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The Adventurist

Bradford Hipps. St. Martin's, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-06223-9

Hipps's debut novel peels back the layers of one man's seemingly monotonous life to reveal the deeply felt desire beneath, and the consequences of embracing one's innate thirst for adventure. Henry Hurt is a software engineer at a corporation in an unnamed city in the American South. His mother died a year ago, he's nursing an attraction to a married co-worker, and the company for which he works is struggling to turn a profit. To break through his overwhelming angst—or "the pall," as he calls it—Hurt decides to take his life circumstances in his own hands, more doggedly pursuing both purpose and fulfillment in his work and love. But in so doing, he endangers his career and relationships, forcing him to question what can truly bring him contentment and meaning. Hurt is a fascinating, if at times frustrating, protagonist; his is a middling existence that obscures an existential dread. He's self-aware and observant, the perfect narrator for a story that feels like the slow-motion collapse of a man who's already on the edge when the reader meets him. But rather than leaving him to wallow, the novel ends on a sense of hope predicated on the potential in a clean break and a fresh start. Deeply human, at times funny, and laced throughout with reflection on the crushing weight of the familiar, this novel is an engaging and nuanced exploration of life. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine's Missing Correspondence

Nick Bantock. Chronicle, $24.95 (60p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5125-0

In this final, stunning volume of the Griffin & Sabine saga, author and artist Bantock completes the inspiring story of two lovers who developed an epistolary relationship without ever meeting in the flesh. Each page of the book presents an intricately painted or drawn postcard on one side and the continued handwritten correspondence among Griffin, Sabine, and a few other characters on the other, or in some cases, actual envelopes that the reader will pull folded letters from. The artwork tells an ethereal story of its own, and as Griffin travels from England and Sabine journeys from the South Pacific to finally come together for the first time in Alexandria at the fabled Pharos Gate, the obstacles they each encounter take a mystical turn. The immersive experience of this book can be enjoyed on its own or in conjunction with the six other books in the series. However it is read, Bantock's conclusion to the epistolary epic is beautiful and truly singular. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Liberty's Last Stand

Stephen Coonts. Regnery, $27.99 (544p) ISBN 978-1-62157-507-8

President Barry Soetoro, the villain of bestseller Coonts's provocative thriller, is due to leave office in five months when he uses a convenient terrorist attack to declare martial law, adjourn Congress, suspend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and become the dictator of the United States. He fires CIA director Jake Grafton (last seen in 2013's Pirate Alley) and throws him in a federal detention center in West Virginia along with hundreds of conservative politicians and political commentators. Grafton's ex-CIA pal, Tommy Carmellini (also last seen in Pirate Alley), decides he's going to bust his old boss out of jail. Meanwhile, Texas secedes from the union and begins seizing U.S. military bases. Soetoro's opponents have a long list of gripes: he's a "self-proclaimed black messiah," "Soetorocare" is a disaster, and EPA regulations are "designed to save the climate at the expense of the working men and women of Texas." Coonts's excellent action scenes, which shift between Tommy's jailbreak scheme and the civil war with Texas, grind to a halt as characters stop to give fervent speeches about freedom. Those who don't care for Obama or his policies will find a lot to like. Agent: Deborah C. Grosvenor, Grosvenor Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Emperor's Revenge: An Oregon Files Adventure

Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison. Putnam, $29 (464p) ISBN 978-0-399-17596-1

A high level of tolerance for implausibility is required to enjoy bestseller Cussler's high-octane 11th Oregon Files adventure (after 2015's Piranha), the second in the series to be coauthored by Morrison. Juan Cabrillo runs the Corporation, an off-the-books U.S. government intelligence operation, based on the Oregon, a super-ship fitted with "revolutionary new magnetohydrodynamic engines" and an array of powerful weapons. The Oregon also features the amenities of a luxury liner, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool, chefs "trained at the Cordon Bleu," and a Navy-trained chief medical officer whose "lab coat remained spotless as it draped over her voluptuous curves." The Corporation is facing an unprecedented challenge after someone who hacked into a Monaco bank's systems threatens to plunge the European economy into chaos. The scheme is somehow connected with the search for "Napoleon's lost Russian treasure using a diary the emperor left behind after he was supposedly kidnapped from exile without anyone realizing it"; even the characters acknowledge that the premise is bizarre. The authors keep things moving at a fast pace, but there's nothing in this outing that genre fans haven't seen before. Agent: Peter Lampack, Peter Lampack Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Courtin' Murder in West Wheeling

Michael Allen Dymmoch. Diversion, $14.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-68230-062-6

Dymmoch's delightful sequel to 2006's Murder in West Wheeling finds Homer Deters, the likable sheriff of Boone County, with plenty on his plate in the rural Illinois town of West Wheeling. In addition to two murders, he has a liquor shipment hijacking operation to investigate. Then there's the truckload of wild mustangs he has on his hands, plus the pet jackass he came by accidentally, not to mention the petty complaints and requests of the citizens he serves. Finally, he must deal with his spirited fiancée, who refuses to wear his ring until her other suitor finds a girlfriend. Some of the minor characters tend to drift in and then fade away, but the determined Homer's ability to solve some very serious crimes without a crack in his good-natured down-home attitude keeps the pages turning to an expected but satisfying ending. Readers will be left wishing they could spend a little more time enjoying the more pleasant aspects of life in West Wheeling. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Champagne and Cocaine

Richard Vetere. Three Rooms, $15.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-941110-29-4

