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This Eternity of Masks and Shadows

Karsten Knight. Karsten Knight, $19.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-08-789200-9

When 18-year-old Cairn Delacroix’s marine biologist mother, secretly the latest reincarnation of the Inuit goddess Sedna, unexpectedly dies by suicide, Cairn is rocked by grief. Then she learns that her mother was part of a group of vigilante gods who policed their own kind, until a fateful mission tore them apart two decades ago—and that Sedna’s death may have been orchestrated by an unknown enemy who is targeting the others in murders mimicking “ancient myths involving divine punishment.” Teaming up with the Inuit polar bear god Nanook, now known as Detective Nook Bedard, Cairn sets out to find the killer as she uncovers her late mother’s darkest secrets. In this action-packed urban fantasy, loosely connected to his debut Wildefire trilogy, Knight draws from myriad traditions and myths to create a world where gods exist as superheroes, politicians, ordinary citizens, and larger-than-life personalities. While Knight’s cherry-picking from such a wide variety of beliefs, including Egyptian, Maori, and Haitian vodou, comes without context or weight—a significant issue given the rich field of culturally informed fantasy—an ambitious premise, memorable characters, and a fast-paced plot show that Knight knows how to structure a tale. Ages 12–up. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at Tregowyn Manor: A Golden Age Mystery

G.G. Vandagriff. Orson Whitney, $10.95 trade paper (274p) ASIN B08GV9NCTY

Vandagriff’s entertaining third whodunit featuring Catherine Tregowyn (after Murder in the Jazz Band) centers on the theft of a valuable artifact. In 1935, Sonny Nichols, an Oxford University undergrad, joins an archaeological team excavating Anglo-Saxon artifacts in Cornwall, coincidentally on land belonging to the Tregowyn family. The group finds a valuable carved Roman brick, which is later stored in a locked basement vault in Balliol College under Sonny’s care. Despite those precautions, the brick disappears, and Sonny is the prime suspect. Catherine, a gifted amateur sleuth in her first year as a tutor at Oxford, agrees to assist in the investigation, and returns home to Cornwall, where the case takes a dark turn after a man goes missing and is presumed murdered. Vandagriff makes familiar tropes feel fresh, and in Catherine has created an appealing lead capable of sustaining a lengthy series. Fans of golden age mysteries will look forward to more. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Imhotep

Jerry Dubs. mhotep Literary, $14.99 e-book (444p) ISBN 978-1-5190-7028-9

Dubs’s exciting debut and series launch brings to life the political intrigue of ancient Egypt through the stories of time-traveling American tourists. Artist Tim Hope is in Egypt with plans to spend his vacation sketching his surroundings and recovering from a lost love, until he witnesses two other Americans, Brian Aldwin and Diane Maclaine, disappearing into Kanakht’s tomb. Tim follows them and finds they’ve all been thrown back 5,000 years into “Ineb-Hedj,” in the days of King Djoser and Imhotep. When the three emerge from the tomb, they’re viewed as gods, but corrupt priests and suspicious royalty are not easily convinced they are deities. Tim, Brian, and Diane try to adapt to this different way of life that includes plenty of public nakedness and sexual encounters. They also face attempts on their lives, portrayed in intense action scenes, find love interests, and wonder how—and whether—they will return home. The characters are skillfully developed, and Dubs particularly impresses with his descriptions of life in ancient Egypt. This series is off to a great start. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Strangers with Benefits

Johnny Townsend. BookLocker.com, $16.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-64718-518-3

Two Mormon missionaries have a lurid sexual awakening in this lumbering erotic romance from Townsend (I Will, Through the Veil). Eric Nelson and Brian Weber are assigned to spread the faith in 1988 New Orleans. During a storm, they knock on the door of Gabriel, who invites them out of the rain and offers to listen to their spiel if he can teach them about gay history in return. When Gabriel’s boyfriend, Henry, arrives home, the four men have a sexual encounter that exposes Eric and Brian’s true feelings and sets them on their erotic path. As Brian and Eric begin neglecting their church work to enjoy increasingly kinky sex with each other and a gamut of strangers, they also share their conflicted feelings about growing up in an inhospitable religion, providing the book’s emotional backbone. Not even a brush with pubic lice, nor their mission leaders’ growing suspicions, can slow them down as they begin starring in porn films and then turn to sex work. Revelations of secrets cause a few bumps as the pair drift toward their happy ending. The frequent sex scenes skimp on details, listing acts rather than describing sensations and so blunting their erotic edge. More jolting than arousing, this will most appeal to readers into camp and the outré. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul Mender

R.S. Dabney. Red Pen Warriors, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-692-47201-9

A familiar science fiction theme—a parallel reality populated by alter egos of the inhabitants of our own—gets a fresh spin in this intriguing variant of a dark fantasy. Since childhood, Riley Dale, an environmental scientist living in Boulder, Colo., has been plagued by visions. Then she unexpectedly crosses over into the world of her imaginings with the help of a magic ring left to her by her grandmother. Partnering with Oz, a drug-addicted ne’er-do-well who represents the other half of her divided soul, and protector Zachary Stone, who’s a serial killer in her own world, Riley travels cross-country to Los Angeles, the terrorist-bombed capital of this alternate U.S., to learn the crucial role she must play in events rocking the parallel world. Dabney’s writing is crisp and confident, and her characters—including both of their personalities—are well-developed. She introduces more subplots than can be resolved by the novel’s end, making this a promising start for a projected trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting in the Zoo: A Detective Pete Nazareth Novel

