28 Booklist December 1, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
cumstance, becomes an extraordinary homage
to unconditional love. — Terry Hong
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling
See’s latest will be vigorously promoted
on all platforms as she meets readers on a
This Is How It Always Is.
By Laurie Frankel.
Jan. 2017. 336p. Flatiron, $25.99 (9781250088550).
Rosie and Penn Walsh-Adams and their
five sons live in a sprawling farmhouse full
of chaos, love, and fairy tales. One summer,
youngest son Claude begins to wear dresses
and bikinis around the house. Rosie and
Penn encourage Claude to be himself, and
he decides he would be more comfortable
as Poppy. While Poppy’s brothers and parents accept her, they also all worry about the
world she faces. The family deals with fallout from friends and teachers who struggle
to understand a nonbinary child. Though
their city is generally accepting, Rosie wants
to move the family to somewhere they can
all feel safe. The family moves to Seattle
and soon confronts new challenges. They
acknowledge that Poppy is their daughter’s
true identity, so is there any need to tell her
new friends that she used to be Claude? The
novel follows family members individually
as they struggle with their own secrets and
histories. Inspired by her own daughter’s
transition, Frankel tells Poppy’s story with
compassion and humor. —Laura Chanoux
YA: Teens will connect with Frankel’s
sensitive approach to gender identity and
family dynamics. LC.
The Woman Next Door.
By Yewande Omotoso.
Feb. 2017. 288p. Picador, paper, $16 (9781250124579);
Hortensia James and Marion Agostino
have been neighbors and enemies for more
than 20 years, practically since the day Hortensia and her husband moved in next door
to Marion in Katterjin, a wealthy subdivision of suburban Cape Town. Omotoso’s
U.S. debut is an intimate, frequently hilarious look at the lives of two extraordinary
women set in postapartheid South Africa.
As the chapters, alternating between the two
protagonists’ perspectives, unfold, readers
learn the origins of the deliberate antagonism of these neighbors. Hortensia, in her
early eighties, is a wildly successful textile
designer drowning in a self-imposed sea of
bitterness. Marion, of similar age, is a native
of Cape Town who was the principal of her
own architecture firm before choosing motherhood over career. When circumstances
force the two women to turn to each other of
necessity, their resulting awakening is deeply
satisfying and realistic in its untidiness. The
vivid setting and intricate descriptions transport the reader to this very specific time and
place, though the crackling dialog and lively,
fiercely independent protagonists are universal. —Magan Szwarek
The 12. 30 from Croydon.
By Freeman Wills Crofts.
Feb. 2017. 360p. Poisoned Pen, $12.95
(9781464206733); e-book, $9.99 (9781464206740).
Crofts, a huge star during the Golden Age
of British crime fiction, worked both sides
of the shady street of villainy, writing both
head-scratching whodunits, whose solu-
tions depended on sorting
through minuscule clues and
tiny time discrepancies, and
psychological crime novels,
in which we’re invited into
the killer’s mind before and
after the murder. First pub-
lished in 1934, this mystery
starts with news of a mother’s
serious injury in Paris, necessitating a small
band of relatives flying from the former Croy-
don Airport in South London to Paris. The
woman’s father, the enormously wealthy for-
mer head of a manufacturing firm, Andrew
Crowther, travels with them and is discovered
dead (from no apparent cause) shortly before
landing. The novel then flashes back to four
weeks previous to the death and into the point
of view of Crowther’s nephew, beset by finan-
cial difficulties, in love with a social-climbing
woman. Crofts traces the nephew’s plotting to
murder his uncle from the first glimmer of an
idea through all the machinations leading to
the old man’s death. The degree of suspense
Crofts achieves by showing the growing ob-
session and planning is worthy of Hitchcock.
Another first-rate reissue from the British Li-
brary Crime Classics series. —Connie Fletcher
The Agent Runner.
By Simon Conway.
Jan. 2017. 312p. Arcade, $24.99 (9781628725995);
e-book, $24.99 (9781628726138).
Conway’s U.S. debut makes an energetic
case for Pakistan being the craziest place in
the Middle East, if not the world. Javid Aslam
Khan, the brilliant head of the country’s for-
midable ISI spy agency, dashes around the
country making deals with fractious warlords
and possibly abetting the development of
a dirty bomb by a group in the tribal areas,
even though he’s on the payroll of Britain and
the U.S. Khan’s handpicked deputy and son-
in-law, Noman Butt, was a Hindu orphan
forced to convert to Islam whose lifelong rage
and cunning, fueled by a salad of drugs, has
him thinking about deposing, or disposing of,
Khan. In Britain, Samantha Burns, the elfin
head of MI6, cashiers agent runner Ed Ma-
lik, a mixed-race Muslim Brit, only to draw
him back for a black op to “get Khan” that
delivers him into the terrifying hands of Butt.
Conway’s lean and propulsive prose makes
the moral murk of deceit and betrayal com-
pelling, and his take on the historic price of
British involvement in the Middle East rings
true. — Thomas Gaughan
Below the Belt.
By Stuart Woods.
Jan. 2017. 336p. Putnam, $28 (9780399573972).
Woods brings back several recurring characters in this political novel in which art comes
to imitate life. At the request of former President Will Lee, Stone Barrington acquires a
case containing an explosive manuscript
written by brilliant ex–CIA agent Ed Rawls,
who was erroneously imprisoned as a Russian mole and later pardoned by Lee. (Rawls
also had been the CIA mentor of Will’s wife,
Kate, the current president, who’s planning
to run for reelection.) Just after Stone gets
the case, he finds that he’s being followed by
agents of mega-wealthy Christian St. Clair, a
charming man who aims to buy a president,
in the person of businessman Nelson Knott,
and will go to any lengths to achieve his goal.
But some of what Rawls has documented
concerns less-than-savory aspects of Knott’s
past, and there’s a potentially lethal race with
Barrington’s forces to see who will prevail.
Woods is compulsively readable, even as he
churns out three novels a year, so a slip on
the last page is easy to forgive and doesn’t really lessen the pleasure of the journey in this
easy-reading page-turner. —Michele Leber
By Adrian Magson.
Jan. 2017. 360p. Midnight Ink, paper, $15.99
In the second in the Cruxys Solutions series,
globetrotting investigators Ruth Gonzales
and Andy Vaslik (who were introduced in the
widely praised The Locker, 2016) are in the
U.S., looking into the disappearance of one
of the world’s top experts on military drones.
Meanwhile, the missing man is rather upset
to find himself being held captive in a small
room by people who, he’s assured, have some
nasty things in store for him if he won’t do
exactly what they say. As we follow these two
alternating plot threads, we gradually put together a picture of a terrorist plot that could
spell disaster for the U.S. The question, of
course, is whether Gonzales and Vaslik can
beat the clock and stop the villains. With
some intriguing characters (especially private-security experts Gonzales and Vaslik—a nice
mix of superheroes and regular folks); some
snappy writing; and a timely story, the novel
should find a large and enthusiastic audience
among fans of Daniel Silva and Alex Berenson. Devotees of the author’s Harry Tate
novels should have no trouble switching over
to this new series, too. —David Pitt
By Chan Ho-Kei. Tr. by Jeremy Tiang.
Jan. 2017. 496p. Black Cat, paper, $16
(9780802125880); e-book, $16 (9780802189820).
In six related novellas, Chan Ho-Kei tracks
backward through iconic detective Kwan
Chun-dok’s police career, his relationship
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