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Revenge of the Translator

Brice Matthieussent, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. Deep Vellum, $15.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-941920-69-5

Matthieussent’s debut is boisterous and beguiling from the first page to the last, tracing the complex story of le Traducteur (known as Trad, Ted, or Brad to his friends), an anguished translator living in contemporary France. Trad shares his distaste for his latest work in progress—a metafictional novel called Translator’s Revenge, which he is translating into French—in a series of elaborate footnotes. Soon Trad is rewriting, embellishing, and deleting entire sections of the book, determined to create out of it something much more beautiful. As he tells his reader, “When I resist the temptation of censorship or when I don’t dilate the original prose as I please, I am an indelicate transporter, a clumsy mover, a seedy trafficker.” While Trad works to recreate the characters—including Abel Prote, himself a novelist; Abel’s secretary and lover, Doris; and Abel’s own translator, David Gray—they begin to blur the lines between fiction and reality by inserting themselves in Trad’s life as real people with plans for vengeance on Trad and one another. At once a powerful satire and an ode to a collaborative art form, this delightful novel will have readers scratching their heads, retracing their steps, and delighting anew in the art of translation, including Ramadan’s own skillful work here. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Skeleton Makes a Friend

Leigh Perry. Diversion, $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-63576-444-4

Whodunits don’t come much funnier than Perry’s suspenseful fifth mystery featuring “an ambulatory skeleton named Sid” (after 2017’s The Skeleton Paints a Picture). More than two decades earlier, Sid showed up at the home of the Thackery family and moved in, in the process becoming the best friend of Georgia Thackery, who’s now an adjunct instructor at an enrichment program for high school students at New Hampshire’s Overfield College. A nauseating smell coming from a college administrative office prompts Georgia and Sid to break into the office, where they find a corpse stabbed in the throat with an unusual blade. Flash back five days. Georgia and Sid get involved in a mystery that many readers will suspect is connected with their future grim discovery—the disappearance of a player in an online fantasy game that Sid participates in. Georgia’s travails at Overfield, which include an unpleasant encounter with a legendary, condescending pedagogue, help flesh out her character. In one humorous aside, after Sid dives into the lake outside Georgia’s cabin, she comments: “Since he doesn’t breathe, there’s no limit to how long he can stay at the bottom of the lake; his meatless physique doesn’t appeal to any fish that might swim by looking for a snack; and without skin, he doesn’t have to worry about getting pruney.” Perry doesn’t bother to explain how Sid can walk, talk, and text, but that omission, impressively, isn’t a barrier to engagement. Fans of offbeat comic mysteries will be richly rewarded. Agent: Lisa Rodgers, JABberwocky Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Fire & Blood

George R.R. Martin. Bantam, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-1-5247-9628-0

Martin’s evocative storytelling style and gift for gripping narrative are mostly absent from this dry history of the blood-drenched Targaryens, one of the central dynasties of the land of Westeros (setting of the Song of Ice and Fire series and the HBO show Game of Thrones). Beginning with the Targaryens’ fortuitous escape from the destruction of Valyria and Aegon Targaryen’s subsequent conquest of Westeros, and concluding with the ascent of young King Aegon III to Westeros’s Iron Throne some 130 years later, Martin gives equal weight to each member of the Targaryen family. The deliberately inbreeding Targaryens share a number of characteristics through the generations—chiefly brutality, snobbishness, and the single-minded pursuit of power—and it can be hard to keep track of who’s who. Brief sections are dramatic (“the golden dragon devoured the queen in six bites”) or salacious (“it aroused the princess to watch the men disporting with one another”), and there are entertaining snatches of dialogue and detailed depictions of battles, but they only last a few pages before a return to brisk summary. The conceit of the history being written by one Archmaester Gyldayn (“author” of several other works of Westerosi scholarship, most recently The Sons of the Dragon) mostly gives rise to images of unhappy Westerosi schoolchildren being forced to study this weighty textbook. Fans hungry for the next Song of Ice and Fire novel will find this volume whets, but does not satisfy, their appetites. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Fall of Gondolin

