A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux; Delacorte Press, 180 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
This heartbreakingly beautiful novel of exile and mother love from a French author is set in the Caucasus during the civil unrest immediately before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for the best children's book published in a foreign language. Blaise Fortune, known as Koumail, loves hearing how he came to live with Gloria in the Republic of Georgia: She was picking fruit in her father's orchard when she heard a train derail and discovered an injured Frenchwoman in the wreckage who asked Gloria to take her baby. Gloria and Blaise eventually flee west across the Caucasus Mountains and Europe, a difficult five-year journey marked by hunger, cold, attachments and separations. Bondoux creates a memorable voice as Koumail/Blaise grows from 7-year-old to young adulthood. Most vivid are the gritty details of the day-to-day harsh realities of the refugees' life, as seen from a child's perspective. There is the a communal head shaving during a lice outbreak, a "university for the poor" held in a tenement with a former opera singer and former headmistress; the dirty "work" scavenging in a dump for nickel wire from discarded lightbulbs. Only when Blaise is a young man does he learn the true story of who he is, as Bondoux waits to reveal the secret at the heart of her lovely story.
-- Jean Westmoore
Mr. Hooligan by Ian Vasquez; Minotaur, 352 pages ($25.99)
A man trying to start a new life by doing one last job for his criminal bosses is a mainstay of countless crime novels.
But Shamus-winning author Ian Vasquez puts a fresh spin on this saga in "Mr. Hooligan," which features surprise plot twists, numerous betrayals and an insider's view of Belize, an unusual setting for crime fiction.
Riley James is a devoted father, co-owner of a bar and about to become engaged to his next-door neighbor, an American photographer. But for more than 20 years, Riley also has trolled the Belize waterways as a smuggler for local crime family, the Monsanto brothers. Riley's life has been defined by a huge mistake he made as a teenager, making him indebted to the Monsantos.
Vasquez invests his third novel with a believable, intriguing plot and a noir atmosphere that echoes Jim Thompson and James M. Cain. No character is immune from betrayal, ratcheting up the suspense.
-- McClatchy Newspapers
The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards; Viking, 400 pages ($26.96)
Kim Edwards' 2006 debut novel, "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" was a huge best-seller. Edwards' second novel, "The Lake of Dreams," is finally here, and it's a doozy, although it lacks the emotional heft of "Memory Keeper." Still, it's gorgeously written and, for a book with a mystery at its core, refreshingly introspective.
As in "Memory Keeper," a family secret drives "Lake of Dreams," a puzzle that goes back generations and traces its roots to a collection of intertwined circumstances. Among them are the 1910 appearance of Halley's comet; the suffragist movement in upstate New York; and the burgeoning early 20th-century glassworks industry in the Finger Lakes.
The story is set in the fictional hamlet, the Lake of Dreams. Heroine Lucy Jarrett, in her late 20s, returns to her mother's lake house from Japan. When she discovers some old letters and a swath of beautifully woven cloth, tucked away in a window seat, it leads her back in time to ancestors she'd never heard of: Rose Jarrett and her daughter Iris. But why were Rose and Iris expunged from the family history?
Edwards' book is much like her plot-central piece of cloth that was woven with interlocking moons and vines: It's busy and complicated, but as a finished, carefully woven product, it turns into something luminously beautiful.
-- McClatchy Newspapers