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The Kill

Jane Casey. Minotaur, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-04884-4

A series of brazen cop killings in London kick-starts Casey's well-paced fifth mystery featuring Det. Constable Maeve Kerrigan (after 2014's The Stranger You Know). Kerrigan and her abrasive yet oddly loyal partner, Det. Insp. Josh Derwent, worry that the murders may be retaliation for the recent death of an unarmed teen at police hands, and a distrustful public makes for a difficult investigation. In addition, Kerrigan's boss, Supt. Charles Godley, seems to be buckling under the pressure of a terrible secret that only Kerrigan is privy to, but she has no idea how to help him. Kerrigan handles the daily tests of being a woman in a man's world with aplomb, but this case pushes her to the limit, both professionally and personally, as she strives to find a common thread among the victims. Intricate plotting and psychologically astute characters are a plus. A diabolically clever twist will leave readers agape. Agent: Ariella Feiner, United Agents (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Palace of Treason

Jason Matthews. Scribner, $26.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9374-0

Matthews follows 2013’s Red Sparrow, which won both the Edgar and Thriller awards for best first novel, with a sequel that’s every bit as good as his debut. CIA case officer Nate Nash and Capt. Dominika Egorova of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) are still in love, and their relationship threatens to undermine a CIA scheme to sabotage the Iranians’ secret uranium enrichment program. Dominika is a mole within the SVR, providing valuable intel to the Americans, especially after she wins the personal approval of President Vladimir Putin. But Dominika has a jealous rival within the SVR, Col. Alexei Zyuganov, a sadistic psychopath who will do anything to thwart her career. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a disaffected CIA officer, in retaliation for being passed over for promotion, starts feeding the Russians information that could lead to Dominika’s exposure as a spy for the Americans. Authentic tradecraft, a complex plot that steadily builds tension, and credible heroes and villains on both sides make this a standout. Recipes at the end of each chapter provide some welcome relief from some brutal violence. Seven-city author tour. Agent: Sloan Harris, International Creative Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Accessing the Future

Edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad. Futurefire.net, $16 trade paper (230p) ISBN 978-0-9573975-4-5

Allan and al-Ayad’s powerful science fiction anthology portrays people with disabilities in their full human complexity as they navigate a variety of futures. A privileged wheelchair user who’s saved from a disaster by smugglers learns some horrifying truths about her rarified surroundings—and the smugglers’ grittier lives—in Nicolette Barischoff’s “Pirate Songs.” Sara Patterson’s “A Sense All Its Own” introduces a blind pilot who enters a droid-flying competition. The titular characters in Margaret Killjoy’s “Invisible People” suffer a widespread social disability that’s all too prevalent today. A woman uses her disability as a weapon to better the universe in A.C. Buchanan’s “Puppetry.” Mandating a cure for deafness becomes cultural genocide—and may indirectly lead to war—in Rachel K. Jones’s “Courting the Silent Sun.” Each story highlights humans’ adaptability as a path to triumph, greater understanding, or both. The anthology also makes clear that the entire society suffers when the able ignore or dismiss the disabled. But there are no polemics here, and even readers with no personal experience of disability will appreciate these thoughtful and entertaining stories and their accompanying illustrations. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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For Real

Alexis Hall. Riptide (riptidepublishing.com), $7.99 e-book (450p) ISBN 978-1-62649-279-0

In this charming May-December romance, Hall delights the reader with endless reversals of expectations. Laurie Dalziel reluctantly lets friends drag him to a kink club after six years of grieving over a devastating breakup with his longtime lover. He’s tall, short-tempered, and in his late 30s—the very picture of a dominant man—but all his inclinations are submissive. When he feels moved to warn innocent-looking Toby Finch about the realities of the leather scene, he’s shocked to discover that the skinny 19-year-old is a budding dominant who’s very clear on what he wants, starting with Laurie on his knees. Hall blends pleasure and pain, both erotic and emotional, to create an engrossing romance with sharpness hidden in the sweetly traditional power-exchange relationship. The characters are charmingly flawed, with enough chemistry to see them through some serious ups and downs. Many classic images of dominance and submission are beautifully upended even as more traditional romance manages to bloom. Full of poetry and honesty, Laurie and Toby’s journey together makes each victory feel earned. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Louisa Meets Bear

Lisa Gornick. FSG/Sara Crichton, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-19208-2

Gornick’s brilliantly constructed third novel (after Tinderbox) offers a seamless series of events, spanning from 1961 to 2009, that explore the full spectrum of life in all its bizarre coincidences, tragedies, and passions. Presented as an array of interconnected stories that focus on different characters (à la A Visit from the Goon Squad), with shifting uses of first, second, and third person, Gornick’s book ties together her characters as they undergo experiences ranging from growing up as a pregnant teen with a depressed and distant mother (Lizzy, in “Instructions to Participant”), to finding a soulmate in college (Louisa, in “Louisa Meets Bear”), to facing the uncomfortable sexual urges a father has toward his adopted teenage daughter, who seems to have disappeared during a night’s outing in Venice, Italy (Richard, in “Misto”). The fact that Lizzy and Louisa are cousins, and that the adopted daughter is the baby that Lizzy gave up, typifies Gornick’s dazzling plot construction. But this book is so much more—at its heart is the torrid relationship between Louisa and Bear that, decades later, comes full circle in a remarkably revelatory way. Gornick captures all the heartbreak and joy of what it is to be human. Agent: Geri Thoma, Markson Thoma Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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True North: Tice’s Story

