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Here I Am

Jonathan Safran Foer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (592p) ISBN 978-0-374-28002-4

Great-grandfather Isaac Bloch's voice opens Foer's intensely imagined and richly rewarding novel. What follows is a teeming saga of members of the patriarch's family: Isaac's son, Irv, a xenophobic, self-righteous defender of Israel who claims that "the world will always hate Jews"; his grandson, Jacob, achingly aware that his decade-plus marriage to Julia is breaking down; and Jacob and Julia's son Sam, whose imminent bar mitzvah may be cancelled if he doesn't apologize for the obscene material discovered in his desk at Hebrew school. The Blochs are distinctively upper-middle-class American in their needs, aspirations, and place in the 21st century. Foer excels in rendering domestic conversation: the banter and quips, the anger and recrimination, and Jacob and Julia's deeply felt guilt that their divorce will damage their three sons. Things are bad enough in the Bloch family when world events intervene: a major earthquake levels the Middle East, spreading catastrophic damage among the Arab states and Israel. In an imaginative segment, Foer depicts the reaction of the media when Israel ceases helping its Arab neighbors to save its own people and the Arab states unite and prepare for attack. The irony is evident: Irv, the fearmonger, has been proven correct. Foer (Everything Is Illuminated) fuses these complex strands with his never-wavering hand. Throughout, his dark wit drops in zingers of dialogue, leavening his melancholy assessments of the loneliness of human relationships and a world riven by ethnic hatred. He poses several thorny moral questions, among them how to have religious faith in the modern world, and what American Jews' responsibilities are toward Israel. That he can provide such a redemptive denouement, at once poignant, inspirational, and compassionate, is the mark of a thrillingly gifted writer. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/17/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman

Mamen Sanchez, trans. from the Spanish by Lucy Greaves. Atria, $23 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1885-2.

Sanchez offers her first novel in English, a lighthearted, madcap romantic comedy set in 2012 Madrid, beginning with the three-month disappearance of a proper, stuffy Englishman on an unpleasant mission. Atticus Craftsman, son of a wealthy British publisher, is sent to Madrid to close the company's failing Spanish-language literary magazine, Librarte, and fire its staff of five women. The women, led by their redoubtable editor, Berta Quinones, are frantic with worry and desperate to save their jobs. They concoct a goofy plan to distract Atticus while they think up a way to change his mind. Atticus is clueless, gullible, and easily manipulated by Solea, the prettiest staffer, accompanying her to Granada with the promise of a hidden literary treasure, the unpublished poems of famed poet Garcia Lorca. His sudden disappearance alarms his father and draws the attention of Inspector Manchego, a Madrid police detective whose curiosity is only matched by his incompetence and his lust for Berta. Meanwhile, one of the five women hides a secret, the reason for the magazine's failure. Hilarious deceptions lead to slapstick fistfights, chases, errant gunshots, and passionate declarations of love. This is a tremendously entertaining read. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Still Here

Lara Vapnyar. Random/Hogarth, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-90552-4

When Vica, a Russian immigrant, brings her son to take an entrance exam for an elite Manhattan high school, she observes the other parents: “You could easily divide them into two categories: Susan Sontag types and Outer Borough types.” Such discernments reflect Vapnyar’s (Memoirs of a Muse) hilarious and weighty insights as she explores familiar yet endlessly fascinating territory: the banalities of American life through the lens of Russians who may not think coming to the U.S. was actually the best choice. In this novel, Vica, who was a promising medical student in Moscow but now works as a sonogram technician, is one of four main characters. Her husband, Sergey, who has been “steadily losing his looks for the last year or two,” is fixated on creating an app he hopes will make him rich and redeem his general mediocrity. The app, a potential gold mine, as well as the inherent loneliness of social media, is a powerful theme throughout the book, as Vapnyar writes convincingly about technology’s impact on her characters, offering a brilliant critique of it. As Vica and Sergey’s marriage unravels, the book also explores their friendship with two other Russians: Vadik, a lonesome computer programmer, and Regina, who had been a highly sought-after translator in Russia but whose American life has left her despondent and watching lots of TV. The novel provides a lively view of a group of friends navigating their early 40s, juggling mistakes of their past and trying to remain hopeful about the future. Once again, Vapnyar illustrates her incredible ability to create rich and entertaining narratives. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Far from Home

