Fiction from Castillo, Cole, Delany, Goolrick, Kelly, and a Quintet of Debuts | Xpress Reviews

This tale of suspense will excite Kate Burkholder fans; Delany readers will find much to enjoy and ponder; internationally best-selling author Kelly offers up an engrossing intergenerational story of love and family; Parker takes her place next to similar writers such as Laura Dave and Jane Green; sans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith will find this a good companion; this series launch is a great choice for readers of British police procedurals; this has been getting some prepub buzz, so die-hard thriller fans might be interested; this study will please those who want more than thrill-a-minute reading

Week ending June 15, 2018


Castillo, Linda. A Gathering of Secrets. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781250121318. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250121332. THRILLER

Painters Mill police chief Kate Burkholder is sent in to investigate the burning of a barn belonging to an Amish family; when the incinerated remains of 18-year-old Daniel Gingerich are found, she suspects murder. As Kate questions the boy’s friends and family, no one seems willing to help her solve the case. Kate used to be Amish, and knows that the Amish are often wary of assisting the police because of their tenet of separation. But Kate’s insights and instincts are telling her that the Amish community doesn’t want this killing solved. As she investigates, other crimes and secrets come to light, and she wonders if the community’s unwillingness to help is because of their beliefs or if it’s something much more heinous.

Verdict Castillo’s tenth series outing (after Down a Dark Road) is a true thriller, full of plot twists that will grip readers until the very last page. With brutal murder and mystery abounding against a picturesque small-town backdrop, this tale of suspense will excite Kate Burkholder fans, as well as mystery lovers new to the series. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]—Kristen Calvert, Marion Cty. P.L. Syst., Belleview, FL

Cole, Courtney. Saving Beck. Gallery: S. & S. Jul. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781501184529. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501184536. F

Within the first few pages of this novel, Beck Kingsley, a young addict, overdoses on the porch of his mother’s house. Paramedics rush him to the hospital, while Natalie desperately hopes that he will survive the night. The remainder of the novel jumps between both characters’ points of view, with flashbacks in almost every chapter that tell the story of a family coping with grief and addiction. After his father’s sudden death, Beck began using to numb his pain. Cole, who has published mostly romance novels (“Beautifully Broken,” “Nocte,” and “Minaldi Legacy” series) ventures into meatier territory here. Unfortunately, the setup is a little too convenient, and the voice of Beck doesn’t ring true. An author’s note explains that the book was inspired by her own life, which begs the question of why she fictionalized the experience rather than writing a memoir, which might have been far more compelling.

Verdict This novel may interest some, but it does not compare to books by other writers who have tackled the same topic. Readers would be better served by David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy or Abraham Verghese’s The Tennis Partner.—Sarah Stimson, Mission Viejo Lib., CA

starred review starDelany, Samuel R. The Atheist in the Attic. PM. (Outspoken Authors). Jun. 2018. 128p. bibliog. ISBN 9781629634401. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9781629634623. SF

Following the 1950s Golden Age of sf, Delany (Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders), Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Robert Silverberg, and a handful of others invigorated the often staid genre by not only exploring previously taboo subjects but publishing lucid critical articles and nonfiction works. With the 1960s came the demand to confront sociopolitical realities, but unlike mainstream literature, the genre resisted change until 1962, when Delany published his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, wherein a poet/sailor and his strange passenger journey to a land ruined by war. With the symbolist verve of Arthur Rimbaud and using personal experience as backdrop, Delany charged the work with naturalism rare in the genre at that time. Ambivalent about his status as the “first major African American sf author,” Delany wrote “Racism and Science Fiction” in 1998, which casts a scholarly eye on the genre. This collection includes this essay, the novella “The Atheist in the Attic,” an interview with Delaney, a selected bibliography, and V author biography.

