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Fiction Reviews: Week of 6/4/2007

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by Staff -- Publishers Weekly, 6/4/2007

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Maggie O'Farrell. Harcourt, $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-15-101411-8

O'Farrell (After You'd Gone) delivers an intricate, eloquent novel of family malice, longings and betrayal. Slim, stylish Iris Lockhart runs a dress shop in contemporary Edinburgh when she's not flirting with her stepbrother Alex or rendezvousing with her married attorney lover, Luke. Esme Lennox, meanwhile, is ready to be discharged from the soon-to-be-closed psychiatric hospital where she's been a patient (read: virtual prisoner) for 61 years. Iris becomes aware of Esme's existence when she's informed, to her disbelief, that she has been granted power of attorney over Esme by Kitty Lockhart, Iris's Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother. It turns out Kitty and Esme are sisters, but Kitty kept quiet about Esme after she was hospitalized at age 16. Layer upon layer of Lockhart family secrets are laid bare-the truth behind Esme's institutionalization, why her existence was kept a secret, and a twist involving Iris's parents-as Iris mulls over what to do with her new charge, and Esme and Kitty reconnect. O'Farrell maintains a high level of tension throughout, and the conclusion is devastating. (Oct.)

Lost Paradise
Cees Nooteboom, trans. from the Dutch by Susan Massotty. Grove, $23 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1855-4

Eminent Dutch novelist Nooteboom (All Soul's Day) weaves an imaginative tale of redemption from the intersecting lives of travelers. After surviving a gang rape in São Paulo, a young, affluent Brazilian woman, Alma, takes off for Australia with her best friend, Almut: the two plan to train as masseuses. Nooteboom then cuts to an embittered middle-aged critic, Erik Zondag, who is cast out of his home in Amsterdam by his fed-up younger girlfriend and sent to an Alpine spa in order to dry out and become a "different man." The first part of the novel tracks the two Brazilians as they travel though Australia with hope of stopping at the legendary Aboriginal Sickness Dreaming Place. Their Australian adventures take a turn involving the Angel Project, a multisite piece of participatory art in Perth. For the second part, Eric endures a punishingly ascetic stay at the Alpine spa, where he recognizes his masseuse. Framed by masterful reflections on misunderstandings in life and literature, Nooteboom's short work, at once delicate and chiseled, achieves a dreamlike suspension of time and place. (Oct.)

Fourth Comings
Megan McCafferty. Crown, $21 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-34650-6

Acerbic heroine Jessica Darling is faced with the post-college conundrum-what now?-in McCafferty's fourth (following Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings and Charmed Thirds). Her answer is to finally break it off with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Marcus Flutie, who, after cleaning up his drug habit, studying Buddhism and spending some time in Death Valley, is now at Princeton. But before she can break up with him, he pops the question, and she mulls her response for a week. The bulk of the novel is made up of Jessica's satirical observations on life in New York: the tiny room in a basement sublet she shares with her best friend Hope; her nonjob for a magazine that pays so little she has to mooch off of her older sister; her friends who convince her to go to a club where she is hit on by a seven-foot-tall drag queen named Royalle G. Biv. Though the acid descriptions of city life are as hilarious as in the previous books (her landlord says of her eyebrows: "Zey are like two desperate sperm trying to impregnate your eyeballs!"), the book lacks cohesion, and the ending is a letdown. Like cotton candy, it's sweet and fluffy but has no substance. (Sept.)

Selfish & Perverse
Bob Smith. Carroll & Graf, $24.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-78672-040-8

Standup comedian and television writer Smith, who published the Lambda Award-winning memoir Openly Bob in 1997, throws his hat into the gay fiction ring with this absorbing, funny and smoldering romantic comedy. Nelson Kunker, a miserably single, mid-30s unproductive novelist and Hollywood script coordinator for late night TV's Aftertaste, is burning out: endless cat-fighting at work, a boss from hell and the nagging notion that he's either "really talented or just gay." Safeguarded by best friend Wendy (a "gigantic" lesbian), Nelson's love life finally gets a boost after a chance meeting with burly Alaskan salmon fisherman-cum-student archeologist Roy Briggs, cousin to Aftertaste's star performer Joe Benedetti. The two are immediately smitten, but Nelson gets fired for smoking marijuana with sexually ambiguous guest star Dylan Fabizak, on parole and postrehab after a drug arrest. Cut to Nelson, Roy and Dylan at Roy's home in Coffee Point, Alaska, with all the sex, danger, salmon fishing lore and sarcastic dialogue one reader could want, and an appearance from mother-hen Wendy to sort it all out. Pithy zingers (and a fair share of apparently intentional groaners), a chatty gang of likable characters, a simple yet sexy plot line and camera-ready prose combine with panache in this immensely entertaining story. (Sept.)

Nikita Lalwani. Random, $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6648-3

In this penetrating coming-of-age debut from London-based Lalwani, 14-year-old Rumika Vasi struggles to fulfill her mathematical gifts and her family's demands on them, while also finding friendship and romance. Rumi, labeled "gifted" in kindergarten, becomes subject to the grim home teaching of her father, Mahesh, a professor of mathematics at the University of Swansea in Wales. The goal: to be accepted to Oxford by age 14. Shreene, Rumi's mother, resentfully accepts the household dominance of Rumi's studies while worrying about how to raise her to be a proper young Indian woman. Rumi longs to be in India, where lots of girls are good at math and where she feels at home among her extended family. The pull of romance is also soon part of Rumi's equation. Lalwani does a nice job with the myriad cultural contradictions: a bewildered Shreene, for example, resorts to "archaic" scripts from her childhood, leading her to tell Rumi that "[o]nly white people have sex" and that Indian babies come from prayer. Well done, too, is Rumi's warm relationship with India. Lalwani doesn't have characterization fully down, but the pain and confusion she presents are deeply felt. (Sept.)

Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans
H. Lee Barnes. Univ. of Nevada, $24.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-87417-721-3

War shows its human face in former Green Beret Barnes's mostly successful collection about veterans of Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Mogadishu and Iraq trying to get on with their civilian lives after experiencing the horrors of battle. In "Punishment," a former army medic, counting down his last hours on death row (he killed a policeman), relives the time he saved the life of an enemy soldier during the Panama invasion. In the title story, a black Desert Storm veteran finds his ordinary existence turned upside down when the victims of a serial killer are found buried around his house. And in the novella, "Snake Boy," a heroin-addicted, homeless Vietnam vet is kidnapped by a snake-handling evangelist who cures the vet of his addiction and forces him to join his traveling show. In several of the stories, the veteran angle seems peripheral, but the strongest pieces exemplify the words of one character who tells his daughter that "all we can do is invent myths to smooth the harshness." The lives on display here do just that in stories told with understated compassion and unexpected flashes of humor. (Sept.)

