40 Booklist August2016 www.booklistreader.com
ents another twisty historical novel set at the
end of the gaslight era. This time the story
takes place in a New York City perched on
the very precipice of electricity. The book’s
central focus is on American ingenuity as the
basis for commercial success and the so-called
“war of currents” waged between Thomas
Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola
Tesla over the creation of the lightbulb. Paul
Cravath, the brilliant but inexperienced lawyer hired by Westinghouse to countersue the
pugnacious Edison for copyright infringement, unscrupulous behavior, and even
violence, provides a first-person perspective.
Legal battles and the rancor between scientists drive the pace, while a curious romance
unmasks yet another underhanded charade.
Woven into this complex drama is a philosophical question about invention: Who is
the inventor: the one with the idea, the one
who makes a working model, or the one to
obtain the patent? Who really did invent
the lightbulb? A thought-provoking, suspenseful novel, surprising in its focus, like
Matthew Pearl’s The Technologists (2012);
illuminative of character, like Bernadette Pa-jer’s The Edison Effect (2014); and displaying
the keen biographical insights of Vladimir
Pištalo’s Tesla: A Portrait with Masks (2015).
Letters from Paris.
By Juliet Blackwell.
Sept. 2016. 384p. Berkley, paper, $15
Best-selling author Blackwell (The Paris
Key, 2015) brings us another captivating
tale from the City of Light. Claire Broussard
leaves behind her life in Chicago to be with
her ailing grandmother, Mammaw, in Louisiana. Claire rediscovers an old mask from Paris
in the attic that her great-grandfather had
sent home during WWII called L’Inconnue—
or the Unknown Woman. Claire is intrigued
by the story behind the mask, and Mammaw
encourages her to find answers. After Mammaw’s death, Claire tracks down the atelier
where the mask was originally made and
travels to Paris. Claire finds that a brusque
mask maker, Armand, may be her only guide
to more information about L’Inconnue. Another mystery waiting for Claire is how much
Paris will reveal about her own past and family secrets. Alternating between the present
time, with Claire’s search for history, and the
story of Sabine, an artist’s model during the
Belle Epoque, this romantic and picturesque
novel shows us that even the most broken
people can find what makes them whole
again. —Emily Borsa
Napoleon’s Last Island.
By Thomas Keneally.
Oct. 2016. 416p. Atria, $30 (9781501128424).
Despite the title, Keneally’s (Shame and
the Captives, 2015) latest historical novel
is an agonizing coming-of-age story, rather
than a predictable chronicle of Napoleon’s
final years. Permanently exiled to the south-
ern Atlantic island of Saint Helena (“the
cursed rock”) after his disastrous defeat at
Waterloo, Napoleon befriends a young girl
and her family. Awaiting the completion
of his permanent quarters, the former em-
peror is billeted with the Balcombe family.
Fascinated by their temporary houseguest,
each family member is inexorably drawn
into his exotic and dysfunctional orbit to
varying degrees, none more so than young
Betsy. Though lopsided in many ways, the
quirky friendship that blossoms between the
two is understandable, given the spiritual
and geographic isolation of both Bonaparte
and Betsy. Unfortunately, Napoleon exacts
as heavy a price in his personal relationships
as he did in his military campaigns, and the
Balcombe family is permanently splintered
in his emotional war of attrition. Loosely
based on actual events and real-life histori-
cal figures, Keneally’s retelling of Napoleon’s
Saint Helena years through the eyes of a
young girl on the cusp of womanhood makes
for a deeply intriguing, if somewhat fanciful,
read. —Margaret Flanagan
YA: Betsy’s teenage perspective will
resonate with YA fans of historical fiction.
The Orphan Mother.
By Robert Hicks.
Sept. 2016. 312p. Grand Central, $26
Freedom and justice are complicated concepts as it is, but add in race, and the stew
gets even thicker. Mariah Reddick, a newly
freed slave, finds this truth out the hard way
when her son, Theopolis, dares to dream beyond the narrow confines of the path laid out
for him by virtue of his skin color. Mariah,
a successful midwife in Franklin, Tennessee, becomes an “orphan mother” when her
ambitious son is shot at a political rally. In
the early days of Reconstruction, justice
for blacks might be a dubious concept, but
Mariah is determined she will have hers.
Aiding her is George Tole, a black man new
to town, fleeing from his own fractured past,
who uses questionable means to deliver retribution. Mariah’s complicated relationship
with her former owner, Carrie McGavock,
is one of the many highlights of Hicks’ (A
Separate Country, 2009) engaging, if cloying,
and certainly important examination of U.S.
history, which is especially revealing in light
of the many recent fatal shootings of African
Americans. When it comes to freedom, one
size does not fit all. —Poornima Apte
A Week in Paris.
By Rachel Hore.
Aug. 2016. 368p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.99
Hore, author of A Place of Secrets (2012),
again proves her talent for combining histo-
ry and generational family drama in parallel
stories, adding hints of romance and psychic
ability to form an intensely compelling story.
Readers spend a week in 1960s Paris with
Fay, a talented young violinist who falls for
a journalist and discovers the secrets her de-
pressed mother withheld from her—secrets
about her father’s death in occupied Paris
and how she and her mother escaped. Fay’s
prestigious musical career plays second fiddle
to her search for the truth about her parents
as she tracks down people they knew and
what happened to them. Suspenseful and
absorbing, the story dramatizes the gamut of
French experiences during WWII: rationing
and near-starvation, fear of an invading Ger-
man army that sometimes strafed innocent
citizens for sport, the incursion of refugees,
and how prison camps were used to harass
and brutalize British and American civil-
ians, along with Jews. Reminiscent of Irène
Némirovsky’s Suite Française (2006) for its
immersive historical perspective, and Be-
linda Alexandra’s Golden Earrings (2015) for
the emotional richness and parallel mother-
daughter story lines. —Jen Baker
Because I’m Watching.
By Christina Dodd.
Sept. 2016. 336p. St. Martin’s, $26.99
Madeline Hewitson knows everyone in
Virtue Falls calls her Mad Maddie, but she
knows she isn’t crazy. Someone is watching
her. Someone is moving things around in
her house. And someone
is leaving behind clues that
indicate that they know
what her deepest fears are.
That is why Maddie has
to be constantly on guard.
Lack of sleep, therefore,
explains why she drives her
car through the front of
Jacob Denisov’s home, turning her neighbor’s living room into her new garage. When
Maddie sees, however, the way U.S. Army
veteran Jacob, a hero haunted by guilt, lives,
she begins to think he is the one resident
of Virtue Falls who really should be called
crazy. Dodd continues her flawless pivoting
from romance to suspense with the third
book (following Obsession Falls, 2015) in
her riveting series set in the small Washington town of Virtue Falls. The tautly written
novel’s plot proves that Dodd knows exactly how to keep readers’ nerves jangling; at
the same time, her irresistibly dry wit helps
lighten some of the darker twists and turns.
Scary, sexy, and smartly written, Because I’m
Watching is Dodd at the top of her game.
The Butch and the Beautiful.
By Kris Ripper.
Aug. 2016. 250p. Riptide, paper, $17.99
(9781626494367); e-book, $4.99 (9781626494350).
Dedicated high-school teacher Jaq is standing up for her ex, Liz, in her DIY wedding
to Marla, and attorney Hannah is a stunning