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Books in Brief: Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar; Wet Cement by Bob Raczka

picture book

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka; Roaring Book Press, $17.99.

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Raczka offers playful fun with words in this intriguing book of poems, the title of each creating pictures with letters, and each poem creating pictures with words. In “Hopscotch,” letters of both title and poem read from bottom to top as in chalk on a sidewalk; “Hanger” is in the shape of a coat hanger (“I hang out in blue jeans and comfy old shirts…”). The energetic “Dominoes” is a series of slanted domino-tilted phrases marching across the bottom of the page (“Just one push, here we go, follow through, feel the flow…”). The clever “Xylophone” takes a jab at modern technology: “It doesn’t have an app for games. I really think it’s been misnamed. I will say one thing for this phone. It has unlimited ring tones.”). “Firefly” features words scattered across a night sky of black background. Great fun!

– Jean Westmoore

YOUNG ADULT

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar; Candlewick Press, 360 pages, $16.99 Ages 12 and up.

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A debut author offers a wondrous novel, deftly weaving elements of magical realism into an exploration of family, of going away and coming home, of roots, life and love. Twelve-year-old Carolina (Carol to her friends) had planned to spend her summer in Albuquerque with swimming parties and barbecues but instead finds herself stuck on a rundown sheep ranch in the middle of nowhere helping her parents move the grandfather she has never met into a facility for dementia patients. Carolina is drawn to prickly Serge (who asks her, “Why do you spit on your roots, chiquita?”) and she at first believes it must be the dementia speaking when he makes one wild statement after another: the bees have been gone for 100 years, there’s been no rain for 100 years, Serge’s dog Ines is the same apparently 30-year-old dog Carolina’s father remembers from his youth. But Carolina finds herself drawn to Serge’s stories of the past, stories that all begin: “Once upon a time, there was a tree…” He tells stories of his wife, Rosa, their friendship since childhood, her wanderlust and the travels that took her away from the village, of the tree with mysterious healing qualities, why the tree is no more. Eagar does a marvelous job portraying Carolina’s growing affection and concern for her grandfather, her belief in the truth of his stories, their shared connection in a bubble of their own reality separate from the busy hustle and bustle of Carolina’s father’s preparations to sell the ranch. The magic of Eagar’s lovely novel continues through the desperate action of the dramatic finale as it finally starts to rain and a miracle blooms in the desert.

– Jean Westmoore

SUSPENSE

Gone Again by James Grippando; Harper (400 pages, $26.99)

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In his 13th outing with Miami attorney Jack Swyteck, James Grippando pulls out all the stops as he leads the reader on a twisting tale of grief, obsession and the disintegration of a family.

Jack has struck a deal with Miami’s Freedom Institute, where he started his law career. He will still be in private practice but he will rent an office at the Institute mainly to help out the financially strapped group and as an honor to his late mentor. But his resolve not to take any cases at the Institute is challenged by Debra Burgette, whose teenage daughter Sashi was murdered about five years earlier. Sashi vanished on her way to school and ex-con Dylan Reeves is on death row, awaiting execution.

But Debra’s tale isn’t what Jack expects. She wants Jack to represent Dylan so he can stop the execution, because Debra maintains that Sashi is still alive. Each year on the teenager’s birthday, Debra receives a call. While the caller never says a word, Debra is convinced it is Sashi, whose body was never found. The police believe it is a cruel hoax and the state attorney refuses to consider the calls as new evidence, but Jack is intrigued.

Jack doesn’t expect the case to be simple, but he encounters a labyrinth of manipulation and emotion.

Grippando keeps all the plot threads briskly moving while keeping “Gone Again” believable.

In a career highlighted by a number of superb novels, “Gone Again” ranks at the top of Grippando’s work.

– Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel