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A Swollen Red Sun

Matthew McBride. Open Road/MysteriousPress.com, $14.99 trade paper (254p) ISBN 978-1-4804-8575-4

Set in Missouri's Gasconade County, once labeled the methamphetamine capital of the world, this smoldering tale pits cop against dope dealer/desperate redneck against even more desperate redneck. In this rural area, "White-trash pharmacies run from beaten-down mobile homes at the end of dead-end roads would always trade pills for dope." Deputy Sheriff Dale Everett Banks finds $52,000 in the trailer of meth dealer Jerry Dean Skaggs, and decides to keep it. Jerry Dean needs that money to keep his secret partners happy. The plot spreads out to include more and more county residents, even Butch Pogue in his hilltop compound where he practices a weird religion and keeps his latest "wife" locked in the cellar. You know you're talking authentic hillbilly when the main characters each weigh 300 pounds. Gasconade local McBride (whose previous book was the cult favorite Frank Sinatra in a Blender) gives Breaking Bad fans more down and dirty meth action. (June)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Starfire

Dale Brown. Morrow, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-226239-4

Bestseller Brown's exciting 19th entry in his loosely connected techno-thriller series (after 2012's Tiger Claw) focuses on Bradley McLanahan. As a precocious and well-connected engineering student at California Polytechnic State University, Bradley devises, with the help of his brilliant team of young scientists and fellow classmates, the blueprint for Starfire, an unparalleled source of solar energy in Earth's spatial orbit. The project at first sounds like a teenager's imaginative daydream, yet President Kenneth Phoenix's intention to turn the Armstrong Space Station into a weapon of mass destruction suddenly puts Bradley in the crosshairs of the dangerous Russian government. Entangled in a potentially catastrophic war stretching to the outer reaches of space, Bradley and his friends must formulate a new plan—one that could potentially save all mankind. While encumbered by too much jargon and a dizzying number of characters and plot developments, the novel does manage in its descriptions of spaceships, warfare, and the so-called "final frontier." (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Business of Naming Things

Michael Coffey. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-934137-86-4

The riveting prose in Coffey’s first collection of stories leaves the reader feeling unsettled and unmoored. In “Sunlight,” a man named Michael who works for Publishers Weekly (where Coffey was co-editorial director before retiring earlier this year) visits Harold Brodkey as he’s dying of AIDS. Michael believes that being an adoptee is the “source of all his problems” and asks Brodkey, who’s also an adoptee, whether being adopted prevented him from writing a “conventional narrative.” This sense of unrest and disquiet adds depth to the eight stories, which are varied but share certain themes, returning repeatedly to relationships between fathers and son and husbands and wives. There is no conventional narrative here. Coffey brilliantly examines the efforts of a mother to cope with her son’s death in “Moon Over Quabbin”; he uses the J.F.K. assassination as a backdrop to a tale about a sinful priest in “Inn of the Nations”; and, in “Sons,” he explores a difficult father-son relationship in the context of a possible Obama assassination attempt. This collection, which features first-, second-, and third-person narration, is vibrant and unsparing. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Golden Hour

Todd Moss. Putnam, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-399-16860-4

Set largely in West Africa, Moss’s outstanding debut stars an Amherst college professor turned diplomat, Judd Ryker. An expert in conflict and coup-risk metrics, Judd believes in the Golden Hour principle: international political trauma can be reversed if dealt with swiftly and professionally. His timetable on coups d’état is 100 hours. When he’s named the director of a new State Department Crisis Reaction Unit just hours after a coup in Mali, where he once was part of a survey team assessing community water-management in Kidal, his theory is immediately put to the test. But Judd quickly realizes that every organization and country with an interest in Mali has an agenda—and he soon finds himself inundated with misinformation and treated as a pawn in a game where the stakes are about more than simply securing a country’s political freedom. An intriguing cast of morally dubious characters, an intricately constructed plot, and a tantalizing cliffhanger make this thriller a page-turner of the highest order. Advance praise from Douglas Preston, W.E.B. Griffin, John Sandford, and Francis Fukuyama bodes well for the book’s success. Author tour. Agent: Josh Getzler, HSG Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Under a Turquoise Sky

Lisa Carter. Abingdon, $14.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4267-5802-7

Carter (Carolina Reckoning) has a promising enough premise. Federal agent Aaron Yazzie, a Navajo, must protect Kailyn Eudailey, a temperamental Southerner who has witnessed the murder of her friend, the wife of a Latino gang boss. Aaron hides Kailyn with his grandmother in Navajo Nation, the two pretending they are married. The challenge is to stay safe and to get along, the latter being harder for two prickly, wounded souls. Too much formula mars a plot with decent romantic tension and two complex, engaging characters: a murder that’s an unfortunate cross between Breaking Bad and Legally Blonde (complete with little dog); unbelievable jealousies; a second, unexpected villain; and too many very good people who are churchgoers. On the plus side, Carter has done good research into the Diné (Navajo) people and provides intriguing cross-cultural tension. The dog is a fairly obvious symbol (it was abused), but in time becomes a charming agent of effective comic relief. Agent: Tamela Hancock Murray, Steve Laube Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Nowhere to Turn

