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Young Woman in a Garden: Stories

Delia Sherman. Small Beer, $16 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-61873-091-6

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Lightly flecked with fantasy and anchored in vividly detailed settings, the 14 stories in Sherman's first collection are distinguished by their depictions of determined women who challenge gender roles in order to make their way in the world. In "The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor," a servant girl parlays her acquaintance with an ancestral ghost into a professional relationship with the descendant whose house it haunts. The title story toggles between present and past as an art history student researching the life of an Impressionist painter unravels the hitherto unknown role his model played in the creation of his art. Although Sherman (The Porcelain Dove) grapples with serious themes, she leavens a number of her tales with gentle humor, notably "Walpurgis Afternoon," in which a pair of lesbian witches comically discompose an ordinary suburban neighborhood when their Victorian estate springs up in a vacant lot overnight. Readers who enjoy sophisticated modern fantasy fiction, both light and dark, will greatly admire Sherman's skill with a variety of narrative forms and the gentle touch of her magic wand. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The French Executioner

C. C. Humphreys. Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7234-9

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Humphreys (Jack Absolute) breathes life into 16th century Europe with this fascinating tale of adventure and mystery as Anne Boleyn's executioner must fulfill his promise to the queen who has been marked for death. Executioner Jean Rombaud didn't expect Anne Boleyn to have ask for aything from him when he was summoned to England to execute her, but when Anne requests that he bury her six-fingered hand at a sacred crossroads in France, he agrees. There are others who believe in the magical powers of that hand and will do everything in their power to keep Rombaud from getting the hand. As he journeys to the destination, he becoems a prisoner on a ship, where he makes the acquaintance of two friends who assist him in his task. Humphreys has creatively combined historical fact with mystical fiction: the severed hand seems to have a life of its own and causes irrational behavior in those seeking it. Humphreys's characters are well drawn and deeply empathetic, and Rombaud's mission remains entertaining throughout. Agent: Jessica Purdue, Orion Publishing Group. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shopaholic to the Stars

Sophie Kinsella. Dial, $25 hardback (496p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9386-8

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Kinsella brings the irrepressible Becky Bloomwood Brandon back for a seventh time (after Mini Shopaholic) in this latest installment of her hilarious Shopaholic series. Becky's public relations guru husband, Luke, has just started to represent Hollywood A-lister Sage Seymour, so Becky, Luke, and their daughter, Minnie, are off to Los Angeles where Becky's convinced it'll all be red carpets and movie-star sightings. After a personal shopping job falls through, Becky decides to become a celebrity stylist—and wants Sage to be her first client. Sage's interest level is low until Becky gets involved with Sage's rival, Lois Kellerton. In between her own dramas, Becky is forced to deal with those of others—including her father's and her best friend Suze's. And there's even an old nemesis who may have changed her ways—or not. It's impossible not to fall in love with Becky and her antics, and this latest offering doesn't disappoint. With appeal for fans of Kinsella's prior Shopaholic books, this one will draw in new fans as well. Like the first six in the series, this new entry is screamingly funny and lots of fun. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood Jr.

Ed Wood. Or Books, $18 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-939293-61-9

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Best known as the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space and other cinema schlock, Wood published the 33 stories collected in this volume as filler for magazines of erotica and pornography between 1970 and 1974. None rise above the mediocrity of his moviemaking, but you wouldn't expect them to since, as Bob Blackburn writes in his introduction, Wood ground them out in desperation to put food on the table. At their best, these short tales are an index to the type of pulp fiction common to men's magazines of the era: war stories, jungle adventures, crime fiction, and horror extravaganzas usually saturated with bloody violence and heated with steamy sex. "Scream Your Bloody Head Off" follows a man going through the paces of dismembering his murdered wife's corpse and grinding it through the kitchen sink garbage disposal. "Dracula Revisited" speaks for all the book's tales of horror, its protagonist fearing "a scene which promises to be so terrifyingly heart-stopping that I might be overcome with the horror of the sight and my mind would be crushed to a point whereby my sanity could be taken from me." The tone of the selections ranges from the camp of "Missionary [Position] Impossible," in which missionaries find a "white queen" heading up a jungle tribe, to the grotesquerie of "The Gory Details" and the sexual explicitness of "The Autograph," one of several tales with a gay sex theme. Fans of Wood's work will appreciate repeat references to angora throughout the collection. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Through Dark Angles: Works Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft

Don Webb. Hippocampus (www.hippocampuspress.com), $20 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-1-61498-084-1

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Webb's collection of 24 stories and poems (nine original to the volume) evokes Lovecraft's cosmic horrors in refreshingly original and unconventional ways. "Lovecraft's Pillow" tells of a contemporary horror writer who is overwhelmed by Lovecraft's consciousness after sleeping on the pillow from his deathbed. "Rats" links the Lovecraft cosmos to the true origins of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamlin." "The Doom That Came to Devil's Reef" is presented as a notebook found among Lovecraft's papers, purportedly kept by a model for the human/amphibian hybrid horrors of "The Shadow over Innsmouth." The best stories are mash-ups of real and imagined events that suggest malignant Lovecraftian forces at work behind the scenes. These include "The Codex," in which Lovecraft colleague Robert H. Barlow and his anthropology student, William S. Burroughs, uncover a book of occult lore that influences later tragedies in their lives; and "Slowness," in which Lovecraft's Frankenstein stand-in, Herbert West, encounters a contemporary avatar of Italian occultist Count Cagliostro. Webb (When They Came) laces many of the selections with dark humor that contributes to the pleasing unpredictability of their horrific outcomes. Though the stories abound with nudges and in-jokes for Lovecraft aficionados, readers not as familiar with Lovecraft's oeuvre will still find much to enjoy. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy

Jacopo Della Quercia. St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-02571-5

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Steampunk fans, as well as readers who enjoy their thrillers heavily dosed with humor, will revel in this rollercoaster ride. Early on, President William Howard Taft vanquishes four opponents in the ring, solidifying his reputation as the "single greatest underground boxing champion the world would never know of." Flush with victory, Taft ascends from the covert ring to Airship One, a dirigible that serves the president as a flying sanctuary. There, his top aide, Robert Todd Lincoln, reveals that he possesses an unusual watch that is "proof that there is something in Alaska completely alien to this planet." Furthermore, this watch was in the pocket of Lincoln's father the night he was assassinated in 1865. That revelation launches Taft and Lincoln on a wild adventure that involves a killer automaton, Teddy Roosevelt's ambitions for a third term, and a dangerous mission into the New Haven Tomb of the notorious Yale secret society, Skull & Bones. Della Quercia doesn't take the over-the-top plot too seriously, but this alternate universe's internal logic is cleverly constructed. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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