Book List

New & Notable Fiction: January, 2013

Readers will find themselves unable to turn the pages fast enough in this perfectly penned thriller.

THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND

Although the title seems irrelevant to the plot, McMahon scores a solid touchdown in this creepy but engrossing thriller.

Reggie returns to her hometown of Brighton Falls when her aunt Lorraine calls to tell her that Reggie’s mom is in the hospital after spending a couple of years in a homeless shelter. Both Reggie and her mother’s sister are astounded that Vera has surfaced since they, along with the police and the entire town, assumed Vera died years ago after being kidnapped by a serial killer known only as Neptune. The serial killer, so named because of a tendency to always feed the condemned victim a meal of fresh lobster and drawn butter right before death, murdered three young women. All three were found nude and posed in prominent areas of town, but five days prior to each death, Neptune delivered a milk carton holding the victim’s right hand to the police department’s steps. After Vera disappeared, her right hand was also found, but her body never turned up. Young Reggie and her friends Tara and Charlie spent a frantic few days looking for Vera after she vanished but found little evidence of her whereabouts. Now, Reggie has come back only to face her dotty aunt and one-handed mother in their crumbling stone home. Tara, the brittle, oddball friend she hasn’t seen in years, has become a nurse and has been hired by Lorraine to stay with Vera, who has been diagnosed with a deadly cancer. Who was Neptune? Everyone is hoping that Vera can tell, but she’s not talking or at least not making any sense when she does talk. And Brighton Falls’ nightmare seems to be in full swing again, much to Reggie’s horror. If McMahon has one sin where this novel is concerned, it’s that she allows the adult Reggie to occasionally behave like the teenager in one of those horror flicks who ventures down into the basement because she heard a noise.

Readers will find themselves unable to turn the pages fast enough in this perfectly penned thriller.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-212255-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Joseph writes with extraordinary wit, cunning and sympathy about both family relationships and ultimate mysteries.

THE ILLICIT HAPPINESS OF OTHER PEOPLE

Ousep Chacko searches for the meaning of the death of his son Unni, who three years earlier had fallen—or perhaps thrown himself?—off a balcony.

A reporter with United News of India, Ousep has become obsessed with discovering the events surrounding his son’s death. There’s no question that Unni had some strange quirks, but it’s not clear to Ousep whether his views and behavior were unconventional or bizarre enough to sustain a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Unni had died at the age of 17 and had shown some talent as an artist, especially as a cartoonist, so Ousep starts to scrutinize some of his son’s cartoons, hoping to find hints of his fate. In one disturbing series, Unni depicted friends and family as corpses, and he had cryptically confessed to a friend: “I know a corpse.” Another series also preys on Ousep’s mind, a sequence of cartoons with “bubbles” for dialogue, though Unni had not had time to ink in the words, so the story he intended to create remains forever perplexing and elusive. Ousep becomes convinced that the secret of his son’s demise lies with two of his friends, Sai and Somen, so he pursues them relentlessly, almost to the verge of stalking. He pumps them for information that they’re unwilling to yield—though perhaps they know nothing at all. Ousep begins to haunt Somen’s house at all hours, trying to catch a glimpse of him and engage him in conversation, but Somen’s parents continually deny that he’s home. Finally, at the end of the novel, Somen emerges from his room, where he’s remained for the previous two years, to explain to Ousep Unni’s unnerving and elliptical take on reality.

Joseph writes with extraordinary wit, cunning and sympathy about both family relationships and ultimate mysteries.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-33862-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

With a playwright’s precise, sometimes excoriating dialogue and an insightful novelist’s judicious use of interior...

THE HISTORY OF US

A professor who raised her late sister’s three children grapples with the long-term consequences.

