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Ten Percent: Hollywood Can Be Murder

DL Bruin. DL Bruin, $15 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-0-9743479-0-5

Bruin's noirish serial killer thriller takes a nicely cynical view of Hollywood and its players. LAPD homicide detectives Maxine "Maximum" Calderas and Greg London have landed a red ball—the search for a murderer the press has dubbed the Coyote, who strangles women and dumps them by the highway. Meanwhile, a parallel story charts the ascent of actor Cody Clifton, whose star is on the rise after he lands the lead role in a TV PI series. Cody's ambition is stoked by a classic greedy and heartless agent, Shelly Monroe, who has channeled her own frustration at not succeeding as an actress into squeezing whatever she can out of the Hollywood dream machine, and who has no scruples against viewing her clientele as just a warm-blooded means toward that end. Predictably, the two story lines intersect, but the payoff will surprise some readers and makes the book more than just a broad parody of the entertainment industry. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ancillary Mercy

Ann Leckie. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-24668-2

The breathtaking conclusion to Leckie’s much-lauded Imperiald Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice; Ancillary Sword) lives up to the promise and expectations of the earlier books. Breq, the last human body housing the consciousness of the destroyed troop carrier Justice of Toren, must prepare the Athoek space station to survive the civil war spreading through Radch space. The station is overcrowded and badly damaged, and the political situation deteriorates as it becomes clear that the station has already been corrupted by competing factions of Anaander Mianaai, the many-bodied supreme ruler of the Radchaai. Breq has no way to determine the loyalties of the other military ships in the system. Things become even more complicated when station security finds somebody who doesn’t belong there and should have died 600 years before. New readers could begin the series here, but they will miss out on the deeply satisfying culmination of early plot points and running jokes. This glorious series summit is suffused with the wit and the skillful eye for character that fans have come to expect from Leckie. Breq and her lieutenants are destined to be beloved giants in the space opera canon. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Childhood Fears

Edited by Don D’Auria. Samhain (samhainpublishing.com), $14 e-book (304p) ISBN 978-1-61922-613-5

This collection of four horror novellas explores the fuel of children’s nightmares with sympathy and inventiveness. In “Nightmare in Greasepaint” by L.L. Soares and G. Daniel Gunn, a murderous clown seeks revenge on his son, who refused to carry on the family tradition. J.H. Moncrieff’s “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave” features a malicious stepfather who gives his new wife’s son a fiendish teddy bear. In Christine Hayton’s “Scarecrows” and J.G. Faherty’s “Wildwood,” cautionary tales about sinister scarecrows and menacing Yuletide creatures hold unexpected truth. All the authors effectively evoke the dread that comes from knowing the children can’t rely on their parents for protection or rescue, and real-world concerns such as child abuse and committing the mentally ill to institutions—which also highlight adults’ unreliability—sometimes loom larger than any paranormal menace. The novellas tend to focus on plot and sensory detail over character development, so the dialogue and behavior don’t always ring true. Even so, horror fans looking for new spins on familiar scares will appreciate this anthology. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror

William Sloane. NYRB Classics, $18.95 trade paper (488p) ISBN 978-1-59017-906-2

As the editor of two SF anthologies and director of Rutgers University Press, Sloane would easily have made a name for himself in the speculative fiction world even if he had not written these two tremendous novels. Reprinted for the first time in years, “To Walk the Night” and “The Edge of Running Water” blend SF and horror in a manner wholly unheard of when they were originally published in the 1930s. In “To Walk the Night,” two inseparable friends discover an impossible murder and are slowly drawn into its mystery, which threatens to consume their lives as well. In “The Edge of Running Water,” a genius electrophysicist attempts to pierce the barrier between life and death, with disastrous consequences. Sloane’s eerie, exquisitely descriptive prose is influenced by Gothic literature as well as contemporary scientific theory. Sloane is the product of his time, of course, and he uses some outdated terms for people with learning disabilities (as does Stephen King, bafflingly and willingly enough, in his introduction), but his work is still impressively well executed. These all-but-forgotten texts make excellent reading for any fan of classic SF or eldritch horror. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories

Audrey Niffenegger. Scribner, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1119-8

Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife) assembles ghostly fictions by writers both classic (Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, M.R. James) and recent (Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, A.S. Byatt) in this strong but sometimes uneven anthology. Felines feature prominently in Poe’s “The Black Cat” as well as in Niffenegger’s own contribution, “Secret Life, with Cats.” Humor is provided by P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious “Honeysuckle Cottage” and Amy Giacalone’s “Tiny Ghosts,” which introduces an irrepressible new voice. Writers who experience ghostly encounters are examined in the longest story, Oliver Onions’s “The Beckoning Fair One,” and Rebecca Curtis’s self-consciously postmodern “The Pink House.” The final story, Ray Bradbury’s postapocalyptic classic “There Will Come Soft Rains,” astonishingly anticipates today’s smart-house technology and tells the haunting story of a house that is itself a ghost. Niffenegger includes crisp introductions that provide context, such as that both Rudyard Kipling’s “They” and Byatt’s “The July Ghost” were written in response to experiencing the death of a child. Some of the older stories are more musty than scary, but the best, such as Gaiman’s very short “Click-Clack the Rattlebag,” do an excellent job of evoking that crucial frisson of dread. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nevermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre

Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles. Hades/Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-77053-085-0

