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My Pet Serial Killer

Michael J. Seidlinger. Cinestate, $16 trade paper (375p) ISBN 978-1-946487-02-5

Natural Born Killers meets Fifty Shades of Grey in Seidlinger’s penetrating tale of a sociopathic puppet-mistress and the ruthless murderer whom she controls. Claire Wilkinson is a 26-year-old graduate student immersed in her forensics studies; Victor Hent is a suave operator whom the media dubs the “gentleman killer.” Working in tandem, the pair seduce dozens of women from the local bar scene and bring them home to a soundproofed room in Claire’s apartment where Victor tortures and kills them. The two make a perfectly erotically entwined couple until Victor chafes at Claire’s dominance and she decides to teach him a lesson. The novel’s second half is a road trip through hell in which Claire and a handful of her new acolytes cross the country, brutally murdering her pre-Victor serial-killer exes. The book is narrated from Claire’s viewpoint and although circumstances of some of the killings she describes stretch credulity, her clinical dispassion towards her victims and her canny assessment of the desperation of pick-up scenes where victims are easily found is eerie and unsettling. Seidlinger (Falter Kingdom) includes chapters written as mock appraisals of slasher-film dynamics that implicate the reader as a voyeuristic witness. This thoroughly unsettling novel is a cut above other serial-killer stories. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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On My Aunt’s Shallow Grave White Roses Have Already Bloomed

Maria Mitsora, trans. from the Greek by Jacob Moe. Yale Univ., $16 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-300-21576-2

The 16 stories in Mitsora’s brief but spellbinding collection are suspended somewhere between ancient myth and contemporary reality, often focusing on unspoken moments and random encounters. In “The Uninhabited Body,” two riders on a bus enter into an immediate, tacit agreement to love each other for the few minutes until they both disembark and return to their lives. “Downtown Athens” also follows a random pair of people suddenly attracted to each other; they explore the city together while discussing their shared connections to religion and mythology. “The Cat That Can’t Dance” explores the psyche of a man obsessed with a woman in his neighborhood: he first pines after her from the house of the aunt he murdered, and then begins a sort of relationship with her in the garden where his aunt is buried—though the relationship unfolds very differently than he expects. Mitsora’s writing is powerful in its strangeness. The stories could easily be described as the subtitle of one of them, open to various artistic interpretations: “Could be a drowned woman’s suicide note/ Could be the scribblings of an opium eater.” Though a reader may be unsure where the stories are heading, they are beautiful, small revelations worth surrendering to. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Naked Men

Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, trans. from the Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg. Europa (PGW, dist.), $18 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-60945-476-0

The women of Giménez-Bartlett’s incendiary Planeta Prize–winning novel deploy their wealth to upend sexual dynamics amid the dislocations of Spain’s collapsing economy. When Irene’s husband leaves her for a younger woman, she retreats from her friends and brushes off concerns about her failing family business. She reconnects with free-spirited Genoveva, who coaxes her to join in exploits with male escorts. When prissy Irene finally agrees, she discovers the men repulse her but she enjoys the power of ordering them to undress. Genoveva introduces her to chauvinistic Iván and his friend Javier, a mousy, recently laid-off literature tutor cajoled first into stripping and then sex work by Iván. Irene’s rejection of physical contact initially offends Javier, but he slowly erodes her resistance. Even after sex with Javier unlocks unimaginable pleasure, she remains mercurial and rebuffs his suggestions that they pursue a more conventional relationship. Giménez-Bartlett’s stinging commentary on masculine fragility (notably in Iván’s perpetual frustration and Javier’s reluctance) pairs well with her exploration of feminine restraints through Genoveva’s surprising propriety and Irene’s shackling attachment to her deceased father. This provocative dive into gender, power, and class uses diverse viewpoints to craft a powerful story and an unpredictable, memorable ending. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Nice Guy

Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer. St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-18988-2

Spouses Feifer and Miller’s witty romp through the allegedly glamorous world of magazines follows an aspiring writer and the jaded sex columnist who unintentionally launches his career and boosts it into the stratosphere. Naïve Southerner Lucas Callahan worships Empire magazine and is thrilled when he lands a gig as a fact-checker there. When he embarks on his first one-night stand with an attractive brunette he meets in a dive bar, he doesn’t know she’s Carmen Kelly, the sex columnist for Empire. Carmen is increasingly jaded, and after a night of so-so sex, she excoriates Lucas in her well-read column. Hurt, Lucas pens an eloquent rebuttal—and soon finds himself cast as “Mr. Nice Guy” in a relationships and sex column in Empire. Neither expects to fall in love—but when they do, they’ll be forced to decide between ambition and desire. The authors’ intimate knowledge of the New York City media world is on full display in this smart successor to glossy media business tell-alls such as The Devil Wears Prada—and they aptly illustrate the sometimes ruthless tactics endemic to this career path. Sharp and satisfying, this well-plotted, expertly characterized tale will have readers turning the pages quickly to get the latest dishy details. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Kennedy Debutante

Kerri Maher. Berkley, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-49204-3

Maher’s assured debut, set against the backdrop of World War II, explores the life of JFK’s younger sister Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. In 1938, 18-year-old Kick is new to London, where her father serves as the U.S. ambassador. Her natural charm and intelligence quickly draw a loyal group of friends as well as the attention of the future Duke of Devonshire, the charming Billy Hartington, but their incompatible religious beliefs prove to be a roadblock. Just before Germany’s blitz on London, Kick’s family is forced to flee to America, but she wholeheartedly seeks a way to marry Billy without compromising her faith or the support of her close-knit family. Maher ably captures the charmed life of the vivacious, multifaceted Kick, who is equally at home amid the glitz and glamour of the 1930s London party scene and providing comfort for wounded soldiers. This immersive, rich portrait of a complex young woman from one of the world’s most famous families will hold readers in thrall. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Winter in Paradise