At 28, Eloise is a rising star in Harvard’s history department, having just published a much acclaimed book. She’s prepared for a fulfilling academic career but not for the phone call she receives from her 11-year-old niece, Theo, telling her that she and siblings Josh, 9, and Claire, 2, need her to return home to Cincinnati immediately. The children’s vacationing parents have perished in a helicopter crash, and their grandmother, Francine, is lying in bed, unable to cope or even phone Eloise about the tragedy. Seventeen years later, the makeshift family is at a turning point. In less-than-free-wheeling Cincinnati, Eloise is loath to come out as a lesbian, although her lover is pressuring her for a commitment. She’s had to settle for a less prestigious position at a local college in order to raise her nephew and nieces in their preferred domicile, Francine’s large, crumbling Cincinnati home. (The narcissistic oldster has long since departed for Sewanee, where she makes trouble from a distance.) Josh was once a near-famous rock star before giving up music to please a manipulative girlfriend, who has since dumped him. Theo, now 28, has followed her aunt into academe but is stalled in her dissertation and her love life. Ballet prodigy Claire, 19, the only one to achieve escape velocity from Cincinnati, has left for NYC…until by chance, Theo spots her on the street, Cincinnati being not all that big a town. Francine has complicated matters by reneging on her promise to sign the house over to Eloise. Now, the Machiavellian matriarch insists that she’ll give it to whoever marries first. This hook is not as gimmicky as it seems. Rather, it forces Eloise and her charges to fully examine their connection to each other and to the world.

With a playwright’s precise, sometimes excoriating dialogue and an insightful novelist’s judicious use of interior monologue, Stewart crafts a tearful yet unsentimental family coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7262-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

With wry humor, always on point, Kenney guides us through the maze of work, family, love (elusive) and friendship (a...

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

The dilemma of the storyteller powerless to shape his own story gets a beautiful new spin in this first novel about an adman facing a family crisis.

Welcome to the shoot. It’s a TV commercial for Snugglies, the world’s biggest diaper brand. The producer’s just learned that Gwyneth (yes! Paltrow!) is leaving a day early, upending the schedule, and they’ve been using the wrong diapers (wasted film, wasted dollars). Those hiccups and baby puke aside, really, everything’s fine. The narrator of this hilarious opening is protagonist Finbar Dolan, 39-year-old senior copywriter at a top-tier New York agency. (Kenney himself is a veteran copywriter.) Fin is Boston Irish, the youngest of four siblings. Their father was an abusive cop; he left them when Fin was 12. Their mother committed suicide. The children went their separate ways. Fin found an escape in advertising; he enjoyed writing the false narratives that commercials demand. He tried to write his own narrative, asking a sweet-natured woman to marry him, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he broke off the engagement eight months ago. Now, his oldest brother, Eddie, is calling to say their father, unseen for 25 years, is in the hospital, a heart attack. Reluctantly, Fin goes to the Cape, and we temporarily leave the crazy roller coaster of the ad world for Fin’s family. The Dolans are frozen in time, as haunted as an O’Neill family. A late revelation (Kenney peels the onion with care) shows why Fin is the most traumatized of the four. But this is not a bleak novel. Kenney is marvelous on workplace camaraderie. Fin’s two best friends are co-workers. One of them he’s in love with, but the dummy only realizes this when it’s almost too late.

With wry humor, always on point, Kenney guides us through the maze of work, family, love (elusive) and friendship (a lifesaver). This is an outstanding debut.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7554-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Nobody writes quite like Saunders.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

TENTH OF DECEMBER

STORIES

A new story collection from the most playful postmodernist since Donald Barthelme, with narratives that can be enjoyed on a number of different levels.

