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Virtue Falls

Christina Dodd. St. Martin's, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-02841-9

In the predictable first of a new suspense series, bestseller Dodd (Lady in Black) tracks West Coast turmoil of all sorts. For starters, a serial killer who delights in murdering young women and mutilating their children is loose in California. Meanwhile, an earthquake hits the town of Virtue Falls, Wash., with an attendant tsunami and aftershocks. The geologist on the scene, Elizabeth Banner, has crime in her background. Her father was put away decades ago for fatally stabbing her mother, Misty, with a pair of scissors. But did he? Papa Banner has always maintained his innocence, and odd similarities between Misty's death and the serial killer's m.o. raise the terrifying possibility that the Banner killer might still be at large. Steamy romance between Elizabeth and her ex, as well as charming minor characters, such as an amiable retired physician, help alleviate the tedium of this novel, whose conclusion one can see hundreds of pages before the end. 100,000 first printing. Agent: Mel Berger, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Broken Hours

Jacqueline Baker. HarperCollins Canada, $26.99 (309p) ISBN 978-1-44342-566-7

The spectral life of a horror legend is examined in this dark, tenebrous novel. In Providence, 1936, Arthor Crandle, in dire need of employment and suffering from a troubled marriage finds a job as a live-in personal assistant to an unnamed employer. His new boss communicates only through phone and letters signed with the moniker "Ech-Pi," his physical presence almost nonexistent. Crandle types his stories and correspondences from which he gleans his real name: Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Occupying an apartment in the large house is Flossie Kush, a vivacious, aspiring actress whose mysterious presence seems to enliven the gloom of the Lovecraft home. Disturbed by visions of a phantom girl, a monstrous tentacle on the shore, and an employer who seems barely human, Crandle is compelled to solve the mystery behind the "malevolence" of his new home on Sixty-Six College Street. Baker (The Horseman's Graves) writes with the conviction of a fan, adeptly evoking the shadowy melancholy of Lovecraft's world while always keeping the narrative's momentum moving. While lacking in the intensity of Lovecraft's own work, the novel creates an atmosphere of haunted New England menace that sinks subtly into the skin. Agent: Anne McDermid & Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My October

Claire Holden Rothman. Penguin Canada, $22 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-14-318867-4

For Hugo Lévesque, life in Montreal in 2001 is not easy. He is the son of the famous francophone author Luc Lévesque, considered the voice of his generation of francophone Quebeckers who dream of Quebec as an independent nation. But Hugo's mother is anglophone, and he struggles with fitting into Quebec society. He speaks both of Canada's official languages but quickly realizes only one is considered acceptable in Montreal and especially in his father's view. In an effort to find where he belongs, Hugo attempts to make a connection with his maternal grandfather. "In Montreal, he used English as a weapon. But here, in his grandfather's home, it was just a language," he finds. After bringing a gun to school and showing pride in his English heritage, Hugo is suspended from school and forced to complete a project about violence. While researching, he discovers his family's connections to the FLQ crisis of October 1970. Rothman (The Heart Specialist) expertly weaves the intimate story of this family with the political history of Quebec. This novel about power, language and acceptance should resonate with those who have felt torn between languages and cultures, as well as those who have felt like outsiders in their own city or country. Agent: Samantha Haywood, Transatlantic Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Journey by Moonlight

Anatal Szerb, trans. from the Hungarian by Len Rix. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-59017-773-0

In this 1937 masterpiece from the late Hungarian novelist Szerb, businessman Mihaly takes his new bride Erzsi to Italy on their honeymoon, but from their first night in Venice, when Mihaly gets lost wandering the back alleys, their plans for an orderly vacation are thwarted by fate. With each chapter, mysterious characters from the past appear, strange letters are received, and locales shift from the merely exotic to the fantastical. It emerges that in Mihaly's youth, he had an intense friendship with wealthy brother and sister Tamas and Eva. The shadow of this passionate entanglement hangs over Mihaly's adult life; Italy turns out to be full of clues relating to Tamas's death, and Eva seems to literally be around every corner (at one point spying on Mihaly though holes cut in a tapestry). The romanticism crossed with middle-European emotional claustrophobia and the surreal suggests a love child of Stendhal and Kafka. The wonderfully assured shifts in tone and substance from chapter to chapter are clearly the work of a master. This is an important translation that will hopefully spur the rediscovery of a major talent. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ballroom

Alice Simpson. Harper, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-232303-3

United by their love for ballroom dancing, a disparate group of New Yorkers gather, but never really connect, in this lackluster debut novel. Elderly dance teacher Harry has been romantically obsessed with young competitive dancer Maria since she was a child. Sarah, middle-aged and disconsolate, finds an admirer in 60-year-old Joseph, who phone-stalks her in his spare time. Rounding out the sprawling cast of characters is Angel, Maria's ambitious dance partner, and Gabriel, an unhappily married diamond dealer. Gathering weekly to waltz and tango at the dilapidated Starlight Ballroom, they all yearn to be a "part of the dance, of something larger" than themselves. Yet despite the inviting premise, the execution stumbles. Pedestrian prose dims the sparkle of the glamorous setting, and dialogue conveys information but rarely emotion. Occasionally, evocative images hint at the prettier world these characters long for, but we never find a reason to hope along with them. Agent: Marly Rusoff and Michael Radulescu, Marly Rusoff Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Reanimators

