Fiction: Acevedo, Billingsley, Carlino, Holahan, MacNeal, Nash, Rushdie, Shamsie, Slaughter, Tuck | Xpress Reviews

This fascinating piece of history should appeal widely; Barber weaves a twisty tale that will grip readers; Billingsley has written another engrossing page-turner; Carlino writes a bittersweet, funny story; Holahan gets better with each novel; a nod to W.E.B. Dubois’s essay “The Talented Tenth”; for someone looking for a new historical mystery; an enjoyable tale of finding oneself and starting afresh; Rushdie should garner even more readers with this cautionary tale; debut author Wolas’s work is breathtaking

Week ending August 4, 2017

 

Acevedo, Chantel. The Living Infinite. Europa. Sept. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781609454302. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781609454319. F

Poet and novelist Acevedo (English, Univ. of Miami; A Falling Star) is a first-generation American, much of whose fiction deals with her Cuban roots. Cuba’s in this novel, too, though only as a stopping point. Spanish princess Eulalia (1864–1958) lands there en route to the United States and a tour of the Chicago exposition of 1894. In real life, Eulalia was as redoubtable as she appears here in print. She never stopped trying to kick over the traces, but the stifling demands of Spanish propriety and the dynastic needs of the monarchy conspired to make resistance futile. She documented her grievances in a secret diary and used her state visit as an opportunity to discuss its publication with an American publisher unintimidated by her status. Along the way, she reconnects after 20 years with Tomás, son of her wet nurse, and the sparks fly. The book doesn’t get published nor does the affair continue, but years later Eulalia will have her revenge on the crushing weight of history.

Verdict Eulalia comes across as real, Tomás less so, but this little-known but fascinating piece of history should appeal widely.—David Keymer, Cleveland

 

starred review starBarber, Kathleen. Are You Sleeping. Gallery. Aug. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781501157660. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501157707. F

[DEBUT]A tragic past rarely stays in the past—or buried. Barber’s first novel begins with Josie Buhrman thinking she has moved far beyond her father’s murder 13 years ago. His killer is serving time in prison, thanks to her estranged twin sister’s eyewitness testimony. But Josie is shaken to her core when she comes across journalist Poppy Parnell’s popular podcast, which is reexamining the case. Is the convicted murderer innocent? Did her sister, Lanie, lie about whom she saw? Will Josie be able to tell her boyfriend the truth about herself and where she comes from after so many years of lying? Josie must reconsider her father’s death and the people connected to it if she is to have any hope of finding a peace that will allow her to move forward with her life.

Verdict Barber weaves a twisty tale that will grip readers as they follow Josie confronting a past she finally cannot escape. Highly recommended for fans of the podcast Serial and authors such as Ruth Ware and Paula Hawkins.—Susan Moritz, Silver Spring, MD

 

starred review starBillingsley, ReShonda Tate. Seeking Sarah. Gallery. Aug. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781501156625. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781501156649. CF Everything falls into place when Trent Grant proposes to Brooke Hayes. But the hole in her heart over not having a mother to share things with just won’t mend. On the day of her father’s funeral, though, she learns from her grandmother that her mother, Sarah, is very much alive. Brooke begins a journey to find the mama she thought was dead and retrieve a little piece of the self she feels is missing. What she discovers breaks Brooke’s heart. She learns that not only does she have new siblings but that Sarah had created another life without her firstborn. Brooke wants answers, and she is determined to get them no matter who gets hurt in the process. The price Brooke pays may be the steepest of all, for revenge is a dish best served cold. Intricate family ties and rash decisions make Brooke one girl you have to follow until the end of her tale.

Verdict NAACP Image Award winner and best-selling author Billingsley (Let the Church Say Amen) has written another engrossing page-turner about a complicated mother-daughter relationship that readers will enjoy into the wee hours.—Jane Blue, Andrews P.L., NC

 

Carlino, Renée. Wish You Were Here. Atria. Aug. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781501105821. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501105838. F

Charlotte and her best friend Helen hit the bar after their waitressing shift at an L.A. diner, which leads to the best night and worst morning of Charlotte’s twentysomething life. The magical, sexy hours spent with Adam, a lawyer-turned-artist, quickly fade when he abruptly kicks her out. Charlotte already feels adrift in her own life, without a promising career or successful relationship, but this sends her reeling. She can’t get past Adam, although she makes an effort with baseball player Seth, whom she meets online. Just as things start to seem promising, Charlotte hears unexpected news about Adam and tracks him down. Now she must choose between supporting joyful, optimistic Adam through a difficult time or exploring life with sweet, funny Seth. Meanwhile, Helen leaves her behind for a guy, and the younger brother she sparred with becomes her new roommate. When Charlotte finally faces the tough choices in front of her, instead of running away as usual, her life changes forever as she finds a surprising new path and unexpected strength.

Verdict Carlino (Swear on This Life) writes a bittersweet, funny story about the challenges of adulting and navigating relationships.—Melissa DeWild, BookOps, New York P.L.

