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January 20, 2006 Edition

Hey, Cowgirl, Need a Ride? by Baxter Black

Lick, a down-on-his-luck rodeo rider, is scraping a living on a remote Nevada cattle ranch with an ornery older cowboy for company when they discover a downed plane with one passenger: Teddie Arizona. Teddie’s got $500,000, a cheating husband, and a big secret that she’s not sharing. Loose plot, but this cowboy romance is a fun read, with plenty of Black’s trademark humor.

John Crow’s Devil, by Marlon James

Set in James’ native Jamaica, this is the grim story of two preachers battling for control of a small village. Hector Bligh, a drunkard, is thrown out of his pulpit one day by Apostle York, and the days of mostly ignored and completely un-enforced Biblical teachings are over. Apostle York sets strict guidelines of behavior, with lapses punished by whippings, and starts policing the village with Believers. But before this was a Christian village, it teemed with folk traditions, and now the two belief systems are set against each other in a fire-and-brimstone battle. Not for the faint, with its brutality and sexuality, this is still a mesmerizing novel.

The New Woman, by Jon Hassler

Agatha McGee is having a lousy week. First an ice storm took her power out, then her pipes froze, and now she’s been diagnosed with pneumonia. Fiercely independent, she’s finally facing the fact that at 87 years old, it just isn’t safe for her to live on her own. When an apartment at the senior center opens up, she resignedly takes it, but soon finds that life at the center is a lot more intriguing than she’d ever guessed.

Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

This book mimics its topic: slow to start, but hard to stop once it has hit its stride. Charlie and his wife Anna live in Washington DC with their young son, trying to adjust to the changes that global warming throws the city’s way, but working from different directions. Charlie’s working the political side, trying to motivate a skeptical administration to put a lid on emissions. Anna, meanwhile, works at the National Science Foundation, where a technological solution has recently been proposed. Not as dramatic as other recent climate-change novels, this is a more reasoned and realistic portrayal of what might be happening day-to-day in our nation’s capital.

The Green Room, by Deborah Turrell Atkinson

In surfing, the green room is the underwater space beneath the waves where surfers dive to escape a dangerous swell, and in this mystery set in Hawaii’s competitive surfing culture, it is an apt image. Storm Kayama used to be a surfer, but after one too many big waves, she’s hung her board up to practice law and watch from the sand. When her cousin Nahoa receives a threat in the form of a traditional shark’s tooth club, and then disappears, Storm is the logical person to find him.

Runner, by William Dietz

It’s been centuries since interstellar portals allowed humans to disperse across star systems, so long that humanity has forgotten both its origin and the portals themselves. Now, a spiritual leader has been reincarnated planets away from his religion’s home world, and with travel between them extremely dangerous, a “runner,” is hired to escort the boy and protect him from rivals. But Jak’s responsibility is larger than he knows: not only does he hold the future of the Church in his hands, but also the secrets of the ancient portals – information which will put the possessor in control of the known worlds.

Cotton, by Christopher Wilson

Who or what is Lee Cotton? With his Icelandic father’s white-blond hair, his Mambo grandmother’s ability to hear spirit voices, and his black mother’s pragmatic look at life, he’s got a whole bunch of identities to choose from, but his ability to change is purely his own. Perhaps the ending is a little hokey, but the journey along the way is funny, enlightening, and not just a little endearing.

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