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Besieged

A.J. Tata. Kensington, $25 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0663-8

Tata, a retired brigadier general, combines distinctive characters and unconventional threats to thrilling effect in his terrific third Jake Mahegan novel (after 2016’s Three Minutes to Midnight). Jake, a former Delta Force operative who was dismissed from the Army for killing an enemy prisoner of war, arrives at an elementary school in rural North Carolina—where Promise White, the daughter of an old Army buddy, is a teacher—just in time to thwart the attempted kidnapping of 11-year-old Misha Constance. An autistic prodigy, Misha has coding skills that are integral to the success of the Cefiro self-driving car company and a terrorist plot to use that same autonomous technology to cripple American infrastructure. When an explosion at the school puts Promise in a coma and Misha later falls into the hands of vicious Iranian terrorist Darius Mirza, Mahegan teams with ER nurse Casey Livingstone to help the brilliant girl take down a threat of her own design. Tata portrays Misha’s autism as more of a superpower than a disability, but he handles the condition with sensitivity and nuance. Agent: Scott Miller, Trident Media Group. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Vicious Circle: A Joe Pickett Novel

C.J. Box. Putnam, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-399-17661-6

At the start of Edgar-winner Box’s crackling 17th Joe Pickett novel (after 2016’s Off the Grid), the Wyoming game warden is aboard a small plane in search of hunter Dave Farkus, “currently an unemployed layabout collecting dubious disability checks,” who has gone on the run in the frozen high country. With the aid of an infrared spotting device, Joe locates Dave—right before the fugitive is fatally shot. Joe quickly settles on a suspect: erstwhile rodeo star Dallas Cates, just released from the prison where Joe helped send him 18 months earlier. Dallas’s motive? Scorched-earth revenge on Joe. To that end, the diabolically clever Dallas has recruited a gang of psychopathic miscreants for the ages. A sequence in which a female meth head attempts to kill Joe’s wife and daughters with an ax ranks as the scariest in any Pickett novel to date; a close second goes to a confrontation between Joe and Dallas’s imprisoned, quadriplegic mother. In short, this outing is the most suspenseful yet in this world-class series, setting a new standard for Box. Author tour. Agent: Ann Rittenberg, Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Lucky Ones

Julianne Pachico. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-58865-5

Pachico’s history-bound debut novel is a carefully yet fiercely composed collage of voices that bears witness to the executions, forced disappearances, and other atrocities that took place in Colombia from 1993 to 2013 during the country’s violent civil war. The book provides a searing glimpse into the conflict through 11 interconnected short stories—each focusing on a different aspect of the struggle. The novel’s riveting first installment, “Lucky,” takes place in 2003 and sets an ominous tone. In it, a young girl is holed up inside her family’s mansion while they’re away for the weekend. What she doesn’t know—but begins to suspect as she hears a knock at the door—is that they’re never coming back. In “Lemon Pie,” one of the strongest vignettes in the book, an American former middle school teacher has been held captive by the FARC for “five years, eight months, two weeks, and five days.” When not locked in a shed, he passes the time via sessions of “Parasite Squishing” and by delivering lectures from memory on Hamlet and The Scarlet Letter to his class of twigs, leaves, and trees in the Amazonian jungle. The most unique story is “Junkie Rabbit,” a twisted glimpse into a rabbit warren filled with bunnies subsisting on the last remnants of coca plants from a ransacked estate. Having lived in Colombia until she turned 18, Pachico has a firsthand connection to the country’s charms and troubles that shines through on every gripping page. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dead Letters

Caite Dolan-Leach. Random House, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-58885-3

When news of Zelda Antipova’s death reaches her buttoned-down twin sister, Ava, the latter returns home to her family’s central New York vineyard from Paris. She helps her ailing mother and estranged father with funeral arrangements, yet Ava is suspicious of her townie sister’s supposed demise in a barn fire, and it isn’t long before she begins to receive email messages from Zelda, who claims to have faked her own death. Following a series of clues left by Zelda, Ava begins to piece together her sister’s troubles, from massive debt to drug addiction. Along with her old high school boyfriend, Wyatt, she immerses herself in Zelda’s world, hoping to find her sister at the end of the puzzle. Dolan-Leach’s debut is a smart, dazzling mystery with a twist that not only shines a new light on the novel’s title but also leaves the reader hunting for the next clue. Dolan-Leach revels in toying with both Ava and her audience, placing small hints and red herrings throughout her text, and the result is captivating. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Fourth Power

Juan Giminez. Humanoids, $39.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59465-301-8

Having survived a crash landing behind enemy lines during at the start of an interplanetary conflict, female pilot Exether Mega fights her way through blockades and hostiles as the unsavory truth about her mission is slowly revealed. As an impending war between the Planetary United States and the alien Krommiun race prepares to ignite, Mega is hunted by perpetrators of weaponized super-science. Much like the author’s lauded Metabarons series, this volume features planet-hopping narratives for its three stories–also included are “Murders on Antiplona” and “Island-7”–and had the visual spectacle characteristic of European comics. But while its clean, colorful, “recommended for mature readers” artwork delights the eye, there is very little meat to the tales, a fact somewhat masked by tons of action sequences that go on for page after page. If one seeks a feast for the eyes that does not tax the brain, that’s exactly what is to be had in this far-flung space opera. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Excavation

