Fiction by Bostwick, Deveraux, Dibben, Harris, Maldonado, Putnam, Sharpe, plus Debuts | Xpress Reviews

Bostwick's smoothly written book is full of fresh starts, cute dogs, and likable characters; not much is new, but Deveraux fans will enjoy this pleasant work; Dibben celebrates the strength of human and animal ties; Franson's debut is well intentioned but not essential; Harris's latest is quite a good book with wide appeal; a gritty heroine and an action-packed mystery; this prequel to the Bruno Johnson series keeps readers engrossed; readers will be rooting hard for Nora to get her self-esteem back; the tough but conflicted Harley will have readers cheering

Week ending February 16, 2018


Bostwick, Marie. Just in Time. Kensington. Mar. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781496709233. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496709240. F

Grace, Nan, and Monica meet at a grief support group in which Monica and Grace are by far the youngest members. Nan is the “right” age for the group, but she’s just there with her therapy dog Blixen—she’s been a widow for 20years. The three women form a deep bond on their own, each dealing with her own sadness. Grace is caring for a brain-injured husband and working too many hours to maintain the insurance that keeps Jamie alive. Monica is raising two stepchildren after her husband’s death in a boat crash, caused by his mistress. Nan is worried about her homeless daughter, who’s addicted to opiates. They take care of one another, but each is sure that her life isn’t going to change. Then Grace meets a man who brings a spark of joy back to her heart. Monica’s stepson starts to let her in, and Nan learns it’s never too late for romance to strike again.

Verdict Bostwick (The Promise Girls) is a popular author in public libraries. Both her longtime fans and newer readers will enjoy this smoothly written book, full of fresh starts, cute dogs, and likable characters.—Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL


Deveraux, Jude. As You Wish. Mira: Harlequin. Mar. 2018. 416p. ISBN 9780778307617. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488078651. F

In the third (loosely connected) novel in her “Summerhouse” series, Deveraux keeps the same setup—multiple women figuring out their loves and lives—but shifts the action from Maine to Virginia. Here, sexagenarian Olivia, fortysomething Kathy, and twentysomething Elise end up in Summer Hill, living in the same house. Olivia is recently married for the second time, but she and her new husband have a long and complicated relationship. Kathy is married to a handsome, successful businessman who may not be as perfect as he seems on the surface. And Elise is struggling to get out from under the life and marriage her parents chose for her. Each woman has serious regrets about choices she’s made. The three begin to rely on one another for the support they need to navigate their current issues.

Verdict The sudden magical element added to the women’s story two-thirds of the way through is a surprise and though it’s what connects the novels in this series, it’s also unnecessary. The characters are types readers have seen before, so not much is new, but Deveraux fans will enjoy this pleasant work. [See Prepub Alert, 10/9/17.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI


starred review starDibben, Damian. Tomorrow. Hanover Square: Harlequin. Mar. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781335580290. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488080555. F

Dibben, author of “The History Keepers” YA series, puts his potential as an animal whisperer to work in this insightful adult novel about a 200-year-old dog who has been searching for his master across Europe from the 17th though the 19th century. A satisfied reader will certainly suspend belief and rethink the concept of what a “lifetime” could be, as Dibben’s immortal protagonist weaves his way across time and place. Steeped with historical flavor, this compelling read vividly captures the heart of animal loyalty, compassion, and emotions. Indeed, at times the dog seems more capable of love than most humans.

Verdict Celebrating the strength of human and animal ties, this compelling and satisfying novel is similar in spirit to Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey. But fans of time travel fiction such as Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” books will also enjoy this work’s descriptive cultural and historical detail.—Susan Carr, formerly with Edwardsville P.L., IL


Franson, Sally. A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out. Dial. Apr. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9780399592034. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399592058. F

[DEBUT] Casey Pendergast, a 28-year-old rising star, the youngest creative director at “the best boutique public relations agency in town,” and Real Housewives superfan, should have it all. After successfully wooing Ellen Hanks, “the face of Minneapolis’s Real Housewives franchise,” for a lucrative branding opportunity, she is given a plum assignment by her boss Celeste Winter, erstwhile clone of Miranda Priestly, to start up an offshoot agency. This “Blue Ocean” company will focus on pairing respected authors with companies that no longer have the cachet to attract “real” celebrities: oil companies, recalled-meat producers, etc. For her first assignment, Casey sets out, American Express business gold card in hand, to entice well-known local author/asset Ben Dickinson to come on board. When the two meet, sparks fly and love is in the air, but soon things unravel as Casey’s sometimes thoughtless actions blow up. Her best friend feels betrayed, her other personal relationships crack, and her business decisions have no moral compass.