J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, illus. by Alan Lee. Houghton Mifflin, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-328-61304-2

The third and last of the elder Tolkien’s Great Tales, following The Children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien, as presented by his son, gives readers a final glimpse at the author’s brilliance and method through the epic tale of the man Tuor and his coming to the hidden elven city of Gondolin, last of the great elven strongholds of Middle-earth’s First Age. The younger Tolkien includes several of his father’s versions of Tuor’s tale, with different lengths and in voices ranging from archaic to modern. Tolkien devotees will relish the chance to see the story evolve as Tolkien pѐre alters names and rewrites events while preserving Tuor’s quest. All readers will appreciate the richly descriptive prose and the grand battle of the Fall. The book also includes material from elsewhere in J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings so that readers have a sense of the events that came before Tuor’s journey, as well as the War of Wrath in which Morgoth, the great enemy, was finally cast down. This work is a fitting end to Christopher Tolkien’s labors as the steward of his father’s beloved works, and is likely to be cherished by Tolkien’s many fans. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Bead Collector

Sefi Atta. Interlink, $25 (370p) ISBN 978-1-62371-985-2

Atta (Everything Good Will Come) examines the effects of Cold War world politics on individual relationships in this compelling if uneven novel. In 1976, six years after the Nigerian Civil War, Remi Lawal, mother, wife, and business owner, struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy, despite her husband’s forced “retirement” from his government job and the ongoing threat of another coup. At an art exhibition, she meets Frances Cooke, an American who’s in Nigeria buying rare beads. Though her husband insists Frances is a CIA spy, Remi soon bonds with Frances, confiding everything from her feeling about marriage and motherhood to her hopes for her country. But when Nigeria’s military ruler is assassinated, Remi begins questioning whether Frances was involved and her trust has been misplaced. Though Remi’s relationship with Frances feels very real, an unnecessary wealth of historic and scenic details prevents the story’s real emotional and political complexities from emerging until the second half. Despite its lack of narrative focus, this is a thought-provoking examination of the effects of colonialism, tradition, and fear on human interactions. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Highlander Who Protected Me

Vanessa Kelly. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (423p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4115-3

Kelly’s first Clan Kendrick Regency unites a spoiled English heiress and a handsome battle-scarred Scottish Highlander. After the aborted elopement of Royal Kendrick and Lady Ainsley Matthews, Ainsley hoped that the scandalous elopement would ruin her reputation, allowing her to avoid marriage to the Marquess of Cringlewood. Frustrated by her continued refusal to marry Cringlewood, Ainsley’s father sends her to live with her great-aunt Lady Margaret Baird in the remote Highlands. Royal is unable to forget the beautiful, stubborn Ainsley, so he travels to her great-aunt’s home and discovers that Ainsley is pregnant. Ainsley confesses that Cringlewood is her child’s father and doesn’t know of her pregnancy; what she doesn’t reveal is that he raped her. Though Royal is dismayed that Ainsley continues to reject his offers of marriage, he agrees to help care for her daughter, Tira, after she is born. Ainsley’s complex character is highlighted by her willingness to bear a child alone and then give her away to protect her. When Ainsley fears that Cringlewood will humiliate her family for her continual refusal to marry him, she finally accepts Royal’s proposal, but their is marriage complicated by Royal’s desire to protect his new family and Ainsley’s struggles with inadequacy as a new wife and mother. Sensuous romance, elaborately developed characters, and a fast-moving plot make this historical very satisfying. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl

Victoria Alexander. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-80406-1

Alexander continues her celebration of multigenerational female bravado and intensifies the complexity of this delightfully over-the-top series through a fantastical Egyptian travelogue, and playfully praises the value of telling a good adventure tale through its imaginative, fiction-writing female lead. The newspaper that publishes Miss Sidney Gordon Honeywell’s successful serial, “Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt,” has encouraged its readers’ impression that the fanciful stories are based on her own experiences, but her grandmother’s diaries are the real source. Harry Armstrong, with a sheaf of unpublishably tedious accounts of his Egyptian travels and an unexpected new title, challenges her to a trip to Egypt to prove her expertise, which she accepts, accompanied by a reporter and the three enthusiastic widows of the Lady Travelers Society. Sidney’s enchanting optimism and self-assurance lead Harry to shift his focus from exposing her falsehoods to protecting her as she continues her grandmother’s search for a rare artifact. His natural charm and the old ladies’ social manipulations seed their romance, leaving the reader happily imagining the couple’s future adventure beyond the pages of the book’s finale. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Best Gay Erotica of the Year, Vol. 4

