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Tracer

Rob Boffard. Orbit, $9.99 mass market (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-26527-0

Boffard's debut science fiction thriller delivers all the headlong excitement and unconvincing worldbuilding of a Hollywood SF blockbuster. After a planet-ruining nuclear war, the last humans eke out a painful existence on the Outer Earth space station. Twenty-year-old Riley Hale works as a tracer, free-running through gangs and rusted station infrastructure to deliver packages anywhere, any time. When she accidentally discovers that the package she's carrying is a freshly harvested human eyeball, she runs afoul of Oren Darnell, a ruthless man who's plotting to destroy Outer Earth and everyone on it. It's up to Riley, with help from the rest of her tracer crew and the trusty lab tech who loves her, to disrupt Oren's plan. Most of the characters, particularly the villains, never really rise above caricature, but Boffard stuffs the story with enough ambushes, narrow escapes, betrayals, and plot twists to keep thriller fans biting their nails. Readers who prize the rush of an action-packed plot will have fun with this. (July)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Pain Tree

Olive Senior. Cormorant (UTP, dist.), $22.95 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-77086-434-4

This collection of short fiction from Senior is a beautiful if uneven assemblage. Though her prose prowess is always on exquisite display, there are tonal and thematic miscues in stories such as "The Pain Tree" and "Coal," in which character depth is unusually absent and the interracial interactions—one of the central components of the collection—come across as forced and stereotyped. Those flaws are somewhat baffling, given the author's personal connection to the stories' subject matter and her use of Jamaican culture and history as the basis for her work. Other stories in the collection don't falter when engaging similar concerns. "Boxed-In" and "The Country Cousin" vacillate between effectiveness and slippage for their own reasons, and "Moonlight" and "A Father Like That" aren't strong enough for what else is represented. But other stories, such as "Silent," "The Goodness of My Heart," "Lollipop," and "Flying," all soar. Even with its occasional failings, this collection is well worth reading. (Sept.) [2015]

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Crazy Dead

Suzanne F. Kingsmill. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $11.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3552-1

This well-written and often enthralling story is the fourth in Kingsmill's series featuring quirky zoologist Cordi O'Callaghan. While in a profound depression, Cordi voluntarily committed herself to the psychiatric ward of a Toronto hospital. As she begins her recovery, she becomes aware that there is something strange going on in her ward. Things take a disturbing new turn when she finds Mavis, a wealthy fellow patient, dead in the room they share. The staff steadfastly denies that Mavis is dead, Cordi's brother has more faith in the doctor's assessment than in Cordi's, and the police are unwilling to accept the word of a mental patient—they need proof. Cordi, who has done her share of amateur sleuthing in the past, decides to investigate the death on her own. But even she begins to doubt her perceptions of reality at times. Was the murder real or a hallucination? Suspense builds as Cordi and readers wonder whom she can really trust. Kingswell's knowledge of psychiatric conditions and therapies adds realistic details as Cordi navigates her way among staff, patients, and suspects on the way to the surprising denouement. (July)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Panacea

F. Paul Wilson. Tor, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8516-1

This suspenseful paranormal thriller from Wilson (Fear City) introduces evil CIA agent Nelson Fife and the religious extremists of the 536 Brotherhood, a monastic order whose members dedicate their lives to wiping out a miracle cure and its guardians. Dr. Laura Fanning, a New York City medical examiner and mother of a deathly ill child, stumbles on evidence of this miracle potion while conducting several routine autopsies. Her scientific mind refuses to believe in its power, but she agrees to travel practically around the world in search of this cure at the behest of an incredibly rich, terminally ill mystery man. She takes along his equally mysterious aide, Rick Hayden, as her bodyguard. Laura and Rick track the cure's origins via a series of tattoos on the guardians' corpses. Tension mounts as Nelson hacks Laura's phone and sets in motion a plan to make her unaware of the danger mounting at home, so she can lead him to the guardians of the cure. At times Wilson tries too hard to educate the reader instead of moving the story forward, but for fans of mysterious ancient sects and miraculous possibilities, it's an entertaining tale, underlined by a clear battle between good and evil. Agent: Al Zuckerman, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Fetching Sweetness

Dana Mentink. Harvest House, $12.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-7369-6623-8

Stephanie Pink is on the verge of realizing her dreams of being a literary agent when author Agnes Wharton promises to share a coveted manuscript with her. But Agnes's dog, Sweetness, runs off before Stephanie can meet with Agnes, and the eccentric author gives her a strange stipulation: bring back Sweetness or no manuscript. Desperate not to lose the hope of her success, Stephanie embarks on a bizarre journey with mysterious Rhett Hastings, whom she meets a campground while tracking the runaway dog. Rhett is a wealthy CEO with a new desire for following God's plan for his life, and he's trying to reunite with his sister, Karen, whose life he once ruined. Together, Rhett and Stephanie road trip across three states in a rundown RV to see Karen and deliver Sweetness safely to Agnes. As Rhett and Stephanie get to know each other, they begin to doubt the reality and importance of their dreams, and start to share a new one. Mentink (Sit, Stay, Love) writes with a humorous style and an openness with her characters that makes them relatable. Agent: Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Castles in the Clouds

