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Awakened

Kate Douglas. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06478-3

Douglas lures readers into a web of suspense and romance with her third Intimate Relations contemporary (after Redemption). Mandy Monroe is upset after losing her job in San Francisco, where she worked as a barista, and saddened when her sister leaves town to travel to Washington, D.C. Mandy has had a crush on her housemate, Marc Reed, ever since he began to ride his old bicycle by the coffee shop where she worked. As Mandy and Marc finally give in to their shared passions, they realize that there is potential for a relationship that will go beyond a mere one-night stand. Their relationship seems to progress very quickly, even by the standards of people who’ve known each other for some time. When a hypnotherapist assists Marc with his interpreting his dreams, Marc begins to understand much more about his past, and the fracture in his relationship with his father increases. And when someone seeks to harm Marc and Mandy, he is determined to find out who’s behind the threats and keep his new lover safe. Charismatic supporting characters round out the fast pace of this novel, which will likely appeal to fans who like their romance sizzling with the suspense taking on a less important role. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Coming Clean

C.L. Parker. Bantam, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-88298-6

Parker’s witty, insightful, and inventive Monkey Business Trio finale (after Getting Rough) packs an emotional punch as a couple in present-day San Diego grapple with being true to themselves and demystifying family legacies. Frustrated Cassidy Whalen, done with being unappreciated, issues her partner, Shaw Matthews, an ultimatum: attend couple’s therapy to learn how to put the sizzle back into their relationship, or she and their three-year-old son are moving back to her hometown. Shaw reluctantly agrees; he doesn’t like the idea of counseling, but Cassidy and their son are everything to him. Shaw believes his partnership with Cassidy is working well—she is the nurturer and wanted to be a stay-at-home mother, and he is the provider, his long hours as a partner at Striker Sports Entertainment ensuring that he is successfully supporting his family financially—but at the counseling session he gets an unexpected surprise: Cassidy announces she has been faking her orgasms. They embark on an unconventional, delightful erotic journey, relishing in the restored sizzle and trust as frank conversations reveal unspoken needs and jealousies. A lingering demon provides a now-or-never opportunity for Shaw to step up and for the couple to commit to a relationship for life. Spunky and charismatic characters and riveting banter make this hard-fought-for romance irresistible. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Year 200

Agustin de Rojas, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. Restless, $18.99 trade paper (640p) ISBN 978-1-63206-051-8

Using preserved brainwaves, past rulers try to infiltrate the communist utopia of an undated future Earth in a philosophical science fiction thriller that struggles under too much worldbuilding. De Rojas (A Legend of the Future) opens with the horrific concept of putting the brain of a sadist in the body of a young boy, demonstrating the evil of the invaders. Yet the utopia’s current rulers also manipulate others, segregating those who reject their perfect order. Highlighting these moral quandaries requires an enormous cast of well-developed characters, but the extensive thoughts and discussions dilute the suspense and speculative elements. De Rojas is perfectly willing to ask hard questions, and this struggle for the soul of humankind’s future will leave readers thinking long after the last page is turned, but as a work of fiction, it never quite comes together. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Clown Service

Guy Adams. Random House U.K, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-09-195315-7

Toby Greene keeps failing as a U.K. intelligence agent. Exiled to Section 37, whose only other member is an elderly man who seems delusional and irrational, Toby’s soon caught up in the ultimate sleeper-agent plot, battling Cold War demons—and his own personal one—in a silly-serious supernatural spy adventure. Adams (Once upon a Time in Hell) struggles with structure; third- and first-person accounts are interspersed with stop-and-start narration of events in present-day London and its recent past. There’s also a sense of familiar ground: a clueless guy gets educated by an older mentor to stop a paranormal threat, aided by a large cast of quirky folks and wink-nod references. Adams makes up for it by creating immediately likable characters and managing to imbue some overused tropes with new (un)life, giving readers just enough incentive to stick with the series. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The High Ground: The Imperials Saga, Book 1

Melinda Snodgrass. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-78329-582-1

A future interstellar empire is the setting of Snodgrass’s military space opera, told from the perspective of two misfits in the prestigious military academy known as the High Ground. One is Thracius “Tracy” Belmanor, a tailor’s son and scholarship student treated with contempt by the sons of the nobility around him; the other is Mercedes de Arango, the first woman to attend the High Ground, from which she must graduate to succeed her father, the emperor of the Solar League. As Tracy and Mercedes struggle with classism, sexism, and the weight of familial expectations and dreams, alien and human conspiracies threaten to undermine Mercedes’s future and that of the empire itself. Snodgrass’s worldbuilding has several creative touches: intriguing alien races, English and Spanish as the common languages of the Solar League, and the origin of the upper echelons of the nobility, known pointedly as the Fortune Five Hundred. The story is entertaining and briskly paced, if occasionally predictable; the conclusion is rushed and many plot threads are left for future sequels to resolve. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds

Edited by Jonathan Strahan and William Schafer. Subterranean, $45 (784p) ISBN 978-1-59606-766-0