Lorelie Brown. Riptide, $16.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-62649-452-7

The oddest of odd couples finds unexpected joy in Brown’s warm, sweet contemporary romance. American citizen Rachel, a not-quite-asexual assistant film producer struggling to make a living in L.A., is drowning in student debt; Indian immigrant Pari Sadashiv, a lesbian logistics manager, needs a U.S. green card to advance her career. When Rachel offers to marry Pari in exchange for funds, it’s just party banter at first—but what’s to stop them from crafting a friendship with legal and financial benefits? Their platonic plans quickly go awry as Pari’s mother moves in to help plan the wedding, forcing them to live their lie. As Rachel feels herself awakening to an attraction she didn’t even know was possible, Pari has to decide whether she can live with the possible fallout of Rachel’s tentative first foray into same-sex love. The cultural elements feel real, interesting, and important in the context of the story. The slow blossoming of Rachel and Pari’s relationship is hot and delicious, and the romance is excellently seasoned with the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship on Pari’s side and Rachel’s struggles as a recovering anorexic. Brown deftly handles Rachel’s unreliable narration, drawing readers deep into the women’s tender romance. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Obelisk Gate

N.K. Jemisin. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-22926-5

In this compelling, challenging, and utterly gripping work that combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, Jemisin draws readers deeper into the extraordinary setting and characters she introduced in The Fifth Season. In the world called the Stillness—which the first book hints may actually be our world, thousands of years in the future—orogenes are hated and feared for their ability to control the geological forces that shape the land. Powerful orogene Essun desperately searches for her eight-year-old daughter, Nassun, who was stolen away by her father. He hopes to find someone to “fix” the girl and excise her burgeoning orogene talent. But Essun’s search is interrupted by her old mentor, Alabaster. Alabaster is dying, and he hopes to use Essun’s powers to end the current “season,” a disastrous change in global climate that could destroy all life, by recapturing the planet’s long-lost moon, whose absence is the cause of the ironically named Stillness’s geological instability. While Essun and Alabaster struggle to save the world, an ancient entity with very different goals begins gathering its own crew of young orogenes—and it has Nassun, who in this volume becomes a character as troubled, complex, and fascinating as her mother. The Stillness and those who dwell there are vividly drawn, and the threats they face are both timely and tangible. Once again Jemisin immerses readers in a complex and intricate world of warring powers, tangled morals, and twisting motivations. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Time of Torment: A Charlie Parker Thriller

John Connolly. Atria/Bestler, $26.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1832-6

As in the best noir, the violent events that propel the plot of Connolly’s grim but compelling 14th novel featuring PI Charlie Parker (after 2015’s A Song of Shadows) are triggered by a seemingly innocuous choice. Jerome Burnel, a jewelry store manager, in the middle of an armed robbery at a gas station outside Portland, Maine, manages to kill the criminals and save the intended victims. Two months later, someone frames Burnel by planting child porn in his house. During his subsequent imprisonment, Burnel is violated repeatedly by a sadist who says that he works for an entity known as the Dead King. After Burnel’s release, he hires Parker to look into who set him up so he’d go to prison, only to disappear soon afterward, leaving the sleuth another mystery that takes him down some extremely mean streets. Connolly again displays his mastery at combining the hard-boiled with the supernatural. Eloquent prose is a plus (“A man driving on a dark fall evening, a gas station appearing in the distance: to stop or go on. On such decisions were lives saved, lives ended, and lives destroyed”). Agent: Darley Anderson, Darley Anderson Literary (U.K.). (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jump

Michel Sauret. One Way Street, $12.95 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-5228-1734-5

