The Appeal, by John Grisham (Doubleday, 358 pages, $27.95).
After detours through Italy and the world of nonfiction, John Grisham is back on familiar territory: the courtrooms of Mississippi. It's about time. No author can spin a tale of legal intrigue like Grisham. Once again, idealistic attorneys stand up for the victims of an evil corporation, but the story is much more complicated than that. "The Appeal" opens with the reading of the verdict in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by a woman who lost her husband and young son to cancer caused by toxic chemicals dumped by Krane Chemical. The victim wins a huge settlement, and the corporation's CEO, Carl Trudeau, vows to win the appeal, through any means necessary. While lacking some of the vivid characters of earlier Grisham works, the multilayered plot is one of his most convoluted, and best, yet.
TIM O'BRIEN, Editorial-page blogger and editor
DIABLERIE by Walter Mosley (Bloomsbury, 184 pages, $23.95).
Easy Rawlins might have gone gently into the not-so-good night in Walter Mosley's last novel, "Blonde Ambition," but the prolific author has plenty more conflicted, middle-aged black male protagonists in his arsenal. The latest and perhaps coldest: Ben Dibbuk, whose seemingly stable, secure life is abruptly altered after a "chance" meeting with a woman whose claims of a past encounter are either fallacious or furrowed deep within the nether regions of his memory bank. The resulting sojourn into his subconscious mind and brooding soul includes primal sex, a "thousand lies" unpeeling and vivid dreams that might be more than all that. This psychosexual noir thriller is rough going for Dibbuk and any queasy reader, fueled by the creeping realization that no matter how adept we are at controlling our existence, life has its own plans for us. The destination might be unclear, but the reward, as always with Mosley, is in the journey.
BILL WARD, Features writer
BLACK PAIN by Terrie M. Williams (Scribner, 333 pages, $25).
Plain and simple, this book is sad. "Black Pain" discusses depression, one of the biggest taboos in the black community. Author Terrie M. Williams reveals how blacks are taught to "not air their business" and that sadness is not a luxury they can afford. Combined with a lack of trust in health-care professionals, some, such as singer Phyllis Hyman, have taken their lives. With forewords by R&B songstress Mary J. Blige and Essence editor Susan L. Taylor, and countless testimonies from actors, scholars, authors and everyday people, Williams sheds light on this particular darkness, and encourages those who need help to get it.
Melissa Walker, Calendar writer
STALKED by Brian Freeman (St. Martin's, 368 pages, $24.95).
In Minnesotan Brian Freeman's third thriller, Police Lt. Jonathan Stride is back in Duluth and trying to save both his professional partner and his life partner. The former, Maggie Bei, is a suspect in the murder of her husband; the latter, Serena Dial, is struggling to let go of past abuse. After opening with a terrifying escape scene and murder, the novel bogs down a bit in catching up first-time readers on the characters' previous experiences. But soon we are swept up in the chilling hunt for a killer and rapist -- chilling in more ways than one: The descriptions of a dead-of-winter nighttime foot chase around Duluth's deserted harbor area and a heart-thumping drive onto thin ice in a blizzard will have you glancing over your shoulder -- and reaching for another sweater.
JUDY ROMANOWICH SMITH, News designer
BONE RATTLER by Eliot Pattison (Counterpoint, 460 pages, $29).
In his fifth novel, Eliot Pattison weaves a wearisome mystery in the colonial wilderness during the French and Indian War. Duncan McCallum is a Scottish highlander sent to America on an English convict ship after getting a dose of the king's injustice. Trained as a doctor, he is enlisted to investigate shipboard murders that are layered in American Indian spiritualism and Old World superstition. The story is filled with odd, mystical events that McCallum, transformed into an 18th-century crime-scene investigator, is determined to piece together. It's a book strictly for devotees of the spiritual-mystery subgenre.
DAVID SHAFFER, Investigative reporter
JANE BOLEYN by Julia Fox (Balantine, 379 pages, $26.95)
Little is known about "the other Boleyn," and this first biography doesn't add much. Jane was a minor figure in King Henry VIII's court. She may or may not have helped send her sister-in-law, Queen Anne Boleyn, to the executioner in 1536 on the notion that Anne committed adultery by sleeping with her brother-in-law George, Jane's husband. She may or may not have been present in many of the scenes described in the book. Such is the scant record. But the book is an erstwhile account of the court intrigue that swirled around King Henry as he disposed of one wife after another. Jane, who prospered at court even after Anne's death, was finally undone by her purported role in arranging lovers' trysts for another of Henry's wives, Catherine Howard. For that, Jane Boleyn was executed in 1542. What Fox has brought forth, in her first book, is an intriguing portrait of the childless Lady Rochford as an honorable woman who carved out a career in a vicious man's world.
K.J. PETERSON, Database specialist
EVERLASTING by Kathleen Woodiwiss (William Morrow, 336 pages, $24.95)
When Lady Abrielle of Harrington is forced to marry the evil squire Desmond de Marlé, readers of "Everlasting" can rest assured, the maiden of noble Saxon heritage will persevere. And who better to help her do so than the dashing Scotsman, Sir Raven Seabern, he with the brilliant blue eyes and wayward grin? Author Woodiwiss, renowned among historical romance writers for her groundbreaking use of lusty love scenes and independent-minded heroines, died July 6 in Princeton, Minn., but she left millions of readers with this fat, juicy story of allegiance and betrayal, intrigue and danger, and, of course, overwhelming, everlasting love. Set near the end of the Crusades in 1125 England, the story maintains an authentic voice and energetic plot as Abrielle and Raven endure witchcraft, poisonings, bloody battles and ardent suitors. While perhaps not as riveting as her earliest novels ("The Flame and the Flower," "The Wolf and the Dove"), this final work maintains Woodiwiss' legacy as one of the genre's grande dames.
SHERRI HILDEBRANDT, Copy editor