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War and Craft

Tom Doyle. Tor, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3753-5

Doyle concludes his contemporary military fantasy trilogy with this ambitious installment (after The Left-Hand Way). Scherie Rezvani, recently inducted into the secrets of the craft world as a profanity-powered exorcist, must work with the suspiciously helpful Left-Hand spirit Madeline Morton to develop her powers, save her friends, and stave off the apocalypse. The narrative sprawls to give most of the cast members point-of-view chapters, which is clearly meant to build tension but ultimately leaves the book feeling choppy and disjointed. Fans of the nationalism-driven magic system and worldbuilding will enjoy this installment, as both are further developed and deepened, with an interesting view into the global implications and sources of the magic and appearances by more than one new semisentient building. The volume hits many of the right notes for a satisfying conclusion, but it feels too muddied and rushed. Despite an uneven performance across this series, Doyle remains an author to watch. Agent: Robert Thixton, Pinder Lane & Garon-Brooke Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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An Unsuitable Heir

K.J. Charles. Loveswept, $4.99 e-book (246p) ISBN 978-0-399-59398-7

Charles brings her Sins of the Cities historical romance trilogy (An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice) to a satisfying conclusion with this love story complicated by an unlikely inheritance and a deadly killer in Victorian London. Twenty-three-year-old runaway twins Pen and Greta Starling don’t have much, but they prize their independence and their work as trapeze artists at a shabby theater. Then private inquiry agent Mark Braglewicz turns their world upside down by revealing that the twins are the children of the recently deceased Earl of Morton, and Pen has inherited their father’s title. But someone is killing everyone who knows about their secret parentage, and Mark’s friend could be the next victim if the twins don’t settle their claim quickly. Pen has serious doubts about giving up his freedom, and his fluid gender, for the narrow life of an aristocrat. The growing attraction between Mark and Pen complicates an already challenging situation. With a lively cast and a tangled, entertainingly pulpy plot, Charles delivers a sensitive, powerful romance full of humor, humanity, and suspense. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Weaver’s Lament

Emma Newman. Tor.com, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9411-8

Newman returns to her Industrial Magic series (Brother’s Ruin), set in an alternate Earth’s industrial revolution–era Britain, with this entertaining novella. Charlotte is a young woman who simply wants to marry a solid man and keep herself and her secret magic out of the clutches of the Royal Society. Her life is upended when her brother, Ben, asks her for an unusual sort of help: he wants her to masquerade as a common worker to help locate saboteurs in the mill he helps operate. She turns herself to the exhausting and dangerous labor, but, instead of discovering sabotage, she finds that solving the problem may force her to expose her magical talent. Charlotte makes a convincing heroine, good-hearted and empathetic, willing to tolerate abuse to help her brother, yet at the same time stoutly standing up for the workers. The story hints at a wider world and plenty of backstory without losing the reader or stopping for long explanations, making it quick and pleasant to read. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Rooster Bar

John Grisham. Doubleday, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54117-6

Inspired by an Atlantic article, this insightful, if flawed, novel from bestseller Grisham (Camino Island) highlights the disturbing world of for-profit legal education. Friends and third-year law students—Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero, and Zola Maal—are deep in debt. All they want is to endure their last semester at Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington, D.C., and never return. But their world changes when their friend and classmate, Gordy Tanner, commits suicide before he can reveal publicly the conspiracy he’s unearthed: FBLS admits unqualified students in order to profit from their student loans, and the school’s owner, a Wall Street lawyer turned investor, owns a bank that specializes in student lending. When Gordy’s suicide leads Mark, Todd, and Zola to realize that they are victims of a scam, they decide to drop out of school, change their identities to avoid creditors, and practice law without a license. After they make a series of missteps, their disgruntled clients and creditors start to close in, but they still manage to pull off the perfect crime and finish what Gordy started. Mark and Todd feel like the same person at times, and what drives their choices isn’t always clear. This intriguing story has some suspenseful moments, but thinly constructed characters dilute the impact. Agent: David Gernert, Gernert Company. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Pretty, Nasty, Lovely

Rosalind Noonan. Kensington, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0802-1

Studious, driven Emma Danelski, the moral center of this unconvincing psychological thriller from Noonan (Domestic Secrets), has pledged Theta Pi sorority at Oregon’s Merriwether University largely to fill the void left by the deaths of her sister and mother in a car accident years earlier. Aside from Emma’s quirky suitemates—clearly made up of the Theta Pi outcast pile—the rest of the house could have been lifted from any novel or film featuring college life. When Lydia Drakos, a Greek tycoon’s granddaughter who belongs to Theta Pi, is found dead in a ravine below one of Merriwether’s numerous but treacherous bridges, everyone assumes she jumped. Over the past two years there have been 12 suicides on campus. But conflicting evidence soon mounts in Lydia’s case: another person was seen on the bridge, and Lydia, though depressed, wasn’t necessarily suicidal. Two high-level administrators, rather robotic Sydney Cho and overly passionate Scott Finnegan, are at odds as to how to address the school’s suicide problem. Emma, who knows more than the police do about what really went on in the Theta Pi house, must decide what, if anything, to do with this knowledge. Unfortunately, Emma isn’t developed enough to gain much reader sympathy. Mystery fans will find little that they haven’t already seen before. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All but Impossible: The Impossible Files of Dr. Sam Hawthorne

Edward D. Hoch. Crippen & Landru, $45 (272p) ISBN 978-1-936363-21-6

Fans of classic mysteries interested in howdunit as well as whodunit will relish MWA Grand Master Hoch’s fourth collection of ingenious impossible crime stories (after 2014’s Nothing Is Impossible). The 15 tales are set between 1936 and 1940. Dr. Sam Hawthorne, a small-town Connecticut doctor, has a habit of encountering seeming impossibilities, such as a baby who vanishes in church right before her baptism (“The Problem of the Country Church”), to which Hawthorne is a witness. “The Second Problem of the Covered Bridge” in which a man is shot at close range while alone at the center of a covered bridge, “with more than two hundred people watching,” reprises aspects of the very first case the astute amateur sleuth cracked. As always, Hoch (1930–2008) expertly conceals the keys to the answers in plain sight and grounds the improbable situations by peopling the stories with realistic characters and injecting humor (a witness to the infant’s disappearance comments that the ceremony was routine, except that “the baby doesn’t usually disappear”). John Dixon Carr biographer Douglas G. Greene supplies an appreciative introduction. (July)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Class Mom

Laurie Gelman. Holt, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-12469-2

Laughter abounds in this spot-on mom-com, Gelman’s debut. Jen Dixon has put her rock music groupie and single mom days behind her and is living the good life with her husband, Ron; two college-age daughters (fathered by musicians in her past); and her and Ron’s five-year-old son, Max. Over her protests, Jen is charmingly strong-armed into becoming the kindergarten “Class Mom” by her best friend, PTA president Nina. As the liaison for class events, Jen puts her unique and snarky spin on communication with the parents, sending emails laced with playful threats and the occasional call for bribes and alcohol. Her misunderstood sense of humor earns her a few friends along as she faces challenges such as the ongoing struggle to gain assistance and volunteers and the reappearance of her hunky high school crush. As the school year progresses and Jen wades deeper into the drama of being in the middle of a group of strong and often outspoken personalities, Gelman showcases her comedic talent; there are hilarious observations and clever quips on nearly every page. Readers may feel overloaded by sass, but they are rewarded with a perceptive parody of parenting gone haywire. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

Gucci Mane, with Neil Martinez-Belkin. Simon & Schuster/37 Ink, $27 (270p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6532-0

East Atlanta hip-hop innovator Gucci Mane (né Radric Delantic Davis) delivers a tell-all of his checkered childhood and career. Born in rural Alabama to a drug–addicted hustler father and single mother, Gucci Mane began selling drugs by the seventh grade and rapping by age 14. Over the next two decades, he cycled through jail—including a three-year stint in federal prison—and rehabilitation facilities after numerous drug- and firearm-related offenses, and still released eight studio albums and dozens of mixtapes, formed his own record label, and worked with some of rap's top names. All the while, he groomed Atlanta's up-and-coming artists, as well as polishing his own free-associating lyrical style at "a pace that few could match." Gucci Mane is unflinching in his recounting of his life's lowest moments and refreshingly blunt about his relationships with rival Young Jeezy ("The vibe was fucked.... It was no longer a business situation to sort out. It had become personal") and erstwhile protégé Waka Flocka Flame ("Waka and I had been having problems on and off for three years. But we'd been able to keep it between us"); however, he tends to get, as he would put it, "lost in the sauce" when naming friends and enemies or describing his time as a "studio rat." Yet the story he spins is riveting, filled with music-world intrigue and inner-city shootouts and buoyed by a self-awareness not marred by ego. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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