Verdict Debut author Franson has created a character so insensitive to others and lacking any integrity that when her comeuppance does finally come up, it is virtually impossible to sympathize. Well intentioned but not essential.—Susan Santa, Shelter Rock P.L., Albertson, NY


starred review starHarris, Jane. Sugar Money. Arcade: Skyhorse. Mar. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9781628728897. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781628728910. F

Based on a historical incident, Harris’s third novel (after Gillespie and I) recounts the journey of two enslaved African brothers in 1765 from French-held Martinique to British-owned Grenada. Their masters, French friars, send 28-year-old Emile and 12-year-old Lucien to reclaim 42 slaves left behind when the friars fled Grenada during the British invasion two years earlier. But the journey is little more than theft: the friars’ title to the slaves is dubious. If the brothers are caught, punishment will be harsh. The story is told by Lucien, who writes a vigorous mix of English, French, and Creole. For Lucien, it’s an adventure, a chance to show his older brother he’s finally a man. But Emile knows better: even if they succeed, the fugitives will only trade one life of brutal misery for another. Harris credits Robert Louis Stevenson as inspiration for this book. It’s evident why. Like Stevenson, she describes an exotic setting and tells a ripping good story. It may disturb the reader at first that Lucien doesn’t see his enslavement for what it is. But for Lucien, freedom doesn’t seem an option, just a choice of masters.

Verdict A quite good book with wide appeal, just don’t expect Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.—David Keymer, Cleveland


Maldonado, Isabella. Phoenix Burning. Midnight Ink. Mar. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780738751023. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780738753935. MYS

Phoenix homicide detective Veranda Cruz is a tough, streetwise woman with an unwavering dedication to law enforcement. She is relatively new to the squad, having previously worked narcotics. Veranda is familiar with a Mexican drug cartel family, the Villalobos, who have turned the streets of Phoenix into a war zone. In Blood’s Echo, she was instrumental in causing the death of the clan’s eldest son. With a personal vendetta against her, the Villalobos will stop at nothing to exact their revenge. Appointed to lead a multiagency task force to end the cartel’s reign of terror, Veranda is determined to shut them down completely. Veranda now walks a thin tightrope between a boss who is anxious to see her fail and the drug lords who threaten her family.

Verdict Maldonado, a former law enforcement officer, brings her experience and expertise to this gripping police procedural. With its gritty heroine, this action-packed mystery will attract readers who enjoy crime novels about the war on drugs.—Sandra Knowles, South Carolina State Lib., Columbia


Putnam, David. The Innocents. Oceanview. Feb. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781608092574. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781608092949. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781608092581. THRILLER

It is 1988. Two-year police veteran Bruno Johnson has been assigned a highly coveted position on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Violent Crimes team. His first day is action packed, starting with an ex-girlfriend arriving on his doorstep with a baby she says is his, followed by a chase of an escaped prisoner who ultimately slashes his own throat. Within days, however, Johnson is asked to go undercover as part of a small narcotics team to obtain evidence against two bad cops, Blue and Thibodeaux. He is wary of the assignment but feels obligated to accept. Joining the team is a second recruit, Chelsea Martin, recently transferred from Public Affairs. Johnson has seen Blue and Thibodeaux in action, and they are ruthless. Obtaining usable evidence is going to be difficult. Figuring out Martin’s role complicates the issue. Johnson, not overly intuitive, is always several steps behind his suspects, overthinking every action.

Verdict In a dry Dragnet-style “just the facts, ma’am” manner, this prequel to the Bruno Johnson series (most recently The Vanquished) keeps readers engrossed with plenty of energy and surprises.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY


Shafransky, Renée. Tips for Living: A Novel of Suspense. Lake Union. Feb. 2018. 332p. ISBN 9781503949225. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781542048118. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781542098113. F

[DEBUT] This story of betrayal and murder is narrated by vulnerable, likable Nora, a local newspaper columnist in Pequod, a Long Island, NY, resort town where summer people have begun overstaying their welcome by moving in year-round. Still recovering from a highly publicized divorce from her artist ex, Hugh, three years earlier, Nora is stunned when Hugh and his new wife, Helene, buy a showy home in town. Learning of Hugh’s and Helene’s brutal murders, Nora has so much psychological scarring and is so emotionally disturbed that she (and readers) must consider the possibility that she was responsible, even as her best friend, her aunt, and her attractive (and available) boss staunchly stand by her.

Verdict Though too emotionally overwrought to be a cozy, this debut resort-town mystery will have readers rooting hard for Nora to find love and get her self-esteem back, even as she becomes the police force’s prime murder suspect and her town’s dirty secrets are revealed.—Laurie Cavanaugh, Thayer P.L., Braintree, MA


Sharpe, Tess. Barbed Wire Heart. Grand Central. Mar. 2018. 416p. ISBN 9781538744093. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781538744109. F

YA author Sharpe’s (Far from You) first suspense novel for adults is fast-paced and explosive. In California’s rural North County, the McKenna name strikes fear in those who are up to no good and offers a sense of safety to the vulnerable. Harley McKenna, the only child of patriarch Duke, lost her mother at an early age. Since then, Duke has trained her in the use of firearms and in running his drug and firearms business. Harley is also responsible for the Ruby, a gated community for battered women and children who fled abusive households. But now the rival Springfields, who were responsible for the death of Harley’s mother, are moving into McKenna territory. Just as Duke becomes bedridden, a rash of violent, fire-setting incidents has the Springfield touch all over them, forcing Harley to use the knowledge her father taught her in order to gain back control.

Verdict Acts of violence and revenge are consistent throughout this dark, gritty thriller, while the tough but conflicted Harley will have readers cheering. This will especially attract fans of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. [For sensitive readers, the author offers a list of trigger warnings:—Ed.]—David Miller, Farmville P.L., NC

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