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The Antiquities Hunter: A Gina Miyoko Mystery

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-68177-857-0

This energetic series launch from bestseller Bohnhoff (The Last Jedi with Michael Reaves) introduces San Francisco PI Gina Miyoko. When Gina’s best friend, National Parks Service operative Rose Delgado, is shot and wounded in the line of duty, she teams with archeologist Cruz Veras to investigate. Their search for answers takes them to Cancún, Mexico, where Gina infiltrates the world of powerful antiquities traffickers and learns of newly discovered ancient cities with relics worth millions on the black market. Once Gina and Cruz travel deep into the jungle, Gina has to rely on her own wits as she tries to figure out who’s responsible for shooting Rose. A tough, sassy, and relatable investigator, Gina drives a Harley, packs a baby blue Magnum, and is trained in the martial arts. Her rich backstory and family life—her father was a San Francisco cop; her mother, a Russian émigré, plies her with oberegi and other good luck charms—adds unusual depth to a fun story. Readers will want to see a lot more of Gina. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Caught

Christina J. Michaels. Finfolkaheem Publishers, $14.99 trade paper (343p) ISBN 978-0-9995904-0-9

Michaels’s debut historical romance is an intriguing blend of action, drama, humor, and sexiness set against a rich backdrop of the social and cultural mores of Georgian London. When the almost bankrupt Robert Anderson, Viscount Lord Charmaine saves Miss Alison Brooke from a would-be assaulter at a ball, the two instantly connect. Their rapport is open and witty, and their attraction to each other obvious. Charmaine learns that Brooke is to inherit a fortune, but her father, who controls the inheritance, probably would not approve of Charmaine’s bankrupt situation. Will the conscientious and romantic Charmaine marry Brooke for love and risk losing her inheritance, or marry another woman simply for her fortune so he can bail his family out of financial ruin? Further complicating the situation are Marquis Anthony Farrington, who vies for Brooke’s affection, and Miss Brenda Boswell, Brooke’s faithful companion, who finds herself falling for Farrington. The relationships between the four are even messier because of the political fervor of the time, which has Farrington and Charmaine on opposing sides of the government. Animated, sharp dialogue is a highlight that makes the cast of characters even more memorable. This historical novel about following one’s heart while balancing obligations to family, friends, and society is a crowd-pleaser. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Charles Bovary, Country Doctor

Jean Améry, trans. from the German by Adrian Nathan West. New York Review Books, $14.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-68137-250-1

In this polemic novel-essay, Austrian-born philosopher Améry (On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death) makes a forceful if overheated case that Madame Bovary’s Charles Bovary is ill-served not only by his adulterous wife but also by Gustave Flaubert, the novel’s author. Améry (1912–1978) gives voice to Charles as he mourns the death of Emma Bovary, whom he loves and desires even more after her death. This is a different Charles than the one in Flaubert’s novel: more self-aware, suspicious, poetic, and passionate. He is not always convincing: “I feel others’ lust in my own base body, against all precepts of the bourgeoisie and conjugal honor.” Apart from these monologues, the book includes a critical disquisition, peppered with the occasional abstruse formulation, on the failures of Madame Bovary as a realist novel. First, Améry contends that Flaubert lets Charles live and die “improbably,” that the country doctor’s blind trust beggars belief. Second, he argues that this crime against realism stems from the author’s prejudices against the petite bourgeoisie, and that this crime is in part political: Charles, fictional though he may be, has been denied the rights of liberty, equality, and fraternity “inscribed in the principles of 1789.” Améry’s broadside, however, fails to create a more compelling Charles or successfully indict Flaubert. What it does do is raise thorny questions about an author’s responsibility toward his characters, even or especially the secondary ones, making it an object of interest for certain readers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Ordinary People

Diana Evans. Liveright, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63149-481-9

