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Calf

Andrea Kleine. Counterpoint/Soft Skull (PGW, dist.), $24 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59376-619-1

At the start of this debut novel, Kleine explains that the story was influenced by two acts of violence in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s: John Hinckley Jr.'s attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, and the murder of a young girl by her socialite mother, Leslie deVeau (Hinckley and deVeau became lovers after both were found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the same mental institution). Kleine uses these incidents as springboards for her story, but she smartly deviates from the facts to maximize suspense. Hinckley's stand-in here is Jeffrey Hackney, a college dropout from Texas with dreams of fame. He moves to Los Angeles before heading to D.C. in hopes of attracting the attention of a young starlet. Like his real-life counterpart, Hackney suffers from delusions, manipulates his family, and becomes more and more mentally unstable. Meanwhile, 10-year-old Tammy moves from Virginia to the nation's capital with her mother, sister, stepbrother, and stepfather after her parents divorce. Though Tammy makes friends at her new school, she feels isolated, and when her friend Kirin is murdered in her sleep by her own mother, Tammy too becomes unstable and starts down a dark, dangerous path. Dread stalks every page, and the result is unsettling, scary, and often brilliant. For readers looking for a sharp, twisted narrative, this is a keeper. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Greer Gilman. Small Beer, $10 paper (49p) ISBN 978-1-61873-095-4

The play's the thing, but when it insults the faerie queen Titania, she sends Kit Marlowe to disrupt the course of human events—and Ben Jonson's stage show—in a brief story that's just a bit too authentic to be easily digested. There's no doubt from the opening page that Gilman (Cry Murder! in a Small Voice) understands how to write period-accurate dialogue, but it limits the appeal to those who deal regularly in the Elizabethan tongue. While there are clever puns worthy of Shakespeare, most readers will find it a lot of work to mull them over, and ostensible protagonist Jonson is upstaged by Marlowe's tinkering, becoming more scenery than star except in one climactic moment. Set pieces, such as an actor's verbal duel with a fairy, are quite lively, but too much is obscured by plotting and dense prose. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Drought

Graham Masterton. Severn, $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8399-5

Veteran horror writer Masterton (Forest Ghost) exhumes a retrograde jumble of action-movie clichés in this uninspiring near-future parable, set in drought-stricken San Bernardino, Calif. Ex-Marine Martin Makepeace is a social worker contending with PTSD and a broken marriage. When corrupt governor Halford Smiley begins exploiting the water shortage to "cull" the city's poor, the ensuing anarchy—including the framing of Martin's son for rape and murder—requires Martin to reunite his family and flee to a secret lake known only to the last descendants of the Serrano Indians, who willingly cede this inheritance to the very white Martin for not much reason at all. False starts and a protracted denouement do the novel's pacing no favors, and neither does Masterton's clunky prose ("She raised her hand toward Martin in an undulating motion, as if she were trying to demonstrate to him how dolphin swim"). The combination of over-the-top, often grossly sexual violence with a flatly stereotyped cast of heroes, victims, and villains slows the reading experience to a distasteful slog. Agent: Camilla Shestopal, Peters Fraser & Dunlops. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Danger in Tempting an Earl

Sophie Barnes. Avon, $7.99 mass market (318p) ISBN 978-0-06-224518-2

Barnes's third At the Kingsborough Ball historical (after The Scandal in Kissing an Heir) falls short of the mark. Lucien Marvaine left the country when Katherine, his childhood friend and the one woman he's ever loved, married another man. When he returns years later, Katherine's husband has died, and she's just coming out of mourning. Lucien's plan to get her to see him as a possible future mate is derailed by an attempt on her life. Meanwhile, Katherine battles the insecurities her late husband left her with, and wonders whether she can ever be enough for the friend she's falling in love with. The plot is adequate and the protagonists are likable, but the other characters are little more than sketched out. Barnes falters in some areas of Regency-era accuracy—a character attends a dinner party heavily pregnant when she would normally be in confinement, and the widowed Katherine wearing white is seen as unusual, although white was a common post-mourning color for the period. The conclusion of the subplot feels weak, without adequate motivation on behalf of the instigating character. This is a fairly bland romance with little to recommend it. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Sexy Librarian's Big Book of Erotica

Edited by Rose Caraway. Cleis, $16.95 trade paperback (256p) ISBN 978-1-62778-065-0

Caraway, best known for the Kiss Me Quick's Erotica Podcast, invokes her role as the Sexy Librarian to bring together 22 erotic stories that range freely over a multitude of genres and styles. She takes the premise one step further by prefacing every selection with a title card reminiscent of library card catalogs. "Book Swap" by Rachel Kramer Bussel is listed under the BDSM category, with the subjects of Bratty Sub, Airplane, and Spanking. Readers will know ahead of time whether they're in for Greek mythology (Janine Ashbless's "Three Legs in the Evening"), Romance (Chase Morgan's "The Secret Game"), Fantasy/Horror (Kristina Wright's "Vivi and the Magic Man"). While the selections vary wildly in tone and theme, they're almost uniformly hot; sensuality, playfulness, indulgence and exploration abound, as do fantasies fulfilled and appetites satiated. Every story is worth mentioning, but standouts include "Sensate Silicone" by Lillian Douglas, in which a porn star tests out a prosthetic dildo that grants full sensation; Lynn Townsend's voyeuristic "Full-Frontal Neighbor"; and Michael Lewis's playful "The Contest." The selections are overwhelmingly heterosexual with a few lesbian encounters, but the wide range of stories means there's a little something for nearly everyone, and very little will disappoint. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Hideaway Cove

