300 Days of Sun.
By Deborah Lawrenson.
Apr. 2016. 384p. Harper, paper, $16.99 (9780062390165).
Journalist Joanna Millard has traveled to
the Portuguese town of Faro to escape an unhappy love affair and a stalled career. While
attending language school, she meets Nathan Emberlin, a charming young man with
a mysterious past. Nathan’s
recent discovery of his adoption has led him to believe
he is one of several children
abducted from the area
more than two decades ago.
With Joanna’s help, the two
embark on an odyssey that
will take them deep into
Portuguese history, particularly the dark years
during WWII, when Portugal was under Nazi
influence and its economy was overrun by
corruption and the ravages of wartime. Joanna’s discoveries lead her to Ian Rylands, an
English expat who insists the solution to the
puzzle is to be found in The Alliance, a novel
written by Esta Hartford that recounts her
personal and professional experiences in Portugal during the war. As Joanna delves deeper
into the mystery, she begins to suspect the
novel and Nathan’s story may be one and the
same. Lawrenson ( The Sea Garden, 2015) has
written a deeply satisfying novel, a rich story
with a strong feeling for time and place and
the expert pacing of the best thrillers. Readers
will appreciate Lawrenson’s ability to combine
stunning atmosphere with a fascinating historical backstory. —Carol Gladstein
By J. Bradford Hipps.
Apr. 2016. 288p. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (9781250062239);
“A good company man,” one of Henry
Hurt’s colleagues calls him. At just 34, Henry
is head of engineering at Cybersystems, an In-
ternet security company. He likes his job; his
boss, Keith; and especially Jane, the head of
marketing. In fact, work is the focus of Hen-
ry’s life, providing certainty and helping to
stave off dread. But business hasn’t been good,
and the team at Cyber finds itself having to
scramble to meet financial targets for the
quarter. Henry, Keith, Jane, and Ian, the new
sales guy, embark on a grueling quest to Mi-
ami, Houston, and Kansas City to land new
contracts. This happens over the same week-
end that Gretchen, Henry’s sister, has planned
an event back in Minnesota to mark the first
anniversary of their mother’s death. Gretchen
serves as Henry’s inner voice, gently chiding
him for being so wrapped up in the corpo-
rate world instead of reaching for something
grander. Sharp observations, a tone that is
both rueful and wryly humorous, and a keen
sense of the American regional landscape will
appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven
fiction. —Mary Ellen Quinn
The Bed Moved.
By Rebecca Schiff.
Apr. 2016. 160p. Knopf, $24.95 (9781101875414).
Whether geology-camp losers, webcam
porno costars, school-newspaper wannabe-dropouts, the female narrators in Schiff’s
debut collection are all brainy and vividly
portrayed in the author’s spirited, clever language. A woman becomes obsessed with a
guy through his cancer blog; another yearns
to know men touched by the events of 9/11;
a daughter learns about her recently deceased
father through his cached Internet search
history; a trip to a nudie hot spring with a flat-broke pot dealer goes a little bit badly. In “Rate
Me,” a woman sends her actual body parts to
a rating agency in order to improve herself,
piece by piece. Schiff’s stories, most of which
breeze by at under 10 pages, are about the sex
her book’s title suggests, but also about grief,
religion, culture, and the process of growing
and aging. An observer extraordinaire, Schiff
elucidates her characters’ thoughts and moments, sharing them like little, unassuming
gems. Schiff’s stories are piercing and playful,
witty and wise. —Annie Bostrom
The Bricks That Built the Houses.
By Kate Tempest.
May 2016. 400p. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781620409015).
Rapper-poet Tempest (Hold Your Own,
2015) does not stray far from her roots in
her first novel. In elegant, purposeful prose,
she offers a work that is part character study,
part love story. Set in London’s seedy underbelly, the tale follows Becky, a struggling
dancer who makes ends meet as an erotic
masseuse, and Harry, the public half of a
drug-dealing duo. When the two meet one
night in a bar, there’s an instant connection
(Harry likes girls; Becky likes people), and
over the coming months, the two weave in
and out of each other’s lives, a strange dance
that culminates when circumstances force
them to flee London. Intertwined with their
stories are the stories of the people who have
shaped their lives. With a scope that rivals
Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (2002), Tempest juggles themes of family, history, and
womanhood. “To be a woman, you must
struggle,” one character hears. “We will
never be applauded for getting it right.” In
their ongoing search for meaning, Becky and
Harry never quite succeed. Tempest, however, just might. —Maggie Reagan
Britt-Marie Was Here.
By Fredrik Backman.
May 2016. 384p. Atria, $26 (9781501142536).
In Backman’s (My Grandmother Asked Me
to Tell You She’s Sorry, 2015) latest, ever the
dutiful, long-suffering wife Britt-Marie leaves
her boorish husband when she discovers his
infidelity. At 63, with no job experience and
little life experience to speak of, Britt-Marie
is fortunate to land a dubious position as a
caretaker at a nearly defunct recreation center
in the nearly defunct Swedish village of Borg.
The job entails cleaning, at which Britt-Marie
excels, and serving as the den mother and
coach to the town’s ragtag team of footballers.
Obsessive-compulsive, virtually humorless,
and otherwise ill-prepared to lead a bunch
of challenging teens, Britt-Marie nonethe-
less wins their love and respect and, along the
way, figures out how to be a person in her own
right. The theme of the awakening of an un-
appreciated, invisible woman has been done
before, of course, but in Backman’s scattershot
community of losers and loners, Britt-Marie’s
metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly
seems all the more remarkable for the utterly
discouraging environment in which it takes
place. —Carol Haggas
Everything I Found on the Beach.
By Cynan Jones.
Apr. 2016. 248p. Coffee House, paper, $15.95
(9781566894364); e-book, $12.99 (9781566894364).
Set on a Welsh coast, award-winning
Jones’ haunting tale follows the intersecting journeys of characters faced with tough
decisions. Grzegorz is a Polish immigrant
struggling to support his wife and two young
children as they live in a crowded house with
other displaced families. He constantly questions his worth as a father and provider, picks
up side work at a slaughterhouse between
shifts, and digs up cockles. Meanwhile, fisherman Hold is tormented by the death of his
beloved friend, Danny, and is determined to
provide for Danny’s widow and young son,
even as he struggles to make ends meet. One
evening, Hold discovers a wayward boat
full of parcels of drugs, which, considering
the wealth it could provide, induces him to
make a split-second decision. A desperate
Grzegorz also makes a sudden choice, and
their mutual actions set in motion an inevitable series of events that shroud this tale
with a resonant sadness as it marches toward
the climax. Jones deftly explores his characters’ motives, particularly the hope they cling
to despite the risks they take. —Leah Strauss
Heat & Light.
By Jennifer Haigh.
May 2016. 448p. Ecco, $26.99 (9780061763298);
e-book, $12.99 (9780062199089).
In the same way that characters from
Haigh’s Baker Towers (2005) dealt with
Bakerton nearly becoming
a ghost town after the
Pennsylvania coal mines
were shuttered, the characters here face similarly big
changes as fracking comes
to the area. Neighbors and
friends find themselves at
odds as Bakerton farmland