by Russian spies who want the technology for themselves.
VERDICT Part spy thriller, part sf adventure, Pinkerton’s ( How I Started the Apocalypse) latest is a fast-paced and action packed novel with well-developed characters that will have strong YA and adult appeal.—Terri Lent, Patrick Henry H.S., Ashland, VA

Ruta, Domenica. Last Day. Spiegel & Grau. May 2019. 272p. ISBN 9780525510819. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525510826. SF
[DEBUT]It’s your last day on Earth—maybe. Every May 28, humanity celebrates what might be its final day on the planet. Ancient religions believed the apocalypse would occur at the stroke of midnight on that date, but no one knew which year. People now celebrate May 28 as if it were their last day—and maybe it is. Although previous cultures performed traditional pagan rituals, the modern celebration is personal—barbequing with friends to emulate ancient pyres, building a bonfire to burn something special as an offering, hitting a piñata to emulate a sacrifice, drinking to excess to celebrate the past or prepare for the unknown, or asking for forgiveness and atonement. The narrative traces the somewhat interconnected lives of three people during the 30 hours of Last Day. Bear Clark is an astronaut on the International Space Station and contemplates life’s meaning from a wide-angle view. Karen Donovan is a mentally ill young woman futilely searching for her place in the world. And 16-year-old Sarah Moss looks for her purpose and the secret to ending her crippling fear of humanity’s demise.
VERDICT Ruta’s (With or Without You: A Memoir) fiction debut is an unusual novel that should resonate with readers enthralled with bleak speculative apocalyptic tales. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/18.]—K.L. Romo, Duncanville, TX

Wilde, Lori. To Tame a Wild Cowboy. Avon. (Cupid, Texas, Bk. 7). May 2019. 400p. ISBN 9780062468291. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062468307. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Rhett Lockhart is a successful bull rider on the professional rodeo circuit. He is all serious when it comes to the animals and the events, but when the show is over, it is party time, and the buckle bunnies are in plentiful supply. Then a paternity test comes back positive. Originally from Cupid, Tara Alzate is a NICU nurse in El Paso, TX, and has been caring for premature infant Julie since her mother abandoned her. Now that Julie is ready to be released, Tara has been appointed her foster parent until the father can be located, but Tara is hoping to adopt the child. Little does Tara know that the boy she used to babysit for in Cupid is about to come riding back into her life in a big way. When an all-fun rodeo star and all-work and no play nurse team up there’s not a lot of common ground except for sharing a hometown and a desire to provide what’s best for this sweet little girl. Can Rhett get Tara to loosen up and have some fun? Can Tara make Rhett see that bull riding is not a great career for the father of a newborn?
VERDICT This dashing, debonair, easy-going cowboy is the youngest Lockhart brother and a confirmed bachelor, or so he thinks. The latest series entry (after How the Cowboy Was Won), which can be read as a stand-alone, does not disappoint.—Lisa M. Jordan, Johnson Cty. Lib., Shawnee, KS

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