Max Andersson. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (376p) ISBN 978-1-60699-984-4

An unnamed man takes his girlfriend to meet the parents, only to find he’s been away so long the house has become a spooky archeological site. Delving deeper, the two get lost in a fragmented, Freudian world where everything—houses, people, memory—is in the process of being chopped up and stitched back together. Told in a series of rough, woodcut-style full-page illustrations framed by jittery border art, the story follows a claustrophobic dream logic of disjointed time, detachable penises, and shadowy authority figures. As one character puts it, “When you get to a certain point, suddenly everything turns around, like it’s inside out or something.” An alternative cartoonist from Sweden, Andersson is old-school underground, drawing trauma-eyed blockheads engrossed in disturbing, surreal activities. This jaunt through the seedy back streets of the unconscious isn’t for everyone, but lovers of Eraserhead-style hypnagogia will be in their comfort zone. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Surviving Megalopolis

Gail Simone and J. Calafiore. Dark Horse, $19.99 (144p.) ISBN 978-1-50670-049-6

Simone and Calafiore follow up on Leaving Megalopolis, the crowd-sourced first volume of this series, with another grim tale of metahumans gone wrong. The previous volume saw the island city of Megalopolis’s superpowered saviors changed into murderous psychopaths. The sequel follows several storylines, beginning with the newly villainous spandex crew, led by Southern Belle, rescuing Overlord from the watery deeps. Meanwhile, a mercenary team arrives to save billionaire Simon Valiant, who happens to be the leader of Megalopolis’s supervillain community, the only group who might be able to stop the antiheroes. This book feels like exactly what you would get if you set the evil twins of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City series in Brian Woods’s DMZ. Most of the action occurs at night, with the artwork featuring chiseled figures set amid urban rubble. This is for anyone who wonders how normal humans would cope in a world of superpowered predators. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story

Peter Bagge. D&Q, $21.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN SBN 978-1-77046-269-4

Bagge follows his previous graphic novel, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, with another portrait of an iconoclastic American woman. Raised in an all-black farming town before attending Howard University, Hurston became a celebrated writer and anthropologist but clashed politically with much of the black intellectual community up north. Bagge depicts her life in his iconic spaghetti-limbed, cheery-colored cartoon style. He has a frustrating tendency to hurry through the material, though: Hurston decides to launch the literary magazine Fire!! with her friends, only to be shown closing up shop on the next page, and goes from considering a marriage proposal to the thick of her first marriage in two panels. It’s easy to see what attracted Bagge to the material: brilliant, outrageous, prone to visions and mysticism yet fiercely pragmatic, Hurston is an irresistible character, and Bagge’s extensive, opinionated endnotes attest to his fascination. But better focus and pacing would give needed structure to Hurston’s freewheeling life. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Our Cats Are More Famous Than Us: A Johnny Wander Collection

anth Hirsh and Yuko Ota. Oni, $39.99 (416) ISBN 978-1-62010-383-8

This sometimes-charming collection of the autobiographical web comic Johnny Wander presents the lives of creators Ota and Hirsh as a series of brief comic strips capturing their daily activities. One peril of this type of comic is that the effort to portray yourself and your friends as very charming or very quirky or very silly might feel self-referential as the entries pile up. In such a thick volume there are plenty of moments where this happens, with some gags that feel like personal jokes that a reader wasn’t even meant to get, or entries in a diary that are helpful to the diarist in dealing with something but less so to a reader. At more than 400 pages, there is need for a more careful curation of the contents in order to craft a more intentional narrative. If the parts played off each other better, it would add a lot more impact to the admittedly sweet ending. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Coming Out

Seven Slade. Howling Mad, $12.99 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-0-9861465-4-1

Slade’s clever contemporary romance deposits best friends Tamsyn Archer and Rodrigo Vega-Goldstein into a screwball comedy of sexual misinterpretation. They’ve been friends since the second grade, when tough butch Syn defended Rigo (who’s “queer as a left-handed, blue-footed boobie”) against a bully who teased him for wearing a pink shirt. Now they’re 22 and still stuck in their tiny hometown of Middle, N.C. Rigo claims to have the hots for the aptly named Simon Sex, the lead singer in a rock band, but Syn worries that he’s setting himself up for a fall if the guy’s not gay. However, when Simon and Rigo finally do meet, it’s a very different sort of disaster: Simon is willing to experiment with gay sex, but all Rigo can think about are Syn’s breasts. And though she’s in a relationship with another woman, Syn secretly yearns for Rigo. Bittersweet fun ensues as each wrestles with the risk of losing a friend by fessing up and coming out as straight. This charming story will win readers’ hearts. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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