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Elevation

Stephen King. Scribner, $19.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-982102-31-9

In this surprisingly sweet and quietly melancholy short novel, King (The Outsider) weaves an eerie, charming tale of the ways that strange circumstances can bring people together. Scott Carey is losing weight, but not mass, and there’s no scientific explanation for it. Scales register him as lighter and lighter, though his body remains as potbellied as ever, and the effect is constant regardless of what he’s wearing or holding. Shaken by his untreatable, supernatural ailment, Scott begins to notice the world around him—and particularly becomes aware of the nasty prejudice that other residents of Castle Rock, Maine, are inflicting on his lesbian neighbors, Deirdre and Missy. He sets out to fix the injustice ailing their small town, and maybe make some friends along the way. This is a lilting ode to the ineffable power that crises hold to change and mold those involved into something new. King’s tender story is perfect for any fan of small towns, magic, and the joys and challenges of doing the right thing. Agent: Chuck Verrill, Darhansoff & Verrill. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Nine Perfect Strangers

Liane Moriarty. Flatiron, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-250-06982-5

Send a motley crew of hurting but comfortably heeled Aussies to a secluded resort for a pricey 10-day “Mind and Body Total Transformation Retreat” and what happens? In this cannily plotted, continually surprising, and frequently funny page-turner from bestseller Moriarty (Big Little Lies), nothing like the restorative reset they’re anticipating. The nine guests at Tranquillum House include middle-aged romance writer Frances Welty, her normal spunkiness shaken by recent personal and professional setbacks, and 20-year-old Zoe Marconi, there with her parents on the anniversary of the family tragedy that shattered their lives. What they haven’t reckoned on is Tanquillum House’s messianic but precariously stable director, whose secret agenda could be dangerous to their health. It would be unsporting to disclose more about Moriarty’s largely endearing cast, since her progressive revelations about them contribute so much toward making this such a deeply satisfying thriller. Moriarty delivers yet another surefire winner. Author tour. Agent: Faye Bender, Faye Bender Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Naked Woman

Armonía Somers, trans. from the Spanish by Kit Maude. Feminist Press, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-936932-43-6

The first English-translated work of the late Somers (1914–1994) is a momentous allegorical tale of power and lust from 1950 that remains relevant in 2018. On her 30th birthday, the sullen Rebeca Linke leaves her home, hops on a train, and travels to a cottage deep within the wilderness, where she strips nude and tries to cut off her own head. Surviving this self-inflicted attack, she reattaches her cranium, sheds her “conventional consciousness,” and wanders the nearby fields and forests. Cut by tree branches while moving through the forest, Rebeca’s nude form inspires a dangerous lust in the men who catch glimpses of it. Rebeca passes through a secluded house in the woods, and her presence arouses the woodsman inside—who, after she leaves, rapes his wife. Later, a pair of farmers flee when they spy her and spread word of her existence through a local village. Soon, the village men form a mob, determined to find the naked woman skirting the trees, and a misogynistic frenzy of violence and sexual envy erupts. This short yet undeniably powerful take on the viciousness of the male ego exposes the soft underbelly of “civil society,” showing that just beneath the surface is man’s base animal nature. Somers’s novel is a surreal, gripping experience. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Adults

Caroline Hulse. Random House, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-51174-8

Hulse’s stellar debut follows an ill-fated trip to a Christmas-themed resort in North Yorkshire, which friendly divorced couple Matt Cutler and Claire Petersen take together for the sake of their seven-year-old, Scarlett. Tension ensues when they elect to bring along their reluctant significant others. Since Matt and Claire split two years ago, Scarlett has relied on her imaginary friend, a rabbit named Posey, to express her negative feelings. Scarlett and Posey are convinced that Matt’s scientist girlfriend, Alex Mount, kills animals for fun, and their fear is compounded when they witness Alex put a wounded pheasant out of its misery. Scarlett gets along better with her competitive stepdad, Patrick Asher, though he’s so tightly wound and concerned about what others think that Claire can’t be herself around him. Patrick misses his own children, and is repulsed by Matt’s relaxed, happy-go-lucky nature, baffled about what Claire ever saw in him. As the trip progresses, he and Alex are both thrown by how well the exes get along and start to feel jealous. From the outset, readers learn that someone is shot during an archery session, and the circumstances of the incident unfold gradually and naturally. Hulse does an excellent job building her characters, consistently increasing tension by placing them in close quarters and letting their different personalities clash. This debut is the whole package­: realistic, flawed characters placed in an increasingly tense situation, resulting in a surprising, suspenseful novel. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Seat by the Hearth

Amy Clipston. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-3103-4908-2

This third book in Clipston’s Amish Homestead series (following Room on the Porch Swing) is a moving portrait of a disgraced woman attempting to reenter her childhood community. Pricilla Allgyer fled her family and their Amish community in Lancaster, Penn., when she was 18 to live with a cousin in Baltimore. Now, eight years later, she has a six-year-old son, Ethan, and an abusive husband. Deciding she has finally had enough of her husband, she reluctantly returns penniless to Lancaster County and her perpetually disappointed father. Instead of welcoming Pricilla home, her father immediately establishes a firm set of rules for her to follow, including undergoing a shunning for her sins and marrying an Amish man of his choice. Mark Riehl, the social butterfly of their Lancaster county, is glad Pricilla has returned and is set on winning her friendship—but not her heart. However, Clipston predictably steers the two together, and their growing affections provoke Pricilla’s father to attempt to control his daughter’s life even more. Though readers won’t be surprised by how the romance plays out, this will please Clipston’s fans and also win over newcomers to Lancaster County. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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On Magnolia Lane

