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Brothers

David Clerson, trans. from the French by Katia Grubisic. QC Fiction, $19.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-77186-086-4

Clerson’s debut novel, brought into strong yet delicate English by Grubisic, is an exhilarating collision of genres, including fairy tales, magic realism, and classical, biblical, and indigenous mythologies. Two brothers (who are never named) live with their mother in semi-isolation near a marsh, subsisting on what they catch, and sometimes visiting local villagers to trade objects that drift ashore. The mother tells them about their “dog of a father” and explains how the younger brother was created from one of the older brother’s arms so that they could face the world together. When the brothers set off on a journey, it turns out to be not a typical quest but rather a journey of self-discovery, or perhaps a quest whose purpose and endpoint keep disappearing or being forgotten. The anchoring details are deliberately murky. Readers are left to wonder when and where the novel is set, whether the characters are even real, or whether the elder brother—the character from whose perspective the story is told—is simply dreaming them along with the fragmentary, surreal, often violent events. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this intelligent and urgently written tale is likely to earn a cult following. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sputnik’s Children

Terri Favro. ECW (Legato, U.S. dist.; Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-77041-341-2

Favro’s (The Proxy Bride) highly entertaining tale is told by Debbie Biondi, the aging writer of the fantastically popular comic series Sputnik Chick. After 25 years, the comic is losing fans, and Debbie needs to win them back by writing a superb origin story for her character. But since she is Sputnik Chick, it’s her own troubled history that she must force herself to write. Her story begins in a parallel timeline, which split from our own in 1945 with the Trinity nuclear test in Mexico. This new timeline, Atomic Mean Time is going to be obliterated in a nuclear catastrophe unless 13 year-old Debbie, growing up in radioactive Canusa, crosses timelines to save it. The story of how and why she crossed becomes the meat of the novel, interspersed with the stories of present-day Debbie’s adult life falling apart: she’s relying heavily on martinis and tranquilizers, sleeping with the wrong guys. Favro successfully crams romance, the Cold War, suburbia, time travel, discussions of racism, a coming-of-age narrative, and more into a single book, using the contrast between the two timelines to highlight both good and bad aspects of current society. Funny, touching, genre-bending, and one-of-a-kind, this is an exuberant romp of a novel that is nonetheless unafraid of serious subjects. Agent: Kris Rothstein, Carolyn Swayze Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Double Up: A Davis Way Crime Caper

Gretchen Archer. Henery, $15.95 trade paperback (230p) ISBN 978-1-635-11181-1

Security expert Davis Way Cole must cope with a diabolical smart home, as well as twins-inspired sleep deprivation, in Archer’s winning sixth caper set in Biloxi, Miss. (after 2016’s Double Knot). Davis lives at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino with her husband, Bradley Cole, who’s the Bellissimo’s president and CEO, and much is expected of Davis in protecting the resort’s assets. A new casino has opened, and the result is likely to be the demise of the Bellissimo, thanks in part to Davis’s inattention to the business since the babies were born. While the Coles’ home screams such warnings as “eggs expire in two days” and the new nanny, July Jackson, rides herd on the twins, Davis sets out to save the casino, recruiting her ex-ex-mother-in-law, Bea Crawford, for some espionage. Unfortunately, Bea, who showed up without warning and with a suspiciously large amount of luggage, turns out to be a really bad spy. Readers will laugh all the way to the end of this madcap adventure. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Paint It Black: The Eleventh Nick Sharman Thriller

Mark Timlin. No Exit (IPG, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-84344-685-9

Readers will struggle to sympathize with unpleasant, reckless Nick Sharman in British author Timlin’s bleak 11th thriller featuring the ex-cop turned PI (after Pretend We’re Dead). Nick gets a desperate call from his ex-wife, Laura, after their 14-year-old daughter, Judith, goes missing from her Aberdeen, Scotland, home in the company of a friend from the wrong side of the tracks. Of course, Nick drops everything to find Judith, and, of course, he ignores the pleas of his friend on the force, the distractingly named Insp. Jack Robber, to leave the search to the police. The opening section, centered on the hunt for the missing girl, proves to be just the catalyst for the rest of the story line, which unfolds in grim and predictable ways. To Timlin’s credit, he doesn’t try to soften Nick’s rough edges, but it’s too bad he doesn’t allow Nick to show an introspective side that might have made his lead’s actions more plausible and understandable. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories

Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. Solaris, $15.99 trade paperback (356p) ISBN 978-1781084175

Editors Shurin and Murad collect 22 stories about the shadowy, fiery beings called the djinn in this unusual anthology. One of the best is the seriously creepy “Reap” by Sami Shah, about a group in the New Mexico desert that operates a drone in Pakistan, through which they witness the transformation of a young girl into something utterly terrifying. “How We Remember You” by Kuzhali Manickavel is an achingly lovely story about a group of friends, a djinn they once knew, and the fluid nature of memory. In Helene Wecker’s “Majnun,” Zahid, a djinn now living as a human, is called to exorcise from a young man the beautiful, ancient djinn whom he once loved, testing the bonds of desire. Maria Dahvana Headley’s stunning “Black Powder” features a djinn-haunted black powder rifle now possessed by a 16-year-old outcast called the Kid, who is on a mission of vengeance at the local high school. This one has a fantastic twist, both heartbreaking and hopeful. Readers looking for stories set in a variety of locales (even outer space) and arrayed over various cultures and religions will find much to like. Nicely rounding things out are a standalone extract from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and the titular poem by Egyptian poet Hermes. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Mixed In

