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One

Ron Glick. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (412p) ISBN 978-1-4961-0025-2

With all the subtlety and grace of a raging bull in a china shop, the first installment of the Godslayer Cycle harkens back to long nights spent with fantasy role-playing games in a friend’s basement. Nathaniel Goodsmith’s fate is to be an instrument of the Pantheon of old gods—long thought dead by the people of the realm—in the coming war with the unimaginatively named New Order of younger gods. Tasked with this mystical imperative, he must go forth to find the first of the nine swords forged by the old gods before agents of the New Order can thwart him. Nuggets of creativity, like the old gods’ intriguing approach to gender, are briefly explored but overshadowed by the crowd of characters and their clumsy, overly verbose dialog (“We would infect this New Order and cripple it afore it can deliver unto us a death blow”). Details are lovingly expounded, ad nauseam, grinding the narrative to a screeching halt. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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In the Shadow of Lies

M.A. Adler. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (359p) ISBN 978-1-938314-82-7

After failing to apprehend the racist arsonists who started a deadly fire or solve several mysterious disappearances of American Italians, Richmond, Calif., homicide detective Oliver Wright reenlists in Marines during World War II. Returning home near the close of the war, Wright finds himself investigating a conspiracy horribly reminiscent of his past failures. Adler delivers a complex and engrossing mystery that portrays the sprawling cities and small towns of America and some of the desperate people who inhabit them. While his novel is sometimes hampered by distracting flashbacks and time jumps, Adler effectively captures the plight of minorities during World War II.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Liars

Jerry Jay Carroll. Jerry Jay Carroll, $14 trade paper (362p) ISBN 978-0-9898269-0-7

This meticulously constructed thriller from Carroll delivers healthy doses of political conspiracy, paranoia, and pulse-pounding suspense. Oral historian Harriet Gallatin gets more than she bargained for when she begins recording the recollections of former Navy Lt. Lowell Brady, who now resides in an old-age home, but who, during WWII, uncovered a terrible secret about Pearl Harbor. And when Gallatin is ordered to report what Brady shares, what began as a routine assignment becomes a race against time and a battle for survival. Military absurdity and governmental betrayal are depicted with wit and humor in this provocative portrait of outsiders whose honor transforms them from respectable citizens to demonized agitators. Cantankerous, lewd, vulgar, and skillfully rendered by the author, Brady is as warm as he is infuriating. Carroll has crafted a crowd-pleasing page-turner, replete with cultural criticism and refreshing honesty.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Down Things

Tamara Linse. Willow Words, $14.95 paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-9913867-3-4

In Linse's novel of family struggle, Maggie Jordan; her sister, CJ; and her brother, Tibs, were orphaned when their parents died in a tragic accident, leaving the siblings to care for each other. Years later, Maggie falls for a writer and former bull rider named Jackdaw. As Jackdaw works to finish a novel, Maggie becomes pregnant and the couple gets married. But when their baby has a serious birth defect and Jackdaw finds himself in the grips of writer's block and haunted by his past, Maggie must once again rely on her siblings for support. Linse has created an intimate portrayal of a small family coming to terms with tragedy and strife. While the various relationships are confusing at times, readers will recognize and empathize with the characters. Linse juggles the hurts of the different characters well, with each suffering from a need to belong and struggling to balance their family and personal lives.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blessed Are the Wholly Broken

Melinda Clayton. Thomas-Jacob Publishing, $12.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-0-9895729-3-4

Clayton (Appalachian Justice) has written an emotionally charged, engrossing book that tackles life's large and often overwhelming questions. Phillip and Anna Lewinsky are struggling with heartache and grief after the death of their first child when Anna discovers that she is pregnant at age 43. Shuttling between the past and the present, Clayton probes the couple's troubled world, as Phillip looks back at their early relationship. He recalls that when Anna shortened his name in conversation that, "as silly as it may sound, particularly given all we'd suffered at that point, it saddened me, as if I'd slipped a notch in her esteem, no longer worthy of those extra letters." With another child on the way, the couple wrestles with their demons: "We didn't want to get our families' hopes up again only to have them dashed....We also didn't want to have to make that terrible phone call again, the one signifying the end of everything." Clayton writes with a raw immediacy, and the multiple narratives satisfyingly converge to create an intense and compelling atmosphere.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries

Edited by Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $25 (960p) ISBN 978-0-307-74396-1