Susan Barnes. Turtle Point Press, $10 paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-933527-11-6

Three bright, punchy snapshots from poet and painter Barnes, first published in a limited edition in 1990, track a family's unconventional approach to divorce. The opening, "The Boat," finds the intact family in Alaska, where the young, female narrator lives with her veterinarian father; her dark, elusive mother; and her three sisters. The unnamed girl finds escape and contentment on a leaky boat out on the nearby river, leading to conflict with her protective father. In "Earthquake," the parents get a divorce, dividing the four girls up by ages. The narrator and her older sister, Linda, are sent to live with their father and grandparents in Waltham, Mass.-with predictable new-kid results. "Calling Home" records the later years in the eclipse of the narrator's liberty, signified by restrictions put on the girls as they attempt to skip school, join a church and explore the countryside around their house. What makes it work, beautifully, is Barnes's simple declarative style: "He cleaned up my hand in the kitchen sink. He didn't say anything." In these arresting vignettes, Barnes vividly portrays a youthful yearning for freedom. (Sept.)

The Pawn: A Patrick Bowers Thriller
Steven James. Revell, $19.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-8007-1896-1

In this riveting thriller, the first of a planned trilogy, James (Story) introduces FBI agent Patrick Bowers. His professional specialty is environmental criminology, which attempts to track lawbreakers by analyzing the significance of the time and place at which the crime occurred. When corpses of young women start turning up near Asheville, N.C., Bowers is called in. The killer's MO is to tie a yellow ribbon in his victims' hair and leave a chess piece somewhere on the scene. Bowers begins to suspect that the governor of North Carolina, rumored to be the next Republican presidential contender, is somehow connected to the murders, and that a cult with links to Jonestown might also be involved. Making matters trickier, the special agent supervising Bowers turns out to be a longtime colleague with whom Bowers has some bad blood. Bowers, a recent widower with a surly teenage stepdaughter to raise, tries to keep his grief and parental confusion at bay so that he can focus on the case as the killer targets more innocent women. Christian faith makes a subtle appearance in the story and appears to be a theme that will be developed in future installments. A gripping plot and brisk pacing will win James some fans eager for his next offering. (Sept.)

Adulteries, Hot Tubs & Such Like Matters
William McCauley. Permanent, $26 (152p) ISBN 978-1-57962-154-4

McCauley, author of two works of fiction set in Sierra Leone, turns to domestic matters in this disappointing collection of stories about the sexual appetites of middle-aged suburbanites. There is Morgan, who in "The Wedding Party" calculates the number of his "illicit climaxes" and discovers that he is "ninety-nine and seven-tenths percent loyal" to his wife; in "Allergies," Sandra, with her Bible on her lap, tells her husband she is allergic to his penis; in another story, Jack flirts with a naked woman in front of his wife. With few exceptions, the men are foulmouthed louts, and the women are either seductive or religious. McCauley occasionally conveys a powerful sense of isolation-the elderly religious fanatic in "The Gates of Sodom" and an old man with dementia who sits in front of the television in "Edna's Mission." But overall, the focus is on lust in its least complicated form. McCauley takes readers on a steamy and mildly entertaining romp through hot tubs and bedrooms, but the stories are thinner than a pair of pantyhose. (Sept.)

Biting the Apple
Lucy Jane Bledsoe. Carroll & Graf, $14.99 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-78671-927-3

Bledsoe's fourth novel delves deep into what happens when the construction of an image overtakes the living of a life. In high school in the early 1970s, Marianne Wade, estranged daughter of an itinerant preacher, shows a distinct talent for track. Her ability is developed for the Olympics by her coach (and husband and manager to-be) Nick Capelli, but when the U.S. boycotts the Moscow games, Marianne begins to drift, takes the name Eve Glass and eventually becomes a motivational author and speaker. Through Eve's reluctance to fully let go of Nick (after they divorce); her rebellion against her new manager's attempts to treat her as a "product"; her episodes of shoplifting and petty theft; the odd relationship she has with Joan, a female reporter she had a love affair with in high school; and her obsession with a poet, she becomes more than a once-promising athlete since fallen on hard times. With its emphasis on starting over, the novel juxtaposes prefabricated enlightenment and fake faith with real hope and one woman's authentic search to discover what matters. (July)

Agnes and the Hitman
Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. St. Martin's, $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-36304-8

Crusie and Mayer (Don't Look Down) reunite to pen this mostly successful romantic comedy with a hint of action-adventure. Agnes Crandall is a feisty food writer and cookbook author on her third fiancé, Taylor Beaufort. Though their future looks bright, their romance is curdling, partly due to their deal with widowed mob wife Brenda Fortunato (who is selling them her old house) to hold a Fortunato family wedding at their house in exchange for three months of payments. After an armed thug tries to kidnap Agnes's dog, who appeared in the local paper wearing a gaudy necklace that Agnes believes (incorrectly) to be junk, a Fortunato family friend (and mobster) asks hit man Shane to keep an eye on Agnes. (He does more, of course, than keep an eye on her.) Brenda, meanwhile, may be trying to screw Agnes out of the house, and then there's the matter of a body and $5 million possibly hidden in thebasement. Crusie and Mayer have crafted a bubbly novel with enough convenient coincidences, caricatured characters and ridiculous situations to make screenwriters of goofball date movies proud; amusing banter and surprising moments of poignancy keep the mushrooming plot barely in check. (Aug.)

Duck Duck Wally
Gabe Rotter. Simon & Schuster, $24 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4165-3786-1

Rotter relies heavily on black street slang for comic effect in his zany debut, starting with "chizapter 1." Wally Moscowitz, a self-described "frumpy, kinda chubby little boring man" living in Los Angeles, writes lyrics for rapper Oral B, the current star of Godz-Illa Records. When not penning lyrics full of four-letter words for Oral, Wally also writes dirty bedtime fables for adults, examples of which are sprinkled throughout the novel. Godz-Illa CEO Abraham "Dandy" Lyons has assured Wally that if anyone ever discovers that Oral B isn't writing his own lyrics, Wally will end up in a ditch. Soon, Wally's dog gets 'napped, goons are trying to kill Wally and everyone rushes to and fro against a backdrop of glitzy L.A. bizness thuggery. Rotter's a talented writer, though readers who find variations of the same joke funny enough to support the silly plot will be most rewarded. (Aug.)

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
Laurie Viera Rigler. Dutton, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-95040-0

Aclever time-travel setup functions as the prime attraction for this breezy debut novel. Courtney Stone, a single Los Angeles woman recovering from the double whammy of a broken engagement and a failed friendship, wakes up after a night of self-medicating with her "drug of choice," Jane Austen novels, to find herself in 1813 England. She's inhabiting the body of Jane Mansfield, a manor-born Englishwoman who, at 30, has yet to find a husband, confounding her humorless, "Miss Bossy-corset" stand-in mother. While still haunted by "real-life" memories, Courtney, as Jane, soon gets swept up in this Austenesque world of decadent meals and grand balls, gentlemen in "form-fitting knee breeches" and traveling with her friend Mary, whose brother, Charles Edgeworth, appears to have an interest in Jane that Courtney struggles to understand. As her identity starts to meld with Jane's, Courtney rethinks who she wants to be (and to be with) in any time period. While her 21st-century anachronisms can be comical, Courtney, for such an Austen "addict," is unconvincingly naïve about Regency norms. Fans of the ever-expanding inspired-by-Austen-lit garden party will find a winner here; it doesn't hurt that Austen has a brief, comical cameo. (Aug.)