Catherine Haustein. City Owl, $14.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-944728-12-0

Haustein underwhelms with this tepid romance set in a dystopian future. Dr. Catrina Pandora Van Dingle is newly arrived in the corporate-controlled city state of Cochtonville. A faulty bus on a rainy day brings her in contact with a local bartender named Ulysses. Their attraction is immediate, if poorly defined. Contrivances force their relationship along at a confusing pace, with little to evoke a sense of romance. The supporting characters are a confusion of stereotypes with minimal development. The text is peppered with scientific observations of the natural world and the tone is cold and unengaging. Where passion would be appropriate, there are only reluctant concessions to biology. Daring plans rarely last longer than a few paragraphs, with many incidents resolved through happenstance. Every danger is avoided by loophole or good fortune, so the resolution is lackluster and unsatisfying. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dreams Before the Start of Time

Anne Charnock. 47North, $14.95 trade paperback (243p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3472-6

Charnock (A Calculated Life) pulls hard on the parent’s universal worry—that no matter what we do and how much we want the best for our children, somehow we aren’t doing it right—in a skillfully executed multigenerational saga that explores a potential future driven by rapid development of reproductive technologies. Charnock’s mid-21st-century London protagonists navigate their parents’ difficulties accepting choices like conceiving solo with donor sperm or choosing to continue an accidental pregnancy; the children resulting from those decisions face questions of true single-parent reproduction and remote gestation as cutting-edge technologies; and their children deal with the ramifications of the methods of their own creation, and the cultural development of birthing choices and genetic enhancement as an issue of money and class. Though Charnock’s core characters function as archetypes manifesting the choices available in her subtly problematic future, the family context through which she revisits them throughout their lives lets her focus on the human struggles for relationship, connection, and legacy in a story that feels personal and intimate. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Thaw

Elyse Springer. Riptide, $17.99 trade paper (226p) ISBN 978-1-62649-514-2

Springer’s second Seasons of Love book (after Whiteout) features an asexual connection with lots of sweet romance and the warmth of watching trust develop between two women who travel in very different worlds. Brooklyn branch librarian Abby is delighted to serve as impromptu dance partner and escape from a controlling manager for glamorous supermodel Gabrielle Levesque, but shocked to be romantically pursued by her afterward. She starts to feel optimistic about the connection despite Gabrielle’s reticence to share about her personal life and her reputation as an “ice queen,” but is worried about what will happen to the relationship when she discloses her lack of interest in sex. Abby’s a relatable heroine for the target market, geeky, insecure, and worried about her job. But Springer never gives the narrative’s point of view to Gabrielle, leaving the reader to see her always through Abby’s eyes, and her weird blend of over-the-top romantic gestures, fascination with Abby’s life, and abrupt cold shutdowns, though explained by a backstory of abuse, keeps her as the object rather than subject even once the women break though to an emotionally intimate connection. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Forever Mine

Erin Nicholas. Forever, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-3967-3

Maya Goodwin lives life without restraint, passionately throwing herself into work, play, and love. Even when an arm injury halts her career as a police officer, she keeps pushing to get what she wants. Dr. Alex Nolan, a renowned expert in genetic disorders, is never reckless , but with Maya, he discovers his wilder side. At first he wants Maya to teach him about superheroes and martial arts so that he can bond with his newfound daughter, Charli, but as he gets to know Maya, Alex realizes life is messy and can’t be kept in compartments. With Maya’s help, Alex shows Charli that even with hemophilia she can have fun, as long as she is careful. Nicholas successfully weaves facts about hemophilia into conversations without being overly preachy. At its heart, this contemporary romance is about families—the family of friends that Maya has assembled and the family Alex is trying to put together with Charli and her mother—and how the two blend together. This fun and flirty contemporary romance is a fresh and engaging take at the opposites-attract trope, with a lovable cast. Agent: Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, McIntosh & Otis. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Crazy for You

Rachel Lacey. Forever, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-3756-3

Long before landscaper Emma Rush’s brother died in the service of his country, she felt a strong attraction to his best friend, Ryan Blake. Now Ryan has returned to Haven, N.C., as a partner in Off-the-Grid Adventures, and he seems ready to settle down after a decade away. Emma can’t seem to get him out of her mind or her heart. Once she decides to liven up her dating life, Ryan has a hard time letting go of his promise to Emma’s brother to protect her, but not date her. However, his resistance begins to crumble as he realizes that Emma has grown into a confident and creative woman. Their love story isn’t particularly complicated or surprising, but readers will enjoy watching Lacey build compelling characters who speak like real people and interact with friends and family, rather than living in a “couple bubble.” Lacey’s small-town romance is a perfect weekend read. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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