Fiction, April 26, 2019 | Xpress Reviews

A dark, twisted, hellish reflection of New York City; fans of Debbie Macomber will be pleased; this latest from Frampton is an excellent romance; for readers of historical fiction; this novel deserves the highest recommendation;Russell presents eight deeply weird tales; a mixture of cozy village mystery and World War II thriller; a well-executed piece of space sf; superb writing propels us on a most unusual journey; Ward’s vampire world is gritty and sexy

Week ending April 26, 2019

redstarAkers, W.M. Westside. Harper Voyager. May 2019. 304p. ISBN 9780062853998. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062854032. FANTASY
[DEBUT] In this searing amalgamation of historical fiction, urban fantasy, and outright horror, Prohibition-era Manhattan has been forcibly split into two very separate cities. Bright, shining, prosperous Eastside and walled-off Westside, a haven for horrors, where the dark is hungry and people vanish into the shadows, never to return. Gilda Carr, investigator of “tiny mysteries,” begins searching for a lost glove and ends up unearthing the dark secret behind her father’s disappearance, as well as the shadowed cause of everything that has gone wrong in her home. Bringing that secret into the torchlight will force her to bring out her own unquiet dead—and bring her city either an uneasy peace or a final fall into the long night. Carr’s quest to discover the truth she’s been hiding from herself is darkly mesmerizing, as is her city. She walks in fear, and we follow her every tortured step of the way.
VERDICT Westside is a dark, twisted, hellish reflection of New York City. It’s an underworld where everything rots, including the people. Highly recommended for those who love the darkest of fantasy and those looking for alternate history with a creepy twist of the fantastic. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/18.]—Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, LLC, Duluth, GA

Altman, Diana. We Never Told. She Writes. Jun. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781631525438. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631525445. F
Sonya’s mother has always been an enigma. Pampered by her wealthy Jewish parents, intently glamourous, a supremely dissatisfied Violet Adler divorced her much older film producer husband, Seymour, when Sonya was in sixth grade. Violet was always been supremely aware of how to maximize the male attention focused in her direction. When Violet claims she has a tumor and leaves Sonya and her sister Joan to fend for themselves for months, it has a profound and lasting impact on Sonya and her future relationships. Long suspicious of what happened in her mother’s past, it’s not until Violet dies that Sonya puts the pieces together and confronts the truth. What could have been a revealing glimpse into the lives of Jewish socialites, the film industry in New York, social mores of the 1950s, or mother-child relationships is marred by the cold, dispassionate narrative. Chapters end abruptly, and one never develops a connection with any of the characters.
VERDICT This disjointed story by Altman (Theda Bara’s Tent) is told from arm’s length, but it has some contemporary relevance as more people discover lost or surprise relatives through Internet research and genetic databases.—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA

Chamberlin, Holly. A Wedding on the Beach. Kensington. Jun. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9781496719201. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496719218. F
Bess Culpepper is finally getting married. She decides the two weeks before her Kennebunkport, ME, wedding should be dedicated to getting back together her old gang of college friends, now in their 40s. But life has changed the once close-knit group. Mike and Marta are at odds after an unexpected pregnancy puts Marta’s plans to begin a new journey in her life on hold as her growing children require her less and less. Allison reluctantly joins the group, still reeling from her upcoming divorce from Chris. Chuck and Dean show up with their newly adopted baby, but their perfect little family has a secret that will change their lives forever. As the two weeks pass, mysteries and issues with each couple come to light, leaving Bess worried about how much hard work her marriage might take.
VERDICT Though each union has harsh and sometimes devastating realities, the book becomes bogged down by Bess’s continued naïveté and determination to fix everyone’s problems. However, other story lines and short chapters told from various perspectives keep the plot moving forward. Purchase only where Chamberlin (The Summer Nanny) and women’s fiction are extremely popular.—Brooke Bolton, Boonville–Warrick Cty. P.L., IN