The Intruders
Michael Marshall. Morrow, $24.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-123502-3

Bestseller Marshall (The Straw Men) outdoes his own high standards with this potent blend of suspense, paranoia and just plain creepiness. Jack Whalen, a former L.A. cop, is pursuing a new career as a writer in an idyllic small town just east of Seattle when weird things start to undermine his pursuit of the American dream. First, an old acquaintance from Jack's childhood suddenly turns up with a strange tale about a double homicide; then Jack's wife, an advertising executive, disappears briefly on a business trip. Is he going crazy, or is she leading some sort of secret life? And what about these disturbing spells he keeps having, these fleeting sensations of otherness, in which his own existence is unfamiliar to him? Meanwhile, down the coast in Portland, a nine-year-old girl having similar visions has gone missing. As Jack investigates, he stumbles onto a secret much darker than he ever could have anticipated. Marshall ingeniously threads these strands together into a provocative and supremely intelligent thriller that reads like a cross between Andrew Klavan and Philip K. Dick. (Aug.)

Waking with Enemies
Eric Jerome Dickey. Dutton, $24.95 (430p) ISBN 978-0-525-95038-7

Picking up where Sleeping with Strangers left off, Dickey's latest novel finds hit man Gideon in London, where another assassin, a mysterious man with a broken nose, is hot on his trail. Gideon's most recent target was a rapper, Big Bad Wolf. The rival rapper who hired Gideon for the hit, Sledge, was recently assassinated, and Gideon assumes he is the latest target. The nonstop narrative follows Gideon as he evades the assassin, searches for the truth about his hooker mother, continues his involvement with tough girl Arizona (who wants Gideon to kill her older sister), tries to figure out who ordered the hit on him and finds time for some explicitly chronicled fantasy sex. Though the revelations about who's behind what are a stretch and the ending is a little too much on the rosy side, there's a lot of fun to be had in watching Gideon work his brutal trade, and the high-octane narrative will have readers burning through page after page. (Aug.)

The First Commandment
Brad Thor Atria, $25 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4165-4379-4

Bestseller Thor's latest thrill-ride begins in anguish. Scot Harvath, navy SEAL turned Homeland Security superagent, sits at the bedside of girlfriend Tracy Hastings, who's in a deep coma after being gravely wounded at the end of Takedown. Meanwhile, five terrorists have been released from Guantánamo Bay as part of a secret hostage deal forced upon U.S. president Jack Rutledge. When one of the terrorists starts targeting Scot's friends and family, Scot discovers that the president won't allow the assassin to be hunted down. Soon enough, Scot is on the run from his own government and in pursuit of the killer. Many characters make appearances from earlier books, in particular Scot's ongoing nemesis, the fascinating, intelligence-gathering expert known as the Troll. It's a long, violent, shoot-'em-up, blow-'em-up pulse-pounder that will leave Thor's fans cheering and begging for more. (Aug.)

Evil, Inc.
Glenn Kaplan. Forge, $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-765-31618-9

Kaplan (All for Money) takes kill-or-be-killed business ideologies to psychopathic new levels in this deftly plotted corporate thriller. When hard-charging executive Ken Olson is promoted to divisional director of a floundering Ohio plastics manufacturer, he believes his career is finally on the fast track. Instead, he finds himself at the mercy of a ruthless CEO, a scheming board member and a charismatic vice president whose ambition is only surpassed by his amorality. Shortly after Ken's promotion, an explosion at the plant kills an estimated 1,000 people-including his wife and infant daughter-and amid rumors of safety violations and corruption, he's forced to resign. But when massive amounts of ammonium nitrate are found at the scene and two alleged air conditioning specialists are killed, Olson begins hunting the architect of the crime, making him a prime target for corporate heavyweights who will do anything to conceal the truth. It's Donald Trump meets Hannibal Lecter, with highly engaging results. (Aug.)

The End of the Alphabet
CS Richardson. Doubleday, $16.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-385-52255-7

An abrupt death sentence given to a 50-year-old London ad exec forces an uneasy deliverance in Richardson's smartly setup, poignant tale. Given less than a month to live, Ambrose Zephyr, alphabet-obsessed since childhood, decides to spend out his last days traveling around the globe from A to Z. Ambrose and his wife, Zappora Ashkenazi (the couple is childless), begin in Amsterdam, viewing art by Velázquez and Rembrandt that has been significant to them in their loving marriage, and now looks wholly transformed. The two move between the sweet memories of past love and an unreal present, from Berlin to Chartres, the Great Pyramids of Khufu to Istanbul; when Ambrose begins to falter and they return home to their Kensington terrace flat. Reality and good manners demand that they inform their respective employers and friends of Ambrose's condition, while Zappora, a fashion editor attempting to keep a journal of the couple's last moments together, endures until the end. Richardson's tightly focused tale has panache, shadowed by a brooding suspense. (Aug.)

Crooked Little Vein
Warren Ellis. Morrow, $21.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-072393-4

At the start of this dark, demented fiction debut from Ellis, the creator of DC Comics' Transmetropolitan and The Authority, the U.S. president's heroin-addicted chief of staff hires 25-year-old Lower East Side PI Mike McGill to find the "other" Constitution. This is "a secret document privately authored by several of the Founders" detailing "the real intent of their design for American society," which a debauched vice-president Nixon "lost" in the '50s. With "half a mill" in black ops money, Mike hires cute tattooed Trix Holmes to be his guide to America's deviant underworld, whence the 50-year-old cold trail begins. In their search for the missing document, "reputedly bound in the skin of the extraterrestrial entity that plagued Benjamin Franklin's ass over six nights in Paris," the pair make some wild pit stops in Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio, Tex.; Vegas; and, finally, L.A. The home of the free and the land of the brave has rarely looked so creepy in this snappily paced homage to William Burroughs's Naked Lunch. (Aug.)

Dangerous Admissions: Secrets of a Closet Sleuth
Jane O'Connor. Avon A, $13.95 paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-124086-7

Wielding "her weapon of choice, a lethally sharpened Cole-erase blue pencil," Miranda "Rannie" Bookman makes a dynamic sleuth in O'Connor's lively romantic suspense debut. The plucky freelance copyeditor and single mom is shocked when her son, Nate, becomes a suspect in the murder of A. Lawrence "Tut" Tutwiler, director of college admissions for the exclusive Chapel School on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Parents will kill to get their kids into "Chaps," where Nate's a senior and Rannie's taken a temporary part-time job. Will Chaps students also kill to get into the right university? Has recovering addict and former student Grant Werner come back for revenge? Or is the S.W.A.K. serial killer stalking the Upper West Side now targeting Chaps's faculty members? O'Connor, a veteran children's book author (Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy), proves she can also please adults with a fresh, grammatically correct crime solver equally adept at deleting dangling participles and exposing psychotic killers. (Aug.)

