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Need You Now

Emma Douglas. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-11098-5

In this charming but shallow debut, a small California island community’s annual music festival plays host to a romance between a rock star’s daughter and a recently retired tennis champion. Faith Harper is very busy trying to organize the festival her legendary father started, but when she encounters Caleb White, who’s come to CloudFest to figure out his postretirement strategy, she realizes there may be room for some stress-relieving fun and flirtation. Despite instant, easy chemistry and the mutual fulfillment they find in each others’ arms, Faith and Caleb still have to deal with the realities of a relationship born during pressure and uncertainty; their temporary fling might not survive to the end of the week. The core romance is delightful, and the setting feels comfortable, but the inevitable relationship drama comes rather late in the narrative, making the conflict feel both overdue and too hastily resolved. And Faith’s family issues get significant time, but Caleb’s personal problems are much less elaborated upon, contributing to an imbalance in focus and development. It’s a fun, fluffy story, but there’s room for improvement. Agent: Miriam Kriss, Irene Goodman Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wychwood

George Mann. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-78329-409-1

An ancient pagan legend concerning a murderous mage casts its dark shadow over contemporary events in this sinuous occult thriller. Elspeth Reeves is newly returned to her mother’s house in Wilsby-under-Wychwood following the loss of her job and her lover. She takes on freelance work writing up a recent series of ritual murders for the local paper. Someone is mimicking the exploits of the Carrion King, a self-proclaimed sorcerer who, legend has it, lived in the nearby forest Wychwood in the ninth century C.E. and killed a cohort of disciples who betrayed him. Mann (Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes) provides readers with several possible suspects to consider, among them an academic and an author who have written on the king and personnel associated with a stage adaptation of his story. The tale’s resolution is formulaic, but Mann’s characters are well drawn, and the culprit’s genuine occult powers add a frisson of the uncanny. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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(ID)entity

P.J. Manney. 47North, $14.95 trade paper (405p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4849-5

Manney continues her award-nominated Phoenix Horizon series of geopolitical cyberthrillers with a second volume that mixes action with questions of selfhood in the shadow of global catastrophe. In (R)evolution, the uploaded human consciousness called Major Tom exposed the worldwide machinations of the Phoenix Club, causing tumult and revolution across the planet that appeared to lead to the destruction of the club’s power. Now Tom’s erstwhile friend and current nemesis, Carter Potsdam, who had been uploaded and incarcerated within Tom’s virtual home, the Memory Palace, has escaped to lead a multipronged attack. The assault combines the trashing of cryptocurrencies, a “weaponized narrative” rewriting Tom as the villain, and the kidnapping of identity purveyor Dr. Who. Tom’s allies must find a way to download Tom back into a physical body to rescue Dr. Who and prepare for “Civil War 3.0.” Personal identity concepts are explored through uploaded or downloaded characters and a young hacker and Major Tom fangirl, Veronika Gascon, who’s trans. Manney’s intricate worldbuilding includes a resurgent Chinese empire and the Southern States of America, a nation reconstituted from fragments of the former U.S. This near-future science fiction thriller should have broad appeal. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Blade of Empire

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. Tor, $27.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2439-9

Vieliessar Farcarinon has made herself High King of the Elves in the enjoyable second of Lackey and Mallory’s epic fantasy trilogy (following Crown of Vengeance). Most of the Hundred Houses of the elven domains have acknowledged Vieliessar as ruler, but a few continue to contest her kingship. Hamphuliadiel, the villainous (and two-dimensionally portrayed) leader of the elven mages, attempts to become powerful enough to stand against her. Her major opposition, however, is the evil race of the Endarkened, whose appearance has been prophesied in terms vague enough that Vieliessar doesn’t know what to expect. Also, her soul-bonded, destined mate, Runacarendalur Caerthalien, runs off into the wilderness following his defeat in the war of her accession, and allies himself with several races of magical beasts (which the elves didn’t think of as sentient) to make inroads on Vieliessar’s territory. Lackey and Mallory provide tangled politics, large-scale battles, factional intrigue, and writing competent enough to make up for the cardboard characters and complete lack of original ideas. The book may not be, strictly speaking, good, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Fall of Dragons: The Traitor Son Cycle, Book 5

Miles Cameron. Orbit, $16.99 trade paper (736p) ISBN 978-0-316-30244-9

The fifth and final installment of Cameron’s Traitor Son cycle (after The Plague of Swords) is a thorough, dense, and occasionally off-putting ending to a complex secondary-world historical fantasy. Queen Desiderata has returned to the city of Harndon (which is introduced here with the incredibly unfortunate analogy of looking “like a woman beaten by a drunken spouse”) and, with her allies, is working to heal the city of the plague and war-related ravages. Gabriel, the Red Knight, is attempting to lead his allies against Ash, the otherworldly Satanic being who sees humans as pests. The majority of the book’s 600-plus pages are devoted to the final set of battles, and there’s a depth to the level of research that informs these scenes, making them engrossing and detailed enough to avoid much repetition. The greater themes—ties to Christian and Arthurian mythology, notions of story cycles repeating—generally work with the story instead of getting in the way of it. There are occasional hiccups, but Cameron mostly uses straightforward prose and chapters told from the points of view of dozens of characters to convey his tale. Series fans will be satisfied. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Reckless Years: A Diary of Love and Madness

