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Double Blind: A Kate Benedict Paranormal Mystery

Carrie Bedford. CreateSpace, $12.99 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-5151-6188-2

At the outset of Bedford's suspenseful second Kate Benedict mystery (after 2014's The Aura), Kate, an architect with a psychic gift, is jogging in London's Hyde Park with her best friend, Dr. Anita Banerjee, when she spots two older men running in the opposite direction and notices that both have the auras over their heads of people who are at risk of dying in the near future. To Kate's dismay, Anita tells her that one of the men is Simon Scott, the leader of the Labour Party, who could become the next prime minister in the election less than a month away. ("I don't do politics," Kate says by way of explaining why she didn't recognize Scott.) Determined to save Scott's life, Kate turns sleuth to try to identify possible assassins, while she strives to protect Anita after spotting an aura over her friend's head. In the face of understandable skepticism, Kate gets some unlikely support from pathologist Grace Trillo, who claims that she was "an Egyptian embalmer in a former life," a past profession that led to Grace's current one. Bedford successfully juggles the multiple plot lines. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Joachim’s Magic

M.L. Stainer, illus. by James Melvin. Outskirts, $16.95 paper (234p) ISBN 978-1-4787-5497-8

In a prequel to Stainer’s Lyon Saga, originally published by Chicken Soup Press and based on the lost colony of Roanoke, 13-year-old Reis Courtney becomes an apprentice to (real-life) Jewish metallurgist Dougham Gaunse (aka Joachim Gans) in 1585, traveling with him and a team of miners to the New World in search of precious metals. Reis learns the perilous work of mining alongside the adult members of the exhibition, while navigating survival in the wilderness and attempting to decipher the behaviors of his master, which include speaking in Hebrew and refusing to eat meat. Threats come in the form of chief Pemisapan and his tribe, as well as German miners who resent Joachim. It’s a tightly woven story fully anchored in its historical era. Reis lives in active fear of witches and other supernatural beings lurking in the New World. His terror of the unknown provides a layer of psychological intrigue, hinting at the enormity of all that lay beyond colonists’ early understanding and the birth of superstitions that would continue to permeate settlers’ worldview. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Stone Circle

Anthony Tuck. Wheatmark, $12.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62787-307-9

Siblings fight ancient evil with help from mythological figures in Tuck’s engaging first novel. Telepathic 12-year-old twins Maisie and Jasper Tuck are spending the fall with Professor Winslop while their parents are away on an archeological dig. With nothing to do but listen to the Professor’s lectures on history and myth, the twins take to exploring the New Hampshire woods. After they find a circle of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, the professor reveals that they are the Children of Gemini and they must use the stone circle to locate four jewels to complete the Crown of Seasons and defeat the Dark Ones. Tuck draws on a wealth of mythological elements from Norse, Greek, Native American, and other sources to create an appealing adventure, though the story can get bogged down in details and lore surrounding barrow wights, selkies, and other creatures and legends. While Maisie and Jasper are equally capable and important to the story, the characters as a whole are fairly one-note. Regardless, Tuck provides intriguing food for thought about the oral tradition of myths and the ways stories change as they’re told. Ages 9–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Song Birds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music

Heather Augustyn. Half Pint, $25 (423p) ISBN 978-1-5024-3604-7

In this engaging, well-researched book, Augustyn (Ska: An Oral History) states that women had almost no chance in the male-dominated Jamaican music industry in the 1940s–1980s; it was all “overt power and testosterone.” In the songs, women were “the playground for men” or “wrongdoers,” and the lyrics were “misogynistic and thus not very appropriate for female consumption, must less creation.” She shows that the women who pursued music careers in this setting were trailblazers. Augustyn profiles dozens of women who persevered through tough times, juggling child rearing, gender discrimination, and low pay. She includes Louise Bennett, who “brought the Jamaican patois, folklore, and culture to the stage [and] her talents to Harlem”; Millie Small, whose “bubbling” voice made her cover version of “My Boy Lollipop” an international hit; and Susan Cadogan, who went from “quiet library assistant to... superstar.” This is an exhaustive, if overlong, history of Jamaican music. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sour Candy

Kealan Patrick Burke. Elderlemon, $2.99 e-book (66p) ASIN B017QCGW24

Horror author Burke (Kin) delivers an excellent terror-filled novella. Philip Pendleton is an unexceptional man, living a carefree life with his young son, Adam. No one who observes them has any idea that Philip has only known Adam for a short time, and this carefree life is really a living hell: after the two randomly meet at a store, Adam decides to make Philip his newest “parent,” using his terrible powers to completely rewrite Philip’s life so that everyone else thinks he’s always been there. Only Philip remembers the life he used to have, and those memories are no comfort as he becomes a prisoner in his own home, a slave to a demonic child. Bringing the evil-child trope to its devastating apex, Burke creates a horrific vision of what might happen if children utterly controlled their parents. Burke’s writing is visceral; Philip’s descent into madness is rendered in unnerving terms. Adding in a Lovecraftian pantheon of monsters, Burke creates a stomach-twisting ride through the depths of horror, breathing new life into an often-stagnant part of the genre. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Stay: Troubled Hearts, Book 1

