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OK, Mr. Field

Katharine Kilalea. Crown/Duggan, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-525-57363-0

Kilalea’s striking, singular debut constructs an eerie world of replicas, repetitions, and doubles that contrasts the utopian ideals of a modernist house with the irreversibly damaged soul who inhabits it. Narrator Mr. Field is close to inhuman, a lethargic obsessive recovering from a traumatic injury that ends his career as a concert pianist. He retires to one of three replicas of a modernist masterpiece, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, in Cape Town, South Africa. Perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the house is a “grand white box... rising from the rocks on its thin white stilts as if signifying, albeit tenuously, the victory of architecture over nature.” Meanwhile, a developer begins construction on a fanciful housing project next door, a “tower of cowsheds” rising up into the clouds, as Mr. Field’s life and home fall into disrepair. Mr. Field’s wife, Mim, vanishes, leaving behind cryptic notes about the sea; the house’s windows fall out and weeds encroach; and Mr. Field hears the voice of the villa’s former occupant in his head, then tirelessly stalks her in real life. The novel is as opaque as its central character, but Kilalela maintains a balance between formal control and the irrational mystery of a man who is a “stranger to [him]self.” The result is a disorienting and enthralling descent into one man’s peculiar malaise. Agent: Anna Webber, United Agents. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Sun Storm

Marlow Kelly. Viceroy Press, $2.99 e-book (251p) ISBN 978-0-9952301-1-8

In Kelly’s action-packed, if far-fetched, first Gathering Storm romantic thriller, Dr. Marie Wilson, a brilliant scientist, and David Quinn, an ex–Special Forces soldier, run for their lives through a Montana blizzard to evade gunmen, a corrupt police force, and a businessman who’s willing to kill to ensure Marie’s new invention never sees the light of day. Marie comes to Montana to test whether her innovative solar panel will withstand the cold; she has no idea she’s about to become a hunted woman. David takes what he thinks is a simple job retrieving a stolen prototype for Public Domain Energy, but when he meets Marie, he realizes right away that she’s no thief. He breaks the contract and feels honor-bound to protect her from his former client. As they’re thrown together in the face of danger, sexual tension simmers between the pair. Though both the chase and the couple’s budding relationship escalate at an implausibly rapid pace, the nonstop action is sure to keep readers turning pages. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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All-American Cowboy

Dylann Crush. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6261-7

Crush’s small town contemporary debut is amusing, interspersing rural pig hijinks with classic country/city romance in Holiday, Tex. Charlotte “Charlie” Walker’s only source of funds is managing a historic honky-tonk, Rambling Rose. Upon the death of the Rose’s owner, Sully, the property is bequeathed to his grandson, New Yorker Beck Holiday, who never even met Sully. From their initial meeting, when Charlie uses her dusty truck to pull Beck’s shiny SUV out of a ditch, their attraction and compatibility is clear, and the romance is hindered mostly by Beck’s real estate shark father, who opposes it at every turn. Beck’s search for family and emotional connections, which Charlie possesses in abundance, complements his desire for Charlie, while Charlie’s painful past and long-denied need for intimacy are eased by Beck’s generous nature. Last-minute mischief enlivens the expected yet charming climax. The southern Texas town has a glaring lack of Latino characters, but this story is otherwise recommended for readers hoping for an idyllic portrait of isolated country life. Agent: Jessica Watterson, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Everything but the Earl

Willa Ramsey. City Owl, $3.99 e-book (328p) ISBN 978-1-944728-89-2

Ramsey launches the Wayward & Willful Regency romance series with this charming but inconsistent debut. Miss Caroline Crispin, daughter to England’s royal architect, speaks boldly and flirts audaciously, almost anachronistically, eschewing marriage for independence and flouting the strictures of high society. Adam Wexley, the reclusive Earl of Ryland, battles equally unsuitable expectations, preferring peaceful gardening to the brutal pugilism enjoyed by his peers. When two lecherous lords wager on who will ensnare Caroline and ruin her, she realizes there are downsides to her shameless reputation, abruptly shifting from headstrong to dithery. She turns to Lord Ryland for aid in undermining the wager, and he leads her to reconsider her preconceived notions about marriage and love. Though Ramsey’s smooth prose and witty dialogue make for enjoyable reading, much of the characterization stretches credibility, and the breakneck pace of the plot is matched by the too-quick development of the romance. Despite its flaws, this series opener has enough substance to keep readers hopeful for improvement in the next installment. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Second Time Around

Nancy Herkness. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (367p) ISBN 978-1-5039-0214-5

The first full-length novel in Herkness’s Second Glances series (after the novella Second to None) is a feel-good, if bland, story of blue-collar Pennsylvania meeting blue-blood Connecticut that respects both halves of the equation, sweetened by crowd-pleasing elements such as cute kids and rescue dogs. Heavily indebted bartender and community center cook Kyra Dixon is looking for a seat at fast and healthy Manhattan eatery Ceres. She’s surprised when the man making space for her at his table turns out to be her college crush, Will Chase, who’s the CEO of the chain. Will brings Kyra to his family’s annual garden party, hoping she’ll be a buffer between him and his snobbish domineering mother and help him avoid his ex-fiancé. As he falls in love with Kyra, he also finds the bravery to live his life without yielding to his parents’ expectations. Kyra and Will’s teasing banter, driven by quotations from Shakespeare, John Donne, and others, is smart and funny. Although Will’s invitations to urgent encounters in a limousine, a top restaurant, and a private sailboat feel more ridiculous than spectacular, Herkness does evoke the chemistry of a couple indulging a rekindled attraction, grounding the glitz of this otherwise typical billionaire CEO romance story. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Faerie Rising

