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News of the World

Paulette Jiles. Morrow, $22.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-240920-1

Jiles delivers a taut, evocative story of post–Civil War Texas in this riveting drama of a redeemed captive of the Kiowa tribe. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly widower, earns his living traveling around, reading news stories to gatherings of townspeople. While reading in Wichita Falls one evening in the winter of 1870, he sees an old acquaintance. Britt Johnson, the main character in Jiles’s The Color of Lightning, has just come through Indian Country with his crew. The men are returning a 10-year-old girl to her aunt and uncle in Castroville after she spent four years with the Kiowa. A free black man, Britt is reluctant to have a white child in his custody. He persuades the Captain to escort young Johanna on the remainder of the three-week journey. The Captain, who has grown daughters of his own, at first feels sorry for the girl. Johanna considers herself Kiowa; she chafes at wearing shoes and a dress, struggles to pronounce American words. Challenges and dangers confront the two during their journey, and they become attached. Jiles unfolds the stories of the Captain and Johanna, past and present, with the smooth assuredness of a burnished fireside tale, demonstrating that she is a master of the western. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Kid

Ron Hansen. Scribner, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2975-9

Hansen’s (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) fictional treatment of Billy the Kid, the Old West killer, is entertaining and lively, a portrayal of swift and deadly frontier justice in the early 1880s of New Mexico. This is a fictionalized biography of Billy (1859–1881), but Hansen is no apologist for Billy’s cattle rustling, horse stealing, and murderous ways; instead, revealing Billy the Kid for what he really was—a handsome, likable, cold-blooded gunman. Much of the story covers the Lincoln County War between two rival business and political factions, the Murphy-Dolan bunch of owlhoots and the Tunstall-McSween partnership favored by Billy and his unwashed gang of vigilante Regulators. When Tunstall is murdered by a Murphy-Dolan posse, Billy and his saddle pals vow bloody revenge, and start bumping off Murphy-Dolan men, including the crooked county sheriff. When the Kid is not gunning down baddies and others who just get in the way, he is flirting, singing, and dancing with Mexican beauties, and courting Sallie Chisum, the niece of a real-life cattle baron, John Chisum. Both gangs get whittled down by soaking up too much lead, until Billy is convicted of murder, escapes jail after killing his two jailers, and is pursued by tenacious lawman Pat Garrett. Hansen’s colorful description of the New Mexico Territory as a lawless land of lying politicians and thieving businessmen is historically accurate, resulting in an excellent, transportive read. Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Of This New World

Allegra Hyde. Univ. of Iowa, $16 trade paper (124p) ISBN 978-1-60938-443-2

In her sensitively constructed debut collection, Hyde weaves 12 short stories into an uplifting examination of fractured utopias—paradoxical and imaginary worlds that each generation has failed to establish since losing access to Paradise. The opening story “After the Beginning” offers a window into Eve’s mindset after her expulsion from Eden and sets the tone for the collection by mixing her shame-fueled resilience with moments of startling humor, and with an unexpectedly hopeful outlook in the face of ultimate loss. Roaming through historical and futuristic landscapes, the stories explore a dizzying array of settings: a “free love” hippie commune; an eco-activism outpost on an island in the Bahamas; a cross-country attempt to recover a lost child; lushly gardened, heavily gated houses in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; a Martian colony with candidates recruited to breed a new generation of humans, leaving those on Earth to scrabble in the ruins they’ve made of their world. Hyde’s luminous prose and ability to inject meaning with subtlety keeps the collection on the darkly humorous edge of melancholy. Her characters face the encroaching darkness of the world head on, yet somehow continue to see a way out, finding that space where disaster opens innumerable possibilities to carve a new world from the ruins. This collection presents an appealing selection of diverse worlds from a bright and bold new voice in fiction. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hag-Seed

Margaret Atwood. Hogarth, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8041-4129-1