Pete Rawlik. Night Shade/Skyhorse, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-59780-478-3

Taking off from H.P. Lovecraft's lurid tale of reviving the dead, "Herbert West—Reanimator," Rawlik's first novel may amuse Lovecraft fans, but they should be prepared for a supernatural adventure story lacking in the cosmic horror that distinguishes Lovecraft's better fiction. (The master of weird tales regarded "Herbert West" as "hackwork written down to the herd level.") The action spans more than 20 years of the life of Dr. Stuart Hartwell, beginning in 1905 with the brutal murder of his parents by a beast he identifies as the late Dr. Allan Halsey, the dean of medicine at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. In the wake of this tragedy, Hartwell seeks revenge on Herbert West, the Miskatonic medical student who reanimated Halsey in the course of his infernal experiments. While Hartwell has some interesting encounters with such other Lovecraft characters as Nathaniel Peaslee ("The Shadow out of Time") and Wilbur Whateley ("The Dunwich Horror"), readers won't much care whether Hartwell succeeds in his quest or not. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie: A Sessions Man Mystery

Robert J. Randisi. Perfect Crime (www.perfectcrimebooks.com), $14.95 trade paper (182p) ISBN 978-1-935797-39-5

Randisi's second mystery featuring Nashville musician and part-time PI Auggie Velez (after 2012's The Session Man) is one of the prolific author's best recent outings, pairing a different kind of sleuth with a nicely twisted puzzle. Velez's musical career has never quite taken off; to his chagrin, he's best known for a song he's embarrassed by, and mostly works as a fill-in for bands in need of a guitarist on a temporary basis. He does some low-level gumshoe work, which mostly consists of some surveillance and process-serving. When a local lawyer and promoter offer him $5,000 to deliver a suitcase, without revealing its contents, Velez is appropriately suspicious, but a sweetener—the chance to record his own songs—tips the balance. The errand apparently goes off without a hitch, until the man he gave the MacGuffin to ends up murdered, leaving the musician in the crosshairs of the local homicide detectives. With his neck on the line, Velez struggles desperately to get to the truth. The detecting is plausible, and the lead sympathetic. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Adapting

Cassandra Dunn . S&S/Touchstone, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6160-2

Dunn's debut novel is a lively, engaging, and heartfelt tale of learning how to cope with change. Lana is separated from her husband, and trying to raise two teenagers. Her son Byron navigates between the jocks and the rebels, nursing a crush for his best friend's college-age sister, and getting interested in the sport of parkour. Her daughter Abby is descending into an eating disorder, while trying to keep up her high grades and her status as an honor student. The household is further complicated when Lana's brother Matt moves in—a challenge, since he has Asperger's syndrome, and has a unique way of ordering the world. Told from the alternating points of view of Lana, Matt, Byron, and Abby, Dunn is able to fully draw the reader into each individual character's skin. Through the four characters' conflicts, Dunn draws the reader's sympathy: Matt, in particular, is a memorable narrator. This is a thoughtful and touching novel, and will leave readers eager for the author's next work. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lay It on my Heart

Angela Pneuman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner, $14.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-15-101258-9

Pneuman uses potent prose in her intimate and intense debut novel about a most difficult month in the life of a 13-year-old girl in rural Kentucky. Charmaine Peake's grandfather was a famous evangelical, her father is a prophet, and the day-to-day life she leads with her parents is governed by religion. When her father suffers a mental break upon returning from a year in the Holy Land, the result is that Charmaine and her mother must move into a trailer by the river and rent out the family home to pay for his in-patient care. Meanwhile, Charmaine's physical maturation speeds up, and at her new school, she encounters others her age whose lives are not wholly dictated by their faith. Regular teenage angst is magnified by her attempts to live up to her father's ideals, and complicated by living in cramped quarters on a dime with a long-suffering mother. The author is very effective with her first-person narrative; readers will come to intimately inhabit Charmaine's point of view. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Whispers

Joshua Luna. Image Comics, $14.99 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-1-63215-060-8

After breaking into graphic novels as the writer of Ultra and going on to such titles as Girls and The Sword, Luna makes his debut as a solo writer/artist, telling the story of a young man with OCD-Cleanliness disorder who suddenly begins to fly in his dreams—ending up with real people and real places. Finding himself able to nudge people's existing thoughts into action, Sam Webber struggles with the why and how of his power as demons—both in his mind and outside of it—make him question his place in the real world. But soon innocent people are brought into the spiraling fight against said demons, and as Sam's dreaming-waking world blends together, he learns what helping others—and helping yourself—really is. A sophisticated tale depicting the struggles and deceptions of obsession, this book is heavy but strikes the right chord. The artwork is clean and concise, yet carries a lot of emotional detail, with the dream sequences breaking into more amazing vistas. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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