Patricia Wood. Putnam, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-15449-2

Perry Crandall has an IQ of 76, but is not retarded, as he'll have you know: his IQ would need to be less than 75 for that, and he knows the difference even if others may not. Perry, the 32-year-old narrator of Wood's warm-fuzzy debut, has worked at the same marine supply store for half his life and lives with his wisecracking grandmother Gram, whose gems of folk wisdom help him along. But when Gram dies, Perry's selfish, money-grubbing family members swoop in and swindle him out of the proceeds from the sale of her house-and then come a-knocking again when Perry wins $12 million in the Washington State Lottery. Suddenly everyone is paying attention to Perry, but who can he trust? Even his friends from the marine supply store behave differently, and on top of everything else, Perry finds himself falling for convenience store clerk Cherry, who has problems of her own. Despite his family's shenanigans and sinister maneuverings, Perry holds his own and discovers abilities he didn't know he had. The wisdoms here run more cute than deep, but Wood's light humor and likable narrator should have mass appeal. (Aug.)

The Cleft
Doris Lessing. HarperCollins, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-083486-9

Eminent novelist Lessing offers an alternative origin story for the human race, indirectly recalling the alternate world speculations of her Canopus in Argos SF novels. Positing that the primal human stock was female rather than male, Lessing invents a cult of ancient women called the Clefts, a name derived, in part, from that essential part of female anatomy. The story of the Clefts is bookended by the journal of a Roman historian, who interprets ancient documents stating that females were originally impregnated by "a fertilizing wind or a wave," to give birth to female children. But one day a "deformed" baby is born, with a "lumpy swelling" never seen before. The first rape and the first murder follow soon enough, as do the first instances of consensual intercourse and the babies-the first of a new race, with a nature derived from both sexes-that are the result. Humor, which may or may not be intentional, is introduced into a generally lethargic text when women and men discover they can't live with or without each other, and the battle of the sexes commences. The novel has elements of a feminist tract, but the story it tells doesn't present a significant challenge to that of Adam and Eve. (Aug.)

The Follower
Jason Starr. St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-35974-4

Murder stalks a love triangle in New York City in Starr's low-key thriller, his most crowd-pleasing novel to date. Katie Porter believes her encounter at the health club with Peter Wells is total chance. What she doesn't know is that Peter once dated her sister back in her hometown and has elaborate plans to marry her, after waiting a couple of weeks for the perfect romantic moment to pop the question. And she doesn't have a clue that her current boyfriend, Andy Barnett, is ready to dump her. A "twenty-three-year-old single guy in Manhattan," Andy is a male animal on the prowl, checking out all the action: "The clothes were loose, but it looked like she had a nice body-thin anyway, which was all that really mattered." Starr (Lights Out) is a master at capturing the minute-by-minute lives of vacuous yuppies, and he absolutely shines with these characters. When Peter decides he needs to eliminate the competition, this Looking for Ms. Goodbar suddenly becomes a very funny, dark social satire. (Aug.)

Bones to Ashes
Kathy Reichs. Scribner, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7432-9437-9

In bestseller Reichs's entertaining 10th Temperance Brennan forensic thriller (after Break No Bones), Brennan, her relationship with Det. Andrew Ryan on the rocks, welcomes the distraction of an unidentified New Brunswick skeleton from Québec's cold case unit. But when the bones are determined to be that of an adolescent girl, Brennan is convinced they belong to her childhood friend, Évangéline Landry, who disappeared at age 15. Now Brennan must come to terms with Évangéline's possible death, while trying to ignore her feelings for Ryan as they investigate a series of teenage abduction murders that could be tied to the mysterious bones. With her usual blend of cutting-edge forensic science, nail-biting suspense and characters that pop off the page, Reichs, who's vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists and the producer of Fox's Bones, has produced another winner in one of the genre's most satisfying series. (Aug.)

Austryn Wainhouse. Dalkey Archive, $12.95 paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-56478-467-4

In a 1960 essay on American ex-pats in Paris, Gay Talese mentions Austryn Wainhouse and his "strong, esoteric novel, Hedyphagetica," in which a one-eyed schlemiel named Dr. Samuel Johnson (not the Dictionary Johnson) becomes the most famous prisoner in the mythical country of Grön. The first and last sections of the novel are parts of a letter written by the unnamed "official historian" of Grön to his lover, Aimée, who stands high in the court of the "Accuser," Claude-Maxime, a crazed tyrant. The Accuser has kept the state in perpetual war since his coup d'état 39 years before and subjects the homeland to any number of repressions. Dr. Samuel Johnson, for one, was born to a wealthy, liberal family, was drafted into the army, served six years, and was then arrested for obscure reasons and sentenced to 14 years in a prison factory. Released, he was rearrested. Johnson's misery reflects the state's brutality, which may now have the populace at a boiling point. Structurally, Wainhouse's novel is a verbal gallimaufry that contains a prescient satire. His best writing is in the conversation of the characters, of which there is too little, but his targets are still legitimate. (Aug.)

The Way Life Should Be
Christina Baker Kline. Morrow, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-079891-8

Thirty-three-year-old New Yorker Angela Russo, dissatisfied with a career that amounts to "gliding across a smooth plateau of predictability" and fed up with "abysmal" blind dates, responds to an online personal ad written by Rich, a sailing instructor from Mount Desert Island, Maine. Angela begins to fall in love with the idea of Maine life just as much as she finds herself falling for Rich, and when her career suddenly goes up in flames, she moves to Mount Desert Island. Once she arrives, however, she learns that her vision of perfect New England life-and her perfect New England man-is far removed from reality. Rather than return to New York, Angela rents a rundown cottage and begins teaching an impromptu cooking class (based on recipes from her Italian grandmother). She befriends an eclectic handful of locals and carves out a new identity for herself. Initially, this tale of a lovelorn city girl out of her element feels like another foray into well-covered territory. But Kline (Desire Lines; Sweet Water) has a perfect sense of character and timing, and her vivid digressions on food (recipes are included) add sugar and spice to what could have been a stale premise. (Aug.)

The Other Mother
Gwendolen Gross. Crown/Shaye Areheart, $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-35292-7

Gross's third novel (following Getting Out) documents the front lines of the "Mommy Wars," but its real strength lies in exposing the complex inner battlefields motherhood can open up. Eight months pregnant Amanda, a successful children's book editor and dedicated New Yorker, picks up with her lawyer husband and moves to suburban Teaneck, N.J. Her new neighbor, Thea Caldwell, is a full-time mother of three who still lives in her childhood home and who arrives bearing brownies. When the newcomers take extended shelter in the Caldwells' basement following a damaging storm and, later, when Amanda hires Thea as her newborn's nanny, the growing intimacy between the two breeds resentment, bitterness and misunderstandings. The series of external crises designed to create tension and suspense are, in the end, less compelling than the women's own inner demons, revealed through alternating, and overlapping, first-person narration. Jersey resident Gross shows the strife between SAHMs (Stay at Home Moms) and WOTHs (moms who Work Outside the Home) to be a lot more nuanced than it's often portrayed. (Aug.)