Dimberg, Kelsey Rae. Girl in the Rearview Mirror. Morrow. Jun. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780062867926. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062867933. SUSPENSE
[DEBUT] Finn Hunt is a nanny for Philip and Marina Martin, a prominent and wealthy Arizona couple with deep political ties. Philip’s father is a sitting U.S. senator, and word is that Philip will carry the mantle when the old man retires. Finn is enamored of this family, not only of her young charge Amabel but of the Martin mystique and the ideal it represents to her. She is especially taken with Philip and senses their kinship could someday evolve into something more intimate. Into this idyllic setting appears Iris, a beautiful young woman who befriends Amabel and then confronts Finn with news that, if true, could be devastating for Philip. Finn views herself as the protector of the Martin dynasty, but soon she begins to question her loyalty. When a tragedy sends the whole house of cards tumbling down, it seems the truth has the potential to destroy them all.
VERDICT Ultimately unsatisfying, this debut novel by Dimberg has many elements of a stellar suspense read, but there are too many missteps. It is baffling why Finn is so easily led to an entanglement with the conniving Iris, while the big reveal at the end fails to pack a punch. Suspense fans will be disappointed. [See Prepub Alert, 12/6/18.]—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph, MI

Dykes, Amanda. Whose Waves These Are. Bethany House. May 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780764232664. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493418787. CF
[DEBUT] Brothers Bob and Roy Bliss did everything together growing up on the small island of Ansel, ME. However, when Roy is drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II, Bob is left behind. Roy dies of injuries sustained saving a civilian family, leaving a wife, an infant son, and a message for his brother to relay. Years later, Roy’s son, William, shows up at Bob’s door needing a father and a friend. He finds both in his uncle, but the relationship splinters when a tragedy strikes. Several decades later, Annie Bliss, Bob’s great-niece, comes to the island after hearing about Bob’s illness. Through all the memories of a summer spent with her great-uncle, she learns more about her father’s and her uncle’s lives than she expected, including a secret that Bob has kept for years. Dykes’s first full-length novel weaves together the strands of a life well lived in spite of tragedy and loss. Emotionally charged, the story is felt rather than envisioned. The raw emotional tone sets the stage for the impact that the plot twists give when revealed.
VERDICT Fans of Debbie Macomber will be pleased with this story.—Christine Sharbrough, Industry, TX

Findlay, Daniel. Year of the Orphan. Arcade: Skyhorse. May 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781628729924. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781628729948. SF
[DEBUT] In this debut, Findlay challenges North American readers to adjust their intake settings to accommodate unpunctuated outback colloquialisms in pages-long paragraphs. It’s an interesting exercise but not very entertaining. The titular Orphan is seeking something (who knows what) in an apocalyptically drought-ridden world, but even halfway through, it is not always clear who is speaking, when the action is taking place, or what is happening. Readers looking for intentionally difficult novels will get more out of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, fans of Australian vernacular should turn to Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, and Western readers hungry for gender-bending, dusty caballeros will find more to love in Rhys Bowen’s “The Shadow” series.
VERDICT Only the largest library collections or those specializing in Australian fiction need to make room for this title.—Nicole Steeves, Fox River Valley P.L. Dist., IL

redstarFrampton, Megan. Never a Bride. Avon. (Duke’s Daughters, Bk. 4). May 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780062867407. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062867414. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
The husband of Lady Della Howlett’s best friend and housemate Sarah Wattings has been missing for three years, ever since the ship he worked on capsized. The captain of that ship is now in London, and Della hopes he will know Henry’s fate. Della, daughter of the Duke of Marymount, has been “ruined” in society’s eyes since she ran off with her dancing master. He left when their child was born, though the couple never married. Capt. Griffith Davies had run from his own aristocratic family at 16 but now finds himself heir to his cousin Frederick, the Duke of Northam, who is terminally ill. A man who never cared for society’s rules, Griff concocts a fake betrothal with Lady Della that would be mutually beneficial: he will be ineligible to the young women looking to catch a duke’s heir, while she will help him find Mr. Wattings. And, proposes Della, “let’s have an affair.”
VERDICT This latest series entry from Frampton (The Lady Is Daring) is hilarious as an arrogant, self-assured sea captain and a lustful, intelligent, and self-assured single mother find their devil’s bargain delightful and so much more. An excellent romance.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Mark, David. The Mausoleum. Severn House. Jun. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9780727888723. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781448302109. MYS
Cordelia Hemlock is lying in a grave when Felicity Goose meets her in 1967. Still mourning the death of her young son, Cordelia is from away and not yet accepted by the villagers in Gilsland, a British town almost at the Scottish border. While the two women are at the cemetery, lightning strikes an old mausoleum, cracking it open. No one believes them when they report seeing a body dressed in a blue suit tumble out. When a neighbor sets out to verify it, his car goes off the road in the storm, and he’s killed. But the body in the blue suit is gone. Cordelia convinces her new friend to investigate with her; however, some villagers and several powerful outsiders want the town’s secrets to remain hidden. Cordelia and Felicity are caught up in a twisted mystery with tentacles that reach back 20 years to World War II, a story that won’t be untangled for another 40 years. This intricately plotted bleak story has a menacing tone.
VERDICT This stand-alone thriller by the author of the DS McAvoy series is a very British tale. While it’s suspenseful, it’s filled with dialect and told by both women in alternating chapters. Fans of postwar stories with connections to the war might want to try this sometimes confusing work.—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

