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Heart of Dust: Death’s Embrace, Book 1

H.L. Moore. H.L. Moore, $3.99 e-book (213p) ISBN 978-0-648-27129-1

Moore’s entertaining futuristic romance tackles messy family dynamics and civil disobedience in a dystopian, semi-subterranean world. Bryson, the tyrannical archon, ignores concerns about the country’s highly lucrative but brutally unsafe coal mines and the miners’ extreme privation, so hotheaded and charismatic former foreman Doran Ó Seanáin and his Black Lung Gang orchestrate a massive strike. After an attempt to incite rebellion, a wounded Doran stumbles into the apothecary of taciturn but generous Nathaniel Morgenstern. Doran ducks the huge bounty on his head to visit his estranged adult daughter Grace, who’s living with the wealthy family her mother abandoned to marry Doran. He discovers she is engaged to the archon, a personal affront to Doran, who crafts a risky ultimatum for miners’ rights. Tensions among the gang leadership mount, and Doran’s increasing feelings for Nathaniel and frustrations with Grace cloud his judgments until the explosive conclusion. Moore’s worldbuilding could be slightly more fluid as she packs in Celtic mythology, a crypto-Jewish minority (to which Nathaniel belongs), and a complicated political situation, but her characters’ entangled relationships and Doran’s angst-free bisexuality keep everything feeling fresh. Shocking revelations and unfinished reforms pave the way for future books in this series that should appeal to fans of slow-burning desire and fights against oppression. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Wolf Apart

Maria Vale. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6190-0

Vale steps up her game for the excellent second Legends of All Wolves paranormal (after The Last Wolf), which plays with alpha male dominance fantasy, strikingly explores the core werewolf conflict between civilization and the wild, and offers food for thought about “the nature of strength,” all in the context of a tense, high-energy plot concerning pack culture and politics. Elijah Sorensson, increasingly distressed by his life as a high-status Manhattan lawyer supporting the interests of the Great North Pack, prepares to come home to the Adirondacks permanently. His plans are complicated by his unexpected romance with a human and by the continued scheming of independent shifters against the already diminished pack. Vale does a brilliant job of developing werewolf culture, filling in details about rituals, pregnancy, and child-rearing that are sometimes surprising but always plausible. She begins with stereotypes of power but guides the reader into a much deeper contemplation of masculinity and the character of leadership while inverting many billionaire romance tropes. Vale’s nuanced exploration of werewolf concepts elevates this work above others in the genre. Agent: Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Rough Ride: True Brothers MC, Book 4

Gillian Archer. Loveswept, $4.99 e-book (268p) ISBN 978-1-101-96954-0

Archer’s fourth True Brothers MC romantic thriller (after Rebellious) heads back to Reno, Nev., with a heated connection between a motorcycle club princess and one of the club’s newest members. It’s been just about a year since Amber Bennett’s father was gunned down in cold blood, dying in her mother’s arms—and she’s ready to make sure the thug who did it is properly punished. When she takes revenge, she inadvertently snares an unwanted admirer who won’t take no for an answer. Enter Hunter “Bam Bam” Kincaid, who’s going to make sure she’s protected whether she likes it or not. At first Amber refuses to fall for the honorable biker, but soon she can’t resist his charms. Archer’s expert characterization—particularly of the occasionally sardonic but always loving hero—and her well-designed supporting cast of club members add spice. She throws in a well-timed surprise and an emotionally satisfying ending that will leave readers wanting more. It’s easy to cheer for these tough characters and their tender hearts. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Serpentine

Laurell K. Hamilton. Berkley, $28 (496p) ISBN 978-0-425-25568-1

Hamilton’s middling 26th Anita Blake paranormal (after Crimson Death) brings friends and frenemies together for a destination wedding in New Mexico. After seven years, Anita’s fellow U.S. Marshal Edward is headed to the altar with Donna—unless Donna’s insecurities or bridesmaid Dixie’s vicious gossip derail their big day. Anita and her partner Micah promise to set work aside and focus on each other and their partner Nathaniel, but they fall back into old habits and hurt Nathaniel’s feelings. When female guests go missing from the wedding hotel, this getaway turns into a vampire hunter reunion. Anita, Edward, and their colleagues Bernardo and Olaf must stop the monster preying on women before a corrupt cop magically coerces Nathaniel into taking the blame. Hamilton is slowly shifting the focus away from Anita’s personal relationships and sexcapades and back toward mystery and action, but that shift won’t move fast enough to satisfy many longtime fans of the series, and it leaves this installment feeling disjointed. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Intercepted

Alexa Martin. Berkley, $15 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-49195-4

The ups and downs of love in the NFL are well portrayed with a heavy dose of humor and snark in Martin’s sports romance. At age 27, Marlee’s been not-quite-engaged to Mustangs wide receiver Chris for 10 years. The catty football wives, aka the Lady Mustangs, do little to hide their distaste for her being a mere girlfriend. When she catches Chris cheating and dumps him, the last thing she wants is a rebound romance with Gavin, the Mustangs’ new quarterback, while she gets used to living on her own for the first time and settles into a new marketing job. Independence is hard to keep as Gavin continues to pursue her, and the more serious they become, the more unwanted attention she gets from the media, disapproving Lady Mustangs, and a jealous friend of Gavin’s. Marlee’s frequently self-deprecating first-person account, including catchy hashtags (“All aboard, ladies and gentlemen. #HotMessExpress”), will be perfect for readers looking for a fun contemporary. Agent: Jessica Watterson, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Shy Grove: A Ghost Story