Literature that takes the sort of chances that Saunders does is rarely as much fun as his is. Even when he is subverting convention, letting the reader know throughout that there is an authorial presence pulling the strings, that these characters and their lives don’t exist beyond words, he seduces the reader with his warmth, humor and storytelling command. And these are very much stories of these times, filled with economic struggles and class envy, with war and its effects, with drugs that serve as a substitute for deeper emotions (like love) and perhaps a cure (at least temporary) for what one of the stories calls “a sort of vast existential nausea.” On the surface, many of these stories are genre exercises. “Escape from Spiderhead” has all the trappings of science fiction, yet culminates in a profound meditation on free will and personal responsibility. One story is cast as a manager’s memo; another takes the form of a very strange diary. Perhaps the funniest and potentially the grimmest is “Home,” which is sort of a Raymond Carver working-class gothic send-up. A veteran returns home from war, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress. His foulmouthed mother and her new boyfriend are on the verge of eviction. His wife and family are now shacking up with a new guy. His sister has crossed the class divide. Things aren’t likely to end well. The opening story, “Victory Lap,” conjures a provisional, conditional reality, based on choices of the author and his characters. “Is life fun or scary?” it asks. “Are people good or bad?” The closing title story, the most ambitious here, has already been anthologized in a couple of “best of” annuals: It moves between the consciousness of a young boy and an older man, who develop a lifesaving relationship.

Nobody writes quite like Saunders.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9380-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Celona writes movingly about basic questions of identity, questions exacerbated by the unhappy circumstances of Shannon’s...

Y

As a newborn, Shannon is abandoned at the local “Y”—and then spends much of her young life asking “Why?”

The cards seem stacked against Shannon as she tries to piece together the fragments of her life. Celona reconstructs the story with an almost Faulkner-ian complexity as Shannon moves back and forth through the chronology of her life but also through her imaginative vision of her parents’ relationship. Along the way, she confronts the most painful question one can ask: Why was I abandoned? It turns out, there’s an eyewitness, Vaughn, who saw Shannon being deposited on the steps of the Y, and eventually, Shannon seeks him out to get one perspective on her story. (For one thing, she wants to know whether her mother kissed her before she abandoned her.) Shannon eventually discovers a complex and troubled family history that involves a variety of dysfunctions, including drinking and drugs. As a child, Shannon moves through several foster homes, each with its own issues, before she settles in with Miranda, a single mom with a daughter, Lydia-Rose. As one might expect, Shannon’s relationship with both stepmother and stepsister is rocky—and Shannon is not, after all, the easiest child to raise. Shannon’s birth mother, Yula, is herself a teenager when Shannon is born, and her father, Harrison, does drugs. Eventually, Shannon develops curiosity about her birthparents and seeks them out, leading to yet more emotional trauma.

Celona writes movingly about basic questions of identity, questions exacerbated by the unhappy circumstances of Shannon’s birth.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7438-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

Romantic suspense with a psychic twist—or, a little bit of everything, all wrapped up in wonderful.

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DREAM EYES

When Gwen Frazier returns to Wilby, Ore., to investigate the death of her mentor, she knows she’s opening up psychic wounds she’d rather forget, and when her best friend sends in investigator Judson Coppersmith to help, she realizes she’s met her match, romantically and psychically. Will their attraction, skills and talent be enough, in time, to solve the mystery and save them both?

Psychic Gwen Frazier would just as soon avoid Wilby, Ore., since she was nearly the victim of a serial killer two years ago, when she was participating in a psychic research study. But when the researcher, Gwen’s friend and mentor Evelyn Ballinger, winds up dead, and names Gwen as her sole heir, she simply can’t stay away. Returning to the town opens Gwen up to even more danger, physically and psychically, and turns the sheriff’s suspicious mind to Gwen as the prime suspect. Gwen’s friend sends her Judson Coppersmith, of the wealthy Coppersmith family, a renowned investigator who has some strong psychic talent himself, as well as a wildfire physical attraction. Judson might as well be the cavalry as far as Gwen is concerned, with his security and weapons skills, plus his psychic intuition toward violent crime. He's just what she needs to solve the crime and stay alive. As bodies start piling up in Wilby, it becomes clear that Gwen is once again a target. Judson and Gwen must race to find a link between the past and the present to solve the mystery and catch the killer determined to take Gwen’s life. And as the two work toward answers, they’ll realize just how good they are together—in oh-so-many ways. This is the second novel in the Dark Legacy series from Krentz. The master storyteller once again creates authentic, well-drawn characters, a quick-paced, engrossing plot set against a backdrop of a psychic world imprinted effortlessly on our own and a relatable romance one can’t help but root for.

