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Splintered

Jamie Schultz. Roc, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-46745-4

This gritty, intense, and tersely written sequel to Premonitions develops an intriguing premise into an outstanding urban fantasy/horror series. In Schultz's twisted vision of present-day L.A., magic-users make bargains with demons, and each spell eats away at the wielder's soul. Career thief Anna Ruiz's life is centered on her criminal crew: enforcer Nail, her buddy; sorcerer Genevieve, her lover; and precognitive seer Karyn, her best friend, who's currently disabled by an uncontrollable torrent of visions. Their employer, Enoch Sobell, promises money and magical assistance, but all he really cares about is avoiding the end of his demon-extended life. Meanwhile, the FBI is trying to shut him down for various mundane and magical infractions. For a time, Sobell succeeds in getting Anna's crew to do his chores—including kidnapping the leader of a band of cannibalistic wannabe occultists—but by the end of the book Anna realizes that she and her friends have been callously played. Schultz's powerful, vivid writing will give readers the shuddering creeps as reality warps and twists around the sometimes hapless but never despondent antiheroes. The individual and believable motivations of the various characters lead to seemingly insurmountable conflicts even between the closest companions. This violent, unnerving, and convincingly tough installment will leave readers craving the next one. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Death by Tiara: A Jaine Austen Mystery

Laura Levine. Kensington, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-8506-5

At the start of Levine's entertaining 13th Jaine Austen mystery (after 2013's Killing Cupid), L.A. freelancer Jaine, who's accustomed to writing ads for drycleaners, roofers, and plumbers, agrees to compose a song for Taylor Van Sant, a contestant in the Orange County division of the Miss Teen Queen America beauty pageant. Taylor's mother, a former garlic festival queen, is sure that original lyrics will make her daughter stand out from the crowd, and Jaine is happy to pocket the $500 fee. At the beauty pageant, held at a rundown hotel, Jaine discovers that the event's formidable director, Candace Burke, is engaged in a little blackmailing. When someone fatally bludgeons Candace's assistant with a rhinestone tiara, perhaps mistaking her for her boss, Jaine turns sleuth. Meanwhile, Jaine, "a woman whose spiciest romance in the last several years had been with Chef Boyardee," is thrilled to be dating homicide detective Scott Willis, whom she met in Killing Cupid. Humorous emails from Jaine's parents—dad is obsessed with his golf cart, mom with dieting—add to the cozy fun. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Love Arrives in Pieces

Betsy St. Amant. Zondervan, $12.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-310-33847-5

St. Amant's (All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes) inspirational message, that "brokenness is a method" in God's plan, comes through in this story of two people stepping past their fears of loss to revisit and reconcile errors of the past. In high school, Chase Taylor broke two hearts in the Varland family by flirting with Stella while still dating her sister, Kat. Then he left them both. Now Kat is happily married, while Stella is divorced. Stella struggles to let go of her history as a pageant queen, working as an interior designer while nurturing a secret life as an artist. Chase, having promised himself to live a life of no regrets after his fiancée's death in a car accident, returns to Bayou Bend, La., to restore a landmark theater, surprisingly teaming up with Stella years after their falling-out. They eventually work through the old hurt and awkwardness to talk about the feelings they still have for one another. The details of the design and construction work are unrealistic, and the emotional flow between characters is unsubtle and choppy, but both lovers are likable and warm. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Let's Tell This Story Properly: An Anthology of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $26.99 trade paper (239p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3055-7

Each year, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlists stories from five different Commonwealth regions: Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. This anthology collects the best submissions for the prize from 2012 to 2014. Wakatama Allfrey has included a broad spectrum of stories in this slim volume, including tragic, absurdist, speculative, and historical fiction. Wonderfully written and superbly chosen, these works tell stories that could easily be lost or left untold: a child refugee who does not share a language with his caretaker, an old man whose life choices have left him without heirs, a Chinese official working to help Jews during Kristallnacht. The stories are as varied in their vantage points: tales are told from the point of view of the colonized as well as the colonizer, and one narrative imagines a lost life crushed by insignificance while another is about the betrayal of a prominent barrister. United only by the shared experience of diaspora and the consequences of imperialism, this collection of captivating vignettes focuses on the personal stories that form—and are often forgotten in—the broad sweep of history. (May)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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M%C3%A3n

Kim Thuy, trans. from the French by Sheila Fischman. Random House Canada, $15.95 trade paper (139p) ISBN 978-0-345-81380-0

Thúy, whose debut, Ru, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, has written a lyrical and spare second novel. Mãn, a Vietnam-born woman living in Canada, enters into an arranged marriage at the behest of her mother, who wants someone to care for her daughter when she dies. The unnamed husband, who fled Vietnam as a "boat person," is a Montreal restaurateur and quickly involves Mãn in the life of his restaurant. She finds friends, including the effervescent Julie, who builds Mãn a "culinary workshop" for her fusion Vietnamese-Western dishes. It becomes a local institution. After writing a book that takes her to Paris, Mãn meets Luc, who grew up in his father's orphanage in Vietnam before the fall of Saigon. Luc jolts Mãn into the possibility of a new way of living, where love is a "precise destination" that can take her away from the "humdrum life" she leads. Mãn's relationship with Luc is written with tenderness, though any sense of its domestic implications with her husband is conspicuously absent. . No chapter of this slim book spans more than two pages. Every section is annotated with Vietnamese phrases that serve as a thematic introduction, and Thúy strings the vignettes together to form a powerful, poetic narrative. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Holmes and the Four Corners of Hell

