Fiction from Cohen, Cole, Frampton, Kardos, Monroe, Rosenberg, Sigurdardóttir, and Thayer | Xpress Reviews

Purchase where B.A. Paris, S.J. Watson, and Paula Hawkins are popular; readers will have a hard time putting this one down; a solid romance with steamy love scenes that is an enjoyable read; truly gasp-worthy; fans of Monroe will find an easy read full of dramatic soap opera situations; The nonstop action will keep readers turning the pages; this hard-to-put-down Nordic thriller will be a treat for crime fiction fans; one of Thayer’s best Nantucket novels yet; readers will find much to discuss in literary historian Varese’s debut novel

Week ending March 16, 2018


Cohen, Tammy. They All Fall Down. Pegasus Crime. Mar. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9781681776477. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681777092. F

Hannah was a happy wife with a normal life. So how did she end up in a private high-risk psych ward, surrounded by her new friends, all of whom are battling their own demons? Hannah has been ensconced in this asylum long enough that she has developed some close friendships, and her tenuous grasp on sanity is blown away when one of these friends dies suddenly, a supposed suicide. But Hannah refuses to believe it, because she knew that Charlie was getting better, having just booked a trip to follow her release. Hannah is convinced a killer is loose in the institution, but she can’t get anyone to believe her. The more Hannah insists, the crazier she looks. It seems that Hannah’s mother, Corinne, is her only ally. Or is she? By adding in a secretive husband, allusions to a baby’s death, a lurking filmmaker documenting the ward, and a superb twist ending, Cohen (Dying for Christmas) has managed to take a familiar plot and turn it into a satisfying psychological thriller.

Verdict Purchase where B.A. Paris, S.J. Watson, and Paula Hawkins are popular.—Marianne Fitzgerald, Severna Park H.S., MD


starred review starCole, Myke. The Armored Saint. (Sacred Throne, Bk. 1). Feb. 2018. 208p. ISBN 9780765395955. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765395948. FANTASY

Heloise lives with her parents, following the Writ of the Emperor who drove the demons from their lands.The Order exists to ensure the peace, by hunting for wizards and those who may shelter them. After witnessing the slaughter of a neighboring village by the Order, Heloise stands opposed to the cruelty, bringing the Order down upon her family and village. Neighbors and friends are torn between protecting their own or following their faith. Heloise must discover for herself whether wizards are as dangerous as she has been told they are, or if the true danger lies in submitting to oppression. Terrific action moves the story quickly, as Heloise makes her own choices in a difficult situation.

Verdict This launch of Cole’s (“Shadow Ops” trilogy) series is a coming-of-age tale filled with questions of faith, family, and love. Readers will have a hard time putting this one down.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton


Frampton, Megan. Lady Be Reckless. Avon. (Duke’s Daughters, Bk. 2). Mar. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780062666642. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062666659. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

In this second title in the “Duke’s Daughters” series (after Lady Be Bad), Lady Olivia is set on marrying the man she loves and helping him with his good works. He also happens to be the lord her sister had rejected and whom her parents now want Olivia to marry. The problem is that Olivia might have been a little wrong when she assumed he loved her as much as she loved him. After he declines her overture, she vows to win his love and if she must transform his rakish friend Edward Wolcott into a gentleman to get her man, then she will. She will also try not to kiss Edward or fall in love with him in the process. Edward knows society will never accept him owing to his birth. However, his father wants him to marry well so that is what he plans to do. If Olivia can help him find a wife to make his father happy, he is fine with accepting her assistance. Especially if it allows him to be close to her, kiss her, and maybe fall in love with her.

