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A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction

Terry Pratchett. Doubleday, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-53832-9

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Diehard Pratchett fans will celebrate this first-ever collection of short fiction from the world-famous author of the Discworld novels. These 32 pieces, which show Pratchett “playing with words to see what happens,” include his student writing and stories that anticipate his later novels. The author’s wry wit shines early on with the publicity-minded devil of “The Hades Business,” written at age 13. “Kindly Breathe in Short, Thick Pants,” “And Mind the Monoliths,” and “There’s No Fool like an Old Fool Found in an English Queue” celebrate “half-baked politicians” and bureaucrats. In “The Glastonbury Tale,” “Twenty Pence, with Envelope and Seasonal Greetings,” and “Once and Future,” Pratchett twists classic tales from Chaucer, Dickens, and T.H. White. Discworld characters Cohen the Barbarian, Granny Weatherwax and her fellow witches, the wizards of Unseen University, and Lord Vetinari, ruler of Ankh-Morpork, make appearances in a special section of Discworld-related works. “Short stories cost me blood,” Pratchett reminds readers, citing his much greater comfort with novels. Though the stories here aren’t his absolute best writing, there is plenty to entertain curious fans. Longtime Pratchett illustrators Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby provide entertaining artwork. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Storm Bride

J.S. Bangs. Red Adept (redadept-
publishing.com), $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-940215-35-8

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Bangs (Bibliotheca Fantastica) combines a clash of deities, cultures, and genders into a stand-alone secondary-world fantasy epic of the first order. Uya is a young woman of the Prasei, peaceful traders and fishers who live in and around the city of Prasa. Saotse has been adopted into Uya’s clan after being deposited on the shore by orcas acting at the behest of Oarsa, the Power of the Sea. When Prasa is overrun by the warlike Yakhat nomads who fight with Golgoyat, the Storm Power, the pregnant Uya is captured by the war leader of the Yakhat and imprisoned with his own pregnant wife. Meanwhile, Saotse escapes the battle and joins the remnants of the Prasei, soon learning of her own connection to a Power previously unknown to her. Bangs cleanly sketches the lives of her characters as well as their societies, with a well-drawn natural setting as backdrop. The joys, sorrows, and rages of individuals are keenly felt, as are the wilder emotions of the gods. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dragon of the Stars

Alex J. Cavanaugh. Dancing Lemur (dancing-
lemurpressllc.com), $16.95 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-939844-06-4

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In this unsatisfying SF adventure, Cavanaugh (CassaStorm) introduces readers to a universe on the brink of war, with the alien races of the Alliance split over the disposal of a planet that harbors much-needed resources. When the Hyrathians refuse to back down, the other races take action, leading to open conflict. The ambitious Hyrathian Lt. Commander Aden Pendar is dispatched to find the Dragon, an experimental vessel of tremendous power that went missing decades ago. If he succeeds, he gains a captaincy and everything he’s always wanted. But he has to find it before the Alliance does, and then convince the Dragon’s captain—a renegade scientist—to come home at last. The premise is full of potential, and the storytelling is solid, with plenty of space-based military action, but the worldbuilding is weak and vague, and the pacing is inconsistent. Though entertaining, this story lacks spirit. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rolling in the Deep

Mira Grant. Subterranean (subterraneanpress.com), $40 (128p) ISBN 978-1-59606-708-0

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In this slim, grim tale of aquatic horror, Grant (Symbiont) unveils the tragic last voyage of the SS Atargatis, hired by the Imagine Network to help film a fake documentary on mermaids while also performing deep-sea scientific studies. With several hundred people on board, including a troupe of professional “mermaids,” the Atargatis sets forth for the Mariana Trench and is never seen again. In true horror fashion, Grant introduces a large cast of colorful personalities, giving many of them brief chances to shine, before unleashing the horrors of the deep upon them. As fake mermaids meet the real creatures living in the Trench, blood is spilled and people valiantly fight for their lives. Sadly, the climax of the novella comes too soon and too quickly, with little payoff for the relaxed buildup; the premise and execution deserve a full novel and are ill-served by Grant’s economy of plot. Still, readers may never look at mermaids the same way again. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Crown for Cold Silver

Alex Marshall. Orbit, $26 (656p) ISBN 978-0-316-27798-3

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The sprawling, warring cast and magical-medieval setting of Marshall’s series launch may look familiar at first, but exceptional writing, a middle-aged warrior heroine, and organically infused gender nonconformity make this fantasy epic a first-rate trailblazer. From the first, when former rebel leader and queen Cobalt Zosia all but dismantles the young officer sent to destroy her life, Zosia’s assurance and intelligence establish a commanding presence. Believing her successor responsible for the massacre of Zosia’s husband and village, she abandons her 20-year self-imposed exile and sets out with aching joints, palpable grief, and hearty libido to revive her rebel army. Marshall blends character, background, history, and action to create a seamless fantasy realm of weary mercenaries, randy adrenaline-fueled nobles, conflicted religious fanatics, old grudges, new betrayals, and one endearing demon dog. With a tactician’s skill, Marshall introduces elements of plot and character that are enlarged and enveloped in the central story line, but careful structuring never precludes chaotic action or emotion, nor does it undermine any of the third-act surprises. The hidden identity of the highly skilled, pseudonymous author adds an interesting wrinkle, and the splendid storytelling, wry humor, and unresolved intrigue will leave readers hungry for the sequels. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Six-Degree Conspiracy, Vol. 1: A Jackson Guild Novel

