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The Vines

Christopher Rice. Amazon/47North, $14.95 (226p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2663-8

Revisiting the rich, supernaturally mysterious Louisiana of 2013's The Heavens Rise, Rice stumbles with this resoundingly inferior effort. Leadenly steadfast Blake Henderson is still grieving the loss of his lover, John, killed years earlier by gay-bashers. Then Blake's best friend, Caitlin Chaisson—the spoiled, unpardonably dull heir to Spring House, an antebellum mansion with a troubled history—attempts to kill herself when she learns that her husband, Troy, is unfaithful. Awkwardly purple prose dampens the suspense as Caitlin unleashes a supernatural force in the form of bloodsucking vines that consume Troy; soon it's revealed that she has control over carnivorous flowers and organized insects as well as a psychic link to Virginie, an enslaved woman who had attempted to control these forces over 150 years before. Absurd similes and overwrought dialog dissolve the tension as Blake's anger over new revelations about John's death becomes a fresh source of dark power, causing plants to behave homicidally and bugs to form battering rams. A police investigation subplot peters out, and the action clatters clumsily to a bewildering conclusion, with the denouement arriving so lazily as to suggest that even the author ran out of interest. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Unfaithful

Karyn Grice. S&S/Gallery, $1.99 e-book (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9835-0

Grice (No Strings Attached) launches into a commonplace tale of a woman whose libido and eager-to-please personality put her on a merry-go-round of unsatisfactory relationships. Melanie's decision to dance at the strip club owned by charming, manipulative Cecil Patrick destroys her relationship with her longtime boyfriend, Michael. Desperate to escape Cecil's clutches, Melanie shoots him. To her rescue comes debonair Myles Cochran, a police superintendent and serial womanizer. Melanie moves into Myles's home and his bed, moving out when his controlling ways overwhelm her. Reconnecting with Michael, Melanie is buoyed by learning that their camaraderie still exists with Michael, but he's now in a committed relationship with someone else, though readers will be unsurprised when this obstacle is conveniently removed. Melanie's recklessness and the lack of emotional intensity may put off some readers off, and the explicit sexual content can only do so much to help the reader through this predictable story. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf Interval

Chrysoula Tzavelas. Candlemark & Gleam, $19.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-936460-63-2

Keeping the spotlight on fierce young women fighting good fights, this absorbing third episode in Tzavelas's Senyaza contemporary urban fantasy series (following Infinity Key) focuses on Annalise, a nephil who resists her monstrous father's attempts to mold her and keeps three dogs in her shadow. Two days before Halloween, Annalise watches a strange man in Issaquah Commons kill a harmless ghost; subsequently she learns that the Wild Hunt have been released from their prison and want to destroy all disembodied human souls. Annalise risks her abusive father's wrath in order to partner with an impossible sorcerer and a 13-year-old girl to find the Hunt's ancient horn and stop them. It's heartening to see Annalise centered in her own story instead of being an object of pity in someone else's; unfortunately, the pacing and plot sag in the middle of the book as unlikely saviors proliferate, and goalposts shift as frequently and confusingly as the magical landscape. Despite these drawbacks, this is a satisfying standalone novel that explores the lives of endearing characters to good effect. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Zombies: More Recent Dead

Edited by Paula Guran. Prime, $16.95 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-1-60701-433-1

These 36 short stories and poems survey the current state of the z-word in this wide-ranging follow-up to 2010's Zombies: The Recent Dead. Despite a bias toward the apocalyptic, Guran's flexible definition of "zombie" yields diverse results, setting the familiar flesh-eating shamblers of Matthew Johnson's "The Afflicted" and Maureen McHugh's "The Naturalist" alongside more folkloric revenants such as the Anglo-Saxon dréag of Marie Brennan's kenning-laden "What Still Abides" or the clawed matchi wanisid manitou that haunt contemporary Manitoba in Jacques L. Condor's "Those Beneath the Bog." Scientific and science-fictional zombies feature in Carrie Vaughn's "Kitty's Zombie New Year" and Charles Stross's "Bit Rot." Alex Dally MacFarlane's "Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572–571 BCE)" is a standout of historical impersonation. Traditional interpretations pack some of the most powerful punches in Mike Carey's slow-burning "Iphigenia in Aulis," Nicole Kornher-Stace's fiercely protective "Present," and Joy Kennedy-O'Neill's stunning "Aftermath," which imagines a now-cured America uneasily divided between former "Turners" and "Moles." If not all stories deliver the same provocative shock, the grab-bag of genres ensures there's something for every zombie fan. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Legend of the Future

Agust%C3%ADn de Rojas, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. Restless, $14.99 e-book (240p) ISBN 978-1-63206-010-5

The suspenseful potential of this science fiction novel's premise—a spaceship in the year 2038 is hobbled by a meteorite strike and struggles to return to Earth before its crew perishes—is muted by the ponderous philosophizing of the characters. When tragedy strikes the Sviatagor on its return from Saturn's moon Titan, the three surviving crew members—two of whom have been exposed to an inevitably fatal dose of radiation—struggle to overcome limitations of the conditioning used to train them for the trip and develop an "emotional telepathy" that will allow them to assist their captain, whose brain has to be hardwired into the ship's navigational system. De Roja (1949–2011), a groundbreaking Cuban author of science fiction, lets his characters speak at considerable length about the effects of their training on the dynamics of their group, and they confusingly express their silent thoughts while in conversation as though they are speaking aloud to themselves. The translation's stilted prose only adds to the awkwardness of the narrative. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Bring Me Flesh, I'll Bring Hell