Romantic suspense with a psychic twist—or, a little bit of everything, all wrapped up in wonderful.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-399-15895-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

Quantum physics was never funnier. A great read.

HERE I GO AGAIN

In a whimsical twist on the Back to the Future scenario, a bully returns to her high school days to right some wrongs.

At 17, Lissy Ryder was the Mean Girl of Lyons Township High in suburban Chicago. As head cheerleader and girlfriend of the football team captain, Duke, she had a clique of cool girls in her thrall, and she persecuted anyone who was different or nonconformist. Now 37, Lissy, a publicist, lives only to overspend. After she’s fired by her PR firm for shirking, her husband, Duke, stops covering her massive debts and asks for a divorce. She’s gained a few pounds since moving back to her parents’ house and is not looking forward to the 20-year reunion of LTH’s class of ’92. Hoping to network with her former sycophants, she’s appalled to find that, without exception, her victims have outclassed and outperformed her. Amy, a girl Lissy mocked for her long nose, is now a plastic surgeon to the stars. One-time hippie outcast Debbie is now Deva, a New-Age entrepreneur. Brian, a dorky but attractive neighbor Lissy dumped for Duke, is an Internet couponing mogul. At the reunion, Lissy is the pariah. When Deva gives her a rare Incan potion, Lissy thinks it’s a hangover cure, until she wakes up in her parents’ house—in 1991! Lissy seizes this opportunity to avoid karmic missteps, dialing down the meanness. Back in the future, Lissy is not only happily hitched to Duke, but as the CEO of a thriving Chicago PR firm, is supporting him. She has it all, including the Birkin bag and the Gold Coast town house. However, now her victims are failures: Brian toils in a grim cubicle, the plastic surgeon is a trailer-trash drunk, etc. How can Lissy rectify the unintended consequences of her well-meaning do-over? The answer, while subject to many of the logical sinkholes typical of parallel-universe tales, is still unexpected enough for a fitting and none too treacly close.

Quantum physics was never funnier. A great read.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-451-23672-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

Despite getting a little preachy toward the end, Leary has largely achieved a genuinely funny novel about alcoholism.

THE GOOD HOUSE

A supposedly recovering alcoholic real estate agent tells her not-exactly-trustworthy version of life in her small New England town in this tragicomic novel by Leary (Outtakes from a Marriage, 2008, etc.).

Sixty-year-old Hildy Good, a divorced realtor who has lived all her life in Wendover on the Massachusetts North Shore, proudly points to having an ancestor burned at the stake at the Salem witch trials. In fact, her party trick is to do psychic readings using subtle suggestions and observational skills honed by selling homes. At first, the novel seems to center on Hildy’s insights about her Wendover neighbors, particularly her recent client Rebecca McAllister, a high-strung young woman who has moved into a local mansion with her businessman husband and two adopted sons. Hildy witnesses Rebecca having trouble fitting in with other mothers, visiting the local psychiatrist Peter Newbold, who rents an office above Hildy’s, and winning a local horse show on her expensive new mount. Hildy is acerbically funny and insightful about her neighbors; many, like her, are from old families whose wealth has evaporated. She becomes Rebecca’s confidante about the affair Rebecca is having with Peter, whom Hildy helped baby-sit when he was a lonely child. She helps another family who needs to sell their house to afford schooling for their special needs child. She begins an affair with local handyman Frankie Getchell, with whom she had a torrid romance as a teenager. But Hildy, who has recently spent a stint in rehab and joined AA after an intervention by her grown daughters, is not quite the jolly eccentric she appears. There are those glasses of wine she drinks alone at night, those morning headaches and memory lapses that are increasing in frequency. As both Rebecca’s and Hildy’s lives spin out of control, the tone darkens until it approaches tragedy. Throughout, Hildy is original, irresistibly likable and thoroughly untrustworthy.