In The Tempest, Prospero is not just exiled king, magician, and father, he’s an impresario staging multiple shows: the storm that strands his enemies on the island; his pretended disdain for Ferdinand, whom he intends for his daughter, Miranda; the play within the play; and, some critics argue, the play itself. In this, the fourth Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation, Atwood underscores these elements by making her Prospero a prominent theater festival director. After being done out of his job by a scheming underling, Felix goes off-grid, teaching literacy and theater to prisoners and grieving a lost daughter. When he learns that the man who took his job, now a political bigwig, will attend the next production, he sees his chance: in this Tempest, it won’t just be Prospero who gets revenge. Former diva Felix is a sly and inventive director and teacher who listens to his cast’s input, and his efforts to shape the play and his plot make for compelling reading. If, at the end, things tie up a little too neatly, the same might be said of the original, and Atwood’s canny remix offers multiple pleasures: seeing the inmates’ takes on their characters, watching Felix make use of the limited resources the prison affords (legal and less so), and marveling at the ways she changes, updates, and parallels the play’s magic, grief, vengeance, and showmanship. 125,000-copy announced first printing. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Renato After Alba

Eugene Mirabelli. McPherson & Co. (Ingram, dist.), $24 (192p) ISBN 978-1-62054-026-8

Mirabelli’s ninth novel is the affecting, bittersweet rant of an aging painter who tries, and fails, to come to terms with the death of his wife. Renato Stillimare, a foundling left on the doorstep of a philosophical band of Sicilian-Americans (and the subject of an earlier book of Mirabelli’s), has grown up and old listening to his family discourse on the meaning of life, of atoms and shadows, and God and His intentions, so he is hard-wired in his dotage to wax philosophical on the whereabouts of his beloved, the deceased Alba. Having once admitted he painted to “give people solace for being human,” he now finds it impossible to overcome his grief to make art again. He tries to carry on, his children and grandchildren helping as much as they can, but he wakes up each day more often than not all but inconsolable. Renato conjures memories of discussions his uncles and father had over hearty meals concerning the nature of things, desperate to come up with a formula for understanding why we were put on this Earth, by whom, and where we disappear to when it’s over. He visits coffee shops in Boston, rekindles a few friendships that tickle his aging libido, but nothing feels quite right anymore. In the end, he can be sure of one thing only: that he was named well, stillimare in Italian meaning a drop in the ocean. The amusing, navel-gazing prose goes a bit too deep, but the reader feels such affection for Renato—indeed, an appreciation for his mindfulness—that when he finally declares, “It’s important to have wine.... So you’ll know it’s not breakfast,” you can forgive him anything. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Unseeing

Anna Mazzola. Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3547-5

Love, corruption, and retribution define Mazzola’s absorbing and unpredictable debut novel. At the opening in London in 1837, Sarah Gale is arrested and charged with assisting James Greenacre in the “horrific murder of a blameless woman,” Hannah Brown, who has been mutilated. However, Sarah repeatedly pleads that she had no part in the crime and that she also had no knowledge of it occurring afterward. Edmund Fleetwood, criminal investigator, is tasked with determining whether Sarah should be hanged through the evidence provided to the jury during her trial, upon her request of a petition for mercy. Murderess or not, it becomes clear Sarah is hiding something and as she and Edmund deal with their own personal demons along the way, the truth comes to light in a very satisfying conclusion. This is a cleverly written and intricate mystery that doesn’t try to outsmart the reader or become convoluted, and that includes great characters and subplots that eventually intersect to make for a multidimensional read. The authentic setting of Victorian London enhances the reading experience. Agent: Sasha Raskin, the Agency Group. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Valiant Gentlemen

Sabina Murray. Grove, $27 (496p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2545-3