 

Holahan, Cate. Lies She Told. Crooked Lane. Sept. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781683312956. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683312963. F

An author struggling to finish her latest novel finds life at home invading her writing in Holahan’s (The Widow’s Wife) latest thriller. Liza Cole’s husband, David, is spending extra hours at work, and she wants to start a family. To add to the distractions, David’s law partner has vanished, and he seems obsessed with finding an answer. Liza worries that more is going on and that David is possibly having an affair. Starting her latest novel, she writes about a new mother who suspects her spouse of infidelity. The lines between Liza’s life and the novel she’s composing blur into a fun and compelling mystery. The reader gets to experience the new work chapter by chapter as Liza writes, adding an extra layer of complexity.

Verdict The trend of the unreliable female narrator has become cliché, but Holahan takes those assumptions and plays with them without being manipulative. She gets better with each novel, and this should be recommended for anyone who enjoys Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn, primarily because it’s better.—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

 

Hubbard, Ladee. The Talented Ribkins. Melville House. Aug. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781612196367. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781612196374. F

[DEBUT]Johnny Ribkins is feeling every minute of his 72 years but pursues a mission to retrieve caches of hidden loot he buried 14 years ago throughout southwest Florida. Yet this is no ordinary road trip through tropical heat. Johnny owes money to his mobster boss and has one week to pay up. Arriving in Lehigh Acres to gather up the first batch, he meets his deceased brother’s wife and teenage daughter, Eloise. The former thief is surprised to learn that Eloise will ride shotgun with him on his journey, and the sulky teen soon challenges his patience. Like his father, brother, and cousin, Johnny possesses an odd superpower—his is to make accurate maps. During the 1960s, the four men used their abilities as the Justice Committee in a failed attempt to help the civil rights movement. But Johnny soon discovers that Eloise has a superpower of her own.

Verdict With a nod to W.E.B. Dubois’s essay “The Talented Tenth,” this debut novel revolves around the subtle theme of adults passing on knowledge to younger generations. Hubbard’s voice mixes wry humor and superhero pop culture while addressing issues that continue to challenge our country’s African American community. [Hubbard is a 2016 winner of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award.—Ed.]—Rollie Welch, Lehigh Acres, FL

 

MacNeal, Susan Elia. The Paris Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery. Bantam. Aug. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780399593802. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399593819. F

The seventh installment in the Maggie Hope series (after The Queen’s Accomplice) finds Maggie undercover in Nazi-occupied France as Paige Kelly, a young Irish woman shopping for her trousseau. In reality, she is on a mission to find out what happened to SOE spy Erica Calvert and to find her half sister, Elise Hess. But all is not well at the SOE: a deeply embedded double agent is working to find out where Britain will invade mainland Europe. It is a race against time, not just with the war but with Maggie and her fellow operatives. Readers who have fallen in love with the series will be well pleased with this new title as it showcases their heroine quite well. The action is well paced and performed by a solid cast of both historical characters (e.g., Coco Chanel) and well-drawn fictional ones. MacNeal did her research, and fans will delight over even the most mundane details.

Verdict Newcomers don’t have to read the previous books to enjoy this title but some may wish to do so to grasp Maggie’s backstory. For someone looking for a new historical mystery with similar characters, Maggie is a mirror image to Bess Crawford, the star of Charles Todd’s World War I books. [See Prepub Alert, 2/13/17.]—Laura Hiatt, Fort Collins, CO

 

Nash, Sophia. Whispering in French. Morrow. Aug. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062471789. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062471796. F

Kate Hamilton, an American psychologist, returns to the south of France on a mission to sell her grandfather’s villa. She is recovering from the divorce from her verbally abusive husband that resulted in their teen daughter running away. Coming back to the place she spent her youthful summers might be just the break she needs, if it doesn’t break her completely. Her grandfather has no intention of leaving his ancestral home, despite that it is falling down around him. Her uncle has been selling off family heirlooms, and her jet-setting mother is AWOL. Meanwhile, Kate reluctantly coaches a British military officer suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while dealing with rural French bureaucrats and her own issues. The good news is that Kate’s daughter arrives, ready to start a new life with her in France.

Verdict Nash (The Once and Future Duchess) branches out from romance to tell an enjoyable tale of finding oneself and starting afresh that is filled with humor and features a delightful setting.The only odd note are the interludes, “Whispers from the Garden,” in which a hedgehog recounts his friendship with a cat. They break the narrative and seem to belong in another book.—Catherine Coyne, Mansfield P.L., MA

 

starred review starRushdie, Salman. The Golden House. Random. Sept. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780399592805. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780399592812. F

Must one’s past always inform the present? Can a man avoid karma? Is the United States still a haven for reinventing oneself? Booker and Whitbread Award winner Rushdie (Midnight’s Children) poses these and other conundrums in a novel grounded in historical fact yet rife with Rushdie’s signature imaginative prowess. The Gardens, a cloistered neighborhood in New York’s Greenwich Village, represents a microcosm of our world as it appeared after the 2008 financial meltdown. Narrator Rene is a struggling filmmaker in search of a subject. When the inscrutable Nero Golden and his three sons arrive from Mumbai to take up residence in their palatial home fronting the Gardens, they appear pleased to oblige. Rene insinuates himself into the lives of agoraphobic Petya, artist Apu, and Dionysus, the gender-fluid youngest of the brothers. Over an eight- year span, Rene follows and films the enigmatic Goldens as they struggle to attain the American dream, eventually compromising his objectivity through a risky sexual liaison. Though the story is Shakespearean in its tragic elements, Rushdie manages to have fun with his readers, showcasing his cultural erudition with multiple references to music, film, and literature.

