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Cinema of the Present

Lisa Robertson. Coach House (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-55245-297-4

Reviewed by Alex Crowley. In this non-linear, self-referential book-length poem, Canadian-born poet and essayist Robertson (Magenta Soul Whip), who currently lives in France, asks, amid a host of queries and interrogations, “What do you believe about form?” From the beginning one must be prepared to “move into the distributive texture of an experimental protocol,” an initially disorienting procession of questions, observations, and images advanced by Robertson. The work’s use of non sequitur is reminiscent of David Markson, as is its invitation to readers to draw their own connections between the poem’s major themes—description, memory, prosody, alienation, and gender, among others. Robertson’s lines, in alternating roman and italic text, flow unceasingly, without overt indications of breaks or stoppages, perhaps providing a response to her question, “How else do you construct a pause in cognition?” Many lines throughout the work are repeated once later in the poem, though never at any regular interval and always with the text style transposed. This shuffling exposes the banality of déjà vu, how shifting the context changes the nature of expression. Or, as Robertson writes, using the language of epigenetics, “You are a position effect.” Is her poem, then, a kind of internal dialogue? Perhaps, and, if this is the case, it underlines her question, “what is the subject but a stitching?” Addressing the self’s perpetual conflict over which desires take prominence (“There’s no logic to what organisms demand”), Robertson even wonders, “To whom do you speak?”One can with more certainty call Robertson’s poem a magnificent testament to the eroticism of thought, one where “the enjoyable gland also dribbles its politics.” The specific gland to which she is referring remains obscure, but that’s partly the point: she’s hinting at the sexual while keeping the door open to an exploration of the physical body more generally. In this way, her primary concerns find their expression in tones and textures that are quintessentially Robertsonian and reveal how desire is intimately entwined with the self’s coming into being. “The way you practice emergence,” she declares, “is through longing.” So, if the irrationality of tension within the self demands a synthesis, then, “[y]our new skin would be prosodic—that is, both esoteric and practical.” Amid all this “brutality of description”—which, for Robertson, “is the traversal of this infinitely futile yet fundamental and continuous space called the present”—the “cinema of the present” becomes that ever-passing surface of time, the sheen of a moment in the description of that moment: “By means of description, a whole profound mass of time became your milieu.” A social environment thus enlarged serves one of Robertson’s explicit goals, that “Feminism wants to expand the sensorium.”This book—which will feature four different back covers designed by artists Hadley + Maxwell, emphasizing its status as an objet d’art—defies review, instead demanding engagement, conversation, and multiple rereads. It may not be a great place to start for newcomers to Robertson’s work, but fans or those who simply relish getting lost in a sea of thought will discover almost infinite depths: “If you speak in this imaginary structure, it’s because other choices felt limiting.” (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Death of a Bovver Boy: A Carolus Deene Mystery

Leo Bruce. Academy Chicago, $14.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-89733-733-5

First published in 1974, the last entry in Bruce's long-running Carolus Deene series (At Death's Door, etc.) is perhaps best appreciated as a parody of the classic English murder mystery. When schoolmaster Carolus discovers the naked corpse of Kenneth "Dutch" Carver, a "born delinquent," in a ditch in the rural town of Newminster, Carolus resolves to solve the boy's murder. Carolus discovers that various groups had reason to hate Dutch, including his fellow greasers and even the decent folk of Newminster, fed up with his hijinks. Appearances can be deceiving, and if Carolus can't see past the obvious, a young girl may pay the price. Casual racism, overbearing class consciousness, police reliance on an amateur, and a busybody lead motivated more by officious curiosity and self-aggrandizement than any empathy for the victim are all dialed up to 11. Bruce was the pen name of British author Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903–1979). (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Petite Mort

Beatrice Hitchman. Serpent’s Tail, $14.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-84668-907-9

First published in the U.K. in 2013 and adapted as a BBC Radio 4 serial starring Honor Blackman, Hitchman’s dazzling debut, a thriller that spans seven decades, offers insights into early Parisian film making and the amoral glitterati who brought it to dizzying life. Adèle Roux starred in Petite Mort, a 1914 silent film that was believed destroyed in a fire at the Pathé factory before it could be distributed. Adèle’s involvement in a murder case later that year ensured that the film was not reshot. Provocative snippets of the actress’s titillating memoirs, told in her old age to journalist Juliette Blanc, chronicle her passionate affairs with seductive special-effects inventor André Durand and his ravishing and sinister actress wife, Luce. The memoir’s chilling glimpses of the leading characters’ precociously lethal early lives counterpoint the 1967 rediscovery of the lost film—with one crucial scene missing. Hitchman juxtaposes love and lust, unquenchable desire and pangs of self-revulsion, in this scorching exposé of ambition so ferocious it drives souls into hells of their own making. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Psyche Moon

Chrissie Buhr. Amazon, $0.99 e-book (175p) ISBN 978-1-311-23251-9

The sex is hot but the plot is thin in this erotic lesbian romance. Sadie and Billie meet in a Boise gay club and are instantly attracted. They quickly give in to an all-consuming passion that evolves into a strong relationship. Their newfound connection is tested when trouble strikes, revealing Billie’s werewolf nature and unleashing a long-dormant aspect of Sadie’s psychic powers. Now they may be separated by Billie’s pack, for Wolves don’t approve of people like Sadie, who tend to be bad news for them. Buhr’s debut focuses more on character interaction, romantic development, and sensual encounters than on plot or significant worldbuilding. While the leads have real chemistry together, whether they’re confronting homophobic restaurateurs or finding new ways to experience carnal delights, it doesn’t make up for the thin story line or sudden ending. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Encore

