The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall; Alfred A. Knopf, 352 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 14.
A new Penderwicks novel is a cause for rejoicing, and this latest installment will keep fans turning the pages to finish it in one delicious go. (Birdsall won the National Book Award for debut novel “The Penderwicks.”) This one takes place five years after the family took their vacation in Maine. Rosalind is in college; Batty and her stepbrother Ben now take center stage. Batty, mourning the death of her beloved Hound, discovers a new talent, but keeps it a secret from her family. She also quite by accident ends up starting a dog-walking business. The series has an old-fashioned charm, with its distinctive silhouette illustrations, its richly imagined characters, with situations and dialogue to savor. As always, Birdsall creates a villain, this time the obnoxious suitor Rosalind brings home from college. The dramatic crisis here has its roots in the death of the first Mrs. Penderwick, who died shortly after Batty was born. At the heart of the story is the shadow cast when even the best-intentioned parents fail to communicate with their children. Birdsall leaves us satisfied but wistfully hoping for yet another installment, of Batty and the clan farther down the road.
– Jean Westmoore
World Gone By by Dennis Lehane; William Morrow, 309 pages ($27.99)
Dennis Lehane has given Tampa, Fla., a fictional gangster with style, a guy who can rock evening clothes and gracefully walk the tightrope between the worst kind of crimes and the best society. “World Gone By,” the novel that completes Joe Coughlin’s story, is a classic gangster epic, a darkly violent tale enriched by sharp insight into American life and Lehane’s beautifully crafted prose.
“The Given Day,” published in 2008 and set in Boston just after World War I, told the story of Joe’s father and older brother, both members of the Boston police force. “Live by Night” chronicled Joe’s turn away from the law and his rise to power as head of organized crime in Tampa during Prohibition. “World Gone By” picks up a decade later, at the end of 1942. The nation is at war and Joe, 36, is no longer running the city’s criminal operations.
Coughlin has built a facade of respectability – the novel opens with a posh party for Tampa’s upper crust and its leading mobsters and he is raising his young son, Tomas, alone.
Coughlin is feeling pressure from many sides; job security and longevity are not among the perks of life in the mob. Dion Bartolo, his best friend since boyhood and the boss of the Tampa family, has become increasingly unpredictable. The DiGiacomo brothers, two of Dion’s lieutenants, are way too ambitious. Joe is having an affair with the wife of another powerful man. Lehane draws an engrossing portrait of Coughlin, by turns repellent and fascinating. He is a different man than he was in “Live by Night,” mainly because he is now a father.
Lehane develops this theme of fatherhood richly throughout the book. Family issues are woven seamlessly into a high-velocity, bloody story as Joe struggles to figure out what the shifts in power around him will mean, and whether he can do anything about them. – Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times