The Devil's Labyrinth
John Saul. Ballantine, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-345-48703-2

Bestseller Saul (Suffer the Children) links an exorcism of the devil with a plot to kill the pope in this over-the-top religious thriller. When thugs at a Boston public high school savagely beat 16-year-old Ryan McIntyre, who's struggling with the death of his father in Iraq, Ryan's mother transfers him to a Catholic school. At St. Isaac's Preparatory Academy, where a student's disappearance and other bizarre events have caused worry, a popular priest, Father Sebastian, takes a special interest in the newcomer. When word reaches the Vatican that Sebastian may have revived a long-lost rite to invoke the primitive evil latent even in the most innocent, the supreme pontiff himself plans a visit to St. Isaac's. Those looking for a more subtle treatment of a similar theme might prefer Whitley Strieber's The Night Church, but Saul fans should be satisfied. (July)

Malcolm MacPherson. Melville (Consortium, dist.), $24.95 (375p) ISBN 978-1-933633-28-2

This rollicking political farce from former Time and Newsweek correspondent MacPherson is set between the fall of Baghdad and the capture of Saddam. Roguish hero Rich Gannon has advised the Bremer-like proconsul in Iraq, Ambassador Taylor, that the looting is serious, that the Iraqi army shouldn't be disbanded, and that the WMD are a figment of the White House's imagination. Taylor's assistant soon has Rich on a cargo plane to remote Erbil. Gannon, ever the improviser, quickly organizes a detour to Turkey for a discrete heist-but Rich and his cohort are arrested. Held in Iraq's National Stadium, Rich & Co. plot escape and a new scheme: faking a WMD to sell to the Coalition Authority. Meanwhile, other plots are hatching in the Green Zone among the ambassador's fraying staff. MacPherson, author of the nonfiction Afghanistan report Robert's Ridge, unfurls this knowing and indignant tale with ease, setting it against the background of Iraqi woe and of nod-wink romance. The book's caper set pieces are too garish, and weak characterization fails Rich in particular. But MacPherson effectively portrays the Green Zone as a zoo of ambition, backbiting and incompetence. (July)

The Judas Strain
James Rollins. HarperCollins, $25.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-076389-3

The special-ops trained scientists of Sigma Force battle the criminals of the shadowy Guild in bestseller Rollins's lively third Sigma Force thriller (after Black Order). An ancient and deadly plague, the Judas Strain (which afflicted Marco Polo), has suddenly re-emerged. Gray Pierce, a Sigma operative, and Seichan, a Guild defector, pursue clues to the nature of the plague to the Vatican, Istanbul (with a fine shootout in the Hagia Sophia mosque), Marco Polo's tomb and, finally, Cambodia's Angkor Wat. Meanwhile, Guild members hijack a cruise ship full of plague victims (to provide experimental subjects for the weaponizing of the plague), and Gray's parents are taken hostage (though the senior Grays prove feistier than their kidnappers reckon). Sophisticated the plot isn't, but Rollins includes more than enough action and suspense to keep readers turning pages. 8-city author tour. (July)


The Bloody Tower: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery
Carola Dunn. St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-36306-2

In Dunn's cunning 16th Daisy Dalrymple mystery (after 2007's Gunpowder Plot), the charming Daisy stumbles over the corpse of the Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London. Daisy and her husband, Scotland Yard's DCI Alec Fletcher, team up to unmask the killer. Daisy does all the really clever sleuthing, but she kindly allows her hubby to think he's putting things together himself. Things get tricky when one of the chief suspects, who may also be a blackmailer, disappears. And then there's the curious matter of the manner of death: the autopsy concludes that the Yeoman Warder died of a broken neck, so why was there also a partizan, or Yeoman Warder's halberd, sticking out of his back? Appropriate historical detail and witty dialogue are the finishing touches on this engaging 1920s period piece. (Sept.)

Dead Ex
Harley Jane Kozak. Doubleday, $21.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-51802-4

Holy Hollywood! In actor-turned-author Kozak's witty third crime caper (after 2005's Dating Is Murder), wild Wollie Shelley must solve the cold-blooded murder of terminally ill David Zetrakis, producer of the popular TV soap At the End of the Day. Tall, unarmed and sometimes very dangerous if provoked, Wollie's an underemployed greeting card artist who starts moonlighting as the dating correspondent for the talk show SoapDirt. Getting the dirt on David's killer, however, proves to be a major challenge. Wollie and her best friend, fellow Day actress Joey Rafferty, had both dated David, and Joey becomes the LAPD's top suspect when it turns out David bequeathed her a valuable Gustav Klimt painting. Wollie's faith in her friend is further tested when Joey's husband dies in a suspicious surfing accident and Joey disappears. A Greek mythology twist and crackling insider insight into the fascinating soap opera world enhance this clever whodunit. (Aug.)

The Dead Don't Lie: An Abe Lieberman Mystery
Stuart M. Kaminsky. Forge, $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-765-31602-8

MWA Grand Master Kaminsky's 10th Abe Lieberman mystery (after 2006's Terror Town) will mostly appeal to longtime fans. Lieberman, a living legend on the Chicago police force, is drawn into a series of murders centered on the search for a long-lost journal rumored to prove that the Turks were not responsible for the horrific massacre of Armenians in the early 20th century. His longtime partner, Bill Hanrahan, is preoccupied with the birth of his newest child as well as some amateurish thugs who stumble into a more complicated crime during an attempted mugging. In addition, Lieberman is distracted by the interplay of personalities at his family synagogue. The minor story lines distract from the central plot, which also suffers from a lack of plausibility, while the intended light touch won't work for all readers. (Aug.)

The Chardonnay Charade: A Wine Country Mystery
Ellen Crosby. Scribner, $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8992-4

Abizarre May frost threatens Lucie Montgomery's Virginia winery operation in this highly enjoyable sequel to Crosby's The Merlot Murders (2006). After spending the night keeping her vines from freezing, the easily peeved Lucie is less than thrilled to find the pesticide-contaminated body of Georgia Greenwood, a local politician, at the edge of her fields. Lucie leaves the investigating to the police, but is dismayed when her close friend Ross, Georgia's husband, becomes a suspect. What's more, the EPA disapproves of her cavalier handling of pesticides, and her younger sister is on the brink of alcoholism. Crosby illustrates the tension between Virginia old money tradition and the less prosperous newcomers to one of the nation's fastest growing areas. Some plot twists and romantic tension add body, developing into a smooth finish. The unusual setting and Crosby's able prose more than make up for a whiny heroine. (Aug.)

The Penguin Who Knew Too Much: A Meg Langslow Mystery
Donna Andrews. St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne, $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-32942-6

In Agatha-winner Andrews's deliciously daffy eighth Meg Langslow mystery (after 2006's No Nest for the Wicket), blacksmith Meg and her fiancé, Michael, are at last moving into their new house in Caerphilly, Va., assisted (and occasionally hindered) by Meg's vast clan of maternal relations. Then Meg's dad announces that, while digging a pool in the new house's basement for penguins fostered from a bankrupt local zoo, he has discovered a dead body. As the police investigate, more fostered animals arrive at Meg's place, and when the zoo's missing owner turns out to be the corpse, Meg has to sort out the mystery, along with her plans to elope and the problems relating to various animals roaming around her property. As usual, Meg takes the familial eccentricities in stride while coping with one crisis after another. Andrews demonstrates her absolute mastery of the comedic mystery, deftly balancing outrageously funny scenes with well-paced suspense. Author tour. (Aug.)