R.H. Johnson. Hampton, Westbrook, $17.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5323-0214-5

Johnson’s suspenseful third novel featuring Det. Pete Nazareth of the NYPD (after A Measure of Revenge) places presidential candidate Archer Grande, who boasts that he could “stroll naked down Fifth Avenue, and my supporters would still vote for me,” in the crosshairs of an assassin. Nazareth is half of a team dubbed the Dynamic Duo, after he and fellow detective Tara Gimble amassed an impressive record for “not only closing the toughest cases but also for putting themselves in harm’s way again and again to get the job done right.” New York City’s mayor taps the pair to go after Stone Jackson, an expert sniper who has begun taking out child molesters, starting with the Little League coach who abused him. As Nazareth and Gimble search for Jackson, the killer ups the ante after concluding that Grande is a dangerous demagogue. Unexpected developments ratchet up the tension en route to a dramatic climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Flame Eater

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Gaskell Publishing House, $4.99 e-book (424p) ASIN B01B8SEC3S

This meticulously detailed romantic thriller portrays two flawed families in medieval England whose less moral members are victims of a murderer/arsonist. The families are united in 1485 when heiress Emeline Wrotham marries Nicholas Chatwyn, an earl’s son and the aloof, scarred younger brother of Emeline’s true love, Peter, who was murdered. On their wedding night, the castle is engulfed in flames, and Nicholas is injured. Emeline and Nicholas, who is still recovering from extensive burns, depart for his cousin’s Nottingham home while the castle is being repaired, but an outbreak of the plague sends them away, eventually to London. During their travels, the marriage is consummated, and they become true partners, in love and in adventures. Charismatic and witty, Nicholas is the heart of Denvil’s novel; he works undercover for King Richard, rooting out political threats while maintaining the persona of a lazy drunkard to his disapproving father, whose favorite son is dead. Denvil’s numerous minor characters are as intriguing as Nicholas, infusing vitality and never detracting from the story. Everyday 15th-century life is richly evoked—the clothing, food, travel, habits—providing substance to a winning narrative. Family dysfunction is deftly woven into a mélange of murder, politics, and romance, with a wickedly realistic, often comical portrayal of kinship. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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American Tango

Jennifer Vandever. Melograno, $14 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-9966795-2-7

In her enjoyable second novel, Vandever cleverly meshes strikingly eccentric characters with everyday situations. Rosalind Plumley, a 37-year-old Oregonian, is an artist trapped in a retail job that caters to snobby hipsters. She’s the middle child in a bohemian family and married to a sweet but sad man who has a budding marijuana addiction. Amid her failing marriage and struggles with her neurotic family, Rosalind fantasizes about escaping her life and moving to Buenos Aires. She signs up for a tango class in preparation for her imagined future, and what follows is a story about love and reevaluating your dreams when reality comes crashing down. Rosalind can be amusingly gloomy and the story is seasoned with salty wit—she describes a pair of shoes as appearing to have been “dipped in the shimmery gold powder used to kill off a Bond girl,” and when her liberal mother considers a late-in-life romance, the greatest drawback is that the man voted for Romney. Vandever (The Brontë Project) writes smart, interesting characters who gradually mature in believable ways. Perceptive, bittersweet, and sometimes darkly funny, this is light enough for a quick read, yet it has enough depth to leave a satisfying impression. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tough Girl: An Olympian’s Journey

Carolyn Wood. White Pine Press (Oregon), $18 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9977828-0-6

In this scattered debut work, written after hiking the Camino de Santiago, Wood reflects on the struggles of youth as the root of her courage and strength necessary to push on in later life. Wood, a competitive swimmer in her early years, attempts to relate a life of hard lessons that got her to the 1960 Junior Olympics in Rome and helped her through adolescence in the mid-1960s. However, while Wood thinks fondly of her time in the pool, swimming feels like something she did in between more important life happenings. Wood depicts herself in turn as a daughter in a strained relationship with a mother recovering from cancer, an athlete constantly pushing to be and do better, a lesbian finding comfort in her own sexuality, and a middle-aged woman looking to the next phase of life. Making stops at every trying life obstacle from childhood to late adulthood, she introduces so many charged elements that the novel feels unsure of which story it is trying to tell. The sections on swimming, her mother, and her lesbianism are thought provoking, but this is mostly an aimless journey in the present while dipping into the past, with a number of rhetorical questions that read as though she’s trying to figure out her life as she’s writing it. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Singing In My Own Key: A Vocalist’s Triumph Over Stroke

Valerie L. Giglio. Forza, $9.99 (250p) ASIN B01GF174YC

Giglio, a Boston-area singer and lawyer, details the year she spent recovering from a devastating brain stem stroke she suffered at age 42, which caused her musical and legal worlds “to spin out of control.” Balancing chapters on the details of her recovery—including prolonged hospital stays, confinement to a wheelchair, and “relentless” dizziness—with others on developments in both of her careers, Giglio more than meets her goal of showing readers that “miracles happen.” She deftly explores the “surreal” experience of having a stroke: “Inside you’re screaming to get out, but you can’t move.” She also describes the various grueling physical and mental therapies she endured in order to meet her goal of returning to performing in a year—a goal she accomplished with the help of supportive family and friends. She is guided by the words of her mentor, legendary jazz performer Al Vega, who shows her that “sometimes we have to take a chance and keep going no matter what obstacles we face.” Deciding that “the only limitations were the ones I put on myself,” Giglio hopes her story and struggles will help others “reach for the stars and dream big.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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