Sauret’s raw and bold coming-of-spiritual-age story closely examines the ups and downs of several different varieties of worship through the eyes of a young man on the cusp of adulthood. Christopher Dove was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family in central Pennsylvania, an upbringing that not only informed his daily life, but also the larger decisions for college about what vocation to pursue when he left home. His questions about God started during his childhood—but he could never give them voice, due to his domineering father. Once he escapes his father’s home, he begins his faith journey, though it’s not without difficulties and heartache. Each time he thinks he may have found God, he only finds more questions. This stark and at times painful tale of questions with no easy answers doesn’t shy away from confronting difficult topics such as sexual assault, human trafficking, and racism. The often graphic depictions of the events in Christopher’s life manage to maintain a sense of beauty beneath the overwhelming darkness. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Where Hope Prevails

eannette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan. Bethany House, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1784-5

The mother/daughter team of Oke and Oke Logan continue their Return to the Canadian West series with Beth Thatcher back in Coal Valley. The budding town’s growth has led to the need for two teachers. Atheist Robert Harris Hughes agitates Christian Beth with every action and word, and his secular views lead Beth to fear the impact he will have on the children at her school. The residents of Coal Valley, however, embrace him without reservation, first voting him onto the newly formed city council and then electing him mayor. When Jarrick Martin proposes to Beth, he seems set on resigning his commission with the Canadian Mounties and moving the couple east to Ontario. Jarrick’s decision puts Beth’s commitment to Coal Valley and her desire to be a faithful wife at odds. For readers unfamiliar with Jeannette Oke’s previous books about the Thatcher family (When Calls the Heart), limited background is given for certain references. This tender story will please fans of historical fiction as well as readers looking for ruminations on difficult matters of faith, forgiveness, and commitment. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Magnolia Moonlight

Mary Ellis. Harvest House, $14.99 ISBN 978-0-7369-6173-8

Beth Kirby is an ex-cop turned PI with a past she’d like to forget, and training nerdy accountant Michael Preston is the last thing she wants to do. When their boss, Nate Price, goes on his honeymoon in Bay St. Louis Miss., she and Michael are left to partner up on a case featuring a pastor who committed suicide and embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his church. The reverend’s widow, however, believes her husband was murdered and demands the truth be found. Despite her emphatic beliefs, the evidence points in all the wrong places. Meanwhile, Nate’s romantic getaway takes an unexpected turn with the appearance of his wife’s ex-husband. Fearing he may be relapsing into his gambling addiction, Nate does his best to help the struggling man, unaware of his larger problems. While the honeymooners deal with their unwelcome guest, Beth and Michael investigate the suspicious pastor’s death . Ellis’s (What Happened on Beale Street) tightly plotted mystery is exciting and involved. The humorous banter between Beth and Michael keeps the story light, and the growth of their relationship feels natural alongside the more remarkable circumstances of the pastor’s death. A fine balance of suspense and romance. Agent: Mary Sue Seymour, The Seymour Agency (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Guide Me Home

Kim Vogel Sawyer. WaterBrook, $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-73139-5

Two years after her brother Andy’s death from an accident after running away from home, Rebekah Hardin still feels responsible for not being able to help him and heal her large family. To ease the financial burden on her parents—and the burden in her heart—Rebekah sets off to find a job at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, where she wins over Tolly Sandford, the head guide, and becomes the newest cave tour guide. The aspiring cartographer Devlin Bale also comes to Mammoth Cave with plans to spend his summer mapping the massive cave and surveying the surrounding land for a new National Park—which could give his father a boost in the upcoming Senate race. Despite their differences in class, Sawyer’s (When Love Returns) characters have a genuine admiration for one another in this heartwarming tale. Rebekah doesn’t just notice Devlin’s “soft-looking curls the color of spun honey,” but also his ability to re-create “the flow of the tunnels and caverns and domes of Mammoth Cave.” But when true intentions are revealed and tragedy threatens to strike, Rebekah’s growing friendship with Devlin is put into question. Even then, her first concern is for others around her: Tolly’s safety in the cave, her family’s well-being, and Devlin’s spiritual welfare. Sawyer integrates real-life facts about Mammoth Cave to make this an informative and enjoyable read. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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