This eclectic and delightful collection of original short fiction celebrates Edgar Allan Poe’s far-reaching influence on numerous genres and many well-known and respected writers, from his own contemporaries to modern-day stars. Asked by Kilpatrick and Soles to create “Poe-like tales,” 25 writers, including Margaret Atwood, David Morrell, and the late Tanith Lee, took to the page with obvious gusto, delivering such gems as Robert Lopresti’s “Street of the Dead House,” a heartbreaking exploration of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”; Kelley Armstrong’s waggish “The Orange Cat,” a new twist on its ebony cousin; and Christopher Rice’s “Naomi,” a gruesome update of “The Tell-Tale Heart” that’s all too topical. Kilpatrick and Soles have amassed a cache of worthy tributes to a fundamental member of the horror and weird fiction pantheon. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Monstrous

Edited by Ellen Datlow. Tachyon (Legato, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-61696-206-7

Datlow, horror anthologist extraordinaire, brings together all things monstrous in this excellent reprint anthology of 20 horror stories that explore the ever-widening definition of what makes a monster, with nary a misstep. The varied sources of monstrosity include a very troubled kindergarten teacher, a catering company that puts humans on the menu, and spirit-devouring creatures out of Japanese mythology, all creating distinctive microcosms where monsters reign in many forms. In Gemma Files’s “A Wish from a Bone,” an archeological reality show filming in Sudan uncovers evidence of the Terrible Seven, ancient beings who are bent on destruction and domination. Adam-Troy Castro’s “The Totals” skewers bureaucracy and the daily grind by populating a drinking hole with monsters, who create mayhem, commit murder, and kvetch with their deadly coworkers with the same sense of ennui felt by any office drone. Other standouts by Sofia Samatar, Dale Bailey, and Christopher Fowler round out this atmospheric and frequently terrifying collection. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Forever Your Earl

Eva Leigh. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-235862-2

Leigh’s Wicked Quills of London series launch, set in class-conscious 1816 London, confidently pairs an accomplished commoner and a playboy aristocrat as wonderfully appealing soul mates. Eleanor Hawke is a brilliant writer and a savvy entrepreneur who overcame a difficult childhood to become publisher of a gossipy tabloid, the Hawk’s Eye. One of her paper’s favorite subjects, the notorious womanizer Daniel Balfour, Earl of Ashford, proposes that Eleanor accompany him around town to prove that not everything reported about him is true. After a visit to a gambling den, a steamy masquerade ball, and a wildly thrilling carriage race, the two are in love, despite the problem of their different classes. Eleanor realizes that Daniel is not just another idle aristocrat and that her life has lacked excitement; Daniel discovers that Eleanor inspires him. Smart women, clever repartee, an inventive strip limerick game, and searing love scenes make this historical simply irresistible. Leigh, who also writes as Zoë Archer (the Nemesis, Unlimited series), will win readers’ hearts and minds with this opposites-attract tale that sets up a very promising series. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ball

Tara Ison. Counterpoint/Soft Skull (PGW, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-59376-622-1

The synthetic blond, the berserk lover, the horny teenager—Ison delves into the minds of these characters and others in this captivating and disturbing collection of stories: think Mary Gaitskill or Miranda July, but more demented. Ison writes about sex as the undercurrent of all adult life. Past abuse, current relationships, future encounters—none dispel the magnetic tug of human sexual attraction. The erratic narrator of the title story is just as annoyed by her dog’s obsession with playing ball as her boyfriend Eric is annoyed by her obsession with the dog. Eric breaks up with her, but she can’t break up with the dog. Or can she? In “Fish,” the main character waits for her dreaded uncle to die so that she can quietly feed his remains to the fish at a botanical gardens. Another story dramatizes the wig shopping one friend must do for her friend dying of cancer. The resentment between the friend builds to a startling climax with a pair of tweezers. Ison’s (Rockaway) straightforward style belies a deeper, parallel truth hidden in each story. These stories find a strange sweet spot between the mundane and the horrific. They may shock but they also provoke, with many leading to an unexpected, and not always happy, ending. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise

Oscar Hijuelos. Grand Central, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6149-0

This vividly imagined and detailed epic about two giants of the 19th century is the product of over a decade of work; Hijuelos was still revising the manuscript up until his untimely death in 2013. In his late teens, the author became captivated by Sir Henry Morton Stanley and his extraordinary trajectory from a poverty-stricken Welsh orphan to a world-renowned explorer; Hijuelos also discovered that Stanley had a friendship with Mark Twain. Using third-person narrative, letters, and journal entries (all fabricated), and by bringing in Stanley’s wife, the painter Dorothy Tennant, as a foil between the two men, the author brilliantly breathes life into Victorian times. Particular focus is paid to Stanley’s early life in America, and an entirely concocted journey he took to Cuba with Twain in search of Stanley’s adoptive father and namesake. Stanley, formal and somewhat rigid, though certainly erudite and keen for adventure, contrasts with Twain, the more relaxed and gifted speaker whose humor endeared him to audiences around the world. The author depicts not only the peace of mind the two get from family life, but also their various setbacks—the financial trials beset by Twain and the heartbreaking family deaths he suffered, and the illnesses that plagued Stanley his whole life. Hijuelos’s death is made all the more poignant by an observation Stanley makes in an introduction for one of Twain’s speaking engagements: “Our literature is our legacy, and if there is such a thing as ghosts, literature will be the only verifiable version of them.” How lucky we are to have this rich novel. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2015 | Details & Permalink

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