Verdict Readers will enjoy the chemistry between Olivia and Edward as well as the relationship Olivia has with her twin sister, Pearl. The interactions are fun and will keep readers entertained. A solid romance with steamy love scenes that is an enjoyable read.—Colleen Sargent, Lincoln Lib., Springfield, IL


starred review starKardos, Michael. Bluff. Mysterious: Grove Atlantic. Apr. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9780802128041. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802165671. MYS

Pushcart Prize–winning Kardos (The Three-Day Affair; Before He Finds Her) dives this time into parallel worlds of illusion—magicians and cardsharps. Not yet 30, Natalie Webb is young to be washed up, but she earned prodigy-level fame at 18, winning the World of Magic competition (WoM), and then shortly after plummeted into ridicule as her naïveté (and an older magician) got the better of her. These days she performs for executive functions and parties, trying to work her way back up to a spot in WoM and a another shot at the title. As a side gig, she agrees to write a story on cardsharps and the parallels to card magic. Before she knows it, she’s drawn into an irresistible scheme to cheat legendary high rollers out of $1.5 million, and the lines between cheating and magic begin to blur as she works with her new partner.

Verdict Introducing a headstrong, quick-thinking female protagonist reminiscent of a wiser Stephanie Plum, this crime caper is sure to please readers of action and suspense alike. Truly gasp-worthy. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/17.]—Julie Kane, Washington & Lee Univ. Lib., Lexington, VA


Monroe, Mary. One House Over. Dafina: Kensington. (Neighbors, Bk. 1). Apr. 2018. 289p. ISBN 9781496716118. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781496716132. F

In the midst of the Great Depression, financial comfort is Odell Watson’s goal as he courts Joyce, the daughter of an Alabama shop owner. At age 30, Joyce is convinced her excessive height and average features have kept her from gaining a husband and children of her own. Odell’s devoted attention and sweet compliments lead to a quick wedding despite her parents’ objections. Soon, Odell’s roving eye means trouble as his mistress produces one child after another, while his wife bears none. When Joyce and Odell’s dissolute new neighbors begin to infiltrate their lives, Odell finds the delicate balancing act between spending time and money on his wife and his mistress is threatened.

Verdict In this first volume of her new series, New York Times best-selling author Monroe (The Upper Room; God Don’t Like Ugly) convincingly portrays a time and place where desperation is the norm. Monroe’s characters lack a dimensional depth, which makes them unlikable and prevents sympathetic connections for anyone. Still, fans of the author will find an easy read full of dramatic soap opera situations.—Joy Gunn, Paseo Verde Lib., Henderson, NV


Papehn, Negeen. Forbidden by Faith. City Owl. (Forbidden Love, Bk. 1). Feb. 2018. 330p. ISBN 9781944728700. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781944728717. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

[DEBUT] Sara’s immediate physical attraction to Maziar is dampened when she learns that even though they’re both Iranian American, he is Jewish, and while not religiously observant, her family is Muslim. Sara fears their religions will spell trouble as neither family will accept the relationship. Maziar, however, will not give up that easily, even after Sara’s worst fears come to pass. Despite religious differences being the main obstacle, Papehn fails to explore what those differences actually are. Little mention is made of Muslim religious life, and Jewishness is limited to a drama-laden Hanukkah party. Told exclusively from Sara’s point of view, the book never makes it clear why Sara loves Maziar so much except that she keeps saying she does. The story evolves over four years, with large amounts of time neatly summarized, robbing readers of genuine character and relationship development.

Verdict Clunky prose, poor pacing, and overnarration bog down what could have been an intriguing story.—Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington P.L., VA


starred review starRosenberg, Joel C. The Kremlin Conspiracy. Tyndale House. Mar. 2018. 480p. ISBN 9781496406170. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496427021. CF

Award-winning author Rosenberg’s (Without Warning) new political thriller centers on the lives of two men who follow parallel paths from 1999 to sometime in the future. Oleg Kraskin, son-in-law and adviser to Russian president Aleksandr Luganov, is concerned with his father-in-law’s plans to become the next czar as well as the lies being told to the Russian people and the world. Questioning Aleksandr’s decisions, however, could be fatal for Oleg. Former U.S. Marine Marcus Ryker is part of the president’s Secret Service detail until a tragic accident rearranges his priorities. Both Oleg and Marcus are loyal to their countries and have focused on their jobs at the expense of their families. Eventually, their trajectories cross as they try to prevent a nuclear war. And it seems that the only way this can be done is to assassinate Aleksandr Luganov.

