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Pop reviews — week of Feb. 2

In the Blood

Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger’s novels all explore the theme of family and how it shapes people’s lives. Her latest, In the Blood, examines the life of Lana Granger, a person with many secrets.

Granger appears to be running away from a traumatic event in her past. She’s found college life rewarding, and is about to graduate. She needs extra money, and learns of an opportunity to baby-sit a young boy named Luke (who has secrets of his own). The two of them hit it off, and Granger looks forward to spending her afternoons with him.

When her best friend, Beck, disappears, the police suspect Granger since she was the last one to see him alive. As the authorities dig deeper, they discover Granger lied about her alibi, and that she has connections to a dead body found a year earlier.

What the police don’t understand is that Granger cannot tell the truth about what happened on either of those occasions. The lies have been flowing so constantly they have become truth.

And then Luke begins to show signs of hostility.

Nothing is what it seems as Unger pulls off some beautiful surprises in this intriguing thriller. Once the final page of In the Blood is turned, readers will flip through the novel to see if they can uncover how Unger masterfully told the tale.

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press


The Autumn Defense

When not rocking out with Wilco, multi-instrumentalists John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone dish out smooth ’70s-sounding pop as the Autumn Defense. Their fifth release, the appropriately titled Fifth, comes four years after their last effort.

The wait was worth it.

The Autumn Defense is all about melodic hooks and harmonies. Fans looking for some of the rougher musical edges that Wilco dives into will be disappointed. The approach is clearly on display with the opening track, None of This Will Matter, a song so easy on the ears it feels like a warm auditory hug.

Stirratt and Sansone find a groove and stick with it through all 12 tracks. That consistency can be either monotonous or entrancing, and sometimes both at the same time.

The songs’ lyrics touch on feelings of melancholy, longing, sadness, love and depression. It’s a broad spectrum, all tied together under the rich musical tapestry created by Stirratt and Sansone.

Watch out, Wilco. The Autumn Defense is on the offensive, albeit in a very mellow way.

— Scott Bauer

Associated Press

That Old Black Magic

Mary Jane Clark

Piper Donovan doesn’t care about playing detective. She’d rather design wedding cakes and go to auditions for TV and film roles.

To the delight of her fans, however, Piper has another close encounter with evil in That Old Black Magic, fourth in the series by Mary Jane Clark.

Piper goes to New Orleans to spend a few pleasant days as a guest baker in a renowned pastry establishment. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a murder spree.

As a creepy locale, the Big Easy couldn’t be better. Cemeteries have above-ground tombs, a bar displays voodoo talismans and the bakery that Piper is visiting sells voodoo doll cookies with chocolate needles in their hearts.

Enhancing the local color are intriguing characters such as a maid and her brother who practice voodoo, a tour guide working on a doctoral dissertation on nursery rhymes, a descendant of a Civil War-era plantation owner and a French-born baking master.

But who’s behind the bloodshed in the French Quarter? The author hides the culprit and motive so well that even the seasoned armchair detective may not guess the truth before Piper comes face to face with the murderer.

Perfectly paced and plotted, That Old Black Magic is the most accomplished Piper Donovan mystery so far.

— Waka Tsunoda

Associated Press


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