Evans’s striking novel (following 26A) investigates the relationships of two sets of friends as they navigate pivotal moments during 2008. Melissa and Michael remain engaged after 13 years; Melissa misses her former job as a magazine’s fashion editor, which she left to care for her seven-year-old, Ria, and infant, Blake, while Michael longs for the passionate relationship they used to have. Continually feeling rebuffed at home, Michael searches for attention from others and notices a younger woman in his office. Hesitant to be unfaithful, Michael plans an outing to connect with Melissa, but the evening falls short of expectations and Melissa withdraws further. Meanwhile, in the second narrative, Michael’s friend Damian is frustrated with Stephanie, his wife of nearly 16 years, because she refuses to live in London like their friends, opting instead to raise their children in the suburbs, thereby squelching his dream of city life and ambition of being a writer. Along with coping with the recent loss of his activist father, Damian believes his wife and her family don’t share his values, and instead measure their success by the size of their home and the private lessons they provide their children. With penetrating emotional and psychological observations, Evans creates a realistic portrayal of the couples as they struggle to redefine commitment. Readers looking for careful studies of relationship dynamics will find much to contemplate. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Winter Soldier

Daniel Mason. Little, Brown, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-47760-4

In Mason’s moving historical novel (after The Piano Tuner), Lucius Krzelewski is a 22-year-old, upper-class medical student in 1914 Vienna who, after Austria enters World War I, volunteers for duty. Despite his lack of practical experience, he is sent to a field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains, where he is expected to perform emergency surgeries. Fortunately, he is guided by Sister Margarete, a nurse with a mysterious background who teaches him the surgical skills he lacks. They go on to become lovers. One day, they are given a new patient, a shell-shocked soldier who can only communicate by drawing pictures. Lucius becomes obsessed with finding a cure for this patient, who is dubbed the winter soldier. Then, Margarete disappears and Lucius gets lost looking for her. He is transferred to another medical unit, then is returned home to Vienna. But despite an arranged marriage, Lucius can’t go on with his life until he finds out what happened to Margarete and the winter soldier. Mason’s old-fashioned novel delivers a sweeping yet intimate account of WWI, and in Lucius, the author has created an outstanding protagonist. Reminiscent of Thomas Keneally’s Season in Purgatory, this novel is a fine addition to fictional testaments of doctors and nurses during wartime. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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City of Crows

Chris Womersley. Europa (PGW, dist.), $17 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-60945-470-8

Womersley (Bereft) makes the early history of French witchcraft the backbone of this ghoulishly pleasing novel set in 17th-century Provence. To save the life of her last remaining child, Charlotte Picot flees her small village of Saint-Gilles after the plague kills her husband and two daughters. Just after leaving, Charlotte is attacked by bandits who capture her son. She wakes alone in the woods with the help of an old woman who pulls her back to life and gives her sinister powers that allow her to summon demons. Meanwhile, Adam Lesage is freed from prison in possession of a map that shows the location of a hidden fortune in Paris, guarded by dark spirits. On his way, Lesage meets Charlotte, who believes that Lesage is a demon she summoned to help retrieve her son. Fascinated and frightened by Charlotte’s powers, Lesage agrees to help find her son in hopes that she too will help him find his fortune. Together, they travel to Paris—the City of Crows—and enter the dark, evil underworld of spirits and witches. Based on medieval popularity of witchcraft in France and the history of the plague, Womersley weaves a haunting tale of the drastic lengths people will go to achieve their deepest desires. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Your Duck is My Duck

Deborah Eisenberg. Ecco, $25.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-268877-4