Penzler’s thoughtful introduction makes plain why this intelligently assembled anthology of 68 short stories will be catnip for fair play fans, since the locked-room story “is the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story.” He also notes that while the tales are “astoundingly inventive,” disappointment will be inevitable when the solution is revealed, “just as explanations of stage illusions exterminate the spell of magic.” Despite that caveat, Penzler has assembled a wide-ranging collection of the impossible, including murder in sealed environments or by an invisible killer who leaves no footprints in the sand or snow. There are entries by familiar masters of the subgenre—John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Edward Hoch—as well as by mystery writers better known for other kinds of stories—Dorothy L. Sayers, Erle Stanley Gardner, Georges Simenon, Dashiell Hammett—and even a straight detective story from P.G. Wodehouse. The real treat is in the revelations of the gifts at misdirection from undeservedly obscure authors such as Julian Hawthorne (Nathaniel’s son), J.E. Gurdon, Augustus Muir, and Vincent Cornier, whose ingenious work is less likely to be encountered in other anthologies. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories

Craig Johnson. Viking, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-0-525-42791-9

The perfect way to bide your time between the release of a new full-length Walt Longmire mystery and the start of the next season of A&E’s Longmire, this story collection featuring the iconic Wyoming sheriff is a must. Johnson (Any Other Name) pens a new Longmire tale every December, and now they’re all available in one volume, including a brand new story, “Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns.” (Petunia is the name of a prized sheep with an unusual wool pattern resembling her floral namesake.) Several entries delve deeper into Walt’s past, especially his relationship with his deceased wife, Martha. In “Slick-Tongued Devil,” set six years after Martha’s death, Walt encounters a Bible salesman who ignites a flare of grief for the sheriff when he insists that Martha just recently ordered a new Bible. On a lighter note, Walt and the elderly Cheyenne Lonnie Little Bird—a series character readers whom will instantly recognize—help foil a poorly executed diner robbery in “Old Indian Trick.” These brief snippets of Walt Longmire’s life underscore his solid position as one of the most memorable characters in crime fiction today. Six-city author tour. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Map of Betrayal

Ha Jin. Pantheon, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-91160-5

From the National Book Award– and PEN/Faulkner-winning author Jin (Waiting) comes a woman’s inquisition into the limits of her father’s loyalty to his nation and family. The narrative alternates between the present day and the years spanning 1949 to 1989. In the present, American-born Lillian Shang unravels her father Gary’s mysterious life as a U.S.-based Chinese spy feeding information to the Mao administration. She pieces together his evolution from student, to spy, then prisoner—he ultimately ended up being a high-profile mole caught by the CIA. Lillian undertakes her research primarily through Gary’s extensive diaries, bequeathed to Lillian by his longtime mistress. Gary’s story is too messy for journalistic prose alone, so Lillian travels to northeast China to connect with his other family. In doing so, she sees the pervasive duplicity that defined Gary’s life abroad; his family members know little about what’s happened to him since leaving decades before. When Lillian’s husband is embroiled in a dubious microchip scheme with a newly acquainted Chinese cousin, the FBI materializes and Lillian must evaluate whether to respond with familial fidelity or self-preservation. Jin’s subtle prose entrances; he divulges information measuredly, almost reluctantly. The result is a captivating tale that probes the Chinese political state over the past half century. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dreaming on Daisies

Miralee Ferrell. David C. Cook, $12.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7814-0810-3

With a fresh, charming installment in the Love Blossoms in Oregon series, Ferrell (Wishing on Buttercups) returns readers to 1860s Oregon, tackling matters of faith, family, and forgiveness. Leah Carlson is a young woman used to doing a man’s work on her father’s ranch. It’s just been the two of them since the loss of Leah’s mother and the desertion of her younger brother. Taking care of her alcoholic father has left little time for anything else, until fate intervenes in the form of young banker Steven Harding. Steven has spent his life taking care of his mother, only to feel adrift when his long-missing sister is reunited with them and his family is once again complete. While vacillating wildly between overly dramatic and deceptively simplistic, this tender tale reinforces recognition of the necessity of trust and the unbreakable bond of family. Agent: Tamela Hancock Murray, Steve Laube Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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When Mercy Rains

Kim Vogel Sawyer. WaterBrook, $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-3077-3131-9

In Sawyer’s first book of a new trilogy (after Through the Deep Waters), we meet the Zimmermans, a large Old Order Mennonite family living in rural Kansas. Teenage Suzanne Zimmerman becomes pregnant and is sent to Indiana to avoid shaming her family, weaving a web of lies and deception that persists for two decades. Nearly 20 years after her forced departure, Suzanne’s siblings implore her to return to nurse their widowed, invalid mother. Suzanne’s arrival not only stokes new resentment from family members, it opens up long-festering wounds and triggers revelations not everyone is equipped to handle. The presence of Paul Aldrich, Suzanne’s widowed high school boyfriend, and his eight-year-old son further complicate matters. Sawyer’s characters are multidimensional, struggling with regret and remorse yet still showing compassion and grace. This is a tale of hope, an engaging account of what can happen when even the best-intentioned behavior hurts loved ones and of the power of forgiveness to heal those hurts, no matter how long they have lain unattended. Agent: Tamela Hancock Murray, Steve Laube Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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