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Spinning Silver

Naomi Novik. Del Rey, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-0-399-18098-9

This gorgeous, complex, and magical novel, grounded in Germanic, Russian, and Jewish folklore but richly overlaid with a cohesive, creative story of its own, rises well above a mere modern re- imagining of classic tales. Novik (Uprooted) begins the story through the eyes of Miryem, a Jewish moneylender’s daughter, whose pride in her ability to wring payments from borrowers draws the demanding attention of the terrifying, otherworldly, and rules-bound Staryk, who are ruled by a wintry, gold-loving king. Secondary characters—a peasant boy, a duke’s daughter, a tsar—eventually become narrators, weaving interconnections that feel simultaneously intimate and mythic. Novik probes the edges between the everyday and the extraordinary, balancing moods of wonder and of inevitability. Her work inspires deep musings about love, wealth, and commitment, and embodies the best of the timeless fairy-tale aesthetic. Readers will be impressed by the way Novik ties the myriad threads of her story together by the end, and, despite the book’s length, they will be sad to walk away from its deeply immersive setting. This is the kind of book that one might wish to inhabit forever. (July)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Anomaly

Michael Rutger. Grand Central, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-6185-4

Fans of the paranormal thrillers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child will relish this superior debut from screenwriter Rutger, who makes the fantastic seem less so by dint of his self-aware, flawed lead and his ability to inject gallows humor into tense situations. Nolan Moore hosts The Anomaly Files, a YouTube show dedicated to exploring unexplained phenomena, but he and his team hope for bigger things after the Palinhem Foundation—whose mission is truth, according to a foundation representative who goes by the name Feather—sponsors an expedition that could land the show a cable deal. Nolan and his colleagues, accompanied by Feather, travel from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon to attempt to locate a cavern allegedly found by an early-20th-century expedition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, which later suppressed the expedition’s discovery of “evidence that North America was visited in eldritch times by another culture.” Nolan and gang succeed in finding the cavern, only to encounter incredible—and terrifying—objects that place their lives in jeopardy. Rutger milks every ounce of suspense from his plot. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM Partners. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Treeborne

Caleb Johnson. Picador, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-16908-2

Using language rich as mulch, debut author Johnson tells the superb saga of three generations of Treebornes, who live near the town of Elberta in the southern reaches of Alabama. Janie Treeborne narrates much of the story, tripping through time beginning with the days of her grandaddy Hugh, forced by circumstance to join the Authority, behemoth builder of a modern dam. So as not to forget how things once were, Hugh becomes a maker of a strange art he calls “assemblies,” figures made of mud, spiders’ webs, and gears. His wife is Janie’s beloved MawMaw, the postmaster Maybelle; she is in love with Lee Malone, the “man with the blue arms” who sings like an angel and tends orchards as old as the conquistador Hernando DeSoto. When Janie’s aunt and uncle threaten to sell off and clear the ancient forest once home to her beloved grandparents, Janie and her friends kidnap her aunt to try to stop them, and she goes on the lam in the company of a magical doll made of dirt. Johnson’s pervasive use of the colloquial, even when narrating, never gets irritating. Metaphors abound, and it isn’t a coincidence the Treebornes’ town shares a person’s name; the whole place is as alive as if it walked on two feet. Sentence by loamy sentence, this gifted author digs up corpses and upends trees to create a place laden with magic and memory. (June)

Correction: this review originally misidentified the setting.

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bearskin

James A. McLaughlin. Ecco, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-274279-7

As taut as a crossbow and as sharp as an arrowhead, McLaughlin’s debut unfolds in the Appalachian wilderness of Virginia, a landscape whose heart of darkness pulses viscerally through its characters. Rice Moore is working as a biologist caretaker at the vast Turk Mountain Preserve when he discovers that poachers are killing bears to sell their organs on overseas drug markets. Rice’s efforts to curtail their activities antagonizes locals who raped the last caretaker and left her for dead, and—worse—it alerts agents of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, from which Rice has been fleeing for reasons revealed gradually, to his whereabouts. McLaughlin skillfully depicts Rice, revealing quirks and peculiarities of his personality that show how “his hold on what he’d always believed was right and what was wrong had grown fatigued, eventually warping to fit the contours of the world he inhabited”—a disconcerting revelation that helps establish the suspenseful feeling that anything can happen. Rice’s story builds toward violent confrontations with the poachers, the cartel, and nature itself. The novel’s denouement, a smoothly orchestrated confluence of the greater and lesser subplots, plays out against a tempest-tossed natural setting whose intrinsic beauty and roughness provide the perfect context for the story’s volatile events. This is a thrilling, thoroughly satisfying debut. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Magnolia Storms: A Coastal Hearts Novel

Janet W. Ferguson. Southern Sun, $4.99 ASIN B074JJ76VT

Ferguson (Leaving Oxford) sets her pleasant new series along the gulf shores of Mississippi. Meteorologist Magnolia “Maggie” Marovich left her hometown of Ocean Springs after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. She moved inland to Jackson, but failed to convince her younger sister, Cammie, and the rest of the family to come too. When Cammie is seriously injured in an accident, Maggie has no choice but to return to the coastal town she’s worked so hard to avoid. Maggie ended things with Josh Bergeron years ago when he became the captain of a commercial barge, choosing the same career that proved fatal to her father. Now, he’s her sister’s next-door neighbor, and, unbeknownst to Maggie, the two have cemented a mutual friendship, supporting each other as single parents. Both Maggie and Josh still harbor feelings for each other but much has transpired in the past decade and their stubbornness hinders a meaningful relationship. Ferguson often slows the pace considerably with unnecessary detail about the setting. However, this solid first installment of her new series introduces a complex cast of characters struggling with real-life problems of family and faith. Readers interested in winsome family dramas will enjoy Ferguson’s hopeful book. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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What Blooms From Dust