The six superlative and entertaining stories of Eisenberg’s fifth collection (after 2006’s Twilight of the Superheroes) mostly follow the wayward lives of upper-class Americans whose tragic vanities exaggerate the common human qualities that undermine all types of people. The title story follows a painter who has lost her way and finds it again in the tropical home of a volatile and exploitative wealthy couple. The amazing “Taj Mahal” introduces a cast of aging golden-era film stars who have gathered to debunk, complain about, and revel in the scathing memoir written by the grown son of the director who was once the center of their circle. The debasements and excesses of the Trump era are a frequent inspiration if not a subject—“Merge,” which bears an ironic epigraph from the current president (“I know words. I have the best words.”), is a novella-length mystery about the ne’er-do-well son of a captain of industry, who is guided in an epistolary quest by his weirdo lover. Eisenberg is funny, grim, biting, and wise, but always with a light touch and always in the service of worlds that extend far beyond the page. A virtuoso at rendering the flickering gestures by which people simultaneously hide and reveal themselves, Eisenberg is an undisputed master of the short story. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Key to Treehouse Living

Elliot Reed. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-947793-04-0

Orphaned after his mother’s death and his father’s disappearance, William Tyce, the young protagonist of this inventive, illuminating debut set in the rural Midwest, imposes order on the sudden chaos of his life by way of an alphabetical glossary, creating his own definitions for things such as revelation, mullet, and typewriter (“You may be the greatest writer of all time but until you have a typewriter your work will not be taken seriously”). The short, poetic entries track William’s going to live with his gambler uncle, that same uncle’s imprisonment for arson, and William’s ensuing raft journey downriver to find a man, Jim “River” Swift, who may have once known his father. The book’s cumulative effect is much subtler than its allusions to Twain would suggest, with the central narrative mainly serving as a pretense for Reed to examine William’s unique psychology, vocabulary, and worldview. Sections on heavy topics like absence are no less a part of William’s character than those that offer more frivolous descriptions of the gypsy parachute house or icing of cake (“Most arousing part of a cake”). In this novel, Reed offers an impressionistic and profound exploration of self and consciousness. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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CoDex 1962: A Trilogy

Sjón, trans. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (528p) ISBN 978-0-374-12563-9

Icelander Sjón (The Blue Fox) is something of a cult figure in the English-speaking world—but that should change with his genre-bending volume, a trilogy that has the zealous heft of a lifelong labor. The book begins in Germany in the chaos of World War II, as a Jewish man named Leo Löwe enters into an affair with a barmaid. Together they make a child of a sort named Josef—one made of clay and carried in a hatbox into Iceland. There, Leo gets caught up in a plot involving Nazi gangsters and a conspiracy to steal a golden tooth from the mouth of Leo’s archenemy. In 1962, Leo’s clay son Josef finally awakens and grows into a poet who attends medical school, where he encounters an unhinged geneticist with big plans for Josef, as well as Sjón himself. But all of this is still only half the story, as the main story line is stitched together with excerpts from Viking sagas, fairy tales, and creation myths. In fact, it might make more sense to consider this book an ornate frame story for the fables with which Sjón studs his narrative. Sjón is more than a novelist; he is a storyteller in the ancient tradition, and this work may be remembered as his masterpiece. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Witch of Willow Hall

Hester Fox. Graydon House, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-5258-3301-4

Fox’s spins a satisfying debut yarn that includes witchcraft, tragedy, and love, set in 1821 New England. Ten years ago, Lydia Montrose unwittingly summoned a dark power from within herself to torment a neighborhood bully. Now 18, her family is forced to move from Boston to Willow Hall estate in New Oldbury, Mass., to escape scandalous rumors concerning her older sister, Caroline. While Caroline detests the countryside, Lydia and her younger sister, Emeline, relish the fresh air and the less constricting society; they also enjoy the acquaintance of their father’s new business partner, John Barrett. But as Lydia starts to fall for John, disturbing things begin to happen at Willow Hall. Lydia sees ghosts and hears voices who try to convince her to do bad things. Following a monumental tragedy, she will have to discover who she is in order to set things right. Despite the lack of character development for side characters, Fox effectively portrays Lydia as sympathetic, stuck between a sister with no regard for propriety and parents who can’t or won’t discipline her. The inclusion of gothic elements adds a visceral feel that fans of historical fiction with a dash of the supernatural will enjoy. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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