Brimming with exquisite detail and clever humor, PEN/Faulkner winner Murray’s wondrously written historical novel ferries a vivid cast of characters across continents and decades, from the sweltering jungles of 19th-century Africa to cosmopolitan Paris in the wake of World War I. Here the close-knit avatars of history are Roger Casement, an Irish revolutionary, and Herbert Ward, a former circus performer turned devoted husband and father. Early chapters follow the two friends into cannibalistic villages and Manhattan’s earliest gay bars, along the Continental Railroad and speaking tours of the West Coast, eventually to Ward’s marriage to Sarita Sanford, a headstrong Argentinian-American heiress. The cracks in the central friendship fissure at the advent of the Great War, with Ward fighting alongside his son for England, Casement lending his talents to the Germans, who promise to free Ireland from British control. As in Tales of the New World and The Caprices, the author maintains an impressive balance of historical accuracy and dramatic momentum, crafting a stellar fiction that shows how the grand course of history can be shaped by the smallest disagreements between friends. Agent: Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Undoing of Saint Silvanus

Beth Moore. Tyndale, $24.95 (460p) ISBN 978-1-4964-1647-6

Moore's debut novel is certain to draw myriad readers familiar with her bestselling Bible studies (The Law of Love) and faith-based leadership guides and self-help books (So Long Insecurity). Those who love her down-home Southern style will be pleased to find it in this tale set in New Orleans, where a former church is now an apartment building named Saint Silvanus, often referred to as Saint Sans. Olivia Fontaine faces the death of her only child, Raphael, with her usual iciness, but her reserve cracks when police discover Rafe was killed. Olivia's granddaughter comes to attend her father's funeral . Readers will come to love Saint Sans building manager Adella Atwater and the residents, as well as the NOPD cops who solve Rafe's murder. The novel is not without flaws—slow pacing, overuse of colloquialism, odd leaps back to the early days—but it remains endearing and entertaining to the end. Moore's many fans will no doubt flock to her first work of fiction; whether they'll be willing to read the whole long thing is less clear. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Child of the Sun

Pierce Butler. Beech Hill, $14.99 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-0-9908200-8-6

Butler's (A Riddle of Stars) ode to a once-blossoming author, an imaginative epistolary account based on the turn-of-the-20th-century historical record, chronicles Katherine Mansfield's final months. Butler, professor of writing and literature at Bentley University, enters the mind of Katherine through her journal as she searches for inner peace while succumbing to the realities of tuberculosis. Under the instruction of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, who runs the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man south of Paris, Katherine longs for a deeper understanding of life and her part in it. Tired of feeling like a burden to those around her—including her husband and her longtime friend Ida—Katherine hopes Gurdjieff's influence may help her recuperate enough to start a new life. She learns much from her new relationships, including patience from a dancer, compassion from a young Lithuanian girl, and a deep level of support and understanding from an old friend and mentor. Never able to have a child of her own, she grows especially close to a young boy, Patrick; he gives her the opportunity to feel the kind of love she never had from her own parents, bringing her a joy and contentment she didn't think was possible. More than just a retelling of Katherine's emotional struggles and deteriorating health, the novel illuminates the teachings of the Institute: to accept all forms of the self, put others first, feel empathy for all types of human suffering, and forgive and accept the past. (July)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Harrows of Spring

James Howard Kunstler. Atlantic Monthly, $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0802124920

Kunstler returns to his fictional post-oil world in this sequel to World Made By Hand. This time he focuses on the inhabitants of Union Grove, N. Y., who have decided to live a simpler, agrarian way of life after civilization was destroyed by its own decadence. It is a constant struggle to pool resources and the novel begins with Union Grove in the scant season between winter and spring, "the six weeks want." Robert, the ad-hoc mayor, is supporting his girlfriend through her grief over her daughter's sudden death. The town doctor's existential crisis has morphed into drug and alcohol addiction. And one of the few well-supplied farmers has resorted to nailing dead bandits to trees to ward off future attacks. Supplies and morale are low when members of the self-proclaimed Berkshires People's Republic waltz into town, singing "This Land Is Your Land." Their talk of a socialist federation is revealed to be a protection racket: when not grandstanding about privilege and diversity, the "Berkies" kill cattle and burn down barns. They're assisted by a band of pillagers and a misanthropic sniper. These caricatures are too inelegant to be satire, and not pointed enough to be parody. Fans of Kunstler's work might enjoy the ongoing saga of Union Grove; new readers will find it hard to jump in. (July)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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