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Alice

Christina Henry. Ace, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-26679-3

In this remix of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Henry (the Black Wings novels) comes closer to Alan Moore's Lost Girls than to Disney in content, though her work lacking his originality and depth. When Alice was 16, she went to a party in a slum in the Old City, from which she returned raped, scarred, and babbling about someone called the Rabbit. This got her locked away in an insane asylum in an unnamed city that resembles Victorian London. Her only friend is the axe murderer in the adjoining cell, whose exploits have earned him the nickname the Hatcher. He knows that the asylum's basement is the prison of a force of dark magic called the Jabberwock. When fire destroys the building, Alice and Hatcher must traverse the Old City and force its peculiar denizens to help stop the Jabberwock, while the Rabbit haunts Alice's memories. Henry's world is rife with sexual violence and brutality, and her characters have all been seen before many, many times. The tremulous sweetness of the relationship between Alice and Hatcher is the book's high point, but among so much grime it hardly has a chance to shine. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Price of Valor

Django Wexler. Roc, $26.95 (528p) ISBN 978-0-451-41808-1

Wexler's third Shadow Campaigns military fantasy (after The Shadow Throne) moves the ascent of General Janus bet Vhalnich forward while increasing concerns that he might have a hidden agenda. The land of Vordan is both at war and dealing with threats from within. A bomb nearly goes off under Queen Raesina; she'd have survived, thanks to the demon that protects her, but that revelation would be devastating to her reign, so Vhalnich assigns Marcus d'Ivoire to guard Raesina while she pretends to leave the city. Winter Ihernglass, still disguised as a man, is leading the Girls' Own, the all-female regiment of the army, but her orders from Vhalnich may damage her relationship with her girlfriend, Jane. Maurisk, Raesina's former ally from her days as a student radical, might be responsible for the conspiracies they face, and is certainly a political threat now that he's gained some level of power. Wexler continues to nicely mix spycraft, political intrigue, and sorcery in his fascinating fantasy setting. This is definitely not a good starting point for new readers, but returning ones will be delighted that the story is clearly far from over. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Long Utopia

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Harper, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-229733-4

The fourth installment of Baxter and the late Pratchett's ambitious Long Earth saga (after The Long Mars) makes it clear that their imagination and world-building know no limits. In the years since the Yellowstone eruption devastated the original Earth, humans have spread out across the millions of parallel worlds known as the Long Earth, taking advantage of ample resources and near-infinite room. The AI Lobsang has faked his death and now lives a simple life on Earth West 1,217,756 along with his partner, Agnes, and their adopted son. However, that idyllic world hides a bizarre secret: metallic alien bugs have infiltrated from a previously unknown location and are steadily destroying the planet. Lobsang, along with old friends Joshua Valiente and Sally Linsay, must find a way to stop them before the entire Long Earth is imperiled. Despite the epic scope and attention to scientific detail, the authors never lose sight of the human touch—even if that human is an AI. Even so, the text is infused with an introspective air of loss, undermining the story's ultimate impact. Agents: (for Pratchett) Colin Smythe, Colin Smythe Ltd. (U.K.); (for Baxter) Christpher Schelling, Selectric Artists Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Virtues of War

Bennett R. Coles. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-78329-420-6

Canadian Naval veteran Coles (All Quiet on the Temporal Front) opens a military SF trilogy with gripping battle scenarios and intriguing future science, but little in the way of character development. The action kicks off with newly-minted strike team leader Lt. Katja Emmes's first time heading up a mission. She's seeking rebel agents on a reported warlord base on planet Cerberus, an event that escalates into increasingly higher-stakes confrontations. Emmes's warship, Rapier, is commanded by ambitious Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Kane; he and Emmes's bunkmate, navigator Lt. Charity "Breeze" Brisebois, both place personal goals above all else, including loyalty to their fellow crew. Meanwhile, Sublieutenant Jack Mallory, an amiable young pilot, is positioned to make critical observations of activity in the extra-dimensional transportation system called the brane. Insights into military operations, including internal alliances and adversaries, help balance the characters' thin personalities. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pursuit