Kilt Dead
Kaitlyn Dunnett. Kensington, $22 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7582-1639-7

This promising first in a new series from the pseudonymous Dunnett, aka Kathy Lynn Emerson (Face Down Beside St. Anne's Well), introduces spunky Liss MacCrimmon, a 20-something dancer forced into early retirement by a knee injury. Adrift and depressed, Liss returns home to Moosetookalook, Maine, to help her aunt run a small store specializing in Scottish kitsch. Soon after she learns that the Scottish Emporium is in precarious financial shape, she discovers one of her former schoolteachers dead in the shop. Suspicions that Liss did the deed herself only grow when, much to Liss's shock, she turns out to be the woman's sole heir. Meanwhile, her first cousin is telling fibs about his job, neighbors gossip about sparks flying between Liss and her old buddy Dan, and a shady real estate developer may be using underhanded tricks to snap up local properties. Strong local color and a surprise ending will make this a hit with the cozy crowd. (Aug.)

The Day Will Come
Judy Clemens. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (244p) ISBN 978-1-59058-299-2

It may be hard to believe that Pennsylvania dairy farmer Stella Crown can make a habit of stumbling into murder cases, but her intense fourth adventure (after 2006's To Thine Own Self Be True) is reason to hope her bad luck continues. Stella and her boyfriend, Nick, join their friends Lucy and Lenny at a Philly concert hall to hear the Tom Copper Band, a rock group of local boys who've hit the big time and will soon head home to play at Lucy and Lenny's wedding reception. After a bomb threat clears the club, the band's lead singer, Genna, is found dead inside, and Stella's friend Jordan, the band's sound man and Genna's not-so-secret admirer, is the prime suspect. Clemens avoids making farm life too bucolic, while Stella, with her Harley, cows and engaging circle of friends, will appeal to cozy and more mainstream mystery fans alike. This is a solid addition to a series that improves book by book. (Aug.)

Madeline Mann: The First Madeline Mann Mystery
Julia Buckley. Midnight Ink (www.midnightinkbooks.com), $12.95 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7387-0906-2

Buckley's awkward second novel launches a new contemporary mystery series that reads like a throwback to the 1950s. Madeline Mann, a reporter for the small Illinois newspaper The Webley Wire, finds herself investigating the shooting of an old high school friend, Logan Lanford, who played in her brother Fritz's band. Lanford also spent some time as a high-level staffer in the office of Webley mayor Don Paul, and Mann is hot on the scent after she spots a car that resembles one seen at the murder scene. Numerous suspects abound, with fairly standard motivations-a pot crop, a corruption scandal, etc.-but Mann does little actual detecting, stumbling instead on the truth by chance. Hopefully, Buckley (The Dark Backward) will let her heroine do more serious sleuthing in the sequel. (Aug.)


Monster Planet
David Wellington. Thunder's Mouth, $13.95 paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-56025-867-4

Half horror, half fantasy and totally preposterous, Wellington's conclusion to his apocalyptic zombie trilogy (after Monster Island and Monster Nation) follows the efforts of teenage Sarah, one of Earth's few surviving humans after a global epidemic has turned most people into flesh-eating zombies, to rescue her former protector, Ayaan, from his zombie captors. Her quest brings her from the coast of Egypt to the shore of New York's Governors Island, and sets up the long-anticipated mortal-monster showdown with the Tsarevich, a zombie master whose evil genius and thirst for world domination have generated the series' most outrageously ghoulish contrivances. Fans will relish the monster mash finale, in which a Welsh sorcerer, a horde of animated mummies and a decomposing zombie army engage in a pyrotechnic firefight complete with heavy artillery. (Aug.)

Ilario: The Lion's Eye: A Story of the First History, Book One
Mary Gentle. Eos, $14.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-082183-8

Set in an alternative medieval world in which Carthage has survived to become a mighty empire, this impressive first in a new fantasy series from British author Gentle introduces a highly unusual protagonist, the hermaphrodite Ilario. A native of Iberia, Ilario is visiting Carthage en route to Rome, where he/she plans to serve as an apprentice to a master painter, when he/she is sexually violated and becomes the slave of Rekhmire', an amiable Egyptian and castrato by choice, who wants Ilario for his/her artistic abilities. Meanwhile, Ilario's mother, ashamed of her offspring's "deformity," schemes to kill Ilario. Eventually, Ilario hooks up with Masaccio, an actual pre-Renaissance artist, from whom he learns to paint in perspective. Gentle (A Secret History and other titles in her Book of Ash series) delivers a delicious twist ending involving Ilario's impending marriage that will leave readers eager for the next installment. (July)

Settling Accounts: In at the Death
Harry Turtledove. Del Rey, $26.95 (624p) ISBN 978-0-345-49247-0

Alternate history master Turtledove brings his 10-book saga of a Confederate Civil War victory to a satisfying if predictable conclusion. Outfought by the United States and their German allies (as anticipated in 2006's Settling Accounts: The Grapple), the Confederates finally surrender, ending WWII. Now the Southern states must be brought back into the Union after four wars and 80 years of independence. The victorious Northern forces wage a brutal occupation, ruthlessly retaliating against the local population for ambushes and car bombs. While the Union joyously punishes the persecutors of those Negro "residents" of the Confederacy who survived the Freedom Party's genocide campaign, it fails to remedy its treatment of its own black citizens. With Canada and the secessionist Mormon territories remaining under martial law, some readers may wish that Turtledove follows this time line into uncharted territory in yet another sequel. (July)

The Mirror of Worlds: The Second Volume of the Crown of the Isles
David Drake. Tor, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-1260-0

Three strong women on separate missions dominate this slow-moving middle volume (after 2006's The Fortress of Glass) in the trilogy slated to round out Drake's long-running Lord of the Isles series. Prince Garric's sister, Sharina, the wizardess Tenoctris and Ilna the witch-weaver face the lion's share of adventure, taking on tasks to help Garric reunite the Isles. The self-effacing Tenoctris must draw huge amounts of magical power to help Garric defeat a new enemy called the Last. Sharina abandons princessly femininity to mount an offensive against a city overwhelmed by the Last while her brother quests after the mythical Yellow King. Ilna, who's taken on the job of personally eradicating the catlike Coerli despite Garric's attempts to make peace with them, faces her prejudices against a society that mirrors her own. While "second book blues" bogs things down a bit, Drake balances it with vivid descriptions and lots of action. (July)

Valentine's Resolve: A Novel of the Vampire Earth
E.E. Knight. Roc, $23.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-451-46146-9

Knight flavors action with humor in this sixth Vampire Earth book (after 2006's Valentine's Exile). Some 50 years after the 2022 takeover of Earth by the Kurian Order, crumbling pockets of resistance are being stabbed in the back by Quislings, humans who sympathize with the Kurians, as members of the resistance struggle to fight off the alien Grogs and the vampiric Kurian avatars known as Reapers. The only hope for the Southern Command is resistance hero David Stuart Valentine, who is persuaded to undertake a hazardous journey to Seattle and locate the mystical Lifeweavers, helpful aliens captured by the Kurian. Along the way Valentine's resolve and faith in the movement are tested after learning one guerrilla leader's disturbing plans for Kurian-held Seattle. Classic apocalyptic SF on a grand scale is always scary, but Knight makes it terrifically entertaining as well. (July)