Verdict The nonstop action will keep readers turning the pages. Rosenberg is known for basing his novels on tomorrow’s news, and readers will likely recognize some fictionalized characters inspired by public figures. The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Essential for thriller fans.—Margaret Bentley, Shiawassee Dist. Lib., Owosso, MI



starred review starSigurdardóttir, Lilja. Snare. Orenda. (Reykjavik Noir, Bk. 1). Apr. 2018. 276p. tr. from Icelandic by Quentin Bates. ISBN 9781910633809. pap. $14.95. MYS

This first volume in a new series by Icelandic author Sigurdardóttir is two stories in one. It begins as Sonja’s husband files for divorce when he finds her with another woman. Sonja has to make money quickly so that she can fight for custody of her son. When a colleague in her ex-husband’s law firm offers her a chance to make a cocaine “drop,” she reluctantly agrees. Sonja discovers that she is good at smuggling—so good that she is offered bigger and riskier jobs. She wants to stop, but the payment, plus what she skims off for herself, is just too tempting. The second thread concerns a Reykjavik airport customs officer. Though Bragi is ready for retirement, his senses are still sharp. When he recognizes that Sonja is dressed too perfectly, her suitcases always packed “just so,” he begins to watch her. But we know about Bragi, too: his beloved wife is in a less-than-desirable nursing home, and his dearest wish is to bring her home so he can care for her himself. But how can he afford it, especially if he retires? Sigurdardóttir brings these two themes together in a surprising way.

Verdict With its clever plot and brisk, tight pace, this hard-to-put-down Nordic thriller will be a treat for crime fiction fans.—Susanne Lohkamp, Multnomah Cty. Lib., Portland, OR


Thayer, Nancy. A Nantucket Wedding. Random. Apr. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781101967102. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101967126. F

After 29 years of marriage to the love of her life, Alison was shocked and grief-stricken by her husband’s sudden death, so six years later she’s happily surprised to be in love again and engaged to David, the CEO of a skin-care line. Her daughters, Felicity and Jane, arrive at David’s summer house on Nantucket, MA, to help with wedding planning and enjoy a short vacation sans husbands and kids. The two very different sisters soon find they have more in common than they realized as they soak up the island sun. Things aren’t all smooth sailing, though, as relationships become strained when David’s adult children arrive. As Felicity and Jane navigate the challenges of befriending new family while also contending with bumps in their marriages, Alison kindly tries to bring them all together. In the end, it proves to be an unforgettable season on the island.

Verdict One of Thayer’s (Secrets in Summer) best Nantucket novels yet, this book expertly teases out the joys and hardships of family life while also lovingly portraying the idyllic setting. [See Prepub Alert, 11/26/17.]—Melissa DeWild, Spring Lake Dist. Lib., MI


Varese, Jon Michael. The Spirit Photographer. Overlook. Apr. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781468315875. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781468315882. F

[DEBUT] In 1870 Boston, Elizabeth Garrett’s insistence that her abolitionist senator husband, James, accompany her to Edward Moody’s studio to capture the image of their dead son in a “spirit photograph” sets in motion events that disrupt personal and professional lives. What appears on the photograph is an image not even Moody can explain: a young black woman, Isabelle, who had disappeared years earlier. While James employs desperate measures to conceal his past relationship with Isabelle to save his political career, Edward and his assistant, a former slave named Joseph Winter, head to New Orleans to learn what happened to her. As Edward and Joseph relentlessly search for Isabelle, the plot incorporates elements of magic realism and Southern gothic in a sometimes confusing tangle of memory, speculation, and suspicion. Edward is modeled after famed spirit photographer Edward Mumler, and the 1870 court case in which he was tried for fraud figures prominently here. An overarching question is the extent to which photography captures reality or alters perceptions.

Verdict Readers seeking straightforward historical fiction may be taken aback by multiple narratives, overlapping reminiscences, and uncertain conclusions. However, they will find much to investigate and discuss in literary historian Varese’s debut novel.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

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