Verdict Expanding upon the interpretation of the personal as political, Rushdie should garner even more readers with this cautionary tale of the long reach of terrorism and the demise of the American ideal. [See Prepub Alert, 3/8/17.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

 

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead. Aug. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780735217683. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735217706. F

This latest from London-based Shamsie (God in Every Stone) depicts the lives of three Pakistani siblings from Great Britain, responsible older sister Isma and her younger siblings, brother-and-sister twins Parvaiz and Aneeka. After their mother’s death, Isma spent seven years helping raise the younger children and now resides in the United States, where she is pursuing her PhD. At 19, the twins are on their own paths. Parvaiz, who harbors the secret of having a jihadist father, is befriended by the son of a man who was acquainted with him and in an effort to learn more about the father he never knew soon finds himself following in his father’s footsteps. When Aneeka tries to help him, concerned for his safety, a twist of fate entangles her with Eamonn, a man to whom her sister is attracted.

Verdict Written with great fluidity, Shamsie’s work imaginatively addresses the issues of identity, culture, politics, religion, and nationalism in an absorbing story. Definite fodder for book groups, this well-crafted relational novel is at times hauntingly disturbing and will easily generate much discussion.—Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

 

Slaughter, Karin. The Good Daughter. Morrow. Aug. 2017. 512p. ISBN 9780062430243. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062430267. F

In her latest thriller, Slaughter steps away from her series to tell the story of Charlotte and Samantha Quinn. Maintaining the dark tone that permeates her other titles, Slaughter sets out two parallel stories, one taking place nearly three decades in the past and one in the present. Twenty-eight years ago, Charlie and Sam lived through a horrifically violent attack that left their mother dead and them forever damaged. The sisters have spent the intervening years distancing themselves from the crime and each other. Charlie, following in her father’s footsteps, is now a defense lawyer operating in Pikeville, the Georgia town where the crime happened, while Sam moved away and hasn’t returned. One morning, Charlie witnesses a school shooting, but she thinks there’s something off about the shooter, and she can’t make the events add up. She takes on the defense of the suspect, a young girl named Kelly, but finds herself fighting the town as everyone is out for Kelly’s blood.

Verdict Though this is a crime novel, suspenseful and thrilling in every way, at its heart it is an exploration of family and the ties that persist through the most difficult moments. As with Val McDermid, Denise Mina, and Tana French, Slaughter delves into our darkest selves to reveal what is truly human. [See Prepub Alert, 2/20/17.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

 

Tuck, Lily. Sisters. Atlantic Monthly. Sept. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9780802127112. $20. F

Winner of the 2004 National Book Award for The News from Paraguay, Tuck opens her seventh novel with the musings of an unnamed protagonist—an upper-middle-class New York City realtor and second wife who is stepmother to two teenagers. In a series of impressionistic vignettes ranging from a single sentence to a few pages, she wonders about her bond trader husband’s first wife, a heavy and constant presence in her psyche. Her unrelenting comparisons leave her coming up short, and her self-image and her relationships begin to suffer in this layered, psychologically intricate portrayal of the stages of a modern American marriage.

Verdict Character development and growth are not the point here, and readers may grow frustrated with the narrator’s seeming lack of identity, but fans of Tuck’s previous works of contemporary fiction with an urban domestic bent (I Married You for Happiness) will find this familiar and a quick, satisfying read. It lingers long after the pages are closed. [See Prepub Alert, 5/3/17.]—Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast

 

starred review starWolas, Cherise. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby. Flatiron: Macmillan. Aug. 2017. 544p. ISBN 9781250081438. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250081445. F

[DEBUT]Raised by indifferent parents, Joan Ashby sought happy refuge in writing. By the time she was 25, she had ignited the literary world with two explosive short story collections. Not immune to the headiness of intense love while pursuing her writing passion, she agreed to marry Martin, a successful doctor who promised to respect her “no children” rule. Shocked to find herself pregnant and Martin wavering, she embraced motherhood, not once but twice, and shelved her dream of literary fame and fortune to raise her two sons, one of her own heart, the other a challenging genius. More than two decades later, a cataclysmic betrayal from within her own family sends Joan fleeing to India on an extraordinary journey to salvage and repair her soul and reclaim the life she was meant to live.

Verdict Debut author Wolas’s sure hand applies layer upon layer of precisely meshed poetic and cinematic scenes to realize a life of such quiet majesty and original consideration of family interplay that she does the impossible. Readers not only will mourn coming to the end, they will feel compelled to start over to watch the miracle of this novel unfold again. Breathtaking.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor, MI

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