Denise Hunter. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7180-9054-8

In Hunter’s endearing final installment to her Blue Ridge Romance series (after Honeysuckle Dreams) Georgia pastor Jack McReady has a crush on congregation member Daisy Pendleton. While Jack has never acted on his feelings for Daisy (believing it would be inappropriate), his friend Noah doesn’t feel the same way and signs Jack up for a dating site, then connects them under the pseudonymous initials TJ. Daisy is grieving the recent loss of her father and finds great solace in both Jack’s counseling and her light conversations online with TJ. In a plot reminiscent of You’ve Got Mail, the relationship develops, and so does Jack’s shame over deceiving Daisy. When a man appears at Daisy’s flower shop and reveals unknown information about her father, Daisy’s world is shaken. Hunter manages to keep the tone light all the way through the predictable ending. Hunter’s simple romance reveals both sides of a modern, single pastor—the spiritual guide and the ordinary man looking for a partner. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Making of Mrs. Hale

Carolyn Miller. Kregel, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4535-4

In the pleasant third installment of her Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope series (following Miss Serena’s Secret) Miller traces the rocky relationship between Thomas and Julia Hale through the first year of their marriage. Thomas and Julia (who met through Thomas’s brother) begin their relationship with immediate strain after the impetuous pair elopes to Gretna Green, a village in Southern Scotland known for hasty matrimonial arrangements, infuriating Julia’s family. Soon, Thomas disappears and Julia is forced to return to her family as the prodigal daughter. When Thomas reappears with a farfetched explanation, Julia is quick to forgive—until he disappears again, and again. Julia’s mother and brother are exasperated, and a bit confused, as to how she continues to be swept away by Thomas despite his roguish behavior. When Julia gives birth to a boy, Thomas swears to reform his ways, and things slowly begin to change. The couple must learn to trust each other and work hard to convince Julia’s family and friends that Thomas has become a man worthy of her. Although religious themes never dominate, Julia’s attempts to reform Thomas are always based in her strong faith. This is a tender Regency romance speckled with mystery, intrigue, and the freeing power of forgiveness. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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His Promise: An Amish Christmas in Hart County

Shelley Shepard Gray. Avon Inspire, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-0624-6919-9

Gray (Her Fear) invites readers into the normally quiet Amish community of Hart County, Ky., in this cozy yet exciting novel. Nineteen-year-old Grace is the quietest of her large, rollicking family and finds her role in the family as the home and pet sitter perfectly tailored to her disposition. That is, until the holiday season, when she begins sitting for a temperamental, spirited dachshund named Snooze while her own family and friends are away. One snowy night, she discovers that her new next-door neighbor is none other than John Michael, the man who broke her sister Beth’s heart—and captured Grace’s own heart years ago. John Michael, now a volunteer firefighter, regrets that he had to break off his relationship with Beth—but holds the reason secret. With everyone else away, the two reconnect over Snooze’s antics (a dachshund is no match for a brawny firefighter), but when mysterious fires begin popping up near Grace’s home, John Michael dedicates himself to finding who is responsible and proving his commitment to her. Combining the warmth of old friendships, the humor of Grace’s dog-sitting antics, and a hint a mystery surrounding the fires, Gray’s inspirational Christmas mystery will appeal to any fan of Amish fiction. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Kiss Me at Christmas

Valerie Bowman. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-14752-3

Bowman’s 10th Playful Brides Regency (after A Duke like No Other) sizzles with sensuality and mystery. Determined to experience one night of passion with the man of her choice, Lady Regina Haversham propositions Bow Street Runner Daffin Oakleaf, begging him to take her virginity before she is forced to wed the Earl of Dryden. Though attracted to Regina, Daffin turns her down because of her impending engagement and his friendship with her cousin, Mark Grimaldi, who’s both Marquess of Coleford and the Secretary of the Home Office. Mark is alarmed when Regina and his wife, Nicole, are separately involved in carriage accidents, and hires Daffin to protect the women. The magnetic attraction between Regina and Daffin heats up as they spend more time in close quarters, and their friendship and romance blossom, but the class difference means a future together is unlikely. Memorable characters, rich sensuality, and mystery will entice readers from the very first page. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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All I Want for Christmas Is a Cowboy

Jessica Clare. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-984802-18-7

This Christmas contemporary is a glorious treat. Eli Pickett planned to spend his Christmas alone with his faithful dogs on Price Ranch: nothing more exciting than caking the cattle, feeding the chickens, and chasing after Houdini, his rebellious cow. Instead, he ends up nursing the beautiful Cassandra Horton after she crashes her car. Although Cass is a horrible cook, has trouble staying focused, and can’t remember much about her life, he finds her to be nice, sexy company. Cass was running from her dead-end job, her pampered boss, and her boss’s sleazy boyfriend. Although she has very few memories, she is happy to make new ones with the moody, gorgeous cowboy as they spend their days tending to the ranch and their nights focused on each other. When Cass’s memory comes back piece by piece, she’s horrified by what she recalls of her past behavior, and she must decide whether to return to her life or reveal her secrets to Eli and risk losing him altogether. There’s enough chemistry to melt snow, the story’s flow is as smooth as ice, and readers will have a jolly good time taking the journey with this adorable couple. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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