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Pinnacle Event

Richard A. Clarke. St. Martin%E2%80%99s/Dunne, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-04798-4

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Bestseller Clarke (Sting of the Drone) takes on stolen nuclear warheads, that genre favorite, in this exciting action thriller. A Pinnacle Event is the Defense Department’s term for a nuclear detonation, and the novel opens with a report that one has occurred in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, Douglas “Dugout” Carter, a geeky government analyst, is in his office at the Policy Evaluation Group in Washington, D.C., running a giant intelligence computer when he notices that five men around the world, all from South Africa, recently each received deposits of $500 million dollars and then died in bizarre ways. This leads Dugout to a group known as the Trustees and their plan to use five stolen nukes to change the global power structure. It’s a common thriller setup, but Clarke, as always, puts an original spin on each familiar element. The author’s note at the end gives the fascinating nonfiction details that fuel his story. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Red Cavalry

Isaac Babel, trans. from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk. Pushkin (pushkinpress.com), $18 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-78227-093-5

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The stories in this classic collection are set in the summer of 1920, when Babel was 25 and sent to cover the Polish-Soviet War for the Red Cavalryman newspaper. Sympathetic to the revolution yet having a satiric eye, he describes the newspaper’s writers who “roam about in the barren dust of the rear and spread the riot and fire of their leaflets.” Babel was a Jew assigned to a Cossack regiment; his stand-in first-person narrator overcomes the soldiers’ animosity when, in the story “My First Goose,” he breaks a fowl’s neck and orders it to be roasted up. In “The Story of a Horse” and “The Story of a Horse, Continued,” a dispute between a squadron commander and a division commander over a horse produces an exchange of letters full of heartfelt (though jargony) prose and brutal honesty—the commanders have more of an emotional connection to the horses than to other people. Casual violence (“[he] grabbed her hair, bent back her head and smashed her face with his fist”) alternates with beauty, sometimes in the same sentence (“We fled without staining our swords crimson with the wretched blood of traitors”). The stories, which are often not much more than anecdotes, mostly focus on characters like Apolek, an itinerant painter; squadron commander Trunov; and a rabbi in Zhitomir, as well as the occasional flashes of battle. This translation is of the first 1926 edition, before censorship and the author’s own revisions altered the text. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Blue-Eyed Stranger

Alex Beecroft. Riptide (riptidepublishing.com), $6.99 e-book (230p) ISBN 978-1-62649-212-7

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Beecroft’s very English contemporary romance, a standalone linked with Trowchester Blues, is note perfect from start to finish. Martin Deng, a 20-something schoolteacher, is proud to be the only Sudanese Viking in Bretwalda, a battle reenactment troupe. His towering physical presence stands in stark contrast to Billy Wright, a long, lean, and very white Morris dancer. Yet from the moment they meet, the two are certain they’re meant to be together. Martin and Billy have much in common, especially a love of all things historical, but they differ on one very critical point: Billy is openly gay, and Martin is steadfastly closeted, fearing the loss of both his job and his fellow reenactors’ respect. Beecroft’s depictions of Martin’s cognitive dissonance and Billy’s clinical depression are superbly sensitive, infusing every part of how they interact as they strive to resolve their individual and mutual conflicts. These two highly credible, intelligent characters are portrayed with humor and pathos in a narrative awash in English historical references and local color. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act

Kieron Gillan and Jamie McKelvie. Image, $9.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-63215-019-6

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Every 90 years, a 12-deity pantheon of gods incarnate in mortal form, only to die after two years. These gods wield considerable power and occupy themselves with various pursuits, including pop-music stardom. A series of horrifying events backstage after the goddess Amaterasu’s latest concert thrusts a mortal woman named Laura into a quest to help clear the reincarnated-as-female Lucifer of a murder she did not commit. Gillen and McKelvie are the critically-acclaimed creative team behind Young Avengers and Phonogram, and their newest is a compelling gut punch from the very first panel. Laura serves as the reader’s stand-in as she navigates the bizarre waters of the pantheon’s in-fighting and politics, and Lucifer manages to charm while owing a major fashion debt to David Bowie during his Thin White Duke phase. The rest of the gods are intriguing in their look and character, but why are they here? Little is revealed at this stage of the narrative, but the solid storytelling and clean, gorgeous artwork will keep readers engrossed and eager for more. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Occupy Comics

Edited by Matt Pizzolo. Black Mask (blackmaskstudio.com), $15.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-62875-007-2

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The cover of this anthology refers to the collection as a “time capsule.” It’s a pretty apt description. This book preserves three star-studded floppies released at the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement; publishing these is a worthy exercise if only for the time and effort that was poured into these pages by the artists and organizers, who enlisted an extremely diverse array of top-tier talent including cartoonists such as Art Spiegelman and Mike Allred, and leftist thinkers such as Douglas Rushkoff and Bill Ayers. As for actual consistency in product, this is a pretty hit-and-miss affair. More often than not the works are, not surprisingly, expository theses on social unrest, translated into comics, and many of the bigger artists involved contribute little more than their name and a single page. Exceptions include Molly Crabapple’s wonderful, smart works sprinkled throughout the book and a historical essay by the one and only Alan Moore documenting the role of comics in the counterculture. A few years after the fact, this document feels dated, but may serve as a powerful reminder for those who lived it. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Run like Crazy, Run like Hell

Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette, trans. from the French by Doug Headline. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-60699-620-1

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Tardi’s relentlessly paced adaptation of Manchette’s novel The Mad and the Bad presents readers with a fascinating noir tale that is as bleak as it is brilliant. Architect Michael Hartog hires Julie Ballanger, a patient in a psychiatric facility, as a nanny for his nephew, Peter. It seems that Hartog has a reputation for hiring staff who are “damaged,” although his motives aren’t entirely altruistic. Indeed, when Julie and Peter are kidnapped, the tale takes a dark turn, especially when the kidnapping goes wrong and the pair find themselves on the run from a deadly contract killer with his own complicated story. Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches) is a revered comics master in his native France, and his illustrations here tell us so much about how complex these characters are. The occasional juxtapositions of the cartoonish and the grotesque imbue the narrative with a grim, sardonic humor. Readers can expect the type of story promised by the title in this heart-pounding narrative. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Between These Walls

John Herrick. Segue Blue, $15.95 trade paper (470p) ISBN 978-0-9915309-1-5

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Herrick (The Landing) will make waves—particularly with Christian conservatives—with this tale that explores the uneasy intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. Hunter Carlisle has hidden his attraction to men since middle school, a secret he buried even more deeply when he became a Christian. He dated girls, hoping to be “cured,” he says, but his feelings didn’t change. He meets Gabe, a massage therapist, and in one jolting moment Hunter’s life changes forever. When their relationship is discovered, Hunter must come clean to his pastor, girlfriend, family, and friends about who he is. Herrick explores the struggle Hunter faces, offering readers a unique look at how gay Christians might feel—which is the strength of the book. Its shortcomings are its length and inadequate ending. Sex scenes and swearing, plus the topic, will keep this off most evangelical Christian bookstore shelves. It may find more sales online, where those struggling with this issue may be quietly searching for answers. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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West for the Black Hills

Peter Leavell. Mountainview Books (mountainviewbooks.com), $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-941291-08-5

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In this originally self-published Western romance, Leavell (Gideon’s Call) opens a promising series set at the end of the 19th century, when the Dakota Territory is about to join the union. After young Philip Anderson’s parents are murdered as they journey West, the boy is rescued by Sioux Indians. Growing to adulthood, Philip has a significant homestead and some formidable gunslinging skills. He raises Arabian horses, a singular occupation that gives him a reputation. His history and ability come into play when he falls in love with Anna Johnston, who has a history of her own and a most unwelcome rival suitor. Leavell has spun a nicely textured narrative with complex main characters. Not every character is rendered equally well; the villain unfortunately shades over into caricature. Philip himself ultimately becomes something of a superhero gunslinger, which offers cinematic possibilities. There’s enough here to keep western fans awaiting the next installment, with faith elements nicely woven in. This absorbing read is a good counterweight to the West as it is often envisioned by inspirational romance writers. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Buried Secrets

Irene Hannon. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2126-8

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The author of more than 45 novels, Hannon (Deceived) introduces Lisa Grant and Mac McGregor in her Men of Valor series. Both have left stressful jobs, Lisa as a Chicago homicide detective and Mac as a Navy SEAL. Remaining in law enforcement, Lisa becomes police chief of Carson, a small town near St. Louis, while Mac is a county detective. When skeletal remains are found in Carson, the two law enforcement officers find themselves working together to solve the case. Although Hannon writes in the romantic suspense genre, she produces little suspense or romance in this tale. The narrative frequently mentions sparks and electricity (“the relentless buzz in his nerve endings put there by a certain gorgeous police chief”) between Lisa and Mac, but doesn’t go further than that into romance. The investigation of the remains, though intended to reel the reader in, fails to add appreciable tension, and the early revelation of the villain also trips the pacing. At times the secondary characters attract more attention than the main characters. Although it’s promising at the outset, Hannon’s newest unfortunately falls short. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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On Shifting Sand

Allison Pittman. Tyndale, $14.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4143-9044-4

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As far as inspirational love stories go, Pittman (Crossroads of Grace series) has crafted an unconventional one. She mires her protagonists in grit with a tale of sex, physical abuse, infidelity, and betrayal. Nola Mitchum endured a harsh upbringing after her mother died. Smalltown Oklahoma preacher Russ Merrill became her exit strategy. Now 13 years old with two children, Nola’s marriage is no better than her father’s abuse was. Her soul becomes as dry as the Dust Bowl they live in until Jim Brace, an old friend of Russ, appears, and Nola begins to tread the treacherous territory of emotional infidelity. The sexual consummation of her relationship with Jim buries Nola deeper in guilt. Her shame is overshadowed only by the fear of Russ’s response to her indiscretion. The drama is slow to start as Pittman develops the setting, meticulously detailing the difficulties of dealing with deadly dust storms. Nola is vividly fleshed out, and, through her viewpoint, Pittman effectively contrasts the repercussions of forgiveness when it is withheld and granted. Agency: William K. Jensen Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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