The Widows of Malabar Hill.
By Sujata Massey.
Jan. 2018. 375p. Soho, $26.95 (9781616957780).
Massey, author of the Rei Shimura mysteries and the stand-alone The Sleeping Dictionary
(2013), debuts a new series featuring a female
lawyer in India. In partnership with her father, Perveen Mistry mainly
processes paperwork, since
in 1920s Bombay, women
are disallowed from presenting in court. Her chance to
meet actual clients finally
arrives when she questions
the disposition of an inheritance to three Muslim
widows living in full purdah (seclusion), which
prohibits their talking to men. Each widow
has signed over her only ongoing source of income to charity. Perveen is determined to ask
them why, and inadvertently sets off a chain
of violence and recrimination. In addition to
getting an unusual perspective on women’s
rights and relationships, readers are treated to
a full view of historical downtown Bombay—
the shops and offices, the docks and old fort,
and the huge variety of conveyances, characters, and religions—in an unforgettable olio
that provides the perfect backdrop to the plot
and subplots. Each of the many characters is
uniquely described, flaws and all, which is the
key to understanding their surprising roles in
the well-constructed puzzle. Readers might
also enjoy Shona Patel’s Flame Tree Road
(2015) and Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What
the Body Remembers (1999) for additional fictional perspectives on women’s experience in
India. —Jen Baker
By Anthony Quinn.
Nov. 2017. 560p. Europa, paper, $19 (9781609454159).
Indomitable, uncompromising, and tough
as nails, Freya is not always easy to like but
impossible not to admire. After serving in the
British Women’s Royal Naval Service during
WWII, Freya moves to Oxford, where she
quickly finds herself chafing against the restrictions of life as a civilian and a woman.
She greets the enthusiastic overtures of friendship from Nancy, a sweet fellow student, with
studied superiority, believing her role to be an
instructor to the younger woman. But in the
coming years it is Freya who will learn from
her relationship with Nancy in this psychologically savvy novel. After Freya breaks into
journalism by way of a gutsy trip to postwar
Nuremberg, she lands in the middle of the
London arts scene, while Nancy struggles to
get a novel published. The consequences of
their rivalries, both professional and romantic, cause Freya to seriously question Nancy’s
actions and her very character. Although the
scenes occasionally feel overstuffed, on the
whole this is a whip-smart and memorable
look at a singular woman. —Bridget Thoreson
In the Distance.
By Hernan Diaz.
Oct. 2017. 272p. Coffee House, paper, $16.95
In this curious debut novel, scholar and
critic Diaz combines a fastidious attention
to historical detail with a playful repurposing of the myth of the American frontier.
The saga begins with two emigrating Swedish brothers who lose each other during a
transatlantic journey. Linus makes it to New
York, but Håkan rounds Tierra del Fuego
and winds up in San Francisco. Through
a series of increasingly strange episodes,
Håkan starts to make a name for himself.
First, he convinces a suspicious gold panner
to let him tag along, only to be taken hostage
by a dangerously alluring mistress. When he
makes a run for it, Håkan finds himself taken up by a crackpot biologist, and he joins
in the search for a strange, gelatinous organism, a supposed predecessor to humankind.
Despite his best efforts, Håkan’s quest to reunite with his brother somehow always turns
back to this expansive landscape. Stitched
through with humor, this often-unpredict-able novel will keep readers running along
with every step of Håkan’s odd escapades.
It Was Only Ever You.
By Kate Kerrigan.
Oct. 2017. 389p. IPG/Head of Zeus, paper, $12.95
Kerrigan’s latest, following her Ellis Island
trilogy, is set in New York City in the 1950s,
when the music scene was especially bumping. Patrick recently moved to NYC from
Ireland, leaving a love behind, to pursue his
singing. During his musical journey, Patrick
meets two women: Sheila, a music manager
who is in no need of a man, and Ava, a jitterbug queen who doesn’t always abide by
society’s rules. With Patrick in their lives,
things begin to change for both women,
and soon Sheila falls for an off-limits music
tycoon and Ava finds herself in love with
Patrick. However, when Patrick’s former
flame, Rose, makes her way into the city to
find him, everyone is faced with tough decisions regarding whom they want to be with
and what matters most. Weaving the lives of
four people with a jazzy, lyrical backdrop,
It Was Only Ever You is an easy read with a
compassionate story line focusing on the relationships we build with others, and with
ourselves. —Carissa Chesanek
Mr. Dickens and His Carol.
By Samantha Silva.
Nov. 2017. 288p. Flatiron, $24.99 (9781250154040);
e-book, $11.99 (9781250154033).
It’s November 1843, and Charles Dickens
is a man besieged. His latest serial, Martin
Chuzzlewit, isn’t selling, and his wife and
children expect a splendid Christmas, with
expensive decorations and gifts. Other fam-
ily members, reliant on his generosity, need
him to pay their bills. Citing a clause in his
contract, his publisher demands he write a
Christmas-themed book to satisfy his fans,
but time is pressing. And how can he get in
the holiday mood when it’s so unseasonably
warm? Bah, humbug! Frustrated yet deter-
mined, Dickens embarks on a quest that
takes him back to his old haunts and intro-
duces him to a beautiful young seamstress
who motivates him. Making her debut, Silva
creatively imagines the circumstances that
inspired A Christmas Carol. The characters
and atmosphere of Victorian London feel
wonderfully Dickensian, and it’s fun to see
Dickens gathering new material through his
interactions. His writerly dilemmas should
resonate with literary types, too. With the
wit and sprightly tone of a classic storyteller,
Silva presents a heartwarming tale of friend-
ship and renewal that’s imbued with the true
Christmas spirit. —Sarah Johnson
The Bride Who Got Lucky.
By Janna MacGregor.
Nov. 2017. 368p. St. Martin’s, paper, $7.99
All Emma Cavensham wants to do is to
help other women. Emma knows just how
limited a woman’s freedom can be, and she
plans on changing that, first by opening a
bank for women run by women. Because
who knows better the distinct financial obstacles a woman faces in life than another
woman? Second, Emma wants to help one
woman in particular: her dear friend Lena
Aulton. Emma knows Lena’s
husband, the Earl of Aulton,
made her life miserable and
caused her death, and Emma
intends to see that he pays
for what he did. There is
just one obstacle in Emma’s
path: Nicholas St. Mauer,
Earl of Somerton. Distracting Nick so that she can continue with her
plans is now Emma’s first priority, and the
distraction that seems to be most effective with him involves kissing. Rising star
MacGregor once again demonstrates her remarkable gift for effortlessly elegant writing,
richly nuanced characterization, and lushly
sensual love scenes in the second brilliant installment in her new Cavensham Heiresses
series, following The Bad Luck Bride (2017).
Couldn’t Ask for More.
By Kianna Alexander.
Nov. 2017. 352p. Sourcebooks/Casablanca, paper, $7.99
The brothers of Theta Delta Theta are loyal, hardworking, and responsible members of
their community, which is what makes them
so darn attractive. Bryan James is devoted
to his father’s textile company and will do
whatever it takes to secure new contracts, including colluding with his newest client, the