Savannah Brooks. Amazon Digital, $2.99 ASIN B017EL0B24

This tender, uncomplicated love story has an old-fashioned happy ending, complete with a wedding—all the sweeter because it’s a pleasant 21st-century romance between two men who find love on an eastern Arizona ranch turned campground. When 23-year-old Blake Stevens wanders onto the grounds of Spirit Lake Camp, all he wants is a job, even if it’s temporary—maybe especially if it is. He just needs cash and a place to sleep. Ever since being thrown out of the house by a disapproving father, the former Marine has been trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Spirit Lake’s family scion Asher Collins decides the best thing Blake could do is share that life with him. The ensuing cat and mouse game comes with no earth-shattering surprises and few complications, but no matter. For fans of straightforward romance with a smattering of steamy lovemaking, this story will fit the bill nicely. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Nutcracker King: Coming from Darkness, Book 1

Eustacia Tan. Eustacia Tan, $0.99 e-book (115p) ASIN B018VK9132

Tan inexplicably morphs the joyful Nutcracker story into a gruesome, horrific rampage of a psychopathic prince turned doll who murders his family members and bathes in their blood, all for the sake of his quest to become human again and win the hand of his dear Marie. This unsettling alteration of the original story eschews the happy ending and takes place eight years later, with the love story between the Nutcracker and Marie unresolved. The plot of this sexist novella involves a kidnapping, forced marriage, torture, and a ditzy “heroine” who makes excuses for the evil the Nutcracker does in her name. The brutality rivals the original Grimm fairy tales and is certainly not appropriate for children. Tan mixes third-person and first-person points of view to the detriment of the narrative flow, abuses clichés, misplaces colloquialisms, and includes anachronisms that would have baffled E.T.A. Hoffmann. Those hoping for a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies–style bit of whimsy will be very disappointed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Graveyard Shift

Angela Roquet. CreateSpace, $14.95 trade paper (259p) ISBN 978-1-4800-0418-4

Roquet breathes new life into death with the debut of her Reapers, Inc. urban fantasy series. Lana Harvey is an eighth-generation reaper, content with harvesting low-risk souls on a freelance basis. She gets her docket in the morning, heads over to the mortal realm to pick her passengers up, and then takes them back to her ship in Limbo City. Every afternoon, she and her sailing partner drop their souls off in the respective afterlives. At night, she enjoys poker games with her friends, including the angel Gabriel, and spends countless hours warming a stool at the demon-run Purgatory Lounge. Lana’s quite content with her life until she’s chosen by Grim, the CEO of Reapers, Inc., to help quell an insurrection threatening to destroy the fabric of Eternity. The blending of cultures and traditions is handled respectfully, with more than a touch of humor mixed in with hints of romance and mystery. The setting is rich and varied with a little something for fans of several different genres. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Siege of Praetar: Tales of a Dying Star, Book 1

David Kristoph. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (166p) ISBN 978-1-5031-2808-8

This highly engaging debut takes place on the dying planet of Praetar, where the relentless sands and the dim light of its looming red giant sun force a slow exodus by those with the means. But the Praetarians don’t know that their flights off the planet are doomed to fail. Hyken, one of many pilots who serve the post-human Empire, follows instructions to destroy freighters leaving the surface, assuming they’re transporting weapons or are otherwise a threat. Hidebound Hyken is shocked to learn that his junior officer is letting ships sneak past. Down on the planet, Mira is desperate to save her two young girls from a future of perpetual sickness and starvation. The local gangster, Bruno, threatens to flex his power by denying them access to the next ship. Kristoph skillfully connects three independent perspectives to demonstrate how an individual choice, whether self-serving or for the greater good, can create a ripple of consequences in unexpected ways. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Alchemist in the Attic

Antonio Urias. Antonio Urias, $2.99 e-book (201p) ASIN B0194D3LOA

The end of the 19th century has brought reporter Theodore “Teddy” Atwood and his newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle, to the edge of ruin. What Teddy needs to survive is a fantastic story with at least a grain of truth—and he thinks he may have it when two notorious grave robbers return to the city. But they and the city’s other grave robbers are only the first step down a dark path leading to murders and a patron who scares even them to silence. Teddy believes that a mysterious recluse named Marius Valencourt is the malefactor, and Valencourt’s tight-lipped neighbors appear to agree. Pursuing Valencourt throws Teddy headfirst against an arcane power that kills some and drives others insane. Urias keeps the pace quick and ramps up the pressure on Teddy, making for a gritty, breathless, sometimes bewildering tale in which financial ruin often seems the best of Teddy’s possible dooms. If the sum of the secrets feels somewhat anticlimactic and well trod, readers will have an exciting ride getting there nevertheless. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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