This collection of 18 long and short stories by Reynolds (the Poseidon’s Children series), one of the most gifted hard SF writers working today, displays his facility for building fascinating settings and integrating romance and mystery plots into space opera. Even readers completely unacquainted with his various universes will have no trouble getting acclimated. For example, no prior knowledge of the Revelation Space books is required to enjoy the longer stories “Great Wall of Mars” and “Weather,” which immerse readers in a future where the human achievement of “neural communion” led to bloody warfare; Reynolds uses that backdrop to explore what the unlinked humans still have in common with Conjoiners, who share mental communion with each other, rather than as an excuse for dramatic space battles showing off imaginative weaponry. The stories are often moving and surprising. When Reynolds resorts to twist endings, the final revelations are logical and never gimmicky, serving a larger purpose than simply causing shock or surprise. Readers will greatly appreciate the breadth and variety of this deeply enjoyable collection. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Early Days: More Tales from the Pulp Era

Robert Silverberg. Subterranean, $40 (344p) ISBN 978-1-59606-799-8

Silverberg, a “wildly prolific” SFWA Grand Master and winner of many awards, celebrates his five-decade writing career with a collection of “straightforward tales of action” that were originally published in pulp magazines from 1956 to 1958 and may hold little appeal for today’s readers. In his introduction, Silverberg describes them as good examples of “a lost tradition in science fiction,” and his substantial author notes before each story provide context and chatty descriptions. For the most part, these are fast-paced, formulaic stories of action. “Six Frightened Men,” “The Ultimate Weapon,” “A Time for Revenge,” “Slaves of the Tree,” and “The Aliens Were Haters” offer space explorers investigating alien worlds. “Puppets Without Strings,” the dystopian “The Inquisitor,” and the problematic romance of “Housemaid No. 103” all deliver Twilight Zone twists. Others, such as “Rescue Mission” and “Harwood’s Vortex,” are straight-up adventure tales, and “Quick Freeze,” “Planet of Parasites,” and “The Traders” are traditional puzzle stories. These works evoke an era when men were leaders and women were content with “frills,” “lace,” and “sentimental slush,” hoping to be “still attractive at thirty-five.” This collection is best left to Silverberg completists and hardcore fans of pulp SF. Agent: Chris Lotts, Lotts Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Zero G: A Novel

William Shatner and Jeff Rovin. Simon & Schuster, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1155-6

Shatner and Rovin have created a tightly paced blend of police procedural, military SF, and space opera, set in an intriguing near-future world. Unfortunately, it is populated by predictable character types—whose racial and gender diversity, though welcome, is presented in a self-satisfied manner and uses a number of unfortunate tropes—and narrated in hackneyed, heavily expository prose. In the year 2050, humans live in space stations, everyone accesses information and communicates through “Individual Clouds,” and pan-gender individuals can switch between male and female aspects at will. On the American space station Empyrean, the head of Zero-G, the space branch of the FBI, is Sam Lord: 80 years old, former pilot, and notorious maverick. The presence of his Cherokee pan-gender second-in-command, Adsila Waters, primarily serves to emphasize Lord’s embodiment of the classic white male SF protagonist. Lord’s newest challenge is to ensure the safety of Dr. Saranya May, a beautiful scientist who approaches the FBI for protection after an unprecedented tsunami strikes the coast of Japan. When links emerge among the tsunami, May’s work, and a mysterious Chinese weapon, Lord, Waters, and May must race against time to stop another disaster. SF readers have sampled this fare before, and it doesn’t improve with reheating. Agent: Ian Klienert, Objective Entertainment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Crosstalk

Connie Willis. Del Rey, $28 (495p) ISBN 978-0-345-54067-6

SFWA Grand Master Willis’s first novel since 2010’s Blackout/All Clear is a rollicking send-up of obsessive cell phone usage in too-near-future America. A brain-altering medical procedure designed to enhance lovers’ abilities to connect emotionally goes spectacularly haywire for Commspan employee Briddey Flannigan, who’s besieged by her ultra-intrusive Irish-American family, and her fellow employee Trent Worth, a rising star at the tech company. Instead of being linked to Trent, Briddey finds herself telepathically hooked up to C.B. Schwartz, Commspan’s lab-dwelling supernerd. Their connection sets off an extended chain of interpersonal misunderstandings, hilarious coincidences, and sad-but-true reflections on our fixations with digital gadgetry, which can threaten and prevent genuine intimacy. Willis’s canny incorporation of scientific lore, and a riotous cast of stock Irish-American characters who nevertheless manage to surprise the reader, make for an engaging girl-finally-finds-right-boy story that’s unveiled with tact and humor. Willis juxtaposes glimpses of claimed historical telepaths with important reflections about the ubiquity of cell phones and the menace that unscrupulous developers of technology pose to privacy, morality, and emotional stability. Agent: Chris Lotts, Lotts Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Necessary Evil

Killarney Traynor. CreateSpace, $15 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-1-5173-9033-4

Madeleine Warwick, the narrator of Traynor’s skillfully plotted mystery, lives with her aunt on their New Hampshire horse farm, which has been in their family for centuries. Following rumors spawned by a reality show that treasure is buried somewhere on the land, a steady stream of opportunists have trespassed on the farm, disturbing the grounds by digging holes by dark. One such hole resulted in Madeleine’s uncle falling death from his horse, leading Madeleine to forge a document for the purpose of permanently debunking the treasure’s existence. After a pompous professor learns of the forgery, intruders continue to invade the property. Traynor (Summer Shadows) intersperses 19th-century letters and diary entries from individuals associated with the alleged Chase family treasure, while her restrained prose gracefully unveils the living characters’ true motivations. Distinctive prose is a plus: “A hole is such a silent thing. It’s a danger unlike most others, where the absence of matter is its greatest weapon. I pondered that it wasn’t dirt that killed my uncle, but the lack of it.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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