Edited by Rob Rosen. Cleis, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-62778-284-5

Readers looking for some quick, blazing-hot reads will enjoy this sizzling, high-energy anthology. All the stories fall into one of three genres: comic, speculative, and literary. However, with a wide array of time periods, settings, and characters who run the gamut of desires, emotions, and experiences, these categories never feel constricting or exclusionary. Highlights include Clare London’s “Open Up,” a quirky after-hours power play in a dental surgery, and Richard Michaels’s “Forward into the Past,” which uses a hard-boiled noir feel to tell the story of a private detective and the client he just can’t resist. Sublime sexual encounters form the natural focus of each story; unfortunately, attempts to insert plot and character developments often fall flat, resulting in some confusing and discordant elements, especially in the paranormal tales, which allude to much larger worldbuilding projects without delivering critical details. Gregory L. Norris’s “Foursome” is a noteworthy exception, blending the heat of polyamorous attraction with some warmhearted camaraderie among its characters. This anthology generally delivers on its promises of heat, kink, and escapist fun. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Vol. 3

Edited by Sacchi Green. Cleis, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-62778-286-9

The third installment of Green’s annual short story series is distinctly uneven. Though Valerie Alexander’s “Ninjutsu” is a strong opener made of pure mile-high anonymous sex fantasy, R. G. Emanuelle’s “The Auction” attempts similar realism-be-damned wish fulfillment only to be tripped up by a jarring plot twist and questionable consent. Nat Burns’s “Jani-Lyn’s Dragon” relies too much on the titillation of imagining Janis Joplin’s sex life and not enough on appealing to readers through sex or story. Lea Daley’s “Rules” has a weak plot whose cringeworthy origin lies in false allegations of sexual abuse. The joke at the heart of Raven Sky’s “Fuck Me like a Canadian” can’t save it from tired stereotypes about Muslim women. In contrast, the real gems in this anthology are those that eschew the usual pert, young, able-bodied subjects of erotic fantasy in favor of more thoughtful, relatable portrayals, and are all the sexier for it. Of particular note are Scout Rhodes’s “Morning Fog,” which features sleepy early-morning sex between women over 60; T.C. Mill’s “Fearless,” which touchingly demonstrates the rewards of being patient with a recovering body; and Xan West’s “Trying Submission,” which flagrantly challenges all the old standards of the genre to celebrate a fat, disabled, autistic trans woman of color as she finds satisfaction in service. Standing alone, some of these stories are real gifts to readers, but as a whole, the collection falls short of its promise. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Rough Trade

Sidney Bell. Carina, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-335-77711-9

In Bell’s overstuffed third Woodbury Boys contemporary romantic thriller, Ghost is young male hustler who gets saved from a sticky situation involving members of a Russian crime syndicate by Ben Spratt, a cop who takes him in—and eventually locks him in a closet. However, Ghost escapes with a USB drive that incriminates Spratt in a murder. En route to a safe house, Ghost gets into a car crash at a shoot-out, where he gets injured. He eventually connects with Duncan Rook, a big, beefy cop who has post-concussion syndrome. The men are opposites—Duncan is an “uncorrupted police officer” and Ghost is a “whore on the run”—but they are attracted to each other; when circumstances require them to hole up in several hotel rooms, they debate good and bad behavior, watch movies, and share a bed. If they can survive the dangers all around them, maybe their relationship can too. Bell’s contemporary gets off to a rocky start and features more action than romance, but Duncan’s virtuous character provides some gentle pleasure to balance the excess of excitement. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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