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The Maverick of Copper Creek

R.C. Ryan. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7225-0

The magic of Ryan's best work is missing from this perfunctory effort, which kicks off the Montana-set Copper Creek Cowboys series. The contemporary reunion romance between Ash MacKenzie and Brenna Crane offers little that is new. Ash, the first son of a legendary rancher, leaves behind his sweetheart, Brenna, to strike out on his own. He returns home a decade later following the murder of his father and learns that his onetime love is engaged to an ambitious government official. The murder is not the focus of the suspense subplot; by the story's midpoint it becomes clear that sweet, kind, and loving Brenna is in grave danger. Though the MacKenzie family dynamic is a strong point and Ash and Brenna share a nice chemistry, Ryan (aka Ruth Langan) does a poor job of foreshadowing true colors of Brenna's fiancé and an even worse one maintaining the secrecy of the villain's identity. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Electric City

Elizabeth Rosner. Counterpoint, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61902-346-8

In her structurally flawed multigenerational tale, Rosner (Blue Nude) explores the history of "Electric City," the New York town along the Mohawk River where Thomas Edison chose to relocate Edison Machine Works (later General Electric), his research and manufacturing enterprise "that would light up the world." The bulk of the novel alternates between two eras of the company town. The first begins in 1919 and focuses on Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a physically deformed mathematician known as the "Wizard of Electric City." Steinmetz is conducting cutting-edge research on manmade lightning generators while developing a spiritually rewarding friendship with a Native American named Joseph Longboat. The narrative then switches to the latter half of the 1960s when the company embarks on series of layoffs that harbinger Electric City's decline. We meet Sophie Levine, a high school student whose Dutch-Jewish father works for the famous company begins a romance with Henry Van Curler, the privileged son of a storied Electric City family. Sophie is also intrigued by Martin Longboat, the rebellious grandson of Joseph Longboat who is interested in Steinmetz's life and works. The novel fails to achieve a balance between the earnest but stale teenage love story and the portrait of Steinmetz, which is informative but often dramatically inert. Throughout, the writing is flooded with countless electrical metaphors, which generate thematic unity if not a particularly galvanizing tale. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Eldritch Chrome: Unquiet Tales of a Mythos-Haunted Future

Edited by Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass. Chaosium (www.chaosium.com), $17.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-5688238-9-8

This mixed bag of 18 short stories adds little to the countless volumes of fiction inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. The introduction illustrates the challenge the editors set for themselves—the stories are all set in a near future Cyberpunk world—but arming the "Cyberpunk Cthulhu hero" with "high-tech weapons and other advances at their disposal" changes nothing, because "to beings where time has no meaning, beings so technologically advanced that their actions seem supernatural or powered by magic, no human has the edge." There are a few entries that succeed in being more than a thin narrative punctuated with a twist ending intended to shock. Michael Tice's "Inlibration" opens with an Internet-age appropriate tweaking of the opening of "The Call of Cthulhu": "The most wonderful thing in the world, I think, is the ability of the augmented human mind to correlate all its contents." The story goes on to be yet another search for the Necronomicon, but the framing device is clever. "CL3ANS3," by Carrie Cuinn, is also well done, with horrors spawned in part by the relentless drive to turn all of human experience into accessible data. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel

Lee Child. Delacorte, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7874-7

A sniper threatens the forthcoming G8 conference, to be held at a stately manor outside London, in Thriller Award–finalist Childs's clever, deceptively straightforward 19th Jack Reacher novel (after 2013's Never Go Back). Protected by a glass shield, the French president escapes unharmed when someone fires a shot at him while he's delivering an outdoor address in Paris. One of only four people in the world could have fired the 50-calibre bullet with such accuracy from a distance of 1,400 yards. One is John Kott, a former Special Forces soldier, who was recently released from prison, where Reacher helped put him 15 years earlier for killing an Army sergeant in a fight. Gen. Tom O'Day, of whom Reacher is wary, manages to recruit the peripatetic former M.P. to look into the matter. Reacher first visits Kott's empty house in rural Arkansas before traveling to Paris and finally to London, where he tangles with gangsters en route to trying to stop the sniper from striking again. Reacher's keen analytic mind in action will entertain readers as much as the assorted physical means he uses to take down the bad guys. Agent: Darley Anderson, Darley Anderson Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf Centos

Simone Muench. Sarabande (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-936747-79-5

Muench (Orange Crush), a winner of the Marianne Moore Prize for Poetry and 2013 NEA Fellowship recipient, successfully restricts herself to the cento form in her fifth collection, repurposing the lines and fragments of other writers. "Every transformation is possible," Muench writes, eschewing narrative obligations to create poems in which each iteration of the wolf adds something intangible to this complex world. The words, gleaned and repurposed from over 200 sources, have an exponential emotional impact; Muench manages to amplify her own creative power through the megaphone of literary history as she cobbles together a series of modern, sensual, and urgent short poems that howl about self, desire, and song. "In the space of a half-open gold door/ your body's animals want to get out," Muench names a still-present, lurking, unnamable wildness. She uses old words to point to a still contemporary connection between poetry and the primal, demonstrating the consistent importance of language, despite all obstructions: "Night in all things: in corners, in men's eyes—/bees in a dried-out hive. Thus we forget/ that only words still stand like tar fires in the woods." Thus, Muench advises: "Sing with big blue tongue,/ sing until it breaks the night—/ black champagne, a lamentation." (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Hanuman

Joan Larkin. Hanging Loose (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (78p) ISBN 978-1-934909-38-6

