Plot: Six young tourists, bored on Cancun beaches, head into the jungle on a day trip to an archeological site and find the trip lasts a lifetime, because their lives do not last long. The predators are man-eating vines that like to play with their food before gulping it down.
Gist: We don't mind revealing that all the tourists die because you'll save yourself time and money by not reading this. Sadly, author Smith took 13 years to follow up his bestselling first novel, A Simple Plan (1993), with a mediocre sophomore effort.
Plot: A homicide detective investigates the killing of a teenager while trying to mentor his own teenage son. A legendary retired detective and a cashiered cop join his pursuit of justice.
Gist: Don't read this unless you can take extremely gritty portrayals of inner-city life that include sex, violence, obscenity, and profanity. But critics' descriptions of Pelecanos' writing as "passionate, vital . . . powerful . . . polished, exquisitely honed" ring true. He turns what could be pulp fiction into heart-breaking social description that doesn't abandon rubbed-raw family values.
Plot: An elderly man in a nursing home remembers his Depression-era youth spent as a veterinarian at a traveling circus.
Gist: To all but one of the nurses in the home, Jacob Jankowski is just an old man, like all the others. This moving novel jumps from his humiliating and impotent life at the home to the vibrant days of his youth, when he lived and loved among the bullies, freaks, and drifters at a traveling circus. Some bad language and sex.
Plot: America's most popular morning talk show host jeopardizes her career and family when she utters an open-mike obscenity. Meghan's high-flying life and public crash cause her younger sister Bridget, the tale's narrator, to get a better grip on their relationship.
Gist: Bridget is a social worker at a women's homeless shelter in the Bronx, which is supposed to lend this novel grittiness. Instead, her work just highlights how superficial the rest is. At one point Bridget says about New York, "It is the center of the universe." Surely Quindlen agrees.
Are the anti-alcohol conventions of Christian fiction crumbling? In Jo Kadlecek's A Mile from Sunday (NavPress, 2006), religion reporter Jonna Lightfoot McLaughlin chases down leads for a story about a fraudulent minister while coping with typical chick-lit angst. She's an evangelical but, thanks to her job and her upbringing by spiritually seeking hippies, she's comfortable talking with non-Christians. She also drinks beer. In The Cubicle Next Door by Siri Mitchell (Harvest House, 2006), the two main characters, who share a cubicle and resist a romantic attraction, can't find a decent church in Colorado Springs. They end up in a Catholic Church (for the liturgy)-and also drink beer.
A nonfiction convention-that Christians should be happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time-takes a hit in When Saints Sing the Blues (Baker, 2006). Author Brenda Poinsett examines depression through the lives of biblical characters such as Job, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Paul. She writes empathetically-she has suffered from depression-and also practically by showing how biblical saints reoriented their thinking and feelings through a refocus on God.