Despite getting a little preachy toward the end, Leary has largely achieved a genuinely funny novel about alcoholism.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-01554-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

Buchanan does a masterful job of interweaving historical figures into her plot, but it is the moving yet unsentimental...

THE PAINTED GIRLS

Buchanan (The Day the Falls Stood Still, 2009) brings the unglamorous reality of the late-19th-century Parisian demimonde into stark relief while imagining the life of Marie Van Goethem, the actual model for the iconic Degas statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

Marie is the middle Van Goethem sister, the plain one who loves reading. Seven-year-old Charlotte has the looks and charm, while street-wise 17-year-old Antoinette is burdened with raising her sisters because their widowed mother spends most of her meager income as a washerwoman on absinthe. Kicked out of the Paris Opera ballet school but earning a little as an extra, Antoinette arranges for Marie and Charlotte to enter the school—dance is a way to avoid working in the wash house. Soon, Marie attracts the attention of the painter Degas. When he asks her to model for him, she jumps at the chance, both for the money and the attention. Through Degas, she meets Monsieur Lefebvre, one of the wealthy men who “adopt” ballet students of promise. Soon, she is able to quit her part-time job at the neighborhood bakery where she has captured the heart of the owner’s son. Meanwhile, Antoinette gets a tiny part in Zola’s controversial play L’Assommoir and falls in love with another extra, Émile Abadie. As the story progresses, the sisters come dangerously close to self-destruction.

Buchanan does a masterful job of interweaving historical figures into her plot, but it is the moving yet unsentimental portrait of family love, of two sisters struggling to survive with dignity, that makes this a must-read.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59448-624-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

An excellent debut that finds layers of pathos within a troubled clan.

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE

The legacy of the Great Migration from the 1920s to the 1980s infuses this cutting, emotional collection of linked stories.

The central figure of Mathis’ debut is Hattie, who arrived in Philadelphia in the 1920s as a teenager, awed by the everyday freedoms afforded blacks outside of her native Georgia. But the opening story, “Philadelphia and Jubilee,” is pure heartbreak, as pride and poverty keep her from saving her infant twin children from pneumonia. Though Mathis has inherited some of Alice Walker’s sentimentality and Toni Morrison’s poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book’s structure is ingenious: It moves across the bulk of the 20th century, with each chapter spotlighting one of Hattie’s nine surviving children. (The title’s “twelve tribes” are those nine children, plus the infant twins and a granddaughter who’s central to the closing story.) Each child's personal struggle is a function of the casual bigotry and economic challenges in the wake of Jim Crow. Floyd is a jazz trumpeter and serial philanderer who awakens to his homosexuality; Six is a tent-revival preacher who comes at his profession cynically, as a way to escape his family; Alice is the well-off wife of a doctor with a co-dependent relationship with her brother, Billups; and so on. The longest and most disarming story features Bell, who in 1975 starts a relationship with one of Hattie’s former boyfriends, highlighting the themes of illness and oppressiveness of family. Mathis will occasionally oversimplify dialogue to build drama, but she’s remarkably deft at many more things for a first-timer: She gracefully shifts her narratives back and forth in time; has an eye for simple but resonant details; and possesses a generous empathy for Hattie, who is unlikable on the surface but carries plenty of complexity.

An excellent debut that finds layers of pathos within a troubled clan.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-35028-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

Few surprises, but nevertheless a wholly absorbing entry in this highly addictive series.

IMAGER'S BATTALION

From the Imager Portfolio series , Vol. 6

Third part of a prequel fantasy series (Princeps, 2012, etc.) wherein wizards are known as “imagers,” since the work involves the intense, precise and accurate visualization of the magic’s objective.