Steve Monroe. Open Road (openroadmedia.com), $13.99 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-5040-1262-1

This gritty, one-note crime novel from Monroe ('46 Chicago) finds 75-year-old mobster Vitus Gorski on a killing rampage, while an FBI task force led by agent Martin Lowell focuses on an operation designed to shut down mob activity in Chicago. Det. Wally Greer of the Chicago PD catches the call about Gorski's first murder, and discovers a surprising link between it and the double killing of a police officer and a mobster's brother. Lowell is intent on preserving the federal case, while the extraordinarily vicious Gorski eludes capture and continues to add to the body count. Minimal and grudging cooperation from Lowell complicates things after Greer discovers that not all of the top mobsters were caught in the FBI sweep. A victim close to Greer ups the stakes even further as a showdown between the relentless cop and the remorseless killer builds to the inevitable climax. The cunning and savagery of Gorski, a hulking monster of a mobster despite his age, and the determination of Greer make for an even and exciting match. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tristano Dies: A Life

Antonio Tabucchi, trans. from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris. Archipelago (Random, dist.). $18 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-914671-24-4

Tabucchi's unsatisfying short novel is built on flashbacks and digressions inside digressions. Italian ex-soldier Tristano contemplates the nature of life and death on (where else?) his deathbed. As he looks back on his old life, he remembers stories of lost loves, the harrowing atrocities of war, and the ways that stories themselves are constructed. The novel is one long, often confusing monologue of Tristano's life during WWII, when he shot and killed a Nazi soldier in Greece and maintained a lengthy love affair with Daphne (or was it Rosamunda?), who always played Schubert for him. It slowly emerges that Tristano, who often refers to himself in the third person, is telling his story to a writer whom he wants to relay his story to the world. The tale is full of obscure mythological references, clever narrative tricks, and philosophical ramblings. Long-winded Tristano is clearly an unreliable narrator, but he questions whether memories can ever be reliable anyway. Tristano's story is difficult to follow, and the structure contradicts its own logic. By the end of the tale, the payoff for enduring such a twisting, convoluted story is scant. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Free State

Tom Piazza. Harper, $25.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-228412-9

In Piazza's well-told historical novel, 19-year-old Henry Sims, an enterprising runaway slave from a Virginia plantation, arrives in Philadelphia in 1855 with a banjo and prodigious music talent. He performs on street corners for money until James Douglass, the manager of a popular black minstrel troupe, catches one of Henry's rousing acts. Searching for fresh stage material to woo back the audiences and bolster his sagging profits, James offers Henry a job playing in the troupe. Piazza (City of Refuge) gives a fasciantingly detailed portrayal of 19th-century minstrelsy, a "national sensation" that could only legally be performed by white men wearing dark grease paint. Ironically, James adopts the practice to camouflage Henry in blackface while he appears onstage. James is willing to run the risk of arrest, but he still worries about reprisals if Henry is found to be an escaped slave or wanted criminal. Meantime, James Stephens, Henry's white plantation master (and biological father) back in Hopewell, Va., hires Tull Burton, an odious and cruel bounty hunter, to track down and return him. The final section loses a bit of steam, but Piazza's novel vividly depicts a cultural pheonmenon through Henry's harrowing journey. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Pope's Daughter

Dario Fo, trans. from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar. Europa (Penguin, dist.), $16 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-60945-274-2

Nobel laureate Fo explores Renaissance Italy through the eyes of one of its most notorious women in this slow-moving novel. Legend has it that Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, was an unparalleled beauty who seduced and threatened her way into positions of power in league with her brother, Cesare, a high-ranking cardinal. But Fo's portrayal of Lucrezia paints her in a much more sympathetic light: she's an independent thinker, "tossed into the gaping maw of financial and political interests both by her father and her brother, without a qualm," though she's not content to merely serve as a pawn in her family's power plays. Instead of a temptress who was complicit in the murder of one of her three husbands, she's portrayed as a woman who loved deeply and paid dearly for her father and brother's political machinations. Over the course of a short life, Lucrezia acts as administrator of several major cities, a financial reformer, and even, temporarily, the head of the Catholic Church. Her legendary love affair with the poet Pietro Bembo is rendered as a star-crossed love. Unfortunately, this awkward translation renders Fo's prose stilted and didactic. Traces of his biting wit remain in the dialogue, where sarcastic banter between Lucrezia and her diabolical relatives is as snappy as it doubtless was in the original Italian, but it's not enough to elevate the story above its tedious narrative passages. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Who Do You Love