Jeff Shear. BlackRack, $12.95 trade paper (313p) ISBN 978-1-477626-56-6

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Trying to forestall an act of nuclear terror on U.S. soil should make a suspense novel thrilling, but several digressions into the lead’s sex life dilute the impact of the main plot line of Shear’s series kickoff. In September 2009, Jack Guild, the press officer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which helps “run the world,” has discovered and processed some essential intel: that crooked financier Manny Granov is not just a more-successful Bernie Madoff but “the clandestine loan shark of industry, defense and international affairs.” Twenty years after Granov backed the buy of Soviet-era atomic bombs, Jack has learned that one of the WMDs is back in play and going to be used against a significant American target. From the start, Granov is improbably larger than life—his schemes amassed him $65 billion—an impediment to suspending disbelief. The ending is certainly surprising, but not necessarily in a good way. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Suicide Forest

Jeremy Bates. Ghillinnein, $4.99 e-book (420p) ISBN 978-0-9937646-2-2

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Bates’s so-so supernatural thriller has several folks camping in Japan’s famed Aokigahara Jukai, or suicide forest—dubbed “a perfect place to die.” Ethan, the lead, and his fellow campers are mostly types—the girlfriend, the rival, the potential love interest, the coworker, and the Japanese guy who speaks bad English. Like unsympathetic souls in a B-grade horror movie, they choose dumb adventure over common sense and start to get picked off one by one. When the bodies start piling up, Bates (White Lies) raises questions about why people kill themselves or contemplate suicide, but he provides facile responses. He’s better at discussing how people cope with death. His descriptions of the forest, however, aren’t particularly atmospheric, and his efforts to invoke the supernatural—from swinging crucifixes to disorienting dreams—fall flat long before things spiral into a silly last act. What should be a juicy, genre read is pretty toothless. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Teller

Jonathan Stone. Amazon/Thomas & Mercer, $14.95 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2865-6

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Almost without thinking, 23-year-old Queens bank teller Elaine Kelly, the protagonist of this uneven crime thriller from Stone (Moving Day), transfers $1.3 million from a customer’s account to her own after the customer, elderly Antonio Desirio, is struck dead by a truck in the street outside the bank. Elaine contemplates using the money to start life anew, perhaps in Buenos Aires or Rome, but complications arise. The police discover that Desirio made similar suspicious deposits at many banks. Then a second Antonio Desirio appears at Elaine’s bank, demanding his money. The men behind the money are scary, and Elaine soon discovers she has no place to hide. NYPD Det. Evan Nussbaum offers sympathy, but she can’t tell him her problem without confessing her crime. Stone strains credulity as Elaine goes from teller to captive to hero in less-than-convincing fashion. Jill Marr, Sandra Djikstra Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cry Wolf

Michael Gregorio. Severn, $28.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8467-1

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Umbria, Italy, provides the backdrop for this strong first in a new thriller series from Gregorio, the husband-and-wife writing team of Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio (Critique of Criminal Reason and three other mysteries set in Napoleonic-era Prussia). After a powerful earthquake devastates Umbria in the fall of 2009, the ’Ndrangheta, the ruthless Calabrian crime family, starts moving into the region. Against some of the ’Ndrangheta’s hit men and drug lords stands young Sebastiano Cangio, who fled to London after witnessing a cold-blooded execution on a beach in his native Calabria and now works as a park ranger in Umbria, a job that allows him to pursue his passion, Apennine wolves. Cangio and his new and resourceful girlfriend, Loredana Salvini, prove worthy foils to the merciless mafiosi. Gregorio effectively captures the grisly incongruities of mob relationships and the hypocrisies of Italian marital accommodations in this stark tale of violent murder and rampant political corruption. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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False Tongues: A Callie Anson Mystery

Kate Charles. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (350p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0004-5

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In Charles’s accomplished fourth Callie Anson mystery (after 2009’s Deep Waters), the Anglican curate faces a former lover and old friends at a religious retreat in Cambridge, as well as the less-than-enthusiastic family of her new fiancé, Mark Lombardi. A police-family liaison officer, Mark gets involved in investigating the knifing murder of teenager Sebastian Frost in London’s Paddington Green. Though Sebastian apparently had it all—popularity, brains, good looks, athletic ability—Det. Insp. Neville Stewart soon uncovers a darker side to his life in his relationships to schoolmates and technology. The interesting narrative approach of alternating Cambridge and London sections provides texture and commentary on family situations from various points of view. Some readers may be disappointed not to find a more direct connection between the case and Callie, but the toll of cyberbullying and the pressure to conform to social expectations is intelligently and poignantly rendered. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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