Larkin's first full-length collection since her Audre Lourde Award-winning My Body: New and Selected Poems radiates with control and brevity. Larkin's attractive, enigmatic poems hover near a precipice, electrically charged with nascent tension, a "mute globe of held breath" delicately suspended. Divided into four sections, the poems are short, ekphrastic, or riddle-like explorations of the natural world. "Legs Tipped with Small Claws," the title poem of her 2012 chapbook (Argos Books), describes a fishing spider: dangerous, sexy, and undoubtedly feminine. "Sometimes it's her mate/ she liquefies to drink him inside out,/ then cleans each of her velvet legs." Larkin doesn't rest at mere beauty, she digs deeper, probing at disturbances; the "movement-in-stillness" of an old photograph, or the "lush rage-orange" of a Francis Bacon painting. As for Hanuman, the collections eponymous monkey god: "his blueblack tail flicks upward,/ its dark tip a paintbrush loaded blue." Themes of motherhood are threaded throughout, muddying the boundaries between animal and human concepts of nurture and climaxing in the book's final section of the book. Larkin's haunting lines encapsulate the feeling of reading this collection: "You are inside me now, as inside you/ your mother: your shame-belly born from hers,/ my grief-lungs from yours, eyes of no mercy." (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Interference

Michelle Berry. ECW Press (Legato Publishers Group; U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-77041-198-2

In her fifth novel, Berry plays literary voyeur, peeling back the polite veneer of the middle-class to expose a chaotic underbelly. Weaving myriad narratives into an impressive whole, the book submits that a community is actually an arena of unfocused fear. Tom, living in a world where "it's rare to even see a wheelchair," worries that a disfigured transient helping bag his leaves is a potential threat. Twelve-year-old Becky is a germaphobe haunted by a boy no one else sees. Claire struggles through cancer recovery while husband Ralph experiences bouts of extreme forgetfulness, hoping that "everything he forgets now…will not matter. Ever." Berry waltzes these and other characters towards a hinted-at climax of danger and resolution, making it clear that paranoia, whether real or imagined, is a core aspect of the human condition, one that we not only cannot avoid but sometimes actively cultivate. Near its end, Claire comes to believe "that this is what cancer does to you, that this is what growing older does to you, that this is what life does to you — it slowly robs you of something to look forward to." Perhaps so, but this novel, with its dark-humoured glimpse behind neighbourhood doors, is something to look forward to. Agent: Chris Bucci, Anne McDermid & Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cloud

Eric McCormack. Penguin Canada, $24 trade paper (424p) ISBN 978-0-14-319128-5

This, McCormack's fifth novel, is his first in 12 years, is worth the wait. The story is told by Harry Steen, a Scottish-Canadian businessman, who retrospectively narrates the events of his life. He recounts his impoverished childhood in a Scottish tenement called the Tollgate, where violence is commonplace and the ground is littered with unexploded bombs left over from the war. While still a young man, Harry leaves the Tollgate to take up a teaching post in Duncairn. It is there that he endures a heartbreak so devastating that he abandons his teaching post and sets off on a series of peripatetic journeys to Africa, Venezuela, and eventually Canada. The novel abounds with colorful grotesques—Harry's miner father, who delights in cracking bleak jokes; Charles Dupont, a French-Canadian doctor who has mended his own broken heart by escaping to tribal Africa. McCormack imbues the novel with a great deal of intertextuality—books within books, abundant epigraphs, and even at one point an amusing nod towards his own bibliography. But the novel's true greatness comes its portrait of Harry, the lovesick traveller and memory artist. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another 12 years for the next McCormack offering. Agent: Ron Eckel, The Cooke Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rain Over Madrid

Andr%C3%A9s Barba, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. Hispabooks (www.hispabooks.com), $15.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-84-942284-7-6

In Barba's collection of four novella-length stories, intense loneliness and desire guide an alienated cast of characters. In "Fatherhood," a Madrid musician recognizes his inability to communicate with his estranged son. In the claustrophobic "Guile," a middle-aged woman is weighed down by memories as she cares for her elderly mother. A young woman's emerging sexuality clashes with her father's womanizing in "Fidelity." And, in "Shopping," a daughter emotionally stunted by the tyranny of her mother recognizes and identifies with the helplessness of an apprehended shoplifter. What isn't said is as important as what is in these poignant depictions of repression and guilt—each of the four stories illuminates the others. With exquisite craftsmanship, Barba captures existential mystery in seemingly banal moments of domestic strife, family tension, and romantic entanglements. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires

Julio Cort%C3%A1zar, trans. from the Spanish by David Kurnick. Semiotext(e), $14.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-58435-134-4

In 1975, after participating in the Second Russell Tribunal's investigation of human rights violations in Latin America, Cortázar (Hopscotch) sits in a train bound for his Paris home, ogling women and reading a Mexican comic book starring a white-masked superman named Fantomas. Little does Cortázar know, however, that he is part of this comic book story—someone has stolen and destroyed the world's books!—and that Fantomas is also part of reality. Soon, phone conversations and comic pages intertwine, and Cortázar finds himself working with other literary greats (Sontag, Paz, Moravia) to aid the masked hero. But the solution isn't as easy as Fantomas predicts, and Cortázar and company begin to suspect that the scoundrels behind the devastation are the very organizations condemned by the Russell Tribunal: multinational corporations and political regimes. Though fairly short, the volume is ceaselessly interesting, alternating between comic book pages (taken from an actual Fantomas comic story), drawings, photographs, and traditional text, and showcasing the late author's penchant for surrealism and experimentation. Simultaneously funny and damning—Cortázar makes sure to include the Russell Tribunal's full report as an appendix—the novella is a quick, engaging read, sure to please the author's many fans. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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