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Passage

Khary Lazarre-White. Seven Stories, $23.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-60980-783-2

In his debut novel, lawyer and activist Lazarre-White describes the day-to-day life of Warrior, a high school kid in 1993 Harlem, who is black, smart, responsible, and thoughtful, with kind parents, an adorable little sister, and the perfect girlfriend. Warrior, though, is also angry—about the cops, about his teachers, and about the fact that his friend is in prison. But instead of breathing life into Warrior’s reality or providing for him a voice that would resonate with readers, the writing is clichéd, the dialogue especially wooden. Talking with his mother one morning, Warrior says, “Mamma, I have parents who have taught me well. I know the importance of blood and love.” To which she responds, “Part of being a mother, my wise son, is telling and retelling. It’s what we’ve done since the beginning of time.” Most of the book’s parental interactions are like this—one step away from sage, Yoda-style homilies. Warrior’s father also lacks dimension: he lives in Brooklyn, in a brownstone where he listens to jazz and cooks Caribbean food, and seems to care only about the Knicks. One snowy day, Warrior walks outside his mother’s apartment to find their Harlem neighborhood swarming with cops—a boy has been shot and people are rioting. But even this tension and violence are presented in flat, stale prose. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Good People

Hannah Kent. Little, Brown, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-24396-4

Faith, folk-knowledge, and fear coalesce in remote 19th-century Ireland in this second novel from Kent (Burial Rites). When her daughter and husband die amid what the community considers dark omens—unmoving birds, mysterious lights, a raging storm—Nóra Leahy dreads a future of backbreaking work in order to pay her rent and care for her four-year-old grandson Micheál. Once hale and healthy, the boy was delivered to Nóra’s doorstep after the sudden death of his mother mute, unable to walk, and starving. Bitter gossip at the well and by the hearth questions how Nóra’s luck soured so quickly, why the valley cows’ milk is drying up, and why none of the townspeople ever see the ailing boy. Rumors and dark signs weigh on Nóra until she seeks help outside of her comfort zone: old Nance Roche’s knowledge of the Good People—the fairies. But the old hermit’s cures of nettle, nightshade, and foxglove bring nearly as much risk as reward. Defying the valley’s newly appointed priest, Nance, Nóra, and her young housemaid, Mary Clifford, set out to determine whether Micheál is a boy or the fairy changeling the valley fears him to be. Though rife with description, backstory, and a surfeit of gossip, the book’s pervasive sense of foreboding and clear narrative arcs keep the tale immersive. Kent leads the reader on a rocky, disquieting journey to the misty crossroads of Irish folk beliefs past and future. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Gitmo

Shawn Corridan and Gary Waid. Down & Out, $16.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-943402-63-2

Dixon Sweeney, the hero of this fast and fun thriller from Corridan and Waid (Goliath), has served eight years in a Florida state prison for smuggling Cubans into that state. The ever-optimistic Dixon vows, upon drawing his first breath as a free man, to go straight: “this time things will be different.” Within hours of his release, he discovers that his wife has literally moved his house from Cudjoe Key to Key West, where she’s now living with his former best friend after having cleared out his savings. Dixon moves into the garden shed that remains on his old property, where he surveys his options and decides things can only get better, because they can’t get worse, right? Well, they do, giving the reader the pleasure of watching the down-and-out but still wily Dixon as he’s drawn into a scheme that takes him to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), while being pursued by the U.S. Coast Guard, Russian thugs, and Cuban police. Amid the mayhem, the authors provide a number of surprising plot twists and quite a few laughs. (June)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Holmes: The Labyrinth of Death

James Lovegrove. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-785653-37-7

In Lovegrove’s middling fifth Sherlock Holmes pastiche (after 2016’s Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows), Sir Osbert Woolfson, a judge, consults the Baker Street duo after his beloved 29-year-old daughter, Hannah, disappears. Given Hannah’s awareness of his depression following the death of his wife, Sir Osbert refuses to believe that she vanished of her own free will, but the absence of any demands argue against foul play on the part of someone seeking money or revenge. Holmes finds a cache of letters that Hannah received from a friend, Sophia Tompkins, who has become involved with the Elysians, a mysterious group devoted to ancient Greek myths and rituals. The Elysians gather at Charfrome Old Place, a huge estate in the country. Holmes and Watson travel to the area to see whether Hannah went to Old Place in search of Sophia. The plot thereafter veers into territory reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. Lovegrove does a convincing job of capturing Watson’s voice, though he overdoes the doctor’s emotional involvement in the case. He also uses clichés that Conan Doyle would never have used (“I’ll have at the blackguard”). (June)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Iraq + 100: The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged From Iraq

Hassan Blasim. Tor, $18 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-250-16132-1

In this landmark anthology, a question is posed to 10 Iraqi writers, living both in Iraq and abroad: what will your country look like after 100 years? The answers to this question are vast and varied. In “Kuszib,” Hassan Abdulrazzak imagines a cruel future in which the farming of humans by aliens is rendered in gruesome, visceral detail. In “The Corporal,” Ali Bader tells the tale of one soldier’s quest for redemption in the face of religious and political turmoil. Editor Blasim’s “The Gardens of Babylon” imagines a digital paradise overtaking the Middle East, where people’s lives are compartmentalized into video game stories and insects are the new drug of choice. Inventive and surprising, these tales, many of which are translated, blend the surreal with the commonplace, pushing the boundaries of speculative fiction. Readers will savor each story as it probes the deeper questions of existence and the possibilities and perils of the future. This is a must-read for all science fiction enthusiasts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Royal Pain: His Royal Hotness, Book 1