S%C3%A9amas Duffy. Robert Hale (IPG, dist.), $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7198-1499-0

Duffy (Sherlock Holmes in Paris) springs into the first rank of Sherlock Holmes pasticheurs with this superior collection. The contents—a novella and two short stories—are faithful to the originals, meld clever plotting with accurate characterizations of Holmes and Watson, and effectively evoke the mean streets of Victorian London. "The Adventure of the Soho Picture Gallery," the longest entry, impressively breathes life into a tired trope. In 1895, Scotland Yard consults Holmes about a series of Ripper-like murders. The female victims were not butchered this time, but the presence of five shillings under each corpse, and ears of corn in their left hands, invests the slaughter with a ritual element. Duffy does a good job of misdirecting the reader, and the resolution validates Watson's downbeat prologue, in which he observes that "the story of criminal detection is but rarely conducive to happy endings." The well-crafted "The Adventure of the Edmonton Horror" features an apparent murder by a vampire who left his victim's bloodless corpse in her bed, wearing a bridal gown. The equally adept "The Adventure of the Rotherhite Ship-breakers" focuses on an inexplicable attempt on the life of a ship-breaker. Sherlockians will be delighted by the emergence of this new talent. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fatal Reaction

Belinda Frisch. Belinda Frisch , $11.69 trade paper (322p) ISBN ASIN B00GO4P8EY

Robin Cook fans should enjoy Frisch's solid and suspenseful medical thriller, set in Marion, N.Y. Paramedic Ana Ashmore is devastated when she learns the reason she wasn't called to respond to an emergency; the victim found dead in a sleazy hotel turns out to be her older sister, Sydney Dowling. Despite some preliminary indications that Sydney took her own life, the senior officer on the scene, Sgt. Mike Richardson, who raised the sisters after the death of their parents, deems it a homicide. The reader learns, before Ana and Mike do, that the murder may be tied to a medical breakthrough in a local hospital. Dr. Dorian Carmichael has developed a revolutionary uterine transplant procedure that could help woman unable to conceive on their own. But Dorian's first patient, Stephanie Martin, doesn't fare so well after the operation, leading to an effort to cover up her connection with Sydney. The prime villain will come as a surprise to many. This title is also available as an e-book from Thomas & Mercer. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dance of the Bones: A J.P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker Novel

J.A. Jance. Morrow, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-229766-2

Bestseller Jance’s 51st novel brings together two of her popular series characters—Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont and Arizona sheriff Brandon Walker—in a highly entertaining plot that honors both of these now-retired cops. Grounded in the legends and lore of the Tohono O’odham people, the story also delivers a solid look at the vagaries of justice. In 1970, Walker arrested John Lassiter for the shooting murder of Lassiter’s foster father, prospector Amos Warren. Still in prison after all these years and suffering from MS, Lassiter refuses a plea deal that might release him. Instead, Lassiter wants Walker to find the real killer, using the work Walker does with Last Chance, a volunteer organization of retired law enforcement experts. When a link is found to an unsolved Seattle case, Walker gets in touch with Beaumont. The kidnapping of two boys ratchets up the suspense. Jance (Cold Betrayal) satisfies fans of both series with an energetic plot resplendent with believable twists, leaving readers eager for Beaumont and Walker’s next outing. Agent: Alice Volpe, Northwest Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Shanghai Redemption: An Inspector Chen Novel

Qiu Xiaolong. Minotaur, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06527-8

Chinese exile Qiu once again movingly and convincingly portrays the plight of an honest cop in a police state, in his ninth novel featuring Insp. Chen Cao (after 2013’s The Enigma of China). Chen’s life and career (he’s also a poet) have never been in more jeopardy. To his dismay, he has learned that he has been unexpectedly “promoted” from his position as deputy Party secretary and chief inspector in the Shanghai Police Bureau to director of the Shanghai Legal Reform Committee. In a country where the interests of the Communist Party come before those of legal reform, Chen realizes that his new job is “merely a reassuring gesture... to the public, at a time when ‘stability maintenance’ was a top political priority.” His fear that he’s going to be discredited is magnified after an invitation to read at a book party celebrating his translations of T.S. Eliot turns out to be a setup. By chance, he avoids being found in a compromised position, but his narrow escape only intensifies his search to identify which of his recent investigations has brought him to the attention of his country’s rulers. The suspense is palpable, and Qiu gives readers a chilling vision of life under authoritarian rule. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Highlander’s Bride

Amanda Forester. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0543-0

In Forester’s captivating novel set in 14th-century Europe, the Duc de Bergerac asks Highlander Sir Gavin Patrick to take his daughter, Lady Mary Collette, from France to Scotland to wed the Baron of Kintail. From the outset, Collette seeks to prove to Gavin that she is more than just another beautiful, shallow aristocrat. With the French at war with the English and Collette’s enormous dowry making them an attractive target for thieves, the two are in for a dangerous ride. These truly engaging and physically attractive protagonists are instantly drawn to one another, and their mutual affection grows stronger as each is forced to make sacrifices for the other during the perilous journey. Forester (A Winter Wedding) keeps the effortless plot moving at a swift pace. Readers will be mesmerized from the very first page. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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