Elin Hilderbrand. Little, Brown, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-43551-2

Hilderbrand’s breezy family drama, the first of a series, plays out against the pristine beaches and sparkling waters of St. John in the Caribbean. Pragmatic Iowa City magazine editor Irene Steele has finished restoring her beloved Queen Anne home, leaving her eager for another project. Her doting husband, Russ, travels often for work and her adult sons, Cash and Baker, juggle jobs and family. When she gets a call that Russ has been killed in a helicopter crash in the Virgin Islands along with a woman named Rosie Small, she’s devastated and shocked to learn that he owned a lavish home there. Accompanied by Cash and Baker, Irene heads to St. John and discovers that Russ was leading a separate life, causing her to question everything she thought she knew about her marriage. As usual, Hilderbrand’s characters are as familiar as old friends, and her smooth prose is as tender and welcoming. The questions surrounding Russ’s death and double life provide suspense, and readers will be happy to lose themselves in paradise while getting to know these irresistible new characters. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl

Uwe Johnson, trans. from the German by Damion Searls. New York Review Books, $39.95 box set (2,000p) ISBN 978-1-68137-203-7

In this sprawling multivolume novel, the events of one woman’s life over the course of a year in New York hearken back to several decades’ worth of German history and political upheaval. Gesine Cresspahl is a German woman in her mid-30s who lives with her daughter in New York and works for a bank. Johnson’s novel opens in the late summer of 1967, and proceeds through the following year day by day, with all of the political turmoil that that entails—both in the United States and behind the Iron Curtain. Interspersed with this are occasional meditations on the New York Times and, more prominently, the story of Gesine’s family over the course of her early life. In this way, Johnson covers the rise of fascism in Germany, the wartime experience there, and the separation of the nation into East and West. The novel’s 1967 segments occasionally trace the aftereffects of fascism and sometimes parallel the tumultuous American politics of the moment, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson keeps the line between past and present murky, which seems in keeping with his larger points about the nature of history as it’s remembered versus history as it’s lived. The growing political consciousness of Gesine’s daughter, Marie, provides a wonderful counterpoint to the novel’s themes of crises personal, national, and global. This is a haunting and unforgettable portrait of the momentous and the historical. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Murder on Moon Mountain: A Listed and Lethal Mystery

Jean Harrington. Camel, $15.95 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-1-60381-649-6

At the start of Harrington’s diverting sequel to 2017’s Murder on Pea Pike, Eureka Falls, Ark., realtor Honey Ingersoll arrives at Barry McHale’s Moon Mountain mansion, which she’s hoping to sell, to find the place strewn with beer bottles, pizza boxes, and other party debris. When she sits down to phone her office to arrange for a cleaning crew, she suddenly notices a man lying naked on a sofa and screams. The man, an apparent squatter, says he isn’t Barry, and she calls the police. Sheriff Matt Rameros, her suitor, soon arrives on the scene, as does sexy neighbor Carmen DeLuca, who invites Honey to join her and other so-called Velveteen Vixens at her mansion the next day. The Vixens are shooting a pilot for a reality TV show and could use one more attractive woman. When Honey later shows up at Carmen’s, she stumbles on a dead body. Honey handles her many male admirers with aplomb as she proceeds to investigate and prove herself a smart detective. This mix of murder and romance is sure to appeal to cozy fans. Agent: Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Gina in the Floating World

Belle Brett. She Writes, $16.95 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-1-63152-407-3

In 1981, Dorothy Falwell, the narrator of Brett’s arresting first novel, arrives in Tokyo, where she has come to take part in what she hopes will be an internship program with a major bank. “I’m supposed to be acquiring something that Wharton—that’s the school I’m going to—calls ‘cultural adaptability,’ ” she comments. Her plans soon change when she finds out that her internship is unpaid, no arrangements for housing have been made, and her Japanese mentor has no interest in helping her. With her money running out fast, she accepts a hostess job at a club. Her progress from goody-two-shoes student to a prostitute known as Gina is the work of Mr. Tambuki, a businessman who offers to educate her with trips to art galleries, fine restaurants, and swanky hotels. Is Mr. Tambuki really a gangster? Has Victoria, Dorothy’s colleague at the Bar Puss ’n’ Boots, been murdered? Is she being followed by an assassin or a foot fetishist? Many readers will feel that these questions are merely window dressing for a story about Dorothy’s psychosexual development. Along the way, Brett provides fascinating insights into Japanese culture. This is a promising start for a writer to watch. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Radiant Night

Patrick Lohier. Adaptive, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-945293-66-5

An explosion near Fallujah leaves Marine Ludwig Mason, the hero of Lohier’s uneven first novel, the sole survivor of his squad. While recovering in the hospital, he becomes addicted to pain medicine. When he returns home to Philadelphia, where his wife, Charlotte, and toddler son, Sam, have been waiting for him, Ludwig, who has PTSD, falls apart: he cheats on Charlotte, is unable to find gainful employment, and seeks oblivion in the bottle. Eventually, he lands a lucrative job when the nurse who cared for him directs him to Connecticut, where an old woman known only as Mrs. S. hires Ludwig to track down a rare tarot deck that contains 23, rather than 22, major arcana cards. Ludwig’s lack of any relevant investigative skills makes it hard to suspend disbelief in the MacGuffin story line. Readers will readily sympathize with Ludwig, but will wish that Lohier had kept his focus on his lead’s psychological struggles. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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