Jealousy, fueled by Colombian cocaine and washed down with Moët and Mumm, leads to murder in this realistically detailed slice of mob life in early 1980s New York City. Danny Ferraro used to be an English teacher, but he now makes his bones at cards, taking the occasional beating. He still hopes to write a novel. Sometimes he chauffeurs girlfriends of his gangster pal, Lou Santucci; Lou's married, and his wife was once voted Queen of the Italian Feast of Mount Carmel, but currently "she looked like any woman would who ate what she wanted and smoked day and night for the last thirty years." When one of the girlfriends goes over to a rival mobster and ends up dead, Danny gets another chore: find a perfect place to hide the body. Referencing a disco-era soundtrack, Vetere (The Third Miracle) captures day-to-day life in the clubs and all-night poker games with an air of authenticity. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems

Patricia Spears Jones. White Pine, $17 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-935210-69-6

The past and the present collide as Jones (Painkiller) delivers a sumptuous exploration of race, class, sex, love, and history filtered through the tumultuous backdrop of American idealism. No subject is too mundane or too sprawling for Jones; she channels an array of pop-culture muses, including Etta James, Kurt Cobain, Fatboy Slim, and Mary J. Blige. Often, these figures operate as points of access, a means to broach a larger cultural issue. For example, "If I Were Rita Hayworth" is both personal meditation and a critique of Eurocentric beauty standards: "strung between living a lie/ and bearing a sickness so furious it ages me to dream of it." In "Change in Seasons or the Break-Up Sonnet VII," Jones practices a knifepoint brevity that heightens the emotional impact of "Faithful clicks on the psychic metronome." Pain itself becomes a transformative force that leaves a mortal wound, matched by the inability to abandon powerful ghosts. Jones is especially interested in the blues, from its origins to its modern-day incarnations in the lives of everyday black people. Jones's poems, written during the past two decades, vibrate with a noticeable hunger and irresistible energy, unashamed to explore the nuances of intimacy via the looming specters of pop culture and history. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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M

Hannah Brooks-Motl. The Song Cave (SPD, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-9967786-0-2

Abstract expressionism may be the wheelhouse of Brooks-Motl (The New Years), but in her second collection she adeptly refuses to succumb to opacity or the echo chamber as she strings together delightfully curious and unsettling lines. "Lavender waves away the world today, every power," she writes in "Of Constancy," and later, in the stunning "29 Sonnets of Étienne de La Boétie": "Madame I drafted/ To the heart/ It was twitchy/ ‘In his greenest youth'/ And bled there." Brooks-Motl is capable of ambiguous and collage-like poems whose meanings glisten beyond the reader's reach, but the few poems where she shaves her lines down to two or three words and stacks them with urgency are among the best in the collection (as well as a style readers will hope the poet will pursue further in future work). The same might be said of Brooks-Motl's shortest and most fragmentary poems, in which each monostich is devoted enough white space to allow her talent for rhythmic arrangement and emotional pacing to flourish in small quarters. "I was waving my reed," she writes in "Of the Vanity of Words," "And among the very rabble/ Loving the listening field, really feeling it/ Puking up some oration." Ever open to new interpretations, Brooks-Motl's latest is an exuberant navigation of the hedge maze of the self. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Halo

C. Dale Young. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-935536-68-0

In this beautifully written and unsettling collection, Young (Torn) moves through the moments of his speaker's oft-broken life as he struggles to come to terms with the truths of his body and the world in which he exists. For much of the book, the speaker hovers between past traumas and how they affect his present—learning as a boy "to avoid danger, avoid fear" and as an adult recovering from a fractured spine caused by a car accident: "The dream/ always starts with the sound of breaking glass,/ the still surprising smell of burning rubber." It appears that Young wants the reader to take these experiences literally, but they also double as conceits for the mental and physical pains that derive from his speaker's attempts to negotiate his Catholicism with his homosexuality: "Because my wings had already erupted from between/ my shoulder blades. Because I had coveted/ another man in that secret space of my own head." Although these metaphors are well constructed, it seems that even Young is aware that, at times, they exist more to obscure than to reveal his speaker's truths: "Much of this world remains hidden, and/ all the science in the world cannot illuminate/ every dark corner, much less the corners of the mind." (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Landings

Mark McMorris. Wesleyan Univ., $26.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7633-0

In this intricate double volume, Jamaica-born poet McMorris, now living in the U.S., completes the trilogy he began with his 2010 collection, Entrepôt, continuing a fascinating exploration of poetic form within what he identifies as an environment in constant flux where goods are received for distribution and transshipment. Ekphrasis and fragment lend the work its structure, and McMorris draws from a lively array of influences, including painter Joan Miró, ska pioneers Toots and the Maytals, and images of plantations, Olmec heads, and Moroccan kingdoms. The poems are a "Birth-cloud of bricolage" existing beyond the lines of nation or epoch. "12 Rectangles," poems consisting of words placed in a 12-square grid, appear throughout the collection. Arranged and curated this way, the words become charged within their bound spaces. Each of the 12 words gets suffused with its own connotations and those of its neighbors: for example, "Sunder," "Prospect," and "Congo" sharing a line allude subtly to colonization and the slave trade. McMorris reminds his readers that "no matter the curse of setting forth/ in transit through alien spaces/ you carry the origin with you/ to the destination and abode/ you once saw rising from the bleary/ surface like a mirage, a city/ in form perverted by the forces/ of countless unconnected things." (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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