Anna Sullivan. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-2540-9

Sullivan's second Windfall Island contemporary (after Temptation Bay) is chock full of romance and suspense. Jessica Randal is a lifelong resident of Windfall Island, Maine, where she lives with her young son, Benji. After getting pregnant in high school and being abandoned by the baby's father, Jessi became part owner and business manager of Solomon Charters. Eight years later, she meets Holden Abbott, who comes to the island to study its genealogy as well as its possible link to the Stanhope fortune. A Stanhope infant was rumored to have survived a disaster at sea decades ago and may have descendants on the island. Jessi tries to avoid Hold's Southern charm, but as the allure becomes too great and happiness is finally within reach, her possible link to the Stanhope scandal puts her life in danger. The romance between Jessi and Hold is both sweet and sensuous, but the stronger story is the mysterious disappearance of the Stanhope heir and the parallel quests to reward or destroy her present-day descendants. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Elisha Magus

E.C. Ambrose. DAW, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7564-0926-5

The second novel in Ambrose's Dark Apostle series (after Elisha Barber) continues the magical adventures of a barber and surgeon in an alternate 14th-century England. After killing King Hugh, Elisha must negotiate both his friendship with Duke Randall of Dunbury and the growth of his own magus gifts. He gets caught in the struggle between Hugh's sons: Alaric, now king, and husband to the witch Brigit, who loved and betrayed Elisha and bears his child; and Thomas, a fugitive on the run from his brother. Elisha, whose magical powers are linked to death itself, must learn control to save Thomas, the kingdom, and himself. With the introduction of a merciless necromancer, the magical milieu grows increasingly strange and horrifying. Though the book is crammed with graphically violent incidents all the way to the last page, the pacing rambles, as if the story might have been contained in one novel but has been stretched out into a series. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Women Destroy Science Fiction!

Edited by Christie Yant. Lightspeed (lightspeedmagazine.com), $15.99 trade paper (488p) ISBN 978-1-4995-0834-5

Responding to what Yant calls "the tired accusation that women (still) aren't writing ‘real' SF," this book-size special issue of the Hugo-nominated magazine Lightspeed bursts with worthy and often excellent fiction and essays. In Seanan McGuire's "Each to Each," women engineered to colonize the ocean, "the most valuable real estate in the world," transcend humanity while the land demands their loyalty. In K.C. Norton's "Canth", a woman pursues a submarine powered by her mother's heart. Amal El-Mohtar's "The Lonely Sea in the Sky," a tale of a scientist seduced by quantum-entangled diamonds, stylistically refracts like a gemstone, and Maria Dahvana Headley's progressively gonzo "Dim Sun" is an irreverent showdown in a celestial restaurant. N.K. Jemisin's "Walking Awake" freshens the familiar science-fictional territory of alien parasites. The anthology offers a generous helping of flash fiction, including Tina Connolly's "See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBILES!," a riff on superhero origins, and Effie Seiberg's poignant "Ro-Sham-Bot." Also included are powerful reprints such as James Tiptree Jr.'s brilliant, difficult "Love is the Plan the Plan is Death" and personal meditations on what it means to be a female science fiction writer and consumer. Readers of any gender will savor these works and cheer the authors' triumphant refusal to be ignored or dismissed. (June)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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What a Woman Needs

Judi Fennell. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market paperback (336p), ISBN 978-0-425-26830-8

Fennell's Manley Maids series improves in this sweet, if predictable, follow-up to What a Woman Wants. Heartthrob and "starlet heartbreaker" Bryan Manley loses a bet with his sister and owes her a month's work at her cleaning company. The last thing widow Beth Hamilton expects is to have People Magazine's "Next Biggest Thing" on her doorstep, ready to scrub her floors. Raising five children after the death of her husband in an airplane crash has left her harried, publicity-shy, and in no mood for a relationship. The ambitious Bryan has a weather eye out for his career and knows that getting involved with an encumbered woman might endanger his popularity. Bryan and Beth realize they could be each other's safe haven, but when the paparazzi sniff out a juicy story and Bryan starts filming with a sexy co-star, their affair might fizzle out before it can begin. Points to Fennell for making Beth's kids (ranging from adorable 5-year-old to sullen teen) likable without being saccharine as they individually deal with their father's death. Agent: Roberta Brown, Brown Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Visions

Larkin Rose. Bold Strokes, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62639-065-2

Past intertwines with present in Rose's (Kiss the Rain) charming new erotic romance. When Paige Burton and Mayson Montgomery were children, affluent Mayson pushed disadvantaged Paige into a fountain; as adults, they had stunningly intense but anonymous sex at a masked New Orleans party. When fate brings them together a third time in their hometown of Galveston, Tex., six years after the party encounter, Paige wants nothing to do with Mayson, believing she'll still be the rich bully from so many years ago. But Mayson quickly recognizes their chemistry and potential, so she embarks on a secret project to slip past Paige's defenses. After the blistering beginning in New Orleans, the plot takes a while to build momentum, as Paige clings stubbornly to her grudges and takes frustratingly long to connect the dots between her masked and unmasked lovers. Fortunately, the seduction unfolds with enough spice and sweetness to keep readers satisfied. (June)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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