Scott A. Johnson. CLB Publications, $19.99 trade paper (279p) ISBN 978-0-692-98259-4

This creative, twisted, and relentlessly unsettling creepy house story draws deeply on the natural tensions of a stressful marriage and of parenting a teen while pulling its characters into profoundly strange territory. Gary is excited to move with his wife, Angela, and 14-year old son, Zach, into the old house he’s inherited from his reclusive Aunt Ester in a remote, dying town hours from their home in San Antonio, Tex. But the locals tell stories of an evil church that once stood on the property, and thumps from under the floorboards, disembodied voices, and disturbing erotic dreams make the house feel anything but welcoming. Zach focuses on repairing the classic truck in the barn and on his first romance, but the increasingly strange behavior of his parents becomes impossible to ignore. Johnson (Droplets) skillfully brings readers into Gary and Angela’s inner thoughts so that their flips between belief and disbelief, and the ways in which each reacts to the atypical behavior of the other while experiencing the incongruity of increasing compulsions, become terrifyingly relatable. This is an impressive new take on classic horror themes. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Condomnauts

Yoss, trans. from the Spanish by David Frye. Restless, $16.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-63206-186-7

Yoss (Super Extra Grande) is an eminent Cuban SF writer who also fronts a heavy metal band; his iconoclastic spirit and rock-and-roll aesthetic are on full ingenious display in this daring, rollicking, and joyous novel. When humans first encountered aliens, they discovered that the entire sentient galaxy follows a simple rule to make cross-species trade harmonious: demonstrate mutual acceptance by having sex. This leads to the development of a new profession: Contact Specialist, or condomnaut. Josué Valdes, an orphan from the ruins of post-nuclear Cuba, is a Contact Specialist but lacks the advantages of training or built-in nanotechnology to assist him in alien sex. He longs to secure his place as a citizen of the wealthy Catalan Nu Barsa arcology, and maybe get his name into the history books, using natural talent and sheer chutzpah. His swagger is shared by the book’s bravura plot and setting. The novel is recognizable as a space opera, but everything from human history to the economics of galactic trade is seen from a richly irreverent angle. Josué is a three-dimensional, well-rounded protagonist whose flaws can be genuinely aggravating without overwhelming his natural charm. When hilarity ensues, as it often does, the laughs are earned and heartfelt. This extended dirty joke is also an impressive science fiction novel with much to say about sex, culture, and what it means to be alien. (July)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Record of a Spaceborn Few

Becky Chambers. Harper Voyager, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-269922-0

The delightful third book set in Chambers’s Galactic Commons universe (after A Close and Common Orbit) takes place in and around the Exodan Fleet, the set of generation ships in which humankind left an ecologically destroyed Earth. Following humans’ entry into the Galactic Commons, the Exodan ships were granted a star to orbit and given a lot of new alien technology. The effects of these things on the Exodan culture, which prioritizes resource conservation and does not use money, are far-reaching. A mother tries to deal with her daughter’s new fears after a horrific disaster; a young man from a planetary colony tries to emigrate to the Fleet; an alien ethnologist comes to study the Exodan ways of life. The multiple narrators and seemingly unrelated plot lines converge thematically into an intensely powerful and multifaceted meditation on time, history, change, and memory, leavened with a welcome touch of humor. The characters are distinct and lovable, each shedding light on a different facet of the Fleet. Chambers uses the interconnections inevitable in such a small society to provide moments of both horrific pain and soaring grace, and to make it clear that those things are inextricably intermingled. This is a superb work from one of the genre’s rising stars. (July)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Alternate Routes

Tim Powers. Baen, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8340-7

Powers (Medusa’s Web) continues his run of smashing expectations and then playing with the pieces in this entertaining urban fantasy. Former Secret Service agent Sebastian Vickery makes an under-the-radar living driving passengers in cars that protect them from spectral energies flowing around Los Angeles’s freeways. After another agent, Ingrid Castine, saves him from assassination, Vickery discovers that someone exploiting those energies is blurring the boundaries between our physical world and a toxic, irrational landscape called the Labyrinth. Vickery and Castine must seal that rift to keep the Labyrinth from flooding their reality, though doing so will likely mean going into it themselves. Though the turns of the plot seem irrational at times, Powers eventually combines the disparate pieces of Vickery and Castine’s quest to create a solid story. Throw in a unique helper calling itself Mary and clever twists on a favorite Greek myth, and this calculated, frenetic novel ends with hope for redemption born from chaos. Powers’s work is recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy more than a dash of the bizarre. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Among the Wild Cybers

Christopher L. Bennett. eSpec, $14.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-942990-96-3

Bennett expands upon the universe introduced in Only Superhuman with a collection of eight short science fiction stories that offer tantalizing but underdeveloped glimpses into a world where humans face the consequences of exceeding the bounds of biology, morality, and known space. In “Aspiring to Be Angels,” space peacekeepers battle a laboratory-born super intelligence that’s been enslaving ordinary human minds in pursuit of godhood. In “No Dominion,” detectives investigate a mysterious homicide in an age where death is neither inevitable nor always permanent. In the star of the collection, “The Caress of a Butterfly Wing,” a human crewman of a spaceship and a posthuman merged with a biological solar sail bridge the divide driven between their species by war and evolution to find love amid the perils of deep space. Though these stories feature a wealth of commendable lessons, tender love stories, and thought-provoking concepts, all are regrettably undercut by uneven character development, inelegant prose, and unnatural dialogue. Even fans of big ideas will have a hard time enjoying the way they’re presented here. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/15/2018 | Details & Permalink

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