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Metrophilias

Brendan Connell. Snuggly, $12.50 ISBN 978-1-943813-07-0

Connell explores sexual obsession across time and geography with sparse, vivid language in this exotic and sensual thematic collection of prose poems. The settings range across six continents and three dozen cities, from ancient Athens and Sybaris to contemporary Kinshasa and Zurich. The characters’ obsessions cover an astonishing number of specific passions, from inanimate objects to animals, as well as specific actions, including cannibalism and extreme carnivorousness. One of the most striking tales, “Edinburgh,” tells of a man obsessed with the letter W: “That semivowel of horns became for me not merely a representation of love, but the object itself.” The extraordinary and unusual collection, though significantly more than the sum of its parts or an iteration of locations and erotic desires, is best enjoyed in small doses, to avoid reader fatigue. However, readers may wonder why Connell limits his depicted interactions, even between human and nonhuman objects, to the male/female dynamic. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal

Kathleen Kimmel. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-98681-3

Kimmel’s fast-paced second installment in her 19th-century Birch Hall Romance series (after 2015’s A Lady’s Guide to Ruin) shows that longtime acquaintances can find love in the most unusual situations. Colin Spenser, Marquess of Farleigh, has decided that it’s time he got married, and has chosen Lady Penelope Layton as his bride. But Colin still harbors feelings for Lady Elinor Hargrove, his sister Marie’s old friend. When Colin kisses Elinor right before his engagement is announced, she’s amazed by her attraction to him and devastated by his apparent callous treatment of her. Elinor’s still grieving Marie’s death under strange circumstances and decides to impersonate a courtesan so that she can attend a very sensual house party and hopefully gain information that will help her solve the mystery. When Elinor meets up with Colin at the party, they succumb to the allure of their attraction. The sizzling chemistry between Colin and Elinor is a driving force of this novel, which is complete with subtle suspense and a fearless heroine. Agent: Lisa Rodgers, JABberwocky Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing the Heiress

Rachael Miles. Zebra Shout, $4.99 ISBN 978-1-4201-4088-0

Miles continues to demonstrate her skill with historical romance with the excellent second book in the Regency-era Muses’ Salon series (after Jilting the Duke). Scullery maid Lucy is really Lady Arabella Lucia Fairbourne, in flight from her dastardly cousin after the death of her great-aunt Aurelia. She must find her way to London before her cousin can make good on his plan to surreptitiously kill her. Colin Somerville, the younger brother of a duke, has had his fill of duty, yet he undertakes one last mission for the Home Office—one that nearly ends in his death. Lucy nurses him back to health while giving him her heart, though not her secrets. The pair must stay alive while fleeing deadly machinations from all sides. Miles isn’t afraid to include stark descriptions of life during the time period, and she manages to walk that fine line between realism and pure romance, blending both into an engaging tale that’s a feast for the imagination. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Wicked Duke

Madeline Hunter. Jove, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-515-15518-1

Hunter’s final installment in her Georgian-era Wicked trilogy (after 2015’s Tall, Dark, and Wicked) lures readers with the promise of romance between a duke and an intelligent, untitled young woman. Marianne Radley and her female family members are at the mercy of her uncle, Sir Horace Radley. Marianne soon intrigues the rakish Duke of Aylesbury, Lord Lancelot Hemingford; unbeknownst to her, Sir Horace tells Lance that he will help end the investigation into the poisoning death of Lance’s brother Percy, the former duke, and exonerate Lance if he’ll agree to marry Marianne. While searching for Percy’s actual murderer, Lance continues to woo innocent Marianne with practiced, yet romantic sensuality. He soon realizes that his lust for her is complicated by true admiration. The complexity of the characters and the mesmerizing allure between Lance and Marianne propel the novel forward at a breathless pace, making this one of Hunter’s best works to date. Agent: Pamela Hopkins, Hopkins Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Blessings Galore

Nate Liederbach. Wordcraft of Oregon, $15 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-877655-91-3

Favoring internal purging over craft, these 11 incomplete and befuddled stories lack empathy or symbolic understanding. An unnamed figure is bathed, oiled, and tortured before a violently erotic fight in the muddled “We Prepared Him” and a chutney-loving old man recounts meeting an intersex Holy Mother archetype in “Aspen and Oranges.” Christian principles are compared to roadkill in “Fruited Plains,” father and daughter fail to connect during a vacation in heaven in “Abraham’s Loft,” and rat baiters await the passing of a postapocalyptic patriarch in the title story. The fantasy and surreal fiction lack cohesion and empathy. The imagery is provocative but meaningless, and plotless set pieces are instilled with unrestrained weirdness, delivered in hysterical language. Liederbach’s evocative descriptions become absurd for their own sake, his internal fevers too far removed and too undisciplined to evoke emotional involvement or pleasure in readers. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Thirty Days Later

Edited by A.J. Sikes, B.J. Sikes, and Dover Whitecliff. Thinking Ink, $15.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-942480-10-5

