18 Booklist December 15, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
By Sarah Jio.
Feb. 2017. 288p. Ballantine, $27 (9781101885024).
All of life’s puzzle pieces have fallen into
place for Kailey Crane. She has a wonderful
and challenging job as a reporter for the Seattle
Herald, and she has Ryan, her adoring fiancé.
Bumping into an old flame wouldn’t normally
turn Kailey’s world upside down, but this old
flame is Cade McAllister, her first true love . . .
and he is homeless. Completely taken aback
by his situation, Kailey throws her energy into
helping him turn his life around. As Cade gets
back on his feet, Kailey’s seemingly perfect life
becomes a lot more complicated. Jio uses chapters set a decade apart to contrast the blissful
early days of Cade and Kailey’s relationship
with the mystery of the wealthy music executive’s downfall. Seattle itself plays a supporting
role in the story, as Jio drops references to the
1990s music scene, landmarks, and neighborhoods. Refreshingly, Jio treats Cade’s
homelessness with tact and respect, offering a
heartwarming story of personal growth and the
power of nostalgia. Even though the resolution
feels a bit too tidy, fans of Elin Hilderbrand
and Emily Giffin should enjoy this warm and
compassionate novel. —Stephanie Turza
The Bertie Project.
By Alexander McCall Smith.
Feb. 2017. 304p. Anchor, paper, $15 (9780525433002);
The 44 Scotland Street series began, 11 novels
ago, as a cross-section of one upscale apartment
building in Edinburgh, sort of a grown-up version of a doll’s house. McCall Smith moved
readers up and down the
central stone staircase and
into different apartments,
including ones housing a
statistician for the Scottish
government, a domineering
wife and mother, and their
little boy; another that held
a cultural anthropologist;
and still another graced by a handsome narcis-
sist and his crew of hopelessly adoring female
flatmates. Things bubbled along, with people
moving into and out of 44 Scotland Street and
each other’s lives. It was intriguing to see lives
incrementally change from book to book, but
the series was episodic—until seven-year-old
Bertie Pollock (he of the domineering drone-
mother Irene) emerged, a few books ago, as
the emotional center of Scotland Street. And
now, Bertie, his statistician father, and Bertie’s
paternal grandmother are at the boiling point,
each trying to gain freedom from what Irene
has termed the Bertie Project, a relentless pro-
gram of improvement for a little boy who is
wonderful just the way he is. Freedom is the
theme here (with a nice twist of Bruce the nar-
cissist falling utterly under the thrall of a new
woman). Longtime readers will love to see the
masterful way McCall Smith brings things to a
head, while newcomers will soon catch up and
be entranced by this witty, wisdom-filled series.
The Blue Hour.
By Laura Pritchett.
Feb. 2017. 256p. Counterpoint, $25 (9781619028487).
Gretchen lives for the moments of pure de-
light when she can be with Joe. Joe revels in
loving Gretchen out in
the mountaintop meadow
where their passion can be
witnessed only by stars and
the bears who patiently
watch from the ringing for-
est. Ruben’s gentle touch
with animals also extends
to the humans who come
into his orbit, like Lillie, not quite old enough
to be his mother but still young enough to
covet his attention. Violet and Ollie, Flannery
and Di, Sergio, Jess, Zach, Dandelion, and all
the other residents of Blue Moon Mountain
are connected, not only by the sheer beauty
of their surroundings and their reverence for
nature but by the shocking suicide of Sy, the
local vet, whose death mystifies them and sends
them digging deep within themselves to recov-
er that essential life force that can prevent them
from following in his tracks. Within this close-
knit community, Pritchett (Red Lightning,
2015) finds the core of the humanity—love,
lust, loyalty, compassion, companionship, car-
ing—wondrously bound in the stories of these
incandescent characters, who want to survive
on their own terms but who also learn that
sustenance is only possible when supported
by community. A richly sensual, tenderly
proffered portrait of the most vulnerable yet
appealing aspects of the human condition.
Close Enough to Touch.
By Colleen Oakley.
Mar. 2017. 320p. Gallery, $24.99 (9781501159749).
Oakley’s sophomore novel is a treat. Her first
book, Before I Go (2015), followed a young
woman with cancer as she tried to find a part-
ner for her husband to love once she’s deceased.
In Close Enough to Touch, Oakley again chron-
icles the medical hardships of a woman in her
twenties, but this time with a much lighter
twist. The protagonist, 27-year-old Jubilee
Jenkins, was diagnosed at an early age with
an allergy to human touch. Jubilee spends her
life as a pariah, and following one unfortunate
high-school kiss, she becomes a recluse. She
survives on books and delivered groceries until
her mother passes away and she finds herself in
need of a steady income. She takes a job at the
local library, where she meets scruffy divorcé
Eric and his adopted son, Aja. The boys show
Jubilee that a life without physical contact may
be excruciating, but there are still countless rea-
sons to live and love. Fans of JoJo Moyes and
rom-coms set within the stacks of a library will
rejoice. —Courtney Eathorne
YA: YAs will enjoy Jubilee’s tales of her
touchless teenage years and will celebrate
Eric as he tries to connect with his out-of-state daughter by reading her favorite YA
By Michael Farris Smith.
Feb. 2017. 304p. Little, Brown/Lee Boudreaux, $26
(9780316353038); e-book, $13.99 (9780316353014).
In his acclaimed apocalyptic first novel
Rivers (2014), Mississippian Smith explored
the murkier side of his native culture while
depicting a global-warming-ravaged South
drowning under endless rain. Smith’s latest continues his psychological dissection of
troubled souls, this time in the present and
featuring two protagonists with blood on
their hands, whose paths cross fatefully one
summer day in their hometown, McComb,
Mississippi. Just released from an 11-year prison sentence for manslaughter, Russell Gaines
returns to McComb already targeted for vengeance by the brothers of the man he killed
in a drunk-driving accident. Across town a
homeless woman, Maben, trudges from the
countryside with a little girl in tow and, after
a misguided attempt to trade sex for money,
haplessly shoots and kills a deputy sheriff.
When a chance encounter draws Russell
and Maben together, the two social outcasts
discover they are also bound together by a
mutual tragedy in the past. Smith’s lean, visceral prose will keep readers glued to a richly
textured and briskly paced story. —Carl Hays
Edgar & Lucy.
By Victor Lodato.
Mar. 2017. 544p. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (9781250096982);
e-book, $14.99 (9781250097002).
Edgar Fini is an unusual eight-year-old,
marked by albinism, obsessive-compulsive
tendencies, and weird predilections. An accident claimed the life of his father while Edgar
was a baby, and his doting grandmother and
immature mother keep the incident shrouded
in mystery. The constant
fighting between these two
important figures creates a
troubled home for Edgar,
until his beloved grandmother dies unexpectedly.
When his mother, Lucy,
seems too busy with booze
and a new boyfriend to notice his unbearable grief, a stranger in a truck
is suddenly there to offer the solace Edgar
craves. As Lodato, author of the highly acclaimed Mathilda Savitch (2009), opens up
his characters’ pasts, Lucy’s absence becomes
more sympathetic in light of her own traumatic history and the weight of the illness
Continued on p. 20