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Watch Me Disappear

Janelle Brown. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8129-8946-5

Almost a year after failing to return from a solo hiking trip, Billie Flanagan has been presumed dead. However, her teenage daughter Olive refuses to believe it. As the anniversary of her mother’s disappearance approaches, Olive begins having visions that lead her to believe Billie is still alive and trying to communicate with her telepathically. Olive’s father, Jonathan, who has let go of any hope for Billie’s return and is writing a memoir about their lives together, believes Olive is having seizures and should be medicated. After Jonathan quits his job to work on the book, intense concentration on his and Billie’s life leading up to the hiking trip uncovers clues that their marriage wasn’t all he thought it was. If he chooses to accept his daughter’s idea that his wife may still be alive, he risks shattering every happy memory he has of their past. But living a painful lie might be a worse outcome for everyone. Brown’s (All We Ever Wanted Was Everything) novel is more than just a page-turning suspense story. It’s a gripping family drama that focuses on the choices we make and the ties that bind us to the ones we love. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Whispers Through a Megaphone

Rachel Elliott. One, $14.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-9929182-6-2

Elliott’s excellent first novel, set in England’s Beckford Gardens, is a gentle yet unflinching look inside the heads of two very different characters whose paths cross when their lives are turning upside-down. Miriam Delaney, 35, hasn’t gone farther than her backyard in three years, and has yet to deal with multiple traumas inflicted by her now-dead, allegedly insane mother and her father’s supposed death. Meanwhile, Ralph Swoon, 37, feels adrift in his marriage and his life. When Miriam finally gets up the guts to go out her front door, a summer storm drives her and Ralph to a chance meeting in the woods. The shy Miriam and confused Ralph find a rare connection and confidant in each other. While there are many perspective changes, the story flows seamlessly between characters and story lines. The characters’ psyches are fascinating and complex, and the plot’s curveballs give enough to keep the reader engaged to the very end. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Living the Dream

Lauren Berry. Holt, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-12690-0

The tongue-in-cheek title sets the tone for a snark-filled tale of the realities and possibilities of adulthood. Emma Derringer dislikes her job: working as an assistant in the creative department of a London advertising agency makes her feel unfulfilled and less than creative. Writing is her passion, and her blog has a decent following, but it’s no way to make a living. Her friends believe she should pursue her dreams, but Emma is torn between financial security and struggling to survive. Her best friend, screenwriter Clementine Twist, is in the thick of the struggle. After a successful stint in New York, she comes back to London with few prospects and bigger debts. Together, the friends share their dalliances, dilemmas, and discontent in what becomes a witty and sardonic romp. Emma and Clem are relatable and hilarious, and their trials and tribulations keep the pages turning. Somber moments and sparks of clarity are cleverly woven into the narrative, adding depth and relevance to an authentic and satisfying novel. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Gather the Daughters

Jennie Melamed. Little, Brown, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-46365-2

Melamed’s haunting and powerful debut blazes a fresh path in the tradition of classic dystopian works. In her searing portrayal of a utopian society gone wrong, four girls share their stories of life on a sheltered island where they are ostensibly safe from the war- and disease-torn wastelands that their ancestors had escaped generations earlier. The darker truths behind their heavily patriarchal society—in which girls must submit first to their fathers, then to their husbands—emerge over the course of a year marked by a devastating plague and a quietly assembled rebellion. Led by 17-year-old Janey Solomon, who is holding her body’s development at bay to retain any lingering shreds of adolescent freedom, the island’s daughters begin to ask forbidden questions: Why do so many women mysteriously bleed out in childbirth after defying the island’s traditions? Is there habitable land beyond their shores? Can any of them choose to stray from their assigned fate? It’s a chilling tale of an insular culture grounded in “the art of closing off the world to those who seek it.” Melamed’s prose is taut and precise. Her nuanced characters and honest examination of the crueler sides of human nature establish her as a formidable author in the vein of Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All We Shall Know

Donal Ryan. Penguin, $16 (192p) ISBN 978-0-14-313104-5

Ryan (The Spinning Heart) crafts a beautiful morality play that recalls the pastoral dramas of William Trevor or Edna O’Brien. When we first meet Melody Shee, she is 33 years old and 12 weeks pregnant by a 17-year-old Irish Traveller named Martin Toppy; now, deserted by her husband, Pat, and with Martin nowhere to be found, Melody is left alone to contemplate her shame and her unborn child, even as “dying seems as unreasonable as living.” But her spirits are revitalized by a friendship kindled in the Travellers’ camps: 19-year-old Mary Crothery, a free spirit who “speaks in streams” and whose own scandalous divorce has triggered a vicious feud. Scorned by their respective communities, these two women come to rely on one another and save each other’s lives in unforeseen ways. But as Melody nears her due date, she recalls another betrayal, that of a childhood friend, and wonders whether she is “a woman divorced from decency, without restraint,” destined to fall short of all who love her. In this story of moral redemption and blood rivalries, Ryan is fair to each of his characters, as well as vivid in his evocation of Traveller culture. The result is a lush and lively novel that fascinates from its opening words to its tender last lines. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Matter of Trust