Heather Chaplin. Simon & Schuster, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5011-3499-9

Journalist Chaplin (Smartbomb) had been married for 13 years when she realized she no longer loved her husband and began a diary that would evolve into this thoughtful, moving memoir. Garnering her courage, she ended her relationship—which was emotionally abusive and codependent—and set out to experience life on her own again at the age of 35. In her untethered state she found a refreshing freedom and took advantage of her situation by ramping up her freelance writing career. At one point, she traveled to Ireland to write a piece on Dublin; there she met a documentary filmmaker and had a steamy but anguished affair. Her story is exhilarating and full of extraordinary people; she experiences inflated highs followed by dark and, at times, suicidal lows. Her self-reflection ranges from “You rule, HC!” to “I do not like myself.... And maybe I’m not as cool and awesome as I thought.” Chaplin’s writing is spirited and multilayered, and readers will be drawn into this deepening tale of love, sex, confusion, buried family secrets, and—as the title suggests—“madness.” The sheer force of Chaplin’s relentless passion for the magnificence of life makes this a fascinating narrative. (July)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed

Scott Parazynski, with Susy Flory. Little A, $24.95 (325p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3670-6

Physician-astronaut Parazynski, who has taken part in five NASA missions, seven space walks, and a record-breaking climb on Mount Everest, eloquently chalks up his success to the powerful influence of his father, an engineer who worked in the Apollo space program. Parazynski earned a medical degree at Stanford and he writes in forensic detail about what physically happens to a person in space (“Astronauts often develop facial edema or swelling... because gravity no longer pulls blood and interstitial fluid into the legs”). He cites his love of mountaineering and finds parallels between emergency medicine and climbing, such as the need to maintain focus and make decisions in the midst of chaos. Parazynski joined NASA in 1992 and flew into space two years later, calling his maiden voyage “the ultimate amusement park ride.” This is a fantastic account of the American space program with its successes and perils, blended with the twists and turns of domestic life and his various illnesses. Parazynski’s intelligent and insightful descriptions about the legendary John Glenn, the Soviet space program, and human endurance add depth to his narrative. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Feverland: A Memoir in Shards

Alex Lemon. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-57131-336-2

In this fractured, luminous memoir, poet Lemon (The Wish Book) describes how he has coped with traumas—including serial sexual violation as a child, and major brain surgery—that distort every moment of his life, waking or sleeping. When Lemon was about four, a teenage cousin repeatedly abused him, permanently scarring his psyche. Years later, as a reckless, self-destructive college undergrad, Lemon had a series of brain bleeds that required major surgery. In the aftermath of these injuries, Lemon found himself a stranger in his body and mind, feeling remote from life, even as he became a father and educator. Lemon’s bold decision to eschew narrative allows him to portray a sense of life as he lived it, with the blending of memory, sensory immediacy, and hopes and fears in a waking nightmare. In taut, vibrant prose, he pieces together the fragments of his life, including brutal images of violence and atrocity, a smattering of quotes from the likes of Aristotle and Samuel Beckett, and recollections of a drawn-out war with the rats in his garage. While the lack of a story arc can create inertia, his sparkling language and repeated motifs provide unity, and there is profound insight—even humor—in this tale from the dark side. Lemon’s suffering and survival deserve readers’ sympathy and respect, and his talent as a writer makes this memoir remarkable. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History

Katy Tur. Dey St., $26.99 (291p) ISBN 978-0-06-268492-9

NBC News political journalist Katy Tur offers an entertaining personal account of the nearly two years she spent covering Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, “the most unlikely, exciting, ugly, trying, and all-around bizarre campaign in American history.” Trump’s presidential run was a surreal experience for many Americans, but for Tur it was also life-changing: she was a relatively unknown London-based foreign correspondent enjoying quiet weekends in Paris and a self-described “political novice" when she got the call to go on the road with Trump in the spring of 2015. “Six weeks, tops,” her bosses told her. Overnight, Tur’s life became a blur of planes, cars, buses, hotel rooms, dry shampoo, bad food, rowdy and often disturbing campaign rallies, and headline-grabbing tweet storms. Some 500 grueling days later, Trump was president—and Tur had emerged as a battle-tested fixture of the NBC News political team. She was a frequent target of Trump’s, who famously nicknamed her “Little Katy” and whipped his crowds into such an antimedia frenzy that she occasionally required a security detail. While Tur recalls many of the campaign’s unusual moments (Trump defending his penis size in a presidential debate; his hawking of steaks and bottled water at a press conference; the Access Hollywood tape) Tur’s narrative is light on political analysis, and it mostly avoids the central question pundits will be exploring for years to come: how did Trump actually win? But Tur's brisk behind-the-scenes account humanizes the press corps, illuminates life on the campaign trail, and delivers on its promise: "I won’t pretend to explain it,” Tur writes, but “I will tell you what I saw.” (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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