Warren Hammond. Tor, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-765-31272-3

Acorrupt policeman, an overgrown jungle city that gets only five hours of sun between 17-hour nights, and battling crime gangs set the extremely noir scene for Hammond's solidly constructed, fast-paced SF debut. In 2787, the impoverished colony planet Lagarto is a dead end, its economy destroyed by a trade imbalance that favors rich offworlders while natives go hungry. In Koba, Lagarto's largest city, aging street cop Juno Mozambe clings to the power and bribery gained by strong-arm tactics in his youth. His friend Paul Chang, chief of the Koba Office of Police, senses that rivals want them removed. As Juno teams up with new partner Maggie Orzo to investigate a murder by an apparent serial killer, he and Paul must also stop their long alliance with the Bandur cartel from being exposed. Hammond's writing is workmanlike with occasional terse highlights, offering rewards to fans of both crime novels and science fiction. (July)

The Devil You Know
Mike Carey. Warner, $24.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-446-58030-4

Aviolent ghost in a world where spirits are rarely mean-spirited is a clue to a deeper mystery in this engrossing dark fantasy debut from comics-writer Carey. Felix "Fix" Castor is an itinerant exorcist who (like a certain famous group of Hollywood ghost-evicters) alternates between dispatching spooks and doing stage magic at ungrateful children's birthday parties. When he's summoned to end a haunting at London's prestigious Bonnington Archive, he finds a vengeful specter with a blood-veiled face that resists methods for extirpating the usually docile dead. When Castor begins probing more deeply, he quickly finds himself harassed by a ravenous succubus, a belligerent fellow exorcist and a slimy Eastern European pimp. The resolution of this ingeniously multilayered tale will satisfy fans of both fantasy and detective fiction. Fix Castor's wisecracking cleverness in the face of weird nemeses makes him the perfect hardboiled hero for a new supernatural noir series. 10-city author tour. (July)

A Deeper Blue
John Ringo. Baen, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4165-2128-0

At the start of Ringo's darkly violent fifth Kildar novel (after 2006's Unto the Breach), Mike Jenkins, who's no longer a navy SEAL but still the Kildar, or feudal warlord, of the preternaturally competent Keldara warriors, withdraws into grief after the death of Gretchen Mahona, his lover and fellow soldier. When the U.S. president asks the Kildar to help track down shipments of nerve gas that jihadis are smuggling into Florida, he refuses, but gives permission for his subordinates to accept the mission. After they walk into an ambush, he's spurred to action, returning to center stage as a dangerous man whose humanity is in peril. It's up to the Keldara to guide their leader and friend back into the light and heal the wounds of his soul. Ringo counterbalances the angst with the joyous sangfroid of the pagan Keldara, who have once again become the warriors they were meant to be. (July)

Butcher Bird
Richard Kadrey. Night Shade (www.nightshadebooks.com), $14.95 paper (258p) ISBN 978-1-59780-086-0

Buffyand Angel fans are likely to enjoy Kadrey's offbeat supernatural romp, which blends demonic evil and quirky humor. The relatively normal life of San Francisco tattoo artist Spyder Lee goes thoroughly crazy when he's rescued from a mugger by Shrike, a mysterious blind woman who reveals that Lee's assailant was actually a demon. The wounds he suffered in the assault give him the ability to see the Dominions, other spheres of existence that regular mortals are unaware of. Soon Spyder finds himself hip-deep in demonic trouble, protecting his friend Lulu by offering his body to the organ-collecting Black and then dragging her off to join Shrike on a madcap journey to Hell, where they encounter monsters, Lucifer and even an alternate-time version of Lee himself. Kadrey (Kamikaze L'Amour) juxtaposes gore and brash insouciance in the face of apocalyptic evil, a blend that may not suit everyone's taste. (July)

Living Shadows: Stories: New and Preowned
John Shirley. Prime (www.primebooks.net), $14.95 paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8095-5786-8

In this collection of new and reprinted stories, Blue Öyster Cult songwriter and cyberpunk pioneer Shirley (The Other End) demonstrates his talent for blurring genre boundaries. The first section contains nonfantastic accounts of the darker side of humanity, including the quietly creepy "The Sewing Room," in which a woman discovers that her husband is a serial killer and is tormented by her conflicting responsibilities to her family and to justice, and "Seven Knives," a brutal tale born from the author's experiences of moral bankruptcy and narcissism in Hollywood. In the second section are stories with fantastic elements, including "Blind Eye," a continuation of a Poe fragment in which a lighthouse lamp reveals the hidden sins of the villagers living below, and the Lovecraftian novelette "Buried in the Sky," about a skyscraper complex built upon a pre-Aztec foundation. In Shirley's world, solitary characters go to desperate means to connect with others, never quite succeeding but still recognizable and poignant in their humanity. (July)

Mass Market

Twice the Temptation
Suzanne Enoch. Avon, $6.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-123147-6

Enoch fans will get a satisfying fix from her latest, a highly enjoyable double-feature about two couples living centuries apart, linked by their struggles with the same cursed diamond. In 1814, Evangeline Munroe must keep safe a storied family heirloom, the 169-carat Nightshade Diamond. Logical Evangeline dismisses her aunt's warnings-that the bauble brings bad luck to whoever holds it, good luck to whoever sets it aside-and feels vindicated when, sans jewel, her carriage crashes into another. But when the party of the second carriage, the marquis of Rawley, repeatedly turns up-with increasingly thrilling results-she begins to see the crash as anything but unlucky. Then, in 2007, Samantha Jellicoe and Rick Addison (series leads last seen in Billionaires Prefer Blondes) stumble upon the Nightshade while preparing Rick's estate for a jewel exhibit. Like Evangeline, Rick shrugs off stories of the curse-until a figure from Sam's past emerges, looking to make off with the jewels and Sam both. Enoch's crisp dialogue, smart characters and brisk plotting make this a solid, well-rounded read sure to please fans of both contemporary and historical romance-and perhaps give them a taste for the other side. (Aug.)

Pieces of My Sister's Life
Elizabeth Joy Arnold. Bantam, $6.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-385-34065-6

Arnold's winning debut centers on a pair of identical twins, Kerry and Eve Barnard, who once "had one face, one body," one friend (Justin) and any number of abandonment issues. Having been left by their mom at age seven, the still-smarting sisters are crushed when, 10 years later, their father drowns off the coast of their small Block Island, R.I. town. Though they've no one else to turn to but each other, the twins quickly drift apart; introspective Kerry clings to Justin, a few years their senior, and dreams of a future with him. Eve, a competitive flirt, schemes to win Justin for herself-while also pursuing a congressman and a police officer. The framing narrative finds Kerry looking back at the fateful summer from 13 years on and, while Eve is dying of cancer, struggling to face her sister and find peace for them both. It sounds confusing, but debut novelist Arnold never loses control of the complex interplay between past and present. Though a touch melodramatic, this well-observed story is vibrant and rich with the subtleties and nuances of family life; fans of Luanne Rice should clear a space in their beach totes. (Aug.)

