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Intriguing tales – and tales of intrigue – from across the globe

Fancy a visit to Peru, Scotland, Denmark, Brazil, or Russia? Several works of new popular fiction may be just the ticket. Reviewer Yvonne Zipp is your tour guide.

January 4, 2008

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I may have just eaten one too many candy canes, but all five of these new releases – each of them set overseas and written by foreign writers – is enjoyable in its own way. So, for an escape from your wintry locale, book a virtual vacation at your library.

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The Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa

Vargas Llosa ("Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter") indulges his tastes for nostalgia and the self-destructive heroines of literature. (Think Emma Bovary.) In 1950, Lima teenager Ricardo Somocurcio develops a massive crush on the new girl in the neighborhood, despite the fact that Lily is exposed as an inveterate liar. The two Peruvians meet up again in Paris, where Ricardo is working as a translator and where revolutionary-in-training "Comrade Arlette" denies ever meeting "the good boy" before. The two establish a pattern: Lily leaves Ricardo for a series of wealthy, controlling men, returning to lick her wounds. Not Vargas Llosa's best, and not for all tastes – the relationship between the "good boy" and the "bad girl' is an explicit one, and Lily's betrayals are eye-bugging. But Vargas Llosa writes with wry humor and affection about both his characters and the vanished decades of the 1950s and '60s. The story of the sap and the gold digger ultimately transforms into a tale of unconditional love. Grade: B

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell

Scottish shopkeeper Iris Lockhart has received a most disconcerting inheritance: guardianship of a great-aunt she never knew existed – one who hasn't been outside since the 1930s. After 61 years locked in an asylum, Esme Lennox has been deemed safe to be released – but that has more to do with the fact that Cauldstone is closing than any change in her mental status. The novel starts quietly, but as Iris pokes around her family's past to discover what caused a teenage girl to be locked away, its sense of dread grows. Part gothic mystery, part feminist fable, "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox" is an entirely engrossing read. Grade: A–

The Quiet Girl, by Peter Hoeg