Jennifer Weiner. Atria, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4516-1781-8

Weiner (All Fall Down) tugs at the heartstrings with her latest tale of angst and love. Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet in a Miami hospital's emergency room. Rachel has a congenital heart deformity that has required multiple surgeries, so she's an old hand at hospitals and enjoys hanging out in the ER area for a little excitement. Andy and his mother are visiting Florida; he has a broken arm. Their backgrounds couldn't be more dissimiliar: Rachel is the pampered daughter of an affluent couple in Miami; Andy is the child of a struggling hairdresser in Philadelphia. But to distract Andy from his pain while his mother is located, Rachel gives him a stuffed animal and tells him her own version of "Hansel and Gretel." When they part ways in the ER, both assume it will be the last time they see each other. But following an unexpected reunion at a volunteer camp, Rachel and Andy's paths intertwine for the next three decades, as Andy follows his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in running and Rachel becomes a social worker. While the two have a romantic relationship as young adults, circumstances pull them apart, and they remain on the fringes of each others' lives until another chance meeting changes them once again. The story is in alternating points of view—Rachel's in the first person, Andy's in the third person—and it meanders a bit, but Weiner's achingly real characters will keep readers engaged all the way through. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree

Josh Massey. BookThug (Small Press Distribution, U.S. dist.; LitDistCo, Canadian dist.), $20 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-77166-126-3

Massey (We Will All Be Trees) indulges in speculative environmental activist beat prose poetry, with an aesthetic layering of Greek mythology. Jeffery Inkster wants only a simple existence. The ex-hipster is now an elk farmer, with a 1,000-acre ranch in British Columbia and Alberta. He gets by in life by harvesting his elks' velvet antlers and generally avoiding trouble. However, trouble finds him when the Gasbro pipeline is attacked in a series of bombings in the fall of 2036. As a result, Jeffery and his neighbors find themselves embroiled in an investigation to discover who is at the heart of this act of industrial terrorism. Practically everything in Massey's novel is a skewed representation of reality, trapped somewhere between farce and academic criticism. There are strange and madcap characters—especially the enigmatic and mysterious Mars Ares—and locations with names such as PC Columbia, Cancougar, and Cowberta. Stylistically, the narrative is a melding of traditional prose, newspaper clippings, poetry as sales pitch, and even a hypnotic suggestion thrown in for good measure. It's metafiction, yes, but not entirely effective; the overreliance on aesthetics ends up subverting the characters and whatever satire or politics the author had hoped to integrate into his narrative. (Oct.) The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach Pam Jenoff Mira, $14.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1754-8 Jenoff tells another tale of WWII (after finding success with The Kommandant's Girl) in this powerful and moving novel. Adelia Montforte's life changes in 1941, when her mother puts her on a crowded ship heading from Italy to the U.S. The young woman moves in with her childless aunt and uncle in Philadelphia. While well-meaning, they have no idea what to do with Adelia—until they head to their beach house and Adelia meets the large, close-knit Connally family. The family lives next door at the shore, and blocks away from the Montfortes in Philadelphia. Adelia immediately feels at home with the four Connally brothers and their mother, and soon falls in love with the eldest brother, Charlie. But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he becomes determined to enlist, to the extreme displeasure of his parents. While Adelia's strictly Jewish family is initially somewhat perturbed by her close friendship with the Irish Catholic Connallys, they come to accept it, just as a piece of tragic news changes everything. In her grief, Adelia soon learns that one can't outrun fate—and that the way home may take a form she never expected. Jenoff leads readers on a heartbreaking and beautifully imagined journey through the horrors of war, recovery from tragedy, and powerful love. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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