Previously, scholar, imager and now soldier Quaeryt almost single-handedly defeated the invasion of Telaryn by the megalomaniac Rex Kharst of Bovaria. Recognizing that the only way to bring peace is to annihilate Rex Kharst, Lord Bhayar of Telaryn orders his armies to invade Bovaria. Though not in command, Quaeryt will be a key figure in the action; what ensues is less a plot than a series of set pieces that offer both characters and readers much to ponder. While coming to terms with his own mysterious antecedents, Quaeryt will learn how to cooperate with the professional soldiers above and below him in the chain of command, each engagement bringing fresh challenges in defeating the enemy while protecting his pitifully small and inexperienced imager corps. As long as Bhayar is satisfied with progress, Quaeryt will be able to press his own long-term agenda—the establishment of a collegium where imagers and scholars, shielded from the hostility and skepticism of the general population, can develop their skills and knowledge in safety. Somehow, too, he must thwart the conspiracies of Bhayar’s old-guard senior commanders, who view Quaeryt and his imagers as a threat to their own power and privileges. He thinks often of his beloved wife, Vaelora, Bhayar’s sister, and their unborn child. Most important of all, he must survive: Imaging takes a dreadful toll, not only on the imager’s own body but in bearing responsibility for his part in the slaughter.

Few surprises, but nevertheless a wholly absorbing entry in this highly addictive series.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3283-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

Among Phryne's pleasantly dashing adventures (Dead Man's Chest, 2010, etc.), this one stands out for its emphasis on sexual...

UNNATURAL HABITS

Australia’s answer to Lord Peter Wimsey takes on white slavers and the Catholic Church.

The Honorable Phryne Fisher and a friend are on their way to the Adventuresses Club when they see a lone woman about to be attacked by several thugs. After the minions of Phryne’s lover, Lin Chung, chase them off, Phryne finds she that she’s rescued an ambitious, rather ungrateful young reporter named Polly Kettle who’s investigating the disappearance of three women, pregnant and unmarried, who’d been working in the Magdalen Laundry at the Abbotsford convent. Late in their pregnancies, they were to be sent to a nursing home where the babies would be delivered and immediately taken away. According to Polly, the police have no interest in the case. When no bodies turn up, Phryne embarks on what will be a dangerous quest to learn the women’s whereabouts. Although she’s certain that the local brothels wouldn’t be interested in such pregnant females, she discovers that an employment agency seems to be collecting very young women and shipping them overseas, never to be seen again. The police, in the person of Phryne’s friend Jack Robinson, are forced to investigate when Polly is kidnapped. After calling on the laundry, whose working conditions are much less pleasant than those in the brothels she’s visited, Phryne, who cannot abide injustice and cruelty, goes up against some well-armored antagonists in an attempt to find Polly and the other missing girls.

Among Phryne's pleasantly dashing adventures (Dead Man's Chest, 2010, etc.), this one stands out for its emphasis on sexual orientation and institutional coverups.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4642-0123-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

Nobody is better at misdirection than DePoy. Nobody is better at making Carl Jung entertaining than DePoy. And if you ever...

DECEMBER'S THORN

When a wife you don’t remember you had shows up on your doorstep, should you introduce her to your fiancee?

The three-month coma from which folklorist Fever Devlin has just emerged (A Corpse’s Nightmare, 2011, etc.) may have addled his brain. Did some wraithlike woman clad in black really appear at his cabin one night claiming to be his wife and the mother of his son, or is he hallucinating? When Fever’s old friend Skidmore, the sheriff of Blue Mountain, Ga., can’t find a trace of the phantom bride, Fever’s fiancee, Lucinda, a nurse, asks psychiatrist Ceri Nelson for an opinion. Thus begins a chase through Jungian archetypes, the basis for the Tristan and Isolde legend, and a reconsideration of the sprigs on the Devlin family tree—along with rifle blasts, confrontations with black bears and a whiff of sexual interest between the quirky doctor and her even quirkier patient. Is it possible Fever has repressed more than an acquaintance with the now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t bride? To Fever’s chagrin, the puckish Dr. Nelson keeps on bringing up mother issues. To untangle them, Fever must revisit a trip to Wales he took as a young college instructor and a student’s obsession that landed Fever smack in the middle of a scenario out of Wagnerian opera. Is he echoing Tristan? Is the demon bride replaying Wagner’s Isolde? Who then would be King Mark? Is there a conjunction between myth and reality? Cue the music; the tragedy is about to unfold.

