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Notable books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Missing Witness

Douglas McKenzie turned down a job at a prominent San Francisco law firm in order to work with famed defense attorney Dan Morgan. For his first two months on the job, Morgan never shows up. Then he arrives drunk at the Arizona Men's Amateur Championship, where McKenzie is playing in the final. They learn that the son of one of their big clients has been murdered, the son's wife is under arrest, and the client wants Morgan to defend her.

This first novel by a practicing trial lawyer mixes deft plotting, an evocative sense of time and place (1973 Phoenix), and lively characters in a page-turning story that pits idealism against cynicism and raises questions of legal ethics. Caution: language.

Winter Study

Several years ago mystery writer Nevada Barr wrote a book called Seeking Enlightenment Hat by Hat about a spiritual journey that had led her into the Episcopal Church. So far that personal history is making faint inroads into her Anna Pigeon mystery series. Anna is now married to an Episcopal priest, so there are brief mentions of faith but not much thematic carry-through.

Barr has always been able to depict well wildlife and the national parks in which she sets her mysteries. This time the setting is Isle Royale in Lake Superior during the middle of winter. She gets the setting right and uses action, along with bad language and graphic description of sexually explicit photographs, to make up for a thin plot.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome

In 1915 two Minnesota neighbors, Monte Becket, who once wrote a bestselling novel, and Glendon Hale, who abandoned his wife decades earlier, head out from Minnesota to Mexico so Hale can ask his wife's forgiveness. And thus begins a picaresque journey through the fading Old West.

The travelers they meet include a young auto mechanic who wants to be a cowboy and an old Pinkerton who after 20 years is still chasing Hale and would rather rack up arrests in this life than worry about the next. An authoritative authorial voice accompanies a plot that moves well: From page one readers know that we're in good hands for a journey with many unexpected stops.

Momzillas

Momzillas takes aim at an easy target: the rich, super-competitive uber moms who inhabit Manhattan's Upper East Side. Kargman depicts them as pack animals, judging themselves and others on the clothes their toddlers wear, the schools they send their children to, and the silly charities they support (People in Manhattan against Pimples, PIMP for short).

None of the characters is admirable (or believable), not even the protagonist. She's 30 going on 15, with a foul mouth and raunchy sense of humor; she is as cowed by peer pressure as a high-school freshman. Sometimes mom lit is perfect for poolside reading, but there's nothing witty or engaging about this novel-except the cute cover art.

Spotlight

Seven of the top 15 books on the Booksense.com bestseller list for children's illustrated books feature a girly girl named Fancy Nancy. The books-written by Jane O'Connor and illustrated with pen and ink on watercolor in vibrant pinks and purples by Robin Preiss Glasser-feature a little girl who loves frills and feathers but lives with ordinary, unfancy parents who don't always understand her. She loves fancy words, especially French ones, and uses them often, explaining in the next sentence what they mean.

In Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, Nancy wants a Papillon (that means butterfly in French) like her neighbor, but her parents don't want a little indoor dog. By the end of the book, Nancy has come around to their point of view and is happy with a rambunctious pound puppy named Frenchy.

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