Mark Alan Leslie. Mark Alan Leslie, $12.95 trade paper (196p) ISBN 978-1-62890-602-8

Journalist and consultant Leslie (Midnight Rider for the Morning Star) delves into the obstacles runaway slaves encountered prior to the Civil War. Nineteen-year-old Tice was born and raised on a plantation near Maysville, Ky. His mother is dead and his father sold by the time a stranger hints that he is willing to help Tice escape to freedom. When the opportunity arises, Tice makes it across the Ohio River and is soon guided by members of the Underground Railroad. Because of the Fugitive Slave Law, getting north does not mean freedom, and Mason, the plantation foreman, relentlessly tracks Tice. Leslie vividly describes the plight of runaway slaves, noting differences between biblical slavery and its 19th-century version. He includes a smattering of historical figures, Henry David Thoreau and Hannibal Hamlin among them, in his fictional cast of characters and details notable stops along the Underground Railroad. Tice exhibits a deep religious confidence that will endear him to readers of inspirational literature. While the main plot is a work of fiction, the well-researched historical elements make it believable and even, at times, educational. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Flying Affair

Carla Stewart. FaithWords, $15 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4555-4999-3

Stewart (The Hatmaker’s Heart) continues her rich recreation of the Roaring ’20s, this time exploring women who fly. Mittie Humphreys, an adventurous and skilled Kentucky horsewoman, dreams of flying her own plane with the likes of Amelia Earhart. Torn between her passion for the air and her fear of letting down her parents, Mittie remains close to her beloved show horses even as she pursues aviation. When Ames Dewberry, the dashing barnstormer and performance pilot, introduces her to stunt flying and air races, Mittie begins flying lessons with the handsome British pilot Bobby York. As she moves into serious competition with other women aviators, Mittie is caught between the two men, as well as between her family’s expectations and her own dreams. Danger, thrills, and heartache ensue as she opens new vistas with a growing sisterhood of courageous female pilots. Compelling action scenes, clever dialogue, and believable characters add spice and depth to a multidimensional tale. Though faith plays a backseat role, and the main character is less well-developed than others, the historical detail and vivid action scenes anchor an enjoyable story. Agent: Sandra Bishop, Transatlantic Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rori’s Healing

Dora Hiers. elican/White Rose, $4.99 e-book (250p) ISBN 978-1-61116-417-6

Hiers’s (When Truth Whispers) contemporary romance roars out of the gate. Race-car driver Graham Decker is mistaken for a veterinarian when he arrives at an animal sanctuary where a llama is about to give birth. The sanctuary is run by Rori Harmon, who has been better at dealing with animals than with people since her tennis-pro dad committed suicide two decades earlier. A subsequent media blame storm, in which her family was condemned, left Rori with a case of social phobia. Even after it becomes clear that Graham is not a vet, Rori finds herself unexpectedly attracted to a sports star who lives in the public eye. The attraction is mutual, but Graham’s got his own hurt—a greedy ex-wife—to get over. The two come together warily, with faith playing a role. The novel fades after its strong start; the characters aren’t especially well-drawn or believable—how can the successful Graham have that much free time to woo the skittish Rori? The romantic chemistry is adequate, but the psychology is elementary. Readers who like squeaky-clean romance will page through this, but it’s very plain vanilla. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Gospel of the Twin

Ron Cooper. Bancroft (AtlasBooks, dist.), $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61088-159-3

Stepping up to the task of reimagining Jesus Christ, Cooper (Purple Jesus) gives him a twin brother, Thomas, and borrows from the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas and other ancient writings to spin a satisfying tale of an enigmatic, wandering spiritual teacher and his followers. Jesus is charismatic, a touch simple-minded, and given to poetry and metaphor, while his twin is a realist, observing with open eyes the duplicity of Jesus’s followers, chiefly Peter and Judas, as they spin Jesus’s actions into miracles. Anyone familiar with research on the historical Jesus, and some of the fiction it has fueled, will not be surprised by Cooper’s story. Though his research is good, he hasn’t successfully conjured an ancient world; the settings are undersketched, and some of the minor characters hard to tell apart. It’s good biblical fiction unhampered by conservative religious sensitivities, but it could be a better story. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Five Brides

Eva Marie Everson. Tyndale, $14.99 trade paper (425p) ISBN 978-1-4143-9744-3

Working-class Chicago culture comes alive in Everson’s (Unconditional) bird’s-eye view of feminine friendship, faith, family, and romance during the early 1950s. Betty, Joan, Evelyn, Magda, and Inga find themselves gathered under the roof of a fairly small apartment, dreams in hand, career aspirations in their hearts. Their friendship grows out of being together under one roof and flourishes, somewhat, through the heartaches of romance and the pitfalls of a rapidly changing culture. Their journey brings them to a department store one Saturday afternoon, where they find a perfect wedding dress and decide to share it, even though not one of them is yet engaged. Their paths eventually diverge, with each woman finding her own way yet always connected by their garment of hope. Though it’s a touching tale of heartbreak and happiness, the rapidly shifting focus on five different lives gives the narrative a cluttered, rushed air, culminating in a predictable, somewhat disappointing ending. Agent: Jonathan Clements, Wheelhouse Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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