The 15 brief stories in this follow-up anthology to Twelve Hours Later (2015) are, for the most part, more interesting for their aspirations than their execution. Each is broken into two separately titled parts, with events in the second part unfolding 30 days after those in the first. Anthony Francis, in “The Fall of the Falcon/The Rise of the Dragonfly,” uses that interval to work a crafty time-travel paradox into a futuristic tale of “infectious Foreign gearwork” run amok. But in the majority of stories, authors use the break to elide details that would have more fully fleshed out the bare bones of their narratives. Some contributors build up reader expectations with intriguing ideas—buildings on the moon that nobody but a scientist under the influence looking through his telescope can see in Michael Tierney’s “The Light of the Moon/The Shadows of the Moon”; a clandestine society of those with extrasensory sight in Emily Thompson’s “Courting Adventure/Adventure Realized”—only to end their underdeveloped stories abruptly. The brevity of these stories works to the disadvantage of their ambitions. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Vol. 1

Edited by Randy Chandler and Cheryl Mullenax. Comet, $15.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-936964-58-1

Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, the 19 stories in this new best-of annual anthology feature episodes of graphic gore and violence—including torture, dismemberment, self-mutilation, and home abortion—that are designed to push buttons as well as boundaries. In the best stories—which include Kristofer Triana’s “Dead End,” a character study about a hell-bound serial killer, and Tony Knighton’s “The Scavengers,” concerning an African ivory heist that goes bloodily bad—violent incidents help to bring the brutal lives of their characters into sharp focus and set up poetically just endings. But in a number of less tactful stories, including David James Keaton’s “What’s Worst” and MP Johnson’s “Bored with Brutality,” the telling seems little more than an excuse to indulge in nonstop dead baby jokes or gratuitous scatological humor. Culled almost exclusively from publications from small and specialty press outlets, the stories in this volume are strictly for hardcore horror fans. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Titanborn

Rhett C. Bruno. Random/Hydra, $2.99 ISBN 978-0-399-59479-3

A solar system–spanning adventure of freedom fighters and corporate espionage delights readers in Bruno’s fully realized world. In 2334, New London is celebrating the 300th Meteor Day, the anniversary of a meteorite striking Earth and nearly wiping out humankind. When a bomb explodes, 30-year veteran bounty hunter Malcolm Graves goes after those responsible. The suspects are a group of Titanborn descended from colonists who settled Saturn’s moon Titan. The Titanborn are being marginalized as immigrants from Earth take their homes and jobs. Graves works for Pervenio Corp.; Pervenio and competitor Venta Co. control the mining industries of the entire Sol solar system. Graves and his new partner, Zhaff, follow the trail of clues to Old Russia and then to frozen Titan. Helping and hindering them are Venta bounty hunter Trevor Cross; information broker Mazrah, who’s Graves’ old flame; and Luxarn Pervenio, the richest man in the solar system. Bruno (The Circuit) expertly weaves action, capitalism, smuggling, fragile alliances, and revolution around the hard choices of a life-worn man who regrets always following orders. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Medusa Chronicles

Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds. Saga, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4814-7967-7

Two of the most acclaimed contemporary hard SF writers successfully team up in this ambitious epic space opera, spanning almost 800 years, that expands the themes raised by Arthur C. Clarke’s classic 1971 novella, A Meeting with Medusa. Clarke’s hero, Howard Falcon, suffered horrific injuries in an accident in 2080, surviving only by cybernetic surgery; his new abilities led him to a successful search for extraterrestrial life and positioned him to be an “ambassador... between the creatures of carbon and the creatures of metal.” That unsought status tests Falcon as, over the centuries, robots begin to become self-aware and seek autonomy. Humankind’s expansion of its reach beyond Earth provides more opportunity for conflict, and the authors do a superior job of predicting plausible political developments. The novel’s reach does come at the expense of some psychological depth, but fans of the authors’ other work won’t be disappointed. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Suicide Motor Club

Christopher Buehlman. Berkley, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-98873-2

Buehlman (The Lesser Dead) confirms his talent with this ambitiously structured rendering of the havoc and mayhem wrought by a sadistic pack of muscle car–obsessed vampires as they cut a homicidal path across 1960s America’s highways. When they snatch latent psychic Judith Lamb’s son from the backseat of the family vehicle and then cause an accident that kills her husband, they set her on a quest that’s destined to end in grisly destruction. Armed and educated by a cagey group of vampire hunters and prophetic dreams of failure, Judith hunts down the gang and seeks vengeance for her murdered family. With an entire section devoted to introducing the Suicide Motor Club and the inclusion of an older, progressive vampire repulsed by the gang’s wanton sadism, Buehlman successfully and unromantically portrays the brutal viciousness of their violence, yet gives them enough character and nuance to carry the reader’s morbid interest. Buehlman’s latest is gripping the whole way through, with a perfectly poignant ending. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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