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Second Life

S.J. Watson. Harper, $26.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-206058-7

Julia Wilding, the narrator of bestseller Watson’s overstuffed second novel (after 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep), lives a comfortable middle-class life in London with her husband, Hugh, a cardiac surgeon, and their adopted son, 13-year-old Connor. In Julia’s younger and wilder days—she’s a recovering alcoholic—she was an art photographer, but now she’s content to take family portraits. Then tragedy strikes. Julia’s younger sister, Kate, is murdered in Paris, and she throws herself into catching Kate’s killer. Though the sisters used to be close, a difficult childhood and Kate’s often unpredictable ways came between them, but not before Julia and Hugh stepped in to care for Kate’s son—Connor is actually their nephew. Julia’s quest for answers leads her to a sleazy online dating website, where she initially masquerades as Kate and meets a mysterious man, Lukas, who may or may not have known her sister. Soon she’s embroiled with Lukas, as well as with Kate’s roommate, Anna, both of whom have the requisite secrets, which are unspooled at a glacial pace. Agent: Clare Conville, Conville & Walsh Literary Agency (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Assassins

Gayle Lynds. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-312-38090-8

Bestseller Lynds (The Book of Spies) starts more strongly than she finishes this romance-laced suspense novel. In Baghdad in April, 2003, six international assassins, to whom Saddam Hussein owes $12 million, are worried that they’ll never get paid after the American invaders confiscate all the dictator’s assets. So they steal a limestone tablet worth $12 million from a museum, but the artifact ends up broken into multiple pieces, and the murderous crew’s British member, Burleigh Morgan, is blown up in his car after he attempts to reassemble it. Meanwhile, former military intelligence operative Judd Ryder returns home to Washington, D.C., where he finds that someone is impersonating him and soon witnesses his double’s murder. Judd teams with apprentice CIA spy Eva Blake (“of the long red hair and the cobalt-blue eyes that could pierce him to the soul”) to figure out what’s going on. A routine plot and stock characters make this a lesser effort for Lynds. Agent: Lisa Erbach Vance, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fixer

Joseph Finder. Dutton, $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-525-95461-3

Rick Hoffman, the hero of this so-so standalone from Thriller Award–winner Finder (Suspicion), has been fired from his high-flying job as a celebrity journalist, dumped by his fiancée, and reduced to camping out in his boyhood home in Cambridge, Mass., empty for years while his father has languished in a nursing home after a paralyzing stroke. When Rick finds more than $3.4 million in cash in the walls of his dad’s crumbling manse, it greatly improves his financial situation, but greatly diminishes the quality of his life as he searches for the source of the loot. Despite being attacked, then kidnapped and tortured, he doggedly continues to uncover his father’s sketchy past as “a bag man and a fixer.” Rick manages to touch a lot of nerves, most notably those of a high-profile PR man connected with Boston’s public works project known as the Big Dig. Rick’s look into his father’s past is touching and human, but readers should be prepared for an overblown plot and a predictable denouement. Agent: Daniel Conaway, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Brutality

Ingrid Thoft. Putnam, $26.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-399-17118-5

In Thoft’s captivating third Fina Ludlow novel (after 2014’s Identity), the feisty Boston PI tries to find out who attacked Liz Barone, a researcher at New England University, in her Hyde Park home, putting her in Mass. General Hospital with a severe subdural hematoma and a slim chance of recovery. Fina thinks the assault may have been provoked by the lawsuit Liz filed against New England University blaming them for the mild cognitive impairment she was experiencing, allegedly the result of injuries sustained when she played on the university’s soccer team 20 years earlier. In the course of the investigation, Fina must overcome university politics, the petty rivalries among the employees of the research lab where Liz worked, and a strained relationship with the police, who resent her interference in their case. Fina uncovers a host of secrets as she confronts a myriad of potential suspects, including Liz’s husband and the university officials opposing the lawsuit, en route to the satisfying conclusion. Agent: Helen Brann, Helen Brann Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Cartel

Don Winslow. Knopf, $27.95 (592p) ISBN 978-1-101-87499-8

Set in 2004, Winslow’s masterly sequel to The Power of the Dog (2005) continues his epic story of the Mexican drug wars. DEA agent Art Keller has withdrawn from the world, tending bees for a New Mexico monastery, when he receives word that his old nemesis, Adán Barrera, leader of the Sinaloan cartel El Federación, has escaped from prison and is intent on reestablishing control of his empire. Keller agrees to return to duty and spearheads several attempts to capture Barrera, who remains elusive and seemingly protected by the Mexican police and government. As a war between Barrera’s cartel and several different competing factions ensues, violence overwhelms the city of Ciudad Juárez. Along the way, Keller falls in love with Marisol Cisneros, a beautiful doctor who heads a small but committed group of journalists and artists dedicated to resisting the violence. This exhaustively researched novel elucidates not just the situation in Mexico but the consequences of our own disastrous 40-year “war on drugs.” Author tour; 50,000–copy first printing. Agent: Shane Salerno, Story Factory. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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After the Storm

Linda Castillo. Minotaur, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06156-0