Mosse, Kate. The Burning Chambers. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2019. 608p. ISBN 9781250202161. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250202178. F
Mosse weaves yet another historically rich tale of intrigue, adventure, and corruption in her trademark setting, France’s Languedoc region. This installment is set in the 1500s, during the Wars of Religion, a brutal time of unrest pitting the Protestants against Roman Catholics. Just as young Minou Joubert receives a cryptic letter warning that “she knows that you live,” she serendipitously meets Piet Reydon, a Huguenot supporter. The couple embark on a dangerous affair, pitting their love against the raging denominations. Weaving together intrigue and adventure, this latest from Mosse (The Taxidermist’s Daughter) features protagonists who both hold secrets that put them in grave danger with each other’s respective religion. Minou shines as an unwavering, self-reliant heroine in this atmospherically detailed novel. The author has taken painstaking care to illustrate the historically significant era.
VERDICT A suspenseful tale of romance and courage threatened by religious persecution, this book is recommended for readers of historical fiction, most notably Renaissance-era thrillers. Fans of Diana Gabaldon, Barbara Kingsolver, and Philippa Gregory should enjoy. [See Prepub Alert, 12/6/18.]—Carolann Curry, Mercer Univ. Lib., Macon, GA

redstarOrringer, Julie. The Flight Portfolio. Knopf. May 2019. 576p. ISBN 9780307959409. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307959416. F
Varian Fry and Elliott Grant became intimate friends at Harvard, then had a falling out and didn’t cross paths till years later in occupied France, where Varian is working for the Emergency Rescue Committee. Against nearly insuperable odds, he and his comrade-associates manage to spirit countless refugees out of Vichy France, particularly “degenerate” artists and others of renown whom the Gestapo would like to apprehend. Then seemingly out of the blue, Grant reenters Varian’s life with a request that resets their relationship in ways that neither could have imagined. Among those on Varian’s rescue list are such notables as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, André Breton, and Golo Mann, and there are appearances by Peggy Guggenheim, Lincoln Kirstein, and Alfred Barr of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Varian hopes to send Barr the titular portfolio of works by his fleeing artists to shock the conscience of America, which is still sitting out the war. Orringer (How To Breathe Underwater), who takes Fry’s lifesaving mission from real life, gets everything right in this meticulously researched historical account that considers the most basic issues of identity, sexuality, and morality in desperate times while making it almost impossible for readers to stop turning pages.
VERDICT This novel of mystery, suspense, heroism, betrayal, and passion deserves the highest recommendation. [See Prepub Alert, 12/3/18.]—Edward Cone, New York

redstarRucker, Rudy. Million Mile Road Trip. Night Shade. May 2019. 504p. ISBN 9781597809924. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781597809917. $14.99. SF
Cyberpunk pioneer Rucker (Return to the Hollow Earth), two-time recipient of the Philip K. Dick Award, returns with his first new release since 2013. California teens Zoe, Villy, and younger brother Scud enter Mappyworld—a parallel universe populated with denizens rendered distressingly real (including organic flying saucers)—via Zoe’s dimension-opening trumpet solo. Villy’s “purple whale,” a 1980s station wagon hyperenhanced with a dark-energy motor, graphene tires, and quantum shocks courtesy of cartoonish aliens Pinchley and Yampa, ensures “safe” navigation of a vast plain. Not only does Villy hunger for Zoe’s love, the aforementioned saucers are carnivores hungry for the reluctant visitors from Earth—or, in the local parlance, ballyworld. If the teens cannot defeat the saucers, Earth will be invaded. In the afterword, Rucker describes the book’s chatty present-tense perspective and placing the name—or, occasionally, names—of POV characters under chapter headings as nods to Thomas Pynchon. The stream-of-consciousness effect charges his already high-velocity prose with realism and absurdity.
VERDICT Readers with an appetite for West Coast cyberpunk’s blend of quantum psychedelia, tweaked topology, formal innovation, and language stretched to its limits are bound to enjoy Rucker’s return.—William Grabowski, McMechen, WV

