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Far Away, I Land

Viki Alles-Crouch. Inkwater Press, $21.95 paper (370p) ISBN 978-1-62901-025-0

This novel follows the lives of a young Hungarian girl named Erzsike during World War II; a Sri Lankan boy named Prema, who is abused by his father; and Robert Cross, a British soldier haunted by war memories. Over the course of the book—which in its structure is somewhat reminiscent of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas—the many story lines and lives eventually converge. While Alles-Crouch excels at description—those of the Sri Lankan setting are particularly well rendered—the novel's pacing is uneven and some of its characters are too broadly drawn. Readers will likely be less curious about how the stories connect and more interested in getting a richer portrayal of the main characters.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Due Unto: Denmark Vesey's Story

K.F. Jones. Two Harbors Press, $24.95 paper (396p) ISBN 978-1-62652-732-4

Denmark Vesey is known to history as the leader of an attempted slave revolt in Charleston, S.C., in 1822. This novel from Jones depicts Vesey's life: his youth, his enslavement, his emancipation, and his re-enslavement. Later, while in Charleston, in 1799, Vesey won a lottery prize that allowed him to buy his freedom, though he was later arrested and executed for planning the slave revolt. Jones creates a plausible depiction of Vesey's life and struggle, as well as ably rendering the tragedy and indignation of slave life. While the addition of a love story slows the novel's pace and is somewhat distracting from the central narrative, fans of historical fiction will find Vesey's story fascinating and well told.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Tight Grip: A Novel About Golf, Love Affairs, and Women of a Certain Age

Kay Rae Chomic. She Writes Press, $16.95, paper (225p) ISBN 978-1-938314-76-6

When 46-year-old local golf celebrity Jane "Par" Parker is arrested by Deputy Dee Dee Virgil for driving under the influence, the incident becomes front-page news. And while Par is still determined to win an upcoming golf tournament, she finds herself forced to confront her marriage to alcoholic Nick, the anniversary of her father's murder, and herself. Chomic's novel may appeal to fans of the genre, but it suffers from an unlikable protagonist. Additionally, a lack of tension, predictable plotting, and underdeveloped characters will prevent many readers from ever fully engaging with Par and her struggle.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost Key

Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison. Putnam, $26.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-399-16476-7

Coulter and Ellison's suspenseful sequel to 2013's The Final Cut finds Nicholas Drummond, once a New Scotland Yard star, now an FBI agent based in New York City. On his first day on the job for the FBI, Nicholas and his partner, Mike Caine, investigate a fatal stabbing in downtown Manhattan. The victim, Jonathan Pearce, was an antiquarian who owned extremely valuable books that he refused to sell. He was also a military historian—but that doesn't adequately explain his possession of classified intelligence material. The victim's beguiling daughter, Sophie Pearce, is a translator at the U.N., and Nicholas wonders if her professional ties might have something to do with papa's murder. Meanwhile, Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, Alfie Stanford, drops dead. Can this be a coincidence? The authors' sophisticated third-person narration smoothly propels the action to the exciting climax. Readers may want to see a little more of the charming Mike Caine in the next installment. Agent: Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black Hat Jack

Joe R. Lansdale. Subterranean (www.subterraneanpress.com), $25 (128p) ISBN 978-1-59606-677-9

Based on a true story, this novella-length Western from Lansdale (The Thicket) offers a potent concoction of witty repartee and a rousing battle. Black Hat Jack and Nat, who goes by Deadwood Dick, make an unlikely pair. Although the former is white and the latter black, the difference in their skin color matters little to them as they ride into Adobe Walls, Tex., after discovering a man killed by Comanche Indians. Soon violence breaks out as the Indians attack the town. While their ammunition may run low, Nat's keen wit stays fully loaded throughout the skirmish. In fact, Nat's acerbic narration proves more diverting than his fighting prowess, as he remains more of an observer than a participant through much of the fight. Lansdale's classic Old West tale hits all the requisite plot points with the exuberance of a cowboy who has an overeager trigger finger, though it skimps on the necessary dose of buddy cowboy mischief that would make readers care more for the amusing duo. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tita

Marie Houzelle. Summertime, $25 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-940333-01-4

