The Sworn Virgin.
By Kristopher Dukes.
Aug. 2017. 352p. Morrow, paper, $15.99
Dukes takes readers to early-twentieth-century Albania, where 18-year-old Eleanora
has been pampered by her physician father,
Fran, whom she assists on house calls. Fran
adores his daughter and is prepared to grant
her wish to go to art school in Italy. But
when Eleanora and Fran travel to a nearby
town so that Fran can make the arrangements for her schooling, he’s shot dead in the
street by a man claiming that he’s avenging a
blood feud. Devastated, Eleanora returns to
her stepmother, Meria, who cannot support
them in their mountain village, spurring her
to marry Eleanora off to her friend’s brutal
son, the head of a powerful clan. When he
and his brothers come for Eleanora, she declares herself a “sworn virgin,” a tradition that
allows her to live freely as a man does, but
only if she never takes a lover. Eleanora has
no problem adhering to this until a stranger
appears. Dukes’ provocative first outing offers a fascinating look at Albanian culture
and the status of women and is sure to be
popular with book clubs. —Kristine Huntley
YA: Headstrong Eleanora’s navigation of
the strict rules of Albanian culture will
intrigue teens. KH.
To Die in Spring.
By Ralf Rothmann.
Aug. 2017. 224p. Farrar, $25 (9780374278144).
Pressed into military service in the final
days of WWII, a young German farmhand
finds himself in a nightmare world of cruelty and desperation. Assigned to supply
duty in occupied Hungary, Walter is spared
combat but subjected to
other horrors: gangrenous
hospitals, treacherous journeys through the forest,
and Russian planes strafing
overhead. Senior officers
are harsh and capricious,
drinking themselves numb.
Everyone suspects everyone
else of being a deserter, especially those in uniform heading away from the front. It will all
be over soon, people keep saying. But not soon
enough to spare Walter’s father, sent to a “
prison regiment” for giving ruined cigarettes to a
POW, or Walter’s irreverent best friend, Fiete,
caught deserting and facing an ambivalent firing squad. Rothmann’s (Young Light, 2010)
prose lingers plaintively on images of suffering
animals and devastated buildings but avoids
sentimentality about all that is damaged. And
in portraying Walter with compassion, both
as a vulnerable teenager and, later, as an old
man who suffers in silence, Rothmann bravely
insists that readers consider questions of culpability, of how ordinary Germans could be both
perpetrators and victims. The result is a quietly unsettling triumph for Rothmann, who is
well-known for his novels of working-class life.
We Were Strangers Once.
By Betsy Carter.
Sept. 2017. 336p. Grand Central, $26 (9781455571437);
e-book, $13.99 (9781455571451).
Moving and intensely personal, this subtle
novel of the immigrant experience in 1940s
Manhattan boasts impressive
and varied character development. The plot is familiar:
Jewish Germans fleeing Europe for America, grieving
their losses, and forming an
enclave of displaced people
just like themselves. In Germany, Egon Schneider was
a successful ophthalmologist. Now he’s the
cheese man at a grocery store in upper Manhattan. His mouthy friend, Meyer Leavitt, was
a published author in Germany but now carries a sandwich board. Egon and Meyer meet
socially with a few other immigrants. Into the
mix comes second-generation Irish American
Catrina Harty, with her idealistic optimism.
Over the course of the book, the characters’
earnest striving, constant humiliations, and oh-so-gradual assimilation draw readers into their
lives completely, and we celebrate their small
victories and bemoan their defeats as if we were
immigrants ourselves. There are multiple read-alikes here: Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale
(2015) for Carter’s lovely writing style and the
pathos in her story; Dinaw Mengestu’s The
Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007) for
Carter’s evocation of the poverty and yearning
to belong that are so often the immigrant’s lot;
and Natasha Solomons’ Mr. Rosenblum Dreams
in English (2010) for Carter’s endearing characters with their unbridled determination and
positive attitude. A memorable, important,
and insightful novel. —Jen Baker
By Shirlee McCoy.
Aug. 2017. 352p. Zebra, paper, $7.99 (9781420139310);
McCoy (Sweet Surprises, 2016) brings readers back to the small town of Benevolence,
Washington, and everyone’s favorite sweet
shop, Chocolate Haven. Another Lamont sister, Willow, has returned to help their injured
grandfather run the family store. Although Willow is a successful big city prosecutor, coming
home to Benevolence has given her severe anxiety and panic attacks because that’s where she
was raped. And no one knows about it except
her attacker and his brother. Deputy Sheriff Jax
Gordon has had his share of tragedy, too. His
family was massacred by a rogue cop. When
Willow hears a noise outside her apartment,
she calls the police, and together she and Jax
discover that the mewling isn’t a cat out in the
freezing rain—it’s an abandoned baby. McCoy
has created two wounded souls and sent them
on an unforgettable journey of healing. Readers will find this emotional roller-coaster ride
of a story as compelling as it is heartwarming.
By Simona Ahrnstedt. Tr. by Alice
Aug. 2017. 336p. Kensington, paper, $15
(9781496706218); e-book (9781496706225).
Dr. Isobel Sorenson knows millions of
women would kill to be in her shoes, but
frankly, she would rather be battling a plague
than trying to chat up Alexander De la Grip.
It certainly doesn’t help that the last time she
saw Alexander, known as one of Sweden’s best-dressed, richest, and sexiest bachelors, she told
him to go to hell. Isobel’s family foundation,
Medpax, however, desperately needs his money. So if flirting with Alexander and fending off
a few of his romantic advances is what it takes
to help keep Medpax afloat financially, Isobel
will throw on a pair of her highest heels, paint
a smile on her face, and do what needs to be
done. Swedish romance superstar Ahrnstedt
made her American debut last summer with
All In (2016), and now she returns with another addictively readable glitz-and-glam novel
brimming with scandal, sex, and secrets, a sort
of Swedish Dynasty. —John Charles
The Secret of the India Orchid.
By Nancy Campbell Allen.
Aug. 2017. 320p. Shadow Mountain, paper, $15.99
Allen’s (Beauty and the Clockwork Beast, 2016)
skill for creating evocative yet sweet romance
novels will appeal to a wide range of readers. In
her latest, Englishman Anthony Blake is getting
ready to propose to Sophia,
the sister of his best friend,
when he is called back into
the life of espionage. He had
hoped to steer clear of that
world, but now he returns to
save all those he cares about.
It is two years before he and
Sophia cross paths again, this
time in India, to which she fled to escape the
pressures of the ton and the marriage market.
Anthony knows that rekindling their relationship could lead her into danger, but he finds it
impossible not to let her know how he truly
feels about her. Sophia is determined to help
Anthony solve his final mission, so they can
have a future. She is also committed to helping the new friends she makes in India stay
safely away from some deadly traditions. Allen’s historical descriptions of India offer a vivid
backdrop to a smart and striking work of romantic suspense. Fans of Marion Chesney will
especially enjoy this novel. —Amy Alessio
You Say It First.
By Susan Mallery.
Aug. 2017. 336p. HQN, paper, $8.99 (9780373799336).
Pallas Saunders has inherited Weddings in
a Box, a business that specializes in themed
weddings. Nick Mitchell has applied for the
position of part-time carpenter, but the day he
arrives, Pallas is short one Roman slave to carry
a bride on a palanquin, so she enlists Nick.
Embarrassed when she discovers that he is actually a famous artist, her discomfiture turns