Russell, Karen. Orange World and Other Stories. Knopf. May 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780525656135. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525656142. F
The award-winning author Russell (Swamplandia) grabs hold of her readers with eight deeply weird, wildly inventive, irresistibly horrifying tales and doesn’t let go until the last page. A young couple explore Joshua Tree National Park. When Angie is accidentally pierced by a piece of bark, the tree’s spirit and Angie’s boyfriend Andy battle mightily for her heart and soul. Fifteen-year-old Cillian falls in love with a well-preserved 2000-year-old corpse of an adolescent girl who has been excavated from an Irish bog. He brings her home and refuses to let her go, much to the distress of his mother. In 1620, a Greek island surgeon to the deceased—he cuts the hamstrings of fresh corpses so they cannot roam around as the undead—panics as his reputation, dependent on complete success, is threatened by a rumor. Four sisters use their inherited echolocation skills to taxi people through a postapocalyptic Florida, now underwater for decades, thanks to climate change. In the title story, pregnant Rae is terrified of losing yet another fetus to miscarriage. She makes a pact with the Devil—she nurses him over a storm drain every night in exchange for the safety of her baby son.
VERDICT Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/17/18.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

redstarRyan, Jennifer. The Spies of Shilling Lane. Crown. Jun. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780525576495. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525576518. F
Ousted from her lofty position as head of her village’s Women’s Voluntary Service by her archrival Mrs. Metcalf, bossy, snobbish Mrs. Braithwaite heads off to London, where her daughter, Betty, moved after World War II began, to reveal a long-held secret to Betty before her rival does. She arrives at Betty’s boarding house only to discover that she has disappeared during the Blitz. Never one to back down from a problem, the energetic Mrs. Braithwaite launches a determined search that leads to disturbing discoveries about mysterious forces at work in wartime Britain, herself, and her reluctant companion, Betty’s shy and retiring landlord Mr. Norris. Dodging bombs and Fascist thugs, Mrs. Braithwaite and her cohort unravel clues with occasional assistance from the questionable characters at the local pub to uncover treachery at the highest levels.
VERDICT A mixture of cozy village mystery and World War II thriller, Ryan’s latest (after The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir) will appeal to a wide audience, especially fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/17/18.]—Cynthia Johnson, formerly with Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA

Smith, Sherwood. A Sword Named Truth. DAW. (Rise of the Alliance, Bk. 1). Jun. 2019. 656p. ISBN 9780756409999. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698161504. FANTASY
The story follows a multitude of characters, such as Jilo, who was a prisoner of his country once riddled by dark magic but is suddenly thrust into becoming its leader; Senrid, King of the Marlovens, a militaristic regime; and Atan, queen of a land frozen in time. In addition there is Hibern, a young mage who travels within these realms, serving as an intermediary among them as well as training others. The large cast must overcome past squabbles to unite to fight the Norsunder, who were once defeated but have returned to reestablish their power.
VERDICT A new book continuing the complex worldbuilding of the “Inda” series will be a welcome addition for Smith’s fans. It can be read as a stand-alone but may take a bit of work or be daunting for new readers. Highly recommended for those who enjoy the multifacted fantasy epics of writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, or Robin Hobbs.—Lucy Roehrig, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Tchaikovsky, Adrian. Children of Ruin. Orbit: Hachette. (Guns of the Dawn, Bk. 2). May 2019. 608p. ISBN 9780316452533. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316452540. SF
A new take on colonization and worldbuilding (literally). When the book opens, humanity is searching for new planets to colonize owing to war and overpopulation but instead finds the first life outside of Earth. The discovery sets off a chain reaction that unlocks a dangerous plague. Several centuries later, humans and Portiids (a sentient spider race) work together to discover more life in the universe and stumble upon the projects of the humans of the past, including a species of evolved Earth octopi. Tchaikovsky (Children of Time) brilliantly explores humanity’s penchant to create and explore and the benefits and risks of both. Fans of the first installment will note that this moves at a more leisurely pace and does not hinge on space battle but rather on interspecies communication and cooperation. Readers who loved Sue Burke’s Semiosis will enjoy this title’s focus on character and highly scientific language.
VERDICT A well-executed piece of space sf, Children of Ruin will be enjoyed by readers who appreciate diplomacy and the scientific method more than interplanetary war. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/18.]—Ahliah Bratzler, Indianapolis P.L.