Nobody is better at misdirection than DePoy. Nobody is better at making Carl Jung entertaining than DePoy. And if you ever need a psychiatrist, Ceri Nelson is probably the most endearing practitioner in all of mystery fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-01198-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Satisfies from start to finish.

ENEMY OF MINE

This is Taylor’s third Pike Logan thriller, and it’s a good one.

The United States government has secretly brokered a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, and terrorist forces plan to subvert it. Logan heads a clandestine Taskforce team that’s determined to identify and root out the threat while there is still time. Logan’s team must prevent an assassination in Qatar, facing down two adversaries. One is an Arab known as the Ghost, and the other is an American named Lucas Kane, who would murder his own mother for the right price. Logan knows him only too well, while Kane sees both men as killers at heart. Is Kane right, or does Logan have a moral core that sets him apart? He certainly gains the reader’s sympathy as he struggles to balance being a rule-bending badass with being a human who has emotions extending beyond rage. In the past, Logan suffered a horrible personal loss that bears directly on his motivation, yet surprisingly, his climactic action hinges more on what happens to a colleague. The story moves along at a rapid clip, using short chapters and at least four points of view to grab and hold the reader’s attention. The terrorists are smart, capable enemies, very much an even match for Logan’s team. 

Satisfies from start to finish.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-525-95310-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

Haigh’s narratives are beautifully realized stories of heartbreak, of qualified love and of economic as well as personal...

NEWS FROM HEAVEN

Despite its treacly title, this collection of short stories shows depth, understanding and compassion rather than sentimentality.

Most of the stories take place in or near Bakerton, Pa., populated largely by Polish and Italian Catholic immigrants. “Beast and Bird,” the initial story in the collection, takes us back to World War II and focuses on the life of Annie Lubicki, a serving girl for the Nudelmans in New York City’s Upper West Side. Annie’s life is one of domestic dreariness and loneliness. She meets a potential boyfriend, Jim, on a double date, but his anti-Semitism troubles her. Instead, she feels drawn to Daniel Nudelman, the son in the family, but she’s displaced when the Nudelmans’ nephew permanently “visits” from Poland to escape the ravages of the war. In “Broken Star,” Regina’s Aunt Melanie comes to visit Regina along with her daughter, Tilly. Regina hasn’t seen her aunt in over 12 years and questions the lengthy stay by relatives she feels are intrusive. Only years later does she discover that Melanie, who has died, was actually her sister and that Melanie had needed a kidney and was desperately looking for a donor who matched. “A Place in the Sun” introduces us to Sandy, who's trying to fight a gambling compulsion but counter-intuitively takes his girlfriend, Marnie, to Vegas to celebrate his birthday. We find that for years he’s been trying to escape the life he left behind in Bakerton—a father who died in the mines and a “bleak small-town life worse than jail, a prison from which no one escaped.”

Haigh’s narratives are beautifully realized stories of heartbreak, of qualified love and of economic as well as personal depression.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-088964-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Erudite, mysterious and exciting, with a brooding, brilliant Sherlock-ian detective. The denouement is just as surprising as...

A STUDY IN REVENGE

1893. A deputy and a private detective in Portland, Maine, investigate a murder with some very unusual features indeed.

When the burnt body of a thief whose burial Deputy Archie Lean witnessed turns up in an empty house surrounded by occult symbols, Lean immediately calls on Perceval Grey for assistance. Grey is a half Abenaki Indian raised by his wealthy white grandfather. Well-educated and well-off, he has a passion for criminology. Grey has been hired by the dying Horace Webster to find his missing granddaughter and recover an heirloom stolen from his lawyer’s office, a stone covered with mysterious runes that was left to his other granddaughter. The symbols, which resemble those found with the body, have been ascribed to both early Viking explorers and alchemists seeking to turn lead into gold. Grey is not the only one looking for the stone. Also in the hunt are Webster’s grandsons, a white man raised as an Indian who thinks the stone is sacred, and Dr. Jotham Marsh, with whom Grey tangled in a prior case (The Truth of All Things, 2012). Grey and Lean soon realize that the present cases are intertwined and that Marsh may not be the only connection to the earlier crime that nearly killed them both. His blood up, Grey travels from the wilds of Maine to the libraries of Boston looking for clues that will reveal the truth.

