Fiction from Liu Zhenyun, McKenzie, Mayes, and Debuter Tapper | Xpress Reviews

Liu’s scathing and illuminating tome is highly recommended for internationally savvy readers; the author builds suspense in steady, page-turning steps; anyone who has read Mayes's other books will want to check this out; this debut will have readers calling for more fiction from Tapper’s writerly pen

Liu Zhenyun. Someone To Talk To. Duke Univ. (Sinotheory). Mar. 2018. 296p. tr. from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt & Sylvia Li-chun Lin. ISBN 9780822370680. $104.95; pap. ISBN 9780822370833. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780822371885. F

Knowing each other’s stories—even the most private details—doesn’t equate with the true intimacy of having “someone to talk to.” The two distinct sections of Liu’s (Remembering 1942) latest Anglophone-friendly novel present two such lonely men whose seemingly unrelated lives share a similar longing for sustained connection and empathic understanding. The first half introduces teenager Yang Baishun, a tofu peddler’s son who repeatedly reinvents himself as unconvincing Christian convert Moses Yang, henpecked husband Moses Wu, and desperate fugitive Luo Changli. The second half fast-forwards six decades to 35-year-old Niu Aiguo, whose aging mother begins to share the “favorite stories from her 60 years of life” that will inevitably connect Niu back to Yang’s lost past. Originally published in 2009 and seamlessly translated by award-winning, prodigious translators Goldblatt and Li-chun Lin, Liu’s prestigious Mao Dun Literary Prize winner is the inaugural title in Duke’s “Sinotheory” series, which will “include theoretically informed analyses of Chinese cultural phenomena” and fiction.

Verdict Dense with dozens of interwoven narratives of living through pre- and post-Mao China, Liu’s scathing and illuminating tome is highly recommended for internationally savvy fans of Mo Yan, Yu Hua, and Yan Lianke.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC


McKenzie, Catherine. The Good Liar. Lake Union: Amazon. Apr. 2018. 380p. ISBN 9781503951631. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781543643015. F

In her new novel (after Fractured), McKenzie explores the lives of three women, survivors of a Chicago building explosion a year ago. Cecily lost her husband, Franny lost her mother, and Kate lost everything. As a documentarian delves into their stories, secrets and lies threaten to surface. When the building blew up, Cecily was on her way to meet her husband, Tom. The photo taken of her that day covered in debris from the building became iconic and made her the face of the surviving families, a responsibility that has weighed heavily on her. Though she grieves for Tom, their marriage was not so perfect, and she’s plagued by guilt. Franny had only recently discovered her biological mother (who gave her up for adoption) a few months before the explosion, and she’s worked hard to make sure someone is taking care of the families of the victims. And Kate has retreated to Montreal, where she’s trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Each woman has secrets and each is a bit of an unreliable narrator of her own life to nice effect.

Verdict The author builds suspense in steady, page-turning steps all while drawing the reader into the lives of her characters. Recommended.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI


Mayes, Frances. Women in Sunlight. Crown. Apr. 2018. 448p. ISBN 9780451497666. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780451497680. F

Kit Raine is a fortysomething writer who left the United States to start a new adventure for herself in Tuscany. She’s trying to finish a memoir about a friend and colleague, but her work gets sidelined by the arrival of three women next door—Camille, Susan, and Julia. The four women are inspired by their life in Italy and start to explore new and exciting personal and professional opportunities for themselves. At first intimidated by living in another country, the women immerse themselves in all there is to offer and a few surprises ensue. Those who have experienced Italy firsthand and even readers who have not traveled to Tuscany will easily imagine themselves there, sitting at a café drinking a cappuccino. It is a warm and inspiring story of learning more about yourself and igniting passion.

Verdict The author of the best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun transports us to the scenic and beautiful life in Tuscany where she herself lives. Anyone who has read her other books will want to check this out and enjoy la bella vita. [See Prepub Alert, 10/9/17.]—Holly Skir, Broward Cty. Lib., FL


starred review starTapper, Jake. The Hellfire Club. Little, Brown. Apr. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780316472319. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316472333. THRILLER

[DEBUT] Political junkies will thrill to this journey into the sordid months of 1954 when Sen. Joe McCarthy was steamrolling civil rights and Puerto Rican nationalists shot at congressmen on the floor of the House of Representatives. Young veteran Charlie Marder is named to a vacant House seat and starts out strong by lobbying against federal funds being given to a business that made shoddy war equipment. He awakens the demons of a modern Hellfire Club whose members seek to control the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower had warned against. While rubbing elbows with the Kennedys, Estes Kefauver, Roy Cohn, and other notables of the era, Charlie puts his own moral compass to severe stress. His wife, a zoologist doing fieldwork with the ponies of the Chesapeake Bay, adds a perky fillip to the plot as she stands by her man.

Verdict Tapper (The Outpost), celebrated for his distinguished journalism career, has earned his spurs and white hat in this gunslinging saga through the underbelly of American government. Any District of Columbia fan will recognize his deep knowledge of congressional lore and local geography. Close to a 50-50 balance between fact and fiction, this debut will have readers calling for more fiction from Tapper’s writerly pen. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/17.]—Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

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