Crooked River

By Valerie Geary. (William Morrow, 326 pages, $25.99.)

You could call "Crooked River" a whodunit: It begins with a body and ends in a bloody conflagration ignited, of course, by the perp. But it's much more than that. While Valerie Geary's debut novel is clearly a page-turner, it also manages to be an endearing story of a broken family trying to mend itself.

Two sisters (Sam, 15, and Ollie, 10) have recently lost their mother. They're sent to live in a tepee in a small Oregon town with their unconventional father, Bear, who shuns society. When a young woman shows up dead, Bear is Suspect No. 1. Sam's battle to prove her estranged father innocent proves harrowing for her and her shattered family, and makes for a very compelling read.

Connie Nelson,

Senior editor for lifestyles


By John Grisham. (Doubleday, 384 pages, $28.95.)

"Gray Mountain" may be written by perennial bestselling author John Grisham, but this is not your typical page-turner. In this novel, Grisham takes aim at the coal companies that use increasingly invasive and dangerous means to mine the mountains of Appalachia. "Gray Mountain" doesn't hinge on the resolution of a single case but on the question of whether a young lawyer, Samantha Kofer, will take up the fight against Big Coal. A recent casualty of cost-cutting at a soulless megafirm in New York City, Kofer lands at a small legal aid clinic in Brady, Va., where she's confronted for the first time by actual humans who need her help. It's an eye-opening change for the Manhattan lawyer, who sometimes pines for the life she left behind. "Gray Mountain" meanders like a mountainous country road, with switchbacks and diversions. Some readers may like the gentler pace and more character-driven tale, but those looking for a driving plot and emphatic resolution will be disappointed.


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