In Houzelle's first novel, Tita is a seven-year-old girl growing up in the south of France in the 1950s whose life seems to be defined by obstacles: the many foods that disgust her, the school that fails to challenge her, and parents who struggle to understand her. Tita is precocious and clever, but in some ways painfully inept. She is thoughtful but frail—obsessed with rules and rituals, and determined to understand the nuances. Through Houzelle's sharp, straightforward prose (which captures Tita's perspective), the story of how Tita grows takes center stage. She learns the alternatives to those things that have held her back or held her down. She challenges social strictures that she feels are meaningless. She battles her mother to get what she wants, and when sometimes that turns out to be the wrong decision, she acknowledges it. At the novel's end, Tita is still a little girl, but her brilliance, potential, and unusual way of looking at the world will have won readers over. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Flings

Justin Taylor. Harper, $23.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-231015-6

In this luminous collection of short stories, Taylor (The Gospel of Anarchy) takes on the theme of the constancy of self amid the ephemeral relationships that make up our lives. In "Adon Olam," a young counselor at a Jewish summer camp confronts his anger toward the surviving twin brother of a childhood friend; "A Talking Cure" finds two Ph.D. students navigating the waters of each other's sexual pasts. "Gregory's Year" reunites a restless, aspirational rock-star with high-school friend Kara, "a B-lister from the old vanished Hollywood of his adolescent porn dreams." Academics and pizza shop employees, the self-aware and the painfully deluded, a retiree, children at play in a Florida swimming pool—Taylor shows them all struggling with the daunting task of understanding love before it escapes them. The result is contemporary, intelligent, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. These stories, by turns witty and piercing, together form an uncommon portrait of the human heart. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sight Unseen

Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen. St. Martin's, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1250020529

In this edgy sequel to Close Your Eyes (2012) from the bestselling mother/son Johansens, Dr. Kendra Michaels, a music therapist who was born blind but regained her sight at age 20, uses her acute senses of smell and hearing, as well as her extraordinary aptitude for reading people and interpreting crime scenes, to track ann unusual serial killer. When four people die in a three-car pileup on San Diego's Cabrillo Bridge, Kendra immediately realizes this was an act of murder. Furthermore, the staged-accident bears the hallmarks of another case of hers in Texas. At a meeting at San Diego's FBI headquarters, she learns of two other recent murders whose details mirror previous cases she has worked on. Other homicides connected to Kendra's past cases follow. When the current crimes are linked implausibly to a serial killer awaiting execution on death row, she has to face the first killer she put away. Kendra gets ample opportunities to display her deductive skills, fend off the advances of dangerously attractive former FBI agent Adam Lynch, and risk all to protect and save those she loves in this flashy romantic thriller. Agent: Andrea Cirillo, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Amado Women

Desiree Zamorano. Cinco Puntos, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-935955-73-3

Debut novelist Zamorano's family drama purports to offer alternatives to Latina stereotypes, but winds up relying on shallow characterizations and easy targets. The three Amado sisters couldn't be more different: career-driven Celeste has been focused solely on money and investments ever since she suffered a tragedy years before; perfect wife and mother Sylvia secretly suffers physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her non-Latino husband; and Nataly, the baby sister, struggles to make ends meet as an artist and waitress. As the sisters rally around a crisis affecting Sylvia's family, individual and family secrets are dredged up, including a feud between Nataly and Celeste and a long-buried sorrow from their mother Mercy's past. The narration proceeds somewhat jerkily between past and present and among the women's points of view. There is little character development here, and characters' motivations are frequently unclear and their behaviors unexplained. Most troubling, however, is that this novel supposedly valorizing girl power does so at the expense of all of the male characters, who are, to a man, cruel, unfaithful, duplicitous, or all three. (July)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Cut-Like Wound

Anita Nair. Bitter Lemon, $14.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-908524-36-2

In this exceptional police procedural, Indian author Nair (The Better Man) adds yet another middle-aged, crisis-stricken, and world-weary detective to the contemporary mystery canon. Bangalore's Insp. Borei Gowda is an honest man, his integrity earning him only marginalization within a system increasingly flooded by abandoned investigations and crooked officers solely pursuing the power of the uniform. Gowda's superior would prefer to ignore a series of grisly strangling murders, but that doesn't stop Gowda and his idealistic young assistant, Santosh, from doggedly unraveling a web of political corruption involving a fanatical local official and a subculture of "hijras"—transgender individuals often driven to prostitution in the city's shadowy underbelly. Nair immerses her readers in Bangalore's alluring and sinister mélange of Hindu and Moslem cultures, revealing a people afflicted by the inability to allow unqualified praise for anything or anyone. Complex, psychologically deep characters are a plus. (July)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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