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The Doll Collection

Edited by Ellen Datlow. Tor, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7680-0

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Dolls, puppets, and other human simulacra are objects of fear and wonder in this eclectic anthology of 17 excellent original stories that Datlow (Nightmare Carnival) selected for their ability to “mine the uncanniness of dolls for all its worth.” In Stephen Gallagher’s “Heroes and Villains,” the creepy candor with which a ventriloquist’s dummy tells truths about its deceased former owner suggests that it’s not the current owner who is speaking through it. Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Doll-Master” is narrated by the title character, who gradually reveals the ghoulish nature of his “doll” collection. Datlow’s ban on clichéd “evil doll” stories encouraged contributors to explore refreshingly original ideas, including the doll hospital in Veronica Schanoes’s “The Permanent Collection,” which nods to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic “The Sandman” while depicting a Mengele-like surgeon named Coppelius, and the strange folk tradition of Jeffrey Ford’s “The Word Doll,” in which children are compelled to escape into the world of an imaginary playmate. Accompanying photos of dolls and their parts intensify the eeriness of these works, which easily transcend their familiar theme. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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One Night

Eric Jerome Dickey. Dutton, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-95485-9

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Set against the backdrop of the Christmas season in Los Angeles, this erotic, romantic thriller is a clean break from Dickey’s recent sprawling adventures (A Wanted Woman, etc.). Here he presents a relationship with the lifespan of a mayfly. Every element is controlled to preserve the anonymous nature of the couple—Dickey withholds even basic information such as character names—but this technique enhances the tension and passion. The events of the plot are basic, with meeting and consummation proceeding at a fleeting pace. When the erotic content verges on the unwieldy—as in a single paragraph that continues unbroken for three pages—the lyrical use of repetition and dynamic imagery redeems it. Though on its surface the story is a romantic one, it also encompasses a crime thriller by delivering flashes of the news on television. The resolution of the couple’s relationship is as ambiguous as the rest of the story, but there is a note of hope for the future that feels like a gift to the reader. Dickey has taken the anonymous one-night stand into the realm of art. Agent: Sara Camilli, Sara Camilli Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Reykjavík Nights: An Inspector Erlendur Novel

Arnaldur Indridason, trans. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-04842-4

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In this riveting prequel set in late-1960s Reykjavík, Indridason plumbs the backstory of his series lead, somber Insp. Erlendur Sveinsson. As a young cop, Erlendur patrols at night, writes speeding tickets, and escorts drunks to the station house. When Hannibal, a tramp he’s acquainted with, dies of apparently natural causes, Erlendur starts to investigate on his own time. In the process, he learns about Reykjavík’s down-and-out population—which Indridason presents humanely and without sentimentality—and about becoming a detective. His obsession with Hannibal and what happened to him foreshadows the concerns of the more mature Erlendur in books set years later, such as 2014’s Strange Shores. Erlendur connects Hannibal’s case to that of a missing woman and a criminal enterprise that may strike readers as amateurish (one tactic is stolen from the then-new TV detective show Ironside). The investigation slowly but surely gathers powerful, page-turning momentum. This installment stands on its own, but it’s all the more impressive for giving new insight into Erlendur. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes

Per Petterson, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-55597-700-9

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Arvid Jansen has appeared in several of Petterson’s books, including I Curse the River of Time and as the teenage narrator in It’s Fine by Me. This collection of linked stories about Arvid was Petterson’s debut and first published in Norwegian in 1987. Each of the 10 vignettes recounts a momentous event in Arvid’s childhood; the prose is simple and spare, elegiac in tone, yet it packs a powerful punch. Arvid, a frail and sensitive boy who comes across as neurotic in his fears, lives with his mother, father, and older sister in Cold War–era Norway. Arvid’s universe revolves about his family, especially his factory-worker father, a complex figure whose frustrations are expressed in flashes of temper but who is also capable of great tenderness toward his son, as in the moving story “Ashes in His Mouth.” Like Petterson’s longer fiction, the theme of sorrow and of battling the inevitable passage of time permeates these stories, particularly “Like a Tiger in a Cage,” in which Arvid breaks a wall clock in an attempt to stop his mother’s aging, as well as his own. A bittersweet read that can be fully savored in one sitting. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Refuse

Per Petterson, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Graywolf, $24 (296p) ISBN 978-1-55597-699-6

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This latest from the internationally acclaimed novelist (Out Stealing Horses) might be his saddest, most powerful take yet on families torn asunder, missed opportunities, lost friendships, and regrets that span a lifetime. As the story opens, Tommy, a successful financier, unexpectedly encounters his estranged childhood friend Jim, who is fishing off a bridge during Tommy’s early-morning drive. In chapters that switch among several narrators and periods (the 1960s, ’70s, and the present story in 2006), the history of Tommy and Jim’s relationship unfolds. Tommy grows up in a dysfunctional household in rural Norway, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and their business. Tommy’s father beats him and his three younger sisters daily; the mother disappeared two years earlier without a trace, although her fate is eventually revealed in a striking subplot. After Tommy stands up to his father, the four siblings are separated by the authorities. Having lost his family, Tommy and Jim become inseparable until a seemingly minor incident on a frozen lake one night during their teens forever changes their relationship. Set against a stark landscape, this is a brilliant, meditative story about how one small, impulsive act can have an irrevocable impact upon one’s life, as well as a rippling effect upon the lives of others. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Among the Ten Thousand Things

Julia Pierpont. Random, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9522-0