James Markert. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-78521-741-1

In this enchanting allegory, Markert (All Things Bright and Strange) crafts an imaginative tale of the Dust Bowl. In 1930s Oklahoma, Jeremiah Goodbye, known as the Coin-Flip Killer, was supposed to die in the electric chair, but a well-timed tornado spares his life and causes him to reconsider his past evil deeds. After being whisked away by the tornado, he decides to return to his hometown of Nowhere, Okla., with Peter, an odd young boy he rescues from the storm. Jeremiah has a score to settle with his twin brother, Josiah, who turned him in to the police and married the woman he once loved—but the unrelenting, almost supernatural weather may prove to be his toughest enemy. When a mammoth dust storm rolls across the plains and envelopes Nowhere, Jeremiah and Peter take on the Herculean task of clearing out their neighbors who are buried under a mountain of dust. Markert creatively portrays the timeless battle between good and evil, making for a powerful story of hope and redemption. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Just Let Go

Courtney Walsh. Tyndale House, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-4964-2152-4

Walsh (Hometown Girl) takes readers on a calm, sweet journey in this contemporary Christian romance set amidst the cold winds of Harbor Pointe, Michigan. Quinn Collins was raised by her father after her mother left when she was nine years old. Quinn, who has never forgiven her mother, is determined to get her attention by reopening the flower shop her mother abandoned 20 years before and entering a flower competition that her mother judges. Although Quinn doesn’t lack gumption, she is prone to avoiding risk and is struggling with the flower shop preparations. Grady Benson is the exact opposite—a bad-tempered world-class skier and consummate risk-taker who is recovering from a series of professional losses. After Brady gets into a squabble at a local restaurant and is court-ordered to fix damage he caused to the kitchen, Quinn agrees to help him with the repairs in exchange for his help fixing up her flower shop. The romance element is superficial; their relationship is long on regrets and broken pasts and never quite provides the satisfaction of a happily ever after. Despite this, Walsh’s charming narrative is an enjoyable blend of slice-of-life and small-town Americana that will please Christian readers looking for a sweet story about forgiveness. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Where the Fire Falls

Karen Barnett. WaterBrook, $9.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7352-8956-7

Yosemite National Park shimmers in this majestic ode to the western mountain paradise from Barnett (The Road to Paradise). When California artist Olivia Rutherford is approached by a travel magazine in 1929 to paint scenes from the park, she agrees to the lucrative project largely because she wants to shed her flapper reputation and be taken seriously as an artist. She also hopes to use the money from the assignment to have a show and present her artwork favorably to the California avant-garde art scene. Backcountry guide Clark Johnson takes Olivia on a short tour of the valley. A former pastor haunted by false accusations against him, Clark has been biding his time as a trail guide, hoping God would return him one day to ministry. A few days on the trail with Olivia reveals her hidden down-to-earth nature, and as they hike through the beautiful terrain, their mutual attraction grows. Through Clark’s grounded faith and gentle affirmation, Olivia begins to reconsider her ambitions. Faith is an integral part of this sweet historical, with references to God woven in nicely. Barnett, a former park ranger, brings natural wonder to brilliant life. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Love like This

Maria Duffy. Skyhorse, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-5107-3368-8

This gimmicky romantic epic from Duffy (One Wish) vacillates between poignant charm and an excess of coincidence. Donna and Will’s lives have intersected in strange ways from the day they were born in a Dublin hospital. Their paths converge many times, but never quite meet: for example, Donna makes the cake for Will’s father’s retirement party. As they face the vagaries of life, both are inexorably drawn toward each other—and kept apart by events that include deaths and an earthquake—until the time is finally right for them to remain together. The romance is sweet but shallow, particularly compared with the book’s sweeping scope and the pure, true emotional connections Donna and Will form with other people. A touch of mystery and some beautifully rendered explorations of human connection ensure that this will be a thoughtful, though repetitive, experience for readers. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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I Flipping Love You

Helena Hunting. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-18397-2

Hunting (Shacking Up) falters with this standalone contemporary. When Manhattan lawyer Pierce Whitfield mistakenly accuses Long Island realtor Rian Sutter of a parking lot hit-and-run, they are both surprised by the immediate attraction between them. Rian is determined not to let Pierce’s relentless pursuit distract her from making enough profit flipping houses in their Hamptons neighborhood to buy her grandmother’s old home. Their summer fling intensifies, but deliberate and accidental secret-keeping threaten the burgeoning relationship. This light story relies heavily on the tropes of an antagonistic relationship, but there is little emotional structure built on that foundation. Secondary characters such as Rian’s twin, Marley, and Pierce’s siblings, Amalie and Lawson, are interesting on introduction but quickly forgotten, and faux conflicts around other possible love interests are little more than cliché. Pierce and Rian have backstories that link up in intriguing ways, although key revelations come frustratingly late for the reader. There are hints of potential, but the end result is disappointing. (June)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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