Code Name: Bikini
Christina Skye. HQN, $6.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-77209-4

It's The Six Million Dollar Man meets The Love Boat in this fifth addition to Skye's energetic Code Name series (following Code Name: Blondie). Fresh from a northern Afghanistan war zone and worse for the wear, microchip-enhanced navy SEAL Trace O'Halloran has a new assignment guarding valuable human tissue samples aboard a luxury cruise ship en route to Mexico. Trace, who'd rather be in a northern Afghanistan war zone, grimaces his way through boarding and the first uncomfortable meal before meeting pastry chef Gina Ryan, a rising industry star who gets her kicks creating and plating a thousand crème brûlées a night. Unfortunately, Ryan's nascent celebrity has netted her an enemy in Blaine Richardson, the Cruella DeVille of beverage service. When a villain from Trace's past resurfaces, things go from bad to deadly. While the romance between Trace and Gina feels inevitable and uninspired, and the plot line barely plausible, it makes a fun, antic read. Series fans will find what they came for, but newcomers will want to save themselves some confusion by starting at the beginning. (July)

The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart. St. Martin's, $7.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-312-94098-0

For years, the three orphaned Fortune sisters, each endowed with a different magical ability, have been on the run from their evil aunt Xan. Dee, the oldest, is their shape-shifting protector; sullen middle child Lizzie has transmutative abilities (her latest aim is turning straw into gold); and self-satisfied Mare can move things with her mind. Aunt Xan, up to old tricks, uses a spell to send each girl her one true love-but if the sisters fall for these paramours, Xan will get her hands on their powers. What Xan doesn't count on is that the girls are wise to the plot and determined to beat their aunt at her own game. Unfortunately, the three novellas that spring from this solid premise are hobbled by too many characters (three sisters, three love interests, one freaky aunt) and too little space. As a result, exposition crowds out the story, giving each a rushed feel and a jarring conclusion. Despite the book's faults, it makes an enjoyable read; one hopes the authors' next collaboration will be on a single, full-length novel-or better yet, three of them. (July)


The Ride Home
Joey Weisser. AdHouse, $8.95 paper (166p) ISBN 973-0-9770304-4-X

Alittle story about a gnome named Nodo who's lost his house, which, in this case, is a van. In the course of the story, Nodo's van drives off, and he goes in search of the only home he's ever known. On the way, he meets Ferdinand, the sewer dragon, and Flora, a dark-haired gnome with her own little cottage. Nodo encounters a gnome village, which is so scrupulously clean and well ordered it resembles Amsterdam. Unfortunately, life there is full of "twelve-hour work days and gnomish tradition," so Nodo flees. He finally finds his van in a junkyard run by trolls, who then almost eat him. The art has a cartoony forthrightness, vaguely reminiscent of a child's coloring book, but it's not always clear (Ferdinand looks more like a wolf than a dragon, and the trolls are hard to place as anything more than generic baddies). A larger problem is that the story never takes off. Nodo's bumbling never becomes endearing, and the only characters that seem real are Flora and Ferdinand-one finds oneself rooting for the trolls. The story isn't hard to follow, just hard to believe in. (Aug.)

Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes: Volume 2
Camilla d'Errico and Joshua Dysart.Del Rey, $12.95 paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-345-50079-3

Hana is a lonely schoolgirl whose parents don't seem happy. She spends a lot of time fantasizing about meeting singer Avril Lavigne and admiring her classmate Brian from afar. At least she has Romeo, the wish-granting demon she ordered from Web site make5wishes.com. But is Romeo granting her wishes, or sowing chaos in her life? D'Errico and Dysart take the traditional "be careful how you wish" plot down a dark corner, as Hana wishes for her parents to be happy-and Romeo reveals an affair, breaking the family apart. Hana also wishes for Brian to notice her, and he does. But how will that go awry? Hana faces physical danger and emotional turmoil as Romeo whips her life out of shape. Hurtling toward a dark cliffhanger, this story will appeal to Avril fans and manga devotees, but also to more mainstream fantasy readers. The clever page layouts and excellent line work make this series easy to follow. Hana's classmates look completely familiar while Romeo comes off as terrifying, yet somehow cute. Though the plot is scary and sad, preteen girls will hang on to see what Romeo does next-and how Hana copes with it. (July)

Hoshin Engi Vol. 1
Ryu Fujisaki, Viz Media, $7.99 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4215-1362-1

In order to halt the efforts of the beautiful and evil Queen Dakki, a demon who wields a stranglehold over King Chu of the Yin kingdom, young demon hunter Taikobo must seek out 364 immortals living on the human plane and seal them away forever between the human and immortal realms. Defeating more than 300 demons is a tall order, so Taikobo teams with Hiko Cho, a superhuman fighter, to even the odds. If that sounds rather dense, it is. This is only the first volume in a sprawling fantasy epic based on a series of novels that were themselves based on Fengshen Yanji, one of China's literary classics, so there's no shortage of magical and martial arts action, lush landscapes and spectacular images. But it's slow going as the reader is bombarded with new characters and endless exposition, much of which is only nebulously explained. It's Fujisaki's art that made the original Japanese version a hit: a mix of old school dynamic storytelling with modern character designs for a compelling whole. (June)

Percy Gloom
Cathy Malkasian. Fantagraphics, $18.95 paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-56097-845-9

Malkasian is an accomplished animation director so it's a pleasant surprise that her first graphic novel is so literary. Her surreal world grapples with many deep themes. The eponymous character has always dreamt of working for Safely-Now, the company that puts warning signs on household objects. The road to Percy's dream job lands him in many weird situations with cults playing a major role in both his past and present. The entire Safely-Now operation seems to be run by maniacs, with the kindest people Percy meets the talking goats. Within all these imaginative creations lie ruminations on topics such as living a cautionary life, the value of life itself and imminence of death. It's an ambitious project, but Malkasian infuses the book with a mythic spirit that fits just right. The appealingly grotesque look-curved buildings and endless staircases-has a solidity that helps the strange world make sense on its own terms. The tinted duotone makes the book look like an instant antique. It's clear that Malkasian is more interested in cosmic questions than a tight plot, but since she weighs those questions so well, it's easy to appreciate how good this book is. (June)

King of Thorn Volume 1
Yuji Iwahara. Tokyopop, $9.99 paper (196p) ISBN 978-1-59816-235-6

In a world petrified by the Medusa virus, a syndrome that rapidly turns its victims to stone, only 160 people are selected to be frozen until a cure can be found. Kasumi's one, only she's a twin, and she's forced to leave her sister behind. As expected in stories of this sort, something goes wrong, and the frozen awake on their own, uncured, surrounded by monsters. Claustrophobic art captures the feeling of being trapped, out of place and pressed on by forces outside one's control, all without confusing the reader. Iwahara (Chikyu Misaki) is capable of both human caricatures and intimidating dinosaurlike monsters, action feats of daring-do and philosophical torment. An early near-riot sequence demonstrates that people motivated by fear remain the biggest danger, and poor, immoral choices result in immediate destruction. The resulting small group represents a variety of motivations: love of family, survival, greed, religion, protection of the innocent, fear of impending mortality. Kasumi struggles to learn just what she's capable of when pressed, aided by visions of her sister It's a gripping entry in the genre of violent survivor manga, such as The Drifting Classroom, that uses extreme situations to explore the question of human nature. (June)



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