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The perennial theme of marital infidelity is given a brisk, insightful, and sophisticated turn in Pierpont’s impressive debut. When their father’s emails to his former mistress are inadvertently discovered by siblings Kay Shanley, 11, and Simon, 15, the result is the unraveling of the family. Their father, Jack Shanley, is a well-known conceptual artist and self-indulgent seducer, and he sees his career go downhill due to a variety of circumstances. Deb, his wife, carries guilt from having broken up Jack’s first marriage, only to realize that he’s an inveterate womanizer who feels his indiscretions should be forgiven. Pierpont’s keen observational gaze illuminates a strata of Manhattan society in which money and privilege abide alongside the gritty, drug-and-alcohol-fueled margins of social behavior. She is also particularly adept at portraying alienation in the young (Kay starts writing dirty Seinfeld fan fiction in a notebook; Simon reads The Fountainhead because he knows his mother doesn’t want him to) and the parents’ awkward attempts to communicate with their self-protective children. Her sense of humor surfaces, especially in a scene at a gallery opening, when Jack’s carefully planned and shocking installation goes awry. Pierpont throws an audacious twist midway through the book, giving the slow, painful denouement a heartbreaking inevitability. This novel leaves an indelible portrait of lives blown off course by bad choices, loss of trust, and an essential inability to communicate. (July)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Every Little Kiss

Kendra Leigh Castle. Signet, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-451-46759-1

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There’s a lot to like about Castle’s tiny fictional burg of Harvest Cove, Mass. (introduced in For the Longest Time), and high on the list are the Henry sisters, Samantha and Emma. Now that Sam is getting ready to marry Jake Smith, she turns to party planner Emma for help with the wedding. But at Sam’s bachelorette party, uptight Emma drinks a little too much tequila and champagne, leading to an alcohol-soaked dance routine that of course is caught on video. Local cop Seth Andersen has to escort the blitzed, humiliated brunette home, and he’s immediately attracted to Emma’s pretty blue eyes and tousled hair. But by Monday that wild hair is tucked into a tight bun, and when Seth invites her to dinner, Emma declines. The plot relies heavily on Emma and Seth’s vaguely described intimacy-precluding psychological issues, but the supporting cast of quaint, endearing characters is almost strong enough to carry the day. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Bedding Proposal

Tracy Anne Warren. Signet Select, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-46922-9

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The inaugural volume of the Rakes of Cavendish Square begins with an embarrassing display of amateurishness that undermines Warren’s lighthearted prose. Identical twins Leopold and Lawrence Byron, younger siblings of earlier Warren protagonists, engage in wooden dialogue that lays out their shared history in an awkward infodump. Warren regains form when Leo puts the moves on Lady Thalia Lennox, a lush and allegedly wanton divorcée. Thalia, set up years before by a vicious husband to take the fall in their very public split, is an intelligent and appealing heroine. Though vulnerable, she demonstrates strength and pragmatism when pushed to a decision. Her stereotypical yielding to Leo’s domineering blandishments is not a surrender but a process of identifying what Thalia herself wants, and accepting the consequences of taking it. Regency period details are scant and Warren ignores the plot-generating potential of identical twins, but the core will-she-won’t-she tension mostly manages to carry the day. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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His Wicked Reputation

Madeline Hunter. Jove, $7.99 mass market (432p) ISBN 978-0-515-15516-7

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Hunter (The Accidental Duchess) spins the intrigues of an enterprising bastard son and a resourceful artist to delightful effect in this excellent launch of the Wicked series of Regency romances. Gareth Fitzallen, illegitimate son of the Duke of Aylesbury, has two skills: brokering art deals and pleasing women in bed. When his poisonous half-brother dies, Gareth takes possession of his disputed inheritance, a near-ruined manor house. He is also tasked with solving the mystery of a missing art cache, an invaluable collection hidden in case of Napoleon’s invasion that has vanished without trace. Impoverished spinster Eva Russell supports herself and her sister, Rebecca, by painting and selling copies of the Gainsboroughs she’s found in the attic of Gareth’s house. After an inauspicious first encounter, Gareth and Eva become unlikely friends and lovers, but Gareth’s pursuit of the stolen masterpieces may endanger Eva and destroy their chance at happiness. The period detail educates without being onerous. Characters, such as the eccentric sisters who befriend Eva and Rebecca, round out an entertaining cast, and the romance and suspense are balanced perfectly. Agent: Pam Hopkins, Hopkins Literary Associates. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Formidable Lord Quentin

Patricia Rice. Book View Cafe, $12.99 trade paper (234p) ISBN 978-1-61138-445-1

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Rice’s refreshing fourth Rebellious Sons historical (after Notorious Atherton) examines the difficulties faced by strong, independent women in the male-oriented world of Regency England. Isabell “Bell” Hoyt, Dowager Marchioness of Belden, inherited her husband’s wealth when he died, but his title and lands passed to the next male heir in line, Lachlann Hoyt. When her newly orphaned young siblings arrive on her doorstep from America and disrupt her idyllic London existence, she’s distressed to learn that her father’s will names the children’s nearest male relative as their guardian. Lachlann’s son Quentin considers offering to marry Bell so she can help raise her siblings, but Bell is determined never to be governed by any man again, even one she finds very attractive. Rice has crafted her novel with plenty of witty, engaging characters and a healthy dose of romance. Clever Bell is a splendid protagonist, and readers will cheer her efforts to get men to take her seriously and treat her as an equal. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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