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Books in brief

SUSPENSE

The Brass Verdict, by Michael Connelly; Little, Brown ($26.99)

The hook that makes Michael Connelly's latest novel about L.A. defense attorney Mickey Haller so compelling isn't its plot or explosive, if somewhat excessive, finale but the fact that Haller, the "Lincoln lawyer" who works from the back seat of a Town Car, finally meets up with Harry Bosch.

Connelly set the table for the meeting early on in his justly praised detective series about Bosch, the L.A.P.D. homicide cop who carries around a heavy heart and acts, figuratively speaking, as our melancholy bridge to a world of crime and darkness. Although the connection between the men is more than a little contrived -- they're half-brothers, one a defender of slime balls, the other a guy who will stop at nothing to put evildoers away -- there's enough electricity in their sparring to overcome any potential mawkishness.

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FICTION

Mama Does Time by Deborah Sharp; Midnight Ink ($13.95)

Native Floridian Deborah Sharp's acute comic timing and detailed perceptions of old Florida sparkle in her lively debut.

Although she inches a shade too close to being over the top with her characters' quirks and adds a few too many country sayings, Sharp's engaging storytelling makes "Mama Does Time" highly entertaining.

Mama is a sixty-something, four-times divorced Southern belle with a penchant for sherbet-colored pantsuits, a turquoise convertible and high hair. When a body is discovered in her trunk, Mama's three daughters Mace, Maddie and Marty turn amateur sleuths to prove their mother's innocence.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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YOUNG ADULT

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos (Atheneum, $16.99, 439 pages). Ages 12 and up.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban-American author of "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" offers a poignant coming-of-age tale as Atheneum kicks off a new venture promising "the finest literature of Latino inspiration to the world's readers." This is the story of Rico Fuentos, a blond-haired, white-skinned teenager who bears no physical resemblance to his Cuban-born parents. Rico's white skin makes him a target both on the street and at his tough public high school in late 1960s Harlem ("dark dude" is an insult people of color use for lighter-skinned folks) so he starts skipping class. Facing the threat of military school, he flees Harlem for far-off Wisconsin where a boyhood friend has used his lottery winnings to enroll in college and rent an abandoned farmhouse. In Wisconsin, Rico finds himself still struggling with questions of ethnic identity, belonging and home. Hijuelos offers vivid characters, an authentic narrative voice in Rico and a colorful contrast of Harlem's drug-plagued, dead-end violent streets and the less-than-peaceful existence Rico experiences shoveling out the outhouse and working at an all-night gas station in rural Wisconsin.

-- Jean Westmoore

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HOME ENTERTAINING

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris (Grand Central, 304 pages, $16 paper).

Quite possibly the weirdest guide to entertaining ever put on paper, this book is now out in paperback. Sedaris' guide, which made the New York Times bestseller list as a hardcover, will either appall you or send you into paralyzing fits of laughter hmmm, maybe it should be a Rorschach test for first dates and potential friends? In any case, pick it up to pore over the lush 1950s-era photos of food and hostessing items, and to ponder attitudes and advice from Amy, such as this tidbit on the value of drunks at parties: "On first thought they may seem like the perfect party guests: lively, spirited, unpredictable, and they can be until that time of the night comes when they're throwing up in your dishwasher."

In some of the photographs, used to illustrate chapters on everything from cake-baking to entertaining old people, Sedaris does Cindy Sherman-like riffs on mid-20th-century housekeeping magazine art that are alone worth the price of admission. A book to enjoy, and then pass around to your girlfriends -- the ones with the good senses of humor.

-- Charity Vogel

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