redstarValente, Anne. The Desert Sky Before Us. Morrow. May 2019. 448p. ISBN 9780062749871. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062749888. F
Rhiannon, a race car driver–turned–textbook sales rep, picks up her sister Billie upon Billie’s release from a correctional center after a six-year arson sentence. Starting from their childhood home in Champaign-Urbana, IL, they embark on a road trip to eastern Utah’s Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry where their mother Margaret Hurst, an eminent paleontologist, had been working until her death a few months before. Margaret’s coworkers are holding a memorial especially for Billie, who missed her mother’s funeral. The sisters are not on the best of terms, nor do they welcome their estranged father back into their lives, but they make the best of the trip through the harsh Western landscape, following a strange journal left by their mother. Each page contains two clues: a small sketch plus map coordinates to a location with a hidden box. Even as their geocaching scavenger hunt reveals objects special to them and to their mother, tensions build, forcing the sisters to confront long-hidden resentments, Billie’s motive for the arson, Rhiannon’s recent breakup with her girlfriend, her decision to leave the NASCAR circuit, their father’s neglect, and their mother’s reputation as a scientist.
VERDICT Valente’s (An Elegy for Mathematics) superb writing propels us on a most unusual journey filled with unraveling emotions and the breathtaking mysteries of desert river beds, red rock formations, and dinosaur skeletons. Impossible to put down.—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO

Ward, J.R. The Savior. Gallery: S. & S. (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Bk. 17). Apr. 2019. 479p. ISBN 9781501194948. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781501194962. PARANORMAL ROMANCE
When the opportunity presents itself to help the female who still haunts Murhder 20 years after his exile, he returns to Caldwell and the Brotherhood to ask for their assistance. However, he is unprepared for what he must do in his quest to right the wrong that ruined him. Dr. Sarah Watkins is a biomedical researcher who has buried herself in work following the death of her scientist fiancé. The FBI starts asking about him, leaving Sarah to question not only how he died but what he might have been working on that someone would want to kill him. When she discovers the truth, the crimes of the firm they both worked for are brought to light. Then Murhder’s and Sarah’s worlds collide, igniting sparks between them but putting the future they want to forge in jeopardy by Murhder’s past. Return to the world of the “Black Dagger Brotherhood” and learn why the only brother to ever be expelled was banished and the reasons for his insanity.
VERDICT This latest series title from Ward (Prisoner of Night) introduces new characters into the “Brotherhood” while continuing the story of several favorites. The author’s vampire world is gritty and sexy and so well written and developed that fans will love this next installment; new readers will be hooked and ready to read more.—Colleen Sargent, Anderson P.L., IN

Weir, Alison. Anna of Kleve, the Princess in the Portrait. Ballantine. (Six Tudor Queens, Bk. 4). May 2019. 512p. ISBN 9781101966570. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101966587. F
Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife who famously disappointed Henry by failing to live up to the beauty of her portrait, is often passed over fairly quickly in Tudor tales as a mere footnote in between Jane Seymour, the mother of Henry’s son, and the decidedly more sensational Catherine Howard. Weir attempts to remedy that in this title, the fourth in her series of novels taking a detailed look at each of Henry’s spouses (after Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen). Weir’s Anna handles herself with maturity and grace both during her ill-fated marriage to Henry and afterward in her life as the king’s “sister” (she is allowed to retain a high status in gratitude for accepting her divorce). Yet even as Anna struggles to navigate the treacherous web of loyalties that still affect her life away from Henry’s court, a dangerous secret from her past threatens to resurface. Weir’s training as a historian shows in the amount of detail given about each stage of Anna’s life, but she also gives herself free rein to speculate about possible scandals.
VERDICT Tudor fans will relish this chance to learn more about Henry’s most overlooked queen in this enjoyable look at her unusual life. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/18.]—Mara Bandy Fass, Champaign P.L., IL

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