A.E. Lowan. Phoenix Quill, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-980200-62-8

Fans of urban fantasy with a strong female lead will enjoy this series launch. The realm populated by immortals, such as vampires, was once entangled with the human realm, but the two are now mostly separate. Seahaven, Wash., is one of the few places where the realms meet, and the rifts that can be created there irrevocably change the magical balance of the universe. Winter Mulcahy is the sole remaining member of her wizarding family who’s able to restore that balance, and she struggles to preserve law and justice in her city. With Seahaven closer to chaos than ever, Winter must confront a major new threat when she learns of a powerful being’s plan to end the “time of hiding,” revealing the existence of immortal beings to the mass of humans as a prelude to unprecedented bloodshed. Lowan grounds her imagined world in reality by inserting preternatural entities’ power plays, such as land grabs, into the backstory, and her thoughtful characterizations suggest she’ll likely be able to deepen her familiar series concept in future installments. This is a very capable start to the series. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Tomorrow’s Journal

Dominick Cancilla. Cemetery Dance, $14.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-58767-665-9

Cancilla (Disneyland for Vampires) falters with this clunky mix of supernatural and apocalyptic horror. A snarky, unnamed teen girl is skeptical when she finds an aged journal that’s supposedly been in her family for decades. The entries tell her that she will be communicating with someone via writing in the journal and that she must follow the mysterious author’s instructions exactly while never, ever looking ahead. The writer gives the teen step-by-step instructions that seem designed to shape important events in her life and to prevent a horrible event. Eventually, she learns that she’s communicating with herself a few months in the future. Additionally, terrifying beings called Patrons have come into the world as a result of an explosion at a lab called Icon-Higgs and are causing mayhem, but to what end? The existence of magic is indicated, as is the possibility of some sort of societal collapse to come, but Cancilla fails to tie the elements together into a cohesive whole, and the abrupt conclusion is more confusing than illuminating. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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And Then There Were Crows

Alcy Leyva. Black Spot, $13.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-9997423-2-7

Levya’s high-energy debut, in which angels and demons haphazardly provoke the end-time, excels at humorous characterization but gets lost in the uneven pacing of its zany plot. Amanda Grey’s Craigslist ad for a roommate brings in Gaffrey Palls, who immediately tries to murder her. After she kills him in self-defense, five weird crows and a blobby, infomercial-loving demon emerge from his corpse. She’s desperate enough to rent her spare room to the demon (who pays in cash)—to the consternation of her upstairs neighbor, Barnem, an introverted seraph. Barnem holds Amanda responsible for dealing with the crow-shaped shades that have flown off to find other people to possess. Levya misuses the New York City setting: few real landmarks appear, politics and news reporting feel small-town, and a plot point centers on there being only two people named Grey in the city. Abundant blood-soaked violence quickly loses its impact, and depictions of figures such as the pope and the angel of death as everyday people get stale after the initial hit of incongruity. Readers will find many amusing moments, but the larger story sits poorly in both its personal and its world-changing frameworks. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Apocalypse Nyx

Kameron Hurley. Tachyon, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61696-294-4

This gore-sodden collection centers on alcoholic mercenary Nyx (from Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series), who lives in a post-apocalyptic world where metal is scarce and technology revolves around manipulating bugs. With a crew almost as messed up as herself, Nyx goes on a series of missions in the form of five stand-alone stories with similar themes of drunkenness, emotional numbness, and blood and gore, but no overarching plot. Nyx stumbles, purposeless, from one bad job to another, her motivations unclear since she seems apathetic about even her own survival. The world has the potential to be interesting—with an apparently matriarchal society, an Islam-adjacent faith, and a unique take on technology—but is largely unexplored in favor of graphic violence and Nyx’s unhealthy preoccupation with sex. This is a poor introduction for anyone who isn’t already fond of Nyx and her brand of vulgarity. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Immortal Gene

Jonas Saul. Vesuvian, $18.99 trade paper (334p) ISBN 978-1-944109-58-5

This entertaining, if contrived, supernatural thriller series launch from Saul (the Sarah Roberts series) pits Canadian detective Jake Wood against a brutal serial killer and a mysterious company, Fortech Industries. Jeffery Harris, the Blood Eagle Killer, has selected, killed, and kept the corpse of one victim every two years for the last decade. His latest conquest brings him into the jurisdiction of Jake and his partner, Kirk Aiken. Jake vows to find the killer, but he’s called away to the Amazon jungle to help his friend, Luke. After Jake is bitten by a snake, he falls into a coma. Awakening 18 months later, Jake learns that everything about his life has changed, including his own body, which is becoming snakelike. Jake’s physical transformation is intriguing, and his use of his new skills to pursue the Blood Eagle Killer keeps events moving at a brisk pace, but several unaddressed questions (why a successful serial killer would change his m.o. after a decade, what exactly Jake’s relationship with Luke is) undermine the story, and graphic descriptions of bodily mutilations may put some readers off. Saul knows how to ratchet up the tension and keep pages turning, but his inconsistent plotting is disappointing. Agent: Italia Gandolfo, Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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