Tracy Wolff. Loveswept, $3.99 e-book (230p) ISBN 978-0-425-28589-3

Wolff’s laugh-out-loud rags-to-riches contemporary is brimming with charm. Prince Kian of the nonexistent nation of Wildemar, the twin brother of the crown prince Garrett, is forced to tame his philandering ways when Garrett is kidnapped and Kian takes his place as heir to the throne. When audacious American Savannah “Savvy” Breslin jumps in to save Kian from an awkward situation during one of his new princely duties, she’s surprised to fall for the handsome, free-spirited aristocrat, especially considering her poor past experiences with his family. Familiar with the demands of the aristocracy, she knows that any kind of involvement would be a bad idea, but she finds it impossible to resist Kian’s laid-back attitude, exceptional good looks, and loveable entourage of three good-hearted guards. Kian’s strength of character is exhibited through his ability to balance his desire for Savvy against his concern for his brother and the requirements of his position, especially during the kidnapping’s fallout. He gives Savvy plenty of attention, but her fear of loss leads her to doubt his ability to commit to her, and that doubt threatens their relationship. With witty repartee, well-developed characters, and a splash of suspense, Wolff has turned what could be a ridiculous premise into a clever and refreshing love story. Agent: Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Western Star

Craig Johnson. Viking, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-17606-7

Bestseller Johnson pays homage to Agatha Christie in his cleverly plotted 13th Walt Longmire novel (after 2016’s An Obvious Fact), which takes place in both the past and the present. In 1972, Walt, an Absaroka County deputy and newly returned Vietnam War vet, joins his boss, Sheriff Lucian Connelly, for the Wyoming Sheriffs’ Association annual excursion across the state aboard the steam train Western Star. In Walt’s pocket is a copy of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. On the train, Walt attracts the attention of Kim LeClerc, the comely companion of Sheriff George McKay, who warns the deputy to stay away from her. Soon afterward, during a station stop, someone knocks Walt out just as he’s about to reboard the train. Walt hitches a ride to the next stop, where he learns that McKay has disappeared and another sheriff has been shot dead. In the present day, Walt is opposed to the release of a serial killer, who’s dying and has been imprisoned for decades, for a personal reason that will catch readers by surprise. Witty dialogue abounds; when Kim asks Walt if he killed many babies in Vietnam, he replies, “Hardly any, they’re small… Hard to hit.” And Johnson winds up the whodunit with a solution that Christie could never have imagined. 15-city author tour. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Something Like Happy

Eva Woods. Graydon House, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-525-81135-7

Misery takes a back seat in this uplifting, humorous, and touching novel. Londoner Annie Hebden has given up hope of finding happiness. Her baby, Jacob, dies unexpectedly; her husband, Mike, leaves her for her best friend, Jane, and now, due to early-onset dementia, her mother, Annie’s given in to her despair. She loathes her job as a finance officer, neglects her flat, and barely communicates with her roommate. After visiting her mother in the hospital, a colorful whirlwind named Polly Leonard barrels into Annie. In Annie, Polly believes she has found the perfect person to assist her in her latest, and final, project: One Hundred Happy Days. Polly may only have 100 days left, as she’s got terminal brain cancer (a tumor lovingly named Bob), and refuses to let her remaining time be miserable or go unnoticed. Reluctantly, Annie agrees to Polly’s plan to do or think of one happy thing a day. Soon, Polly has commandeered Annie’s life, making her jump in fountains, ride roller coasters, and listen to orchestras. Annie realizes that Polly is dying far better than Annie has ever lived, so maybe happiness does have a place in her life after all. Delightful page-turning awaits readers, even with Polly’s inevitable finale. Polly is a wonderful character with a positively infectious attitude—memorable and magnetic, with a healthy dose of gallows humor. Joy shines through the tears, as this novel is a life lesson that should not be ignored. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Rector: A Christian Murder Mystery

Michael Hicks Thompson. Shepherd King, $18 trade paper (342p) ISBN 978-0-9845282-6-4

Thompson’s engaging, high-energy Christian murder mystery is narrated by Martha McRae, a woman living in a small Mississippi town who seeks to solve the mystery of the sudden death of pastor David Baddour. Throughout the novel, readers are introduced to the cast of characters who inhabit the small Delta town in the 1950s. The book gleefully mixes all the elements of a small-town murder mystery—gossip, foul play, backstabbing—and, as more is revealed about Pastor Baddour and the other townspeople, more mysteries, hypocrisies, and dangers add to the intrigue. In spite of the danger McRae faces, she leaves no stone unturned. As she moves closer to solving the mystery, she must grapple with difficult truths about faith, honesty, sin, and redemption. With its exploration of small-town life in and close examination of the inhabitants of the town, Thompson’s tale looks intimately at what it means to function in a community—how a population can reveal and obscure the truth. Folded into the narrative are many Christian lessons, musings, and references, which can be interesting and edifying for some readers of faith. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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These Healing Hills

Ann H. Garhart. Revell, $15.99 (368 p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2363-7

Gabhart (The Outsider) paints an endearing portrait of WWII Appalachia in this enjoyable tale about two people trying to find their place in the world and discern what it means to truly be home. After Francine Howard’s boyfriend dumps her for an English war bride, she heads to Hyden, Ky., as a member of the Frontier Nursing Service to be trained as a midwife. The local customs are different from any she has ever known, and she soon discovers she may be in over her head. Meanwhile, Ben Locke has been serving his country as a medic in Europe and wants nothing more than to go back home to the mountains he loves. When an unexpected injury allows him to do just that, one of the first people he encounters is Fran. The two are attracted to each other, but he is from the rural parts of the mountain. In her community, she knows things would be contentious if the two became close. Garhart handles the Appalachian landscape and culture with skill, bringing them to vibrant life. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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