Verdict Delany readers, as well as those interested in sf’s fraught evolution, will find much to enjoy and ponder in this latest addition to the “Outspoken Authors” series.—William Grabowski, McMechen, WV

Goolrick, Robert. The Dying of the Light. Harper. Jul. 2018. 278p. ISBN 9780062678225. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062678249. F

Diana Cooke is no mere beauty: she is adventurous, smart, and, sadly, needs to save her family home, Saratoga, in Virginia. Once a gem of Southern society, the mansion, along with the Cookes, has fallen on hard times after World War I. On making her debut into society, Diana catches the eye of Captain Copperton, an obscenely rich man. After an exciting start, the marriage rapidly becomes miserable. When Copperton dies in an accident, his will deals Diana the unkindest cut: their son, Ashton, is sent to boarding school. The story then jumps ahead nine years as Ashton and his college roommate Gibby visit Saratoga, setting in motion a series of events with tragic consequences. While Goolrick (A Reliable Wife) was aiming for Southern gothic, the novel’s tone ends up being more overwrought than atmospheric.The framing device of a reporter looking to uncover the truth behind the fire that destroyed Saratoga adds a curious distance to the overall narration. More problematic is the way the author writes his black and female characters. The ease in which he pardons Copperton for continued marital rapes of Diana aligns with his chauvinistic descriptions of her and other female personae.

Verdict Buy only where the author’s previous books were popular. [See Prepub Alert, 1/29/18.]—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

Kelly, Cathy. Secrets of a Happy Marriage. Grand Central. Jul. 2018. 416p. ISBN 9781538728796. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781538728802. F

Late in life, Bess has unexpectedly fallen in love with Edward, a widower with two adult children. She couldn’t be happier with her new husband and is looking forward to celebrating Edward’s 70th birthday with a huge party for all of the extended family. Yet as the invites go out, Bess soon realizes she may be in over her head with this clan. Edward’s daughter, Jojo, hates Bess and desperately misses her mother. Niece Cari is upset that her cousin Traci is also invited since Cari’s fiancé left her at the altar for Traci. At the same time, Bess has a thorny relationship with her adult daughter Amy. Adding to the challenging dynamics, editor Cari is dealing with losing her star author to another editor, Jojo is going through unsuccessful infertility treatments, and Amy is having an affair with a married man, while Edward’s siblings have their own secrets. It all comes to a head at Lisowen Castle in Ireland as the family gathers and lets loose.

Verdict Internationally best-selling author Kelly (Between Sisters) offers up an engrossing intergenerational story of love and family that will hold lots of appeal for fans of Nancy Thayer. [See Prepub Alert, 1/29/18.]—Melissa DeWild, Spring Lake Dist. Lib., MI

Parker, Miriam. The Shortest Way Home. Dutton. Aug. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781524741860. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781524741877. F

[DEBUT] Having just graduated business school, Hannah Greene is set to move back to New York with her boyfriend and start a lucrative job, but while visiting Sonoma wine country, she realizes she wants to stay in California. When she is serendipitously offered a marketing job at a winery, she follows her instinct and accepts. Hannah is a smart, capable, and thoughtful character whose golden touch improves her life and the lives of those around her, including her bosses, the couple who own the winery. When their relationship problems create a snag in the day-to-day operations of the business, Hannah soldiers on, keeps things running smoothly, and even expands the enterprise. Readers who like upbeat women’s fiction will find Hannah very likable and will enjoy sharing her experiences, which include career success, personal growth, romantic life choices, and drinking good wine.

Verdict This debut novel about a young woman following her heart and creating her happiness is engaging and fun. Parker takes her place next to similar writers such as Laura Dave and Jane Green. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]—Sonia Reppe, Stickney–Forest View P.L., IL

Rosenberg, Jordy. Confessions of the Fox. One World. Jun. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780399592270. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399592294. F

[DEBUT] A challenge for the queer author is historical representation: What was it like to be gay or trans in the past? For that matter, what was it like to be a person of color or to be female in a time when either was the basis for living as chattel? How did anyone find agency in a system designed to limit agency to a select few? First-time novelist Rosenberg takes real-life criminal Jack Sheppard (1702–24) and suggests an alternate backstory in which Jack was born female and his paramour Bess was of South Asian descent. Their crime spree is cast as a bid for freedom from the capitalist forces surrounding 18th-century London. Intertwined with the manuscript about Sheppard is a separate tale told in the footnotes—this one tracing the effort of a present-day professor to bring Jack’s story to life. Or is the increasingly unreliable narrator of the notes trying to hide the truth? Both plots intrigue, and the metafiction techniques work well in this story about stories, though they sometimes divert attention from the main action.