Bestseller Castillo’s seventh Amish novel (after 2014’s The Dead Will Tell) does something remarkable for a thriller. Not counting the gripping prologue, readers are halfway through the book before police chief Kate Burkholder and the town of Painters Mill, Ohio, are threatened by even one violent act. And yet Castillo manages to keep the tension building as Kate and her team doggedly follow leads in the case of 30-year-old human remains uncovered in a crumbling Amish barn. Kate, utilizing her childhood Pennsylvania Dutch to share memories with and interrogate members of the reclusive Amish community, soon realizes the long-ago incident was not an accident. Somewhere within the gentle sect, killers are lurking. After the first shots are fired at Kate by an unknown stalker, the violence doesn’t let up—in fact, it gets grislier and grislier. Personal stress, hidden family secrets, and unlikely murderers—as well as murder weapons—turn the serene landscape into fertile ground for this chilling tale. Author tour. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Sun, Yellow Sky

Jamie Jo Hoang. Jamie Hoang, $9.99 trade paper (316p) ISBN 978-1-63443-371-6

Aubrey is a painter on the cusp of success when she receives a life-changing diagnosis: very soon, she will be completely blind. She’s still reeling from the news when she runs into Jeff, an old friend, at a gallery opening featuring her paintings and accepts his spontaneous invitation to travel the world and see its wonders before it’s too late. The journey, which follows the pair through Jordan, India, China, Brazil, and Peru, is believable in its attention to detail—from children’s games to Peruvian porters’ footwear to the details of the facade of the Taj Mahal—but it remains somehow flat, providing information about each setting without bringing it to life. Likewise, Aubrey’s crisis—as a visual artist who is losing her sight—is described, and its psychology explored, but with an emotional distance that might leave readers feeling more like uninvolved observers than intimates: Aubrey mentions that she is grieving and afraid, though she shows few signs of actually having those feelings. Despite the distance, those who are reading for Aubrey and Jeff’s journey will find a memorable adventure. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Nakeds

Lisa Glatt. Regan Arts, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-941393-05-5

On a spring day in 1970, while Nina and Asher fight in their kitchen, hurling accusations and glassware at each other, their young daughter, Hannah, makes her way to first grade—walking on neighbor’s lawns and dodging garbage cans, absorbed in her own thoughts—when a drunk driver slams into her. For nearly the next 10 years, Hannah endures life with a cast on her leg, feeling insecure and burdened by her broken limb. The dissolution of her parents’ marriage, and the accident that leaves her encumbered with multiple casts that never seem to fix her leg, thrusts Hannah into young adulthood. With grace and maturity, Hannah learns to accept her once-Jewish father’s new faith and wife (the woman who ultimately broke up her family), and her mother’s newfound sexual freedom, nudist lifestyle, and young husband. Martin Kettle, the driver who left Hannah at the scene, continues through life troubled and guilt-ridden about his past. He believes his secret visits to the hospital to visit Hannah and drop off gifts while she sleeps are a form of atonement. Martin makes gradual progress in overcoming his demons and addictions, but will he ever admit full responsibility for what he’s done and move on? Glatt’s (A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That) well-developed characters and their intersecting stories leave the reader wondering what will happen next. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Wolf Border

Sarah Hall. Harper, $25.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-220847-7

Known for her eccentric and brooding characters sporting various creative talents (photographers, painters, tattoo artists), Man Booker–finalist Hall (The Electric Michelangelo) tackles the union of nature and British politics in her subdued and ruminative fifth novel. Featuring writing that is less flamboyant but just as deliberate and sturdy as her previous books, the narrative follows zoologist Rachel Caine. At the outset, she leaves her job at an Idaho wildlife recovery program for her native England, where she’ll oversee a controversial project to reintroduce a pair of imported gray wolves to the English wild by way of the Earl of Annendale’s immense Cumbrian estate. The logistics of training, tagging, and monitoring the majestic animals soon play second fiddle to more urgent matters—Rachel’s mother’s suicide; the reunion with her estranged half brother, whom she learns has a drug problem; and her unplanned pregnancy after a one-night stand in America with an old friend and ex-colleague. As she juggles being a mother at nearly 40, her son’s “galactic” temper tantrums, and a budding relationship with an English veterinarian, Rachel slowly redefines who she is and what kind of happiness she’s capable of. The wolves’ journey toward a new kind of freedom serves as a powerful parallel to Rachel’s own struggle to become an increasingly independent woman. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Valley Fever

Katherine Taylor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-29914-9

With crisp, often droll prose, Taylor (Rules for Saying Goodbye) has written an affecting second novel, set in California’s Central Valley. Ingrid Palamede, a daughter who departed her home town when she was young, returns to her parents’ vineyard after a crushing breakup, under the guise of helping her ailing father with his business. Effortlessly woven in are various threads of Fresno local color that make up a landscape of love and tension: a high school boyfriend whose touch lingers, an ex–best friend who worms her way back into Ingrid’s heart, an employee who is stealing from her father. The lulls of domestic ennui and nostalgia are broken up by Ingrid’s sharp and humorous observations about life and the inevitable confrontation of adulthood. A breezy family saga, this story is also an ode to the decline of the valleys of California, with all their rustic beauty and hazy disenchantment. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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