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Wonder Valley
336 pages; Ecco
In the mid-19th century, Americans were urged to "go West, young man, go West!" But as the SoCal latecomers of Ivy Pochoda's scintillating noir Wonder Valley discover, the Golden State has now come of age, its myth of salvation as much a trap as a promise. That doesn't stop the novel's motley crew—a lawyer in free fall, a grief-stricken drifter, a tennis star turned cult survivor—from hoping.

At first glance, these lost souls in the City of Angels seem as disconnected from one another as the Mojave from the Pacific. There's Ren, who, just released from juvenile detention, has arrived by cross-country bus to search for his mother and a new start. He lives in a tent downtown, while Tony travels back and forth from his cushy Hollywood job to his equally cushy Beverlywood home but can't fight off a festering malaise. After a life-changing accident, Britt flees the scene of the crime and becomes an "intern" at a chicken farm/cult led by a charismatic father figure; in the same desert, the drug-dealing Blake is in thrall to his own strongman, a superstitious killer whose freewheeling acts of violence will ultimately bind all the characters together.

In the end, the California lure of fresh beginnings delivers—if not in stardom or panned gold, in the kind of reinvention and human connections still to be found on the trail west.
— Natalie Beach