Lynette Eason. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2209-8

Eason’s second novel in the Hidden Identity series (after No One to Trust) opens suspensefully: in the middle of Danielle Harding’s plan to escape her abusive husband, he unexpectedly sends his brother Stuart to fetch something from the safe she has already emptied. From there, the suspense never lets up. Dani manages to get away, picking up Simon, her deaf son, as planned, but on the same day, her husband is killed. Now the danger escalates. Stuart is stalking them; no matter where they go, he or his henchmen turn up to threaten their very lives. When Dani finally calls Operation Refuge, a government-sanctioned protection program, Adam Buchanan and his team promise to help her and stop Stuart’s gang’s advances. But despite OR’s best efforts to take her undercover, Dani’s pursuers track them down. How do they keep finding them? Adam and Dani value family deeply: both are forced to sacrifice much to protect loved ones, heal damaged relationships, and stop evil. Readers will be on the edge of their seats till the final chapter. Agency: Steve Laube Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Magnolia Market

Judy Christie. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-310-33057-8

“There’s been a change in plans”: those six words throw Avery Broussard’s future into disarray. She’d intended to buy the clothing boutique she manages from her mother-in-law, but instead the deal is canceled, her electricity is turned off, her bank accounts are closed, and he car is taken away. Her in-laws want her out of Samford, Louisiana, and out of their lives, as if her marriage to their late son had never happened. But Avery is determined to make a fresh start, with help from her new friend Kathleen Manning, the dashing T.J. Aillet, and a broken-down store, Magnolia Market, in need of a face-lift and an entrepreneur’s touch. As Avery come to terms with her past, she begins to see a different future for the market and for herself. Christie (Gone to Green) has done a fine job with this delightful tale that entices readers with the aroma of biscuits, romance, and new starts. Agent: Janet Grant, Books & Such Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tried and True

Mary Connealy. Bethany House, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1178-2

Connealy’s (Stuck Together) view of the Idaho Territory in 1866 is a surprising delight in this inaugural novel of her Wild at Heart romance series. Kylie Wilde had followed her two older sisters, all disguised as men, into the Civil War after their brother’s death. As if that weren’t enough, after the war, her father insisted the whole family move out West to homestead, using the credit earned from military service, in honor of their deceased brother. Kylie, however, is not cut out for homesteading and is only biding her time until she can return to the East and what she calls civilization. Their plan goes awry when Kylie is caught by land agent and veteran Aaron Masterson, who finds her in a skirt and sees right through her sisters’ disguises. Love blooms despite their differences—and despite the best attempts of mysterious persons attempting to drive them apart. The light tale is spiced with both humor and a glimpse into the darker side of the great land rush. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hidden in the Stars

Robin Carroll. Abingdon, $13.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4267-7360-0

Featuring Russian hitmen, professional ballerinas, love triangles, and quilts, this page-turning mystery from Caroll (Justice Seekers series) is part of the publisher’s Quilts of Love series. Olympic hopeful Sophia Montgomery survives a brutal attack that kills her mother, but injuries leave her unable to speak, which hampers an investigation led by detective Julian Frazier. What do Russian mafia guys have against a former ballerina and a young gymnast? Sophia’s estranged Russian grandmother becomes an important link in the case, as does the special memorial quilt made by her mother. Sophia’s future safety depends on Julian’s ability to connect past and present to figure out the whole picture. His attraction to Sophia complicates his investigation, while his personal faith struggles frustrate their budding relationship. Caroll has written an engaging whodunit, with scenes that unfold expertly and keep the action moving and suspense alive. And though the romance plot line is sweetly written, the characters’ faith journeys are also deeply explored. Fans of suspense will be pleased with this light but entertaining read. Agent: Steve Laube, Steve Laube Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen

Tosca Lee. Howard, $23.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8404-9

Lee (Iscariot) brings her talent for research and lively imagination to bear on a woman who has inspired others but about whom little we know little: the Queen of Sheba. The queen figures not only in the Bible but also in the Qur’an and in Ethiopian history. Lee crafts, as usual, an intriguing central figure, one who is priestess, queen, and the survivor of shifting, often treacherous politics. The woman known as Bilqis in her native land of Sheba journeys to Israel to negotiate with King Solomon, having already begun a provocative and enigmatic correspondence with him. Solomon proves profound and puzzling, and as the two heads of state match wits in a slow dance of understated yet inevitable seduction. Parts of the narrative before Bilqis arrives in Israel lack sufficient tension. But the ending is deeply satisfying. Another winner by Lee. Agents: Dan Raines and Meredith Smith, Creative Trust. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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