Martin Rose. Skyhorse/Talos, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-940456-09-6

Femmes fatales, double-crosses, and blood-spattered action characterize this hard-boiled homage to zombie fiction. Detective Vitus Adamson was turned into a zombie by his brother, and subsequently killed and ate his son and wife—or so his brother tells him. Escaping into his work, Vitus agrees to find a couple's missing son, Owen, and stumbles into a maelstrom of self-doubt, sacrifice, and conspiracy with him at its chewy center—because Owen resembles Vitus's son. After meeting Madame Astra, cult leader of the Lord of the Flesh-Eaters, Vitus is torn between guilt and love, and between false memories and foreshadowed tragedy. With a smoking gun and ravenous appetite, he struggles to rescue a victimized child amid a cataclysm of flesh and fanaticism. In this terrifying moral battleground, the dead are superior to the "black-suited men with dead eyes" orchestrating human affairs. Rose's debut achieves a unique, hard-edged voice strengthened by clipped prose. Horrifying action mingles with self-referential humor and bad attitude, and the explosive suspense mirrors emotionally intense conflicts. Fans of zombies and PIs will find Vitus's story gripping. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Courtship

Carsen Taite. Bold Strokes (boldstrokesbooks.com), $16.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-62639-210-6

Taite (Switchblade) keeps the stakes high as two beautiful and brilliant women fueled by professional ambitions face daunting emotional choices. Law school dean Addison Riley realizes just how uninspiring her current relationship is when a brief encounter with campaign advisor Julia Scott makes her heart zing. Julia, now in charge of getting the president's hand-picked choice to replace the recently deceased Supreme Court Chief Justice, soon finds Addison's name on the shortlist of candidates. Admittedly taken by Addison's beauty and sharp mind, Julia finds herself in a precarious position both professionally and personally, as a past betrayal has left her ever vigilant of her reputation. As backroom politics, secrets, betrayals, and threats race to be resolved without political damage to the president, the cat-and-mouse relationship game between Addison and Julia has the reader rooting for them. Taite prolongs the fever-pitch tension to the final pages. This pleasant read with intelligent heroines, snappy dialogue, and political suspense will satisfy Taite's devoted fans and new readers alike. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Draw Me In

Regina Cole. Flirt, $2.99 e-book (292p) ISBN 978-0-553-39374-3

Cole (Caught in Crimson) piles on the new adult angst in all its navel-gazing glory. After college student Hailey Jakes's mother takes the family's savings and goes on the lam, Hailey finds a job at a local tattoo parlor. Her advisor, Dr. Fields, hounds her to quit her job, but she loves it as much as she loves her 24-year-old boss and tattoo mentor, Neill Vanderhaven. Neill swore off relationships after being burned by an addict ex-girlfriend, but Hailey's beauty, talent, and sweetness lure him in. Typecasting governs the story. Hailey is essentially the plucky orphan, Neill the tortured hero, and the poor foreshadowing of Dr. Fields's growing obsession with Hailey is their menacing foil. Seismic emotions and logic that bows to plot demands leave this . Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Field of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and Supernatural

Edited by Rick Wilber. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59780-548-3

The 23 items in this entertaining anthology demonstrate how many ways it's possible to play, and play with, the national pastime. The stories (and one poem by Ray Bradbury) are genial and entertaining. Kim Stanley Robinson's "Arthur Sternback Brings the Curveball to Mars" is a discussion of baseball tactics on other planets. Ron Carlson's "My Last Season with the Owls" is a laidback description of a minor-league team featuring two vampire players who can only play in night games. The best pieces do go deeper into the personal obsessions of players and spectators, as in Valerie Sayers's "How to Read a Man," a heartbreaking look at the consequences of a middle-aged female fan's belief that she can predict exactly what ballplayers are about to do. Best of all is "The Franchise," John Kessel's smart, sly story of an alternate-world 1959 World Series when insecure George H.W. Bush, a 35-year-old major league rookie with daddy issues, must bat against ferociously arrogant Cuban pitcher Fidel Castro. Even if baseball is "only a game," this book shows how satisfyingly it can tweak our imagination. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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His Wicked Seduction

Lauren Smith. Samhain, $6.50 e-book (421p) ISBN 978-1-61922-378-3

In Smith's disappointing second League of Rogues Regency romance (after Wicked Designs), love is a madness, which must be why Horatia Sheridan is not acting anything like her sensible self. She has been in love with her brother's best friend, Lucien Russell, the Marquess of Rochester, since she was 14, and at the ripe age of 20 she has become tired of his aloofness. Lucien is a rake, with one of the worst reputations in all of London, and Horatia craves the passion he is infamous for. If Horatia had been anyone but his friend's sister, Lucien would have seduced her without a qualm, but Lucien would never do anything to hurt any member of the League of Rogues. Horatia wants him to see her as someone worthy of his love and attention; he is sure he cannot love or be faithful. There is little of Horatia's much-vaunted practicality in this maudlin romance, just poorly thought-out schemes, passionate interludes, and subsequent tears. The bondage scenes are described in great detail, along with Lucien's preference for red silk, but there aren't enough amiable moments outside the bedroom to justify their hot-and-cold relationship. The subplot with Horatia's sister Audrey and her quest to get married is amusing, and the shadowy enemy of the series is still a threat, but the saving grace of this romance is getting to know the other members of the League better. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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