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Ballroom

Alice Simpson. Harper, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-232303-3

United by their love for ballroom dancing, a disparate group of New Yorkers gather, but never really connect, in this lackluster debut novel. Elderly dance teacher Harry has been romantically obsessed with young competitive dancer Maria since she was a child. Sarah, middle-aged and disconsolate, finds an admirer in 60-year-old Joseph, who phone-stalks her in his spare time. Rounding out the sprawling cast of characters is Angel, Maria's ambitious dance partner, and Gabriel, an unhappily married diamond dealer. Gathering weekly to waltz and tango at the dilapidated Starlight Ballroom, they all yearn to be a "part of the dance, of something larger" than themselves. Yet despite the inviting premise, the execution stumbles. Pedestrian prose dims the sparkle of the glamorous setting, and dialogue conveys information but rarely emotion. Occasionally, evocative images hint at the prettier world these characters long for, but we never find a reason to hope along with them. Agent: Marly Rusoff and Michael Radulescu, Marly Rusoff Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Reanimators

Pete Rawlik. Night Shade/Skyhorse, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-59780-478-3

Taking off from H.P. Lovecraft's lurid tale of reviving the dead, "Herbert West—Reanimator," Rawlik's first novel may amuse Lovecraft fans, but they should be prepared for a supernatural adventure story lacking in the cosmic horror that distinguishes Lovecraft's better fiction. (The master of weird tales regarded "Herbert West" as "hackwork written down to the herd level.") The action spans more than 20 years of the life of Dr. Stuart Hartwell, beginning in 1905 with the brutal murder of his parents by a beast he identifies as the late Dr. Allan Halsey, the dean of medicine at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. In the wake of this tragedy, Hartwell seeks revenge on Herbert West, the Miskatonic medical student who reanimated Halsey in the course of his infernal experiments. While Hartwell has some interesting encounters with such other Lovecraft characters as Nathaniel Peaslee ("The Shadow out of Time") and Wilbur Whateley ("The Dunwich Horror"), readers won't much care whether Hartwell succeeds in his quest or not. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie: A Sessions Man Mystery

Robert J. Randisi. Perfect Crime (www.perfectcrimebooks.com), $14.95 trade paper (182p) ISBN 978-1-935797-39-5

Randisi's second mystery featuring Nashville musician and part-time PI Auggie Velez (after 2012's The Session Man) is one of the prolific author's best recent outings, pairing a different kind of sleuth with a nicely twisted puzzle. Velez's musical career has never quite taken off; to his chagrin, he's best known for a song he's embarrassed by, and mostly works as a fill-in for bands in need of a guitarist on a temporary basis. He does some low-level gumshoe work, which mostly consists of some surveillance and process-serving. When a local lawyer and promoter offer him $5,000 to deliver a suitcase, without revealing its contents, Velez is appropriately suspicious, but a sweetener—the chance to record his own songs—tips the balance. The errand apparently goes off without a hitch, until the man he gave the MacGuffin to ends up murdered, leaving the musician in the crosshairs of the local homicide detectives. With his neck on the line, Velez struggles desperately to get to the truth. The detecting is plausible, and the lead sympathetic. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Adapting

Cassandra Dunn . S&S/Touchstone, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6160-2

Dunn's debut novel is a lively, engaging, and heartfelt tale of learning how to cope with change. Lana is separated from her husband, and trying to raise two teenagers. Her son Byron navigates between the jocks and the rebels, nursing a crush for his best friend's college-age sister, and getting interested in the sport of parkour. Her daughter Abby is descending into an eating disorder, while trying to keep up her high grades and her status as an honor student. The household is further complicated when Lana's brother Matt moves in—a challenge, since he has Asperger's syndrome, and has a unique way of ordering the world. Told from the alternating points of view of Lana, Matt, Byron, and Abby, Dunn is able to fully draw the reader into each individual character's skin. Through the four characters' conflicts, Dunn draws the reader's sympathy: Matt, in particular, is a memorable narrator. This is a thoughtful and touching novel, and will leave readers eager for the author's next work. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lay It on my Heart

Angela Pneuman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner, $14.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-15-101258-9

Pneuman uses potent prose in her intimate and intense debut novel about a most difficult month in the life of a 13-year-old girl in rural Kentucky. Charmaine Peake's grandfather was a famous evangelical, her father is a prophet, and the day-to-day life she leads with her parents is governed by religion. When her father suffers a mental break upon returning from a year in the Holy Land, the result is that Charmaine and her mother must move into a trailer by the river and rent out the family home to pay for his in-patient care. Meanwhile, Charmaine's physical maturation speeds up, and at her new school, she encounters others her age whose lives are not wholly dictated by their faith. Regular teenage angst is magnified by her attempts to live up to her father's ideals, and complicated by living in cramped quarters on a dime with a long-suffering mother. The author is very effective with her first-person narrative; readers will come to intimately inhabit Charmaine's point of view. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Whispers