Verdict Fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith will find this a good companion—more political and academic, perhaps, but similarly absorbing in period detail.—Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI

Scragg, Robert. What Falls Between the Cracks. Allison & Busby. (Porter & Styles, Bk. 1). Jun. 2018. 318p. ISBN 9780749022792. $25; pap. ISBN 9780749022846. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780749022891. MYS

[DEBUT] This debut mystery by a British writer begins gruesomely when a maintenance man comes to repair a leaky refrigerator in a London flat and finds a severed hand. Detectives Jake Porter and Nick Styles are called to the baffling crime scene; the apartment does not appear to have been occupied since 1983. Styles and Porter then discover that the hand belongs to a young woman named Natasha Barclay, who strangely has not been reported missing in 30 years. As the duo contact her known relatives, connections are made between Natasha and her family and an active drug smuggling case. Soon the clues lead to Natasha’s stepfather, Alexander Locke, and his transport businesses, including the one he bought from Natasha’s biological father shortly before his suicide in 1983. Porter and Styles must investigate current-day events as well as look into the past for answers.

Verdict Introducing two dynamic sleuths whom fans of police procedurals will look forward to seeing in future books, this series launch is a great choice for readers of British police procedurals such as those by Peter James.—Kristen Stewart, Pearland Lib., Brazoria Cty. Lib. Syst., TX

Steadman, Catherine. Something in the Water. Ballantine. Jun. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781524797188. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781524797195. F

[DEBUT] This first novel from a Downton Abbey actress (Mabel Lane Fox) is the story of Mark and Erin, a near-perfect couple who find something on their honeymoon to Bora Bora that changes everything. When Mark is fired from his investment banking job, Erin’s career as a documentary filmmaker can’t support them, bringing tension into their relationship. Erin’s current project follows three convicts who are about to be paroled, and during the filming one convict’s ties to a terrorist organization are revealed. In the meantime, Erin and Mark are involved in some shady business themselves and can’t afford to have their affairs scrutinized. Told from Erin’s perspective, the novel is the story of their relationship, their honeymoon discovery, and what it ultimately discloses about each of them separately and as a couple.

Verdict While the plot is interesting if a little unbelievable, Erin and Mark’s motivations are sketchy, and a number of threads remain loose at the end, leaving readers hanging. Still, this has been getting some prepub buzz, so die-hard thriller fans might be interested. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]—Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg

Youngson, Anne. Meet Me at the Museum. Flatiron: Macmillan. Aug. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9781250295163. $23.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250295156. F

[DEBUT] Trying to get a better understanding of her life, disaffected English farmwife Tina Hopgood writes Professor P.V. Glob, who 50 years previously had dedicated his book The Bog People to her and her classmates after they write him a letter. The professor is long gone, but Anders Larsen, curator at the museum that houses the Tollund Man, among other significant artifacts of the bog people, responds courteously. Thus begins a series of increasingly engaged and engaging emails, as Tina, married to the self-absorbed man who got her pregnant while at school, thus ending her aspirations, struggles to articulate what she wants even as the widowed Anders blossoms with their exchanges. As they move from nicely rendered discussions of archaeology to more personal revelations, particularly about their families, Anders encourages Tina to visit the museum. Clearly, Tina senses there’s something more for her in the world, and if she’s not quite ready, she’s on her way. The book builds quietly but surely to her turning point, which, realistically, is not an explosion but a next solid step.

Verdict Luminous, affecting, and delightful, this study of humans, ancient and modern, will please those who want more than thrill-a-minute reading.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

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