Julia Butler. Creative Vision, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-9911509-0-8

With a 19th-century literary aesthetic that belies the nominally modern setting, Butler evokes a sweeping sense of souls entwined by fate. Red-haired Russian piano virtuoso Katherine Konova and stifled German writer Daniel Adler emerge from unsatisfying marriages and embark on a passionate connection after they meet at a California artists’ salon. The transformative power of music is a strong theme, and each chapter is named for a musical term. Though the foreshadowing is often clumsy, the feeling of inevitability is enhanced by histories of the lovers’ families, leading the reader to see Katherine and Daniel drawing together even before the complex family connections become clear. Minor characters are over-stylized in service to the plot’s complexity and drama, and sex scenes get caught awkwardly between a lyrical vagueness and the modern desire for erotic detail. Butler shows the potential to shake off her heavy-handedness and develop into an evocative storyteller. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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What Hides in the Darkness

K.L. Cottrell. Adagio, $16.99 trade paper (402p) ISBN 978-0-9960066-0-6

With a twist on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cottrell’s debut introduces readers to members of the Light, a group of humans who fight monsters. Marienne was traumatized by the car accident that claimed the lives of her parents. Since her near-death experience, she has been able to see that some people are actually evil creatures in disguise. When Mari sees warrior Gabe battling monsters, she steps in to help him. Gabe takes Mari under his wing, and with his associates, Beatrix and Wes, they begin training Mari to learn the survival skills necessary for Light members to combat the creatures they call Hellions. The romance between Mari and Gabe is subtle and often thwarted by the unwanted presence of Rafe, Mari’s cheating ex-boyfriend. The hint of romance is overshadowed by the focus on hunting and killing Hellions, which may hold greater appeal for fantasy fans than romance lovers, but Gabe and Mari’s efforts to keep the world safe propel the novel forward to the cliffhanger ending that sets up the rest of the trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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For the Record

K.A. Linde. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2590-7

The too-tidy conclusion to Linde’s Record Trilogy wraps up the fraught romance between UNC journalism student Liz Dougherty and Brady Maxwell, the scion of a North Carolina political family. In the aftermath of On the Record, Liz and Brady’s relationship is now public for all the world to scrutinize and judge. While Liz learns how to be a celebrity significant other, she has to juggle graduating, her post-graduation career, and making peace with Hayden, the ex-boyfriend who outed her to the press. Much of this volume feels like a summary of Liz’s life, skipping forward to moments of conflict that feel too constructed to hold tension and are resolved much too simply. Most of the women are snippy and most of the men are desperate for supportive companionship, an uncomfortable dynamic that severely undercuts the genuine passion and compatibility defining the main romance. Readers will be left wishing Linde had done more with this extended epilogue. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Alanna

Kathleen Bittner Roth. Kensington/Zebra, $6.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3530-5

In this somewhat chaotic historical romantic thriller, second in the When Hearts Dare series (after Celine), Roth takes readers on a whirlwind journey from 1850s San Francisco through Boston to England and beyond. Wolf has spent 30 years trying to find the man who murdered his mother. This mission has been his driving force and reason for existence, funded by his work as a tracker of missing persons. The enigmatic, flirtatious Alanna Malone is a welcome distraction, though her parents—who want her to marry up—are distressed by their affair. However, once Wolf lets Alanna in, he can’t seem to shake her; she appears wherever he goes, including his dreams. There’s an excess of interconnected plot points and convenient coincidences, and what begins as a story with a severe identity crisis resolves itself a little too conveniently, albeit with a delicious finish. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures

Lillian Marek. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0220-0

The adventures in Marek’s Victorian-set debut aren’t wicked, but readers will still enjoy them. Lady Elinor “Norrie” Tremaine is a clever beauty who’s in love with longtime family friend Harry de Vaux, Viscount Tunbury. He returns her feelings but refuses to act on them because of his family’s bad reputation. When he goes on vacation with her family in Italy, he continues to run hot and cold with Norrie until they are caught kissing. Elinor’s mother, Lady Penworth, steals every scene she’s in with her good-natured scheming, sense of humor, and understanding of human nature; she’s not the least bit surprised to see Harry and Norrie together, but happy for the excuse to get them engaged. Harry’s overbearing behavior becomes trite by mid-book, but once he realizes he’s learned how to be a good man from all the time spent with the Penworth clan, he becomes as lovable as Norrie. Agent: Gail Fortune, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Emma Blooms at Last

Naomi King. NAL, $14 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-41788-6

Quiet, shy Emma Graber is afraid love has passed her by now that her childhood crush has married someone else. Romantic happiness is everywhere she looks: her brother James is settling down with her best friend, Abby (star of Abby Finds Her Calling), and Amanda and Wyman Brubaker (from Amanda Weds a Good Man) are also merging their families. Emma is startled and skittish when handsome, confident Jerome Lambright starts flirting, and she tries to freeze him out. Jerome has always been carefree, but having to work for Emma’s regard helps him settle down and plan for the future. Meddling matchmaker Amanda dispenses common-sense advice as Emma struggles with a number of life changes. The focus of Amish romance is always on the family, but families in King’s fictional Cedar Creek feel more real than most: they’re big, joyful, and loyal, and they have their faults as well. The family scenes are heartwarming and tender, making each expression of love all the sweeter. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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