Joshua Luna. Image Comics, $14.99 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-1-63215-060-8

After breaking into graphic novels as the writer of Ultra and going on to such titles as Girls and The Sword, Luna makes his debut as a solo writer/artist, telling the story of a young man with OCD-Cleanliness disorder who suddenly begins to fly in his dreams—ending up with real people and real places. Finding himself able to nudge people's existing thoughts into action, Sam Webber struggles with the why and how of his power as demons—both in his mind and outside of it—make him question his place in the real world. But soon innocent people are brought into the spiraling fight against said demons, and as Sam's dreaming-waking world blends together, he learns what helping others—and helping yourself—really is. A sophisticated tale depicting the struggles and deceptions of obsession, this book is heavy but strikes the right chord. The artwork is clean and concise, yet carries a lot of emotional detail, with the dream sequences breaking into more amazing vistas. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Invisible Streets

Toby Ball. Overlook, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0902-7

Ball's third thriller set in an unnamed American city (after 2011's Scorch City) is his best yet. It's 1963, and the power structure is moving ahead with a radical plan to alter the city's geography using tax incentives to transform its center into "a single, powerful, enormous business district." Highways will link the center with new affluent suburbs while bypassing poorer neighborhoods. With the support of businessmen and corrupt politicians, the New City Project seems unstoppable. The theft of a full trailer of explosives interjects an element of uncertainty. Against this backdrop, Panos Demitropoulis asks reporter Frank Frings, who has been waging a quixotic fight on behalf of the have-nots, to trace his missing grandson, Sol Elia, whom he hasn't seen in two years but now has reason to hope is alive. Frings's search for Sol intersects with a wide array of plot lines, which build to a stunning conclusion. Ball portrays the realities of graft and moral compromise in government perfectly, and slides in some insights into urban planning as well. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Last to Know

Elizabeth Adler. Minotaur, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-01992-9

In this plodding whodunit from Adler (Please Don't Tell), Boston homicide detective Harry Jordan retreats to his lakeside cabin in Evening Lake, Mass., to decompress after the recent breakup with his fiancée, Mallory Malone. But he can't relax for long when a neighboring house, belonging to Lacey Havnel and her daughter, Bea, suddenly goes up in flames, with Bea the only survivor. Little is known about the Havnels among the small community of Evening Lake, but the unofficial matriarch of the area, Rose Osborne, agrees to take 21-year-old Bea in while the investigation into the fire continues. Rose and her husband, acclaimed suspense novelist Wally Osborne, share their home, known as a haven of calm, with oldest son Roman, twins Madison and Frazer, and youngest son, Diz. When Jordan digs deeper into the lives of Lacey and Bea, he's surprised by the larcenous trail he discovers, making him question whether the fire was an accident after all. In predictable fashion, another corpse shows up, and the Osbornes are revealed to be more complex than they first appeared. Readers will find nothing new or revelatory, and the interstitial sections written by "the killer" are more annoying than insightful. Agent: Anne Sibbald, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe's 1st Detective

Edited by Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (332p) ISBN 978-1-781161-75-3

Execution doesn't match concept in this uneven anthology, which includes Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and nine stories inspired by that classic tale introducing C. Auguste Dupin, the prototypical eccentric sleuth, whose brilliance is chronicled by an admiring sidekick. In Mike Carey's sly and witty "The Sons of Tammany," easily the volume's best entry, political cartoonist Thomas Nast narrates Dupin's experiences in 1870 New York City investigating the death of 20 men working on constructing the Brooklyn Bridge. While the authorities are quick to write off the fatalities as accidental, Dupin quickly ascertains the truth and the motive behind the crimes. Given that Dupin was created to be the master rational problem-solver, readers may be disappointed that some selections are thrillers rather than whodunits. Other contributors include Clive Barker, Simon Clark, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Massie, and Lisa Tuttle. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cup of Blood: A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Prequel

Jeri Westerson. Old London (www.JeriWesterson.com), $12.99 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-1-497476-12-7

A prequel, Westerson's seventh medieval noir (after 2013's Shadow of the Alchemist) lacks the cleverness that distinguished earlier entries in the series. In 1384, seven years after Crispin was implicated in a treasonous plot, the knight-turned-PI is relaxing in a London tavern when his pocket is picked. Upon apprehending the boy thief, Jack Tucker, Crispin finds that one of the other pickpocket's victims is no longer among the living. Naturally enough under the circumstances, the sheriff arrests Jack for poisoning the victim, who appears to have been a Templar knight. Despite the absence of a paying client, Crispin resolves to determine who the real killer is. The inquiry brings him back in touch with his old flame, Rosamunde, Lady Rothwell, who left Crispin after his disgrace. The resolution is more Raymond Chandler than Ellis Peters, but even longtime fans may find aspects of the resolution a letdown. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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