Erudite, mysterious and exciting, with a brooding, brilliant Sherlock-ian detective. The denouement is just as surprising as in Grey’s first case.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-98576-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Grindle’s book is a good modern-day mystery, a very good historical narrative and an excellent combination of the two.

VILLA TRISTE

Grindle (The Lost Daughter, 2012, etc.) combines a contemporary mystery with historical fiction in her captivating narrative about Italian partisans in World War II and a modern-day police inspector determined to uncover certain truths.

With the Nazi occupation of Italy, life for young Caterina Cammaccio and her family quickly shifts focus. Instead of spending time preparing for her wedding with her mother and Isabella, her younger sister, she is reluctantly drawn into using her skills as a nurse to assist wounded Allies and endangered Jews and to help spirit them out of the country. Keenly aware that any captured resistance members risk torture, imprisonment and possible death, Caterina tries to shield her parents from involvement. But they, like her brother and sister, are determined to do their part, and the family furtively harbors a radio and transmits sensitive information to the Allies. In haunting words and gripping detail, Caterina documents her family’s experiences in a journal, a gift from Isabella, where she examines her life, explores her fears and reflects upon the savagery of the war. Years later, three partisan members associated with the Cammaccio family are found murdered, and Inspector Alessandro Pallioti steps in to investigate the politically sensitive deaths. Among the belongings in the safe of one of the victims he finds Caterina’s journal, and her words fuel his empathy and spur his determination to not only solve the murders, but also to discover what became of the sisters. Assisted by an American woman in search of a long-lost relative and the wealthy director of Remember the Fallen, Pallioti’s methodical investigation into the deaths proves to be just as fascinating as the tale of the sisters. The author creates believable and sympathetic characters that engage the reader as she expertly overlaps, merges and resolves the two stories.  

Grindle’s book is a good modern-day mystery, a very good historical narrative and an excellent combination of the two.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4555-0537-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

A brilliant exercise in imagination and storytelling.

I, HOGARTH

Dean (Thorn, 2011) imagines the life, spirit and art of the English artist William Hogarth. 

Born in 1697 to a naïve and inept Latin scholar and an intemperate, dissatisfied mother, Hogarth was apprenticed to an engraver, only to maneuver his way into tutelage from and assistantship to the court painter Sir James Thornhill. Hogarth’s family fractures when father Richard lands in debtors’ prison. Mother and children are assisted by Anthony da Costa, a Portuguese-Jewish moneylender. In da Costa’s mansion, Hogarth glimpses Kate, a strumpet, the vision unleashing the artist’s lifelong appreciation for fleshly sensuality, the dark side of which becomes the incurable “French pox.” Apprenticing as an engraver, Hogarth frequents Lovejoy’s bagnio, there meeting John Rakesby, later revealed to be John Thornhill, son of Sir James, a prominent artist. Dean’s narrative of young Hogarth winnowing his way into Sir James’ household shines with authenticity, right down to Hogarth’s seduction of young Jane Thornhill. Dean’s deciphering of Hogarth’s art is as superb as his rendering of the streets of ribald and indecorous London, packed with drunks and thieves, privileged and poor. Dean offers the stories behind Hogarth’s seminal works—the South Seas Scheme, A Harlot’s Progress—and discusses Hogarth’s lobbying for the Engraver’s Copyright Act and support of Capt. Thomas Coram’s quest for a foundling hospital. The fictional autobiographical narrative of the robust and complicated, sensual and sensitive Hogarth intrigues, but what gives the book its resonance is Dean’s learned exploration of the depth and breadth—the sight, sound and stink—of Georgian London.

A brilliant exercise in imagination and storytelling.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4683-0342-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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