Susan May Warren. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2745-1

Warren adds another winner to her popular Montana Rescue contemporary romance series (following Rescue Me). Extreme snowboarder Gage Watson can’t seem to escape his past. After a fatal incident occurred on his watch on the infamous cliff called Terminator Wall, he left racing and spent three years reinventing himself; now he rescues endangered skiers as a member of PEAK Rescue. Ella Blair, a young lawyer and politician, feels guilty about representing the family of the deceased snowboarder and contributing to the downfall of Gage’s racing career. When her brother recklessly decides to attempt Gage’s record-setting stunt, she heads to Montana to try to stop him. Gage joins her efforts and their old resentments and revived romantic feelings well up. The emotional content gets second billing to their dangerous attempt to save Ella’s brother from his daredevil escapade. When the rescue goes sideways and their own lives are imperiled, Gage and Ella are forced to put their faith into action and confront their past. Everything about this story sparkles: snappy dialogue, high-flying action, and mountain scenery that beckons the reader to take up snowboarding. Readers will recognize familiar friends introduced in earlier Montana Rescue novels, who round out a lively crew with engaging subplots of their own. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Divide

Jolina Petersheim. Tyndale, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4964-0222-6

Petersheim completes the tale begun in The Alliance in this entertaining post-apocalyptic romantic adventure. After an electromagnetic pulse permanently changed modern life, Moses Hughes, an Englischer pilot who helped Leora Ebersole’s Old Order Mennonite community escape to the mountains, can only hope that her new beau, Jabil Snyder, will make Leora happy. Jabil, the bishop’s nephew and heir apparent, is a good, kind man and, despite Leora’s lingering feelings for Moses, she agrees to marry Jabil. But when Moses, who left the camp after delivering Leora to safety, returns to the Mennonite compound, life quickly becomes complicated and all are forced to face the reality of their feelings. This love triangle is set against the backdrop of a fight for survival, battling nature as well as other humans. The Agricultural Resource Commission, a quasi-government agency, is attempting to violently round up those still living and enslave them in work camps. The Alliance is necessary reading to fully appreciate the characters and plot of this sequel. Petersheim invites readers to contemplate the question of what really matters when nearly all earthly objects are lost. (June)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person

Daniel Zomparelli. Arsenal Pulp (Consortium, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $15.95 trade paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-55152-675-1

Within Zomparelli’s (Davie Street Translations) hit-and-miss debut collection of 32 short and flash fiction stories, readers will find a young gay couple in a ménage with a ghost ex-boyfriend; a shy monster clothed in the loose skin of a human, desperately seeking love; and a fake boyfriend helping a grieving mother uncover deep, heart-wrenching truths about a son she didn’t know was gay. There are also random hookups—a lot of them. The stories vary greatly in quality. For much of the first half of the book, the writing is sparse, pared to a point of disaffection and disengagement; characters make decisions about their lives without external forces propelling them to do so. In the second half, however, Zomparelli’s staccato emotional rhythms find their place in some of the more surreal and strange pieces, including “Craig Has Very Nice Skin” and “Dream Boy.” The book is at its best when it sloughs off the confines of reality and leans into the impossible. It shows its worth in the way themes come together in the final, titular story, in which the narrator, a “terrible person,” tells his friend “I’d be better as a ghost, or a monster, or a memory.” As readers witness throughout, ideas are often easier to love than people. (May)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Listening for Jupiter

Pierre-Luc Landry, trans. from the French by Arielle Aaronson and Madeleine Stratford. QC Fiction (IPG, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (218p) ISBN 978-1-77186-098-7

Landry’s (L’équation du temps) inventive novel is his first to be translated into English. It’s told in two voices, with Stratford and Aaronson each translating one character. Xavier is a globe-trotting pharmaceutical sales rep; Hollywood is a student who lives with his parents and works at a graveyard. The two men, both lonely and unfulfilled despite networks of slightly odd friendships, start to meet in their dreams in what seems to be a chance to face their existential struggles. The novel is a fantastical and partly fragmentary blend of science fiction (Hollywood has had his heart removed in an attempt to stop his weariness and gloom), climate change fiction (Montreal has an endless summer while Europe and parts of North America deal with inordinate amounts of snow), and surreal dream writing (sometimes hard to distinguish from the men’s waking lives). The reason the universe has brought them together is unclear, but their encounters give them both the impetus to move forward, even if the way is never as straightforward as they would like. This adventurous, improbable novel, which leaves readers wondering whether the two characters are, in fact, two different destinies of the same person, is an intelligent take on a hybrid of literary and genre writing. (June)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Take Out

Margaret Maron. Grand Central, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6735-5

In 2016, MWA Grand Master Maron ended her popular Deborah Knott series with Long upon the Land, which resolved several outstanding questions about the characters. She also settles some unresolved issues in this, the excellent 10th and final entry in her series featuring New York City detective Sigrid Harald, which began in 1981 with One Coffee With and seemed to end with 1995’s Fugitive Colors. An unexpected personal problem arises for Harald with the appearance of Vincent Haas, who claims to be the son of her deceased lover, Oscar Nauman. If Vincent is indeed Nauman’s son, he may have a claim on the fortune that his late father left to Harald. Meanwhile, she investigates the mysterious simultaneous poisoning deaths of two homeless people, Matty Mutone and an unidentified older man. Mutone’s sad story, as Harald pieces it together, connects him with one of Harald’s neighbors, the widow of mobster Benny DelVecchio. Another neighbor, former opera star Charlotte Randolph, is able to identify the second victim as Jack Bloss, a backstage worker. A tangle of relationships tests Harald’s abilities to ferret out which of the two men was the killer’s intended victim—and why. If this is indeed Maron’s final book, as she has announced, she is quitting while still in top form. Agent: Vicky Bijur, Vicky Bijur Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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