Myra Johnson. Franciscan, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-63253-002-8

Johnson's second Flowers of Eden inspirational historical romance (after The Sweetest Rain, 2015) focuses on Larkspur Linwood, the sister of previous protagonist Bryony. Lark dreams of becoming a teacher and jumps at the chance to accompany her handsome professor and several others to teach at a school in Kenya. While there, her heart is broken, and she returns home to her grandfather's Arkansas farm, which has been hit hard by drought and the Great Depression. Anson Schafer, who ran the school in Kenya, turns up in Eden, Ark., after returning to the U.S. He dreams of starting a school to educate needy children and Lark decides to help with the plan. As she and Anson get to know each other and battle doubts and fears, love blossoms between them. The plot can be predictable, but readers who enjoy tales set during the Great Depression and have a heart for education will be pleased by this installment. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Truly Madly Guilty

Liane Moriarty. Flatiron, $26.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-06979-5

In bestseller Moriarty's (Big Little Lies) latest, one small decision—going to a barbecue—reverberates through the lives of the six adults. Childhood friends Erika and Clementine couldn't be more different. Obsessive-compulsive Erika is married to Oliver; both are accountants, and they have no children. Clementine is a disorganized classical cellist with a husband, Sam, and two small children, Holly and Ruby. These two families are unexpectedly invited to a barbecue at the opulent home of Erika's neighbors: wealthy and vivacious Vid; his "smoking hot" wife, Tiffany; and their 10-year-old daughter, Dakota. During what is supposed to be an ordinary afternoon of food, drink, and lively conversation among people just beginning to become friends, a harrowing event deeply affects all these characters, forcing them to closely examine their choices, not only of that day but of their entire lives, and the effects of those choices. The novel holds back the meat of the story until the reader is about to burst with curiosity, but this technique strangely doesn't feel like torture; it gives readers a chance to consider the endless possibilities of every moment. (July)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Late One Night

Lee Martin. Dzanc (Consortium, dist.), $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-938103-49-0

Pulitzer-finalist Martin delivers a taut, satisfying mystery about people "bound by their stupidity and their love." In small, rural Goldengate, Ill., Della Black and three of her children die when their trailer home burns down. Four other children survive. Townspeople gossip about Ronnie, Della's estranged husband, who had been at the double-wide on the afternoon of the fire to confront her about divorce papers she'd served him. After the fire marshal rules arson, everyone assumes Ronnie is guilty. With deft switches in point of view, Martin slowly reveals what happened that fateful winter night. His characters are complex and believable, from Della's elderly, bereaved parents to Angel Black, the eldest of the surviving children. Brandi Tate, Ronnie's pregnant girlfriend, is sure about love, which "pole axed you, clubbed you right between the eyes, and knocked you silly," but little else, including Ronnie's guilt or innocence. The story masterfully explores adult desires and disappointments, the fierce love parents have for their children, and children's yearning for familial bonds. Martin has a keen ear for the language of rural Illinoisans, sprinkling in phrases like "snort and holler," "love on you," and "skinny-Minnie of a thing." This is a compulsively readable novel about the bonds of family and community. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Here I Am

Jonathan Safran Foer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (592p) ISBN 978-0-374-28002-4

Great-grandfather Isaac Bloch's voice opens Foer's intensely imagined and richly rewarding novel. What follows is a teeming saga of members of the patriarch's family: Isaac's son, Irv, a xenophobic, self-righteous defender of Israel who claims that "the world will always hate Jews"; his grandson, Jacob, achingly aware that his decade-plus marriage to Julia is breaking down; and Jacob and Julia's son Sam, whose imminent bar mitzvah may be cancelled if he doesn't apologize for the obscene material discovered in his desk at Hebrew school. The Blochs are distinctively upper-middle-class American in their needs, aspirations, and place in the 21st century. Foer excels in rendering domestic conversation: the banter and quips, the anger and recrimination, and Jacob and Julia's deeply felt guilt that their divorce will damage their three sons. Things are bad enough in the Bloch family when world events intervene: a major earthquake levels the Middle East, spreading catastrophic damage among the Arab states and Israel. In an imaginative segment, Foer depicts the reaction of the media when Israel ceases helping its Arab neighbors to save its own people and the Arab states unite and prepare for attack. The irony is evident: Irv, the fearmonger, has been proven correct. Foer (Everything Is Illuminated) fuses these complex strands with his never-wavering hand. Throughout, his dark wit drops in zingers of dialogue, leavening his melancholy assessments of the loneliness of human relationships and a world riven by ethnic hatred. He poses several thorny moral questions, among them how to have religious faith in the modern world, and what American Jews' responsibilities are toward Israel. That he can provide such a redemptive denouement, at once poignant, inspirational, and compassionate, is the mark of a thrillingly gifted writer. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/17/2016 | Details & Permalink

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